Hong Kong’s well-earned reputation as an expensive city to live in (on a par with London, New York and Tokyo) ensures it is rarely the first place digital nomads head for when they first touch down in Asia. However, it is often the case that online workers who make the effort to visit this Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China find themselves sucked in by Hong Kong’s intoxicating mix of pulsating energy, old world charm, spectacular scenery, efficient public transportation, great food, wonderful rural retreats and lively nightlife.
Of course, the fact that Hong Kong is such an expensive place to live means many location independent professionals only stick around for a relatively short period of time (normally just a week or two while they wait for their visa to come through for mainland China). This really is a great shame as Hong Kong is one of those rare places that just seems to get more and more interesting, and throw up one hidden gem after another, the longer you stay.
The thing is though, it is entirely possible (although not easy I’ll readily admit) to mitigate the costs of living here. Below are a few tips which can help any online worker to make the most of their time in this truly captivating city.
Be flexible when looking for a place to stay
If you know anyone in Hong Kong then try and wangle an invite to go and stay with them for a few nights when you first arrive. Hotels and hostels (even those in Kowloon’s notorious Chungking Mansions) offer very little in terms of value-to-cost so you should take every opportunity you can to save a little money during your first week here.
When it comes to renting a place of your own you need to bear in mind that space is at a premium in Hong Kong. You will not find any large apartments or rooms here so don’t automatically dismiss the first properties you go to inspect because they ’look a little on the small side’. Unsurprisingly, accommodation options on Hong Kong Island are the most expensive so looking for apartments on Kowloon side or the New Territories is often the best way to go when you’re on a limited/unpredictable budget. If you don’t want to leave the confines of Hong Kong Island then renting a place with a room-mate could be the answer as this will allow you to halve your costs straight away.
If you like the idea of working in bustling Hong Kong yet want to live somewhere far more laid back then you may want to look at getting a place on Lamma Island. As well as affording a welcome respite from the constant hubbub of the city, the rents here are considerably cheaper and apartment sizes often tend to be a little larger (although you will need to take a ferry every time you want to get to/from Hong Kong).
Take advantage of Hong Kong’s outstanding public transportation options
While HK taxis are less expensive than those in London or New York, it really does pay – in every sense of the word – to make good use of the city’s very extensive and incredibly efficient public transportation network. As well as being very affordable, the city’s metro (MTR), trams, buses, mini-buses, and ferries will take you practically anywhere you want to go in a swift, safe and supremely punctual manner. The ever reliable and evocatively charming Star Ferries which flit between HK Island and Kowloon offer perhaps the best value of all as they get you across the bay in 10-15 minutes, provide you with a jaw-dropping view of the soaring skyline and enable you to get up close and personal with traditional Chinese junks for little more than HK$2.50 (around 20p), one-way. The quaint, box-like double-decker trams which run between Kennedy Town and Shau Kei Wan every day between 6am and midnight also offer great value as they will take you from one end of HK Island to the other (albeit pretty slowly) for the princely sum of just HK$2.30!
Keep an open mind on the food front
One of the great things about renting an apartment is that it gives you the option of cooking a few meals of your own each week. In addition to broadening your culinary skills, cooking at home can be a great way to save money as groceries can be picked up from neighbourhood wet markets (local fresh markets) for next to nothing. Although some of these markets are a little out of the way, they are well worth a visit as you will find all manner of vegetables, discover parts of animals you didnt even know existed, and get to watch highly vocal fishmongers hack away at the very freshest of fresh fish. Coming here to pick up some provisions before heading back to cook up a treat in your own HK digs will make you feel like a real Hong Konger, that’s for sure.
If you want to eat out then avoid the expensive (but generally very good) restaurants on the main drags and head for one of the city’s cooked food centres instead. Cooked food centres are essentially a collection of basic food stalls crowded under florescent lighting. While they may not look very appealing from the outset, don’t be put off; what they lack in aesthetics they more than make up for in substance – the Cantonese, Sichuan, Beijing and seafood dishes tend to be of a very high quality and prices are very reasonable indeed.
Many people assume that you need to earn big bucks to make the most of everything Hong Kong has to offer. Whilst this is true to a certain extent, it should not put online workers off the idea of basing themselves here, as even those with limited or fluctuating incomes can enjoy HK for a prolonged period of time; if they are willing to be flexible and maintain an open mind. It is undoubtedly one of Asia’s most energetic, intoxicating and – in it’s own way – rewarding cities so it really should be on the ’must see’ list of any digital nomad planning a journey to this beguilingly infectious part of the world.
Image: author’s own photo