Mobile phones, Internet, Post and Courier
In Hong Kong, it’s not a question of whether you’re connected – it’s a question of whether you can ever escape being connected. Everyone has a mobile phone, and enough people are carrying multiple phones around or upgrading regularly. 3G – and now even 4G – services and generally blindingly fast Internet mean people watch TV and movies on their phones as a matter of course. Internet cafes are actually harder and harder to find, since there’s no real need for them (except perhaps for teenagers gaming with their chums) with free Internet hotspots all around the city. Even if you’re wandering around Hong Kong without a smart phone or iPad, Pacific Coffee Company cafes and some smaller chains almost always offer free computer use to customers.
It’s still worth setting up a landline, since local calls are free, including to Hong Kong mobiles. Line rental will cost you around HK$100 a month and the main providers are PCCW and HGC. Overseas calls won’t be included, so you can either sign up for an IDD (International Direct Dial) package, which doesn’t necessarily have to be from the same provider, and can be on your mobile phone rather than landline – or use IDD pay-as-you-go cards (available in convenience stores). If you expect to be talking to friends or family overseas at least once a week, you may as well go for the package and save yourself the hassle of the cards. There’s a confusing number of IDD providers and packages, and unless you like doing quantum maths you may just want to go for the same people who do your landline for the convenience.
Mobile phone rates are excellent, due to a great deal of healthy competition. Handsets are all sold unlocked, even iPhones, so customers have complete freedom to choose their provider. However, you may find yourself overwhelmed by choice when you have to actually examine the wide range of options. The biggest operators are 3, CSL (branded as One2Free and 1010), PCCW, SmarTone and China Mobile. Basic packages will set you back around HK$100 a month for something like 1,000 free minutes plus MMS and SMS services, and even when you upgrade to 3G services you should be able to find something with plenty of data allowances for under HK$200 a month. If you know exactly what you want – fewer free voice minutes, more free text messages, say – then you’ll be able to find a package that suits you just right. If you want to take your time making a decision when you first arrive, just get a cheap pay-as-you-go SIM card from a phone store or convenience store – there’ll be enough minutes on it to get you going, and you can add minutes with your credit card. This won’t set you back much more than HK$100 or so.
You’ll need a Hong Kong ID card to set up a mobile plan, but if you’re willing to pay a HK$3,000 deposit (returned to you when you get your ID card) then you can get around this. Once you have a mobile number, it’s essentially yours for life, since you can keep it even if you switch providers. Hong Kong uses a GSM network and coverage is excellent everywhere in the city, though it can be patchy on outlying islands. You should be enjoying the peace and quiet if you’re out there for the weekend anyway.
The Internet scene is very similar, with plenty of competition (from many of the same companies) and broadband packages to choose from. Speeds are super fast, with 1 gigabyte per second and higher available, and an average of 10 megabytes, which is more than enough for most users. It’s exceedingly unlikely that your new home is not already set up for Internet use. You may want to select a combined cable TV and Internet package, if only to feel like you’re king of the digital universe. You should pay HK$200-300 a month and sign up for a year – monthly pay-as-you-go packages are not worth the premium. There are separate and combined home and mobile packages to get your head around.
The biggest providers are PCCW (again), I-Cable HGC and 3. PCCW also has thousands of free hotspots around the city, in convenience stores, Starbucks, shopping malls and the like. Hong Kong is not a place where you can expect to get off the grid.
Hong Kong also has an efficient postal service, Hongkong Post, with cheap next-day letter delivery and a courier service (CourierPost). You can send packages by air or over land and track deliveries online, and staff at most branches speak English. Their subsidiary SpeedPost deals with international express mail with high-tech tracking, and is the best bet for important documents. If you’re going to be regularly sending things abroad though, you’re probably best off taking advantage of the global reach of DHL, UPS or FedEx, which all have plenty of branches and drop-off points in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong Broadband