Getting around Hong Kong is easy thanks to its excellent public transport system and compact layout. In fact, driving is not a necessity but a luxury – or in some cases just an annoyance due to traffic jams and expensive parking.
Even expats who live off-island do not need to invest in a private vehicle. Kowloon is almost as compact as Hong Kong Island, and certainly very densely populated as well, making its terrific public transport network more convenient than a car.
Public transport in Hong Kong
Hong Kong's public transport system is made up of a well-integrated network of trains, buses, trams and ferries. All four modes of public transport can be accessed using a contactless smartcard known as an Octopus Card. Passengers simply tap in and out before and after their journey.
Mass Transit Railway (MTR)
The most popular mode of transport in Hong Kong is the MTR, the city's rapid transit system. It is extremely efficient and clean, and has added perks like air conditioning and consistent mobile phone reception underground. Commuters also have the advantage of avoiding the street-level congestion above.
The MTR system is made up of light and heavy rail. All in all, it consists of more than 20 lines serving around 160 stations throughout Hong Kong.
When riding the MTR, expats should bear in mind that Hong Kongers are perpetually in a hurry, so they should make sure they shuffle along quickly to avoid getting trampled on or pushed over, especially at busy interchanging stations.
Buses are a popular mode of transport in Hong Kong, especially for people who don’t live near the MTR lines. They are usually less packed than the MTR, but are subject to the same slow-moving traffic as private vehicles.
A limited network of historic trams is available in the northern area of Hong Kong Island. While they're worth riding once or twice for the novelty, they don't make for a good daily commute option as they are a slow form of transport.
The ferry is an essential mode of transit for expats living in Discovery Bay, Lamma Island, Park Island, or any of the other outlying islands favoured by foreigners.
Ferries are, of course, subject to Hong Kong’s occasionally extreme weather conditions, and service can grind to a halt in the event of a typhoon. In these cases, employees may be asked to leave work early, or find a friend to stay with until the storm has died down.
Taxis in Hong Kong
Taking a taxi in Hong Kong is incredibly cheap in comparison to places like Tokyo or even some cities in Western Europe. Expats will soon realise that each driver's English proficiency and mapping skills can vary tremendously. There are three types of taxis: red, green and blue, each of which serves a particular area.
Ride-sharing applications such as Uber are also operational in Hong Kong and can be useful in avoiding communication problems with drivers.
Driving in Hong Kong
Buying a car in Hong Kong is not necessary. The region is small, and the costs of buying and parking a car are high. That said, it is still a common mode of transport for expats, especially those that choose accommodation further away from the city centre. Hong Kong has a good road safety record, but expats are advised to nevertheless take extra caution when driving. Traffic jams are frequent so drivers should be prepared to spend a significant amount of time on the road.
Walking and cycling in Hong Kong
Hong Kong is relatively safe for pedestrians, and people generally stick to pedestrian crossings and the signals that accompany them. Hong Kong is not very bicycle-friendly and, for the most part, cyclists use the roads to get around. This can be dangerous, especially on highways and in the evenings. It's also important for expats planning on walking or cycling to keep an eye on air pollution levels and avoid long periods of rigorous exercise outdoors when pollution is high.
►For a list of must-see attractions, read See and Do in Hong Kong
"Public transport in Hong Kong is extremely convenient. Although space is not huge, the city still has a very wide and well-organised transportation network. Unless you’re living in more remote areas, the options are MTR, city bus, tramway, minibus, ferries… You can reach almost any place in Hong Kong quickly using this wonderful network and it also has very affordable rates. Besides this network, taking the taxi is something very common and quite affordable in this city." Read the rest of French expat Edouard's interview about life in Hong Kong.
Are you an expat living in Hong Kong?
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