all about Macau

All about Macau

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With a perfect mixture of European and Chinese culture, the last European colony in Asia is here to capture you with its unique history and architecture.


Officially known as the Macao Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, Macau is an autonomous territory that borders with Mainland China and lies only 64km away from Hong Kong. It is the most densely populated region in the world, with 650.900 people living in an area of 30,5 km2. The territory has the fourth highest life expectancy in the world, it ranks 18th (as of 2014) in the Human Development Index and its GDP per capita by purchasing power parity is higher than that of any country in the world. China is Macau’s principal trading partner, although trade with the United States and Hong Kong is also significant. In 1991 Macau became a member of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs, now the World Trade Organization.

Macau senado squareBefore it became a special administrative region of China in 1999, Macau followed the colonial constitution promulgated in 1979. It was administered by a governor, who in agreement with the Legislative Assembly was appointed by the Portuguese president. With the transfer of sovereignty over the territory to China, the Basic Law of the Macau Special Administrative Region, which outlined a policy of “one country, two systems”, went into effect. Macau thus retains its capitalist economy and some political autonomy for 50 years after the transfer of sovereignty, but foreign policy and defence matters remain under Chinese administration. According to the Basic Law, which is based on the Portuguese system, the chief executive, Fernando Chui, holds executive authority, but is under the jurisdiction of the central government in Beijing. It is the in Beijing-approved committee of politicians and businessmen who choose the chief executive; ordinary citizens have no direct say in the appointment of their chief executive.

Macau has a humid subtropical climate with average relative humidity between 75-90%. Like much of South China, seasonal climate is greatly influenced by the monsoons, and differences in temperature and humidity between summer and winter are noticeable. Autumn is sunny and pleasantly warm with lower humidity. Winter is generally mild and dry due to the influence of the vast Siberian High with temperatures around 10ºC. Humidity starts to increase late March, with Summer months being very hot and humid and temperatures around 30-35ºC. Heavy rain, thunderstorms and occasional typhoons often follow this hot weather.

Macau’s official languages are Cantonese Chinese and a dialect of Portuguese, called Macanese Portuguese. All official signs in Macau are bilingual in traditional Chinese and Portuguese. Mandarin is not widely spoken, but most locals can comprehend it to some degree. English is spoken by most front-line staff in the tourism, however it is not as widely spoken as in Hong Kong. The ancient Macanese language, a distinctive creole generally known as Patuá, can also still be heard by several dozen Macanese.



Macau was one of the earliest European colonies in Asia and the last to be relinquished (1999). The city has therefore a more visible colonial history than Hong Kong.

Cathedral in MacauThe first Portuguese ship anchored in the Pearl River estuary in 1513, although Macau as a town was not founded until 1557. During that time, the territory was used as a fixed point for provisioning on the trade route to the Far East. Trade with China commenced in 1553, and four years later, Portuguese officially settled in Macau and founded the city. The city became the official and principal entrepôt for all international trade with China and Japan and an intermediary port for ships travelling from Lisbon to Nagasaki (Japan). China, nonetheless, still refused to recognize Portuguese sovereignty over the territory and Macau remained largely under the control of the Chinese. It wasn’t until 1887 that Macau became a colony through a mutual agreement between the two countries. In the mid-18th Century, the British colony of Hong Kong surpassed Macau in trade, and within a few years the merchants had largely deserted the Portuguese possession. In the 1930s and 40s, Macau was declared a neutral territory during the Sino-Japanese War and World War II, becoming a refuge for Chinese and Europeans. In 1951, Portugal officially made Macau an overseas province. Following a military coup in Portugal in 1974, the government granted more administrative autonomy and economic independence to the territory.

After the communist government assumed power in China in 1949, the Chinese population in the territory continued to grow. In 1979 diplomatic relations were solidified between Portugal and the communist government in China. In 1984, the Portuguese government dissolved the assembly in response to opposition within the government to extend the right to vote to the Chinese majority. A few months later, new elections brought a significant number of Chinese deputies into the government. In 1987, Portugal and China agreed to the return of Macau to China, using the Hong Kong Joint Declaration between Britain and China as a model. In 1999, Macau became a special administrative region under Chinese sovereignty, just as Hong Kong had in 1997. They agreed to provisions under the Macau Basic Law which states that the judicial system remains intact with the transfer of the sovereignty and that the chief executive appoints all judges. Under the policy of “one country, two systems”, the Central People’s Government of the People’s Republic of China is responsible for military defence and foreign affairs while Macau maintains its own legal system, public security force, monetary system, customs policy and immigration policy.

The period since reunification has been peaceful and marked by increasing prosperity. Much of the region’s economic growth has come from the tremendous expansion in gambling and gaming since 2000, which transformed Macau into one of the world’s largest gambling cities. Tourism has also risen sharply with thousands of tourists visiting Macau each day, mainly from mainland China and neighbouring regions. The standard of living in Macau has, as a result, grown significantly. The tourist industry has also diversified. Instead of casinos, Macau is also promoting its historic sites, culture and cuisine. Major infrastructure projects have included continued land reclamation throughout the region and a third bridge between Macau Peninsula and Taipa island.


Work environment

All these changes have made Macau’s environment very business-friendly. Living in Macau allows you to enjoy quality living in an extraordinary fusion of cultures and ancient traditions with modernism. The cost of living in Macau is still remarkably cheap compared to other similar expat hubs in Asia such as Hong Kong and Singapore. However, this often comes with low salaries. Work permit applications are generally straight forward, with residency permits being obtained through the Public Security Police Force. If you have a work sponsor and all the required documents, the entire process shouldn’t take more than two to three months. Upon approval of the work permit application, a letter or certificate of approval will be issued, which can then be used to apply for the actual resident card. In terms of job prospects for foreigners, Macau poses as an attractive place for expats looking for opportunities especially in the tourism and gambling industry. Jobs in clothing, textile and electronics sectors are also available. And on top of that, Macau has been known as one of the best tax havens in Asia, with low personal and business taxes, which is based on a salary bracket. Work hours resemble those in Western countries for most sectors, with usual working days being from Mon-Fri unless you’re working in the hospitality sector where you’ll be working 6 days a week.


Geography and Districts

Macau districtsWith a dense urban environment, Macau has no arable land, pastures, forest, or woodland. Macau is geographically divided into four districts: the peninsula, the islands of Taipa and Coloane, and the region of Cotai, a landfill that now connects the two islands together.

  • Macau Peninsula: it’s the northernmost region and is connected to Mainland China. It is the centre of most tourist activity and is densely crowded. The main border crossing between Macau and China is known as the Portas do Cerco (Barrier Gate) on the Macau side, and the Gongbei Port of Entry on the Zhuhai (Mainland China) side. Macau Peninsula was originally an island, but a connecting sandbar gradually turned into a narrow isthmus. Land reclamation in the 17th century transformed Macau into a peninsula with generally flat terrain, though numerous steep hills still mark the original land mass.
  • Taipa: the island is found south of the peninsula and is accessible via three bridges. It is a major residential centre and it’s where Macau’s International Airport is found.
  • Cotai: it’s a strip of reclaimed land located between Coloane and Taipa, with vast new casinos such as The Venetian, the largest casino in the world.
  • Coloane: it is the most southern island and considerably less developed than the other regions due to its mountainous terrain. It has two beaches, several hiking trails, resorts, and a golf course.



Macau emerged as a Portuguese colonial settlement with a European-Christian identity, but as a result of its allowing Chinese immigration and settlement from early on, acquired a mixed character.

Macau festivalsThe old urban architecture of Macau is one of the most attractive features of the city. Macau was built by the Portuguese, but the Mediterranean-European designs were always given an Oriental slant in actual building, and the Chinese made their own contribution in the form of shrines, temples, and Chinese gardens. Macau preserves many historical properties in the urban area. The Historic Centre of Macau, which includes around twenty-five historic locations, was officially listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005. Perhaps the most symbolic site that represents Macau’s unique blend of East and West is Senado Square. This charming town square is surrounded by numerous distinctive pastel-coloured monuments of Macau’s colourful history. Besides buildings, there are also hundreds of narrow alleyways forming a maze in the old part of Macau where the people of Macau carry out businesses and work. Rua de Tercena is the most popular art, antique, and flea market street in Macau, a little off the beaten track with less Chinese tourist crowds and a lot of character. It is located near St. Paul’s Cathedral, behind Senado Square.

Chinese culture emphasizes family integrity, lineage solidarity, reserved public behaviour toward the powerful, and respect for parents and elder persons. These values are also largely maintained in Macau’s urban culture. The Portuguese and the Macanese form relatively cohesive sub-societies of Catholics with their distinct values and preferences.

The mixing of the Chinese and Portuguese cultures and religious traditions for more than four centuries has left Macau with an inimitable collection of holidays, festivals and events. The biggest event of the year is the Macau Grand Prix in November, when the main streets in Macau Peninsula are converted to a racetrack bearing similarities with the Monaco Grand Prix. Other events include Macau Arts festival, International Fireworks Display Contest and the International Music festival. The Lunar Chinese New Year is the most important traditional festival and is celebrated in late January or early February. Festivities are also held to celebrate festivals with a religious affiliation such as “the grand parade of Jesus’ statue”, “the grand parade of Maria’s statue”, and the Birthday of Mazu. The Macau Cultural Centre is a popular venue where events such as martial arts performances, traditional Chinese music and dance performances are held.

Macau casinosMacau is a resort city known for its casinos and luxury hotels. Its gaming revenue has been the world’s largest since 2006, including more than seven times the revenue generated by “The Strip” in Las Vegas. Its economy is heavily dependent on gaming and tourism. For many years, the Casino Lisboa was the most famous and a landmark well known to people outside Macau, but it is now being eclipsed by Sands Casino. Nevertheless, the original Casino Lisboa is still worth a visit as its halls contain many original antiques on display from the private collection of gambling tycoon Stanley Ho. Most casinos are located along the waterfront on the southern side of Macau Peninsula such as Wynn Macau and MGM Macau. However, it is the Cotai reclaimed land area that has been transformed into the “Las Vegas Strip of the East”. It is here that the Venetian, the worlds largest casino, can be found as well as the City of Dreams, a giant casino with high end fashion shops, a free video “bubble” show, three hotels and the world’s most expensive theatre show. The stage of the “House of Dancing Water” holds five Olympic swimming pools worth of water.

If you wander a little beyond the garish bright lights of Macau’s famous Cotai Strip, you’ll find small pockets of the city where the old Macau and traditional Macanese culture still hold on. Historically, the Macanese people were a mixed race (Portuguese and Chinese ancestry). Therefore, Macanese culture is the distinct mix of both southern Chinese and Portuguese influences. However, the Macanese, who stayed after Macau was transferred back to Chinese sovereignty in 1999, are today in the minority. Nowadays, Macau’s population is about 95% Chinese and rising. More Macanese now live in the US and Canada than in Macau, after having emigrated prior to the handover.



A hallmark of Macanese culture that still exists is Macanese cuisine. Often credited as “the original fusion cuisine”, it has a history dating back over 400 years. After the Portuguese colonised Macau, the European settlers brought with them different herbs, spices, and cooking methods like roasting, grilling and stewing, none of them traditional to the Chinese. Over time, this blend of southern Chinese cuisine and Portuguese ingredients, spices and cooking techniques, melded into a distinct style that became known as “Macanese”. Ingredients such as turmeric, cinnamon and coconut milk are highly used in the cuisine, giving it a distinct taste.

Macau egg tartsSome classic Macanese dishes include minchi which is considered Macau’s national dish. It is made from minced beef with soya sauce, onions and a fried egg, served with rice and/or fried potatoes. Other dishes include tacho, a fusion stew made with Chinese and Western ingredients; cappela, a baked meatloaf made with cheese, black olives and breadcrumbs; and Portuguese chicken made with turmeric powder, black olives and sausages. Pastéis de nata (egg tarts) is the go-to Portuguese dessert. One place to sample some of these classic Macanese dishes is Riquexo restaurant, the oldest Macanese restaurant in the heart of old Macau. The restaurant is a rare survivor of the upheavals of recent times. But inside, the spirit and soul of old Macau lives on thanks to the Macanese community who socialise and dine here together.

Despite this, the food of choice in Macau is still pure Cantonese. The streets of central Macau are full of simple eateries offering rice and noodle dishes as well as dim sum, while most casino hotels have a fancy Cantonese seafood restaurant. The greatest concentration of restaurants is in the Peninsula. Taipa is now a major destination for those opting for Portuguese and Macanese food. There are several restaurants in Coloane, also home to the famous Lord Stow’s Bakery, which popularized the Macanese egg tart.


With its fascinating past and a fusion of East and West, Macau is an exciting destination with great job (or even internship) opportunities in the hospitality industry. And its close proximity to Hong Kong means you can also discover a second territory that has so much in common with Macau in terms of history, yet is so different.


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