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Driving and Public Transport for Expats in Hong Kong

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: July 2013


To drive in Hong Kong, you need a valid Hong Kong driving licence. If you are from one of a certain number of countries, you can normally drive with your existing licence for 12 months. Alternatively, you may be able to exchange the licence from your country for a local one without taking a driving test. People from other nations must pass the Hong Kong driving test before they can acquire a permanent licence.

Tolls do exist in Hong Kong, particularly on bridges and tunnels. Most notable of the latter are the three tunnels that connect Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. Of these, the Cross-Harbour Tunnel is the cheapest and most central and is often very congested as a result.

This is for several reasons. The Hong Kong Government’s policy is firmly geared towards public transport, and has imposed several disincentives on private motoring. All forms of public transport are cheap and efficient. In addition there are plenty of government-approved taxis, which are safe and cheap at around HK$30 a fare.

Meanwhile, roads for private cars can be highly congested. Petrol is highly taxed, meaning that fuel prices are very high. Vehicle Import Tax and insurance are further expenses you would incur. In Hong Kong, people drive on the left side of the road. If you are considering importing a left-hand drive car, bear in mind that they are not normally allowed into Hong Kong. Furthermore, even importing a right-hand drive car is a complicated process, involving environmental assessments, examinations and finally registration.

Once you have managed to import your car, driving in Hong Kong is averagely safe but not especially so. Local drivers are generally courteous to others, though conditions are chaotic. Parking spaces are at a premium, and parking charges are very high. Taking all these factors into consideration, you may want to think carefully before driving in Hong Kong.

Public Transport

Over 90% of journeys made in Hong Kong are made using public transport. Hong Kong has a cheap, efficient, safe and fully integrated public transport system. The system extends to connections with mainland China as well as within Hong Kong. Payment for almost all forms of public transport within the territory is made easy by the use of the Octopus card, which allows you to store your credit and pay fares painlessly.


Public transport is dominated by the train service. There are ten railway lines run by the Mass Transit Railway (MTR), covering Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and much of the New Territories. Much of the distance of these lines is underground. For longer distances, the MTR is pretty much unbeatable. An example is the Airport Express Link, which will take you from Chek Lap Kok Airport on Lantau Island to Central Hong Kong in 24 minutes for HK$100. There are also Light Rail services, in western parts of the New Territories. Note that for shorter distances, especially during rush hour, buses, trams and ferries may be a better bet. There is a heavy fine (HK$5,000) for smoking, eating or drinking on an MTR train.


Hong Kong Island has a unique system of double-decker trams. Fares are less than HK$3, making this a very cheap and handy way to get around the island.

Buses and Coaches

Like train services, buses and minibuses are plentiful and cheap. The most important bus companies are Citybus, Kowloon Motor Bus and New World First Bus. Destination signs for all these buses are usually bilingual in English and Chinese. Additionally, coach companies such as China Travel Service (HK) offer cheap long-distance services to cities in Guangdong and further afield in mainland China.


One of the world’s most famous ferries, the Star Ferry, is the cheapest method of crossing Victoria Harbour: the fare is no more than HK$3. The crossing is quick too, only taking 7-10 minutes, and the views are excellent. Other ferries, to Macau and various parts of Guangdong, are also cheap and readily available.



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