Living in Hong Kong – A Guide for PhD Students
Written by Ben Taylor
Hong Kong’s lush rainforests, hypermodern skyline and world-famous cuisine make it a beguiling destination for international PhD students. This territory of 7.6 million people is a vibrant metropolis with an array of cultural and natural attractions to keep you occupied during your research.
This page will give you an introduction to student life in Hong Kong, from living costs and leisure to accommodation and work visas.
Hong Kong’s colonial past and current status as a special administrative region of China means that it’s a fascinating place to visit. One of the world’s great financial centres, Hong Kong’s skyscrapers are bounded on one side by a stunning harbour and on the other by pristine tropical countryside.
Culture and tourism
Perhaps the most popular attraction on Hong Kong Island is The Peak, its highest point and accessible via the Peak Tram, a funicular railway that offers unparalleled views over the city and surrounding terrain.
Downtown Hong Kong is a bustling collection of markets, hi-tech architecture and cutting-edge art galleries. Ocean Park Hong Kong is one of the world’s most popular aquariums, while Hong Kong Disneyland features a plethora of iconic rides.
Sport and leisure
Hong Kong is blessed with several nature preserves and a selection of excellent beaches. Those seeking a break from the hustle and bustle of urban life should look no further than the nature parks just outside the city, featuring rolling hills, mountain peaks and dense rainforest, with easy-to-follow hiking trails.
Food and drink
Rightfully world-renowned for its cuisine, Hong Kong is a destination for foodies from across the globe. You can sample every kind of Chinese food in Hong Kong – Cantonese, Sichuan and Shanghainese, for example – as well as countless other cuisines from around Asia.
Hong Kong is one of the most densely-populated places in the world, so you should try and organise accommodation as soon as possible.
Most Hong Kong universities have their own on-campus student accommodation. However, competition for these rooms is tough and you won’t usually be guaranteed a place.
There are a few different types of on-campus housing, ranging from residential halls and shared rooms to studios and student hostels. You should apply for on-campus accommodation through your university, once they’ve confirmed your PhD.
On-campus housing can cost between HKD $5,000 and HKD $15,000 per semester (USD $637 to USD $1,911).
Off-campus housing in Hong Kong consists of university-owned housing and private rentals. It’s usually more expensive than the on-campus equivalent. Depending on the type of accommodation and location, expect to pay between HKD $8,000 and HKD $15,000 per month (USD $1,019 to USD $1,911).
The cost of living in Hong Kong is generally on a par with major Western cities, and considerably more expensive than mainland China. Rent in particular can be very expensive.
Prices in Hong Kong
This table gives you an indication of what you’ll pay for some student essentials in Hong Kong.
Student Cost of Living in Hong Kong - 2023
||HKD $60 (USD $7.65)
||HKD $100 (USD $12.74)
|Monthly Travel Pass
||HKD $500 (USD $64)
||HKD $1,557 (USD $198)
|Based on crowdsourced data published by Numbeo.
There are a few instances in which international students in Hong Kong can work during their studies. Firstly, you can take part in an internship that is closely related to your doctoral programme, as long as it’s approved by your university. You can also work on-campus for up to 20 hours a week during your studies.
Finally, you can work unrestricted hours – both in terms of duration and location – during the summer months (1 June to 31 August).
If you want to stay on in Hong Kong after your PhD has finished, Hong Kong offers graduates the chance to remain in the territory and search for employment for one year.
Hong Kong’s currency is the Hong Kong Dollar (HKD), which is pegged to the US Dollar and so enjoys a stable exchange rate. Opening a bank account in Hong Kong is fairly easy – and advisable. To do this, you’ll usually need:
- Your passport
- Student visa
- Student ID
- Proof of residence
There are ATMs all around Hong Kong and cards are widely accepted.
Due to its compact size, travelling around Hong Kong using public transport is convenient and affordable. Its Mass Transit Railway (MTR) is an extensive network and one of the busiest metro systems in the world, used by some 4 million people each day.
Hong Kong’s MTR comprises light rail and underground trains, serving most of the urbanised areas of the territory. With around 90 stations, it’s often the quickest and cheapest way to get around Hong Kong.
If you want to travel further afield, Hong Kong is connected to Beijing and Shanghai by high-speed trains that can reach 300 km/h.
Hong Kong International Airport is one of the busiest in the world and is how most PhD students will arrive in the city. It’s well connected to downtown via a dedicated MTR line.
In addition to the MTR, Hong Kong is served by many tram and bus lines. The double-decker trams can be a great way of seeing the city from a different angle. Taxis are plentiful and affordable.
However you choose to get around Hong Kong, it’s a good idea to get an Octopus travel card when you arrive, which is similar to London’s Oyster card and provides a more cost-effective way of paying for public transport than with cash.