I’ll update this page periodically with more information.
Hong Kong has just eliminated the requirement for hotel quarantine for inbound travellers, as part of a shift in COVID-19 policy. The travel industry is expecting an increase in flight bookings to and from Hong Kong, and this is probably a good reason for keen tourists to re-enter. However, travel still looks far from how it did pre-pandemic, so I thought I’d put together an information guide for those looking to re-enter Hong Kong.
If you’re entering Hong Kong on or before September 25, you’ll still be subject to hotel quarantine arrangements – please see this post (from September 26, you’ll be invited to leave your designated quarantine hotel in an “orderly” fashion – whatever that means).
Q: This is a lot of information, I just want to travel to Hong Kong. What do I need now?
A: You’ll need:
- a pre-departure rapid antigen test taken within 24 hours of departure (with a negative result, obviously) – declared online to the Department of Health prior to boarding
- to fill in this form on the Department of Health website (it’ll ask for your vaccination details, as well as a photo of a rapid antigen test)
- to download and enter your vaccination details on the LeaveHomeSafe app (this doesn’t apply if you’re not vaccinated)
- to set your expectations – you won’t be able to visit restaurants, bars, and some other premises for your day of arrival, and the next two full days
- to make plans to undergo PCR testing on days 2, 4 and 6 after your arrival
This is breaking news and this list could likely be lengthened (e.g. pre-arrival form, etc.) – I’m endeavouring to update this post in real time, but I’m not a government resource, and can’t promise that the above list is fully accurate, at least as of right now.
Q: Does travelling to Hong Kong look exactly like it did pre-pandemic?
A: No. Don’t expect that you’ll be able to add Hong Kong to your ten-stop travel itinerary, and be able to enjoy it the same way you’d be able to in 2019.
On the plus side, you will be able to leave your home/hotel, grab takeaway (bubble tea!), take public transport, go to work/attend work meetings, visit parks and shopping malls, and visit others’ homes, so you can stay with your friend or at any hotel if you wish. However, until the morning of your third full day in Hong Kong, you will not be able to visit:
- anywhere where masks come off (restaurants, bars, gyms/swimming pools, karaoke establishments, etc.)
- amusement game centers, massage establishments, mahjong centers, hair salons, etc.
- religious premises
The above locations all actively check your vaccine pass before entering by law, and you’ll need a “blue” code to enter. The LeaveHomeSafe app automatically updates with a “blue” code at 9 AM on Day 3 after your arrival, with Day 0 being your arrival day (this change is pre-programmed into the app, so it’ll always turn blue, unless you test positive with a community PCR test).
You’ll be able to leave Hong Kong at any point after your arrival, though if you’re staying, you must undergo a PCR test at a community center on days 2, 4 and 6 (this is largely painless, and takes a couple of minutes).
This is what the Amber Code looks like (it won’t get you anywhere)
This congratulatory diagram, which you’ll get on Day 3 of your arrival, makes the entire process worth it, if you ask me (I identify most with the guy on the bottom right, who looks like he wants to run away from whatever atrocity his house has been subject to)
Q: Do I still need to get tested on departure?
A: Yes, but you won’t need a PCR test anymore. As part of the new requirements, a rapid antigen test taken 24 hours before departure is sufficient for you to arrive Hong Kong. You’ll need to declare a negative rapid antigen test result on the Department of Health website (a home kit suffices, as long as you write your name, and the date and time of test, on the test itself – you can also get yourself swabbed professionally) – this is a positive change, and far cheaper and less of a hassle than a PCR test. You’ll still need to fill in a health form prior to check-in, and get a green QR code.
Q: Do I still need to get tested on arrival?
A: Yes – see my previous post for the testing process. You’ll still have to get PCR tested on arrival (a largely painless process that doesn’t take long), though you won’t need to take a rapid antigen test on top of that. You’ll also be allowed to leave the airport after your test is taken – previously you had to wait until your rapid antigen test result came back before you were allowed to leave.
Waiting for your rapid antigen test result will no longer be a required procedure
Q: What if I’m transiting?
A: Hong Kong has long waived all testing requirements for those transiting airside at Hong Kong Airport – you’ll be able to take advantage of cheap Cathay Pacific deals or award space without paying for a rapid antigen test (or a PCR test, for that matter, unless your destination requires it).
Redeem miles for Cathay Pacific’s A350 business class without worrying about testing or quarantine (just don’t make Hong Kong your arrival destination if so)
The Pier is the only business class lounge open at Hong Kong Airport (The Wing is open to first class passengers), though it is a very nice lounge (presumably not all of the lounge’s facilities are open, though I haven’t visited).
Enjoy (whatever’s left of) Cathay Pacific’s The Pier business class lounge at Hong Kong Airport
Q: Can I stay anywhere once I get to Hong Kong?
A: Yes – the designated quarantine hotel scheme is effectively cancelled, and you’ll be able to stay at any hotel. Keep in mind that most public spaces provided by hotels actively check vaccine passes, so you won’t be able to visit them during your “+3” medical surveillance period (this includes restaurants, club lounges, etc.).
This will no longer be a familiar sight to frequent travellers in/out of Hong Kong – thank goodness
This also means that all designated quarantine hotels will be “released” for anybody to stay in (if you were looking forward to a staycation at the Hotel Indigo Hong Kong or the Mira Moon Hotel, here’s your chance).
Q: How do I get to my hotel?
A: You’ll be able to get there by public transport, and there are no restrictions for how many stops you make along the way (as long as you don’t visit anywhere that actively checks your vaccine pass).
This will be a familiar sight for inbound travellers again (those with sharp eyes will see that this particular picture was taken on the Airport Express journey to the airport, but I couldn’t find another picture)
Q: Are there any general COVID-19 restrictions in Hong Kong?
Yes – you’ll need to scan your vaccine pass (on the LeaveHomeSafe app) when entering restaurants, bars, and other group gathering places. In addition:
- Mask wearing is mandatory in all public places, even outdoors (you may not be used to this if the country you’re from doesn’t mandate mask wearing)
- You’ll need a negative rapid antigen test result in order to access bars/nightclubs and have meals with 9 or more people (these kits can be acquired cheaply in Hong Kong, and if you live here, the government sometimes gives out RAT kits for free) – you must put your name, as well as the date and time of your test, on the test kit (I made this mistake just earlier today and was denied entry)
- You need to isolate if you, or someone in your household, tests positive for COVID-19, until you get negative rapid antigen test results on two consecutive days
- You may be subject to PCR testing if you’re traced as a close contact (as mentioned earlier, this is largely a painless process, unless you test positive)
- Technically, gatherings in public places of over 4 people is prohibited (this isn’t typically enforced, and applies only to public places – you’ll be able to eat with more than 4 people in restaurants, etc.)
Q: Can I leave Hong Kong anytime?
A: Yes – the airport doesn’t require a blue vaccine pass code to enter. Separate policies apply if you’re trying to enter Mainland China.
Q: What if I’m not vaccinated?
A: This depends if you’re a Hong Kong resident or not:
- If you aren’t a Hong Kong resident and aren’t vaccinated, Hong Kong isn’t open to you yet. Hong Kong is keen to “continue surveying the public healthcare system” before it opens up completely to all tourists.
- If you are a Hong Kong resident, you won’t have to quarantine at a hotel either – though you’ll be subject to the amber code regulations until you either get vaccinated, or show proof that you’re medically exempt (the amber code regulations are identical to regulations for those who are unvaccinated).
Q: When should we expect Hong Kong to open up completely?
A: Your guess is as good as mine. John Lee, Hong Kong’s chief executive, has expressed his wish to open up Hong Kong as soon as possible and introduce further measure relaxations, especially ahead of a finance conference in November. However, I wouldn’t bank on a complete reopening until it’s actually announced.
There’s no denying that some East Asian countries (Taiwan, Japan, China/Hong Kong, etc.) have been the last to reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic, and still, don’t expect to visit Hong Kong on a whirlwind trip the same way you did before. Regardless, if you’ve been waiting to explore Hong Kong/have to travel in and out of Hong Kong for work, study, or living purposes, this is great news.