Travelling to Hong Kong? Grab an Octopus Card!

By David Flynn, July 31 2013
Travelling to Hong Kong? Grab an Octopus Card!

Regular visitors to Hong Kong keep an Octopus card in their travel wallet because this prepaid tap-and-go smartcard is almost like a de facto currency.

It pays for public transport on the MTR metro, buses, trams, ferries and coaches, as well as some taxis. The Octopus card is also accepted at convenience stores, many cafés and fast food outlets as well as Hong Kong's beloved cake shops.

How to get your Octopus card

You can pick up an Octopus card at all MTR stations, including at the Airport Express station at Hong Kong Airport. If this is your first visit to Hong Kong, spend those few minutes to grab an Octopus card before you head into the city.

(Don't worry if a train is already arriving – there'll be another one along in 12 minutes.)

The cards are available in both 'sold' and 'on-loan' versions. Most travellers are best off with the standard 'on-loan' Octopus card, which costs HK$150 (A$21) and includes an initial HK$100 of credit plus a refundable HK$50 deposit.

That HK$100 will cover your ride on the Airport Express to Hong Kong station, although you can also choose to buy a Round Trip Ticket for HK$180 (a massive A$3 saving!) and keep your shiny new Octopus card for use once you get into the city.

Hong Kong's MTR metro fares are insanely low: to go from the office hubs of Central or Admiralty on Hong Kong Island to the bustle of Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon costs just HK$8.80. Yes, that's A$1.24!

Topping up your Octopus card

So your HK$100 will last quite some time if you're just hopping on and off the MTR, but if you're planning more extensive and expensive swipes of the plastic, top up your Octopus card at any MTR station.

The automated machines take cash and credit cards, although to load your Octopus using a credit card not issued in Hong Kong you may need to talk to a real live human being in the ticket office. Either way, putting an extra HK$500 onto your Octopus should be plenty.

Octopus options for quick trips

But the Octopus card isn't for everybody.

Short-term visitors should consider the Airport Express Travel Pass, which for HK$300 gets you a return Airport Express journey plus three days of unlimited travel on the MTR, Light Rail and most MTR bus services.

Getting a refund on your Octopus card

You'll probably have some money left on your Octopus card at the end of your trip.

If you're planning to come back to Hong Kong, just hang onto the card for your next visit.

Otherwise, to get your money back – along with your HK$50 deposit – see out the Octopus refund page for the details.

It's a simple procedure: head to an MTR Customer Service Centre (at all MTR stations, including the airport) and hand over your Octopus card.

If the balance is less than HKD$500 you'll get an on-the-spot refund, less a HK$7 processing fee if the card was issued within three months.

(That fee goes up to HK$30 if you've damaged the card in any way, which includes writing on, bending or cutting your Octopus, or attaching stickers to it.) 

If there's more than HK$500 remaining on the card it has to be sent off for processing, which is a major pain. You'll be notified "of the refund arrangement within nine working days" and usually be sent a cheque.

Our advice: if you do want a refund, make sure that you've got under HK$500 on your Octopus card by the end of your trip.

The best prepaid phone & data SIM card for Hong Kong

If you're headed for Hong Kong, don't forget to read our expect guide to the best-value prepaid SIM cards.

Forget about the sky-high roaming fees for your regular carrier! From HK$18 ($A2.50) you can get 300MB per day of 3G speed plus access to a city-wide network of wi-fi hotspots, while HK$24 serves up to 5GB per day 4G speeds (averaging 30Mbps upload and 20Mbs download).

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David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

10 Mar 2011

Total posts 529

Best system I've seen anywhere. If only Australia can replicate the Octopus scheme it would be great. So nice to be able to use it on all forms of transport and supermarkets and other convenient stores as well. It's better than even the Oyster Card in the UK.

They Have AusFlyer. The Official Rollout starts on 31st of January 2014 its called the OPAL Card there is only an adult card at the moment and if you dont live in NSW thats a Shame.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer - Silver

15 May 2012

Total posts 30

I've been using one for the past four years on my visits to Hong Kong, it is the best smart card I have ever used, I just wish Sydney could have something like this, a card where all transport, as well as the most popular shops and fast food restaurants you could pay with the one card!  At this stage, who knows where the opal card will go haha!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

12 Jun 2011

Total posts 148

You can also top up at any CircleK and 7-eleven convenience stores (as well as some other places that accept the octopus).


14 Jun 2013

Total posts 353

I love my Octopus card. Better than London's Oyster because you can use it at 7-11 to buy drinks, snacks etc. This is what Sydney should have had a decade ago, we can only hope it is what the new Opal card will become. 

26 Oct 2012

Total posts 7

In Japan we've got Suica and Passmo cards that perform the same functions. All public transport within the country can be paid with the cards, along with select  taxis, restaurants, and convienient stores. You can also use it with vending machines near stations and in downtown areas.

The Octopus card seems a little tedious- if you're travelling to Japan, you can purcahse one of the cards for around A$5 and put as much money in it as you like. While you cannot get a refund, if you happen to lose your card, your balance will be refunded. In my personal opinion, the Japanese card is the best.

Skywards Gold

21 Apr 2011

Total posts 54

Worth poinitng out:

- Just hop on the airport express at the airport without a ticket. You can purchase your oyster card/ticket once you get off the train in HK/Kowloon. I.e. the ticket counter is before the exit gates. This helps if you get to the airport platform and the train is already there.

- The oyster card can be used at 7-11, Mc Donalds and to pay for taxi fares, amongst other things. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

05 Apr 2012

Total posts 57

U can have a weekend on the Octupus without touching any other card...well nearly  Check your option on transfers to HK accomodation.  I more than one cab can be just as cost effective...especially this time of year rain and heat..  HK$250 for 2 from Airport to Kowloon without the walk from Tsim Sha Tsui to the hotel...round town across the Harbour Priceless...but never forget the Star Ferry from the Island to Kowloon great nite views & HK$2.50 most of the time :)

20 Jun 2014

Total posts 59

A small warning: most HK taxis do not take Octopus. A few do but still the vast majority do not. Most - but not all - take credit cards. So if you have no cash, check with the driver what payment methods they can take before you start the trip.

26 Nov 2014

Total posts 1

I have used the Octopus card but someone told me it is cheaper to buy and airport express ticket rather than use the octopus card fro the trip - Does anyone know if that is true?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 Mar 2016

Total posts 27

I notice you have said that the "on loan" card is better than SOLD Octopus card. I thought the SOLD version doesn't have a deposit & can redeem any monies left on card without a processing fee.

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