Moving to Hong Kong on a Budget
Hong Kong has so much to offer – food diversity, night life, mountains and hundreds of hiking paths and amazing transportation. What is there not to love? However, if you ever considered living here, you will know it does cost a fortune! Like many other big cities that are financial centres, it is indeed expensive!
When I first made the move to Hong Kong, I came with the knowledge that I was not going to make a lot of money. The organization I chose with did not provide a high wage but their ultimate support to help me settle in Hong Kong. They provided me with everything I needed to know and ensured it will be enough for both travels and living – as long as I was wise about it. Even though it took some deep budgeting to survive, I learned to have money leftover, which went toward my travels and even going back to school for my Masters degree!
So how did I do it? I’m going to share MY SECRET on how to move to Hong Kong on a budget!
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, meaning I may receive a commission, at no additional cost to you.
All prices are quoted in HKD. The conversion rate is $1 USD = $7.8 HKD.
I highly suggest that anyone who is coming to rent in Hong Kong spends the first 2-4 weeks in temporary accommodation. The reason being is because you definitely want to see the location and the state of the house you will be renting first. Just because it looks wonderful inside, you never know what’s outside. The building might be super old, can be a walk-up building and may not be in an ideal location.
AirB&B is unfortunately illegal in Hong Kong, so I do not recommend you to use this option while you are living there. If you are tight on your budget, I recommend staying at a hostel for the time being. That would buy you some time and good for your wallet.
Another option is to use Couchsurfing, where you can stay with locals for free (Note: As of 2020, Couchsurfing has a membership fee before using their database). Although most homes are quite small, you might still be lucky to find someone to host you in their home, and you can have glimpses of what a real Hong Kong home looks like. It sure doesn’t hurt to have someone to be your tour guide and help you navigate your first few weeks.
Finding a Flat
Flat hunting can be a nightmare in Hong Kong (not to scare you but to warn you). Finding an affordable space in a great neighbourhood does not come cheap. Space is scarce in Hong Kong, hence the high prices.
Finding an Agent
The safest way to go about this is to find an agent who would be able to assist you and to show you the areas in the neighbourhood. The one thing I found really frustrating when I moved here is that you have to directly go to that area to find an agent who specializes in that area. That means you may need to see multiple agents if you plan to explore more than one area.
Agents are relatively expensive as well. On top of paying the landlord of 2 months deposit and a month rent, you need to pay the agent 50% of the monthly rent. That means your first payment to secure a house would cost your 3.5x of your monthly rent! Suppose you rent an apartment of $10,000/ month, your first payment to secure a house is $10,000 x 3.5 = $35,000 HKD! Yes, that’s a lot of money so before you move, definitely make sure you have this money prepared to settle a place. You need to pay that sum all at once.
In terms of contracts, they are 2 years (one year fixed and one year flexible). This means that for the first year, you are basically stuck and if you leave early, you will be paying fines. However, in the second year, you are free to leave upon a 2-month notice period. This is the standard contract terms that most landlord uses.
If you have a short-term contract with work, you can try to negotiate the terms. My first company taught us to say 9 months fixed, and 15 months flexible (in the case we plan to leave after our nine-month contract). This means that I won’t be paying a penalty if I left after that nine months. I thought this was brilliant and it worked!
* Cantonese Lesson: The term ‘fixed contract’ is translated into ‘die contract’ (pronounced like ‘say’) and ‘flexible’ is translated to ‘free’ (pronounced as ‘san‘). So in case, people don’t understand, try those two terminologies!
Since most flats are quite small, if you are solo and are looking for an apartment for yourself, this would not be easy and it will be really expensive. I would say for a studio (no bedrooms, just open space + a bathroom), it will cost a minimum of $8000 HKD. On average, it will be around $10,000-12,000 HKD. The studio will be an average of 100-200 sq foot. Most of these studios will also be “divided housing,” meaning that there are many small studio units divided in a big house and you enter through the same door.
If you have a smaller budget (like I did when I moved), the best way to go about is flat sharing. I would say for a decent room sharing, it will cost about $7,000-8,000 in a prominent area. If you are looking for something lower, I would say around $5,000 – $6,000 on some residential areas / outlying islands (more on this below). If you have 1-2 friends who can share with you, then go find an agent together. If you do not, sharing with strangers can be an option as well. There are many solo people in the city who would be looking for a place to live just like you, so you can find one another and make new friends. You can try a site called EasyRoommate.
You can also post on Facebook groups to see if anyone else is interested in sharing. Here are some Facebook groups that can help you with the process:
Below are two local flat-hunting websites. Most of them are agents so they will have some real prices on the market. It will be a good guide to help you find a flat, but I would go there in person just to make sure they speak English.
Where to Stay?
Below is a subway map of the city called the MTR. One of the most expensive places to live in Hong Kong is the Hong Kong Island (bottom dark blue line). This is where most expats would want to live because of the financial district (close to many banks and financial institutions), the endless bars and the ultimate party zone! Yes, international life happens on this line! So if you do not work in this area and would like to save some money, I would stay away from this area until you can actually afford it.
For a cheaper option, I would recommend 3 areas: the red and green lines (if you want to stay in the city) or the Outlying Islands (not pictured on the subway map but shown below). The red and green lines are mostly residential areas and targeted towards local, meaning more affordable. However, do not stay in the middle area where the red and green lines intersect (Prince Edward, Mong Kok, and Yau Ma Tei). The reason being is that these are changing trains stations so they are often congested with lots of people and these areas have lower air quality. It is very busy at all times of the day, so just take it from me who lived there to avoid it.
If you want better air quality, enjoys spending a lot of time on the beach and a bigger house for a more affordable price, you can consider living on the Islands. I’ve been told that Lantanu Island is known for poor air quality as it is near the airport, but Lamma Island is a better choice. I personally know people who enjoy it! Although it is less convenient as you have to take a ferry to go to the city, many people prefer this lifestyle, especially for larger families who needs the space! Below is some of the islands you can consider.
Furnishing your Flat
So you finally got a flat and it comes unfurnished! It is more common that the house is empty with no furniture than with furniture. However, if you’re lucky, you can find something that is half-furnished (either leftover from the last owners or the owner put some of their own stuff in!) That means, no matter how long you plan to live in Hong Kong, you will have to spend some money in purchasing things for your flat.
Buying New Items
If you are staying a long time in Hong Kong, and would like to invest in new furniture, Hong Kong has IKEA available! Yes, the traditional Ikea where you can get everything for a good deal! If you are looking for some new furniture, IKEA will be the place to go! The prices are very reasonable and there are a few locations around the city! I love their designs and personally bought a few things. They even have delivery so that makes it easier for you! You can check their catalog here.
You should also look at a local furniture company in Hong Kong called Pricerite. They may have pieces of furniture that fits better into an average Hong Kong sized home, which are much smaller.
Buying Second-hand Items
On the other hand, why spend money on the new when you can be economical and use second-hand? On Geoexpat and Asiaxpat, there is literally a FREE section where people are moving and they are trying to get rid of all their household items! I have been told Chinese people hates using old furniture so they just give it out for free. If you cannot find something in that section, they also have a ton of second-hand things that you can buy. That means you can purchase something for a better deal than getting it new!
Even though you can get a cheap deal, you need to factor the cost of having it transported to your home. Oh, and some weightlifters to carry it for you.
Gogo Van is the ultimate solution to move anything! It is an app that detects your current location and finds you a driver who is nearest to your area to come and help you move things. It is a startup from Hong Kong. There is an option to request for an English driver, although, from my experience, there is a lack of drivers who can, so it may take a long time until you find a van. If it is possible, I recommend that you bring a friend who speaks Cantonese just in case the driver may have questions or if you really can’t find an English-speaking driver. Also, don’t forget to write your address in Chinese on a paper so the driver knows where to go!
An alternative app that I have heard about but have never used is called LalaMove. It is also a local company with a similar concept if you want to try that one instead.
Congratulations if you made it this far! You got the most frustrating, difficult and bulky things out of the way!
The next thing is dealing with utilities that would make your life seamless and easy! Well, here comes some good news! Utilities in Hong Kong is dead cheap and the Internet is incredibly fast (one of the best in the world!) Don’t even consider bringing your phone plan to use in Hong Kong. You can get a new one with thousands of minutes + data. Personally, my phone plan is $120 HKD, which is under $20 USD and gets me unlimited Internet! Just make sure you have an unlocked phone to bring here or get a new one when you arrive!
For electricity and water bills, it is also very cheap. There are some months you won’t even need to pay for bills because there is government subsidy up to a certain amount. If you go over, then you will need to pay, but that might not be often until the summer months when it gets really hot!
The one thing to be cautious about is that Hong Kong loves contracts and you will pay if you break the contract term before it ends! For example, Internet plans are again two years long so that’s a huge commitment! As well, when you first sign up for hydro, you also have to pay a deposit that you will get back at the end. In short, there is a lot of starting fees!
However, if you use Geoexpat and Asiaxpat, they have a section where people are selling their current contracts. This includes anything from phone plans to gym memberships. It is worth to take a look so you can help someone out as well as save yourself the trouble of signing a long-term contract!
When I first came to Hong Kong, I was able to finish someone’s nine months Internet contract and got it at an awesome deal that I would not have been able to find on the market! Since they already had the plan for a number of years, their price was cheaper than if I had signed on myself. All we had to do was go to the store, bring our IDs and transferred the name and address! How sweet is that?
I was very fortunate when I moved here that my company helped me set up my bank account and I have kept that account ever since. However, I heard opening a bank account in Hong Kong can really be a pain! Although every bank has similar requirements, some banks may be more strict on some things than others, especially different branches.
To open a bank account, you need address proof but if you are in a temporary accommodation for the first few weeks, you can bring a utility bill or similar from your home country. Then when you find a permanent home, you can change your address.
Also, when you get a job and bring your contract to the bank, make sure you state your full name (as per your passport) and ask your company to write you a letter of both your old address (your home country) as well as your Hong Kong residential address. Otherwise, it may not be accepted.
Hong Kong is very strict in terms of identity and names. They make sure that everything is synced, and you must write your “full name” meaning whatever you have on your passport. So even if you are not used to using your middle name, make sure you include it anyways!
Learning the Language
One of the hardest thing about moving to a new country or city is the language barrier! Yes, I know first-hand what that feels like. Thank goodness English is quite prominent in Hong Kong – meaning all the signs are in English and some menus as well. But still, not everyone can converse in English. So I would say, yes, try if you have the opportunity!
I think it is worth it to learn a couple of words such as ‘thank you,’ your address, and your favourite Chinese dishes! Even though it may not be necessary on a day-to-day basis, your efforts won’t go unnoticed and would definitely be appreciated. If you want to give it a shot, I recommend Chinese Course for Non-Native Speakers held by the VTC (Vocational Training Council). Upon passing, you get up to 40% cost reimbursement, making these courses super affordable!
Building your Social Network
Once you’re all settled in, I’m sure you need to build a social network and to meet some people to become your new friends in the city! Since Hong Kong has people flowing from all over the world to work here, there is a number of social groups on Meetup that you can join! If you’re like me who likes to attend the local scene, and to attend to some special events or seminars, Eventbrite is a good one to look up! With Eventbrite, it is great to also build your professional network.
You can also find a few other ideas I have in my other article on How to Make Friends Abroad.
Hong Kong is an expensive city and if you are moving here without a lucrative job or expat package, I definitely think this guide will help you get your foot grounded.
Have I missed anything that you want to know about? Please let me know if you have any questions below in the comments!
Have a great time moving to Hong Kong!
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