Many expats are pleasantly surprised by the opportunity to hire domestic help when they relocate to the city but soon feel overwhelmed. It’s a complex task. We turned to LAURENCE FAUCHON, co-founder and CEO of HelperChoice.com, a social impact start-up eradicating illegal agency placement fees by connecting employers and domestic helpers directly to tell us more about hiring a helper in Hong Kong.
Life in Hong Kong is fast-paced and busy, leaving little time for household tasks, and while some expats prefer to hire a part-time helper who comes once or twice per week, for others (especially those families with two working parents and young children) a full-time domestic helper can be a blessing. Most of the foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong are from the Philippines or Indonesia and are assiduous, earnest women who are working abroad to provide for their families back home.
Local Versus Foreign Helpers
Hiring a helper in Hong Kong may be attractive, but it can also be daunting. In Hong Kong there is a distinction between local and foreign domestic help. Local helpers can be hired at any moment for either part-time or full-time duties, but their English is often limited. Foreign helpers can legally only be employed on two-year, full-time live-in contracts.
Part-time local helpers are available between $65 and $120 an hour, and can be hired independently or through the Smart Living government program. Foreign part-time helpers charge between $60 and $110 an hour, but be aware that this is illegal. For full-time, live-in maids you need to budget at least the minimum wage of HK$4,630 per month (2019/2020), but many expats pay more, depending on the years of duty and the level of experience, plus a Christmas and/or Chinese New Year bonus. Employers must also provide free food or a food allowance of not less than HK$1,121 per month. You must also offer suitable accommodation, insurance and free medical care, as well as pay all hiring-related costs and airfares for the bi-annual home leave. You may also need to budget for agency and processing fees.
Only residents who hold a Hong Kong Identity Card are able to hire a foreign domestic worker, and you must have a household income of more than $15,000 per month. When hiring a helper, the Standard Employment Contract (ID407) is the only legally binding document. Note that the helper must work and live at the contractual address and that she may only perform domestic duties – special permission needs to be obtained for driving duties.
In Hong Kong, employers must give their helper a rest day, at least 24 hours continuously, every week. In case you need your helper to work on her rest day, you must give her a substitute day as this cannot be settled by payment. Like every employee in Hong Kong, helpers are entitled to enjoy 12 statutory holidays as well as annual leave. But most expat employers grant their helper all general public holidays – six extra days on top of the statutory holidays.
Finding a Helper
There are various ways to hire a helper in Hong Kong. The traditional way is through employment agencies, but in recent years many of these have been heavily criticised for unethical practices and overcharging of helpers. A better solution is to find someone yourself through ethical online platforms or by personal recommendation, which has many benefits. A reputable company is HelperChoice, which has been set up for successful ethical matches. Be aware that the hiring procedures of a helper and the agency prices depend on her country of origin and current visa status. An employment agency must be used for paperwork, except for finished-contract Filipino helpers.
Helper Hiring Lingo
There are various costs and timeframes involved when you hire a helper, depending on her employment history. Sometimes the processing will need to be done by an agency (and their fees are highly variable), while other times the helper can do the paperwork herself. The timeframe also varies depending on whether or not she will need to return to her home country before starting with you.
“Finished contract”: Helper has completed her two-year contract and she can start as soon as she receives her new visa.
Approximate fees and timeframe: $1,800-$3,000 and 4-6 weeks with agency; less than $800 and 2-4 weeks without agency
“Terminated for relocation/financial reasons or death of employer”: Employer has dismissed the helper before the end of the two-year contract for the listed reasons. If these reasons are declared to immigration, it will be handled as a finished contract.
Approximate fees and timeframe: Same as for finished contract
“Terminated for other reasons or break contract”: Employer has dismissed the helper or the helper has quit before the end of the two-year contract. The helper will have to leave Hong Kong before starting a new contract.
Approximate fees and timeframe: $3,500-$9,000 and 8-12 weeks
“First timer or overseas hire”: Helper is not currently in Hong Kong and has either never worked abroad or has worked in countries other than Hong Kong.
Approximate fees and timeframe: $4,000-$10,000 and 10-12 weeks
Note: COVID-19 has affected the helper hiring process in 2020, not to mention the logistics of travel (for example, between Hong Kong and Manila). It’s an ever-changing situation, so be sure to check with agencies and online for updates.
- Plan enough time for the interview. Remember, both you and the helper need to get to know each other in order to decide whether or not you’re the right fit.
- Introduce your family to the helper so that they can get to know her as well. Your helper will live with you 24/7 so it’s important that you and your family feel comfortable with her.
- Explain your expectations and requirements in detail so that your helper is aware of what you’re looking for and that she can meet those. Let her know what you would like her to do from the outset and be specific. Childcare can include anything from handling the baby during the night, supervising homework and play dates, to cooking meals for the children.
- Good questions include scenarios and real-life “what would you do if this happened?”-type questions so that you can evaluate the experience, response and capability of your potential helper.
What to ask in the interview: reader tips
“Use the first interview as an opportunity to genuinely get to know her as a person – if you take that approach, the questions will flow naturally to you and it will allow you to work out whether she’d be a good fit for your family. Ask open questions about her family back home, who she’s worked for and what are her favourite parts of the job.”
“When hiring, whether it’s through a personal contact or an agent, ask the prospective helper to come and do a day’s trial (and pay them to do so). Interview well and be clear in your mind as to what your priority is. Is it cleaning, childcare, cooking or something else? As with any job, most people excel at certain aspects of their role but are less proficient at others and it’s unreasonable to expect someone to be excellent across the board; but if their strengths are aligned with your priorities then it’s a good start. Clear two-way communication is vital as is a natural chemistry between you both (especially if living and working in close company). We’ve always sought external accommodation for helpers, which we felt worked best for both parties.”
Successfully managing a helper
- It can be tricky at times, but it’s important to remember that you are now an employer and need to manage. Don’t expect a helper to know everything immediately, but train and guide her patiently in the first months. Every employer is different and she will have to learn your way of doing things.
- Be considerate when a helper starts and give her time to adjust, especially if she comes straight from her home country. She will have left her children and family behind and may experience homesickness. Support her as much as you can.
- Lay down your detailed house rules. They can change, but it is good to state them clearly from the start. Also provide a helper with a clear monthly or weekly schedule of tasks.
- Give straightforward instructions that are to the point and easy to understand. Most helpers are not native English speakers, and you may not be either. Avoid the use of vague words and be precise with tasks, timing and expectations. It sometimes helps to write things down or make lists.
- Set up monthly review meetings where both you and the helper can voice your opinions. This is a time to discuss what can be improved. Be open-minded and non-confrontational so that the helper feels comfortable sharing, and mutual trust is built.
- Treat helpers with respect – nobody is perfect. Accept her flaws and work on improving her skills if necessary.
- Let her know that she should come to you if she needs money or is in financial trouble. Many helpers are taken to loan sharks by agencies so let her know you are there for her. This does not mean you give the money to her, but together you can work out a plan.
There are options for occasional training in Hong Kong. HelperChoice has begun offering classes in subjects like languages, baking and finance management through its Academy.
Want more advice about living in Hong Kong?
This article appeared in Expat Living’s annual City Guide. City Guide is jam-packed full of useful tips and advice on moving to Hong Kong. Get your FREE copy here.