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Overseas Security Advisory Council
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Hong Kong 2020 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Hong Kong. Review OSAC’s Hong Kong-specific page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Travel Advisory

The current U.S. Department of State at the date of this report’s publication advises exercising increased caution for travel to Hong Kong due to the novel coronavirus and civil unrest. However, the Travel Advisory in effect prior to the outbreak assessed Hong Kong at Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise increased caution for travel to Hong Kong due to civil unrest. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Threats

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Hong Kong as a LOW-threat location for crime. The Consulate is not aware of any specific threats against U.S. citizens. Petty street crime occasionally occurs in tourist areas. Be particularly mindful of belongings in areas of high congestion, such as the Mass Transit Railway (MTR), Peak Tram, Star Ferry, Central District, Wan Chai, and large marketplaces throughout the city, where you may be more vulnerable to pickpockets.

Review OSAC’s reports, All That You Should Leave Behind, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud, Taking Credit, Hotels: The Inns and Outs and Considerations for Hotel Security.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Hong Kong has a highly developed and well-maintained road and highway network. Traffic moves on the left. During the daytime, traffic congests Hong Kong's urban areas. Each year, there are about 14,000 traffic accidents involving more than 18,000 drivers, passengers, and pedestrians. Speed limits are 50 kilometers per hour (kph) (approximately 30 mph) in urban areas, 80 kph (approximately 50 mph) on highways, and 110 kph (approximately 70 mph) on expressways, unless otherwise marked. The use of seatbelts in vehicles, if available, is mandatory for all passengers.

Hong Kong uses automatic photo-ticketing systems to discourage speeding. The owner of a ticketed vehicle will receive the ticket in the mail.

Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.

Public Transportation Conditions

Hong Kong has a modern, efficient public transportation system composed of an integrated subway, bus, and ferry system. The majority of people use public transportation instead of driving on the congested roadways. Public transport in Hong Kong is safe and reliable, though petty crimes like pickpocketing can occur. Buses and the MTR are clean and punctual. Subway stations have signs in English and Chinese. Timetable and bus stop names typically appear in English and Chinese. Bus drivers, for the most part, speak some English.

There are occasionally reports of taxi scams where drivers increase the fare on the meter or claim that the fare is in a currency other than Hong Kong dollars.

Since June of 2019, protest activity has resulted in frequent disruptions to public transportation. The MTR has been especially hard hit, with entire lines and stations closing periodically for extensive repairs. Consult publicly available information such as MTR Mobile for up-to-date conditions.

There have been two accidents involving ferries between Hong and Macau in recent years: the first, in 2012, resulted in 39 deaths; the second, in 2015, caused no fatalities, but over 100 injuries.

The West Kowloon Station (WEK) is the terminus and only station of the Hong Kong section of the Guangzhou–Shenzhen–Hong Kong Express Rail Link. The station connects to the mainland China section through a dedicated tunnel and includes a Mainland Port Area where the laws of mainland China are in force. The terminal railway station is located in Jordan, West Kowloon, near the Airport Express and Kowloon MTR Station.

The Mainland Port Area is an area inside West Kowloon station that serves as a border control pointbetween mainland China and Hong Kong. Since September 2018, Mainland Chinese immigration and police personnel operate exclusively within the area, and the laws of Mainland China, rather than Hong Kong, are in force.

Once passengers pass through the Hong Kong immigration exit checkpoint on their way to mainland China inside the Train Station or on the train itself in that area, they are in the Mainland Port Area. Likewise, passengers arriving from mainland China are in the Mainland Port Area until they exit the Hong Kong immigration entry checkpoint. Chinese authorities have informed the United States they consider the Mainland Port Area to be in mainland China for all legal purposes; travelers who plan to enter the Mainland Port Area should plan accordingly.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Numerous flights at Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) faced disruptions or cancellations for two days in August 2019 due to protest activity. Travelers using HKG should monitor the Hong Kong International Airport website for specific information and guidance. At present only ticketed passengers may access most terminal areas. HKG is one of the largest, busiest airports in the world, providing service to around 190 destinations by over 100 airlines. Airports Council International regularly rates HKG as among the best airports worldwide. MTR and ferry services are available to and from the airport.

Hong Kong customs authorities enforce strict regulations concerning controlled items you might be carrying while transiting Hong Kong (temporary importation or exportation). Airport security routinely and completely screens luggage loaded onto an aircraft whether belonging to a departing or transiting passenger. Discovery of weapons of any kind – including stun guns – leads to police investigation, arrest, and detention. If you bring controlled items into Hong Kong without the necessary documentation, authorities may prosecute you and seize the goods in question. Among the items that passengers must declare to customs officials are alcohol (including methyl alcohol), tobacco products, and merchandise imported for commercial purposes. Hong Kong regulates electronic cigarettes as pharmaceutical products; possession of such items without the proper authority could result in a considerable fine and up to two years in prison. Find a non-exhaustive list of controlled and/or prohibited items on the Hong Kong Country Information Sheet.

Cybersecurity Issues

While Hong Kong is not yet subject to the same cybersecurity laws as mainland China, travelers to Hong Kong should act as if they have no expectation of privacy when it comes to electronic communications. Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite Phones: Critical or Contraband?

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Hong Kong as being a LOW-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. The Consulate is not aware of any indigenous terrorist groups operating in Hong Kong, and there is no information suggesting any specific or credible transnational terrorist threats directed against U.S. citizens or interests. Nevertheless, one cannot rule out the possibility that a lone-wolf attacker or transnational terrorist organization would attempt to carry out an attack in Hong Kong.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Hong Kong as a LOW-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Since June 2019, there have been hundreds of demonstrations resulting in nearly 7,000 arrests. Multiple demonstrations typically occur in Hong Kong each week. Visit OSAC’s Hong Kong page for extensive reporting on the protests and their effects on the U.S private-sector community.

Civil Unrest

The majority of the protests since June 2019 have a nexus to a controversial effort to amend the Fugitives Offenders Ordinance in a way that would have allowed Hong Kong to extradite suspected criminals to jurisdictions with which it does not currently have an extradition agreement, including the People’s Republic of China. While the Hong Kong Government formally withdrew the proposed legislation in September 2019, the protests now center on demands for additional reforms and broader political issues. Common areas for protest activity include the Tsim Sha Tsui/Mong Kok corridor along Nathan Road, East Kowloon, the Central Business District to include Admiralty, Wan Chai and Causeway Bay, and several areas in the New Territories. The U.S. Consulate experienced over 80 demonstrations in the second half of 2019, all of which were peaceful in nature.

While many of Hong Kong’s demonstrations are peaceful, and police presence is normally sufficient to maintain order, protests have sometimes become violent, resulting in numerous arrests, significant damage to public transportation/property, and serious injuries to both protesters and police. One fatality linked directly to the protest activity. On October 13, an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated near a police vehicle, but resulted in no injuries; this is the only confirmed case of explosives being used in a protest. Protests have also caused widespread disruptions to the MTR and other public transport lines. Avoid demonstrations and protests, since even those intended to be peaceful can become violent. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.

Post-Specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

During the typhoon season (July through November), the Hong Kong Observatory issues typhoon warnings an average of six times a year; it issues heavy rainstorm alerts more frequently. The Hong Kong Observatory has an excellent notification and monitoring system. If the Hong Kong Government announces a Typhoon Signal 8 or above, or a Black Rainstorm Warning, many facilities in Hong Kong close, and bridges may close to traffic. Additionally, under such a warning, the U.S. Consulate General will likely close for services.

Air pollution is an increasingly serious health concern in Hong Kong. Traffic fumes and ozone, sulfur, and nitrogen oxides from mainland factories lead to a visible haze in the atmosphere on most days. Average roadside pollution levels exceed WHO guidelines by 200 percent and continue to deteriorate, creating health risks for those with allergies, asthma, or cardiac problems.

Critical Infrastructure Concerns

There have been no major problems affecting critical infrastructure in Hong Kong; however, there is a nuclear power plant 50 km (approximately 30 miles) from Hong Kong in mainland China.

Privacy Concerns

Hong Kong has very strict privacy laws; however, in recent years, there has been an increase in complaints regarding personal data collection. In addition, the personal information of both Hong Kong residents and foreigners photographed near protest sites or participating in protests have been shared on online platforms, including ones hosted in Russia.

Personal Identity Concerns

Reports of discrimination based on gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation are infrequent. Same-sex sexual relations are legal. There is no law against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Despite efforts to improve accessibility, Hong Kong’s hilly topography poses challenges to individuals with physical disabilities. Hong Kong’s many stairs, inclines, and steep, uneven walkways do not typically accommodate individuals who use a walker, cane, crutches, or a wheelchair. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

Police Response

The local police emergency number is 999. There are numerous police stations located throughout the various districts and communities of Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Police Force has distinct units responsible for all crime/security issues, and is highly trained and generally professional. General police support and response to foreign victims of crime is excellent. The average response time is under five minutes for emergencies and under ten minutes for non-emergencies. Police operators typically speak English, Cantonese, and Mandarin. The crime detection rate, a measure of reported crimes that police solve, of 37% for the first 10 months of 2019 was down from 43.5% for the same period in 2018. Senior police sources blame the diversion of resources to deal with the six months of anti-government protests.

Authorities must alert the U.S. Consulate General of an arrested or detained U.S. citizen. If you are concerned the Department of State may not be aware of your situation, request that the police notify the U.S. Consulate General of your arrest. Incidents of police corruption, bribery, or harassment are rare. However, if such incidents do occur, contact the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) at +852 2526-6366. Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.

Medical Emergencies

Dial 999 for emergencies or +852 2735-3355 for the Fire Services Department. Hong Kong offers good medical facilities, with many Western-trained physicians. Hong Kong emergency service response times for police, fire, and ambulances are good. Some emergency personnel training meets U.S. paramedic standards, though most training is at the first-responder level to perform basic stabilization and transport to the nearest hospital. For medical assistance, refer to the Consulate’s Medical Assistance page. More comprehensive lists of medical doctors and dentists are also available at the Medical Council of Hong Kong and Dental Council of Hong Kong websites.

Consider obtaining temporary medical insurance before departing the United States. Medical facilities in Hong Kong require foreigners to pay for treatment, and then seek reimbursement through their insurance company. Hospitals, including emergency rooms, also will not usually admit foreigners as patients without payment up front; one must have insurance that the hospital will accept, or the hospital will require the patient make a deposit or put up a guarantee prior to admission. The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Department’s webpage on insurance overseas.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

Air pollution is an increasing concern 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.

In addition to routine childhood and adult immunizations, consider receiving the following vaccines:

  • Hepatitis A: for all travelers.
  • Typhoid: for risk-averse travelers desiring maximum pre-travel preparation.
  • Hepatitis B: for prolonged stays; frequent short stays in this or other high-risk countries; adventure travelers; the possibility of acupuncture, dental work, or tattooing; all health care workers; the possibility of a new sexual partner during stay; and travelers with high potential to seek medical care in local facilities. Consider for short stays in travelers desiring maximum pre-travel preparation.
  • Japanese encephalitis: Sporadic, limited risk exists in rural areas of the New Territories. Transmission season is April-October. For risk-averse travelers desiring maximum pre-travel protection and traveling for prolonged stays or frequent short stays in risk areas. Not necessary for urban areas or short visits to usual rural tourist sites. Use evening and nighttime insect precautions.
  • Rabies: Bats exist in Hong Kong. Take bat bites seriously and seek post-exposure prophylaxis even if already immunized.
  • Influenza (including 2009 H1N1): for all travelers. Flu transmission occurs throughout the year in the tropics, and all travelers are at increased risk. Unvaccinated travelers (especially those at high risk for complications) should consider a standby treatment course of oseltamivir.

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Hong Kong.

Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, Traveling with Medication, I’m Drinking What in My Water?, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Hong Kong/Macau OSAC Country Council meets several times a year. Individuals interested in participating in the Country Council or connect with the Regional Security Officer (RSO) should contact OSAC’s East Asia-Pacific Team.

U.S. Consulate Contact Information

26 Garden Road, Hong Kong

Hours of Operation: Monday through Friday, 0830-1730 (except U.S. and local holidays)

Consulate Operator: +852 2523-9011

Emergency line for calls after normal business hours: +852-2523-9011,

The Consulate General in Hong Kong is also responsible for Macau.

Nearby Posts

  • Consulate Guangzhou: Huaxia Road, Zhujiang New Town,Tianhe District, Guangzhou, China. 020-3814-5000.
  • Consulate Shanghai: 1469 Huai Hai Zhong Road, Shanghai, China, 200031. 86-21 8011-2200.
  • Embassy Beijing: No. 55 An Jia Lou Lu 100600, (86-10) 8531-3000.

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

  • OSAC Risk Matrix
  • OSAC Travelers Toolkit
  • State Department Traveler’s Checklist
  • Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)

 

 

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