The 7 Pros and 6 Cons of living in Hong Kong

The 7 Pros and 6 Cons of living in Hong Kong

 We've scoured the internet and spoke to many who call Hong Kong home to find out precisely what are the pros and cons of living in Hong Kong. We've compiled a list of seven pros and six cons we believe capture a broad range of experiences shared by many expats living here. In short, we’ve found the pros and cons of living in Hong Kong are as follows:

Pros

  1. The great outdoors

  2. The transport system

  3. The glorious Octopus card

  4. Hong Kong is always on

  5. Food

  6. Safety

  7. How English friendly the city is

Cons

  1. Air pollution

  2. Noise

  3. Crowds

  4. Work hours/workload

  5. Rent

  6. Weather

Of course, the pros and cons of living in Hong Kong are highly subjective, but let’s take a closer look at why we’ve compiled our list the way we have.

+The Great Outdoors 

People think Hong Kong is a concrete jungle with no outdoor scene, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Hong Kong has some amazing hikes that you can do to suit all levels. In fact, Timeout magazine has a list of the ten best, but if you aren't into hiking, a stroll around the many country parks is a must. Hong Kong is a place where everything is so accessible. 

Even within the concrete jungle, Hong Kong is surprisingly green. There are areas in Hong Kong, like Wong Tai Sin, for example, where parks are plentiful in both large and small sizes. Here, you have Morse park, and then you have Kowloon Walled City park as well as Kowloon Tsai Park all within walking distance of each other.  

If staying near home isn't your thing, you could head out to the beach for the day and be back in the city for dinner, that's doable. Many spend their weekends this way! If you fancy heading even further out, you can visit one of the islands like Lamma island, or hop over to Macau for the day. China is also an option too, especially now that Hong Kong has a high-speed train that can get you to Shenzhen in no time. 

+Transport

The transport system in Hong Kong is fantastic. There are multiple ways to get anywhere. The MTR, Hong Kong's subway network has significantly expanded in recent years and covers much of Hong Kong. Their services are frequent, and even more so during the busier times of the day. 

Hong Kong island has a unique tram system covering the island if you want to experience a more leisurely way of getting around. The Star Ferry is a great way to get from Kowloon to the island side and costs less than a pack of tissues. Really! 

If you fancy a more tailored ride home, Hong Kong has no shortage of taxis with the red ones serving Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. The green colour taxis take customers around the New Territories, and the blue ones shuttle people through Lantau Island. Uber is also an option here, so it's a case of picking your poison. 

+Octopus card

The Octopus card is such a useful, convenient little card that makes it an essential item for living in Hong Kong. Not only can you use it to access the entirety of the Hong Kong transit system, but it can also be used to pay for groceries, too.

A must have in Hong Kong

A must have in Hong Kong

Having an Octopus card makes it so convenient to jump on and off transport, that you get around much quicker without fiddling to find coins in your wallet/purse. You can put everything in your bag and have the octopus card in your pocket making it super easy to pay for a drink at 7-Eleven, then hop on the bus/MTR and be home in no time. 

Some phones allow you to use the NFC chip inside to act as an Octopus card, so soon, you won't even need a card. While Hong Kong isn't quite close to Shenzhen in terms of being a cashless society, it is only a matter of time before it becomes one. 

+Always On

Although there are downsides to being always on, the upsides are just too good. If you've come home late from work and accidentally fallen asleep on the sofa only to wake up hungry, you're in luck. Even if it's eleven at night, you can pop downstairs and find a restaurant for a hot meal and an iced lemon tea, stat! 

If you've had a long week and are feeling exhausted, massage parlours (legit ones, okay!) are plentiful here and open late. It's a great way to unwind after a long hard day, and there are options to suit most people's needs.

Even if you fancy catching a late movie at home, only to look in the fridge to see it empty, you can nip down to the local 7-Eleven/Circle K to restock. They carry everything you need to compliment your movie night. Chips, dips, chocolate and ice-cream, are plentiful, so you'll be sure to eat-in in style. 

+Food

Hong Kong has many world-class eateries and so many specialist bars that cater to every taste; Hong Kong is a foodie's paradise. You can have Yum Cha for breakfast, be eating sushi for lunch and end your day sampling some of the best European food in the world. 

Not to mention Hong Kong has many western comfort foods like MacDonald's and Starbucks, too. Even the snacks here are varied, too. If you want chocolate and chips, 7-Eleven has you well covered, and they also stock more local options like fish balls and Siu Mai. 

While it's great to go out and eat quality food, in recent years, you now have the option of having quality food at home. Food Panda, Deliveroo and Uber Eats are all fighting for your money. It's super convenient! You can now have quality food delivered to your home or even at work if you fancy a tasty lunch. 

+Safety

It's tough to convey how special this one is. There aren't many cities in the world where you can lose your purse and end up finding it turned in at your local police station with all the money intact. Even if you stay out for a drink or five, you won't have to worry about getting home as the streets are just as safe at night as they are during the day. 

Some people have noted that with Hong Kong being a crowded city, there is a slight chance that you might bump into the odd pick-pocket. While this may be true, your chances of having your pockets rifled through are slim to none. The only story we've heard is from drunkards who have managed to get most of the way home only to pass out suddenly on a park bench and wake up without their wallet. I guess the lesson here is don't do that and you'll be fine. 

+Language

You don't have to learn Cantonese as English is widely spoken here. You totally should learn it, though. If you're living on Hong Kong island, the chances are high that you will never need to use a word of Cantonese. If you opt for somewhere more local like Kowloon or The New Territories, a little Cantonese will go a long way.

If you do opt to learn some Cantonese, we have a great post that will get you started on your learning journey. Honestly, learning a language is tough but rewarding. If you are ready, you can get started here.   

-Air Pollution

Although we are a positive bunch here, some things can rub you the wrong way sometimes. The pollution here is undoubtedly one of them. Hong Kong is one polluted city. You will often see a haze of fog covering the bay and be regularly ingesting all the roadside emissions (which are really high, by the way) while shopping or walking to work. If you are sensitive to pollutants of all kinds, you might want to don a face mask to help keep the nasties out. 

The measurement system used to measure air pollution in Hong Kong

The measurement system used to measure air pollution in Hong Kong

The health risks that pollution cause here need to be taken seriously. Hong Kong's own Air Quality Health Index records levels of pollution that are seriously high, like, all of the time. In the past, Hong Kong upgraded their equipment to measure more elevated levels of pollution, and they quickly found that the level of pollution was much higher than what the old machines could record.  

There is the genuine chance that although the highest level on the index is a ten, we do ponder what would happen if they decided to make it fifteen. We dare say that we might be looking at fifteen every day instead of a ten. On most days, it’s a ten plus. It would be interesting to see how many “+’s” we are looking at. Needless to say, pollution is a problem here, not just air and light, but all kinds, including noise. 

-Noise

Hong Kong has to be one of the noisiest cities in existence, at all times of the day. If you go for dim sum in a morning, you will have to shout across the table so the other person can hear you. While walking down any street during the day, you are bound to hear drilling and repair works going on. If you're unfortunate, you might hear it going on at night, too.

Noise permeates all aspects of your life here. Our advice: Get some noise-cancelling headphones. They will pay for themselves with how much sanity they help you keep from the constant barrage of noise. With Hong Kong having a rather large elderly population, it's not uncommon to hear the radio on full blast when you take the bus.

When it comes to bedtime, you will more than likely hear the hustle and bustle going on below, with sporadic honking from traffic sprinkled in for good measure. This city is alive, all the time. Truly a city that never sleeps. Earplugs might be required if you live in built-up areas, or if you live on a busy main road. 

-Crowds

Hong Kong is small and packs a lot of people into that space. Seven million and counting, which leads to some pretty large crowds everywhere. There are areas like Central, Mong Kok, Tsim Sha Tsui, and Causeway Bay that are the most crowded places in Hong Kong, so if you don't like crowds, avoid these places. 

Photo by  Joseph Chan  on  Unsplash  edited by Jamie Thorne

Photo by Joseph Chan on Unsplash edited by Jamie Thorne

Space affects everything here. When you go for lunch, you might be sitting elbow to elbow with the person next to you. When you get on the bus, you have to stick your butt in the seated persons face just to slide by to get a seat. Even some toilets require slight gymnastics to get in and get the door shut. Good luck getting back out!

-Work hours/Workload

The normal 9-5 working day doesn't exist in Hong Kong as a standard, so the idea of having a 9-5 isn't a thing here. You have to be mindful of how much you are working too because it's very easy to become overworked by the demands of your job. You can make your job a 9-5, but it's on you to make that a reality. Many people here often work very long hours, teachers included! 

Hong Kong has a very unhealthy relationship with work, and employers are pretty much king here. It isn't uncommon to see people stay at work until their superiors leave, although this is somewhat of a dying trend, thankfully! Hong Kongers are also very resilient, and even though they might be required to work hard, they also know how to play hard, too. 

One common trend in Hong Kong that hasn't entirely gone the way of the Dodo is that of expanding job duties. Often you will be hired to do one job, but in reality, you are doing one and a half jobs, sometimes two. Hong Kong employers are ruthlessly efficient, so if they can kill two birds with one stone, they will.

-Rent/ Housing cost

Renting an apartment in Hong Kong is really expensive, especially for the size you get. It's not uncommon to hear of people paying half of their salary on rent. If you can forgo the convenience, moving further out is the smarter choice here. Often, not only will your rent will be cheaper, but apartments tend to be a little bigger, too. 

We have some great articles on living in Kowloon and the New Territories which should get you started on the hunt for a home that doesn't consume most of your salary. If you opt to live in Kowloon, it's still quite built up but offers much more of a local vibe in comparison to Hong Kong Island. 

The New Territories offers a real different way of life in Hong Kong. Not only will you be closer to nature, but you will also have better access to hiking trails and beaches, too. If waking up in the morning to the sounds of birds chirping gets you excited, then this is the place for you. 

-Weather 

Photo by  Henry Martindale  on  Unsplash  edited by Jamie Thorne

Photo by Henry Martindale on Unsplash edited by Jamie Thorne

Humidity is something you will have to deal with when living in Hong Kong. If you've just had a lovely morning shower and fancy heading out for a couple of hours in the summer heat, be prepared to hop back in the shower when you come home. 

Walking in Hong Kong's humidity with high levels of pollution can place a heavy burden on some people. Some expat parents will often request that their children skip outings and stay in school if the humidity and levels of pollution are equally high. 

The other months can be just as punishing in different ways. Summers can bring endless amounts of rain. Winters can be quite cold because of poor insulation and lack of any heating. Picking up a small heater will go a long way here. Similarly, Spring has temperature drops of up to ten degrees, so it's easy to become sick. It's good practice to carry a cardigan with you at all times because if it isn't the cold weather that will get you, the air conditioning will.     

In Closing

We know that this is a "pros" and "cons" list, but we can't help but remain positive about Hong Kong. You can't have the good without the bad, and my word, there is so much to love here. The people, the city, nature, opportunity and food, to name a few. When you live here, it's hard not to fall head over heels in love with the place, and with that said, we sincerely hope you do. 

We are so happy you made it all the way down here. As always, we'd love to hear what you have to say. Please do sound off in the comments below. If you'd like to get personal, shoot us an email! We can be reached at jamie@navigatehk.com

Credit: Title Photo by Steven Wei on Unsplash edited by Jamie Thorne

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