BN(O) emigrants: freedom and better work-life balance see Hong Kong family relocate, buy property in the UK

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BN(O) emigrants: freedom and better work-life balance see Hong Kong family relocate, buy property in the UK

For Elise Kong and Ming Wong, the freedom offered under the British National (Overseas) visa scheme was the clincher that made them decide to sell their home in Hong Kong and relocate to the UK.

Kong, 40, a paediatrician, and Wong, 43, a businessman, bought a four-bedroom detached home in Chertsey, a town in Surrey, south of London, for them and their two sons aged nine and seven.

“Relocating to the UK was really important for our family, as we want more freedom and a better work-life balance,” said Kong, who moved with her family in July. “The process of immigrating to the UK has been very straightforward, made even easier through the BN(O) visa route, and we are so excited to start our new life here. There is a lot of choice in Chertsey and the surrounding area, so we know our sons will have an excellent education.”

While Kong did not disclose the price of the property, a similar house type at the same development by Barratt Homes, UK’s largest home builder, sells for £618,000 (US$852,000). The couple sold their three-bedroom home in Hong Kong and used part of the proceeds to buy their new home outright.

Their choice shows that Hongkongers, who prefer prime London areas, are now looking at other areas outside the British capital to settle.

The UK last year made it easier for 3 million Hongkongers, who qualify for a BN(O) passport and their dependents, to relocate to Britain and stay and work for extendable periods of 12 months, creating a path to citizenship. It was London’s response to Beijing’s imposition of a sweeping national security law that is perceived to have eroded Hong Kong’s guaranteed freedoms under a Sino-British pact.

About three in every four applicants under the BN(O) programme were given visas in the first five months of the scheme, according to official figures released in August. Some 65,000 Hongkongers had applied under the scheme.

BN(O) emigrants: freedom and better work-life balance see Hong Kong family relocate, buy property in the UK

Since the launch of the BN(O) visa scheme, Hongkongers have bought 2,533 homes in the UK, including in Chertsey, Surrey (above). Photo: Shutterstock Images

“Traditionally, buyers relocating from Hong Kong would look to prime central London for investment properties, typically apartments,” said Kimberley Benson, sales and marketing director for Barratt Southern Counties. “Now thanks to the impact of the BN(O) visa route, in recent months we have seen an influx in families relocating, therefore creating a greater need for spacious family homes with access to green space and excellent schools.”

She said that Barratt’s projects in Surrey and Sussex had seen a rise in the number of buyers relocating from Hong Kong.

Since the announcement of the BN(O) visas, Hongkongers were estimated to have acquired 2,533 homes in the UK, but only 15 per cent bought in prime London neighbourhoods, according to data from property agency Benham and Reeves.

Price was a top reason for many Hongkongers looking outside London as their new base in the UK. The average home price in London in August was £525,893, higher than the £149,042 to £358,070 average for other districts in England, according to government figures.

“As popular as London is, we’ve certainly seen a trend whereby Hong Kong buyers are showing strong interest outside London in markets where they can secure a sizeable family home for less,” said Marc von Grundherr, a director at Benham and Reeves. “Reading, in particular, remains an area of focus for Hong Kong buyers due to the fact that it will sit on the long-awaited Crossrail when it finally does launch. Property prices in Reading sit at around £200,000, more affordable than the London average.”

While Covid-19 had led to an increasing interest in regional locations, with buyers looking for bigger spaces with outdoor areas outside London, the capital was looking attractive again, according to Singapore-based One Global Property Service, which has an office in Hong Kong.

“As offices and international travel reopen, we see this trend starting to reverse now and clients are looking towards the inner city again,” said Eli McGeever, director for research and technology innovation at One Global Labs, the proptech division of One Global Property.

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