We help settle you into life in the 852 with our list of the most important things to know about living in Hong Kong.
Congratulations, you’re moving to Hong Kong – one of the most exciting, densely populated cities in the world, a cultural melting pot where east meets west and the opportunities seem endless. Adapting to life in any foreign country can be a daunting process and induce feelings of anxiety, so to help calm those nerves, we’ve put together a list that will give you a sneak peek into your new life before moving and, hopefully, lessen the culture shock on arrival. Welcome to the 852!
1. Rent is Crazy Expensive
Okay, we don’t want to put you off already, but it’s common knowledge that Hong Kong is the most expensive city in the world to live in for expats (as shown in consulting firm Mercer’s 24th annual Cost of Living Survey), so this is an important factor to bear in mind when making plans. With land in short supply, property prices are high and rising in the city, meaning you can expect to pay big bucks for your humble abode. To give you an idea, the average monthly cost to rent a one-bedroom apartment in the city centre is $16,551, while a three-bedroom family home is $39,800 (according to UK-based money transfer service TransferWise). That said, there are some obvious ways to overcome this hurdle and find more affordable accommodation, such as living away from Hong Kong Island and the central areas of the city where rent is the highest, or opting for a flat-share and splitting the rent with someone you know or finding a roomie. This is one of the main reasons why some people opt for island living, where they move to one of the various outlying islands such as Lantau, Cheung Chau, or Lamma, which are pretty sweet places to live, to be fair.
2. You Don’t Have to Be Rich to Enjoy it
Despite being the most expensive city in the world to live in for expats, the good news is that you don’t need to be a millionaire to enjoy life in Hong Kong. There are countless things to do and see around the city that won’t cost you a dime – or rather, dollar. From temple hopping to hitting the beach, and hiking up mountains to kicking back in a beautiful garden or park, there’s plenty to keep you entertained and not out of pocket. Among the city’s most popular freebie hangouts are Hong Kong Park, Chi Lin Nunnery, Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery, Big Wave Bay, and pretty much any of the public galleries and museums on a Wednesday, when they open their doors for free. So fret not if you’re looking to save some pennies, because these fun free activities will help you stay well within your monthly budget.
3. Tax is Among the Lowest in the World
While rental prices in Hong Kong are statistically the highest in the world, personal and corporate tax is among the lowest, and the tax regime is fairly simple and predictable. This is good news if you are moving to Hong Kong for work, looking to do business here, or come from a country with particularly high tax. Better still, the actual tax bill is often even less after various deductions and depreciation allowances, and can be paid in two installments, usually between December and March, giving you plenty of time to budget it into your annual finances. Individuals are taxed at progressive rates on their net chargeable income, starting at 2 percent and ending at 17 percent, or at a standard rate of 15 percent on net income, whichever is lower. There is also no sales tax or VAT in Hong Kong, which makes it all the more appealing to everyone who lives here.
4. The Summers are Humid Beyond Belief
If you don’t bode well in hot or humid weather, then you will definitely need to prepare yourself for when summer hits the 852, because things can get, well – sticky. You can basically kiss goodbye to good hair days between the months of May and August, when afternoon temperatures can often exceed 30°C and humidity can reach a whopping 100 percent (yep, that is possible). But fear not, because some simple haircare tips can prevent you from looking like a cast member of CATS, while a decent dehumidifier will help keep the moisture levels down in your apartment and stop your clothes from going mouldy. Just don’t be too shocked when the electricity bill arrives in the post – continuous air-con doesn’t come cheap!
5. When it Rains, it Really Pours
This phrase is particularly pertinent between the months of July and September in Hong Kong, when peak typhoon season throws the city into a whirlwind of disruption and sogginess. This sounds rather dramatic, but in all honesty, Hong Kong is incredibly adapted and prepared when it comes to aggressive weather. In fact, the very next morning after the most powerful typhoon on record, Mangkhut, hit the city, Hongkongers were already back at their desks and the city was in the throws of a mass cleanup, sorting all the fallen trees, collapsed buildings, and extensive damage to the roads. That said, you will still definitely want to invest in a sturdy umbrella and some durable footwear to get you through the season, and make sure you read our Typhoon Survival Guide so you understand the different warning signals and what to do when they are hoisted.
6. Public Transport is Super Cheap
While the monthly rent you pay to live in your small box apartment may make your eyes water, the amount you spend on getting around the city in that time certainly won’t. Public transport in Hong Kong is fantastically cheap, which is just as well given that a 137 spare-foot parking space for a car can sell for as much as HK$4.8 million. A trusty Octopus top-up travel card will set you back a piddly $50 and allow you to hop on buses, trams, and ferries with fares costing as little as $2.6 per journey. Not only that, the card can also be used to pay for goods in local convenience stores, supermarkets, restaurants, and even hospitals, making it a wonderfully convenient addition to your wallet. And if you find yourself in need of a taxi, you won’t have to fork out a fortune to get form A to B, because fares are generally cheap, even when you have to use the tunnels and bridges, often staying below the $100 mark when traveling within Hong Kong Island.
7. There are Two Healthcare Systems
Trying to navigate Hong Kong’s healthcare system can be a real headache, but to summarise it in a nutshell, it is composed of two sectors: a private track and a government sponsored public track. The private sector offers numerous options and luxurious perks, but comes at a very high price. The public sector, on the other hand, is subsidised by the Hong Kong Government and provides high-quality medical services for ‘eligible persons’ for a very low cost (i.e. those who hold a Hong Kong Identity Card, children under 11 years of age with Hong Kong resident status, and others approved by the Chief Executive of the Hospital Authority). Hong Kong’s public sector has 42 public hospitals, 47 specialist out-patient clinics, and 73 general out-patient clinics, which are organised into seven clusters according to their locations. While the public system provides medical services for a very low cost, it faces a number of growing problems, including overcrowding, long waiting times, and excessive bureaucracy, leading many expats to bite the bullet and go private, benefiting from high-quality equipment, familiar doctors, and cushty accommodation, despite the high price tag. Read our comprehensive guide to Hong Kong healthcare.
8. There’s an App for Everything
Fancy a takeaway, but can’t be bothered to leave your apartment? About to throw a party, but running low on wine? Struggling to find the perfect spa for you and your girlfriends to enjoy a serious pamper session? Well you’re in luck, because there is an app for everything in Hong Kong – and we mean everything. Hongkongers love efficiency, even to the point of inventing an app called Toilet Rush that helps you locate the nearest public toilet for when nature calls and you’re out and about in the city! Among the most popular on the download list are food delivery apps such as foodpanda and Deliveroo, beauty treatment booking apps like MindBeauty and GuavaPass, and the HKTaxi, which allows you to hail the nearest taxi and helps you translate your destination from Chinese to English to avoid confusing the driver. Take a look at our handy guide to all the apps you will ever need in Hong Kong.
9. There’s Some Pretty Cool Wildlife
Monkeys, and flamingoes, and exotic birds, oh my! Believe it or not, according to the GovHK website, 40 percent of the land in Hong Kong is protected in the form of country parks or nature reserves, which means there are plenty of furry neighbours to visit when you fancy a breath of fresh air and some wildlife spotting. Many of the city’s country parks and trails are teeming with creatures that you might not even know existed in Hong Kong. For a spot of monkey business, step onto the trails at Kam Shan, Lion Rock, or Shing Mun Country Parks, where a population of around 2,000 cheeky primates can be spotted sunning themselves and preening each other – with zero inhibitions. Be warned though, finding yourself alone on a trail surrounded by monkeys can be quite a nerve-racking experience. If you prefer more placid creatures such as birds, then check out the beautiful aviary in Hong Kong Park where you can spot exotic beauties while walking over wooden paths perched high among the trees, or observe the colourful flamingos bathing themselves in Kowloon Park. Just watch out for those big wild boars which have a tendency to wander into villages, schools, and even the occasional shopping mall!
10. You Can Drink for Free (if You’re a Girl)
Hong Kong might be one of the priciest cities in the world to wine and dine in, but if you know where to go, you could wind up drinking all night for free – if you’re a woman that is! Sorry lads. Ladies Nights are very much alive and kicking in the 852, with various bars offering free drinks after a certain time in the evening. Among the most popular haunts are Carnegie’s which serves free vodka sprites after 9pm on weekdays, Cé La Vi where complimentary bubbles can be enjoyed between 8.30pm to 10.30pm on Thursdays, and Oolaa where the fizz runs freely on Wednesdays after 6pm. For a night of theatrics, head to Ophelia between 8.30pm and 10.30pm on a Wednesday night and sip on free-flow vodka and gin with mixers while watching burlesque showgirl performances. It’s totally sexist we know, but who are we to complain?