The happy secret next door

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120,000 Hong Kong people have retired to Guangdong

OLDSTERS: WOULD YOU like a comfortable, safe, city-center apartment for just HK$5,000 a month? No, you haven’t died and gone to heaven. You’ve moved to Guangzhou.

More than 120,000 Hong Kong people aged 60 plus have already moved to that city or elsewhere in Guangdong province.

Others will follow. A lot of older people in Hong Kong are willing to retire to other Greater Bay Area cities, a study by the One Country Two Systems Youth Forum revealed. Popular destinations include Guangzhou and Foshan.

The northward migration will likely rise in the coming years. By 2069, nearly 40 per cent of Hong Kong’s population will be seniors, the Census and Statistics Department says, and literally millions of people will be looking for retirement destinations.

Dong Shan Hu Park in Guangzhou; picture by Lychee Art/ Unsplash

WHAT’S ON OFFER?

What’s so attractive up there? Guangdong offers larger homes at much lower prices, plus a lower cost of living and well-established cross-boundary transportation links. Furthermore, there are affordable elderly care homes across the border.

Even in super-pricey Shenzhen, where prices have soared, the average home is less than half the price of a Hong Kong equivalent. A leading property consultant CBRE survey last year listed Shenzhen property as averaging US$783 (RMB 5,006) a square foot, compared to US$1,987 (RMB 12,705) per square foot in Hong Kong.

Property ads for Hong Kong style Guangzhou apartments from Joanna Real Estate

BUY YOUR OWN

Good relations between the two governments means that Hong Kong people have the right to buy a flat in Shenzhen. And in recent years, Shenzhen flats have proved to be good investments, rising 88% since 2015.

The low prices mean that middle or even low-income families in Hong Kong are exploring the wider Greater Bay Area for their next property investment, either for a holiday home or a place for retirement.

Zhaoqing and Jiangmen have the lowest home prices among Greater Bay Area cities. Homes in those two locations are about one eighth of the equivalent price in Shenzhen.

In some residential complexes in the region, neighbourhoods have become infused with Hong Kong culture, so you’ll find your favorite foods and familiar product brands too. Cha-siu faan? Macaroni soup? Ham and egg sandwich? You’ll find them on the menu.

TOP FACTORS

What are the key factors to help Hong Kong people decide to move north? Presence of relatives in the bay region is the main criterion for getting the early adopters to make the switch, said 57.9% per cent of the retirees who responded to the survey.

About 40% of respondents said they would retire in the bay region if they could access welfare services from the mainland, while 33% said they would move to the region if they could get access to quality healthcare services.

For 24% of respondents, the key was whether they could receive social welfare from Hong Kong. Transport issues were a key consideration for 17%, and 9% were looking at property purchase issues.

Senior citizens often prefer village life to the city bustle. Picture by Jaddy Liu/ Unsplash

CASH FROM HONG KONG

You can move over the border and still get Hong Kong government cash. About 20,000 Hong Kong elderly people have benefited from the SAR government’s schemes in which monthly welfare payments, ranging from HK$1,400 to HK$3,800, are sent across the border to Guangdong and Fujian.

The number of participants would be larger, except for the fact that elders who join the Guangdong and Fujian schemes need to surrender their public housing flats in Hong Kong—and many would rather not do that.

Also, Hong Kong seniors in the mainland can only use their home city’s medical vouchers at The University of Hong Kong – Shenzhen Hospital. Because of this, some will travel back to Hong Kong when suffering from serious illnesses.

The University of Hong Kong’s Shenzhen Hospital and International Medical Center

SMOOTHING THE PATH

But there’s room for improvement. It may be worthwhile for the SAR authorities to consider streamlining procedures to allow local elderly people to access social welfare cash, without the need to surrender public housing, or to reside in the mainland for at least 60 days a year.

Guangzhou looks like older Hong Kong: Lychee Art/ Unsplash

Above all, elderly people should be allowed to use medical vouchers in top-notch “AAA” hospitals in the Greater Bay Area cities. Through qualification mechanisms, Hong Kong and Mainland authorities should ensure that at least one hospital in each GBA city could accept the voucher, thus providing more medical options.

It would be great for retirees to be able to live their final years more comfortably and less expensively – and if they move out of Hong Kong, they’d help free up space in our crowded home. Everybody wins.

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Main picture: Peter Lopez/ Pexels

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