Hong Kong

How local are you? 10 tricks to make life in Hong Kong even easier

Hong Kong is easy. That’s what many expats discover when they move here, especially if they’ve been living somewhere where everything from renting a flat to opening a bank account can be a Kafkaesque ordeal. But even in this straightforward city, locals know a few tips and tricks that make daily life a lot easier. How many do you know? 

1. Never top up your Octopus again

You can pay for everything from groceries to the MTR with your Octopus card, but if you want to go truly cash-free, apply for the Octopus Automatic Add Value service, which automatically charges your credit card to top up your balance whenever it drops below zero. 

2. Learn the secret cross-harbour taxi signal

Heading across the harbour? Many cross-harbour taxis slide a paper folder over their “for hire” signs, though your best bet is to find a designated cross-harbour taxi rank, which saves you from having to pay the return toll. Otherwise, stick out your arm and move your hand as if it was surfing on a wave. It may sound silly, but this gesture will help you find a cross-harbour taxi in no time. 

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3. Short on cash? Head to a convenience store

There’s no need to hunt for an ATM when you can stop by the nearest convenience store instead. Pay for anything with EPS and ask for cash back – lor cheen in Cantonese.

4. Don’t forget the cha chaan teng surcharges

Want an iced drink? That’ll cost you HK$2 extra. Taking your food away? Be prepared to pay HK$1 or more for the plastic containers.

5. Customise your Hong Kong-style drinks

Speaking of cha chaan tengs, did you know that classic Hong Kong-style drinks are endlessly customisable? Tea can be ordered with lemon or milk, hot or cold, and you can specify your preferred level of sweetness: siu tim for less sugar, zau tim if you don’t want any sugar at all. And why order an ordinary Cola-Cola when you can get a ling lok – a Coke with fresh lemon? Haam ling chut, a 7-Up with preserved salted lemon, is another delicious twist. 

6. Wash up before you eat

Many Hong Kong restaurants will bring you a pitcher of hot tea or water and an empty bowl when you sit down to eat. Why? It’s so you can rinse your dishes – more of a cultural quirk than anything else, but it never hurts to be extra clean.

7. Watch the calendar to save some money

Tuesday is discount night at many local cinemas, while Wednesday offers free admission at all of Hong Kong’s public museums.

8. When you’re renting a flat, everything is negotiable 

Don’t be fooled by what’s written on the property listing: many Hong Kong landlords are willing to negotiate the rent. Repairs and minor renovations are often on the table, too. 

9. Bring your own tissues

If you’re looking for a quick lunch at a cha chaan teng, a noodle shop or a dai pai dong, don’t forget to bring your own pack of tissues, because many Hong Kong restaurants don’t provide napkins. 

10. Learn the minibus lingo

Hong Kong’s minibuses are a great way to get around – as long as you know how to use them. Green-top minibuses run along fixed routes, while red-top minibuses offer a less formal point-to-point service. Passengers usually shout out their stops by name, but if you don’t know exactly where you’re going, the magic words to yell are yau lok ng goi — ”Get off, please!” 

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