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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About David Flynn
David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.