Domestic Helper Hiring Guide
The process of hiring a foreign domestic helper can be time-consuming and daunting. In order to help you navigate this process more easily, we have prepared some resources with all you need to know about domestic helpers in Hong Kong.
An overview of foreign domestic helpers
There are over 390,000 foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong. Hong Kong helpers have been a great support for dual-income families – they take care of your household, your children and/or your elderly family members. The extra help at home frees full-time workers from worrying about their household during work. Parents can also spend more quality time with their children after work. Since the costs of hiring a foreign domestic worker are usually lower than other caring and housekeeping services, more and more families opt for this affordable option.
Hong Kong laws and regulations related to foreign domestic helpers
Like any other employee, foreign domestic helpers are covered by the Labour Department’s Employment Ordinance. In addition, due to the special job nature and to avoid competition with local domestic helpers, there are special laws that only apply to foreign domestic helpers.
The Hong Kong government has designed a Standard Employment Contract for employing a foreign domestic worker. Employers and domestic helpers must sign and follow this employment contract. The duration of an employment contract for hiring a domestic helper is 2 years. Note that a probation period is not included in the employment contract. Copies can be obtained on the 2/F of the Immigration Tower in Wan Chai.
Not every person who wants to hire a foreign domestic helper is able to do so, there are some legal requirements. The Immigration Department will only issue a domestic helper visa if the employer is a Hong Kong resident, that is in possession of a Hong Kong ID card, and has a monthly household income of more than HK$15,000. In case the monthly income is lower, the employer of the domestic helper will have to provide evidence that he or she has assets of at least HK$180,000. If the monthly household income suddenly becomes less than HK$15,000, the Immigration Department must be notified and the domestic helper may have to be terminated.
Domestic helper eligibility
The foreign domestic helper visa scheme in Hong Kong does not apply to Chinese Residents of the Mainland, Macao and Taiwan as well as nationals of Afghanistan, Cuba, Laos, Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of), Nepal and Vietnam. The Hong Kong Immigration does not set a minimum age or gender limitation for foreign domestic helpers. However, their home countries have their own requirements for nationals who want to work abroad as a domestic helper. For example, a Filipino citizen must be at least 23 years old when applying to work as an overseas worker.
Salary and food allowance
The usual minimum wage rate in Hong Kong does not apply to foreign domestic helper – there is a separate minimum wage set for them, namely the Minimum Allowable Wage (MAW), which is now set to HK$4,630 per month. Employers in Hong Kong are required to provide their domestic helpers with either free food or a food allowance of no less than HK$1,121 per month. The rate of foreign domestic helper minimum wage and food allowance is usually reviewed by the Labour Department by the end of every September. We suggest employers help the domestic helper set up a bank account and pay the monthly salary by bank transfer so that both parties can refer to the bank records in case there are any salary disputes in the future.
The Hong Kong government does not set standard working hours for domestic workers, therefore, there is no official overtime pay scheme. If you require her to work overnight occasionally, we suggest you arrange a rest period during the day to ensure she has enough energy to work.
You may have heard that some families have a live-out domestic helper. However, domestic helpers are required by law to live with their employers. Both the employer and the domestic helper may face legal consequences if they violate this live-in rule, which could lead to a maximum fine of $150,000 and imprisonment of 14 years.
Main restrictions on domestic helper job duties
The Standard Employment Contract has defined that domestic helpers shall only work at the address specified on the contract, that means, they are not allowed to take any part-time jobs or work somewhere else such as at the employer’s office or a relative’s place. If you are looking for someone for part-time domestic help, you shall hire a local resident.
In addition, there is a special arrangement for cleaning the exteriors of windows as some domestic helpers do not realise the danger of performing this duty at a high rise building.
The domestic helper work visa is granted on the condition that domestic helpers are not allowed to drive. However, a special arrangement can be made to allow the domestic helper to drive when this is related to his or her domestic duties. In this case, an application for special permission must be made to the Immigration Department. Please note that a domestic helper must possess a valid Hong Kong driving license at the time of application.
Different ways to hire a domestic helper
Hiring a domestic helper is not as easy as it sounds. After all, you are hiring someone who will take care of your children and your household. You want to make sure that you trust her and have a good feeling with her so that you can leave the house during the day to go to work or handle other things. There are two ways that you can find the right domestic helpers for your family, direct hire and through an employment agency.
Direct hire means that the employer finds a domestic helper candidate with her own resources such as friends recommendations, and only use an employment agency with for the work visa processing.
In terms of autonomy, direct hire gives you more freedom to pick the worker you like. We advise all employers to find a domestic helper by themselves, and to only use an employment agency for the paperwork processing. This way you will ensure that you will find the right domestic helper in an ethical manner.
With HelperChoice you are in control of the domestic helper screening and interview. Browse through the domestic helper profiles, make a selection of candidates that meet your requirements and after initial contact, you can decide on who to interview. Once you have interviewed all your candidates and decided who is the right candidate for you, you will have to fill out the standard employment contract as provided by the Hong Kong Immigration Department. In some cases, you may not be able to do the paperwork processing by yourself and may have to use an employment agency.
Screening domestic helper candidates
No matter if you opt for direct hire or agency hire, it is important to identify and prioritise your needs before your search. Prepare the questions you will ask when interviewing a domestic helper.
Domestic helper agencies in Hong Kong
Every employment agency has their own candidates for employers to choose and they handle everything from screening candidates for you to processing the paperwork for domestic helper visa. However, an employment agency usually only introduces you to a small pool of candidates that might not really fit your requirements. Furthermore, the skills of candidates could be different from what your agent told you.
In addition to this, not all agencies offer the same services, their prices may differ and at times they may even charge the domestic helper with high placement fees, or force the domestic helper to take a loan to repay the recruitment fees, knowing that employment agencies in Hong Kong are only allowed to charge domestic helpers maximum 10% of their first-month salary.
If you want to ensure your domestic helper was not forced by an unethical employment agency to sign her contract with you, use HelperChoice as an alternative resource. HelperChoice does not charge domestic helpers any fees so that you can be certain that she is slavery-free.
Decide on your needs
Consider your living style, your family size and needs, as well as your culture. Some people believe that Filipino domestic helpers are better in English and childcare while Indonesian domestic helpers are better at taking care of elderlies and they are more capable of speaking Cantonese. Should you choose a domestic helper depending on her nationality? Our advice: choose a worker whose skills and experience fit your needs the most.
Arrange the interviews
The interview is an important step in the process as you can ask specific questions that will give you an indication as to how well your candidate fits your requirement. Looking for domestic helper interview questions? Check out our hacks for interviewing a domestic helper which covers the location, the schedule, and samples of interview questions.
Check reference of domestic helper candidates
One of the effective ways of checking a domestic helper’s work performance is to ask her for reference letters provided by her previous employers. A reference letter usually includes her personality and strengths, which can give you an idea of what to expect from the candidate. However, a domestic helper reference letter should work a plus. In the end, it is you who decide on what you feel comfortable with.
Applying for a domestic helper work visa
After you decide which domestic helper you had a click with and is excited about joining your family, you will need to start the paperwork for domestic helper visa processing.
The different contract statuses and impacts
It is important to know your domestic helper’s contract situation as the process is different for a finished (i.e. completed or about to complete a 2-year employment contract) or break/terminated contract (the domestic helper resigns or is laid off). In addition, you, as the employer, are required to pay for the costs of the visa processing.
Any employer must submit a foreign domestic helper work visa application together with the signed and notarized standard employment contract to the Immigration Department. Employers should make sure they submit all necessary documents so that there is no delay in the application. It is also important to note that a domestic helper can only start her work for you on the day her visa is issued even if the date on the contract is prior to the visa issuing.
The Hong Kong Immigration does not require domestic helpers to use an employment agency to submit the application. However, the Philippine Consulate only accept contracts submitted by an accredited agency for notarisation unless the applicant is a finished contract domestic helper (or terminated due to relocation/finance reasons). It is the same for the Indonesia Consulate – they only notarise domestic helper employment contracts submitted by an employment agency expect for domestic helper contract renewal.
Costs of hiring a domestic helper
Employers must pay for all the travel costs the domestic helper incurs when she travels from her home country to Hong Kong, including the flight ticket, daily food and travelling allowance of HK$100 per day. Employers must also fix a date on which they will pay their domestic helper her salary and if applicable her food allowance. Finally, an employer must take out the Employees’ Compensation Insurance.
Reimburse your domestic helper costs of documentation
The employer is responsible for all the expenses incurred by his foreign domestic helper in the preparation of the documents such as the contract and employment visa. In most cases the domestic helper will have to pay these hiring costs upfront and employers should reimburse her upon receiving the receipts, preferably on the first day of employment. An employer may expect to pay for
- the mandatory insurance in the foreign domestic helper’s home country
- a medical checkup in the helper's country of origin
- notarization fee as charged by the foreign domestic helper’s Consulate
- the visa fee as charged by the Hong Kong Immigration Department
- fees collected by the domestic helper’s government upon exiting their country.
These fees are also mentioned in Clause 8 on the standard employment contract.
Get a helper insurance
Employers of domestic helpers in Hong Kong must provide their domestic helper with free medical treatment during the employment period. Therefore, we strongly suggest you get a helper insurance policy which fits the Employees’ Compensation Ordinance requirements and is with comprehensive coverage.
After your domestic helper starts working
Leaves and holidays your domestic helper is entitled to
Your domestic helper is entitled to a 24-hour consecutive rest day every week. Note that the domestic helpers have to obey the live-in rule even when they are taking rest days or holidays in Hong Kong. Thus, your domestic helper should not stay out overnight on her rest days.
All domestic helpers in Hong Kong are entitled to statutory holidays regardless of their service period, and the employer cannot pay the domestic helper in lieu of statutory holidays. But a domestic helper can get paid on a statutory holiday only when she has worked for at least 3 months before the holiday.
Vacation leave and annual leave
According to the Standard Employment Contract, a domestic helper must take vacation leave for at least 7 days at their home country after finishing one contract. Note that this domestic helper vacation leave is in addition to the annual leave.
End of a domestic helper employment contract
Terminate the domestic helper
In Hong Kong, if you decide to terminate your domestic helper’s contract i.e. dismiss the domestic helper, you will have to give her a one-month notice, settle the outstanding payments, write her a termination letter and notify the Hong Kong Immigration about this termination. The domestic helper must leave Hong Kong within 14 days after termination of the contract and the employer is responsible for the cost of the helper’s flight ticket back to her place of origin.
Renew the domestic helper contract and work visa
Renew a domestic helper’s contract is relatively easy. You can get the new employment notarised at the Philippine Consulate or the Indonesian Consulate without using an employment agency. Then the domestic helper will have to submit the required documents in person to the Immigration Department. Therefore, we suggest you make an online booking at the Immigration’s website in advance to avoid queuing.
The more prepared you are as an employer, the better. There are a few Hong Kong government resources that you can refer to in order to avoid problems and to be aware of the latest arrangements. Check this overview provided by the Immigration Department, this detailed list of potential questions or the guide for domestic helpers and employers created by the Labour Department.