Ah, the freedom driving can bring! BMW or Audi? Lexus or Mercedes Benz? Whether you’re on the market for a brand new set of wheels, or wish to purchase a second-hand car in Hong Kong there are lots of options in the city.
Having your own car somewhere as small and well-connected as Hong Kong might feel like an unnecessary luxury when you first arrive in the city. The efficient, economical (and environmentally friendly) public transport options on offer here certainly mean you can get by easily without. However, as families grow, and perhaps choose to live further out of the city, having your own wheels can start to look more attractive (certainly after one too many of those especially hair-raising taxi rides!). We’ve put together a checklist of seven things to consider before you think about switching gears.
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What Are Your Car Buying Options?
You can buy a new car, direct from a car dealership, or a used car, either through a second-hand car dealer or direct from a private owner. New cars will obviously have no wear and tear, be under a manufacturer’s guarantee and can come with finance options. However, Hong Kong has one of the highest “new car taxes” around – with a progressive tax rate of up to 115% of the car’s value – so buying a second-hand car can be a more economical choice, even when you factor in the potential issues and lack of manufacturer’s warranty.
Going down the pre-loved route makes a lot of sense for most families. As “luxury” items, cars in Hong Kong are generally maintained very well, often by a driver who cares for the car daily. Because of the original costs involved, many of the cars in Hong Kong are top of the range, high-spec models (hello leather seats and sunroofs!). Cars here also tend to have lower mileage as well, which means potentially fewer maintenance issues along the line. And the sheer churn of people coming and going (and the need to buy and sell cars) keeps second-hand prices competitive with what you might expect to pay elsewhere.
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A Licence To … Drive
First things first – you’re going to need a Hong Kong driving licence. You cannot become a registered car owner (or get the required insurance cover) without a local licence, a valid HKID and residential status. But don’t start to panic about practising your parallel parking just yet! The chances are you will be able to use the licence you have from your home country to qualify for either a full or a temporary Hong Kong driver’s licence without the need for further testing. Details about this can be found on the Department for Transport’s website.
If you or your family members do need to learn to drive, there are also plenty of driving schools and instructors in the city. The process can be a bit long (especially with the delays in testing due to COVID-19), so if this is something you need, plan ahead!
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What Kind Of Car Do You Need?
Remember where you are! In Hong Kong, everything is imported, including cars and car parts. As such, it makes sense to choose a car that is going to be cost-effective to service and maintain. Historically, Japanese cars have been a very popular choice, but Korean, German and Swedish manufacturers are now becoming more popular. Also, bear in mind the trade-off between size and cost – vehicle licensing fees are charged in line with the size of your car’s engine – a private car with a 1,500cc or lower engine will cost $5,074 annually to licence; a car with an engine over 4,500cc will be $14,694!
In terms of makes or models, a lot depends on what you are looking for. If it’s space, in terms of seats, (to accommodate your kids, their cycles and your dog!) and safety, there is a reason you see so many Volvo XC90s (or “Expat 90s” as they are affectionately known). Other popular larger options include the Toyota Alphard and BMW X5. If it’s convenience, economical running and easy parking you’re after, then go-to smaller models include the Hyundai Tucson, Audi A3, Volkswagen Golf and Mini Cooper.
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Where To Buy A Car In Hong Kong
If you are looking for a new car, most of the big car names have dealerships in Hong Kong. A quick Google search will lead you to their showrooms (mostly on the Island, along Gloucester Road). Or check out dealerships that will import cars directly for you, like The Automall.
If you are looking for a used car, you can consider second-hand car dealerships, where you can look at a range of makes and models (and where some will come with a short-term warranty and/or service). Vin’s Motors and GP Motors come highly recommended (don’t be confused when you show up in Tin Hau and Vins and Vincents are directly across the road from each other!). Otherwise, try direct-from-owner sales. Check out listings on the most popular car sales forum at Asia Expat Hong Kong Classifieds, or HK Car Trader.
Also, keep an eye on your Facebook feeds (or pin-up ads in your local supermarket!) for people leaving and wanting to sell their vehicles in a hurry. When negotiating, offering 20% less than the asking price is generally the recommended starting point. You can, however, expect to pay roughly $150,000 for a good condition mid-sized European model car, or around $80,000 for a Japanese or Korean brand.
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What To Ask When Buying A Second-Hand Car In Hong Kong
Whether you are buying through a second-hand dealer, or direct from the owner, you will want to make sure you’re getting the full picture about the car you are looking at. At your first inspection, as well as checking the exterior, tyres and engine bay (and insisting on a test drive), make sure you ask:
- How many owners the car has had, as this will affect the resale value
- Ask specifically whether the car has had any accidents – accidents happen, but you want to make sure any repairs were done properly
- Whether or not there is a service history available (a full history is preferable)
- When the last service was – if longer than a year ago, you may be looking at more immediate costs for upkeep and repairs etc.
It never hurts to ask for a second opinion, and a vehicle check by an independent third party might be a good investment (and can quickly flag any potential issues). The Hong Kong Automobile Association can arrange an inspection of the car and write a pre-sales report for you, which can be helpful when it comes to negotiating on the price. These inspections before buying a car in Hong Kong typically cost $1,450 and cover off 13 major items. It could save you a lot of time and hassle down the road!
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Hitting The Road In Your New Car
You’ve done the deal, so the next step is to get your insurance and registration sorted. All cars in Hong Kong are required to have third-party insurance cover. Premiums vary, depending on the type of car, size of engine and the owner’s driving history, but most find them to be competitively priced by international standards. There are many firms offering car insurance in Hong Kong, such as Kwiksure and Well Link Insurance.
Once you have an insurance cover note, you can complete a transfer of ownership. To do this you must take your HKID, proof of address, insurance cover note and TD25 form to the Department for Transport (some dealerships will sort this out for you). All the necessary information can be found on the Transport Department’s website. The buyer is responsible for paying the transfer fee of $1,500. Once all the checks are completed, you will receive a Vehicle Registration Document in your name. And that’s that – you’ve got the keys and are ready to hit the road!
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Enjoy The Ride
Keeping yourself, and your little ones, safe on the road is top of mind for all mamas. Car seat laws are somewhat relaxed in Hong Kong but are non-negotiable in our book.
Sassy Mama knows all the good spots – and this is true of parking too! Get clued up about where to park through Parkopedia and make sure to keep your Octopus card topped up for those lucky times you can find a metred spot on the street. And don’t forget the valet option that’s available at lots of malls (and sometimes comes free with a discretionary spend). The convenience of a car and a reason to shop – a win-win all round!
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Editor’s note: This post was originally published by Kate Fahey on 23, September 2019 and updated by Jess Mizzi most recently in March 2022.