Thinking of moving to Hong Kong?
Wondering what it would cost you and how much you would need to live here – then today’s guide is perfect for you.
Let’s discuss what action steps to do and budget we would need to move to Hong Kong today.
Update April 2017: Prices have changed since writing this piece, there isa great comment in the bottom about recent prices. Please add your feedback to help others too.
I have had a few people ask me what I would do if I had to start again in Asia – particularly, moving to Hong Kong. This article will cover from the travel, to the living, networking, to the work I would seek.
I hope this helps…
Not only the newbie, but maybe even those who have been in Hong Kong for the longest time but wondering what they should do to better get into the market.
Let me know if you have a suggestion or different viewpoint on these points.
Flying to Hong Kong
Getting to Hong Kong is pretty easy from anywhere in the world. The airport (HKIA) is one of the biggest and best in the world, and has direct flights from and to most major cities around the world.
It was the first destination I flew into when I came in 2007, and the one I use often even if my final destination isn’t Hong Kong. So for those newcomers to Asia, I’d recommend spending some time in Hong Kong, even if it is a short layover.
So those looking to move over here – I recommend spending a few weeks first before deciding to stay long term. I know this may not be a workable option for some due to paying for flight costs. While you may not plan to go back to your home country right away, I would still recommend booking a round trip ticket for as far out in the future as possible. Just pay the extra fees to change your flight if you want to go earlier. When I first came, I booked my return ticket six months in the future, that way worst case, I could just take the return flight after six months and not come back.
But the real reason in purchasing a round trip ticket instead of one way is normally the price is much cheaper. Not sure about the logic behind it though. I was originally looking for a one way ticket to Hong Kong from Newark, and it was approximately $1,200 US dollars. Then I switched the online booking for a return ticket, with my return flight months in advance and it came out to be about $800 US dollars – that is both going there and coming back!
So if you’re prepared to come out here and set on booking a flight, I’d also try to get it earlier than later. I try to book flights at least a month in advance, but lately have been doing it even as early as five or six months to get the best price.
Once Landed in Hong Kong
But if you’re here for the long term, maybe you can find a place on Airbnb for a week or two. You may want to keep your options open before signing a six or twelve month lease (which we’ll cover below). You may also want to do some business networking and find some hidden deals.
You can read my extensive “Hong Kong Business Travel Guide” post for the nitty gritty details on your first few days in Hong Kong. It should help you.
The main point is, don’t stress out. Hong Kong is a fast paced environment so just be mentally prepared. You may want to settle everything before you fly out to HK in the first place. I know all want to feel secure and settled before we fly to the other side of the world. But if you do, I would try not to book anything too long term as once you arrive it may not be the location or setup you like.
Where To Live in Hong Kong?
This is a blog post in itself that I am working on, but let me give first time visitors here some highlights. Hong Kong housing is one of the highest in the world. The prices are high to rent as well as buying. Prepare to live in an apartment about the size of a Manhattan apartment, if not smaller.
Does location in Hong Kong matter? Do you need to be near the central business district and all the Western nightclubs? Or are you willing to live in the more local, residential Hong Kong districts? There are a few factors to consider in this decision making.
1. Do you need to live near a lot of other westerners?
2. Do you have to visit central business district often for visiting company offices or your job?
You’re an Internet entrepreneur that can work anywhere? Want to get the exposure of living in the local Hong Kong districts so you can save a lot of money on rent? Let’s give you some ranges, but first, do you need your own apartment or can you handle living with roommates?
If you want to live in your own apartment, it’s going to cost at least $1,000 US dollars a month for a small place in Kowloon or in the outskirts. You can find a small apartment in downtown Hong Kong, like I had in 2011. My bed was so small that I had to sleep diagonally, and I could barely walk inside, it was literally, a box. So it depends on what you can handle – if you can handle roommates, maybe you can get as low as $700 US dollars a month for your own bedroom.
Looking to find some short term stays? Check out Sleep Here HK. They have various offerings to choose from on a regular basis.
Business Networking in Hong Kong
There are tons of events and networking that you can do in Hong Kong. Every day there is a business event or entrepreneur event to choose from. I’ll try my best to give a few different options and sources to find these events out.
Startups HK. The original group for startups and entrepreneurs to network in Hong Kong. They are on top of the latest events with their event calendar and email list.
Startup Grind Hong Kong. A global network of entrepreneur meetups, there is a regular meetup in Hong Kong as well.
Tons of Co-working Spaces hosting events. Hong Kong has a massive amount of co-working spaces, and they are always hosting events.
By plugging into some of these above, you will meet enthusiastic and well-connected people. They can help you get on the fast track to potential business partners, resellers, suppliers, and clients. Keep an open mind.
How Much Runway (Cash) Should You Have Saved Up?
Runway is a common startup term for how much money you need before you “take off” and are able to be cashflow positive. More is always better, rent is the majority of your cost. As stated earlier rent and real estate in Hong Kong is through the roof.
This number can be as low as 6,000 HKD a month (800 US dollars) to rent a room, or living in a box like I did. It can go up to 40,000 HKD ($5,000 US dollars) a month if you want to live in Mid Levels, Central, Hong Kong. I am going to put an average of 10,000 HKD ($1,200 US dollars) a month for rent on your budget. This would be for a pretty small place in Kowloon district.
Are you going to eat Western food every day and dine at nice restaurants, or are you willing to eat at some local rice and noodle places? Here are some ranges:
You may always eat out, because your apartment will be small and your kitchen will not be too convenient or non-existent. Here are some numbers:
50% Western / 50% local
Travel by MTR
The local transportation in Hong Kong is awesome! But it’s definitely priced to reflect the convenience. You’ll be living off of your MTR card, called an Octopus, for MTR (subways) and Buses. You can even pay your 7-11 snacks with this card, but let’s not price that in.
On average, about 1 trip on a MTR on Hong Kong island for a few stops is about 6 HKD, or a little under 1 USD. If you go to Kowloon, cost averages 18 HKD (let’s round to $2.50 USD). If you have a nice place up in New Territories, it will cost you about 28 HKD ($3.50 USD) per trip.
Let’s say you take the MTR on average 2 times a day from your home to downtown, and then take it 2 times during the day between HK Island.
Living in Hong Kong Island:
2 commuting + 2 local trips
/day = 4 trips/day*1 USD/trip * 20 business days/month
= 80 USD/mo
Living in Kowloon District:
2 commuting + 2 local trips/day = 2 trips/
day*1 USD/trip*20 business days/month + 2 trips/day*2.50/trip*20 days
= 140 USD/mo
Commute is about 15 minutes (Central to Mong Kok)
Living in New Territories District:
2 commuting + 2 local trips/ day = 2 trips/day*1 USD/trip * 20 business days/month + 2 trips/day*3.50/trip*20 days
= 180 USD/mo
Commute is about 1 hour each way (Central to Tuen Mun)
Also take into account that this is not taking into account TIME. Think about the time you want to spend on the subway.
This one is such a big variable that I don’t even know what to put here. I’ll make some assumptions, and you determine what kind of networker and partygoer you are.
Let’s do this by how many nights you might go out. And I will put an average cost of 8 USD a beer
5 nights a week, 3 beers a night = 5 nights/week*3 beers/night*8 USD/beer*4 weeks/mo
3 nights a week, 3 beers a night = 3 nights/week*3 beers /night*8 USD/beer*4 weeks/mo
3 nights a week, 2 beers a night = 3 nights/week*2 beers /night*8 USD/beer*4 weeks/mo
= $480 USD/ month
= $288 USD/ month
= $192 USD/ month
This is a tough one, I’ll just leave those 3 ranges there for you to figure out and tweak based on how much of a party guy you are!
Utilities & Internet
Rather small in the scale of things. There is internet! Landline phone, who even uses a phone anymore, ha!
I would budget about 400 HKD / month (50 USD) for mobile internet, and just use that to tether to your laptop when needed. You could also buy a portable wifi hotspot, which is what I do.
Electricity and other utilities are negligible, maybe put another 50 us dollars towards that. It’s low if you have a small apartment and are always outside and eating out – won’t be using much overhead there.
Events, Meetup, & Networking
This is a wild card cost. More and more startup tech events are popping up in Hong Kong. You can read my Hong Kong startup guide for insights and ideas on what kind of events and groups to take part in.
If you’re new to Hong Kong, then the fastest way to get “plugged in” is to set aside a lot of time to get to various events. There are massive conferences where the entrance fees continue to climb. Let’s put that at once a year in the $500 US dollar range for 1. And then there are the smaller events that can often be free or 100 – 200 HKD (13 to 25 US dollars) and you go to 2 a week:
Average cost – 20 USD x 2 / week x 4 weeks = $160usd
Cashflow: Putting The Numbers Together
So you think I got everything covered in the average costs?
Let’s try to make a total number here:
Low range, Average cost, Baller / higher level
Rent USD. Low: 800, Average: 1200, Baller: 5000
Food: 575, 675, High: 780
Travel / Commuting: 180, 140, 80
Entertainment:192, 288, 480
Utilities: 100 USd
Networking & Meetups: 160usd
Total monthly cost: $2,007, $2,563, $6,600
Let’s do some math here for between four to six months:
I would also round up a bit to give yourself some buffer here. Either in extra time to get off the ground, or in extra per month costs.
These Costs Are Helpful for Your Team Building
Being aware of the local costs in Hong Kong will also help you set the local salary expectations. It has been something I mentioned in my Occupy protest post. A lot of the pressure on the young and the middle class is that these cost of living expenses is skyrocketing while salary is not increasing in proportion.
So of course use this cost in your own budget. But when making your expansion plan for hiring staff and adding team members, refer to this sheet and make some assumptions about their expectations and needs.
Really, the biggest cost (as anywhere) is the rent – but more especially in Hong Kong. The real estate market has been growing steadily up. There has not been much developments of new residential complexes. For the most part they are building more commercial complexes.
Many local Hong Kong people live with their parents much longer than you notice in the Western world, mainly due to the high rent costs. And they are saving every penny they earn to buy real estate.
Lots of Opportunities in Hong Kong
I have seen it with my own eyes – a lot of newcomers from overseas taking a chance in Hong Kong and growing. Primarily though I have seen it more as agencies and consultants. There are many international companies here desperate for marketing, design, and development expertise. And willing to pay for it.
But at the same time, a bootstrapping startup that has a per team member cost of $2,000 USD on the low side creates challenges. So those who do startups, a lot are also doing consulting to pay the bills and working on their dream part time. I am not an expert on how to handle this situation. Sure there are successful companies built this way. But at some point the startup needs to have the founders putting 110% of their time into it.
So I still see a lot of opportunities for agencies and consultants in Hong Kong. Then using that time and cashflow to learn the local market and network. Get your team together, get a prototype together, and launch!
More and more investors in Hong Kong are hearing about startups and learning how to invest in them. This is a big, positive news for entrepreneurs. For so many years the local investors were only looking to put their money into real estate and financial products.
So I do see times changing, and you can get in at the right time, network, and take your startup to the next level.
Question From Someone Moving To Kowloon
We get quite a few emails from readers on this post – and today highlighted one that had quite an extensive reply from our community member Andre, here’s Kevin:
> hey ,. Thanks a lot for this.
> kindly inform me if a salary of 3200$ in kowloon district would be enough
> to stay there. payin rent, food plus sending a minimum of 800 usd back home
> in kenya.Thanks Kevin
And then an answer from AndreMartin
Thanks for the intro, Mike.
Kevin, Kowloon district is a very large part of Hong Kong so you have prices and space sizes ranging from literally a coffin all the way to multi-level penthouse.
Your remaining money (3200-800=2400USD or about 18700HKD) will be enough if you are not too picky and willing to spend a bit of time searching for your spot. In the more local parts of the (almost any) district you can get by in the 10-15k range for a 2 people, 1 bedroom space and probably in the upper 4 digit price range for a small 1 person space. Very old buildings (not shiny new ones but still safe and clean) might get you down to around 5k if you share a place. There are always exceptions though so hopefully you are lucky when you spend a bit more time searching local listings.
I don’t know your background story so I’ll assume you will be totally new in town, thus pick the details matching you as you please. There are a number of issues that might make it a bit more difficult for you. The cheapest deals you might get from local owners but they are also the least likely to rent to you, given you are a foreigner and in particular from an African country. You will need to have documents at hand, from HKID (if you already have the temporary one) and HK employment (or whichever you have) visa, to HK bank account, employment contract, local phone number… and they might charge you several months (some even half a year or more) deposit. Hence many end up with renting from property management companies instead, like serviced spaces which are not that expensive if you are good with a 1 person space. To save yourself a lot of hassle I would recommend you actually start with serviced apartments and see how you feel about those prices and locations. I’ve seen quite convenient locations (public transport) for around the 10k mark, which would leave you with a comfortable 5k per month.
If you know where you will work, look for the nearest public transport hotspots like MTR (subway) station and/or bus terminus. That will give you options to actually stay farther away and maybe in a much nicer place too (some very nice places are also cheap but you might live on an island and take the ferry daily). Spending an hour or more for a 1-way trip to the office but covering barely 20km (sometimes a lot less than 10) is normal in HK so don’t consider distance but time for transport.
It would be easier to assist if you could provide some more details. Hope the above can give you some insights.
Planning To Come To Hong Kong?
Thanks for making it through this post with me. Maybe use this when talking to your potential employer or investor. I have had to convince investors in the past my cost of living to keep a sustainable lifestyle and focus.
Starting your own venture? Give yourself enough runway!
One of my biggest mistakes in business is not budget enough time to get things off the ground. Having to think about “getting by” month to month creates a ton of stress and distractions. By having enough to cover your costs for six months, you can be more strategic and a bit more long term in your decision making.
Many, myself included, go in with one to two months to cover costs on your own venture. But everyone I chat to is under such massive pressure that they make stupid decisions. You may not realize you’re making a stupid decision, as you are under pressure to make it through the bills at the end of the month.
If this article helped you out, I’d love a comment below. If I missed something, also let me know.
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