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A Guide to Living Abroad in Hong Kong

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Thinking about living in Hong Kong? Here’s what it’s like:

Hong Kong is a hot, busy city. It’s full of life and culture at every turn. Even so, it’s a relatively easy move as everything is in English from being a British colony and many Western products are readily available.

I am always finding something I haven’t seen before in this bustling metropolis. There is forever something new I want to do: a new sport, brunch, Meetup, language exchange, happy hour… Well, you get the picture! There are store and groups for your interests, however obscure those may be.

Another great city to live nearby is Taipei, Taiwan. Or, if you'd prefer a more laidback Asian city, see what it's like to live in Jeonju, South Korea.

Getting a sense of the city

Hong Kong has three major areas: Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, and New Territories.

Kowloon is just across the Victoria Harbor from the Island, but is pretty tiny. New Territories make up most of the sprawling city, even without considering that the outlying islands are also in that group. That’s nearly 90% of Hong Kong! Even so, Hong Kong Island and Kowloon are where half of the population live, and where most expats I know work and choose to live.

In these areas are the typical Hong Kong: skyscrapers, crowds, metro, and the city feel. In New Territories, beaches, mountains, buses, and more space are the norm. While Hong Kong feels spacious in this view, it’s actually a small place and I love how quick I can pop to the beach and how often I run into friends unexpectedly.

It is an expensive city, but there is always cheaper options, especially if you’re willing to eat local.

Typhoon season is strongest June through September when it rains nearly every day. July is the hottest and stickiest. It is definitely good to get an umbrella quickly if you’re landing in these months. The end of September through January is the best weather, less humidity and the temperature drops down so you don’t drip with sweat at every step. You might want a jacket for a month or two, but definitely leave your winter coat at home and bring instead plenty of your favorite summer clothes.

Where should I live?

This is definitely a tricky one, as it totally depends on what you want!

Do you want to be a walk from work or are you fine with a metro, and possibly ferry, commute? Prefer a coast view or cityscape? Would the ribbiting and chirping of island creatures relax you or keep you from sleeping? Is living in a flat with a balcony a must or are you fine with a little less space? Want to be close to the airport? Hong Kong has so many choices that it really helps to narrow these down! However, be warned, it’s hard to find somewhere that has it all, at least with my price range and wish list!

If you want to live near the beach or a bit of nature sounds, it’s common for expats to live on Lamma and Lantau islands.

The commute on the ferry is pretty quick and the ferries depart often, only stopping in the wee hours of the morning. If you don’t fancy a commute, trust me I don’t, apartments are everywhere. Many airline employees stay on Lamma to stay an arm’s reach from the airport; also handy if you plan to take a lot of trips! It’s often cheaper and more spacious to live in Kowloon for your flat and for groceries and shopping as well.

An easy way to get started is to live in a serviced apartment at first. Lower deposits, weekly cleanings, utilities included, yeah that’s the life! I lived in one just across from work before find a slight cheaper, and much smaller, place two minutes away.

In general, be aware that cost of living is pricey and your new flat will likely be much smaller than what you’re used to.

Most of the people I know don’t mind too much as no one has friends over, we all meet somewhere to spend time together. Not only this, but usually there’s so much going on that, besides sleeping, there’s not a lot of time spent at home. Simply so much to do! Always always always be sure to see your new flat in person before signing a lease.

A very typical and very small Hong Kong apartment
This is basically my entire flat!

What’s the best way to get around?

Topping up your Octopus card, just like London’s Oyster card, is the best way to pay for public transport as well as lots of shopping!

Keep it topped up at 7 eleven or MTR(metro) stations. At peak hours, the metro is more like a can of sardines, it’s really a sight to see. The metro covers the Island and Kowloons, and where it ends, the bus takes over. The tram is a slower, but more scenic option, that is convenient as well. The minibuses are quick, and often frightening, but you are always guaranteed to sit down on this mode of transport!

If you need to take a taxi, you will need to pay cash. Taxis are almost the only time that not knowing Cantonese is a bit of a struggle, so try to tell them a neighborhood or show them the address when you get in. Also, have a good sense of what the fare should be so that you know you’re getting charged a fair price! Uber is also available.

How can I meet people?

Like any country, join the expat groups on Facebook, especially HK Girls Gone International, to start to meet people.

If you’re into sports, you won’t have to look far for any of the main stream ones. A post in one of the expat groups or a search on Meetup will show you just how many teams at varying levels of competition are happy to have new players. Also use these groups to search your niche hobbies and networking events.

Love sewing or crafts? Make and Do Hong Kong hosts craft nights in different bars across Hong Kong and these are always a great time.

Not into crafts? There are many pole and aerial yoga studios scattered everywhere. Give Class Pass or Guava Pass a go to sample a few fitness classes and meet others interested in the same way to get a sweat in. There are many, many book clubs, singles events, religious groups, couples’ nights, and all kinds of special interest groups. Reach out, show up, and smile your way to what might be your new best friend in your new home.

An expat teacher in Hong Kong eating out at a local restaurant
Enjoying all the delicious local dishes

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What can I do for fun in the city?

After joining a language exchange and a group chat for a weekly ladies’ night, maybe now you want to know what to do when you have some down time. There are plenty of hikes to keep you busy in the cooler months. Many have breathtaking views, well worth the aching feet to reach the top. After you’ve done all the hiking you can do (for me that limit is one), check out the beaches. It’s true that they aren’t the most beautiful in the world, but they are certainly worth it, especially with the islands popping out in the distance. If you’re willing to travel far enough, you can get a totally secluded spot for a picnic and some rays.

On one outlying island, it is possible to walk across the ocean floor during low tide to the next teeny-tiny spot. Make sure you google Sharps Island before you go to get the tide time right!

In the city, check out the local wet markets where the shopping is cheaper than a lot of the grocery stores. Each neighborhood will have their own, so fresh veggies, and not so fresh smells, are never far away! Check out the other markets as well for a mix of tourist and local life experiences. Get your electronics in Sham Shui Po, your flowers in Mong Kok, all kinds of knick-knacks at Temple Street Night Market, and so many more.

Even when I don’t need anything, I love to go and have a look around at all of these and just watch the tourists stick out and the locals go about their business. Enjoy the public pools, especially at Kowloon Park where you can find the pool, a pond of flamingos, and Chinese gardens all in a little oasis from the crowded city sidewalks. Take a tram ride from Kennedy Town to North Point to get the scenery in. This is a really lovely way to get acquainted without tiring yourself out.

A female English teacher in Hong Kong enjoying her day off by exploring the city by boat
For a different view of the city, see it by boat!

Take a food tour, or come up with your own, to dive right into the dim sum and milk tea life. Secret Food Tour Hong Kong has a delicious, informative tour starting in Tin Hau with a really wonderful guide that orients you to the culture as well as the food. Study some Cantonese, or Mandarin, with language classes. At the VTC in Wan Chai, an 8-lesson course is only HK$1,000 and much is reimbursed at the end with good attendance.

Visit the Buddhist, Taoist, and Sikh temples to experience local’s religious practices. The 10,000 Buddha Monastery in Sha Tin and Po Lin Nunnery on Lantau Island are two that left me in awe. Don’t be afraid to play tourist! Go up to The Peak for the view, visit the Big Buddha, take the Star Ferry through Victoria Harbor, check out Disneyland.

Some people even use their downtime for their side gig. A few great ways to make extra money are through teaching English online, teaching some yoga classes to fellow expats or even building up your own online brand.

The best and sweatiest way to get to know Hong Kong, or any city, is to put down your map, put away your phone, and just start walking.

I have discovered so many of my favorite things when I had no real destination in mind and a few hours on my hands. Unique boutiques, family owned restaurants, my favorite coconut tarts, the most interesting graffiti, and so many more would have been lost to me without wandering without intention. Especially with all the sudden coming and going Hong Kong’s businesses do, there is always something to discover, even just around the corner.

Want to move to Hong Kong but need a job? Check out my post about teaching English in Hong Kong!

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