If Hong Kong Is the World’s Most Expensive City, How Can I Afford to Live There?

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Here I am taking a selfie at the Affordable Art Fair at the Hong Kong, the world’s most expensive city.


Hong Kong is world’s most expensive city for expats, and the city’s astronomical rents are largely to blame. So how can I – a semi-retired journalist and full-time travel blogger – afford to live there?

Global HR consulting firm Mercer has published its annual Cost of Living Ranking, which ranks cities according to their average cost of living for expatriates.

Except for two cities in Switzerland, Zurich and Geneva, all of the cities on the top 10 list are in Africa or Asia.

Three of the most expensive cities are in Greater China: Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Beijing. Two more are in Asia: Singapore and Tokyo. The rest are in Africa: Luanda, Kinshasa, and N’Djamena.

Here’s how they stack up:

  1. Hong Kong
  2. Luanda, Angola
  3. Zurich, Switzerland
  4. Singapore
  5. Tokyo, Japan
  6. Kinshasa, Congo
  7. Shanghai, China
  8. Geneva, Switzerland
  9. N’Djamena, Chad
  10. Beijing, China

If Hong Kong is the world’s most expensive city for expats, how can I – a semi-retired freelance journalist and full-time travel blogger – afford to live there?

The fact is, I have managed to carve out a very inexpensive lifestyle in a very expensive city.

Astronomical rents account for much of what makes living in Hong Kong expensive, and I have chosen to live in a relatively isolated village, where rents are reasonable by global standards and extremely reasonable by Hong Kong standards.

I have a 700-square-foot flat on the top floor of a three-storey village house, with a large balcony and a roof.

A similar flat in the urban areas – without the balcony and roof – would run me about four to five times as much.

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Supermarkets are crowded and expensive. Food prices average about 20% higher than in the United States. Photo Credit: Accidental Travel Writer.

The price of food at supermarkets in Hong Kong is high, but wine is reasonable because import duties were scrapped several years ago.

When it comes to eating out, however, prices run from very cheap to very expensive. Sure. tony restaurants in Lan Kwai Fong or at five star hotels can be breathtakingly expensive.

But inexpensive cafes dot the urban landscape. If you like fast food, all McDonald’s are open 24/seven, and Hong Kong ranks low on he Big Mac Index.

You can eat very well in Hong Kong without breaking the bank. If you’re a committed foodie, the city has the highest ratio of affordable Michelin starred restaurants in the world.

Hong Kong has excellent sports facilities – both indoor and outdoor. I like to swim, and public swimming pools in Hong Kong are cheap – especially if you are over 60. Would you believe US$1.25 for entry?

Gym memberships are also affordable. Monthly gym memberships at government gyms run about US$10.

Memberships at mass-market gyms, which have EXCELLENT facilities, can be as cheap as US$50 a month, if you sign up during a special promotion.

Medical care in Hong Kong is cheap if you use public clinics and hospitals and reasonable if you go to private doctors or use private hospitals.

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Mini-buses run every 15 to 20 minutes from my village to the nearest town, which has a populaton of 250,000 people. The is everything from upscale shopping malls to mom and  pop stores selling hardware, plants, and clothes. The cost, if you are over60, is HK$2, or US$0.27?

Public transport in Hong Kong is cheap, and trains run every few minutes. If I have to wait more than three minutes, in fact, I get impatient.

Taxis are ubiquitous and reasonable. Drivers, however, are not known for having attended charm school.

I have a bicycle, and except when it is raining or when it’s simply TOO hot in summer, I can ride to the nearest town in about 15 to 20 minutes.

Hong Kong is an expensive city if you live where most expatriates live. If you live in the New Territories or on one of the out-lying islands, however, it is possible to carve out a very affordable – and pleasant – lifestyle.

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