I love Hong Kong. It’s a fantastic vibrant city with so much going on. And even better is the fact that the cost of living in Hong Kong can be far lower than you might expect – if you know where to look.
This is a city of contrasts. On one hand, there is what everyone knows about Hong Kong – towering skyscrapers, glass-fronted ‘skywalks’ snaking across the central districts, international malls and restaurants – everything you would expect from a millennial metropolis. But on the other hand, Hong Kong also has lots of village-style communities ranging from places like Stanley, Shek O and South Bay on the south side of Hong Kong island to even more rural areas on the outlying islands, like Lamma or Lantau. You might not believe it but the cost of living in Hong Kong can be substantially less than equivalent developed cities across the world.
If you’re going to be moving to Hong Kong for work soon, you can find out more about becoming an Expat in our free eBook The New Expat.
Accommodation and the cost of living in Hong Kong
The price of accommodation in Hong Kong is a source of constant complaint by the citizens, and is the one expense that vastly outstrips what can otherwise be a lower cost of living in Hong Kong.
Choice varies enormously: USD 2,000 per month rental will get you either a 500 sq ft box in Happy Valley or a 3 bedroom village house in the New Territories.
If budget is a concern, then lots of expats look at communities like Discovery Bay on Lantau island. There is no doubt that you get more for your money than on Hong Kong island and there is a fully formed community including schools. Further out still and the price drops lower if you were to look at villages like Mui Wo, Sai Kung or Clearwater Bay. But it’s fair to say that if you move to Hong Kong, your rent will be by far your biggest outlay. One way of looking at it is that since income tax here is charged at a flat 16%, you may be able to pay a little more in rent if you’re making a save from your previous tax regime.
A few good resources if you want to look at rental properties are:
Eating and drinking
Hong Kong has an excellent restaurant scene, which is roughly divided into East and West style cuisine. In western style ‘international’ restaurants you can expect to pay more than you might in other parts of the world. But for the true bargains you should head out to enjoy genuine Hong Kong cuisine.
The city is scattered with tiny noodle bars which will dish you up a bowl of piping pork ball soup for under USD 3, and larger sit-down style restaurants serving Cantonese food for around USD 10 a head for a lunch or dinner set. Try to find one of the city’s dying breed of Dai Pai Dongs which are characterised by their green roofs. The local fast food chains like Maxims also do a great line in BBQ pork, one of Hong Kong’s specialties that even the fussiest Gweilo will enjoy…
Surprisingly Hong Kong boasts the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant in the world. But if you’re going to take a trip there, don’t put on your best bib and tucker, as you’ll be pretty out of place. Called Tim Ho Wan in Mong Kok, expect to stand in a long queue, get pretty terrible service but be treated to some seriously good Cantonese food. My advise would be to over-order on the pork buns but steer clear of the turnip cake, but I’ll leave it to you to decide!
Tea shops are easily recognisable by their huge shining brass kettles and can dispense you a hot or cold brew to guard against any ill for USD 2. Whilst alcohol – namely beer – is also around half the price of cities like Singapore and a third of that in New York or London. The only exception are international hotels and trendy bars, which will be much more pricey.
On a more practical level, there are a number of supermarket chains in Hong Kong. The most prevalent are Wellcome and ParknShop. Local Hong Kong Chinese people tend to do their food shopping either daily or several times a week to guarantee the freshest of foods. There are some westernised supermarkets such as the ParknShop International where you will be able to find most things from back home but beware, as you can expect to pay double or sometimes triple for the most basic item. My advice would be to always check the price before it goes in your trolley!
Hong Kong has an excellent network of trains called the MTR, which cost between USD 0.30 and USD 3 a journey. Jump aboard one of the regular ferries shuttling across the complex of Hong Kong islands and the price is a tiny USD 0.15. If you pick up an Octopus Card, which covers all public transport in the city, you can make savings on all city transport. Again, this definitely helps lower the cost of living in Hong Kong.
Taxis in Hong Kong are also very affordable and start at a fixed price of USD 2.50. My advice would be to learn the Cantonese for where you live and your work address to avoid lengthy conversations with online maps and A to Zs. One of the other quirks about Hong Kong taxis is their colour. Red taxis will mostly take you to Hong Kong island and Kowloon areas, green taxis will only serve the New Territories and blue run exclusively on Lantau which includes the airport and Disneyland. And the only place you’ll ever see all three together is around the airport.
More on making the move abroad
For more on living and working abroad, don’t forget to download our free eBook The New Expat which covers business and family matters, accommodation issues, medical considerations, financial arrangements and much more.