Thinking about moving or taking a visit to Hong Kong? Here are some practicalities and things you should know from first-hand experience! Note, I’ll be continually updating this guide, so check back for additions. Also, forgive my British proclivity.
Hong Kong is on the whole very westerner friendly. Frequently referred of as the place where “East meets West”, the majority of locals speak good English, all state signage is in English (as well as Cantonese and Mandarin) and most shops and restaurants have English labelling.
The typical evening social life is different here. The binge drinking culture synonymous with most western countries is welcomingly non-existent. Instead, locals customarily opt for eating out with friends, shopping and the occasional karaoke night. For the thirsty expatriate, Lan Kwai Fong and Wan Chai are popular watering holes.
The MTR is the way to travel around in HK. It is equivalent of the London underground, except it actually works; it’s on time, clean, cheap and fast. Every major district is accessible by it and it’s even more convenient with an Octopus card (think Oyster card — it seems sea life is the running theme for transport smart cards).
Hong Kong, like many of the Asian countries, is known for its reasonable prices. However, I have to reuse the oft coined (and annoyingly obtuse) “it depends on where you go”. A typical evening meal may cost you anything up to $100 HKD in Central, but less than $20 HKD in parts of Kowloon. Similarly, expect to pay around $65 HKD for a pint of beer in Lan Kwai Fong, $10 HKD in Taste (a local supermarket). That said, I would say $100 HKD per day would suffice for the careful spender.
If your planning a longer stay, or are indeed working (like me), consider opening a local bank account. One great tip is to check which bank is the most popular in your destination country and (if possible) open an account before you leave. Opening even the most basic account will help fast-track identification procedures since you will already be a customer of the bank. In Hong Kong, HSBC are one of the bigger players, which is handy since they are well-known worldwide.
ATM’s work a bit differently in HK. Notes are issued by individual banks rather than the state and, you are charged for using your card in a competitor’s ATM. Contrasting from the free UK equivalent of LINK, UnionPay is the interbank network that will make the charge. Unsurprisingly, using your Visa here will also incur a charge. So unless you like paying to access your own money, watch out.
Apart from using VoIP services like Skype, longer stayers may be interested in making local calls. Hong Kong uses the same cellular frequency as the UK (900/1800MHz), so if your British mobile is unlocked, it should just be the case of picking up a local SIM card.
PCCW are a popular here, offering a number of pay-as-you-go (prepaid) SIMs or contract plans. Since a standard cross-network SMS message costs around $0.70 HKD whereas local calls are on average $0.25 HKD/min, most people call rather than text. Also, both the caller and callee are charged for the call and hence you need to be in credit to receive a call. Strange huh?
Other than simply leaving me a comment, anyone can easily find good resources from Google. However, the single most useful guide you won’t find on Google is:
Actively maintained by an International Student Officer at City University HK, it is a comprehensive guide that uniquely treats you as a local rather than a rich foreigner. I found it much more useful than anything Lonely Planet and the like try to sell you, so definitely give it a read.