What makes Hong Kong a unique country to travel to?
Hong Kong, a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) since July 1, 1997, has a high degree of autonomy, except in the areas of defense and foreign policy, and retains its own currency, laws, and border controls. It is composed of three geographic areas: the New Territories, Kowloon Peninsula, and Hong Kong Island. Hong Kong SAR is cosmopolitan and highly developed. Tourist facilities and services are widely available.
Hong Kong has a low crime rate. Even so, you should exercise caution when in congested areas and pay particular attention to personal belongings while in crowded markets and while traveling on public transportation. Violent crime, though rare, does occur.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
While you are traveling in Hong Kong, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different from our own. In Hong Kong you may be taken in for questioning if you don’t have your passport with you. If you are found to be driving under the influence, you could be sent immediately to jail. There are also some things that might be legal in Hong Kong, but still illegal in the United States, and you can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in Hong Kong, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not where you are going.
If you violate Hong Kong laws, even unknowingly, you may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession of, use of, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Hong Kong are severe, and if you are convicted, you can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. In Hong Kong, detained U.S. citizens have been surprised that they had been arrested for violations that would not have resulted in arrest in the United States.
Arrest notifications in Hong Kong: If you are arrested in Hong Kong, authorities of Hong Kong are required to notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate of your arrest. If you are concerned the Department of State may not be aware of your situation, you should request the police or prison officials to notify the U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong of your arrest.
The official language of Hong Kong is Chinese. English is still the language of commerce, as it was the official language up until 1997. The official dialect is Yue (Cantonese) from Guangdong. Chinese written script has been standardized for centuries, but the simplified script from mainland China is beginning to become popular in Hong Kong.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Good medical facilities are available, and there are many Western-trained physicians in Hong Kong. Prescription drugs are widely available, although they may have different names from those in the United States. Hong Kong emergency service response times for police, fire, and ambulances are good.
Air pollution is increasingly serious in Hong Kong. Congested vehicle traffic and mainland factories pump out ozone, sulfur, and nitrogen oxides, leading to a visible haze in the atmosphere on most days of the year. Average roadside pollution levels exceed WHO guidelines by 200% and continue to deteriorate, creating health risks for those with allergies, asthma, or cardiac problems.
Hong Kong remains at "Alert" response status for Pandemic Influenza.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Hong Kong, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. About 90 percent of the population in Hong Kong depends on public transport. Taxis, buses, and the mass transit railway (MTR) are readily available, inexpensive, and generally safe. The MTR, an underground railway network, is the most popular mode of public transport, carrying an average of 3.5 million passengers a day.
In Hong Kong, traffic moves on the left. During the daytime, traffic congests Hong Kong's urban areas. Each year there are about 14,000 traffic accidents in Hong Kong involving more than 18,000 drivers, passengers, and pedestrians. Speed limits are 50 kilometers per hour (kph) (approximately 31 miles per hour (mph)) in urban areas, 80 kph (approximately 50 mph) on highways, and 110 kph (approximately 68 mph) on expressways unless otherwise marked. The use of seatbelts in vehicles, if they are so equipped, is mandatory both in the front and back seats. The maximum penalty for dangerous driving causing death can be a fine of $50,000 HK ($6,500 US), imprisonment for five years, and disqualification from driving for not fewer than two years on first conviction. If you are a driver involved in a traffic accident, you will be required to undergo alcohol-level testing. If you are found to exceed the prescribed limit of blood alcohol, you may face prosecution under Hong Kong law. The use of hand-held cellular phones while driving in Hong Kong is strictly prohibited. If you breach this law, you may be subject to a maximum fine of $2,000 HK ($260 US). However, you can use “hands-free devices,” such as headphones and speakerphones. Hong Kong law requires that all registered vehicles carry valid third-party liability insurance.
You may be issued a Hong Kong driver’s license without a test if you hold a valid U.S. driver’s license, provided you have resided in the United States at least six months. If you do not plan to stay in Hong Kong for more than 12 months you can drive in Hong Kong on your valid U.S. driver’s license. Visit the Hong Kong Transport Department online for further details.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Also, we suggest that you visit the website of the country’s Hong Kong Tourism Board and the Hong Kong Road Safety Council.