I spent my first weeks in Hong Kong in a not-very-luxurious serviced apartment in Causeway Bay. I remember feeling overwhelmed by the crowds and the smells. I had morning sickness and those distinctive Hong Kong smells on every corner, and the faint smell of mould inside the apartment, did not help one bit!
As a newly landed expat there is A LOT organise, and even simple tasks become frustrating when you don’t know your way around. Here are a few bits of information that would have helped me find my feet faster.
Yes, milk really does cost that much. Food is expensive compared to many of our ‘home’ countries.
If you prefer imported food then it’s time to locate your nearest Park N Shop (or their more ‘expat’ brands Fusion and International, and their one-off ‘Taste’ store at Pacific Place, Admiralty) or Wellcome. You can shop online at both of these stores, though it has to be said the online shopping experience is not wonderful. But at least it alleviates the need to bring your wheeley trolley to the store!
If you’re happy to shop at the wet markets and buy Chinese produce and meat, then you can eat cheaply. There are also a selection of budget grocery stores you can try, and we have a complete guide to those here. Our favourite is USelect which stocks a great value range of Tesco (UK supermarket) products.
If you live on Hong Kong Island it’s worth checking out Honestbee. This concierge shopping service does your shopping for you at various stores and delivers it right to your home or office.
The good news is you can pretty much get any food or drink you like here, including a good selection organic veggies, imported dairy products and meat. Give our ‘Gourmet Food Shopping’ guide a read and I’m sure you’ll soon find your own favourite grocery delivery options.
Did you hit your first shopping mall yet (how could you avoid them!)? Please don’t panic, non-designer goods are actually available in this city. In general the malls in Central and around the Star Ferry terminal in Kowloon have the highest concentration of designer brands and as you explore other areas you will find a bigger selection of price points.
Many expats prefer to shop online, check out our Online Shopping Guides here (food and beauty) and here (clothes, department stores, kids’ stuff), for a mix of local and international online shopping options. And of course, next time you go ‘home’ – take an empty suitcase and stock up on everything!
If you’re a reader then take a look at our bookstore guide here.
There is no HK equivalent to the big out-of-town, sells-everything megastore. Different areas of Hong Kong specialise in different things, and browsing many tiny stores and market stalls is the norm. Yes, it does take longer and it can be frustrating. But, it’s a great way to explore Hong Kong and soak up city life, so try and see it as a day out! (Check out our guide to shopping the markets of Sham Shui Po to get you started)
Finding healthcare that you’re happy with is a big step towards feeling comfortable in Hong Kong.
In my case I was newly pregnant when I arrived, and was totally confused on whether to go public or private for the birth (I went public in the end).
Hong Kong has a public healthcare system which is low cost to anyone with a Hong Kong ID card (or in the case of kids without ID cards, the visa in their passport, and their birth certificate). This is a no frills service with waiting lists.
In an emergency, call 999 for an ambulance and they’ll take you to your nearest public hospital. But keep in mind that the public hospitals are not renowned for their bedside manner, so if it’s not ‘life or death’ (especially with kids) you might prefer to go private. Research your local private hospitals and have an emergency plan. Tip – keep copies of your children’s birth certificates and passports with visas in your phone, these are needed at public hospital.
The private healthcare providers here are generally excellent, but pricey. Definitely consider buying health insurance if it’s not been included in your package, particularly for children. We recommend CCW insurance brokers, they understand expats and work for you, not for the insurance companies.
I’m not sure what it is about TV from ‘home’, but it definitely helps.
Now TV are Hong Kong’s cable TV providers and feature many British and American shows, but can be pricey and they usually tie you in to a long contract.
If you Google ‘expat TV from (your home country)’ you’ll get many options for (not always legal) ways to watch your favourite shows. Apple TV is also popular.
Netflix is available in Hong Kong, sign up for the free trial and see if they have the shows you’re after. You can also use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to trick some TV streaming sites that restrict access geographically, into thinking you’re based in the US, UK or wherever.
While we’re on the subject, with amazing broadband connectivity wherever you go, HK literally has an app to help you with everything!
Sorting Your Apartment
It’s quite likely that you’re going to be ‘downsizing’ on living space, which can be a challenge. I’ve lived here for 8 years and only just thrown away many things I brought with me, and accepted we will never have space for them!
But you do get used to the smaller living spaces, and anyway, you’ll be too busy exploring and enjoying life outside your apartment to care.
Check out Ikea for basics (but don’t expect the ‘warehouse’ experience, HK Ikeas are teeny), they also offer some online shopping. (I spent most of my first year in Hong Kong in Ikea!)
Keep in mind if you’re renting that it’s quite likely you’ll need to re-think furniture when you change apartments, so second hand can be a good option. 2nd Chance is a second-hand furniture store worth a visit, and also use Facebook Groups for buying and selling.
Horizon Plaza is a well known Hong Kong spot for furniture shopping, and there are some good international online shopping options for home accessories here.
When Will It All ‘Click’?
Finally, all those people who tell you the homesickness will improve, just give it time? They’re right. It can take a while so don’t get frustrated if it doesn’t click overnight, be kind to yourself and take your time. I’m sure you’ll soon be loving this amazing city as much as I do.