Need to get around Hong Kong efficiently? Pay for snacks, drinks and attractions without struggling with unfamiliar banknotes? Want to avoid a pocketful of coins? Then the Hong Kong Octopus Card is the solution you need.
- Buy an Octopus card as soon as you arrive in Hong Kong
- Tourists buy the Sold Tourist Octopus from 7-Eleven, otherwise the regular On Loan cards from the Airport Express or MTR service counters.
- Children and senior citizens should get appropriate cards.
- Travel, shop and get drinks and fast food with the cards.
- Why you need an Octopus Card
- What is an Octopus Card
- How to get an Octopus Card
- How to use an Octopus Card
- Octopus Cards on MTR and trains
- Octopus Cards in convenience stores
- Octopus Cards for restaurants
- Octopus Cards on the Peak Tram
- Octopus Cards on “ding ding” trams
- Octopus Cards on the Star Ferry and other ferries
- Octopus Cards on buses
- Types of Octopus Card
- Octopus Card Deposits
- Keeping or Returning an Octopus Card for the refund
- Octopus Tourist Cards
- Octopus Cards for children and senior citizens
- Limited Edition Octopus Cards
- How to check the Remaining Balance on an Octopus Card
- Octopus Card Fees
- Octopus Card Official Website
- Octopus Card FAQ
Why you need an Octopus Card
Whether you live in Hong Kong permanently, stay in the city for a few months, or are visiting for just a few days you will find an Octopus Card an excellent tool for making life simpler. By using the Octopus card to make payments for public transport, food and drinks and other minor purchases you can save time, avoid struggling with banknotes and most of all prevent a pocket full of small change!
Getting onto the MTR, buses, ferries and trams is easy when you can just step up and “beep” with the card to pay the fare. And you don’t even have to worry about running out of money as the card lets you go negative, though it warns you with a different sounding beep that you need to top it up and add more value before using it again.
Small purchases from 7-11, Circle K, coffee shops, supermarkets, vending machines and fast food cafes are quick and easy and don’t result in coins or confusion. The majority of places that accept the cards for payment also allow you to top up the card by handing over a banknote and asking the teller to deposit it in the card.
What is an Octopus Card
The Octopus Card is a contactless NFC smart payment card containing a Sony RFID chip and an aerial. The device is powered by the reader and includes no battery or other power source. As well as a standard credit card sized octopus card there are also mini-cards, suitable for a keychain, as well as octopus watches that contain the same device inside a wristwatch.
Initially developed payment for the Hong Kong MTR system the cards have become popular as they are accepted by almost all forms of public transport, Taxis being the notable exception, and many shops and restaurants.
The sound made by the card readers as payment is made, normally written “doot doot”, has become part of the Hong Kong soundscape and the average Hongkonger can recognise easily the different sounds such as “negative balance” or “concessionary fare” without looking at the reader for confirmation.
Oyster Cards in London, Singaporean EZLink cards, EasyCard or iPass in Taiwan and Visa Paywave all use similar technology though they are different networks and you can’t use one in place of another.
How to get an Octopus Card
Buy your Octopus Card from the Customer Service Centre in almost any MTR station, including in the Airport. You can also get them at Central Ferry Piers 5 and 6. Each card is actually “On Loan” and not really purchased, you pay an HK$50 deposit for the card.
The Airport Express ticket offices in the Airport are the best place for tourists to get a ticket, either the one actually in the airport or the one at the destination station. You don’t need a ticket to board the Airport express as long as you purchase a ticket before you leave the platform at the end of your trip.
Ask for an adult, child or Elder card and pay the deposit and initial amount; normally HK$150 of which the first $50 is the refundable deposit. Once the card is handed to you it can be used right away, there is no separate step to activate it. There is no need to keep the receipt.
Cards for children are for 3-11-year-olds. Children younger than this don’t need to pay on most transport, and if over 11 then an adult fair applies except for Hong Kong students who need to get apply for a student personalised card.
For visitors to Hong Kong who may wish to keep their card as a souvenir of their time in Hong Kong, there is a “Sold Tourist Octopus” card which is really sold, not loaned and is yours to keep. Therefore it doesn’t have any deposit, but you do have to pay HK$39 to buy the card.
The Sold Tourist Card is available from 7-11 and Circle K stores all over Hong Kong, as well as from VnGo, a small supermarket chain, and from the China Travel Service (CTS) offices.
This is the only type of card you can buy online as it is also available from the Ctrip online service.
Appart from keeping a card as souvenir there is no advantage to having a Tourist card and it is probably better to simply “buy” a normal Octopus Card from the MTR or Airport Express station. If you are either staying in HK for a longer period the deposit is quite minor. Tourists who are going to depart via the Airport can simply allow a few minutes to return their card and get the refund.
How to use an Octopus Card
Generally paying for things with an Octopus card is as simple as holding the card against the reader and waiting for the Doot or Beep sound. In shops, you have to wait for the cashier to request the amount, which will be shown on the screen of the reader before you hold your card there.
In public transport systems, you just walk up to a gate or turnstile and hold the card until you hear a sound. It may take one or two seconds for the card to be read so don’t move it too fast. The cards work fine through a cover, thin wallet or bag. Many people keep their cards buried in the bottom of a bag or purse so they can simply hold their bag against the reader. This works particularly well for those people who have their card linked to their bank account so that it is filled up automatically every time it is empty. Then they never have to fish the card out of their bag.
For visitors who will be needing to top up their cards occasionally the best idea is to put it in your wallet so that you can simply remove your wallet and hold it to the reader. Some people put the card in the cover of their mobile phone so that they can hold that to the reader. Any place that is easy to hand is good.
|Where||How to use||Top-up available?|
|MTR||When entering the origin station and again when exiting the destination station||Yes, at customer service desk or self-service Add-value machines|
|Buses||When entering the bus beep on the reader beside the driver. The same is true for franchise buses and Green mini buses||No|
|Ferries||At the turnstile on entry||Yes, at most ferry terminals the customer service desk can top up cards|
Octopus Cards on MTR and trains
Beep in and Beep out. That’s the normal basic way to use the Octopus on the MTR.
When you enter an MTR or train station there is a turnstile to go through before you reach the platforms. These turnstiles have yellow Octopus card readers to which you should hold your octopus card. The card will be read and the turnstile will open or unlock for you to enter.
On reaching your destination reverse the process and again hold your card against the reader. It is on this second time that the fare will be deducted, depending on the distance travelled.
Trains in Hong Kong and that includes both the underground MTR system as well as the above-ground trains that go into the northern New Territories, all charge according to the distance travelled. There is a fare table which shows the different price from each station to each other possible station. While not directly proportional to the distance it is generally more expensive the longer the trip.
When you enter the train system initially the name of the station you are starting your trip from is recorded on the card, and this is compared with the name of the station when you leave at your destination. Therefore you must use the same card to enter and leave the station.
If you have two cards and accidentally enter using one but try to leave using a different card then the gate will not open. In this case, go to the Customer Service desk and they will resolve the issue by resetting your card or prompting you to find and use the other card.
Octopus Cards in convenience stores and supermarkets
Major convenience stores in Hong Kong all accept Octopus Cards for payment. When you go to the checkout with your goods wait until the cashier says how much the total is, then point at the octopus reader or show your octopus card to indicate that is how you want to pay. The cashier will then press a button on their system and indicate you should hold your card to the reader.
Hold the card to the reader until you hear the Beep sound, then the cashier may hand you a receipt depending on the shop.
You can also give a banknote to the cashier to have them deposit the value into your card, or even pay with a bank note and ask that the change is deposited on your card. In both cases wait until the cashier indicates that the reader is ready, then hold your card flat against the reader until you hear the beep.
If there is a problem, such as a card being too negative in value, or too much in value when making a deposit, or if the card reading wasn’t completed before the card was removed, then the cashier will describe the problem and you can try again.
The major supermarket chains also accept Octopus payment, not just the literal convenience stores. On a daily basis, most HKers will use their Octopus Card to pay in shops including:
- 7-11 – Seven-Eleven – They are all over Hong Kong, sometimes more than one in the same street it seems
- Circle K – Just as popular and often side by side with 7-11
- Park’n’Shop – The large supermarket chain runs a range of different shops from the small local supermarket to up-market brands including TASTE and Fusion.
- Wellcome – Written with two “L” this is the second major store chain and also has several different brandings, including “Marketplace”. They all accept Octopus.
- Watson’s the Chemist – a “Drugstore” which carries not just medical supplies but also snacks, makeup, personal hygiene and hair products.
Smaller and more varied stores also accept the card. You will find Octopus card readers at the all branches of :
- Marks & Spencers – M&S – the well known UK brand is popular in HK for clothes, and even more for food shops under the “M&S Food” branding you can get sandwiches, crisps and biscuits and the like
- Olivers – A delicatessen located in Prince’s Building in Central is a must shop for people buying western international foods in HK and they also accept the card.
Drink vending machines typically accept Octopus cards as well.
Octopus Cards for restaurants and bakers
While you won’t find them in fine-dining or Micheline starred eateries you can still dine perfectly well in Hong Kong and pay only with the Octopus Card. Some major chains of “home cooking style” cafes accept the card as do many bakers and a lot of small chains or independent restaurants.
The biggest chains of cafes in HK are Maxim’s, branded as “MX”, Fairwoods and the slightly smaller Cafe de Coral. These types of cafes are a cross between home cooking, traditional roast-meat restaurants, HK-style-cafe and a canteen. They offer a wide range of dishes at competitive prices and are very popular with Hongkongers.
When entering this type of cafe you will find a large board with a menu on the wall, beside which a cashier will be ready to take your order. Ask the cashier for what you want and they will tell you the total price. At that point indicate you want to pay by Octopus by showing the card or pointing to the blue and yellow reader on the counter. When they press a button on their console the reader will light up showing the amount to be paid.
Hold your card against the reader until you hear the “Beep” to show that the transaction is completed. The cashier will then give you one or more “tickets” which you take to the food counter. When you give the ticket to the server at the food counter they will place it on a tray. That tray is yours and the food you have ordered will be placed on the tray. Once it is all complete the server will indicate by removing the ticket, pushing the tray towards you or telling you.
Fastfood restaurants such as McDonald’s have octopus card readers.
Several brands of bakers also accept Octopus. It is a good way for them to avoid collecting large amounts of coinage as most buns and cakes are very cheap. In any Maxim’s cake shop or a St. Honours cake shop, there will be shelves with display cases that you can open yourself. Use the provided tray and tongs to select what you want and take them to the cashier where they will be bagged and the total price calculated.
As with shops and cafes, the cashier will then tell you the total amount and at that point, you can indicate you want to pay via Octopus. Showing your card or pointing to the Octopus Card Reader are both good ways as is saying “Pay with Octopus please”.
Octopus Cards on the Peak Tram
Want to visit the iconic Victoria Peak? It is a must-do when in Hong Kong, and the traditional way to get the full experience is to take the Peak Tram up the mountainside. The Octopus Card is accepted for payment at the tram terminus at Lower Albert Road which is the normal place to get on the tram. Queues for the tram are often very long, which is why we recommend taking the Bus if you have tried the tram once already, but you can at least skip the queue for the tickets if you have an Octopus Card ready.
When taking the return trip on the tram from the Peak Tower back down to the city you can also use the Octopus Card, and the queues here are often shorter in the morning meaning that with an Octopus Card to just beep-and-go you will have no waiting at all.
Although the vast majority of people board the Peak Tram at either the upper or lower terminuses, there are actually stops along the route. If you would like to try to board at one of these just to try something different, then you will beep at the card reader when you board the tram. There is no other way to pay as there is no ticket collector on board.
In this video, you can see the Octopus Card reader on the left, which is next to the entry door.
Octopus Cards can also be used to pay for the “ding-ding” trams which run on Hong Kong island are themselves a historic treat for visitors as well as an eco-friendly way to tour many interesting parts of the city.
Octopus Cards on “ding ding” trams
Trams are boarded at the rear door and passengers alight from the front door which is next to the driver. The Octopus card reader is located beside the driver, at the front exit door.
When leaving the tram you should hold the card next to the reader until you hear the beep to show that the fare has been deducted from the card. The card reading typically takes less than one second, though it may be slightly longer if your card is inside a wallet or there is some interference from other things held nearby.
Octopus Cards on the Star Ferry and other ferries
The Star Ferry is called the world’s cheapest Harbour Cruise, and at only HK$2.20 (HK$3.10 on weekends) it is certainly excellent value for money. not only do you get to cross from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon, but have an unbeatable view of the harbour with impressive buildings on both sides and busy water traffic in between.
The piers at both sides of the harbour accept Octopus card and it is by far the most convenient way to use the system. If you are stuck with cash then there is a clumsy “token” payments system where you have the queue to use a machine that issues tokens for cash, then use those tokens on the turnstile.
Octopus wins easily in terms of convenience for taking the Star Ferry.
When you enter the pier and follow the signs to the ferry notice the lanes painted on the floor which will guide you to the correct turnstile for Octopus cardholders. The turnstile is a typical tripod three-bar rotating turnstile with a card reader positioned horizontally on top of the mechanism at waist hight.
Hold your Octopus card against the reader until you hear the beep and then you can push through the turnstile. The card is only needed once while entering the pier and is not needed for the remainder of the journey or when you leave the pier at the other end of the trip.
When taking other ferries in Hong Kong the process is almost identical. At each pier, such as Pier 4, 5 and 6 in Central which have ferries going to Lamma, Cheung Chau and Lantau respectively, there are turnstiles which accept Octopus Cards.
The customer service office at Pier 5 and 6 can also sell, or more correctly “loan”, Octopus cards.
Octopus Cards on buses
Regular public buses, known as Franchise busses because they have a franchise operation, also accept Octopus Cards. When you enter a bus there is a reader near the driver where you can hold your octopus card and pay the fare. Hold the card against the reader until you hear the beep and see on the screen that the fare is deducted, your remaining card balance will be displayed.
Types of Octopus Card
There are three main types of Octopus Card in daily use in Hong Kong, but also a very large number of minor variations which are occasionally seen. The main types are Adult, Child and Senior.
Adult Octopus Card
The standard card that most people carry, it is good for paying the standard adult fare on almost all forms of public transport.
Child Octopus Card
A pink card for children from 3 years of age until 11 years of age. This card is suitable for any child in the age range, but not for those 12 or older. On some transport systems there are discounts for students, for example on the MTR it is reduced fare, but to get the reduced fare a Personalised Octopus card is required and proof that the holder is a full-time student is required.
There is no difference when using a Child Octopus Card to make purchases in shops or restaurants.
Senior Octopus Card
A green card that is available to senior citizens and the elderly, this card can be purchased by anyone but to use it for transport the holder must ensure that they are within the age requirements. Basically all public transport lets those aged 65 or older have a concessionary fare and the CityBus/NWFB system on allows those 60 or older the same.
There are no age checks when purchasing the card or using it, however, there is a very slight chance that a ticket inspector might ask for proof of age when seeing someone go through a turnstile with a Senior Octopus Card.
There is no difference when using a Senior Octopus Card to make purchases in shops or restaurants.
Tourist cards, Personalised card, Souvineer cards are also available and come in a variety of designs. The Octopus company also has worked with a range of banks and novelty companies to create a variety of other Octopus devices including Octopus watches, Octopus credit cards and toys and novelties.
Personalised Octopus Cards are mostly used by Students who are entitled to some discounts on MTR trips, but not on most other public transport as they are not “children”. The personalised octopus card shows their photograph and full name in both English and Chinese.
Octopus Card Deposits
Most Octopus Cards are actually “On Loan” cards and when you buy an Octopus Card it is actually that you are borrowing one, a bit like a library book, and as such, there is a deposit to be paid. The deposit is HK$50 per card irrespective of what type of card it is.
This deposit is refundable and at any time you can take the card back to any place that sells cards, normally MTR customer service centre, and return the card for a refund of the deposit as well as any remaining value on the card.
If the card holds a negative value then this value is deducted from the remaining amount.
When a card has more than HK$500 of value then the refund cannot be done at the desk and the card needs to be sent away. Therefore it is best to make sure your card has lower value before getting a refund on your deposit.
Although you don’t pay it when you get the card at first there is an “Administration fee” of HK$9 which is also deducted during the refund process. The HK$9 fee is waived if it is more than 90 days since you got the card.
Tourist cards, such as those purchased from 7-11 or CircleK or online via CTrip, are sold outright and do not have a deposit. This types of cards cannot be returned.
Keeping or Returning an Octopus Card for the refund
Hoping to return to Hong Kong within 3 years? Then consider keeping a standard Octopus Card which will still be usable when you return. However, if you go longer than that time then the card will become inactive and a fee would be charged to reactivate it. In most cases, it would be best to simply return the card when you leave at the airport and get a new card when you return.
Octopus Tourist Cards
The Octopus Card for tourists is also known as a “Sold Octopus Card” because unlike the normal cards it is not loaned but sold. The cost for the card is HK$39 and is not refundable. However, you do keep the card as a souvenir though it is not particularly pretty.
Buy the Sold Octopus Card from any branch of one of these brands:
- 7-Eleven – 900 convenience stores all over HK and Macau, including most MTR stations
- CTS – China Travel Service – 7 branches in HK Island and 5 in Kowloon
- CircleK – 360 convenience stores
- VanGO – Small stores from the CR VanGuard supermarket chain
- Ctrip.com – Chinese Online travel store – the owner of Skyscanner
Octopus Cards for children and senior citizens
The Child and Senior octopus cards allow the holder to enjoy the discounted or concessionary fares that are offered by the majority of transport systems. The cards are not any different for normal payment usages such as paying for things in shops or restaurants. The minimum top-up amounts are smaller for child cards, only HK$50 instead of the normal HK$100.
When using a child or senior card the holder of the card is responsible for ensuring that they are entitled to the discount or concessionary fare. Just because you hold a discount card doesn’t mean that you are entitled to use it.
Limited Edition Octopus Cards
Various limited edition cards have been issued now and then as souvenirs or collectables. Often they sell out rapidly, particularly if they are from famous brands or show cartoon characters that are popular.
- Year of the Horse 2014 cards with cartoon horses
- 2011 Sailormoon cards
- Hellokitty cards in November 2014
How to check the Remaining Balance on an Octopus Card
Every time you use an Octopus Card there is a display next to the reader which shows the amount deducted, as a negative figure, together with the current balance. In the example pictured here the payment in McDonald’s of HK$37.00 leaving a balance on the card of HK$523.30.
The balance can also be checked whenever you are at a service centre or in an MTR station where there are dedicated balance checkers.
Finally, you can use the Android Octopus App or the iPhone Octopus App.
Octopus Card Fees
There are very few fees associated with using Octopus Cards.
|Buying standard Adult Octopus card||HK$150||Which includes $100 in value and a $50 refundable deposit. There is a $9 fee which will be deducted when refunding a card before 90 days.|
|Buying a Tourist Octopus Card||HK$39||This non-refundable card is yours to keep but has zero value. Add value via the cashier when you buy it.|
Octopus Card Official Website
To learn more about the official terms and conditions, to check for any recent updates to offers and particularly for limited edition card information visit the official website at:
Q: Can I buy a Hong Kong Octopus card at HK’s airport?
A: Yes, from the Airport Express customer service desk before boarding the Airport Express train, or from the desk inside the “buffer hall” which is between the baggage reclaim and arrivals hall.
Q: Which banks issue Octopus Cards in Hong Kong?
A: CitiBank, DBS and Dah Sing Bank all offer combined Octopus and Credit cards.
Q: Do you need to validate an Octopus Card?
A: No, an Octopus Card is always ready to use. The only time that you need to do something like “validation” is using it to get a First Class fare on an overground train.
Q: Can I buy an Octopus Card with a Credit card?
A: No, and you can’t add value via Credit card either except by a very roundabout path using either Samsung Pay on selected phones or via a Hong Kong bank account and the Octopus “O! ePay” electronic wallet. Neither of these are good options for visitors to Hong Kong but might be useful if you are living in the city long term, and have a supported phone. There are fees of 2.5% which do not make it attractive.
Q: What is the maximum value you can store in an Octopus Card?
A: HK$1,000 although there are plans to increase this to HK$3,000.