Fast internet. Impressive co-working spaces. Ample networking opportunities. Dumplings (obviously). Hong Kong has begun to embrace its entrepreneurial spirit and Digital Nomads are taking notice!
This is a city of unparalleled energy, and having been based here for the past six months, I’ve gotten a really good grasp of the city. Digital Nomads – if you’re looking at Hong Kong for a long or short-term stay, I’ll show you the tips and tricks to lower the cost during your time here.
In this Digital Nomad Guide to living in Hong Kong we are going to look over every aspect of the city. Accommodation, internet, food, entertainment, and networking opportunities. I leave no stone unturned, so you can plant yourself in this city and confidently get some work done.
The goal of a Digital Nomad is to 1) lower the cost of travel and 2) to create income to sustain travels (we at NomadsNation refer to this as The Two Nomad Commandments). So to be able to lower the cost of travel in a place as expensive as Hong Kong, we need to independently evaluate each expenditure.
By Asian standards, Hong Kong is not cheap. In fact, accommodation prices teeter somewhere in the realm of expensive and holy crap! But it also isn’t as expensive as you might be lead to believe. Check this out.
This is my monthly spending average (combined from September, October, November 2016). My average expenditures come to $13,860 (Hong Kong Dollars) or $1,786 (US Dollars) a month. $1,800 USD a month = $66 USD a day.
Personally I do spend a bit more than this a month (business investments, travel, books, other random things), but the above graph is for basic needs. Spending less than $2,000 USD a month in Hong Kong is more than doable. While you won’t be living lavishly, you’ll be eating great food, going out drinking a few nights a week, and feeling very comfortable about your day-to-day life – all while being able to work efficiently!
Also – if you are looking for a little work on the side, Hong Kong has one of the better ESL markets on the planet. Finding jobs teaching English can be very easy and very lucrative.
For Digital Nomads, the line between sanity and insanity is drawn by your wifi connection. So it seems the most obvious place to start.
Hong Kong internet is fast. Super fast.
According to Acamai (pictured above) HK has the fourth fastest average wifi connection in the world. Fast internet = awesome. Hong Kong is investing a lot of time and money into providing free wifi for locals and visitors. In 2008 HK launched GovWiFi with the long-term aim of providing free internet for everyone.
So far, GovWiFi has created over 2000 hotspots in 400 locations around the city. Free wifi can be found at the airport (which is fast and awesome), libraries, hotels, public parks and government buildings.
Hong Kong has bad Wifi availability. While there has been a public movement to improve accessibility to wifi, the program is targeted for the average person. And the wifi needs of the average person are staunchly different from the needs of a Digital Nomad.
There’s a cafe culture in Hong Kong, and in many of them you will find people on their laptops, but working 9 hours in a coffee shop isn’t really a thing here. This one of the world’s most densely populated cities. Space is extremely limited and extremely expensive.
Coffee shops will have time limits for Wifi (some don’t even offer it!) and typically they want you in and out. Having said that, there are coffee shop options, you just gotta know where to find them (check out this great list from Foursquare). Outside of coffee shops, you need to either A) work from where you are staying or B) pay for a Co-Working space.
With dozens of options, and more being built by the month – finding Co-working spaces in Hong Kong is easy! The hard part is finding one that isn’t expensive or doesn’t require a membership.
Pictured above is a screenshot of co-working spaces in HK. Hong Kong Island (the bottom portion) is the financial capital of HK and has the highest concentration of co-working spaces. But with financial capital influence comes financial capital prices. Most of these co-working spaces are gorgeous and have lots of amenities… but they aren’t cheap.
How expensive? Try $300 HKD ($38.68 USD) for a DAY pass.
If this is out of your price range, look north. Kowloon provides cheaper alternatives to HK Island, my favorite being Ooosh (where I’m currently writing this article!)
The internet is fast. The coffee is free. The prices are fair. Day Pass = $120 HKD ($15 USD), Five Day Pass = $450 HKD ($58 USD) and a Month Pass = $1200 HKD ($154 USD). While you may find other Digital Nomads, Ooosh is a mostly local spot, so it might not provide the best networking opportunities. But if you are looking for something professional and affordable, it’s perfect for a temporary office. Check out a full list of Hong Kong Co-Working spaces here.
No Digital Nomad guide to living in Hong Kong would be right unless we had a good chat about lodging. In Hong Kong, co-working can be done cheaply, food can be done cheaply, transport and sights can be done cheaply… But there is no way around the fact that you are going to pay a hefty price for a place to stay.
But! With an effective strategy, you can feel confident that you will get a fair price. Your accommodation strategy for HK should be based on the duration of your stay. A Digital Nomad looking to stay for three days will have very different options than a Digital Nomad looking to stay for three months.
Let’s dive deeper.*If you want to hit my $2,000 USD a month mark, you need to spend around $30 a day on lodging. No if’s and’s or but’s*
Short Term Stay
For Digital Nomads on a short-term stay (less than 3 weeks) the best option is going to be jumping around via Couchsurfing, staying in hostels, or renting an apartment through Airbnb.
As of writing this, there are nearly 30,000 registered Couchsurfing hosts in HK. If Couchsurfing is your thing, finding a host should be easy. This is (obviously) your cheapest lodging option, and is highly recommended if you are new to HK. Couch-surf for a few days, save some money, meet some locals, and get your bearings.
While the Hong Kong hostel-scene is still well behind its Asian counterparts, they are playing catch up and making drastic changes. Grimy Chungking Mansion used to be the only place backpackers could find cheap-ish lodging. Now a quick look at Hostelworld tells us a different story. Tokyo-esque hostels (modern, clean, spacious dorm beds with personal lights and outlets) are popping up all over the city, and while not cheap, given the amenities, they are fair.
Hostels like Check Inn HK are a good example. The cheapest bed (9 person dorm) is $240 HKD ($31 USD) a night, which yes, is steep, but the wifi speed is very well reviewed, and there is ample working space.
Add in free water, a nice clean kitchen, and a phenomenal location, paying $31 USD for a 9 person dorm bed isn’t as dreadful. Hostels can be done cheaper. Bad-to-OK-reviewed hostels (5 – 7.5 rating) start around $100 HKD ($12.89 USD), but you are obviously compromising reliable wifi and space to work.
AirBnb’s used to be much cheaper in Hong Kong, but the prices are steadily rising.The cheapest rooms can be found in the range of $30-$50 USD a night. Sometimes shared with other flatmates, sometimes a private studio – the space will be very, very small. Great for some privacy and a great night’s rest! Not so great for productivity.
If you jump up to the range of $75-$100 USD a night, you will have some incredible options, like this work-friendly studio on Hong Kong Island.
Gorgeous right? But at $100 USD a night, it’s not cheap. If it’s in your budget, the convenience of being able to work from your home-base is incredibly enticing. And while $100 USD a night is pricey, it’s a fair price given the quality (super modern and bright), amenities (kitchen and washing machine) and workspace (big desk!)… at least by HK standards.
Short term stay conclusion – The need for quality internet needs to be weighed against your lodging preferences and budget. A Digital Nomad traveling solo would probably be best off staying in a quality hostel and using their space/wifi for work. Or stay somewhere cheaper, and pay a daily or monthly fee for a co-working space. Couples might benefit more from AirBnb.
Mid to Long Term Stay
If you are looking to stay in Hong Kong for longer than a month, you should be looking into renting an apartment. AirBnb is the easiest route, but not necessarily the most economical.
Above are the results searching for one month rentals on AirBnb for under $1,000 USD. Most of the apartments around the $800-$1000 USD are legitimate options. AirBnb prices are on average $200-300 more a month than you would pay renting an apartment through local means.
But as you will see, renting an apartment through local listings is not without its challenges.
Pros of AirBnb for longer stay: Ease of use. No security deposit. Can pay with credit card. Properties are reviewed. Nothing shady to worry about.
Cons of Airbnb for longer stay: Paying $200+ more than a local listing, and long-term availability will vary.
*Digital Nomad Airbnb hack. While the price might seem solidified… this is Asia. Everything is haggle-able. If you are looking for a long-term stay, message the host and see if you can negotiate a lower price*
As with any major city, there are a plethora of websites that can connect you to real estate agents, aspiring renters, and flats looking for flatmates. Often such listings will require year-long leases, but there are plenty of short-term deals to be found.
HongKongAsiaXpat, Squarefoot, and Geoexpat are good places to look if you’re interested in renting out an entire apartment. If you’re interested in sharing a flat with flatmates (and paying less) then check out FlatShare, but definitely check out EasyRoomate.
I want to be as thorough as possible here, but truth be told, it’s difficult when it comes to local listings as they can vary by the day. I found my apartment through friends. $5600 HKD plus bills ($722 USD) a month to live in Cheung Sha Wan. First months rent + security deposit for a 4 month lease which was then extended to month to month.
You will find many options similar to what I found. It will come down to personal preference and how actively you are searching. But if you don’t mind putting in the time, it could save you upwards of $200 USD a month.
Pros of local listings for longer stay: Cheaper.
Cons of local listings for longer stay: Security deposits (no way around this). Cash only. Properties might be shadier. You’ll still be paying inflated foreigner prices (albeit not as high as AirBnb).
If you are a Digital Nomad in Hong Kong and you like to network or have been thinking about networking, now is the time to take advantage! Hong Kong loves networking and makes it easy. There’s ample networking opportunities, so many that it’s difficult to know where to begin.
First off – follow your interests! Check Meetup Hong Kong and Eventbrite Hong Kong for groups and events that are related to what you’re into. Coding, start-ups, entrepreneurs, vegans, films, puppetry! Whatever you are into, HK most likely has a networking group.
Another option is to put on a tie and check out some business networking functions with your country’s chamber, or check out a Young Professional Group. A bit on the stuffier side, but it will put you into contact with a new group of people and thinkers. If you are new to networking, you’ll benefit in Hong Kong by being very proactive. Networking is as effective as you make it!
Making goals is a good idea. Focus on making two really good connections, or buying one interesting person a drink, or setting up a lunch appointment. Another networking-hack is to focus on the host. Arrive early to networking events and get to know the organizer/host. Let them know you’re new in town and they’ll likely give you direct introductions to other people as they arrive. (A special thanks to NomadsNation contributor and networking-whiz Sean Doherty for the networking advice!)
SIM Cards in Hong Kong
Welcome to Chungking Mansion. One of the more infamous locations in Hong Kong, the Mansion is a large building with large amount of legal (and illegal) foreigners. Based on first impressions, the place can seem a bit on the dodgier side, but after a while the dodginess turns into its charm!
Because of this charm, one can get SIM cards super easy and super cheap. After walking in to the main entrance, just turn right and you will be bombarded by Indian and Bangladeshi men yelling “SIM card? SIM card?!?”
I bought a Mobile China SIM card for $150 HK ($19.34) for the card and $78 HK ($10 USD) a month for unlimited 4G data. If you need a SIM card for international calls and texts there are other options, but it’s a good price for the data and it’s super fast. Barter with the salesman. They might try to charge you more (you might even be able to get it for less!), and if it’s not working, walk away and find a different vendor. There are dozens of other options.
Hong Kong has one of the greatest public transportation systems on the planet (some even say it’s the best). Between the subway (MTR) and buses, you can get anywhere, and shockingly affordable cabs give you a convenient third option.
When arriving in Hong Kong, the first thing you need to do is get yourself an Octopus card. It’s $150 HKD ($19.34 USD) but $100 HKD ($12.89 USD) goes to the stored value, meaning you have $100 HKD for immediate use.
This card does not only give you access to the entirety of the city’s public transit, but is also an accepted form of payment at convenience stores, restaurants, and thousands of things in between. The convenience of the card is astounding. According to Wikipedia, 95% of the HK population actively uses the Octopus card, resulting in over 12 million transactions every day.
Here’s a complete list of all of the places you can use your Octopus card. The city is becoming increasingly Octopus friendly, and I’m finding an increasing number of days where I never need to use cash for a single purchase. Octopus rules Hong Kong. You’ll love it.
Clean. Safe. Beyond Efficient. On par with Tokyo, Seoul and Singapore, Hong Kong’s MTR is state of the art. The MTR single handedly can get you most everywhere you need to go, and it’s only getting better as they are investing 7 billion dollars into expanding and replacing outdated trains.
The heart of the city is connected by this web of underground trains, which means you’ll never have to walk more than 10 minutes (+ time on train) to get anywhere. Outside of Kowloon and Central, it might prove to be more challenging to find a direct path via subway, but that’s what the buses are for.
Buses are a bit more challenging to get the hang of, but once you do you might completely leave the MTR behind. Compared to the simple-to-navigate-MTR, the buses can come across as intimidating – but you need not be afraid! With a minimal amount of research on Google Maps, you’ll easily be able to conquer Hong Kong bus life.
After six months of crowded MTR rides (nowhere near as lawless as mainland China’s, but still hectic) I’m smitten to take buses any chance I get. There are two types of buses in HK – regular buses and mini buses. Regular buses are the big double deckers. They are spacious, cheap, and easy to navigate. Just use Google maps to find the best route. The mini-buses are a bit different. Mini-bus drivers are entrepreneurs that have bought the buses outright, maintain them, and have the ability to work different routes. Their buses are their business!
Because of this entrepreneurial spirit, Hong Kong’s mini-buses operate more like taxi services. There are established routes, but the drivers will deviate from the path if you need to be dropped off somewhere on the way.
As cool as that is, unless you speak Cantonese, there is little chance you’ll be able to take advantage of this service. But it’s good to know so you don’t have a heart attack when your van is deviating from the route Google Maps told you it would take. Don’t worry, you’ll get to where you need to go, just after a brief detour… or five.
Hong Kong taxis are phenomenal alternatives to public transit, and are relatively cheap. The first two kilometers will run you $22 HKD ($2.84 USD), and the fare jumps $1.60 HKD ($.21 USD) every 200 meters. I recommend taking cabs when needed, especially in groups as there is no surcharge for additional passengers. The challenge with cabs (similar to mini buses) is that most of the drivers are not fluent in English, and are exponentially less fluent in English the further from Central you are. An easy fix? Google Translate.
Digital Nomads – get excited! When it comes to food, Hong Kong is amazing. This is for two reasons.1) Local cuisine is cheap and affordable, and 2) HK is the epitome of an international city, with cuisines from all over the world. You can eat authentic Indian, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Japanese, Indonesian and Thai food for super cheap, and quality Western food for a higher price.
Eating Super Cheap in Hong Kong
This is easy to do. You can consistently find delicious food from $35 HKD ($4.50 USD) to $50 HK ($6.45 USD).
As ubiquitous as Dim Sum is the immortal Beef Noodle. There’s a beef noodle stand on every corner in Hong Kong, and these dishes will rarely run you over $5 USD. The quality of the beef can vary, and you will be guaranteed to get a bit of fat, but nine times out of ten the Beef Noodle is on point. To find a Beef Noodle Restaurant, just keep an eye out for this.
I know it looks like the love child of an alien and a ‘Tool’ album cover, but these Trypophobia-esque sights are your ticket to finding delicious Beef Noodle. From there the sky is the limit! While one can easily find expensive restaurants in HK, there’s no need to ever spend more than $80 HKD ($10.31 USD) on a meal. I will from time to time, but it will rarely be necessary.
With HK being a major city, you can absolutely find food that is more familiar, but expect to pay closer to the $90 HKD ($11.60 USD). Good burgers can be found around HK for $80 HKD ($10.30 USD) and if you are craving a slice, Paisano’s Pizzeria has three locations and will serve you a NY style piece of pizza bigger than your head for $50 HKD ($6.45 USD).
It’s Asia. Cooking doesn’t really save you much money. Fruits and veggies are dirt cheap, and can be purchased on basically any corner, but meat is a bit pricier and will negate any financial-edge you were hoping to gain.
Having said that, Hong Kong is not always a very vegetable-friendly dining environment. Veggies are often a rarity in restaurants. They love their meat and carbs. Access to a kitchen will help supplement your body’s nutritional needs.
If you are a gym rat, I’ve got some bad news. Gyms in Hong Kong won’t even let you access the equipment without signing a one year contract. It is beyond maddening. Excluding one. Meet Power Gym. Located in Jordan, Power Gym has some serious character (see; small, overcrowded, and grimy as all hell). But it’s the only gym in HK I’m aware of that doesn’t require a contract.
It costs $60 HK ($7.74 USD) for a day pass or $350 HK ($45 USD) for a month. Still pricey, but it’s the only option. Gyms aside, Hong Kong has a gorgeous system of parks you can utilize for free! Pull up bars, dip bars, monkey bars – it’s not a full gym, but it’s free and can be sufficient. If running is more of your thing, this is a great resource for the best runs and trails.
When it comes to entertainment, Hong Kong is whatever you want it to be. The options are literally endless, it just depends on your lifestyle and budget. Given the volume of possible activities, I’ll focus on a few of the most popular ones.
The bar scene in Hong Kong is an absolute blast. The insanity of LKF, the sophistication of Central, the jams of Wan Chai, or (my personal favorite) the more local vibe of TST. If you like to hit the town, HK’s got you covered. It’s fun… it just isn’t cheap. Beers will start around $50 HK ($6.45 USD) and cocktails around $80 HK ($10.31 USD), and will obviously increase in price as you increase in quality.
Digital Nomad Tip – It is completely, 100% legal to drink on the streets of Hong Kong. Anywhere!
This is crucial for the budget. It is completely acceptable to grab a few beers from Club Seven (7/11), and enjoy them in between bars. Don’t camp outside of a bar only drinking beers purchased from 7/11, but feel free to grab an in-betweener beer. Or a bottle of wine…
Wan Chai. It’s the red light district and certainly attracts some of the wrong kinds of tourists, but it isn’t as in-your-face as Thailand or The Philippines. In fact by international standards, for a red light district, Wan Chai is fairly PG. And it’s got great jams! Lots of live music can be found most night of the week. Check out The Wanch and Dusk til Dawn.
If markets are your thing, HK’s got you covered. Goldfish Market. Ladies Market. Temple Street Market. Wan Chai Street Market. They’re a fun way to see the culture, wander aimlessly, people watch, and of course, haggle.
Arguably the best part about Hong Kong is having access to one of the largest cities in the world, yet only being 20-30 minutes away from gorgeous mountains, peaks and hills. HK takes their surrounding nature very seriously, protecting 75% of the available land (hence why they build up!).
The hikes range anywhere from this-is-easy! to am-I-dying? But regardless of the difficulty, you will be astonished that in such a short time, you can completely remove yourself from the city. It’s a great (and sometimes necessary) way to recharge the batteries and get away from the chaos of downtown. This is a good resource to get you started on some of HK’s best hikes.
Surprise, Hong Kong has gorgeous beaches! They are a bit more of a hike to get to (usually an hour plus) but when you get there you will be shocked as to just how lovely they are!
Shek O, Tai Long Wan, and Lamma Island beaches are more popular. Lots of people barbecuing, playing volleyball and drinking. If you want something a bit more off the path? The stunning Tai Long Wan requires a challenging hour-long hike but you’ll have it to yourself on weekdays. Or check out Sai Wan beach. It’s nice and big, and can get you within striking distance of Sheung Luk stream which is highly recommended!
If you aren’t familiar with Macau, think Vegas, drop it in China, then add 400 years of Portuguese colonial influence. It’s a heck of a combination. Just a short ferry-ride away, Macau is a very unique country, that is also the gambling capital of the planet.
In 2013 Macau recorded $45 billion USD profit. Compare that to Vegas which claimed $6 billion USD. Not even close. But, even if you aren’t into gambling (like myself) Macau offers enough culturally and historically for a day or two of really interesting sights. Highly recommended.
Is being a Digital Nomad in Hong Kong expensive? Yes. But you can do it for under $2,000 USD a month. Ultimately, you’ll want to…
- Spend a bit less than $1,000 USD on rent (aiming for $800).
- Spend around $1,000 a month on everything else (very, very, very doable.)
Hopefully with the help of this Digital Nomad Guide to Living in Hong Kong, you can confidently relocate to Hong Kong to not only get some work done, but have a great time while you’re living there!
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