Moving to Zhuhai? No, thank you

June 04, 2018 09:50
A new sea bridge will make travel easier between Hong Kong and Zhuhai, but that is unlikely to lead to a significant jump in migration to the mainland city. Photo: China Daily

Every morning thousands of people in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens get up early, eat a hurried breakfast, kiss their loved ones goodbye and start a long commuting journey by rail, road and ferry to a job in Manhattan.

After the new bridge to Macau and Zhuhai opens later this year, will this become the new lifestyle for thousands of Hong Kong people?

In a recent survey, the HK Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies at Chinese University put this question to 703 people. Thirty-five percent said living in Macau and working in Hong Kong would be feasible; 39.8 percent rejected the idea and 25.2 percent said they did not know or found it hard to say.

Asked about living in Zhuhai and working here, 28.3 percent said it would be feasible; 48.2 percent rejected the idea and 23.5 per cent said they did not know or can't say.

There are many obstacles to moving to Zhuhai – the cost and time of the commute, the difficulties of buying an apartment, the cost of its private schools and their curriculum and the availability of medical care.

"My brother works in a storage facility in the New Territories and lives in Shenzhen," said Sammy Leung. "The commute is convenient and not expensive. The border is open 24 hours a day. But, if we commute from Zhuhai to the urban area of Hong Kong, it would be 60-90 minutes one way and a bus fare of HK$80 one-way. That covers the trip only to the border post, from where you would have to take an additional bus or taxi.

"For people with strong families and networks of friends in Hong Kong, Zhuhai is not attractive at all," he said.

Another big obstacle is restrictions on Hong Kong people buying a property in Zhuhai. To keep property price growth in check, the city government demands that a buyer show five years of tax receipts or social insurance payment in the city. To buy an apartment immediately, a Hong Kong person has to go to the neighboring city of Zhongshan – too far for a daily commute.

This leaves only the option of renting an apartment in Zhuhai; but is not getting on the property ladder one of the main reasons for going?

From an investment point of view, property in Zhuhai is less attractive than in Hong Kong, Macau or Shenzhen. The second-hand market is less active and the rate of return from rents substantially lower.

Hong Kong people do not have a Zhuhai registration (户口); this means that their children cannot attend a city government school. They must go to a private one, with classes in Mandarin or English and a high fee. Many Hongkongers do not want their children to follow the mainland curriculum. So this means that their children would also have to commute every day to Hong Kong to go to school.

Several years ago, Zhuhai offered a car permit to Hong Kong people who bought apartments there; but this is no longer on offer. So a commuter has no alternative but to use public transport.

Wong Si-man, a Hong Kong real estate agent, said that if the government wants people to move to Zhuhai, it will have to encourage them with incentives or allowances, to offset the time and cost.

"I see certain kinds of people moving," he said. "They have no children, have no apartment of their own in Hong Kong and have not been in the city very long. So their links are weaker. They would make an economic gain from low rents in Zhuhai as a compensation for the long commuting. If one of the couple did not work, he or she can benefit from the larger apartment space there.”

The Great Bay Area (GBA) is fundamentally different to the Tri-State Area of New York and the sprawling metropolises of Tokyo, Paris and London, where hundreds of thousands of people also spend two-three hours a day commuting. They put up with this for the sake of buying a property outside the city because they cannot afford one in the centre.

Hong Kong has a different mentality, school and legal systems and freedoms compared to other cities in the GBA. Most of its people do not want to give these up for the sake of a cheaper lifestyle in Zhuhai.

The distance from Manhattan to Brooklyn is 24 kilometers and driving time of 20-30 minutes; the radio playing in the car is the same at both ends of the bridge. The distance between Hong Kong and Zhuhai is so much further.

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A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.