Things I Wish I Knew About Hong Kong BEFORE I Moved Here!

things to know about hong kong before you move

It’s been ten months since I first arrived in HK, and honestly, it’s gone so fast that it could’ve been ten weeks or ten minutes. Moving to a foreign country can be incredibly scary. It forces you out of your comfort zone and will make you grow in ways that you never anticipated. One day you might be stood on the top of Lion’s Rock screaming “I LOVE THIS PLACE!!” Then a few hours later, you’ll be trying to find a bank with no mobile data left and wanting to call your mum and cry (Ok, maybe the crying part is just me, but you see what I mean).  But of course, there were plenty of  things that I wish I had known before I landed. It would’ve saved a few awkward situations and helped on my course to ya know, adulting.

So, here’s what I wish somebody had told me, or things that you should know before you move to Hong Kong…


DISCLAIMER: This blog post should’ve been titled ‘Things You Should Know Before You Move To Hong Kong’. I was fully aware of the cultural differences between HK / Mainland China and was definitely not going around yelling at people in Mandarin. Take this blog post with a pinch of salt and don’t take life so seriously. Love <3 

  1. Hong Kong and Mainland China are TWO. SEPARATE. THINGS. Do not be the person making that mistake when talking to a local.
  2. It’s always best to have Google translate on hand, or even better, learn some Cantonese!
  3. The language here is Cantonese and not Mandarin. So please don’t be that guy yelling “NII HAAOOOO”.
  4. The work ethic here is insane. It’s true, HK has the longest working week in the world! If you’re starting a corporate job out here, GOOD FLIPPIN’ LUCK.
  5. No, your apartment isn’t on fire. It’s someone burning offerings in the street.
  6. Wet markets are one to avoid if you’re squeamish or just don’t particularly enjoy seeing decapitated frogs/ fish etc.
  7. If you’re veggie, downloading HappyCow will save your life. But there’s more info on that here.
  8. Crowds can move pretty slowly and people are usually attached to their iPhones. Yep, you will want to personally punch the creator of Candy Crush in the face after spending 24 hours in HK.
  9. You may nearly get set staple gunned or blinded by sparks a few times by on-the-street workshops. There isn’t a lot of space, so fixing things on the pavement is pretty normal. You have been warned.
  10. The MTR system is so efficient that it makes most European underground systems look pretty pathetic. Just avoid Admiralty at peak times AT. ALL. COSTS.
  11. Do not wander down pet street if you are an animal lover. You will want to cry, and save all the dogs from the tiny cages, and just DON’T EVEN START ON THE FISHES.
  12. Also, people are incredibly considerate when it comes to cleaning up after their animals. They will catch poop with a newspaper and wash pee away with a bottle of water. I’m not really sure why this is essential knowledge, but it just… Is.
  13. Expect to wear a surgery mask when you’re sick!
  14. Don’t let the high-rise buildings and skyscrapers fool you. HK is actually over 40% green – start exploring it as soon as you get here!
  15. You will usually have to pay a 10% service charge for most things. Boooo.
  16. Unless you’re raking in the $$, your apartment probably won’t have a convential kitchen or bathroom. You’ll get used to it. One day. (Maybe).
  17. On that note, get ready to download the GoGoVan app and join all of the HK Expat FB groups. You’ll need them to furnish your (empty) apartment.
  18. Sassy Hong Kong will become your bible. Everything from where to eat to what’s happening at the weekend is covered. Thanks, Sassy Gals.
  19. Some days the pollution can be pretty intense. Sadly, this meme is pretty accurate…
  20. BTW – carry toilet paper and hand sanitiser with you at all times. You will thank me later.
  21. Also, at some point you probably will have to use a squatty potty. Try not to fall in.
  22. Drinking on the street is perfectly legal. That means people usually loiter outside of clubs with their 7/11 beers rather than actually going in them. You probably will become one of them.
  23. Also, you can also pretty much sort your entire life out in 7/11. You can top up your Octopus, phone, pay your bills, AND get a cheap beer. Pretty genius, really.
  24. Cancel your phone contract before you come if possible. China Mobile data is ridiculously cheap.
  25. The weather here is super weird. In the morning it might be 35 degrees and by the afternoon it will be a typhoon. Also, somehow 15c in HK feels freezing even though that’s essentially summer in the UK. You’ll get used to it.
  26. Once you’ve got your VISA sorted, you will feel incredibly cool when you swan through the HK Resident’s queue, scan your HK ID card and walk straight out of the airport. Why can’t every country do this?!
  27. Things like taxis and mobile data are much cheaper than they usually are in the West. You might pay $30 HKD for a 30 minute taxi ride but then $40 for a punnet of cherry tomatoes. Ya win some ya lose some.
  28. On that note, DIM SUM is freakin’ delicious. And usually cheap – the perfect food to grab quickly after work.
  29. Start your bucket list early, there is SO MUCH to do. Get involved, say yes to everything, and have an amazing time!

Hong Kong may feel overwhelming at first, but over time I have grown to love the quirks and the culture shocks and feel incredibly at home here. PS Already living in HK? Then you might want to read this.

Lydia Rose


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  1. May 10, 2017 / 4:44 am

    If you don’t know that people speak Cantonese or that Hong Kong has a completely different system from mailand China before coming, then you are freaking ignorant. The basic thing one would think people do is learn the most basic information about the country were they are moving. Hell, people should know this even if they aren’t moving to Hong Kong. Complete ignoramus. The toilet paper thing makes me think you frequent the worst places.

    • lydia
      May 10, 2017 / 6:25 am

      Hi Caroline,

      I’m sorry if my blog post offended you in someway. I’m unsure if you are calling me a “complete ignoramus” directly or whether your comment is a frustration directed at people in general. But anyway, sadly, the distinction between Mandarin / Cantonese is something a lot of westerners do get wrong and I was poking fun of it in the blog post. Of course I knew this before moving, the post is intended as a guide of things people should know.
      As for the toilet paper point, I’m unsure why you felt the need to say that. I actually live on Kowloon and being in no toilet paper situations is very common. But yes, with my low salary perhaps I do frequent “the worst places”, as you sensitively put.

      In future, I think you should take some time before you leave a comment to consider the following;

      1) Is it kind?
      2) Is it correct?
      3) Is it necessary?

      I think you will find your comment corresponds to none of the above.
      Have a great day,


    • Vik
      May 10, 2017 / 6:43 am

      I agree Caroline’s comments add ZERO value. I would consider her the IGNORANT one here.

      In published literature, Hong Kong is part of China. Given Mandarin is the dominate language in China, one would expect the same for Hong Kong – DUH!

      And if you use the tissue provided by public toilets, then you might as well eat off the floor (e.g. you’re a FOOL!).

      By the way, all local Hong Kongers are direct decedents of mainland Chinese, therefore Caroline, you are a MAINLAND CHINESE!

      • Tina
        May 10, 2017 / 7:58 am

        Hi Vik. You’ve trivialised a very complex issue. Cantonese and Mandarin are two different dialects of Chinese and Cantonese predates Mandarin and holds a lot more ‘traditional Chinese’ markers (as Mandarin is ‘simplified’). When voting on the national language in China, a lot ‘published literature’ reports that Cantonese lost out on being this language by one vote. Considering the history of either place you would not expect them to speak the same languages. When moving to a new country, it’s always good to do your research so you do not appear or go into someone’s environment being, as you so eloquently put it in all caps, IGNORANT.

        1. Is your comment kind? No you’ve trivialised the history of people who live here
        2. Is your comment correct? As explained, no.
        3. Therefore was your comment necessary? I’ll let you decide that one for yourself.

        • lydia
          May 10, 2017 / 8:07 am

          I really hope you understand that wasn’t me replying and another commenter – FYI!

        • elva
          May 11, 2017 / 2:00 am


          Good points, but you should have your facts ready. Education 101 – original Mandarin is not ‘simplified’ and it is not called mandarin.

          So before giving your 2 cents, you should go find your 2 cents.

          As you put it so eloquently, stated:

          – ‘Is your comment correct? As explained, no.’
          – ‘Was your comment necessary?’ No.

        • v
          May 11, 2017 / 3:52 pm

          Tina….emm….. “Things I wish I know” is a common form of English (point form) writing. the writer usually knows what she/he is writing about. Don’t take it too seriously on Lydia.

    • A
      May 11, 2017 / 8:36 am

      woah you need to take a deep breathe, reevaluate your life, and think to yourself how you got to this very moment of being so rude towards someone else. Chill.

      • lydia
        May 11, 2017 / 8:40 am

        Hoping this was a response to Caroline and not to me?

    • May 11, 2017 / 10:50 am

      Wow, so much anger coming from @Caroline. I’d say that 90% of the world’s population outside of China/HK have no idea that Hong Kong and China have separate systems and speak different languages. It’s not because they are a ‘complete ignoramus,’ it’s because they’re too busy with their lives to really care. On a parting note @Caroline, usually, netizens who use phrases like ‘freaking ignorant’ and ‘complete ignoramus’ are in fact themselves calling the kettle black…

  2. I think it’s so annoying when foreigners say “NI HAO” – not just in Hong Kong but anywhere in the world! It’s like shouting “BOUNJOUR” to French people or “HOLA” to Spanish people. Commence eye roll!

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

    • lydia
      May 10, 2017 / 6:54 am

      Oh my gosh I know! So silly haha ! x

    • Dna
      May 11, 2017 / 12:19 am

      What’s wrong with saying hello if you want to? Immerse.

    • v
      May 11, 2017 / 3:45 pm

      i dont get the bonjour and hola part… i greet every shopkeepers when i enter their shops and occasionally i greet passers by too. did you mean the “yelling” part?

  3. Samuel
    May 10, 2017 / 6:46 am

    As an expat from the states, I laughed at this well-thought-out list! That sourpuss Caroline’s got issues though.

    • lydia
      May 10, 2017 / 6:53 am

      Hey Samuel! Thanks for your comment. So glad it made you laugh – that was my aim 😉

  4. Seriously.
    May 10, 2017 / 7:25 am

    “The weather here is super weird. In the morning it might be 35 degrees and by the afternoon it will be a typhoon”

    …you know typhoons are more likely to happen in warm weather right? what did you think high humidity was?

    • lydia
      May 10, 2017 / 7:41 am

      Oh wow you are very boring indeed. Do you have any hobbies? I suggest pottery – very soothing on the soul, will give you something to think about besides warm weather fronts.

    • Very Seriously
      May 10, 2017 / 7:52 am

      This is ‘seriously’ the most inane and pointless comment I have ever read. Thank you for ‘seriously’ pointing out the technicalities of a warm weather front. ‘Seriously’ appreciated

  5. S.
    May 10, 2017 / 7:54 am

    I’m not sure what’s hindering your search for banks in a major finance hub (another fun fact you may not know about HK!), maybe your vision is clouded by tears of regret of not Googling Hong Kong before moving. Anyway, if you really do have a hard time finding a bankn, there are literally 7-11’s / OK’s every where for you to get cash back and top up your phone, so the struggle ain’t so real, but you live in Asia now so you’re like, cool. and cultuered Don’t worry.

    P.S. you should totes write for sassy

    • lydia
      May 10, 2017 / 8:10 am

      OK –
      1) yes Central is a major finance hub, Kowloon, where I live (and it sounds like you have never ventured to) certainly is not.
      2) It is quite hard to find a bank in Kowloon when not many people speak English and you have no data. Ohhh the pain.
      3) I already mentioned the convenience of 7/11 so it’s clear you *totes* didn’t read my blog.
      4) I already do write for Sassy – it’s going great, thanks!
      5) I’m cooler than you because I actually put my name to comments. What is this? Gossip Girl? xoxo, trolls are boring.

      Next time, add your name. It makes this more fun.

      • Nick
        May 11, 2017 / 8:51 am

        Sorry, but that can’t be true. I grew up in Hong Kong and have lived in both Mong Kok (Kowloon) and Tsuen Wan (New Territories) for 20+ years. Finding a bank in Hong Kong was significantly easier than doing so in the United States or United Kingdom. Any satellite city is filled with banks on all of the main streets. Given how compact Hong Kong is, there’s no way you would be have any difficulties finding a bank. Now, if we’re talking about up in the mountains in Northern Kowloon, then you might have a point.

        • v
          May 11, 2017 / 3:41 pm

          Nick, she is not a Cantonese speaker. when you do not speak that language it is hard to find things. Try to read the whole sentence and think of her situation before commenting, dont just shove your experiences into others’ shoes

    • The Grammar Police
      May 10, 2017 / 8:20 am

      She’s so cool and cultuered that she can spell cultured. Oh, the sophistication!

    • v
      May 11, 2017 / 3:43 pm

      sometimes we need banks for more than cash withdrawal…

  6. May 10, 2017 / 8:02 am


    Saw you on HK expats Facebook group! Thought I’d swing by and say hello!

    The list format really works! Enjoyed the read.

    Richard Bralux stick on bras

    • lydia
      May 10, 2017 / 8:10 am

      Thank you Richard!

  7. Sharon
    May 10, 2017 / 8:13 am

    Hi Lydia. Loved your comments so true. Dog owners have to clear up and spray, they would get fined otherwise (if they got caught). Wish they would do this in the UK.

    • lydia
      May 10, 2017 / 8:16 am

      I know right! So great!

  8. TH
    May 10, 2017 / 9:14 am

    Enjoy yourself here – don’t feel guilty about it. There are unlimited proper choices to visit and to experience ’round here. I understand the frustration for that “Ni Hao” matter. No big deal actually. I did the same serious error when talking in Spanish instead of Basque while in Barcelona OR greeting with Guten Tag or danke while in Prague. People understand you but the interpersonal connection is lost. The dialect Cantonese and the southern provinces split from the Mainland about 2200 years ago … what you hear on the street were back then the proper dialect (educated people) in those ages and HKers with the people in Guangzhou, Canton are proud of it. In some way one can compare to the situation modernised classical Latin spoken and used on a daily life (not vulgate, not Portugese nor Italian) , and not the artificial Ecclesiastical Latin confined to Church masses. Mandarin or Putonghua has only a history of 400 years old, until 1900, it was largely confined to government outposts and the Peking area only.

    • Harry
      May 10, 2017 / 11:59 am

      You probably struggled speaking basque in Barcelona as they speak catalan! Some cool information about mandarin and cantonese though so thanks for sharing

    • uhhhhhh
      May 10, 2017 / 12:06 pm

      OK but why would you think that speaking Basque (instead of Spanish) in -Barcelona- is the appropriate thing to do? Barcelona is in Catalunya, and their local language is Catalan. Basque was only re-introduced in the Basque region of Spain (quite far away from Barcelona) in the 1980s.
      Besides, if you were to speak Spanish in Barcelona, nobody is going to to be annoyed. Absolutely nobody.
      HOWEVER, if you were to speak German in Prague, I mean where to start. Why would you even think that’s close? Saying danke?!? Of course ‘interpersonal connection’ is lost! Would you go to Vietnam and say ‘khap khun kha’ to people there?

  9. May 10, 2017 / 9:28 am

    It’s so exciting that you moved out to Hong Kong! Although I’m not planning to get there any time soon I found this post really useful and interesting! X


  10. Ali
    May 10, 2017 / 9:51 am

    Having arrived in Hong Kong about 10 months ago, this was the exact kind of article I was looking for! Now I’m more settled I enjoyed reading your post and could giggle and nod along.

    As for the nasty comments… what’s the point? The article wasn’t written as ‘FACT’, it’s one person’s experience and opinion. No real need to go out of your way to be negative about something someone is doing purely out of positivity and to help others!

  11. Eddsterone
    May 10, 2017 / 10:22 am

    Dim sum after work?
    You’ll learn

    • Nick
      May 11, 2017 / 8:54 am

      They are somewhat cheaper in the afternoon tea hours though.

  12. Leila
    May 11, 2017 / 2:28 am

    I moved to Hong Kong when I was young, but my vagina was trapped on a variety of objects.

  13. Jana
    May 11, 2017 / 7:04 am

    I found this super funny! Especially your comments to the trolls, was actually laughing out loud and reading them to my boyfriend. Keep up what you’re doing! If people are actually getting offended by this, they seriously need a sense of humour.

  14. Mathilde
    May 11, 2017 / 7:56 am

    Hi Lydia,

    I’m moving to Hong Kong in August and I found your article/blog/Instagram very funny and instructive. I also saw all the mean, meaningless comments you receive – don’t waste time for these people, what you do is great! X

  15. Rhea
    May 11, 2017 / 10:57 am

    As a HK expat, I am saddened and shocked at the response that this article has been getting. I think there’s some really great advice in there, not just for people who are going to move here but for people that live here already (I had no idea about that vegan/vegetarian app – thanks!) And I also think it’s great that you’re doing what you love and you should keep at it!

  16. v
    May 11, 2017 / 3:37 pm

    calm down caroline. “things i wish i knew” articles are a common form of english writing for people who don’t know the topic well enough, but writing one does not mean the writer is ignorant about the topic herself.

  17. Lauren
    May 11, 2017 / 5:56 pm

    Great read Lydia!

    All the trolls can just gtfo xox

  18. May 12, 2017 / 3:54 am

    Who would have thought you would get such intense comments from a listicle? Haha. I always consider them just fun reads. Haters be hatin though. Let em be miserable trolls. You just keep doing your thing. You’re a good writer.

    Cheers from Canada!

  19. May 23, 2017 / 10:20 am

    Just for the record, I live in china and your post made me laugh! Keep up the good work, I love reading your blog.

  20. Rodrigo
    July 11, 2017 / 7:04 am

    Recently I have read it a book called “Being stripped naked “, its really amazing, it is an Asian romance novel portraying a British expats life in Hongkong during 1997. I loved to read this book.

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