Although relatively modern, the road network in Hong Kong is very congested. The geographical limitations of the country make increasing road capacity very difficult, so government policy is geared towards encouraging people to use public transport to minimise the number of private vehicles on the roads. This means that driving in Hong Kong can be expensive, with high fuel taxes, toll charges, insurance and vehicle import tax all raising the cost of owning a car.
If you do decide to drive in Hong Kong, you will need a valid driving licence and vehicle insurance. Temporary residents may be allowed to drive on international licences for up to 12 months depending on their nationality. Otherwise, you will need to apply for a Hong Kong licence by direct issue or by taking a test. In a nod to its British heritage, vehicles are still driven on the left-hand side of the road in Hong Kong. Motor vehicles can be imported but are subject to various restrictions, and left-hand drive vehicles are not usually permitted unless there are exceptional circumstances.
Taxis and minicabs
There are three types of taxi in Hong Kong, with each identifiable by their colour:
- Red – Urban taxis
- Green – New Territories taxis
- Blue – Lantau taxis
Bus services in Hong Kong are efficient and very cheap, although exact change is usually needed if you are paying cash. The main bus services are divided into franchised (the public timetabled services run by regional operators within a locality) and non-franchised (additional services targeting specific passenger groups).
Minibuses, known as public light buses (PLBs) and carrying around 16 people, offer another alternative. Green minibuses operate specified routes at fixed prices, while red minibuses run flexible routes, more like a taxi service. Red minibus passengers can get on and off anywhere along the route and pay as they leave the service. Once full, minibuses don’t stop for new passengers until someone else gets off.
Although public transport is sufficient for most journeys within Hong Kong, coach companies such as China Travel Service offer cheap long-distance services to cities in Guangdong and further afield in mainland China. Be aware that you will need the correct paperwork to travel to the mainland – depending on your visa status this may be more or less difficult to obtain.
Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway (MTR) is the backbone of the public transport network. Transit across the ten major lines accounts for a large proportion of all journeys made in Hong Kong each day. The network covers much of Hong Kong, including stops at the border with mainland China. Tickets are very reasonably prices and the trains are difficult to beat for speed and comfort.
Hong Kong Island has a historic tram system, which has been operating since 1904. It is the only tram fleet in the world to be made up entirely of double-deck trams, and the cheap fares make it a very attractive way to travel.
As the only way to reach some of Hong Kong’s smaller offshore islands, and a cheap way to move between the major islands, ferries are a vital part of life in the region. There are many operators providing different routes within Hong Kong and to mainland China too.
Hong Kong International Airport is a major international hub, with over 100 airlines operating services to hundreds of destinations around the world. Built on an artificial island to the north of Lantau Island, the airport is among the busiest in the world.
Planning a journey
Good maintenance and investment means Hong Kong’s public transport network is by far the most efficient and popular way to travel in Hong Kong. The Transport Department’s eTransport Planner is a useful tool for planning your journey, and can also be downloaded as a mobile app. Most regular travellers pay with an Octopus card, a universal smart payment card which is accepted by almost all public transport providers in Hong Kong, including some taxi and ferry companies. The card is also accepted for a huge range of other services.