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 comprises 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.

Public transport in Hong Kong by Florian Wehde

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 consists of light and heavy rail, with nine local lines serving around 99 stations throughout Hong Kong.

When riding the MTR, expats should remember that Hong Kongers are perpetually in a hurry. They should make sure they shuffle along quickly to avoid getting trampled on or pushed over, especially at busy interchanging stations.

Buses

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. 

Fares are payable aboard the bus, and expats can use an Octopus Card. Those who will be paying using cash must have exact change. There are four major service providers in Hong Kong: Kowloon Motor Bus, Citybus, New Lantao Bus, and Long Win Bus.

Trams

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 are a slow form of transport and don't make for a good daily commute option. Regardless of how far you travel, the cost for each tram ride remains the same. Similarly to the bus, if you will be paying cash, you must have exact change. 

Ferries

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 dies down.

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Taxis in Hong Kong

Taking a taxi in Hong Kong is incredibly cheap compared 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.

  • Red taxis service most of Hong Kong, except the south side of Lantau Island and Tung Chung Road. 
  • Green taxis operate in the New Territories.
  • Blues taxis only operate on Lantau Island

Ride-sharing applications such as Uber are also operational in Hong Kong and can be useful in avoiding communication problems with drivers.

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Driving in Hong Kong

Driving a Hong Kong taxi by Arron Choi

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 who choose accommodation further away from the city centre. 

Hong Kong has a good road safety record, but expats are advised to take extra caution when driving. Traffic jams are frequent, so drivers should be prepared to spend a significant amount of time on the road. 

Expats who are looking to drive in Hong Kong have several options for obtaining a local driving licence. Those from countries with exchange agreements with the city-state can simply exchange their foreign driving licence for a local driving licence. They will need to produce their identity cards, proof of address, and medical certificate showing that they can operate a car. 

Those who are not from countries with licence exchange agreements with Hong Kong can apply for a temporary driving licence. They may also have to take a driving test to secure their local driving licence. 

Useful links


Walking and cycling in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is relatively safe for pedestrians, and people generally stick to pedestrian crossings and the accompanying signals. 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.

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