The cost of living in Hong Kong is higher than in many other expat destinations. Your first impression might be even worse: Over $500 for a restaurant meal for two? It takes a while to get used to the fact that $ refers to Hong Kong dollars. Officially linked to the US dollar, one Hong Kong dollar equals about 13 US cents.
In Hong Kong, it is fairly common to pay with cash. When handing over your Hong Kong dollars, you may feel a bit nostalgic: With their vivid colors and distinct images, the banknotes bear a certain resemblance to monopoly money. Do not be confused if one HKD100 banknote looks remarkably different from another: There are three local banks issuing currency, and each puts different images on its notes.
Nevertheless, more and more people are using their credit card and other "plastic money". At larger restaurants, hotels, and shops, you can simply make use of your credit cards.
Most local banks issue you with a debit card, which is common currency in Hong Kong’s supermarkets. You should also take note of the Octopus Card: Designed to make it easier for passengers on public transport, it is now accepted in many retail stores and other facilities.
Despite the growing importance of plastic money, cash remains a common method of payment. Credit cards might have become the number one way to pay in hotels and department stores; in other sectors, for example in budget restaurants and small corner shops, paying in cash is still par for the course.
Although they have become almost obsolete in many other countries, checks are widely used in Hong Kong, such as a literal paycheck from your employer or as a payment method for pricey items like cars. Some people still use checks for smaller-value items such as utility bills.
However, the importance of checks is decreasing. Local bank transfers within Hong Kong, credit cards, online and mobile banking, and other means of electronic payment are taking on an ever more prominent role. You certainly shouldn’t try to settle your grocery bill with a check!
When you go shopping in Hong Kong, please note that stores and restaurants usually do not accept traveler checks. You can exchange them for Hong Kong dollars at major banks or currency exchange offices for a fee. Commission rates tend to be higher for traveler checks than for cash, though. Remember: you also need to show your passport when exchanging traveler checks.
All in all, it’s probably a lot easier just to rely on international credit cards or access to ATMs rather than on traveler checks.
Credit cards are becoming increasingly popular in Hong Kong. By late 2013, the number of credit cards in circulation had jumped to 18 million. However, credit cards are not quite as common in Hong Kong as in some other countries.
Larger shops, hotels, as well as upscale restaurants, will readily accept your credit card; small corner stores and your family restaurant down the street might not. Check for a sign at the door, and make sure to tell the seller that you want to pay via credit card. Popular credit cards include American Express, Visa, and MasterCard.
As shops have to pay an additional transaction fee for handling your credit card, they might try to pass these costs on to you. Keep that in mind when bargaining.
On the other hand, many of the credit cards you get from local banks in Hong Kong give you plenty of discounts for shopping, dining, and entertainment. If you credit card is stolen, inform both the issuing company and the police (2527 7177) immediately.
One last hint: if you pay anywhere with a credit card, make sure there’s an "HK" printed before the dollar sign for the total on your bill. You wouldn’t want to pay 500 US dollars for a HKD 500 restaurant bill.
When opening a bank account in Hong Kong, you will probably get a local debit card linked to the EPS system. You can use this card in most supermarkets, department stores, and convenience stores. Check for the logo at the entrance or cash register.
If you are in Hong Kong for a short while only and would like to use a debit card from home, make sure to check with your bank first. You should know whether you can withdraw money at an ATM in Hong Kong, what the withdrawal limit is, and what kind of fees you might face.
In Hong Kong, you can find ATMs basically everywhere; many are linked to international money systems such as Cirrus, Maestro, Plus, or Visa Electron. Therefore, even European customers with a Maestro debit card should be able to use it for an ATM in Hong Kong.
Furthermore, there are a number of machines where you can withdraw cash from your credit card account. For details, please contact your bank.
Compared to other methods of payment mentioned above, stored value cards play a fairly minor role. Still, as a foreign resident, you might be surprised to find out how frequently the Octopus card replaces cash.
The Octopus card is the most popular stored value card in Hong Kong. It was introduced to serve as a payment method on public transportation. Nowadays, it is also accepted at many convenience stores, retailers, leisure facilities, and restaurants. The usage of small coins has thus dropped significantly.
For more information on the Octopus card, check our article on public transport in Hong Kong.
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