Very few shops or restaurants accept U.S. dollars, so either exchange your cash or withdraw Hong Kong dollars direct from an ATM. Traveler's checks aren't accepted in most shops, and can be a pain to cash—avoid them, if possible. Getting change for large bills isn't usually a problem, although you will find that some shops will refuse to accept HK$1,000 bills for fear they might be counterfeit.
Banks never have every foreign currency on hand, and it may take as long as a week to order. If you're planning to exchange funds before leaving home, don't wait until the last minute.
ATMs and Banks
Your own bank will probably charge a fee for using ATMs abroad; the foreign bank you use may also charge a fee. Nevertheless, you'll usually get a better rate of exchange at an ATM than you will at a currency-exchange office or when changing money in a bank. And withdrawing funds as you need them is a safer option than carrying around a large amount of cash.
Reliable, safe ATMs are widely available throughout Hong Kong. In a pinch, MTR stations usually have at least one Hang Seng Bank ATM. If your card was issued from a bank in an English-speaking country, the instructions on the ATM machine will appear in English.
PINs with more than four digits are not recognized at ATMs in many countries. If yours has five or more, remember to change it before you leave.
Major credit cards are widely accepted in Hong Kong, but be sure to ask first at small shops and restaurants. You may also get better rates paying in cash. When adding tips to restaurant bills, be sure to write "HK$" and not just "$."
It's a good idea to inform your credit-card company before you travel, especially if you're going abroad. Otherwise, the company might put a hold on your card owing to unusual activity—not a good thing at the beginning of your trip. Record all your credit-card numbers—as well as the phone numbers to call if your cards are lost or stolen—in a safe place, so you're prepared should something go wrong. Both MasterCard and Visa have general numbers you can call (collect if you're abroad) if your card is lost, but you're better off calling the number of your issuing bank, as MasterCard and Visa usually just transfer you to your bank; your bank's number is usually printed on your card.
Although it's often cheaper (and safer) to use a credit card rather than cash for large purchases you make abroad (so you can cancel payments or be reimbursed if there's a problem), note that some credit-card companies and the banks that issue them add substantial percentages to all foreign transactions, whether they're in a foreign currency or not. Check on these fees before leaving home, so there won't be any surprises when you get the bill. If you plan to use your credit card for cash advances, you'll need to apply for a PIN at least two weeks before your trip—but remember, most banks charge heavily for issuing cash advances.
Before you charge something, ask the merchant whether he or she plans to do a dynamic currency conversion (DCC). In such a transaction the credit-card processor (shop, restaurant, or hotel, not Visa or MasterCard) converts the currency and charges you in U.S. dollars. In most cases you'll pay the merchant a 3% fee for this service in addition to any credit-card company and issuing-bank foreign-transaction surcharges. Plus, the exchange rate is often less favorable than that offered by the credit-card company.
Dynamic currency conversion programs are becoming increasingly widespread. Merchants who participate in them are supposed to ask whether you want to be charged in dollars or the local currency, but they don't always do so. And even if they do offer you a choice, they may well avoid mentioning the additional surcharges. The good news is that you do have a choice. You can avoid the potentially costly practice altogether thanks to American Express; with its cards, DCC simply isn't an option.
Reporting Lost Cards
American Express. 800/333–2639; 715/343–7977; www.americanexpress.com.
Diners Club. 800/234–6377; 2860–1888; www.dinersclub.com.
MasterCard. 800/627–8372; 636/722–7111; 800/966-677; www.mastercard.com.
Visa. 800/847–2911; 800/967–025; www.visa.com.
Currency and Exchange
The only currency used is the Hong Kong dollar, divided into 100 cents. There are bronze-color coins for 10, 20, and 50 cents; silver-color ones for 1, 2, and 5 dollars; and chunky bimetallic 10-dollar pieces. Bills can be confusing, as there are a range of designs and issuing banks. There are new purple and a few remaining older green $HK10 bills in circulation, as well as bills for HK$20 (blue-green), HK$50 (purple), HK$100 (red), HK$500 (brown), and HK$1,000 (yellow). Don't be surprised if two bills of the same value look different: three local banks (HSBC, Standard Chartered, and Bank of China) all issue bills, and each has its own design. Although the image of Queen Elizabeth II doesn't appear on new coins, old ones bearing her image are still valid.
The Hong Kong dollar has been pegged to the U.S. dollar at an exchange rate of HK$7.8 to US$1 since 1983. You can exchange currency at the airport, in hotels, in banks, and through private money changers scattered through the tourist areas. Banks usually have the best rates, but as they charge a fee of up to HK$100 for non-account holders, it's best to change large sums. Money changers do not charge fees, and they are open at conveniently late hours, but the rate of exchange is usually less favorable than it is at banks.