Hong Kong is an incredibly international city with English widely spoken and excellent signposting and transport resources. Arriving is a pleasant and straightforward experience – well, as pleasant as could be considering you’ve probably just got off a long-haul flight. The airport is one of the world’s best, transport links are good, and everything is clearly signposted.
Even when there are a lot of people queuing for immigration, the wait is never too long and they’re quick to open up new lines when needed. It’s a calm, well-designed area and you’ll move through it quickly. If you’re entering on a tourist visa, make sure to keep the exit card that remains when the immigration officer has taken off the top layer of your entrance card, since you’ll need it when you’re leaving (even if you go to Macau). Look on with envy at Hong Kong residents, who simply need to swipe a smart card to clear immigration – soon that will be you.
Grab a map in the arrival hall, then start thinking about how to get out of the airport. Hong Kong International Airport is on Lantau Island, about 30 km from Central. Unless you’re being met, your best bet is probably the Airport Express, which is about a minute’s walk away when you exit baggage claim. (There’s also an air bus, but the cost saving isn’t worth the extra time and inconvenience.)
Buy a ticket at the customer service desk (which may be offering promotional discounts) or from a machine, with cash or credit card (or Octopus card – see below). It’s HK$100 to Central, HK$90 to Kowloon. Trains come every 10 minutes and it takes 24 minutes to get to Central – considerably faster than a taxi. Whichever station you get off at, there are taxi ranks and free shuttle buses to various hotels. Everything is clearly signposted.
Of course, if you just want the convenience of a taxi to your door, then the taxi rank will sort you out with very little waiting. This should cost around HK$300 to Tsimshatsui, HK$350-400 to Hong Kong Island. You can trust the meter, though note that the driver will add on small surcharges at the end, depending on luggage and number of passengers. This is normal and above board. You don’t need to tip the driver, though most people tend not to look for change of less than HK$5 or so.
We strongly suggest buying an Octopus card – one for each of the family – at the airport. The Octopus card is a smart card which works on buses, trams, the MTR, the Star Ferry and more – any public transport that doesn’t leave Hong Kong, essentially, though not taxis – and is also accepted in convenience stores and the like, even some restaurants. With it, you can live a cashless life in Hong Kong without too much difficulty. They cost HK$150 at first (HK$50 deposit and HK$100 in stored value), but you should definitely put a few hundred dollars on each one to save thinking about it for a while. They’ll have them at the customer service desk. You can use it for the Airport Express immediately if needed, and it saves any worries about exact change and fares in your first few days in the city.
Get yourself tuned into the new time zone as soon as you can. This essentially means trying to stay up until a reasonable bedtime on the first day, setting your alarm for a decent hour the next day. Then avoid afternoon naps for a few days. Easier said than done.
If you have free time in the first few days, it’s a great opportunity to have fun wandering the streets and trying new food – but we all look for comfort food if we feel overwhelmed in a new city, so don’t give yourself a hard time if you feel this isn’t the moment to start experimenting or you’re feeling a bit jet lagged. There’s Western food available on practically every street of the city, as well as plenty of approachable Cantonese food such as rice or noodle dishes to start off with before the experimentation starts.