Curious about spending some time as a digital nomad in Hong Kong? Hong Kong’s well-earned reputation as an expensive city to live in (on a par with London, New York and Tokyo) means it’s rarely the first place digital nomads head when they first touch down in this neck of Asia.
However, you’ll be sucked in by HK’s intoxicating mix of pulsating energy, old world charm, spectacular scenery, efficient public transportation, salivating food, and buzzing nightlife.
Of course, the fact that Hong Kong is such an expensive place to live means many location independent professionals stick around for only a relatively short 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 we’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.
Ultimate Guide to Being a Digital Nomad in Hong Kong
If you know anyone in Hong Kong then definitely 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 on Nathan Road) offer very little in terms of value-to-cost so you should take every opportunity you can to save a few quid during your first week here.
When it comes to renting a place of your own you must bear in mind that space is at a premium here. You won’t find any large apartments or rooms so don’t automatically dismiss the first properties you go to inspect because they look ‘a little on the small side’.
Where to Base Yourself?
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 buddying up with a room-mate could be the answer – this’ll allow you to halve your costs straight off the bat.
If you like the idea of working in bustling Hong Kong yet are keen to live somewhere more relaxed then perhaps think about getting a place on Lamma Island instead. As well as affording a welcome change of pace from the constant hubbub of the city, the rents here are considerably cheaper and apartment sizes can be a little larger. The trade-off is that you’ll need to catch a ferry every time you want to get to/from Hong Kong).
Getting Around Hong Kong
While HK taxis aren’t as costly as those patrolling the streets of London and New York, it really does pay – in every sense of the word – to make good use of the city’s 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 iconic 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 let you get up close and personal with traditional Chinese junks for little more than HK$2.50 (around 25p), one-way.
The quaint, box-like double-decker trams that run between Kennedy Town and Shau Kei Wan every day between 6am and midnight also offer great value as they’ll take you from one end of HK Island to the other (albeit pretty slowly) for the princely sum of just HK$2.60!
If you’re looking to stick around HK for a while then you’ll certainly want to invest in an Octopus travel card. As well as cutting down on queueing times, this handy contactless smart card provides discount fares on most MTR services and comes pre-packed with HK$100 of credit.
Co-Working Spaces in Hong Kong
There’s some incredibly stylish co-working locations in HK, ranging from sunny rooftops to sleek and modern offices. Top picks include Playground.work, which has a fun creative vibe and Metropolitan Workshop, which has several locations around the city – all with a different theme.
If you prefer to get your work done in a cosy cafe, you’ll find no end of coffee shops here. Pro tip: go to Knockbox Coffee Company on Friday nights for their amazing coffee community evening: unlimited specialty coffee – all night, from 6-10pm!
Eating In… and Dining Out
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. Cooking at home is often a great way to save money as groceries can be picked up from neighbourhood wet markets (local fresh markets) for cheap.
Although some of these markets are a little out of the way, they’re well worth a visit as you’ll find all amazing produce, discover parts of animals you didn’t 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 ingredients before heading back to cook up a treat in your own HK digs will make you feel like a real, bonafide Hong Konger!
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 higgedly-piggeldy under strips of florescent lighting.
While they might not look very appealing from the outset, don’t be put off; what they lack in aesthetic appeal they more than make up for in substance. The Cantonese, Sichuan, Beijing and seafood dishes tend to be high-quality and prices are very reasonable indeed.
Many people assume that you need to earn big bucks to make the most of being a digital nomad in Hong Kong. It’s true to a certain extent, but it shouldn’t put you the idea of basing yourself here. Even those with limited or fluctuating incomes can enjoy HK for a prolonged period of time if they’re willing to be flexible and maintain an open mind.
Put simply, Hong Kong is undoubtedly one of Asia’s most energetic, intoxicating and – in its own way – rewarding cities. Any digital nomad in Hong Kong will fall in love with the city…
*Note: Due to severe disruption caused by protest-related unrest, some parts of Hong Kong Island are best avoided by visitors at present. While the situation is fluid, tensions are currently high.
Especially in and around Mong Kok, Sham Shui Po, Sheung Wan and Causeway Bay. Check out MTR’s up-to-date bulletin site to get an overview of what’s happening and where.*