Hong Kong Driving Guide 2021
A holiday in Hong Kong means new driving rules and requirements for global travelers. Get your valid International Drivers Permit and learn traffic laws, and you can explore this unique part of Asia behind the wheel.
January 28, 2021
Hong Kong lies off the southeastern coast of mainland China and offers a unique travel destination for people from all over the globe. It consists of three different islands encompassing four parts: Hong Kong Island, Lantau Island, Kowloon Island, and new territories. While you may fly into the International Airport on Lantau, advancements in infrastructure offer a host of other options: bus, train, or ferry. None of the ferries will allow you to bring cars, so your only option, if you want to drive your own vehicle or a rental, is to make your own journey.
The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge (HZMB) is one of the engineering marvels of the world. It spans 34 miles across the ocean and a series of four man-made islands. This length makes it the longest ocean-crossing bridge or roadway in the world. Not only will you drive over vast suspension bridge sections, but you will also head down under the water in for a long stretch of tunnel.
The driving distance from Hong Kong to Guangzhou in miles is approximately 93 miles if you take a direct route from one spot to another. Of course, as roads diverge from that path in some cases, you may find the odometer in your car ticking over that number. The major highways in that part of China’s mainland and Hong Kong itself are well-traveled and in good repair. It is a major thoroughfare that sees a lot of public and private transportation on a regular basis.
Getting to Hong Kong is just one part of the whole topic of tips for Hong Kong driving. For any tourists interested in driving around this unique destination, questions about licenses, legalities, rules of the road, and vehicle etiquette also matter. Whether you are interested in a quick jaunt from the mainland or are visiting for an extended period of time from overseas, learning everything about these topics here before you arrive makes sense.
Getting Around Hong Kong
The three-island landmass of Hong Kong covers more than 1,100 kilometers square. In that space exists bustling modern cities full of cultural interest, shopping, business, and nightlife. You will also find agricultural land, small villages, seaports, nature reserves, ancient temples, and more. Even though the land is relatively small, it packs considerable interest and opportunities for travelers who want to explore a different type of land.
While public transportation is common, having a car in Hong Kong makes sense if you want to explore places off the beaten path. Of course, if you are staying for a longer period of time for business or pleasure, driving offers you more flexibility and a sense of control over your exploration and everyday life.
Any driving in Hong Kong experience allows you to take advantage of one of the best infrastructure systems in the entire world. While this designation goes beyond roads, bridges, and other transport features, the amount of investment and improvements in this region have impressed global reviewers for a very long time. As early as 2015, the World Economic Forum ranked Hong Kong as the first in a list of infrastructure ratings all around the world. Since then, the massive Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge and an impressive rail link system have been implemented. While public transportation is great, it’s still better to drive your own personal vehicle in the urban and rural areas.
As with most modern cities all around the world, the main centers of commerce and modern culture are dominated by public transportation. Hong Kong has light rail systems, and much of its space is walkable. Again, like many other urban areas, you may find it difficult to locate parking in the middle of cities. However, since the majority of Hong Kong lies outside of these types of places, owning or renting a car and making sure your license functions legally makes a lot of sense.
No matter where you roam in the northern peninsula or southern islands that make up Hong Kong, staying legal and understanding the rules of the road make all the difference. Unlike mainland China that has stricter controls on geographic data collection and GPS, Hong Kong allows for relatively unrestricted access due to the “One Country Two Systems” legislation. Therefore, you will be able to find your way around the region with as much ease as you do in the United States, Europe, or other places around the world. In this modern age where digital connectivity influences transportation in an incredible amount of ways, this should give drivers some peace of mind.
Driving in Hong Kong does not have to be an exceptionally foreign experience. While there are things to get used to on the highways and byways of this unique part of Asia, taking care of all the legalities and licensing from the start will minimize risk and discomfort. Before you set out across the world’s longest sea-spanning bridge, explore the bustling streets of Kowloon or Tsuen Wan cities, or explore the twisting mountaintop drive along Tai Mo Shan Road, explore the rest of this article and prepare yourself for the unique Hong Kong driving experience.
Should You Bother to Drive in Hong Kong?
Before getting into all the how-to information that covers obtaining a license, understanding road rules and signage, and learning how to stay safe along the way, ask yourself if driving in Hong Kong is the right choice for you. Although the government has invested heavily in transportation infrastructure in the past few years, much of it focused on public transportation rather than roads for motor vehicles.
In fact, driving is not actively encouraged in this country like in other places in the world. People from the United States, for example, who are used to long distances between shops and other places of business, will find a very different experience there. The urban areas provide extremely limited parking, do not have wide boulevards and thoroughfares to motor down, and offer a lot of opportunities for shopping and other activities within walking distance. Another reason is the high prices of fuel and an attempt to minimize air pollution and driving may become more difficult than you imagine.
However, once you get outside the urban environments, driving can become quite enjoyable and one of the best private options for getting around. Yes, you can take a bus or train almost everywhere, but if you have luggage or an interest in spontaneous day trips, renting a car will give you more options.
Driving in Hong Kong: International License Options
Like the vast majority of places around the world, Hong Kong does require every person who gets behind the wheel of a motor vehicle to have a driver’s license. If you move to the region and intend to stay for a while, it makes sense to get a license that specifically allows you to drive there.
Rules for an Official Hong Kong Driving License
Hong Kong has four official driving schools that operate in much the same way as they do anywhere else on Earth. You study the rules of the road, learn techniques to keep you and your passengers safe, and take a road test. In Hong Kong, the legal driving age is 18 years old for personal vehicles. You must be 21 years old for a commercial license. This pertains to both residents and those seeking driving jobs for foreigners in Hong Kong.
If you have a driver’s license from a different country, you can skip the test process and apply for a Hong Kong license before you arrive here. This can be a full and complete license or a temporary license that will remain valid for the duration of your stay. However, you do not need to get a Hong Kong license to drive legally in this area. You can use an international license as long as you are visiting for no more than one year.
Using an International Driving License in Hong Kong
One of the possibly best ways to drive legally there and in other parts of the world is to get an international license. This is especially useful for anyone who goes to different countries throughout the year for business or pleasure.
Hong Kong recognizes driving license from a variety of countries including, but not limited to United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Nigeria, and more. The list covers most of Europe, the major countries in Asia, and a few from Africa. If you have any doubts about whether your country’s license is valid to use in Hong Kong, visit the government driving website before you set out on your adventure.
Besides coming from one of the approved countries, your international driving license must be currently valid or within three years of its expiration date. Its validity also requires passing a test, residing in the country in which it was issued, and existing for at least five years before its current use in Hong Kong. Of course, you also need an alternative ID like passport or travel documentation that proves you are the same person represented by that license.
The process to get a temporary driving license in Hong Kong with an international license involves an application to the Hong Kong Licensing Office, a small fee, and some general paperwork.
Can You Use Another Country’s License Legally?
An individual who is coming to Hong Kong for a vacation or short stay may not want to go through the trouble of getting a Hong Kong international driving permit. Of course, it would be a waste of time and money to go through the official driving schools and get a Hong Kong license if you are going home in a week or a month. However, it is important to ensure that you drive legally in this region.
Many people may ask can you use a USA driving license in Hong Kong. The simplest answer is that you can as long as you are not staying for very long. You will not be fined or arrested if you are stopped by a police officer and have a US or other approved country’s license and proof that you are visiting for a short holiday. If you are staying longer or want to drive more extensively, applying for a temporary license as outlined above is your best bet.
How About Using a Hong Kong License Elsewhere in the World?
Although the answer to this question has little to do with driving in Hong Kong itself, it can help if you are a resident who wishes to travel outside its borders. Different countries have their own rules, which makes it important for you to research them individually in order to stay on the right side of the law. Other articles on this website can help you do just that.
For example, you are legally allowed to use an international license in the United Kingdom for up to 12 months as a legal visitor. The rule is similar for using a Hong Kong driving license in Europe. Also, you can use Hong Kong driving license in USA for a similar period because it recognizes all nations that were part of the 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic.
Rules of the Road When Driving in Hong Kong
To stay out of trouble, avoid tickets and other legal action. Furthermore, to maintain proper safety for everyone piloting a vehicle on the Hong Kong roads, you must learn all of the rules, common practices, and legal issues that affect the process. It would be very dangerous to get behind the wheel of a car before you understood the absolute basics of traffic patterns and safety.
Although it is impossible to learn exactly how the locals drive every place in the cities and countryside locations of Hong Kong, it makes sense to be mistaken on the side of caution whenever you go out. If a particular stretch of road is frequented by people driving rather quickly, taking it slow may lead to some frustration but will help you to avoid danger and to be stopped by the police. If you instead adopt an excessively fast pace somewhere that enjoys a more leisurely driving habit, you can introduce danger and more serious issues.
After landing at the airport, taking a ferry or a bus, or driving across the bridge to Hong Kong and picking up your rental car, familiarize yourself with common practices and rules of the road that will make your adventure in this amazing part of the world safe and enjoyable.
Do You Drive on the Left or Right side of the road in Hong Kong?
The driving direction in Hong Kong follows the majority of other countries that drive on the left-hand side of the road. For people from the United States, this may take some time to get used to. All of the general rules of the road that pertain to driving on the right are mirrored to suit the other lanes instead. For example, the lane farthest to the left is the slow lane and you would overtake at a faster rate on the right. Also, you can occasionally turn left without stopping but must yield completely when turning right.
Interestingly enough, China is another country like the USA where cars drive on the right side of the road. This makes traveling from the mainland to Hong Kong a bit of a challenge. The engineers who designed the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge came up with a unique way to deal with this problem.
They created what is called a flipper bridge that we use from one side of the road to the next in the middle of the span. This helix-shaped roadway smoothly brings the right-side traffic to the left side of the road in the Hong Kong section. While this deals with the traffic problem, people still need to shift their mindset from one type of driving to the next in order to remain safe and comply with all traffic laws.
The majority of Hong Kong driving rules follow with those common in other countries. As long as you operate your motor vehicle with a mind toward safety and consideration for other drivers on the road, you should not have any problems. The following specific information can help you step up your Hong Kong driving understanding to ensure that you will have no problems with law enforcement or other drivers.
First of all, you are required to wear prescription lenses and other corrective or helpful accessories that pertain to your driving ability and any medical condition or disability that you have. This information is revealed and recorded when you take the driving test or apply for an international temporary license.
Speed Limits and Safe Driving on Hong Kong Roads
With the goal of maintaining safety everywhere from small urban avenues to the larger highways that head into more rural areas, Hong Kong has set speed limits for three categories of road types. These are called low band, middle band, and high band roadways.
Low Band – Roads with this designation are found in urban areas and busy towns directly surrounding them. The speed limit is 50 kilometers per hour or approximately 30 miles per hour.
Middle Band – These roads are found in smaller towns or what are called suburban centers in other parts of the world. The speed limit is 70 or 80 kilometers per hour or approximately 42 to 50 miles per hour.
High Band – Highways, expressways, and other large-scale roads have a speed limit of 100 kilometers per hour or approximately 62 miles per hour. One exception to this is the North Lantau Highway, which allows speeds up to 110 kilometers per hour or approximately 68 miles per hour.
Aggressive Driving and Other Bad Behaviors
It takes more than following the speed limits in Hong Kong to maintain safety on its busy roads. Even you are in the city or outside of it, avoid aggressive or reckless driving. New rules were put in place in 2010 to define these behaviors and create penalties for them. At this time, fines and other consequences became more severe.
ignoring traffic signs
overtaking other vehicles when it is not safe to do so
excessive speed around corners or other more dangerous locations
not using your headlights at night or in inclement weather conditions
ignoring directions from police or other authorities
The majority of people who drive anywhere in the world recognize these as bad behaviors that can get you in trouble with the law. When you are visiting a foreign region like Hong Kong, it is doubly important to drive in a way that does not put anyone at risk.
Do You Have to Wear Your Seat belt in Hong Kong?
Yes. Every passenger in the car must use a provided seat belt whether they are in the front seat or the back seat. Just like the other locations around the world, there are different rules based on the size and weight of the passenger. All individuals who’s 12 years of age and up must use an ordinary seat belt. Children from approximately 3 to 12 years are required to use a booster seat, and an ordinary seat belt unless they are taller or heavier than the classification allows.
Children between the ages of nine months and four years can use a front-facing child car seat with appropriately included straps securely in place. All babies under 20 pounds below the age of one year must ride in a rear-facing seat. These same rules applied to people who use public transportation. Whenever you choose not to drive your rented or personal vehicle, you must still wear a seat belt as a passenger.
Drunk Driving or Driving While Under the Influence
Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is completely against the law in Hong Kong as it is in most other places around the globe. The penalties for drink driving in Hong Kong can include fines of HK $25,000 or approximately US$3200 or nearly €3000. Residents of Hong Kong may even end up imprisoned for a maximum of three years and get points on their license that increased insurance charges.
As a tourist, you may face the same types of punishment for driving drunk in Hong Kong as the people who live there do. No matter what your blood alcohol level, you will lose your license for at least six months for a first offense. If you are on vacation and want to use a car to get around, this will seriously put a damper on your plans. In fact, you would have to readjust your entire itinerary.
Operating a motor vehicle after you have taken drugs will land you in serious trouble. Not only will you face legal action against your ability to drive, but may also be found guilty of additional crimes possession of illegal substances and more. Driving penalties may still occur if you use a prescription medication that can alter your sensory perception or control of the vehicle.
Using a Cell Phone or Other Mobile Device While Driving
Along with the rest of the world, Hong Kong is increasingly worried about the rate of accidents caused by cellphone use, calls and texting, and other mobile gadgets while driving in a car. They outlawed all use of handheld mobile phones or similar devices while driving in 2001. You are still allowed to use a hands-free device legally.
According to the Hong Kong police statistics, newly 18,000 traffic offenses occurred in 2019 related to using phones or other telecommunications devices. They are quite serious about cracking down on people who do not follow these laws. Tourists who are guilty of this crime can face fines up to HK$2,000 or approximately US$250 or €230.
Differences Between Hong Kong and USA Driving
The most obvious difference between Hong Kong and US driving is the left-hand rather than right-hand traffic flow. You cannot stop paying attention as you get used to these unique situations that make turning, roundabouts, and navigation more challenging.
The other big change between driving in these two places is how rare it is to drive in Hong Kong at all. According to government statistics, only about 21% of people in Hong Kong drive with private vehicles at any time. In the USA, over 88% of people own and operate cars or other personal transport on a regular basis. The cities, suburbs, and surrounding areas are simply not conducive to massive amounts of cars and light trucks. Of course, in the United States, many people in cities do not own cars either. However, everything surrounding them is much more spread out and inaccessible by public transport.
Driving Manners – Honking, Road Rage, and More
Perhaps due to the low number of private drivers in Hong Kong, road rage and similar bad behaviors are not as prevalent. If you are a visitor, learn how to control your temper especially as you may be the one causing problems due to your lack of experience. Do not shout curses out the windows at other drivers or pedestrians, make obscene gestures, blow your horn, or use retaliatory driving methods like cutting people off or brake-checking people behind you.
Also, be aware that there are places in Hong Kong called Silent Zones. There, blowing your horn is forbidden. You will see a round sign with a black picture of a horn and a red ring and cross through it. In some cases, this is accompanied by a sign with time limits on it, which means you cannot blow your horn between specific hours only. However, in a truly dangerous situation, you will not get in trouble for blowing your horn to warn another driver.
Hong Kong has a few roads and tunnels that require payment of a flat-rate toll depending on the type of vehicle you drive. For example, the Cross Harbor Tunnel costs HK$8.00 for motorcycles, HK$20.00 for private cars, and HK$10.00 for light buses. Understanding what roads have tolls and how much you will have to pay before you get there is a very good idea if you do not want to get in trouble for toll evasion or get stopped on the road itself.
Safety and Emergencies on the Road in Hong Kong
Visitors who drive in Hong Kong may experience a breakdown or accident during their stay. Knowing what to do in these instances can save you a lot of time, trouble, and expense.
What to Do If Your Vehicle Breaks Down
The most important thing to do if you experience car troubles on the road is to pull out of the way of traffic and get to the left-hand side of the road as quickly as possible. Remember that since you are driving on the left side, the right usually does not offer a hard shoulder that is safe to stop on. Also, use the appropriate left signal or hazard lights to warn other drivers of the problem.
Call for assistance and stay with your car until the tow truck or other help arrives. If you cannot get a cellphone signal, you may have to walk some distance to do so. In tunnels and on the side of some large highways, roadside emergency phones can make it easier to contact help.
If the Police or Authorities Stop You
If you break any rules of the road, you may find yourself getting pulled over by a Hong Kong police officer. You must comply with their requests in a calm and polite manner. Common sense instructions like keeping your hands on the steering wheel are always good ideas.
In Hong Kong, the police are allowed to question you when they stop you in your car. They will ask for identification, driver’s license, and proof of insurance. If you rented the vehicle, you should keep a copy of all the necessary paperwork with you at all times. Also, recognize that Hong Kong police officers have the right to search the vehicle and your person if they have a reasonable belief of a crime committed.
Hong Kong Car Rentals
Although the process to get a temporary driver’s license in Hong Kong does not include too many difficult steps, you may find it more of a challenge to find a vehicle to rent. Because of the massive focus on public transportation, there are simply not that many opportunities to find rental cars. Your best bet is at the airport or other transportation hubs.
Low demand equals lower inventory and higher prices. If you want to save, go with smaller companies like HAWK or Jubilee rather than the international brands like Avis and Hertz. However, you may have more of a selection of rentals and different levels of trust in particular companies who choose. Ultimately, you have to go with what is available and within your budget.
Hong Kong Exploration – How Driving Can Take You Far
Driving through Hong Kong City, the uniquely diverse cultural center of Kowloon or the industrial metropolis of Tsuen Wan may not be the best idea when faced with narrow, crowded streets, and all of the opportunities for public transport. If you come to work there, it makes much more sense to avail yourself of established infrastructure rather than renting a car for the long term. However, anyone who wants to venture outside of these urban centers may prefer renting or leasing a private vehicle.
Hong Kong has diverse environments from the mountains that rise in the center of the region to the long coastal waters near Victoria Harbor and at other locations. While walking or bicycling through the marketplaces and tourist areas makes sense, driving farther afield will give you a better appreciation for what this area truly offers.
After getting your temporary driver’s license and familiarizing yourself with signage, rules of the road, traffic patterns, and more, hop in the car and head out for an adventure on one of Hong Kong’s top scenic drives. Because this part of the world is relatively small and it will not take you very long to get from one place to another. If you choose not to get a long-term car rental, you can still see the sights on day trips.
From Hong Kong City itself, consider driving up into the hills on the Tai Tam Road that traverses the high dam and delivers up fascinating views of the coastal waters. The picturesque Bride’s Pool, which features waterfalls aplenty, requires a bit of car travel before a one-kilometer hike. If you prefer a location perfect for wide vistas and the pleasure of driving itself, consider the South Perimeter Road near the airport.
Whatever part of Hong Kong you visit, you can find the perfect opportunity to explore through driving a car. From the breathtaking span of the longest sea-crossing bridge in the world to the quaint back roads in the green hills of the many parks and nature preserves, Hong Kong offers a host of opportunities for travel enjoyment. Now that you know how to get a driving license, the necessary rules of the road and safety guidelines, and information about how to navigate both the laws and road systems, you can drive in Hong Kong comfortably.