Many expats moving to Hong Kong are pleasantly surprised by the readily available and affordable domestic help here. 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 young children) a full-time domestic helper to cook, clean and handle childcare can be a blessing. 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.
Most of these 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.
Hiring a helper 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 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 $4,310 per month (as of September 2016), but many expats pay $5,000 or 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 $1037 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.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Helper’s salaries were increased to $4410 per month for all contracts signed on and after 30 September, 2017. The food allowance was also increased to at least HK$1,053 a month for all contracts signed on and after 30 September. You will find more details on the Labour Department website.
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.
In Hong Kong there are various ways to find a helper. 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.com, 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.
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
- Plan enough time for the interview, as 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.
Successfully managing your 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 your 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 your 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 your helper with a clear monthly or weekly schedule of tasks.
- Give straightforward instructions that are to the point and easy to understand. Your helper is not a native English speaker 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 and discuss what can be improved. Be open-minded and non-confrontational so that the helper feels comfortable sharing, and mutual trust is built.
- Treat your helper with respect – nobody is perfect. Accept your helper’s flaws and work on improving her skills if necessary.
- Let your helper 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.
This article appears in Expat Living’s annual City Guide, which is jam-packed full of useful tips and advice on moving to Hong Kong. Get your FREE copy here.