If it's your first trip to Hong Kong, you're no doubt excited to get into the city and begin sightseeing. But in order to hit the ground running, I'll share a few key steps you should take when you first arrive at Hong Kong International Airport. These simple things will save you time, plus start you out on your trip feeling ready to take on Hong Kong like a pro!
Arriving in Hong Kong
Arriving in Hong Kong is exciting and it's easy to just jump on the train and head towards the city. But I recommend stopping for a minute in the airport to complete these quick steps which will save you time as you begin to sightsee later.
These are the steps that I advise all friends and family to follow when they visit us in Hong Kong. Hopefully they'll help you on your next trip to Hong Kong as well.
What to Do When Arriving in Hong Kong
Upon arriving in Hong Kong by plane, you'll head towards Immigration as soon as you exit your flight. Follow the signs (they're in English too). You may have to take a short underground train to get to the main terminal from your gate.
Although you should have received an immigration form on the plane, if you didn't, make sure you get one and complete it before going up to the counter.
After clearing immigration, you'll collect your checked luggage and exit through customs into the Arrivals Hall.
In the Arrivals Hall, you can connect to the airport’s free Wi-Fi, grab a cup of coffee, etc. If you're eager to get going, skip to the important things below so you can be on your way to exploring Hong Kong.
1) Withdraw Cash from the ATM
Since you’re entering one of the world’s leading financial hubs, you might be thinking, why would I need cash? Won’t everywhere take credit card? Unfortunately, no. Hong Kong is surprisingly behind in moving towards a cashless society.
In fact, in order to move to the second step on this list, you must already have cash. Octopus cards can only be purchased with cash and tourists can only refill them using cash. Many small local restaurants only accept payment in cash. Some also accept payment by Octopus card, which must be refilled using cash. Noticing a theme yet? Local taxis also only accept cash.
To sum it up, cash is still very important to have in Hong Kong, so it’s best to withdraw it as soon as you arrive. Otherwise you'll just have to find an ATM as soon as you get to your hotel.
2) Purchase an Octopus Card
The Octopus card is a public transportation card, but it can also be used to pay in some stores and restaurants. Even when small restaurants do not accept credit card, they might accept payment via Octopus card.
Having this card just generally makes life easier and saves you from having to root through your purse for change to pay for buses/trams/new MTR tickets each time you ride.
To purchase this card, head towards the Airport Express in the center of the Arrivals Hall (you'll see signs) and you will see a counter where you can purchase the Octopus card.
There are a couple different Octopus card options to consider:
Sold Octopus Card
The Sold Octopus Card card is designed for tourists. It costs HK$39 and comes with no pre-loaded value. You can add value at the kiosks directly behind the counter (cash only). When you leave Hong Kong, you can keep this card as a souvenir.
Standard Octopus Card
The Standard Octopus Card is designed for residents and is considered “on-loan”. You pay HK$150, but the card comes with HK$100 loaded value.
The HK$50 is a deposit which you will get back if you return the card more than 90 days after you have purchased it. If you return it in less than 90 days, they charge a HK$9 refund handling fee so you will only receive HK$41. The deposit allows you to go into negative value on the card which comes in handy from time to time.
Pro Tip: If you don’t plan to keep your card as a souvenir, I recommend getting the Standard Octopus card. When you leave Hong Kong, simply return it at the customer service station for a refund.
This is what I advise my visitors to do because in the end, you only pay HK$9 instead of HK$39 for the use of the card during your stay. Plus, who needs an extra plastic card? You can use the money you get back to buy some snacks in the airport!
3) Choose Your Transportation from the Airport to Downtown Hong Kong
Although you may have already considered how you will get to your hotel before arriving in Hong Kong, if you haven't, now is the time to do so. Getting from the airport to central Hong Kong is incredibly easy and there are several ways to do it.
A few factors will determine which transportation option is best for you:
Below are my recommendations and thoughts on each method of transportation. To see a full list of the options, check out the Hong Kong International Airport Transport page.
Taxi or shared shuttle from airport
If you have a lot of luggage and don’t feel like you can manage it yourself, a taxi or shared shuttle is probably your best bet.
Local Taxi or Uber
Local taxis in Hong Kong are generally cars that should have been retired many years ago. The shocks are shot and trunk space is minimal. At times, your luggage may end up in a trunk secured with only a bungee cord.
Side note: From what I’ve seen, this bungee cord system does seem to work. Our luggage has made it to its destination in the past secured in with a bungee. Every bump we hit though you can bet I was turning around to make sure it was still in there!
Taxi drivers also tend to be some of the fastest, craziest drivers in Hong Kong, so if you get carsick, you may want to use an alternate method.
A taxi will usually set you back HK$350 – HK$450 (US $45-$58), depending on your destination and the number of bags you have. This is because each bag put in the trunk incurs an additional fee. The ride will last ~30-45 minutes depending where your hotel is located.
An Uber costs approximately the same as a taxi, but may be a more comfortable journey as the cars tend to be newer. Uber drivers also tend to speak more English and drive more cautiously than local taxi drivers (obviously there are some exceptions).
Shared Shuttle Bus
If you'd like a less expensive option, you could book a shared shuttle bus online using Klook.com. There are also hotel shared shuttle options which deliver passengers to the major hotels throughout the city. You can book these online as well.
If you've booked a shared shuttle bus, you'll meet someone in the Arrivals Hall who will take you to the shuttle.
These shuttles cost approximately HK$120 per person (US $16 pp) and should take ~30-45 minutes depending on the number of other passengers and how many stops the bus needs to make.
Since I've never used a shared shuttle bus, I cannot give recommendations about them. If you’re a solo traveler or even a couple and do not want to take public transportation, it might be a good alternative to a taxi since it would be cheaper.
Airport Express Train
The fastest way into the center of the city, taking only 24 minutes from the airport to Hong Kong Station in Central and trains depart every 10 minutes.
The train has luggage racks, free Wi-Fi, comfortable seating, optional quiet cars, and is overall a very pleasant ride. On the return trip to the airport, some airlines offer baggage check at Hong Kong station so you don’t have to worry about getting your luggage on and off of the train.
Using your Octopus card, the trip costs HK$110 (US $15) to Hong Kong Station.
Pro Tip: Save 30% by booking your Airport Express ticket on Klook.com! Once you purchase your ticket, you use the app and swipe the QR code at the ticket entrance instead of your Octopus card.
The only drawback to the Airport Express is that unless your final destination is near the Airport Express stop where you disembark, you still must either transfer to the MTR (Hong Kong’s metro system) or take a taxi from the station to reach it.
Even if you take a taxi from the Airport Express station, the whole trip cost should still end up being much less than if you took a taxi all the way from the airport.
Arriving in Kowloon Station Using the Airport Express Train
Kowloon Station is the second to last stop on the Airport Express and where you would disembark if you're staying in any of the neighborhoods in Kowloon.
Unless you're staying in one of the hotels in the ICC Building (i.e. The Ritz Carlton), you'll probably need to take a taxi to your hotel from the Kowloon Station.
The MTR lines that stop at West Kowloon are not convenient for getting to most neighborhoods in Central Kowloon, such as Mongkok, Yau Ma Tei, TST, where most hotels are located.
Arriving in Hong Kong Station Using the Airport Express Train
Hong Kong Station is the terminus of the Airport Express and where you would disembark if you're staying on Hong Kong Island.
Transferring to the MTR is relatively easy at Hong Kong station. There are moving sidewalks to take you to Central station so you can get on the MTR’s Island Line. It is a lot of walking though if you have heavy luggage. Plus, Hong Kong Station and Central Station are generally very crowded.
Because of these reasons, you may decide your jet-lagged self deserves a taxi to your final destination!
Airport buses cheapest way into Hong Kong from the airport. Plus, depending on where your hotel is, they might also the most convenient. As long as there is a bus stop near your hotel, you won’t have to worry about transferring anywhere.
Airport buses have many routes that run into and throughout the city. Depending on which bus you take, it will cost ~HK$40-$48 (US $5-6) and take ~45-60 minutes.
The NWST bus website has information on each airport bus’ destinations and if you click on the number (i.e. A10), it will show you the full route on the map with the stops. Below is the airport map to show where each bus is located in the terminal.
Airport buses all have luggage racks inside the bus on the first level where you can store your luggage. Once you're seated upstairs, you can monitor your luggage on the TV screens throughout the trip. I use the buses frequently since they drop me off very close to my apartment and have always felt my luggage was safe downstairs.
Pro Tips: After putting your luggage on the racks, head up the stairs to try to snag the front seats. From this vantage point, you can start your sightseeing on the bus ride to the city! Choose a seat on the right side of the bus for views of the Hong Kong island skyline as you approach the downtown area.
Check out this Guide to Using Public Transportation in Hong Kong to help you get around the city!
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Now that you've completed these steps at the Hong Kong International Airport, you're ready to head into Hong Kong! Not sure where to start your sightseeing? Let me help!
With these tips for what to do when you arrive in Hong Kong, plus ideas for what to see in Hong Kong, I hope you'll be able to hit the ground running on your trip.
Let me know if you have any questions about these steps or about visiting Hong Kong in the comments below.
Notes: And don't worry, if you miss a step or two, never fear, there are plenty of ATM machines throughout the city. You can also buy an Octopus card at the Service Desks in MTR stations. This article is just intended to make life easier!