Beg, borrow or steal

money-glitz | Staff reporter 22 Nov 2021

Hongkongers leaving the city's shores are doing whatever is necessary to stash enough cash for their new lives abroad, from selling luxury goods at bargain basement prices to canceling their life insurance.

A shop owner who sells second-hand luxury watches in Mong Kok says the ongoing emigration wave has boosted his business twofold.

Over the course of September, his store bought around 30 Rolex watches - a new monthly record and twice the number traded over the same period last year.

Most of his customers are selling the popular Rolex Daytona models - worth between HK$30,000 and HK$100,000, to raise money for emigration or their children's tuition fees in the UK, the vendor says.

He says a Rolex aficionado sold a vintage model currently worth HK$600,000 for just HK$200,000 in a distress sale, after purchasing the watch some years ago for HK$500,000.

The rising demand for emigration funds is also being reflected in the jewelry and gold trade.

A worker in a gold shop says departing Hongkongers are selling their jewelry including gold pellets, necklaces and rings with a couple in their sixties recently selling tens of taels of gold bars to help finance their emigration. A five-tael gold bar is currently worth around HK$99,000, according to a quotation from Chow Tai Fook eShop.

The rush to raise cash comes amid an emigration exodus from the city.

Tens of thousands of Hongkongers seized the opportunity to enter the UK before its "Leave Outside The Rules" policy ended in July this year.

Under the policy, those who were yet to get a British National (Overseas) visa, also known as BNO visa, were granted LOTR status at the UK border and allowed to live and work in the country for up to six months.

By the middle of this year, Hong Kong's population was down by 88,736 from mid-2020 to 7,394,700, according to the Census and Statistics Department.

Departing Hongkongers are also axing their insurance policies to cut down on costs after they emigrate.

Gary Soo Ka-yin, the former chairman of the Professional Insurance Brokers Association, says that at least 5 percent of his customers have made inquiries about scrapping or scaling down their insurance.

One of his customers named Chan, who had rushed to the UK with his family ahead of the July deadline, first toyed with the idea of stopping payments for an over 20-year-old endowment life insurance plan as well as a medical and critical illness insurance plan.

He finally decided to pull the plug on his medical and critical care annual premium of HK$10,000, as it was much more than the HK$3,000 premium he was paying for his life insurance policy.

As the endowment policy will be fully settled in two years, the 50-year-old Chan says he would have suffered a loss if he had canceled the policy, which needs to be held until maturity.

Chan's 25-year-old son also stopped payments for a medical insurance plan which he had bought two years ago before leaving Hong Kong.

But things did not go as well for a 35-year-old emigrant named Lam, who terminated his endowment policy two days before departing for the UK.

Lam's insurer told him the cancellation was unsuccessful due to a discrepancy in the signatures on the documents, which meant he will have to pay the premiums until the paperwork was corrected.

Clients usually opt to stop endowment plans before leaving Hong Kong because of heavy taxation overseas, says Soo. "They would rather get back less than half of the total cash value than pay extra taxes in foreign countries," he says.

However, most young emigrants continue to pay for one or two medical insurance policies in case they return to Hong Kong in the future, and to still have access to the city's reputed medical services, says Roy Cheung Wai-leung, president of Hong Kong Insurance Professionals Federation.

Cheung also has a word of advice for emigrants about policy coverage: while life and critical illness insurance provide worldwide coverage, some accident insurance policies will not cover accidental death and dismemberment outside Hong Kong if the policy holder has left the city for over six months.



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