-Submitted by Zac, Abroad101′s Global Ambassador in Hong Kong
Hong Kong uses the Hong Kong Dollar, it’s own currency separate from the USDollar, Chinese Renminbi, and Macau Pataca. There is a fixed exchange rate of 7.8 HKD to 1USD, so always round up to eight when calculating prices in Hong Kong. Much like other Asian currencies, the bills are different colors and sizes, featuring various iconic Hong Kong buildings, Asian doodles, and a lion with a grand mane. There are also coins, which actually go a long way and should not be discarded. Most people here also have an Octopus Card, which is an all-purpose debit card that can be used to pay for public transportation, at convenience stores, at cultural sights, and at a select few restaurants.
Everyone knows that the housing prices in Hong Kong are astronomical, due to limited land space with a high demand from foreign Chinese investors in addition to the local housing market demand. An average hotel room should cost you upwards of $500USD. Several thousands of USD for miniscule flats is par for the course here, but what you burn away with real estate you can save on living expenses, like food or transportation. Student housing is generally cheap here, so exchange students do not need to worry.
For food, you can buy a fried rice dish at any local Chinese food shop for $30 HKD (around $4USD), but a nicer meal at a more upscale Western restaurant in SoHo will cost you around $120HKD (around 15 USD, which is not bad by US city standards). Taking the bus or MTR metro will normally cost just over 1 USD, and taxi’s are pretty cheap relative to the US or Europe. If you are studying in Hong Kong for one semester or one year, I suggest opening up a bank account here through a local bank such as HSBC, Bank of China, or ICBC. There are ATM’s everywhere, and you won’t need to pay pesky international debit card withdrawal fees. Setting up a foreign account is super easy and they have convenient student deals.
Some other noteworthy expense related issues I have noticed include: Shopping in Hong Kong is low-priced. You can find trendy clothing at dirt-cheap prices, and luxury items at lower prices than other cities because Hong Kong does not have a luxury goods sales tax. Textbooks are just as expensive in HK as they are in other countries, so you will still have to cough up the moolah to afford those. Alcoholic drinks are generally just as or a little more expensive in Hong Kong than in other cities, but it really depends where and what you are imbibing. The budget friendly solution (as is the case in most Asian cities) is 7/11, where they sell beers for $1 USD. And there are no open container laws, so you will often find young people spilling out of these convenience stores onto the street on weekend nights in any city, from Hong Kong to Shanghai to Bangkok. International chains have generally similar prices, such as Starbucks or Just Salad.
Overall, I think living as a student on a shoestring is pretty easy in HK. It just depends how well you manage money. If you gamble every week at the horse races or Macau casinos, your risk will either make a big payoff or lead you to be paying off big. If you take public transportation, eat local Chinese food, and live comfortably, you should have no trouble at all keeping within your budget.With that said, I believe it is really important to indulge from time to time. You will probably only study abroad once in your life (or twice in my case), so take advantage. Eat out at that Michelin Star restaurant written up in Time Out, go see a cultural or musical performance, or purchase a unique souvenir that you could never find at home. YOLO!
To read more about my travels, check out my personal travel blog: www.ledumpling.com