Living in Hong Kong
For us, Hong Kong served as our commissioning centre. We took delivery of our boat there and completed our own acceptance testing and commissioning. We are writing this blog from this viewpoint. For those considering Hong Kong as a location for anybody building a yacht at a Chinese shipyard. It is not intended as a tourist guide or guide for cruising the waters of Hong Kong. It’s about Hong Kong as a location to live temporarily and prepare your boat for whatever you plan to do.
The whole section also expresses our personal point of view and our understanding of how technical things worked in practice. Please do not rely solely on the information we provide. Make sure you check the facts as they relate to your personal situation. Our experiences at the end of the pandemic period, may be different from the normal way of working! If you are building a yacht in China, you might also like to read our take on cutting out the middleman.
This article is in two parts. This first blog covers Hong Kong in general and offers useful information about how to live there temporarily, with or without a boat. The second part focusses on what you need to know as a foreign yacht to enter and leave. It also covers how to comply with local legislation and find the boating resources you need.
Introduction to Hong Kong
Hong Kong is now a part of China but is managed as a “Special Administrative Region” (SAR). This status was agreed as part of the “One Country, Two Systems” arrangements negotiated in the Sino-British Joint Declaration, negotiated and signed in 1984, but taking effect in 1997. In short, this was the agreement for the handover of Hong Kong by the British to China.
This means it is not a country in its’ own right but in many respects, it is managed as one. It has its’ own flag and government, although most of the policies are overseen to some extent by China. It has technical independence as part of the deal for handover from the British. The very discussion of this point is a political hotspot and as a Westerner. It’s best just not to try to make sense of it. The region is going through a period of turmoil trying to find its’ place in the world and to settle into a new Chinese managed regime. At the same time, it needs to maintain a level of independence acceptable to its’ citizens.
Don’t talk politics
There are many things possible in Hong Kong which would be unheard of in mainland China – such as freedom of the internet and the general availability of goods and services. Hong Kong does not sit behind the “Great Fire Wall” so there are no limits on internet usage. However, be aware what you do is probably still being tracked and listened to 😊 – nobody knows for sure. As long as you are not being politically subversive (which includes any negative comment about China) or involved in illegal behaviour, then you should have nothing to worry about.
As a foreign visitor, the political turmoil is not apparent on a day-to-day basis. Don’t get involved, don’t express an opinion and just get on with your visit there. The culture is a strange mixture of East and West but it is unmistakably an Asian city at heart. The hustle and bustle of the markets and backstreets by day, and the spectacular neon of the Hong Kong skyline at night is not to be missed.
The Regions of Hong Kong
The SAR consists of several regions. Hong Kong Island is the main “downtown” Hong Kong where it’s all happening on the North Side in the smart Central district, WanChai and other districts. On the South Side, among some smart residential areas you’ll find the biggest marina at Aberdeen, where most of the leisure marine activity goes on. Kowloon is just across from Hong Kong Island. The historic centre of manufacturing and commerce, is still a hive of activity. There are then other outlying islands. The largest Lantau Island is where the airport is located. Then the New Territories, an area with a land border to mainland China which is much more rural and a different world altogether to the City life.
Hong Kong is a region of extremes. You will see multi-generation families living together in tiny, run down flats at the same time as wealthy individuals in multi-million dollar apartments with harbour views and domestic workers to care for their needs. It can be a confusing city!
Currency and Money
The local currency is the Hong Kong Dollar (HK$). At the time of writing it was worth about 10p (GB), 12 euro cents or 13 US cents. We are used to working with all three of these currencies so we tend to pick the one most easy to calculate and worked in GBP with £1 being worth about 10 HK$.
Credit and debit cards are widely used, and we rarely needed cash. We found wide acceptance of Visa, Mastercard and American Express. The country is technically advanced and widely uses contact free payments in retail. I learned the convenience of ApplePay during my time in Hong Kong! The locals use apps called WeChatPay and AliPay but these local apps are not accessible to foreigners without a local bank account.
With commercial suppliers, they are used to working with bank transfers. However, this is usually from local bank accounts which work slightly differently to international accounts. You may have difficulty teasing out the IBAN number from a supplier in order to make an international payment, but they do exist. Carefully match what your bank is asking for to the information given by the supplier as we did have a couple of payments go missing temporarily.
Local Payment Card
For small payments and, in particular, for payment on all public transport services, you will need to have an Octopus card. You can buy a physical card at any 7-Eleven or Circle-K shop but you will then need to top up using vouchers (also available at 7-Eleven and Circle-K). An easier way is to create a virtual card on your smartphone. You can then top up using your ApplePay and a foreign debit/credit card. Be very careful to download the TOURIST app (which permits foreign cards for payment) and not the normal Octopus app. Search for Octopus Tourists in the Appstore.
For payments, you can then just flash your phone at the machine at the MTR, ferry or bus services. To top up you just open the Tourist app and load money from your ApplePay.
As we have only ever had iPhones, I am only familiar with apps for iOS. I’m sure that most if not all of the apps I mention have an Android equivalent. Android users will need to work out how to translate them 😊
The main language of Hong Kong is Cantonese – a version of Chinese. English is also an official language. Although most professional people do speak English well, don’t expect it to be spoken well by everyone. Most people do have enough understanding to be able to communicate. You need to keep the language simple, and be patient, then the message normally gets across!
In Hong Kong, you will find a true multi-cultural society and come across expats from many different countries. As a result, you will find many languages are spoken.
There is no summer daylight saving time change in Hong Kong. The difference with your home country may change at different times of the year.
Hong Kong is situated on the edge of the tropics and has a sub-tropical climate, driven by the monsoons. It is within the typhoon risk belt and typhoons frequently pass within a scary distance of the city. Usually, they swing away at the last minute but there are a number of close calls each year, and now and then a direct hit. Approximately 20-30 typhoons form in the Western Pacific each season. Only 5 or 6 of these will affect Hong Kong in some way. There was a direct hit shortly AFTER we left Hong Kong. The last one before that was in 2018 – so it is something to watch, but not get overly worried about!
A direct or very close hit with sustained winds of 120 knots or more is not something we would hope to experience. Fortunately this level of impact is not so often. Most of the time, Hong Kong will experience the outer rain and wind bands. You frequently see a few days of 30-40 knot winds, squalls, thunderstorms and torrential rainfall. As a result, you are on constant typhoon watch all summer. It makes insurance a bit more tricky as you have to consider the level of cover for your boat for named storms. There were also times when there were several active typhoons, and Hong Kong was sat between them 🙂 As I’m not a meteorologist, I can’t explain this – but I’m sure there was be an environmental reason for why they usually swing away ….
Typhoon Warning Signals
Hong Kong has a very advanced monitoring system for the weather. The Hong Kong Observatory provides an advance warning service to the public – along with other agencies from other countries. This includes PAGASA (Philippines), Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) and JTWC (Joint Typhoon Warning Centre) – American joint venture between army and navy. Each centre publishes their forecasts and typhoons are visible many days in advance, so hardly ever catch you by surprise.
Hong Kong will start with raising a T1 signal which is the lowest possible warning. This simply means there is a typhoon on the horizon which may affect the territory. Time to start checking and watching. The T3 signal is the next highest level. At this stage you should start making preparations – tying up the boat better and making sure fenders are secure. You also need to make sure you have enough supplies for a couple of days.
The T8 signal is next – which is when there is a serious threat. Once this signal is raised, public transport stops and schools and offices are closed as well as shops – basically life shuts down temporarily. It doesn’t signify there will be a direct hit – just that there will be some impact to the territory. There are higher signals – T10 – which we fortunately never encountered – and anything higher than T8 is a very serious threat, likely a direct hit.
Typhoon Nalgae – November 2022
We experienced T8 several times during our stay in Hong Kong. The closest call we had was with TY NALGAE in early November 2022 when there were gusts of 40-45 knots overnight. The typhoon had crossed the Philippines with some significant damage and loss of life but downgraded rapidly to a severe tropical storm as it approached Hong Kong. In the end, it came about 45 miles offshore before turning away to the West and we had very little impact. I spent most of the night holding down the fenders – as we have inflatable fenders which kept wanting to go into orbit 🙂 The solution for this is to put a few litres of water in the bottom – and after we did that, they were not going anywhere.
The week after we left Hong Kong, there was a direct typhoon hit on the city from SAORI when they T10 signal was raised overnight. The typhoon skirted the city and caused a lot of damage to both Hong Kong and Macau, making landfall close to Zhuhai. There followed several days of severe flooding and damage. We were extremely lucky to miss that – the Gods must have been smiling favourably on us!
In order to keep track of the weather, we would strongly recommend the following sources:
Hong Kong Observatory – the latest weather forecasts for land, as well as typhoon warnings and sea state conditions (Sea State for Fishermen section). This is by far the most accurate and useful information source for Hong Kong and you can set up notifications for weather warnings by downloading their app.
Pacific Typhoon Season – a Facebook group run by a group of meteorlogists publishing and interpreting the forecasts of all the agencies. Join this group – it will be the biggest advance warning of what is on its way
Robert Speta – an American meteorologist living in the Philippines has a YouTube channel and publishes video forecasts almost every day. Although he primarily focusses on the Philippines (where most typhoon pass through), the forecasts are also valid for Hong Kong.
The winter is the season of the North West monsoon. From October-ish to May-ish the wind blows relentlessly straight down the Taiwan Strait from Northern China and Russia bringing with it the high waves. During this time, the locals will tell you that it’s cold and you will see them hustling along the streets all wrapped up in their winter coats and hats. In fact, the temperatures are generally around 15-20 degrees C. The coldest we saw (during what was billed as an extreme winter) was around 10 degrees C. It can feel cold inside during the winter, as buildings do not have central heating, but the reality is the climate is mild and winters are dry. I believe the coldest temperature every recorded in Hong Kong was around freezing point.
At some point from mid-April onwards, the monsoon swings around to the South West, bringing humidity up to 90% and hot temperatures, constantly in the 30’s throughout the summer. This is also the rainy season. You will see days on end of torrential rain as well as sudden downpours, seemingly out of nowhere. The humidity can be unbearable! You will see plate glass windows of buildings literally running in water. If you wear glasses, walking outside will give you an instant clouding of your vision! It is true that you get used to this humidity the longer you are there, but it can never be pleasant.
The sea state across the South China sea is a challenge under either of the monsoon seasons. Swell of 2-3 metres is the norm – this wave, coupled with the added swell, can be a challenge for most pleasure yachts. Extremes of 10-15m are also common. When a typhoon is passing through – obviously it is very dangerous and untenable conditions for all vessels. A friend of ours reminded us that “the South China Sea can see off even the most experienced of sailors ….”
Of course, the direction of waves switches with the monsoon winds. At some point in between the switch there should be a time twice a year when the sea goes flat as the seasonal change takes place. Planning a passage across to the Philippines should ideally be at this time – in either May or October. At any other time of the year, you have to pick your weather window carefully. As you’ll read in other blogs, we missed these ideal times. Eventually we crossed the South China Sea in August, during the South West monsoon, and our experience was pretty much as expected.
Almost everybody uses public transport in Hong Kong. Due to the dense traffic situation in Central Hong Kong and the lack of parking facilities, very few people use cars. Since car ownership seems to be reserved for the more wealthy, the cars you do see are in the upper categories. There are plenty of Porsches and Maseratis cruising around to look at 😊
Car rental is almost impossible. Although driving in Hong Kong as a foreigner is legal (which is not the case in the Mainland), the cost of car hire is very high and there is almost no demand. We hired a car for three days on one occasion during a factory visit in June 2019. I can’t find our invoice any more, but I remember the price was very high. The only rental agency for short term hire we could find was Hertz, located at the MTR/city airport check-in centre, in the IFC Mall. There may well be other rental agencies now, but we haven’t looked again since that trip.
We made the most of the car to do a complete tour of Hong Kong in those three days. From the Chinese border in the North (coming perilously close to crossing over by mistake 😊), visiting the New Territories then through the tunnel to Hong Kong Island, right down to the South to Aberdeen and along the southern coast. This gave us the chance to see the whole region. We got a feel for the different marinas and areas to decide where we wanted to stay with the boat. The car was priceless for this purpose – but absolutely not necessary for day-to-day life once we were there.
MTR – Mass Transit Railway
The easiest way to travel is with the MTR – the network of subway/underground trains which serves the City. There is one line extending to the South Island from Central with a few stations along the way. This allows you to reach Aberdeen marina in the south. As we didn’t spend any time in the southern area, I can’t really comment on the best way to travel down there.
For anybody familiar with the London Underground system, the Hong Kong MTR is very similar. It was built by the same people, after all, and even the trains and announcement messages are the same – extending even to the infamous “Mind the Gap” !! Network maps are shown all over the place within the stations to help you work out where you are going. All signage and messages are in both English and Cantonese.
When using the MTR, their app is also invaluable as you can work out the route you need to take and follow along as you go.
The easy alternative all over the territory is the taxi service. Many of the cars you see buzzing around will be the distinctive red Hong Kong taxis. There are, in fact, three different colour taxis depending on where you want to go. The red taxi covers the whole territory – and are based in central Hong Kong island and Kowloon. The green taxis operate only in the New Territories and the blue taxis operate only on Lantau Island. You will probably never see the green or blue ones but be aware they exist!
If you arrive at the airport (Lantau Island) and you want to take a taxi to another destination on Lantau, you must get into a blue taxi. But if you are heading to downtown Hong Kong, you must use a red one.
You can hail the taxis in the street in the same way as any other city in the world. But be aware of where you are standing, since the taxi will not stop where there are no parking lines on the street. If you are getting frustrated at how many taxis are passing you by, check where you are . Consider moving to a different location you’ll probably have more luck!
The taxis run on meters the same as everywhere else – but there are some extra charges to take account of. If you put luggage in the boot, there are charges per extra bag. You will also be charged for the toll costs of tunnels and bridges. For example if you go from Kowloon to Central, you will use one of the tunnels. You may also be asked which tunnel you want to use – the quicker ones are more expensive, so drivers will often ask. We generally told the driver to choose the quickest route and left him to decide what was best.
If you can’t get a taxi to stop for you in the street, or you want to book a taxi in advance for a particular journey, it is useful to make use of the Hong Kong taxi app where you can call a taxi online and make payment on the app.
Visas and Permit to Remain
When you enter Hong Kong you are issued with a small ticket which is your permit to remain in the territory. Passports are not stamped and the slip should be kept with your passport all the time during your stay. The length of stay depends on your nationality. For me with dual nationality I used my British passport which gave me 6 months. For Ed, with only a Dutch passport, his stay was limited to 3 months.
During the pandemic it was possible to extend when needed online on a monthly basis. However, once the borders opened, extension was no longer possible and you had to go out of the country. We took several trips – to Thailand for a week and twice to Macau. There are various low-cost flight options from Hong Kong to several nearby destinations if you feel like a short holiday. To take a trip to Macau, it’s simply a case of stepping on the bus and taking an overnight trip over the bridge. The bus station is next to the airport and the cost of ticket is just 65HK$ each way. Stay overnight in a hotel and see the historic Macau, and come back the next day.
General Suppliers and Services (non-marine related)
During our time in Hong Kong, we needed to use a lot of other non-marine suppliers – since life goes on as normal of course! In particular, we needed doctors and medical services for the various issues we had between us. With no clue where to start in finding a specialist, I would have found some suggestions useful – so hopefully somebody else will find the following list of some use 😊
|Asia Medical Specialists||8/F China Building |
29 Queens Road Central
Tel: +852 2521 6830
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Web: https://asiamedicalspecialists.hk/en/
|Dr Vincent LUK – Cardiology Dr HT Chow – Orthopaedics Dr Ivan Chow – Family Medicine Dr Amber Tang – GP Sports therapy and physiotherapy Pfizer BioNTech Covid Vaccines for foreigners There are many other specialisms but the doctors above are known to us|
|Dr Adrian Y C Ho||Room 802 |
Parker House Central
72 Queens Road Central
Tel : +852 5991 2986
Email : email@example.com
Web : https://www.adrianhodentist.com/
|Dentist and implant centre|
|Shama||2/F 151 Kings’ Road |
Tel: +852 3711 2888
|Serviced apartments in North Point – ideally located by the MTR and surrounded by all the shops you could need. Easy access into Central and Causeway Bay. Good alternative to hotel accommodation if staying for a while.|
|Sham Shui Po||https://www.timeout.com/hong-kong/things-to-do/sham-shui-po-the-ultimate-guide |
Golden Computer Arcade
146-152 Fuk Wing Street
Sham Shui Po
Fuhua Western Pharmacy
141 Kweilin St,
MTR Sham Shui Po – exit D2
|Historically the textile centre of Hong Kong, in Kowloon this area is now the place to go for street markets, small shops and most importantly the huge Golden Computer Arcade. The arcade is an indoor market with hundreds of computer equipment suppliers – you can buy all types of components as well as electronics goods at the best prices to be found in Hong Kong. Beside the exit D2 of the MTR (street to the left as you come out) you will also find a pharmacy Fuhua Western Pharmacy. These guys will provide you with any prescription medications you need, without a prescription and have excellent stock. We were able to buy our routine heart meds here, 6 months at a time, with no prescription.|
Useful Shopping Apps
|HKTV Mall – Online shopping of general products from Hong Kong suppliers – sort of like a local Amazon store.|
|Park n’Shop – PNS e-Shop – Online grocery shopping with delivery to your door – including marinas|
|Food delivery app – works across the majority of the territory but with limited options in some areas|
|Van and SUV rental service app – small vans with driver for house moving and transport of goods in the city|
|MoneyBack app – earn points and discounts on purchases as several main stores including Watsons (chemists and pharmacy), Fusion and PnS (supermarkets) and Fortress (electrical store)|