Cost of Living in Hong Kong

by ejh on January 27, 2006

by ejh | January 27th, 2006  

I recently had an e mail exchange with a young woman who is thinking of moving to Hong Kong. I thought I would share the correspondence as it might help anyone who was thinking about coming to Hong Kong, either to work or play. As always what’s here is my opinion. Feel free to disagree with what I say. I’ve deleted the sender’s name to protect the innocent.

First e mail


Can you tell me if $3500 to $4500 HK is a reasonable monthly salary in Hong Kong? The company will be paying for my apartment.

I’ve been researching cost of living but wanted to find out first hand…

Thank you for your help…

Reply to First e mail

First question and I’m not trying to be a smart ass, “Do you mean HK$3500 to 4500 or HK$35,000 to HK$45,000?”

Second question, “Where will you be living in relation to where you will be working?”

Third question and I am being a smart ass, “Can you live on a diet of steamed rice and tofu?”

The exchange rate is 7.8 to 1, which means HK$4500 is less than US$600 per month. It would be difficult if not impossible to live on such a salary in the U.S., rent aside.

Beginning clerical employees in Hong Kong earn around HK$10,000 per month, give or take a thousand, and they are usually living at home.

So the answer is, in my opinion, no way!

Good luck. Keep me apprised of your situation.


Second e mail

Ok, I’ve got another question for you…

What about a salary of 18,500 HK? This is what they are offering…I computed that comes out to about 2400 US. Is this a livable salary in Hong Kong?

My goal is to be able to travel some every couple of months around Asia to places like Bangkok, India, and also to have enough money to spend on “enjoying life” meaning dining out, entertainment like movies, etc., and also to save some as well, ideally $1000 per month. There are ways for me to increase this, but am I anywhere in the ballpark with this figure considering they’ll be paying my apartment and I won’t have a car, etc.

Thank you, again, for your help. I really appreciate it!

Response to second e mail

Yes you can live on HK$18,500 if your housing is paid. What about utilities? Electricity is very expensive, especially in the summer when you need air-conditioning. What about transportation? How far from your work, will you be staying?

We had a 1000 sq ft flat and our electric bill in the summer months (Apr1 – Oct. 1.) was HK$2,000 per month (US$260). In the winter it was about half that. In our current 1100 sq ft. flat with electric cooking and hot water, summer is about HK$3,000 and winter about HK$1700. I’m home most of the day, though, so it’s higher than normal.

Can you travel every couple months, eat out, etc. and also save US$1000 a month? No way. Make a choice.

I assume when you say eat out, you don’t mean the Chinese equivalent of “Greasy Spoons.” My wife and I are not spendthrifts but it is difficult to eat out with a beer for me and a glass of wine for her for less than HK$400 (US$50). Most of the time we spend more than that. Movies run about HK$70 (US$9.00). Live entertainment is about 20% higher than in the U.S. but the cheap tix go very fast. We are members of an avant garde entertainment club called the Fringe Club and we get a discount on food, drinks and tickets.

Air travel is expensive, although cut rate airlines are starting to appear. Lodging in most Asian locations excepting Japan and Korea is very reasonable. If you plan ahead you might be able to do the kind of traveling you want at least in S.E. Asia. India is a stretch.

I don’t know where you’ll be working but I suspect you will meet others in the same financial circumstances as yourself and doing things in groups is always cheaper.

I would suggest you do a budget and adjust as necessary. If you want any more feedback, let me know. If you have any “female” only questions, my wife, Pam, would be happy to answer them. She’s been working out here for 13 years and is still at it, even though I’m retired.

Good luck. Hope you make it here. Let me know what you decide.


Third e mail Also, is the information from the above web-site accurate? I entered in 30,000 US and it says I would need to make 58,342 in Hong Kong to achieve the same quality of life thereā€¦.

Response to Third e mail

Hard to say. Remember rent in Hong Kong is much more expensive than the U.S. Think NYC and multiply by 2. Most families, not in public housing, spend 50% of their income on housing versus 25% in the U.S.

We are living in a friend’s flat so our present rent is quite reasonable but our last place of 1,000 sq. ft. was about HK$25,000 a month all in and we lived in a relatively inexpensive neighborhood, for HK Island that is. In the New Territories, one can get a nice flat for about 25% – 35% less.

So, I’m saying the number you got is accurate if you have to pay rent. Without rent, US$30,000 is do-able. Forget saving anything and enjoy.

Remember you have no US taxes up to US$80,000 and the HK tax rate is a flat 15% with a few deductions. No Social Security, either.

It won’t be easy but hell, “Life is tough, then you die.”

Good luck,



Hamlet Lin February 9, 2006 at 7:51 am

In fact it is possible to live in Hong Kong with the salary mentioned by her. It totally depends on where you live. For example, watching a movie in Shatin only cost you HKD 45. And “eat out” could be as cheap as 60 per person (well, it is true that you won’t have wine but some steam rice with tasty Chinese cusine).

Another fact is that the electricity is much less in Kowloon and N.T. (I guess Ed is living in HK island, right?). It is also easy to go into the city even you live in “remote area” (not the islands ofcause).

And it is really cheap if you know the place to buy airticket (compare to many other places). Just do it in advance and you’ll be fine.

For instance, you can probably rent a 1000sq. ft flat in N.T. with just around $7000.

So, it is still possible to do so.

Ed Hahn February 9, 2006 at 9:54 am

For Hamlet Lin,

Thanks for your comments. I will forward them to Leanne.

I agree, Hamlet, that it’s possible to live in Hong Kong on HK$18,500 but not HK$4500. I also agree that flats in the New Territories are much cheaper. I didn’t realize you could still rent a flat for HK$7000. I rented an 800 Sq. Ft. flat for HK$7500 in Shatin but that was in 1992. Hong Kong Island is much more expensive. That’s why I asked her where she was working.

I’ve paid as little as HK$45 for a movie but only on certain nights and afternoons. I also agree that you can get a rice bowl with meat, chicken or fish and tea to drink for as low as HK$30.00 or less. My wife buys a lunch box every day for HK$15. I eat, quite regularly, at a neaby noodle shop and most of the meals are priced at less than HK$45. Western style restaurants are, of course much more expensive.

Cheap air tickets often carry very stringent conditions which make it difficult to schedule them around a job but they are available with good planning.

Perhaps I painted a darker picture than necessary. On the other hand, too often, I have run into North Americans, Australians and Europeans who come here and are overwhelmed by the prices. I was trying to balance what I believe her life style is in the U.S. with what it would cost to maintain some of that life style here.

Thanks again for your comments. Maybe some other folks would like to weigh in with their thoughts.


Andrew May 9, 2006 at 3:45 am

I’m 22 male from the Philippines and just graduated college. I would like to move to hong kong. I’m an actor and model but also have a business degree from a top university here. I have chinese-spanish features so it may do good for my career if i move there. However i do not know how to speak cantonese yet. i could also take the other road and be an office person since i have a business degree.Anyways the cost of living is so high there but there must be something that’s worth it. So what is it? =) Is it the women, the nightlife, the job satisfaction? Is there a demand for male models and serious actors there? i have never tried to go mainstream here in the philippines as it is so.. well degrading for an actor in my country. Do you have any advice for someone starting out fresh in hong kong? thanks!

Ed Hahn May 12, 2006 at 6:48 pm

Response to Andrew:

First, if there’s one thing I am sure about, it is that breaking into modeling or acting anywhere in the world is one tough road to travel. Beyond that I know little or nothing about that market here in Hong Kong.

Second, deciding to be an “office person” here in Hong Kong betrays a certain naivete. Why would a company hire a recent college graduate from a foreign country who doesn’t speak Cantonese over a local recent college graduate who is already here and speaks English, Cantonese and maybe even Putonghua?

You asked why people liked Hong Kong. I believe, for many, it is the opportunity to achieve success, however they define that, in a relatively short time. Hong Kong is also relatively “foreigner friendly” compared to many other Asian cities. It is not difficult to find people from your home country, here. It is easy to find your way around – most signs are in Kanji and English. Lastly, it’s a very exciting place – lots going on.

My advice to you is to make contact with some Filipinos who are already here – last count was about 150,000. Ask them for advice. You could also contact Filipino companies with offices in Hong Kong to see if they would be interested in hiring you to work here. My best advice would be to come here on a tourist visa and knock on doors to see what your chances are to do what you want to do.

You will gain two things by doing that. One, you will find out pretty fast what the opportunities are. Second, you can decide whether you would like living here or not.

Good luck and if you need further information, please contact me. If anyone else has advice for Andrew, please weigh in.

Kristin June 13, 2006 at 9:22 pm

I am thinking about taking a teaching job on Hong Kong Island. The pay is about 40,000 U.S but an appartment is not provided. I have student loans and a C.C bill that equal about 600.00 a month. I don’t mind living on Kowloon. Can I live on this and still pay my bills back home? Thanks

Ed Hahn June 16, 2006 at 10:19 pm

To Kristin:

US$40,000 works out to HK$310,000 or approximately HK$26000 per month. After you pay your U.S. bills you will net about HK$21500. There are no tax deductions from your paycheck in Hong Kong but after your first fiscal year, (April 1 – March 31) you are required to pay not only the current year’s taxes but the estimate for the next year. That can be a pretty big hit. The tax rate here is a flat 15%. You should have no U.S. Taxes because of the exclusion.

It seems to me that you can do it but you must make some tough choices. Either live in the New Territories and commute (not that bad) or find a shared rental on Hong Kong Island or Kowloon side (not that difficult). Rents are rising pretty fast but are still affordable in certain places.

All things considered but without knowing your total situation, my advice is, “Go for it!”

Tyrone July 10, 2006 at 2:25 am


If you have plans of working abroad and speaking Chinese is your main problem, then opt to work here in Singapore because it is an english speaking country. BTW, i’m also a Pinoy like you.

Well, you can contact me if you have further questions at


Desmita August 13, 2006 at 12:35 pm

Same like Andrew, i’m a fresh graduate and would like to start my career in HK. I can not speak cantonese as well however, i can speak some putong hua and have good english. I am an Indonesian who previously have my business degree in Malaysia.
I was planning to take some training program in HK. I heard in HK the fresh grads are very much welcome to the training program. Is it true? Can u pls let me know what are the companies that provide those training? How much are they willing to pay for trainee? Any advise for me? Tq very much

Born in Hong Kong March 21, 2007 at 12:45 pm


We are 50 years old couple born in Hong Kong who worked in US for 20 years.

We are thinking retire and back to Hong Kong in a year or so. We will not be working. We plan to do some light volunteering work to serve our home town

My pension will cover like around $24,000 per month Hong Kong dollars for the rest of our life. I have saved 1 million hong kong dollar to purchase a flat in say Tung Chung or Shatin.

I think I will be ok. I may be even able to travel once to Asia/US every year. Of course, I factor also, I will be traveling low season. Only go out once a week. Get all the cheap movie ticket because I am retire.

The main reason for me, it is my home town. Also, I cannot affort retire early in US without medical insurance. Hong Kong has better goverment health care and medicial insuracne is not that high compare with US.

Can someone comment and help this old man?


usman rashid November 14, 2007 at 5:23 pm

hi i am usman rashid 25 years old belong to pakistan and doing job as a webdesigner in pakistan and doing job in call center as well
, i am comming in hong kong for 15days visit and i will try to find any job here as well.if anybody can tell me abt the part or full time job in hong kong plz reply +923014534963
i wil be there on 15thjan i mean after 2 months and plz try to find a flat with cheap cost round abt 20$ per night plzzzzzzz i shel be very thnkful 2 u

Md. Monzurul Alam January 30, 2008 at 2:29 pm

A university is offering only 14,000 HKD per month contract for a researcher post (!) in a project. All my expances need to be carreid out by myself! Do I agree? Or they usually pay better than this? I need some burgaining !!!

larrissa February 28, 2008 at 8:10 am

hi i am a fresh graduate, 21 years old from the Philippines. I am considering to work in Hong Kong since I have my resident identity card there. I am asked to attend this interview for a financial planner position but what’s bothering me is that I am really poor in Cantonese though I speak
fluent (and write) English and Mandarin, as well as another chinese dialect- fookien. I can understand 7 out of 10 sentences in cantonese but I just can’t speak the language yet. I have been told that people in HK speak good english but still it doesn’t make me feel at ease. Anyone who has an idea whether financial planners in insurance companies have to be proficient in Cantonese? And can i live in Hong Kong without knowing how to speak Cantonese?

hkvibes April 16, 2008 at 5:19 am

@Hamlet Lin
Just stumbled upon your comment.. HKD 60 for a meal? Could be half the price if you choose like a “fo toy dan fan” for example (rice with ham and egg) in a small “cha chan tan”, including the drink (“basic tea”). No frankly, while I was there I managed to spend HKD 100 for breakfast+lunch+dinner without feeling hungry throughout the day! Should you like to know more about Hong Kong food, please do visit my blog @ !

Maro April 18, 2008 at 3:39 pm

I won a 3-years PhD studentship, about 12100 HK$ each month.
I use to live cheap in Europe, and I want to live as a student (this means no luxuries, cheap alchol, and not single but a double room).
Is possible to face the HK cost of living in this situation?

Shahid April 24, 2008 at 11:16 am

I am an electrical engineer working in govt.sector in India.I am 25 yrs of age and i want to persue my M.B.A in Hong Kong. Can you tell me how much will it cost including accomodation and tution fee. What about the part time job , can my living expenses come from this part time job.



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