10 Reasons You Can Live In Hong Kong and Only Speak English

A photo of Hong kong From the Peak at night

I spent many years living and working in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is a wonderful city to live, work, and be an ex-pat, but like many ex-pats who live in Hong Kong, I do not speak fluent Chinese.

You can live in Hong Kong and speak only English. Many Hong Kong people speak English. Hong Kong is a former British Colony, so English is one of the official languages. In Hong Kong, the police, courts, restaurants, banks, and shops, people will usually speak English; many schools are English speaking schools.

After living, working and traveling to Hong Kong for many years, here are my 10 top reasons why you can easily live in Hong Kong and speak only English:

1 – English is An Official Language in Hong Kong

English is one of the official languages in Hong Kong. English is used widely in government, academic circles, business, and most aspects of life in Hong Kong. Signs on the street are in Engish, also signs in places as the MTR (Mass Transit Railway or the subway system) plus other trains, buses, and local transport.

2. – Many People In Hong Kong Speak English

The streets in Hong Kong all have English and Chinese names. All the government offices also use English and Chinese, so working with the Government offices is very easy; everything from filling out immigration forms to other government forms accepts English and Chinese.

Over 65% of the Chinese Hong Kong population can speak, write and read English. This means that a large proportion of the people you meet in Hong Kong will be able to speak, write and read English fluently.

Even though many people are fluent in English, you may find that the English is a bit different than the English you are used to hearing. Hong Kong uses a lot of British English and not American English. For example, an apartment is “a flat,” a trunk of a car is “a boot,” and when you are getting off the bus or subway, they will tell you to “please alight here.”

In Hong Kong you also use the British spelling versus the American spelling of a word. In fact in most schools in Hong Kong British English will be taught.

So even if English is spoken in Hong Kong, it can be very different English with a hefty Hong Kong accent. I have found it quite easy to understand Hong Kong English, but some other countries may find it difficult to understand.

3. -Several Spoken Languages in Hong Kong

The official languages of Hong Kong are English and Cantonese Chinese. In recent years another language that has gained a lot of popularity and which many Hong Kong is learning is Mandarin Chinese. This is because a lot of business today in Hong Kong is being conducted in Mandarin Chinese. Cantonese Chinese is only spoken in Hong Kong and Southern China.

Mainland China also uses simplified Chinese characters, whereas many in Hong Kong read the more traditional Chinese characters, which are also used in Taiwan. You can see many of the simplified Chinese characters on some posters, leaflets, and signs in the tourist areas in Hong Kong. This is because many mainland Chinese are coming to visit Hong Kong.

4. – Hong Kong Was a British Colony

In 1997 Britain handed Hong Kong back to the Chinese. I was there during that time, and I remember one of the main things that changed immediately was the mailboxes were painted purple from the British red color mailboxes. The flag also changed, and we no longer saw the photos of the Queen of England in all of the public buildings in Hong Kong.

Since the handover in 1997, things in Hong Kong have changed, but one part of the legacy that the British left was the English language. As Hong Kong was once a British colony this is why British English continues to be so widely spoken.

In fact under British rule English was the official language of the courts and government. English was also compulsory for all Hong Kong students and English language television or radio stations and movies were all around Hong Kong.

Today in Hong Kong, you will find many Hong Kongers who fluently speak, read, and write three languages: Cantonese Chinese, Mandarin Chinese, and English. I once asked a Hong Kong friend why so many Hong Kong Chinese were learning Mandarin Chinese and they said it would help them get a better job. This is because even though Mandarin Chinese is not one of the official languages in Hong Kong, it is one of the important languages for business, government, and commerce.

Road on Hong Kong Isalnd
This road on Hong Kong Island Shows How Roads are In both English and Chinese.

5. – Even Police and Government In Hong Kong Use English

The police and the government in Hong Kong use English. Any time I have needed to do anything for the Hong Kong government or police I have very easily been able to use English. Almost all police and government officials I have met speak English and Chinese.

6. – In Hong Kong Banking Is Conducted in English

For my company Mondoro, all of our banking is in Hong Kong. Whether on paper, in person, or online, all of our banking is in English and Chinese. This makes it very easy for you to be able to do any banking in English. Almost all the bankers I know will speak both Cantonese Chinese and English; many also speak Mandarin Chinese.

7. – In Hong Kong, Many Restaurants and Shops Speak English

When you go out in Hong Kong you will find that there are many restaurants and shops where all the waiters and waitresses speak English. The menu is usually in English and Chinese.

If you happen to go out into some small village in Hong Kong you may run across somebody who doesn’t speak much English. Even when I lived out on one of the islands in Hong Kong and all the shops and restaurants that I went to there was some English spoken and a menu was always also in English.

8. – Hong Kong Has Many English Speaking Schools and Universities

Hong Kong has many English-speaking schools and Universities. In fact, I took a Master’s degree at the Open University in Hong Kong for a degree in Chinese law. Our course work, reading, tests, and lectures were conducted in 100% English.

In Hong Kong, you can go to an English preschool, kindergarten, grade schools all the way up to the High Schools and University level with 100% of all classroom instruction in the English language. In reality, you could be educated in Hong Kong from the preschool to the University level without speaking any Chinese and only speaking English.

9. – Hong Kong People Expect Foreigners To Speak English

When I was living or traveling in Hong Kong, I found that the Hong Kong people expect me to speak English. In fact, if you spoke Cantonese Chinese to them, they may actually be quite surprised. They expect foreigners to speak to them in English, and so they will speak English back to you. If you’re living, working, or traveling to Hong Kong and only speak English it would not be unusual for everyone to speak English to you.

10. Many Expats Have Lived in Hong Kong For Decades Speaking Only English

I have known many ex-pats who have lived and worked in Hong Kong for decades and do not speak any Chinese. This shows you that you can live, work and even thrive in Hong Kong without speaking any other language except English.

Even though you can easily live in Hong Kong speaking only English, if you can try to learn a bit of Chinese it will make your time more rich and rewarding. It will also help you to understand a bit more about the local Hong Kong culture and people.

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Anita L Hummel

Hi, I live in Hanoi, Vietnam but spend time traveling the region. I love to share with you things I see and learn through my travels.

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10 Reasons You Can Live in Hong Kong and Speak Only English