Hong Kong facts, FAQ & links

POPULATION: 7,003,700 (World Bank, 2009)

ELECTRICITY: 220V/50Hz (UK three-pin rectangular plug). Adaptors are widely available (supermarkets, etc), although they don’t convert voltage or frequency.  Note that these days most cell phone chargers, laptops, (and other electronics like iPads) are dual voltage (110 and 220 volts), meaning Americans, for example, just need to by a cheap adaptor. Many electric razors and hair dryers are also dual voltage.

CURRENCY: Hong Kong dollar (HKD). Pegged to the US dollar (one US$ = HK$ 7.80)

CALLING CODE: +852  /  Internet TLD  (.hk)

TIME ZONE: UTC +8

GOVERNMENT: Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China

LANGUAGE: The vast majority of people in Hong Kong (and Guangdong province) speak the Cantonese dialect of Chinese. But many, if not most, are also fairly competent in Mandarin (though mainlanders often make fun of their accents). Many are also English speakers of varying degrees of competence, depending mostly on education level and also age. As in Taiwan, Hong Kong uses “traditional” Chinese written characters, unlike the “simplified” version adopted by the Communists to boost literacy levels. All official signs are bilingual, written in traditional Chinese and English.

RELIGION: Mostly Buddhists and Taoists (approximately 700,000). Also large Protestant Christian population (320,000), as well as sizeable populations of Roman Catholics (243,000), Muslims (90,000), Hindus (40,000), Sikhs (8,000), and Jews (4,000). Religious freedom in Hong Kong is protected as a fundamental right (unlike in mainland China).

EMERGENCIES: (999) for police, fire & ambulance. Most police have a minimum competence in English. Hong Kong Police & Taxi Complaint Hotline (2527-7177).

HOSPITALS & CLINICS:
Hong Kong Island:
• Hong Kong Central Hospital (private): 1 Lower Albert Rd., Central. 2522-3141. www.hkch.org
• Matilda International Hospital (private): 41 Mount Kellet Rd., The Peak, Central. 2849-0111. www.matilda.org (24-hour emergency services)

Kowloon:
• Caritas Medical Centre (public): 111 Wing Hong St., Sham Shui Po, Kowloon. 3408-7911. www.ha.org.hk (24-hour emergency services)
• Hong Kong Baptist Hospital (private): 223 Waterloo Rd., Kowloon. 2229-8888. www.hkbh.org.hk

Pharmacies: Watsons, many HK locations [www.watsons.com.hk, 2868-4388 ]


HONG KONG FAQ:

When is the best time to visit Hong Kong?

Let’s start with the worst times to visit. The low tourist season is from about June to September, when Hong Kong’s subtropical weather is its hottest and most humid. This period also sees a lot of rain….sometimes a LOT of rain since it’s their typhoon season. The area is used to tropical cyclones and other dangerous weather: HK has a system of tropical cyclone warning signals that broadcasts warnings throughout the area. Signal number “10” is the worst, indicating hurricane force winds. Museums, shops and public transportation shut down at signal “8,” which can also wreak a lot of damage.

Weather-wise, the best time to visit is from around October to November. The weather during this time is the best: dry, sunny days and comfortable nights. Temperatures hover around 70° to 78°F (21°-26°C), with relatively low humidity (under 70%). HK’s other high tourist season is around March-April/early May. The weather in HK during the spring is a bit of a gamble—often alternating between cold/rainy days and sunny/mild ones. There’s a good chance your views on Victoria Peak will be ruined by fog and/or rain. By May, temperatures start to climb and increasingly resemble summer. A lot of conventions and tradeshows come into Hong Kong during both of these high seasons, when hotel occupancy rates and prices are at their highest. For more info on high/low seasons, see my Best Hong Kong Hotels page.

If you’re looking to save money (without enduring the hot & humid summers), the best time to visit is during the winter—prices for hotels start to drop around December. January and February are the coldest months (lowest humidity). But personally, I find it comfortable (then again, I live in San Francisco). During the winter, temperatures can drop under 50°F (10°C) but is more typically in the 50° and 60°F range (14°-20°C).

Do I need to apply for a visa to visit Hong Kong?

Probably not. Hong Kong allows citizens from about 170 countries and territories to visit without a visa (in other words, you can just show up). You’ll only need a valid passport that is valid for at least six months. Upon HK entry, immigration will give you an official HK entry slip—make sure to keep it since you’ll need to show it when you leave.

Citizens from these countries can visit visa-free for up to 90 days: U.S.A. & CANADA, AUSTRALIA, BELGIUM, DENMARK, FINLAND, FRANCE, GERMANY, GREECE, ICELAND, ISRAEL, ITALY, JAPAN, S. KOREA, MALAYASIA, MEXICO, NETHERLANDS, NEW ZEALAND, NORWAY, POLAND, PORTUGAL, ROMANIA, SINGAPORE, SPAIN, SWEDEN, SWITZERLAND, TURKEY. Citizens of SOUTH AFRICA & THAILAND can visit visa-free for up to 30 days. U.K. citizens can visit visa-free for up to 120 days. TAIWAN citizens need to submit an application for an “entry permit.”

For more details: [ http://www.gov.hk/en/nonresidents/visarequire/general/ ]

Hong Kong and mainland China run separate immigration systems. If you want to visit China, you will definitely need to apply for a visa. You can easily do so through any travel agent in Hong Kong (in only about 2-3 working days but also have expedited same-day service). Also keep in mind that if you’re visiting Hong Kong from China, you won’t be able to go back into China unless you have a multiple-entry visa.  For more info, see my China Visa Requirements page.

What’s the best place to get or exchange money?

In general, it’s very easy to get/change money in Hong Kong since their financial system is extremely sophisticated and globally integrated with the major ATM and financial networks. As to the best way to get cash, it depends on the actual commissions and amounts that you’re either withdrawing from an ATM or exchanging.

As expected, the airport currency exchange desks offer the worst rates. Either exchange a small amount to take the train into town, or use an airport ATM. As with most ATMs used outside of your home country, you’ll typically pay a service charge by the foreign bank as well as your own bank. Personally, I increase my daily ATM withdrawal limit before traveling, although I’m often limited by the maximum amount allowed by the foreign bank (for example, in China, ATMs usually have a Y2500 maximum). Except some smaller local banks, HK banks are integrated into international systems like, Cirrus, Maestro, Plus and Visa Electron. I always go with the biggest one: HSBC (although Hang Seng and Standard Chartered ATMs will work fine as well).

On the other hand, if you’re exchanging money, avoid HSBC since they charge a heft HK$100 commission fee. You’re better off with the other two, where they only charge HK$50 for non-account holders. Hotels offer better exchange rates than the airport, but not as good as the banks.

Another option is to use a licensed money changers, such as Chequepoint, which you can find in touristy areas, such as Tsim Sha Tsui. Apparently the money changers in TST, in Chungking and Mirador Mansions, can be a good deal too. Although they don’t charge a commission, their rates are higher (equivalent to a 5% commission). You’ll get a better exchange rate when you exchange larger amounts of currency. For example, the long-running Wing Hoi Money Exchange in the Mirador Mansion can change a wide range of currencies and travelers checks (2723 5948; Ground fl, shop No 9B, 58 Nathan Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui. 8.30am-8.30pm Mon-Sat, 8.30am-7pm Sun). Finally, avoid changing money when banks are closed since they’ll usually have non-competitive rates.

Will my credit cards work in Hong Kong?

The most widely accepted credit cards are: Visa, MasterCard, Amex, and Diners Club.  To play it safe, I bring a couple of credit cards in addition to my ATM/debit card (and a back up!). In Hong Kong, you’ll likely have no problem using any of these (I’ve never had any problems—my issuing banks are large global ones). But it doesn’t hurt to have extras in case you lose a card for whatever reason.   Travelers checks are widely accepted in HK (not so much in China).

Other tips: If a merchant asks you whether to charge a credit card with local currency or foreign currency, always go with local HK$ (otherwise it’ll be converted using the merchant’s usually higher exchange rate). Also, some sellers will add an extra charge (anywhere from 2-7%) if you pay by credit card, instead of cash. They’re technically not allowed to do this, but they usually get around it by calling it a “5% discount” for cash purchases. Finally, it’s a good idea to write in “HK” in front of the dollar sign when you’re signing your credit card receipt if you don’t see one already printed.

What are Hong Kong’s Customs & Duties restrictions?

Hong Kong is a duty-free port, meaning that you can bring almost anything in or out of the SAR (except for the usual prohibitions on illegal drugs, guns, explosives, etc).  For example, you can bring in (or out) an unlimited amount of currency.

As a free port, HK does not levy any Customs tariff on imports, nor do they set any tariff quota or surcharge.  Similarly, HK doesn’t charge a value added or general services taxes. Excise duties are levied only on these four types of dutiable commodities:
• Tobacco (allowed one pack or 25 grams of tobacco)
• Liquor (1 liter allowed)
• Hydrocarbon Oil
• Methyl alcohol

EXTERNAL LINKS:


Wikipedia: Hong Kong page

DiscoverHongKong.com Official site of Hong Kong Tourism Board ( good shopping & dining guides)

New York Times Hong Kong Travel Guide

Hong Kong Food Blog A foodie blog focusing on the mouthwatering Cantonese food of HK (among other Chinese cuisines)

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