The cost of living in Hong Kong is undeniably high, with some reports putting the city's cost of living as the highest in the world.
Hong Kong has topped Mercer's Cost of Living Survey for several years and remains the most expensive city for expats in the world in 2023. In part, this is thanks to the region's extremely overinflated property market, which makes finding accommodation an expensive endeavour. Add to that the fact that most produce and commodities are imported, and one tends to find that the necessities of life are generally pricier in Hong Kong than in other cities.
Nevertheless, the typically high salaries earned by expats tend to offset these costs, and many find their quality of life is higher than it was back home.
Cost of accommodation in Hong Kong
Housing in Hong Kong is notoriously expensive and, depending on their needs, expats can expect a high percentage of their salary to be spent on an (often tiny) apartment. The older Chinese-style apartments, in particular, may be more reasonably priced but don't afford the space that Western expats may be used to.
The demand for housing in Hong Kong far outstrips the supply, and as one of the most densely populated territories in the world, this contributes to astronomical accommodation costs. The initial cost of renting, which includes a two to three-month security deposit, also plays a role in the high cost of accommodation in Hong Kong. Moreover, expats will typically need to pay for monthly utilities in addition to their monthly rental fees.
Cost of public transport in Hong Kong
Public transport is cheap, clean and reliable. By contrast, owning and maintaining a car in Hong Kong is pricey. Most people find that they don’t need one if they live centrally; plus the cost – and risk of bumping into erratic taxi drivers – is generally not worth it.
Regular public transport users will benefit from purchasing a reloadable Octopus Card. This card can be used to access all four modes of public transport in the city-state. It also offers commuters discounts, making it the perfect cost-saving measure for budget-conscious expats.
Cost of education in Hong Kong
Education is free in Hong Kong's state-run schools, but the majority of expats who arrive with kids prefer to send them to one of the region's private international schools that follow a foreign curriculum, such as that of the US and UK. These can be incredibly expensive, and expats should make sure their salaries or package will cover school expenses before signing a permanent contract.
While these schools are costly, they offer expats the ease of moving around the world without disrupting their children's education. These schools also often offer exceptional teaching standards and facilities while boasting a wider range of extracurricular activities.
Cost of healthcare in Hong Kong
Healthcare is free for expats using the public system, which is excellent but heavily oversubscribed. Expats looking to use public facilities will need their Hong Kong ID card to access public hospitals. The biggest downside to public healthcare is the long waiting times associated with the system. Dental care is also not covered under the public system except in emergency situations.
Most expats organise a private insurance plan through their employer. The cost of this will vary depending on the level of coverage they choose, their age and lifestyle habits such as smoking. Expats can reduce the cost by shopping around to find the most cost-effective cover for them and their needs.
Cost of groceries and shopping in Hong Kong
Thanks to its proximity to China, there are many things that can be picked up cheaply in Hong Kong. Household supplies, clothes and other bits and pieces are made just across the border and transported freely into Hong Kong and are thus affordable. China also provides much of Hong Kong’s fresh food and grocery items, and if expats are happy to go local in terms of produce origin, the weekly shop can be easy on the wallet.
That said, most Westerners prefer not to buy local produce, especially with stories of questionable farming practices and food additive scandals hitting the papers regularly. Expats buying imported goods can expect to pay double for many fresh and grocery items (especially meat), with the result that grocery shopping costs will quickly add up.
There is no shortage of Western items on international supermarket shelves: Tim Tams and Vegemite for the Australian market, graham crackers and ranch dressing for US expats, and Tiptree Jam and Marmite for the Brits. Not to mention the Japanese supermarkets, Thai food shops and Philippines speciality stores stocking their own culinary assets from home.
Cost of entertainment and eating out in Hong Kong
As is the case with accommodation, alcohol is fairly pricey in Hong Kong. Revellers looking to enjoy a regular night out in the city-state must be prepared to pay handsomely at some of the high-end bars and clubs. There are some ways to save a few bucks while enjoying a night out; expats can try out some of the spots frequented by locals and visit the bars away from the tourist areas.
Since food in Hong Kong is largely affordable, it follows that eating out in the city-state is also fairly reasonable. As in most Asian cities, Hong Kong has a strong street food culture, which can be cheap and tasty. Expats looking for the finer things will have plenty of options, but these will come at a higher price.
Art lovers and history buffs will be delighted to find that some museums, galleries and festivals, such as the M+ Museum and the Collectible Art Fair, offer free entry during certain times of the year. There are also plenty of low-cost or free green spaces, such as Hong Kong Park and hiking as well as cycling trails expats can visit to fill up their spare time.
Cost of living in Hong Kong chart
Prices may vary depending on the product and service provider. The list below shows average prices for November 2023.
|Accommodation (monthly rent)|
|One-bedroom apartment in city centre||HKD 17,900|
|One-bedroom apartment outside of city centre||HKD 13,200|
|Three-bedroom apartment in city centre||HKD 36,000|
|Three-bedroom apartment outside of city centre||HKD 23,500|
|Eggs (dozen)||HKD 31|
|Milk (1 litre)||HKD 24|
|Rice (1kg)||HKD 19|
|Loaf of white bread||HKD 18.04|
|Chicken breasts (1kg)||HKD 75|
|Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)||HKD 78|
|Big Mac Meal||HKD 45|
|Coca-Cola (330ml)||HKD 10|
|Bottle of local beer||HKD 50|
|Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant||HKD 500|
|Mobile phone monthly plan with calls and data||HKD 156|
|Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)||HKD 189|
|Basic utilities (per month for small apartment)||HKD 1,900|
|Taxi rate (per kilometre)||HKD 9.50|
|Bus/train fare in the city centre||HKD 12|
|Petrol/gasoline (per litre)||HKD 22.45|
►To get an idea of what you should be earning in Hong Kong, see Salaries for Expats in Hong Kong
What do expats say about living costs in Hong Kong?
"Most things are expensive here – food, accommodation, schooling – but if you don’t mind getting down and dirty, you can eat out at some local chow-down places for a few dollars." Read more of British expat Lindsey's interview about expat life in Hong Kong.
"The cost of living is very much linked to the way you want to live in Hong Kong, for example, either like a Hong Kong local or more like an expatriate. Accommodation cost is for sure a big expense in the household budget unless your employer is paying the rent." French expat Edouard shares his thoughts on the city-state's cost of living in his expat interview about Hong Kong.
Are you an expat living in Hong Kong?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Hong Kong. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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