Going online has never been easier in Hong Kong. Free public Wi-Fi is available at multiple locations, including public libraries, major museums, public parks, indoor markets, MTR stations, ferry terminals, and popular tourist spots. Some buses, including those to and from the airport, also provide free onboard Wi-Fi—look for the Webus sticker by the door. Many fast-food outlets, cafés, and shopping malls also offer free Wi-Fi service.
PCCW, a Hong Kong–based communications company, has more than 12,000 Wi-Fi hotspots scattered around the city, including areas near universities, convenience stores, and shopping malls. You can access these hotspots via a prepaid Discover Hong Kong Tourist Card. A five-day pass costs HK$69 and includes free local calls and other perks. The cards can be purchased at convenience stores, PCCW locations, and the Hong Kong Tourism Board's Kowloon Visitor Centre.
Internet cafés can be found tucked away in small, hard-to-find corners of Wan Chai, Mong Kok, and Tsim Sha Tsui. Public libraries and some MTR stations provide free access to computer terminals.
Hong Kong Public Libraries (2921–0208. www.hkpl.gov.hk.)
PCCW-HKT Discover Hong Kong Tourist Card (183–3803. www.pccw-hkt.com/en/Prepaid.)
Hong Kong was the first city in the world with a fully digitized local phone network, and the service is efficient and cheap. Even international calls are inexpensive relative to those in the United States. You can expect clear connections and helpful directory assistance. Don't hang up if you hear Cantonese when calling automated and prerecorded hotlines; English is usually the second or third language option. The country code for Hong Kong is 852; there are no local area codes.
Calling Within Hong Kong
Hong Kong phone numbers have eight digits: landline numbers usually start with a 2 or 3; cell phones with a 9, 6, or 5.
If you're old enough to talk in Hong Kong, you're old enough for a cell phone. This means public phones can be difficult to find, although you'll find a few tucked away in MTR stations. Local calls to both land and cell lines cost HK$1 per five minutes. If you're planning to call abroad from a pay phone, remember that convenience stores like 7-Eleven sell international phone cards. You may need to specify the country you're calling to get the right type of card. Some pay phones also accept credit cards.
Some hotels may charge as much as HK$5 for a local call, while a few others include them for free in your room rate. In a pinch, restaurants and shops will often let you use their phones for free.
Dial 1081 for directory assistance from English-speaking operators; 10013 for international inquiries and for assistance with direct dialing; 10010 for collect and operator-assisted calls to most countries, including the United States; and 10011 for credit-card, collect, and international conference calls.
Calling Outside Hong Kong
International rates from Hong Kong are reasonable, even more so between 9 pm and 8 am. The international dial code is 001, followed by the country code.
The country code for the United States is 1, so you must dial 0011 before the area code and number. You can dial direct from many hotel and business centers, but always with a hefty surcharge.
Most GSM-compatible mobile phones work in Hong Kong. Roaming fees can be steep, however—99¢ a minute is considered reasonable—and overseas you normally pay the toll charges for incoming calls. It's almost always cheaper to send a text message than to make a call, since text messages have a very low set fee (often less than 5¢).
If you can unlock your phone, buying a SIM card locally is the cheapest and easiest way to make calls. PCCW's prepaid Discover Hong Kong Tourist Card can be found at convenience stores, PCCW outlets, and the Hong Kong Tourism Board's Kowloon Visitor Centre. A standard five-day pass costs HK$69.
Cellular Abroad rents and sells GSM phones and sells SIM cards that work in many countries. Mobal and PlanetFone rent and lease GSM phones (starting at $21) that will operate in countries around the world, though per-call rates can be expensive.
Once you’re in Hong Kong, mobile phones can be rented at the airport through Handy, which charges HK$88 per day for unlimited Internet access and local calls, as well as free international calls to 17 countries.
Cellular Abroad (310/862–7100 international service line. www.cellularabroad.com.)
Handy Hong Kong (8120–2233. www.handy.travel.)
Mobal (888/888–9162 in U.S. www.mobal.com.)
PlanetFone (888/988–4777 in U.S. www.planetfone.com.)
Local Dos and Taboos
Customs of the Country
By and large Hong Kongers are a rule-abiding bunch. Avoid jaywalking, eating on public transport, and feeding birds. Legislation has banned smoking in restaurants, most bars, workplaces, schools, and even public areas such as beaches, sport grounds, and parks. A whopping fine of HK$1,500 should deter even the most diehard smoker. Littering is also frowned upon, and it’s not unusual to see police handing fines (also HK$1,500) out to litterbugs. Hong Kong is crowded; most people walk quite fast on the street. When on escalators, make sure you stand on the right side, leaving the left side for those who are in a hurry.
Saving face is ever important in Hong Kong. Never say anything that will make people look incompetent or bad, especially in front of superiors. However, you’ll find that locals are comfortable commenting on things like weight and appearance that Westerners may balk at. Take it in stride; it's not meant maliciously. Hong Kongers like to talk about money—salaries, stocks, insurance, and real estate—so don't be surprised to be asked about these things.
Hong Kongers aren't touchy-feely. Be discreet. Stick to handshakes and low-key greetings.
Make appointments well in advance and be punctual. Hong Kongers have a keen sense of hierarchy in the office. Let the tea lady get the tea and coffee—that's what she's there for. If you're visiting in a group, let the senior member lead proceedings.
Suits are the norm, regardless of the outside temperature. While flashiness may suit local pop stars and teens, err on the side of discretion with your appearance when doing business. A well-fitting pair of trousers and jacket will suffice for both men and women.
When entertaining, locals may insist on paying: after a slight protest, accept, as this lets them gain face. Conversely, you can insist on paying for drinks or a meal to signal your gratitude for the hospitality you’ve received.
Business cards are a big deal: not having one is like not having a personality. If possible, have yours printed in English on one side and Chinese on the other. Proffer your card with both hands, and receive one in the same way, handling it with respect.
Out on the Town
Meals are a communal event, so food in a Chinese restaurant is always shared. You usually have a small bowl or plate in which to transfer food from the center platters. Although cutlery is common in Hong Kong, chopsticks are ubiquitous. Be sure not to mistake the communal serving chopsticks (usually black or a different color) with your own.
It's fine to hold the bowl close to your mouth and shovel in the contents with your chopsticks. Slurping up soup and noodles is acceptable. Avoid leaving your chopsticks standing up in a bowl of rice—they look like the two incense sticks burned at funerals.