Your guide to expat life in Hong Kong

Living in Hong Kong

Many expats have an affluent lifestyle, enjoying a high income and access to all the conveniences of a modern city. But limited real estate means apartments are smaller and more expensive than you may be used to. And you could find the crowds overwhelming in the densely populated city.

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The standard of housing in Hong Kong is high, but luxury doesn’t come cheap.

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Types of housing

Apartments are the most common type of accommodation owing to the high population density. Villas are another option, but they’re considerably more expensive and mostly available on outlying islands.


Most housing is unfurnished, although a few basic appliances may be provided. Furnished apartments are available short-term, but these are more expensive than long-term rentals.

Old vs new

Hong Kong’s rental market is divided into ‘old’ and ‘new’. Old accommodation is rough around the edges, but affordable. Newer apartments are usually small, but bright and airy.


Many apartments lack storage space. Built-in cupboards are rare, especially in newer buildings, and there isn’t much room for wardrobes, bedside cabinets and TV stands.

Choosing an area

Families favour the southern part of Hong Kong Island or Kowloon Peninsula where there’s more space and good schools. The New Region’ Lantau Island is also popular among expats as it’s quieter than the bustling city centre. Accommodation is cheaper the further you are from the city centre, but you’ll have a lengthy commute if you live on an outlying island.

Culture changes

Culture shock in Hong Kong may not be as dramatic as you’d expect, especially if you’re from an English-speaking country. But the sheer number of people living in close quarters can be daunting.

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Cantonese is notoriously difficult for expats to learn. Mandarin is slightly easier and can be useful if you need to liaise with colleagues from the mainland. Fortunately, most people will insist on speaking English.


If you’re used to living in a big house with a garden and garage, the size and cost of accommodation in Hong Kong will be a shock. Even the smallest living quarters have a hefty price tag.

Eating out

Locals eat noisily and belches are considered acceptable, sometimes even a sign of appreciation. At formal dinners, the host or oldest person should start eating before everyone else.


The concept of "face" is important when interacting with locals. You can ‘give face’ to locals by complimenting them sincerely, but be careful not to cause them to lose face by embarrassing or contradicting them in public.


Education is taken seriously in Hong Kong. Teachers are greatly respected, and students are disciplined and well-behaved. The school year runs from September to July, with a long break over the summer.

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Public schools

Although some public schools advertise in English, most classes are given in Cantonese – so do some careful research before committing. Standards are high, but the focus is on learning by repetition. The competitive nature of these schools has made private tutoring common – and children often spend several hours after school at extra lessons known as "cram school".

International schools

There are international schools in Hong Kong that follow the British, American and Australian curricula. It’s often difficult to get into these schools, especially now that an increasing number of places are taken by the children of affluent locals. Contact schools before you move, and ask your employer to help you secure a place at a good school.

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Keeping in touch


Hong Kong is consistently ranked by various organisations as being one of the world’s top ten countries for fast internet speeds. Internet cafés are few and far between, but there are thousands of public WiFi hotspots and it’s easy to install ADSL or fibre in your home.


Phones come free or at a reduced price with a contract. Most providers also offer prepaid options if you don’t want to be tied to the standard two-year plan.


You needn’t worry about censorship in Hong Kong as social media websites and instant messaging services are freely available.

International calls

There’s no charge for calls from landlines to other local numbers, but international calls are fairly expensive. Buy a calling card to make cheaper overseas calls from a landline.

English media

Popular English-language newspapers include The Standard and South China Morning Post . Various imported magazines and other publications are also available.


Hong Kong has a world-class healthcare system. Both public and private hospitals have the latest technology and highly trained doctors who speak English. Medical care is expensive, so make sure you have comprehensive insurance.

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Public healthcare

Hong Kong’s public healthcare system includes hospitals, specialist and general outpatient clinics, Chinese medicine centres and community outreach services. While residents are entitled to subsidies, non-residents have to pay fees similar to those charged by private hospitals.

Private healthcare

Private hospitals often charge more than public facilities, but they provide a better service and shorter waiting times. There are a number of UK-accredited hospitals in Hong Kong, as well as various private practices and outpatient clinics.

Air quality

Air quality is a health concern. Despite government efforts, pollution levels consistently fail the World Health Organization’s safety standards. People with asthma and chronic respiratory disease may have aggravated symptoms, but you shouldn’t experience any long-term effects if you’re healthy.

Emergency services

Both government and non-government organisations provide emergency services, which include the Hong Kong Fire Services Department, Auxiliary Medical Services and the St John Ambulance Association.


Pharmacies are widespread and open seven days a week. Most hospitals also offer 24-hour pharmacy services. Prescriptions from other countries aren’t accepted, so you’ll need to get one from a local doctor before your supply runs out.

Getting around

A superbly efficient public transport system makes it easy to get around Hong Kong.

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Efficient and clean, the MTR is the most popular mode of transport, covering most areas and crossing onto the mainland. Fares are based on distance and most commuters have a rechargeable Octopus card that can also be used for groceries and other transactions.


Hong Kong’s buses aren’t as crowded as the MTR, but they can be slow in peak traffic. Take the bus if you want to get a seat and doze before work.


Taxis are relatively cheap. Not all drivers speak English – so it’s a good idea to have your destination written down in Chinese. Ride-hailing services are also available in Hong Kong.


Travelling by boat is essential if you live in areas such as Discovery Bay or Lamma Island. During bad weather, check in advance to see which ferries are running.

All Expat Explorer survey data and all tips (in quotation marks) are provided by HSBC.

All other content is provided by, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in October 2020. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.

This information does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.

Keeping in touch - Forbes source: "Countries With The Fastest Internet Speeds"