With eight million and one uses, the Octopus Card is an indispensable part of life in Hong Kong, and a must-have for tourists too.

What is an Octopus card?

This incredible tool is a reusable smart card which stores money for making electronic payments. Originally created for use on Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway (MTR), it slowly expanded its tentacles into a myriad of daily uses.

According to Wikipedia, 99% of the population of Hong Kong above the age of 16 uses an Octopus card, for everything from riding the tram to paying bills. (True story: This writer actually did use her Octopus card to pay her hospital bill after having a baby in Hong Kong!)

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Octopus Card
Octopus Card | Photo by Gregory Lane

Where can you use an Octopus card?

For tourists, the biggest convenience is using your Octopus on all public transport, including the Airport Express, the MTR, buses, minibuses, taxis, the street Tram, the Star Ferry, and ferries to outlying islands. You simply tap your card as you enter, listen for the ‘beep’, and the screen will show you how much was deducted, as well as how much you have left on your card.

Octopus card machine in Hong Kong subway metro station
Octopus card gates | Photo by iStock.com/alexsl

In convenience stores you can use it to buy snacks, drinks, SIM cards, and even alcohol and cigarettes—a freedom that many tourists find interesting. Most restaurants, cafes and bars also accept Octopus, as well as clothing stores. Even vending machines selling stamps at the post office accept Octopus! Once you see the Octopus logo, you’ll know you can use it there.

The Octopus can also be used for entry into attractions such as the Happy Valley horse races, museums, cinemas, shows, and tourist spots such as the Peak Tram.

Note that one place you usually can’t use the card is at wet markets, street markets, night markets, and tiny mom-and-pop stalls, so you’ll still need to have cash on hand.

Octopus card vending machine
Octopus card vending machine | Photo by iStock.com/TkKurikawa

Where to get an Octopus card?

Octopus cards are available at all MTR Customer Service Centres in Hong Kong, and there are two different kinds.

The first is a ‘Sold Tourist Octopus’, a special card for visitors which costs HK$39.00, requires no deposit, and comes with no initial stored value, meaning you need to top it up right away. With their cute designs, these are meant to be kept as souvenirs and do not need to be returned.

The second is the ‘On-Loan Octopus’, which costs HK$150.00, comprising a HK$50.00 refundable deposit and HK$100.00 initial stored value. The card be returned at the end of your trip, and you will get both the deposit and any remaining value back.

If arriving by air, you can get an Octopus at any 7-11, Circle-K or VanGO convenience store in the Airport, as well as from the Airport Express service counter. This will make your life easy in terms of taking transportation to the city, and if you are using the Airport Express, your Octopus gives you a small discount on the train ticket.

Once you get your card, we recommend adding around HK$500.00 to start. When the time comes to top-up, you can add money at all MTR service counters and Octopus Add-Value machines at MTR stations; convenience stores and supermarkets; and even places like McDonalds and Starbucks.

If you’re plan to arrive in Hong Kong without local currency, you can also order a Tourist Octopus Card online for pick-up at the airport preloaded with $HK 50.00 for HK$93.00. It’s not as cheap as buying one at a convenience store, but it might be more convenient.

Other useful Octopus tips

Because of its success, the Octopus card is now being accepted at many places in Macau and Shenzhen, mostly convenience stores and fast food chains. If making day trips to these two cities, you may have some opportunities to use your Octopus.

When walking up the Mid-Levels Escalator, do as the locals do and tap your card on a special discount machine which takes a few bucks off your next MTR journey.

When returning your On-Loan Octopus card, there is a small handling fee. And if the card is damaged or altered, there is a HK$30.00 charge, so don’t put any markings on the card.

The most you can add to an Octopus card is HK$1,000.00, so keep your card safe and don’t lose it!

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Filed under: Getting Around