You Asked, I Answered. Your FAQs About Moving to Hong Kong

You Asked, I Answered. Your FAQs About Moving to Hong Kong

It can be hard to find information on what it’s like to be an expat, and I thought it was a great opportunity to use my own experience to provide some insight.

Almost daily now I’ve been receiving your lovely messages and e-mails asking about what it’s like to move to Hong Kong to be an expat. I’ve found that most of you actually have the same questions, so I decided to publically answer of all your frequently asked questions here!

Just what is Hong Kong anyways: a city, a country?

Hong Kong

Hong Kong is one of the two Special Administrative Regions of the People’s Republic of China (the other being Macau). So it is technically China, but many still refer to Hong Kong as completely separate as it has its own laws, currency, passport, and government—and no, Hong Kong is not communist.

What language do people speak in Hong Kong?

The official languages of Hong Kong are Chinese and English. Cantonese is the dialect spoken here, while the writing system is traditional Chinese. While Mandarin is becoming popular for business purposes, don’t expect to hear it often here.

Can I move to Hong Kong without knowing a word of Chinese?

Yes! Learning a few simple phrases might be nice to show your respect, but unless someone wants to learn it for personal reasons, expats can get by easily without it as English is widely spoken here. You will find signs and public announcements will be in Cantonese, English and Mandarin.

What is the weather like in Hong Kong?

Hong Kong

Hot! Hong Kong is subtropical and summers here are hot and humid. The rainy season falls from May to September, and while typhoons are frequent during this time, they’re nothing you need to worry about. Winters are dry and temperatures rarely fall below 45°F.

Can I find work in Hong Kong once I arrive?

Unless you’re trilingual in Cantonese, English and Mandarin, finding a job in Hong Kong might be difficult. Many expats have been sent here and contract from companies in their home country.

As an English speaker, expats will mainly be limited to teaching English or low-paying hospitality positions. And due to the visa system in Hong Kong, you will technically need to be hired before you arrive.

What should I pack?

You can find many foreign products in Hong Kong, so I wouldn’t worry about bringing much. Many medicines that require a prescription in other countries are sold simply over-the-counter here, and for cheap. If you have any particular products you just can’t live without go ahead and pack them, otherwise I would suggest buying most things here.

Though what I really recommend bringing is sunscreen as you’ll often need it and it’s very expensive here. Oh, and shoes. If you have larger than a US size 7 for women and 11 for men, finding shoes may be very difficult for you here!

Do I need a car in Hong Kong?

Hong Kong

Nope! Hong Kong has an amazing public transportation system complete with trains, buses and ferries that can get you virtually anywhere you need to go and fast.

While you really don’t need to use taxis here, know they are metered and affordable when compared to western countries. Due to Hong Kong’s small size, it is rare to ever spend more than US $15 on a taxi fare, and most rides will be closer to US $4. Yes this is cheap, but you would probably only pay US $0.50 for the same ride using public transportation.

What is the cost of living?

Hong Kong is a bit funny in that it can be both extremely cheap to live here and extremely expensive. If you live modestly and like a local, chances are you will be able to save a lot, as the prices of most goods are cheaper than in your home country.

But if you’re constantly buying western products and eating in western establishments, you’ll find Hong Kong is expensive.


2lbs of apples costs around US $1
¼ a gallon of milk costs US $2.50
But a package of Kraft cheese singles? That costs a whopping US $7.50

A dinner in a local restaurant will cost generally around US $5.
But a dinner at Ruby Tuesday’s can be upwards of US $30 for just an entree.

As far as cellphone and utility bills go, these will be also be much cheaper. I pay about US $20 each month for unlimited data and minutes for my iPhone, and most our other bills are subsidized by the government so we never have anything to pay.

Please keep in mind that the cost of living can also vary depending which area you live in. Anything on the Island side is generally much more expensive than the Kowloon side.

The only thing I can assure you will be expensive anywhere you go is rent.

Where will I live in Hong Kong?

Hong Kong

With it being small and dense, property in Hong Kong is a hot commodity. Most people will go through an agent to find a place, but do be aware that there are steep agency fees.

Be prepared to pay three months rent upfront as a deposit, plus half a month for commission to the agent. Expect to pay around HK $15,000 (US $2,000) monthly for a reasonably sized apartment for two people.

Do expats need to pay taxes?

Yes, but taxes will generally also be much lower than in you home country, and if you’re only staying a year, you will pay them in one lump sum upon departure.

How good are doctors in Hong Kong, and is healthcare affordable?

Public hospitals and clinics are very affordable for those who possess a valid Hong Kong ID card (which you will receive upon activating your visa). During an unexpected accident, I found myself in the hospital last year.

Ambulance ride, x-rays, stitches, and all; everything in total only cost US $25. There are many Western doctors available in Hong Kong, as well as local doctors who have studied overseas. The doctors here are of a similar quality to those in the US, just make sure to find out the languages spoken by the doctor before you book!

Hong Kong is so small, what if I get bored?

While Hong Kong has many interesting neighborhoods for you to visit, it is indeed small, so it won’t take too long to explore most of it. If you want, there’s a train that runs to Mainland China* and a ferry that crosses over to Macau.

Plus, Hong Kong is centrally located within Asia and has a world-class airport, which makes it the perfect hub for traveling to other Asian countries.

*A Mainland China visa must be applied for separately as a Hong Kong visa will not allow entry on its own.

Is it easy to stay in contact with back home? 

Hong Kong has one of the fastest Internet connections in the world so don’t worry about keeping in touch with those back home. Just make sure to download Skype or any other voice-over-IP service.

There are also a wide variety of English TV channels, as well as daily English newspapers available.

Can I use Facebook, Twitter, etc.?

Yes! Unlike in Mainland China, websites such as Facebook and Twitter are not banned in Hong Kong.

How can I make friends?

Hong Kong

Hong Kong is so international you should have no problem meeting people here. Join Facebook groups for expats, browse sites like Meetup, or hang outside ‘Club 7’, and you’re bound to make friends quickly.

Although making friends with locals is another story.

I’m scared to move to Asia, what if there’s too much culture shock?

Don’t be! Of course it can be scary moving to any new country, but I promise you’ll be just fine. Out of all Asian countries, Hong Kong is the most western and is the perfect gateway to Asia!

And if you’re like most of the people I know here, you’ll probably end up falling in love with Hong Kong and stay here longer than you initially planned.

If you have any other questions that weren’t answered about moving to Hong Kong, of course you can continue to e-mail me. Many of you also had questions relating to teaching English in particular, so you can expect another FAQ on that soon!


Would you like to be an expat in Hong Kong? Do you have other questions? Leave them in the comments below!  


  • madhulika says:

    Hey Beth,
    Thanks for loads of information, one question I have I am planning to move HK by applying for PR and wants to pursue my career in Software testing skills. Do you have any idea regarding job sites relevant to this.
    It will be of great help.

  • Raeziel says:

    hi. my husband and i will be visiting hong kong on october 16 to 19. we will arrived their at by 8pm and leave on 19 at 9pm. i wanted to visit all of this. but i dont know where to start. we will be staying at yaumatie. i think we should spend whole day for disneyland till night on 17. and oceanpark whole day only on 18. i just want to ask if do you know whats nearest to each other. and what place can we visit by oct 16 when we arrive?, on by oct 17 after ocean park? and on oct 19 whole day before we go to airport?

    this are the places we want to visit. please help me arrange them.
    NGONG PING 360


  • Hazel Owens says:

    It’s good to know that you should find a job in Hong Kong before moving there. Getting a work visa is obviously important if you want to live there, and you said that Hong Kong’s visa requires you to be hired before arriving. Even if you do end up working as an English teacher, it seems like an exciting option to move to Hong Kong. Thanks for the information!

  • Isaac Cheng says:

    Hi Beth,

    I’m an American too, living in California, a very high-tax state. Even after moving to Hong Kong, we still need to pay Federal Income Tax, don’t we? Did you do anything to prevent Illinois from going after you for state income tax? For example, did you cancel your driver’s license and voter’s registration with your state before moving to Hong Kong?

    • Beth Williams says:

      You do need to file– but that won’t always result in paying as that’ll depend on your income bracket.
      I did not cancel my driver’s license, or voting registration (although that’s different from where I live anyhow).

      • Isaac says:

        Beth, thanks a lot for sharing your valuable experience, which will save me time, money, and trouble!

        I do understand that I always need to file my 1040 federal income tax return. However, I would be surprised if California would require me to file my *state* income tax return even if I lived in Hong Kong for the entire tax year.

        By “need to file,” do you mean that I need to file my *state* tax return even if I don’t live in that state? That would seem odd to me. Perhaps I need to understand a little deeper on the rules of becoming an expat. I never did till I came across your blog. Thanks.

        • Beth Williams says:

          It might depend on the state, but in IL I am required to file taxes here even though I am not currently in the state. However, I never had to pay anything of course, it was just for records.

  • Gayoung says:

    Hi i’m 16 this year and starting college im from the UK, Since i am Chinese fluent in speaking Cantonese but not reading, i’m fluent in English as well would it be easy to find a job teaching when i finish college at 18 or do you think id need to get a degree to teach basic English to kinder-gardens, also what type of jobs would you recommend? If i Move to Hong Kong when i’m 18 i will have a place to stay since i have a lot of relatives and my mum is there too, Do i have to work at a major company or like a business type company to get a job visa or can work at restaurants or boutiques too?

    • Beth Williams says:

      Unless you want to teach forever, I wouldn’t advise getting a degree in education. Most people who teach English short-term, like myself, do not have degrees related to teaching, but you get all the training you need on site.

      You certainly don’t need to work in the corporate world to be granted a work visa. :)

  • aleks says:


    I just discovered your website and it’s very very nice. Thanks for all the info.

    I might plan to go to HK soon with my wife and we have a baby on the go and I was wondering if in your opinion a salary of 40000 HKD for my wife and the future baby would be enough knowing that we barely eat western food and we mostly like cheap local food and would cook a lot. We are also not planning to go have drinks that often and we don’t shop that much neither.

    And as my wife is going to stay at home at first so she will use a lot of AC, i was wondering how much would it cost per month for the utilities if we decide to take a 2 bedroom flat in Kowloon?

    Your flat is 2 bedrooms and one living room or 1 br/1 living room?

    Thanks in advance.


    • Beth Williams says:

      Thanks Alex!

      40k HKD is doable, but it may be tight without a lot of savings. To give you a better idea, 40k is slightly under what my fiance and I make, and we live almost paycheck to paycheck (although obviously we do travel quite a bit).

      So long as you avoid western food you should be absolutely fine– and make sure to bargain hard for your apartment rent. We live in a 2 bedroom flat with a living room and kitchen, and pay 14k per month. (although asking price was 16+K) Utilities are often covered by the government stipend other than in summer when we use more AC, but even then it’s usually no more than 200 per month.

      Let me know if you have other questions about HK!

  • Vio says:

    Thank you Beth for this very informative and interesting blog.
    I should move to Hong Kong in a couple of months and I was wondering if you could recommend some website and/or estate agencies where to look for an apartment in Hong Kong. Those I managed to find online have unaffordable rental price, way above what you mentioned.
    Many thanks,Vio

    • Beth Williams says:

      The only website I really know is GoHome Hk. I personally just looked at apartments once I arrived and was able to find and sign something on our second day, so hopefully that helps!

  • Lauren says:

    Thanks for this, Beth. I’ve got a job teaching English and will be moving to Hong Kong at the end of April, so this is really useful. If you have any other handy tips about things like banking that would be great!

    • Beth Williams says:

      Awesome! Will you be working at a school or a language center?

      As far as banking, you’ll need to open an account here once you arrive. I highly recommend HSBC, and if you have an HSBC in your home country, open an account there as well before you go! It’ll be much cheaper transferring money back and forth between countries that way.

      Unless you have no need to transfer back and forth– then just open an HSBC account here and use that for everything!

      • Lauren says:

        I’ll be working at a language centre for English Excel if you know of them?

        Any super tips for making the move?

        • Beth Williams says:

          I do know English Excel, as one of their locations is next door to my language center! They’re a rather small company with just a few locations, but their curriculum seems good.

          As far as tips go… pack a lot less than you think you need! I brought way too much and have only accumulated more over the years with all the great/cheap shopping here. Now I’m stressing out on how to pack up and move it all home :)

          Also, consider bringing with some teaching aids or things to show your student– like some US money, stuff like that.

          • Lauren says:

            haha packing drives me crazy, good luck!

            Ah, that’s crazy that you work next door to one! I’ll be at their Olympic Park school on Kowloon, but I’ll be living on Hong Kong Island, is it a fairly simple commute? Everything I’ve read makes it seem like you can travel round like a breeze.

            Also one last question I swear! I’ve been thinking about getting a new laptop, but was unsure whether it would be wise to get one now or if I could get a better deal once I’m there. What would you recommend?

            Thanks for all your advice by the way, it’s been very helpful and your blog is excellent!

          • Beth Williams says:

            I live and work at Olympic actually! (Yikes, living in HK Island is quite expensive. I hope EE provides some sort of housing stipend?)
            The commute is fairly simple at least, although costly in itself. I used to work on HK Island, and commuting from Olympic ended up costing nearly $1,000 per month, which I find quite high.

            Get a laptop before you leave! Everyone expects electronics to be cheaper here, but almost everything I’ve found is actually cheaper back home. (Probably thanks to sites like Amazon and such!)

            Let me know if you have other questions, really don’t mind! :)

          • Lauren says:

            What are the chances of that! It’s a shame you’ll have moved on before I arrive (I assume).

            Yeah, I’ll be sharing with two other people and EE take it straight from my salary, so it’s like I never see the money anyway, which seems okay to me. Whether that means they contribute as well, I’m not sure, but…What did you find to be the best way to commute? I assumed ferry, but that might be my guidebooks talking.

            If you have an e-mail and wouldn’t mind exchanging a few words it’d save me spamming you here with questions I’m sure not everyone else wants to read. Thanks for all your help so far though, you’ve been a wealth of information.

          • Beth Williams says:

            I’ll be leaving here in early June. I think it’s funny that you’ll be moving in next door. The center there seems rather small… I think I’ve only seen maybe 3 teachers there? But there might be more just hiding in the back!

            The best way to commute to Olympic will be through the MTR. The ferry only gets you to TST, and to get from TST to Olympic you’d need to take the MTR which would have you going back on the island anyhow. :)

            So depending where you live… take the MTR to Central Station, which is connected to Hong Kong Station and then from HK Station, the second stop is Olympic. It takes about 5 minutes from HK>Olympic.

            Feel free to e-mail me any other questions! besudesuabroad at

        • Sami says:

          How are you finding EE? Are you staying in the apartments or did you find your own accommodation? They have offered me a contract in July but would love to know how you’re finding it!

          • Lauren says:

            Hey Sami,
            I’ve not started yet, I’m going out there on the 21st, so I’ll let you know how it is. I’ve taken the apartments though, figured it would be so much easier for my first time moving abroad and a lot cheaper (from everything I understand about accommodation inHK).

          • Beth Williams says:

            Is the 21st when you actually arrive in HK or when you start work Lauren? So soon! I hope you’re getting excited :)

          • Lauren says:

            My flight’s on the 21st, so I actually arrive on the 22nd and start work on the 24th! So close now, it seems unreal in a strange way. We should grab a drink or something if you’re around? It would be nice to meet a vaguely familiar face =)

          • Beth Williams says:

            Yes! I’ll be around until the first week of June :)

          • Lauren says:

            Cool, well I’ll give you a message when I hit Hong Kong, or if you see a really lost looking girl near the school, it’s likely me.

          • Beth Williams says:

            I actually moved to a new location (but it’s only down the street) but I’m still in that shopping center a lot for lunch, so do let me know when you get here! :)

          • Lauren says:

            Will do, sounds good! Looking forward to it =)

  • I’m with Ron: Living in a city surrounded by that many people would make me NUTS! But it’s good to hear that you’ve adjusted to the expat life, and are devoted to helping others do the same. m

    • Beth Williams says:

      It’s crowded… but it really doesn’t feel any more crowded than larger cities like New York, Chicago, etc.

  • NZ Muse says:

    DAMN I did not realise just how it was there! Will have to definitely plan not to spend too long when we finally get to visit, we will melt in seconds.

    Places like Hong Kong and Singapore are definitely more popular for NZ expats these days and I know a couple people in HK right now.

    • Beth Williams says:

      Yeah, it get’s quite warm here… but it’s certainly tolerable! If you have no worries in Malaysia, you’ll be just fine in HK.

      I think HK is a popular place for expats in general, there’s a huge community here from just about every country you could imagine.

  • Good points. I agree about the train system. I found getting around to be a breeze on the mass transit. An octopus card was easy to figure out and use. For the kids it was just like a ride at HK Disney!

    • Beth Williams says:

      An octopus card is a must for anyone traveling– and living in Hong Kong! Whether using it for transportation, or just to buy food, it’s so convenient. And I love the train to Disney just because it’s so cutely designed!

  • Wow I couldn’t imagine living in that close of a proximity with so many people…I’d go mad! haha Would be worth a visit though the next time I’m backpacking through Asia. :-)

  • Thanks for writing this – incredible amount of information! I have friends who are just about to head to Hong Kong for a few months, so I’ll forward this onto them. Thanks Beth!

  • Jenna says:

    Very interesting post–great, detailed information! I would love to visit Hong Kong–I’ll definitely be back here to get information for when we decide to go!

  • Wow, super helpful article! I know who to contact now when I will be visiting HK :)

    • Beth Williams says:

      I hope you do visit Marysia! It’s a wonderful place. I thought I would only spend one year here and now somehow it’s already been two!

  • Sammi says:

    Great post Beth, really informative :)

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