Shopping in Hong Kong
The Hong Kong dollar (港幣 or HKD) is the territory's official currency and is the unit of currency used throughout this travel guide. In Chinese, one dollar is known formally as the yuen (圓) and colloquially as the men (蚊) in Cantonese. You can safely assume that the '$' sign used in the territory refers to HKD unless it includes other initials (e.g. US$ to stand for US dollar). The HKD is also widely accepted in Macau in lieu of their home currency at a 1:1 rate.
The official exchange rate is fixed at HKD7.80 to USD1, although bank rates may fluctuate slightly. When exchanging currency at a big bank, be prepared to pay a small fixed commission, usually about $40 per transaction. If exchanging large amounts, this commission will have a negligible impact on the transaction. If exchanging small amounts, it may be advantageous to exchange at one of many independent exchange shops found in tourist areas. Although their exchange rates compared with big banks are slightly less favourable for you, most do not charge a commission. They may also be more convenient and a faster way to exchange (no queues, located in shopping centres, open 24 hours, etc.). However, be wary of using independent exchangers outside banking hours because, without competition from big banks, their rates may become very uncompetitive.
Try to avoid changing money at the airport or at most hotels since the rates offered there are usually extremely poor. Note that street money exchange vendors will often offer different rates and you may be able to save around 10% if you can compare several different places rather than using the first one you see. The worst rates will be similar to those found at the hotels.
ATM debit cards have exchange rates and fees are comparable to exchanging cash at big banks. Be aware that some smaller banks do not accept ATM cards from overseas customers. The best banks for foreign tourists to use are HSBC, Hang Seng and Standard Chartered, and ATM machines from those banks are widespread and can be found at any MTR station.
Banknotes are actually issued by multiple banks in Hong Kong (HSBC, Standard Chartered and Bank of China) and all can be used anywhere in Hong Kong. They come in denominations of $10, $20, $50, $100, $500 and $1000.
It is rare to come across a $1000 note and some shops do not accept them due to counterfeiting concerns.
Coins come in units of $10, $5, $2, $1, 50¢, 20¢ and 10¢. Typically you will want to avoid change less than $1 because there are not many things to buy with coins under that. An Octopus Card is the best way to avoid dealing with small change.
Automated Teller Machines (ATM's) are common in urban areas. They usually accept VISA, MasterCard, and to certain degree UnionPay. Maestro and Cirrus cards are widely accepted also. They dispense $100, $500 or rarely $1000 notes depending on the request. Credit card use is common in most shops for major purchases. Most retailers accept VISA and MasterCard, and some accept American Express as well. Maestro debit cards however are not widely accepted by retailers. Signs with the logo of different credit cards are usually displayed at the door to indicate which cards are accepted. For small purchases, in places such as McDonalds or 7-Eleven, cash or an Octopus Card is the norm though some of these outlets can accept credit cards for smaller purchases. Sometimes, the merchant can give you a choice of whether to charge your credit card purchase directly to your home currency or Hong Kong dollars. Choosing which currency to directly charge the purchase to won't matter for small amounts but for larger purchases it may be worth it to consult your credit card's policy on them converting foreign exchange transactions.
Merchants will require that the credit cards be signed and will compare your signature with the card and do not ask for picture ID. The 'chip and pin' system for credit card authorisation is not used in Hong Kong.
Opening a bank account in Hong Kong is a straightforward process, requiring a proof of address and a corresponding ID. A Hong Kong identification card (of any type) will make the process much easier, although foreign visitors are allowed to open bank accounts as well using their foreign address. Hong Kong banks will have English speaking staff available.
Some banks can also provide accounts and UnionPay credit cards in the Chinese RMB currency, which can then be used when travelling in mainland China.
Hong Kong is expensive by Asian standards, with the cost of accommodation especially high. A comfortable mid-range hotel room will cost at least $800 a night, although those who are really on a shoe-string budget could find something for less than $200 for just a bed in a hostel.
Transport is however relatively cheap, with most public transport journeys costing just a few dollar. Even taxis won't break the bank with short journeys costing about $30, although crossing the harbour will add another $80 to your tab.
Eating out in Hong Kong is generally cheaper than in Western countries, and prices start from about $20 per serve for a basic meal of porridge or noodles, although in mid-range restaurants, $150–200 per head is common. At the other end of the spectrum, fine dining can also be very expensive, and prices on the order of $1000 per head or more are not unheard of.
Finally it is worth noting that Hong Kong does not have a sales tax and therefore general prices for moderately expensive items (such as western Shampoo, mobile phones etc) will be less than the same products on the mainland.
As a general rule, tipping is not customary in Hong Kong, though people will not reject any tips you care to hand them. Tipping is a matter of personal choice, but visitors should take into account that locals usually do not leave a tip. Visitors should also know that it is common for bar and restaurant owners to keep some, or all, of the money given as tips.
In cheaper restaurants, tipping is not expected at all and it will be considered unusual not to take all your change. In medium-to-upmarket restaurants, a 10% service charge is often compulsorily added to your bill and this is usually regarded as the tip. You may wish to tip on top of the service charge for good service, but it is neither compulsory nor expected; to give it more chance of reaching the staff tips should be given in cash not as additions to a credit card bill. It is also common for midrange Chinese restaurants to give you peanuts, tea and towels and add a small charge to the bill. Known as "cha-sui money" (money for tea and water) it is considered to be common practice. So, unless the charge is excessive, tourists should accept it as part of the cost of the meal. Sometimes, restaurants will deliberately give customers change in coins, when notes should be given; it is your choice to either take all your change or leave a small tip.
Tipping is not expected in taxis but passengers will often round up the fare to the nearest dollar. During a typhoon, when any loss is not covered by insurance, a tip will be expected, or the taxi driver will ask you to pay a surcharge. In hotels, a guest is also expected to tip at least $10–20 for room service, and porters also expect $10–20 for carrying your bags. Bathroom attendants in luxury restaurants and clubs might also expect you to leave a few coins, but it's socially acceptable not to tip.
Do not under any circumstances try to offer a tip to a government employee, especially police officers; this is regarded as bribery and is strictly illegal, and doing so will most probably result in you being arrested.
Exceptionally, on important occasions, such as a wedding party or similar big gala event, local people hosting such events do tip substantially more than ten percent of the total bill. The money is put into a red envelope and given to the manager.
Fierce competition, no sales tax and some wealthy consumers all add up to make Hong Kong an excellent destination for shopping. Choices are plentiful at competitive prices. Lookout for watches, camping equipment, digital items and special cosmetics.
Popular shopping items include consumer electronics, custom clothing, shoes, camping equipment, jewellery, expensive brand name goods, Chinese antiques, toys and Chinese herbs/medicine. There's also a wide choice of Japanese, Korean, American and European clothing and cosmetics but prices are generally higher than in their respective home countries.
Most shops in Hong Kong's urban areas open at about 10AM until 10PM to midnight every day. High rental costs in Hong Kong, ranked second worldwide according to Forbes, makes it no surprise that the best bargain shops could be located anywhere except the ground floor. Shops recommended by local people may even be up on the 20th floor in a building that won't give you a hint that it's a place for shopping.
Many shops will accept credit cards. In accepting credit cards, the merchant will look carefully at the signature rather than looking at photo ID. In addition, merchants will not accept credit cards with a different name to the person presenting it. All shops that accept credit cards and many that don't will also accept debit cards as payment. The term used for debit card payment is EPS.
In the old days, Hong Kong was a good place to buy cheap knockoff, fake products and pirated videos and software. Today, Hong Kong residents often buy these items in Shenzhen just across the border in mainland China.
Antiques and arts Head for Hollywood Road and Loscar Road in Central. Here you will find a long street of shops with a wide selection of products that look like antiques. Some items are very good fakes, so make sure you know what you are buying. Try Star House near the Star Ferry pier in Tsim Sha Tsui for more expensive items.
Books Hong Kong houses a fair choice of English books, Japanese, French titles, and a huge range of uncensored Chinese titles. Prices are usually higher than where they import but it is your last hope to look for your books before heading to China. Try Swindon Books on Lock Road in Tsim Sha Tsui and Page One in Times Square (Causeway Bay) and Festival Walk (Kowloon Tong). Dymocks, an Australian bookshops, has eleven stores, including in IFC and the Princes Building. For French books, visit Librairie Parentheses on Wellington Street in Central and Japanese books are sold in Sogo Shopping Mall in Causeway Bay. The biggest local bookshop chain is the Commercial Press and they usually have cheaper but limited English titles. For looking for Chinese books, local people's beloved bookshops are all along Sai Yeung Choi Street. Called Yee Lau Sue Den(Bookshop on second floor), they hide themselves in the upper floor of old buildings and offer an unbeatable discount on all books.
Cameras Reputable camera stores are located mainly in Central, Tsim Sha Tsui and Mongkok but tourist traps do exist, especially in Tsim Sha Tsui. The basic rule is to avoid all the shops with flashing neon signs along Nathan Road and look for a shop with plenty of local, non-tourist, customers. Only use recommended shops, as shops such as those on Nathan Road are likely to disappear on your next visit to Hong Kong. For easy shopping, get an underground train to Mongkok and head to Sai Yeung Choi Street, where you might find some of the best deals. The Mong Kok Computer Centre and Galaxy Mall (Sing Jai) are always packed with local people. Several camera shops like Man-Sing and Yau-Sing are known for their impolite staff but have a reputation for selling at fair prices. In the 1990s and early 2000s, most shops didn't allow much bargaining, but this has changed since 2003 with the influx of tourists from mainland China. While it is hard to tell how much discount you should ask for, if a shop can give you more than 25-30% discount, local people tend to believe that it's too good to be true, unless it's a listed seasonal sale. While Hong Kong might offer favourable prices, it is always worth checking prices at Hong Kong based e-commerce such as DigitalRev or Expansys that might ship products to your hotel within a day or at least use their price to bargain with retailers.
Computers The base price of computer equipment in Hong Kong is similar to that in other parts of the world, but there are substantial savings to be had from the lack of sales tax or VAT. The Wanchai Computer Centre, Mongkok Computer Centre and Golden Computer Arcade on Sham Shui Po are all a few steps away from their corresponding MTR stations. Also electronic equipment is available at the large chain stores such as Broadway and Fortress which are located in the large malls. The major chain stores will accept credit cards, while smaller shops will often insist on cash or payment by ATM card.
Computer games and gaming hardware If you are interested in buying a new PlayStation, Nindendo DS and the like, the Oriental Shopping Centre, 188 Wan Chai Road, is the place to go. Here you will definitely find a real bargain. Prices can be up to 50% cheaper than in your home country. Be careful to compare prices first. There are also a few game shops in the Wanchai Computer Centre. The back corners in the upper levels usually offer the best prices. You might even be lucky and find English speaking staff here. However, be careful to make sure that the region code of the hardware is compatible with your home country's region code (Hong Kong's region code is NTSC-J, different from mainland China) or buy region code free hardware (like the Nintendo DS lite).
Music and film HMV is a tourist-friendly store that sells a wide range of more expensive products. For real bargains you should find your way into the smaller shopping centres where you will find small independent retailers selling CDs and DVDs at very good prices. Some shops sell good quality second hand products. Try the Oriental Shopping Centre on Wanchai Road for a range of shops and a taste of shopping in a more down-market shopping centre. Alternatively, brave the warren of CD and DVD shops inside the Sino Centre on Nathan Road between Mong Kok and Yau Ma Tei MTR stations. Hong Kong has two independent music stores. White Noise Records in Causeway Bay and Harbour Records in TST. Hong Kong's leading department store Lane Crawford has CD Bars in its IFC and Pacific Place stores and there's a good CD bar at Saffron Café on the Peak.
Camping and sports A good place to buy sportswear is close to Mong Kok MTR station. Try Fa Yuen Street with a lot of shops selling sports shoes. There are also many shops hidden anywhere except the ground floor for selling camping equipment. Prices are usually highly competitive.
Fashion Tsim Sha Tsui on Kowloon and Causeway Bay on the island are the most popular shopping destinations, though you can find malls all over the territory. In addition to all the major international brands, there are also several local Hong Kong brands such as Giordano, Bossini, G2000, Joyce and Shanghai Tang. The International Finance Centre in Central has a good selection of haute coutre labels for the filthy rich, while for cheap knock-offs, Temple Street in Mong Kok is the obvious destination, though prices are not as cheap as they used to be and these days, most locals head across the border to Shenzhen for cheaper bargains. There is also Citygate Outlets, an extremely large factory outlet mall containing most of the major foreign and local brands located near Tung Chung MTR station on Lantau Island. Tourist going to Ladies Market or any markets nearby should be aware that there are no price tags on items show. Most of the time, the price the merchant will quote you is double the price. Haggle with them and ask to reduce the price at least by 50%. In fact similar clothing items (lower price but fixed) can be found in brick and mortar shops nearby too (e.g. Sai Yeung Choi street)
Tea Buying good Chinese tea is like choosing a fine wine and there are many tea retailers that cater for the connoisseur who is prepared to pay high prices for some of China's best brews. To sample and learn about Chinese tea you might like to find the Tea Museum which is in Hong Kong Park in Central. Marks & Spencer caters for homesick Brits by supplying traditional strong English tea bags at a reasonable price.
Watches and jewellery Hong Kong people are avid watch buyers - how else can you show your wealth if you can't own a car and your home is hidden at the top of a tower-block? You will find a wide range of jewellery and watches for sale in all major shopping areas. If you are targeting elegant looking jewellery or watches try Chow Tai Fook, which can be expensive. Prices vary and you should always shop around and try and bargain on prices. When you are in Tsim Sha Tsui you will probably be offered a "copy watch" for sale. The major luxury brands have their own shops that will ensure you are purchasing genuine items.
Shopping malls are everywhere in Hong Kong. Locally renowned ones are:
- IFC Mall. Located near the Star Ferry and Outlying Islands Ferry Piers in Central. Has many luxury brand shops, an expensive cinema and superb views across the harbour from the rooftop. Can be reached directly from the Airport via the Airport Express and the Tung Chung line.
- Pacific Place. Also a big shopping centre with mainly high-end brands, and has a wonderful cinema. Take the MTR to Admiralty.
- Festival Walk. A big shopping centre with a mix of expensive brands and smaller chains. It has an ice skating rink, cinema and one of Hong Kong's three Apple Stores. There is also a bus terminal within the mall complex. Take the MTR East Rail to Kowloon Tong.
- Cityplaza. A similarly large shopping centre, also with an ice-skating rink. To get there, take the MTR to Taikoo on the Island Line.
- Landmark. Many luxury brands have shops here Gucci, Dior, Fendi, Vuitton, etc. located at Central, Pedder Street. It used to be a magnet for the well-heeled but has since fallen behind in its management.
- APM. All new 24hr shopping centre in Kwun Tong. Take the MTR to the Kwun Tong station.
- Harbour City. Huge shopping centre in Tsim Sha Tsui on Canton Road, to get there take the MTR to Tsim Sha Tsui, or take the Star Ferry.
- Langham Place. A huge 12 storey shopping mall adjacent to the Langham Place Hotel in Mong Kok. Mainly contains trendy shops for youngsters. Take the MTR to the Mong Kong station and follow the appropriate exit directions.
- Elements. Located directly above Kowloon Station, this mall is mostly comprised of luxury brand shops and restaurants. There is a cinema, ice rink, an airport express station where you can check into your flights and a long distance bus station for the mainland. Hong Kong's tallest building, the International Commerce Centre (ICC), is attached to this mall.
- Times Square. A trendy multi-storey shopping mall with some luxury brands, with food courts at the lower levels, and gourmet dining at the upper stories. Take MTR to Causeway Bay, and exit at "Times Square". Definitely attracting a younger crowd, this mall is very crowded on weekends and a popular meeting place for teenagers.
- Citygate Outlets. Located right next to Tung Chung MTR Station & directly connected to the Hotel Novotel Citygate Hong Kong, the Citygate is an outlet mall with tonnes of mid-priced brands, some of them being Adidas, Esprit, Giordano, Levi's, Nike, Quiksilver and Timberland. Many of the items are cheaper although also often out of season. Note that most items purchased here cannot be returned or refunded.
- Laforet. Island Beverly and Causeway Place. Best places to find cheap stylish clothes, Asian style. Mostly girls clothes, but also bags, shoes and accessories, highly recommended if you are looking for something different. Immensely popular with teenagers. These three shopping malls are all near exit E, Causeway Bay MTR station.
- New Town Plaza. A 9 storey shopping mall covering 1,300,000 m² retail area in Shatin, New Territories. Diverse variety of shops, consisting of sports brands, luxury brand shops, cuisines from countries in different continents, sports, etc. can be found in the mall, which is estimated to be one of the malls with the highest footfall. The mall is linked with a number of shopping centres nearby, including Phase 3 of New Town Plaza with a Japanese style Department store, YATA. 30 bus lanes are available for accessing the shopping mall. Taking the MTR East Rail to Shatin is another possible way.
Street markets are a phenomenon in Hong Kong, usually selling regular groceries, clothes, bags or some cheap electronic knockoffs.
- Ladies Market- don't be fooled by the name. It is for both sexes for finding cheap clothes, toys, knockoff and fake labels. Located in Mong Kok and accessible by MTR or bus.
- Temple Street - Sold items are the same as in the Ladies Market, but there are more street food vendors, a handful of fortune tellers and a few Chinese opera singers. Illustrated in hundreds of cantonese films, this street is seen as a must by most tourists.
- Flower Market - Prince Edward. Follow your nose to the sweet scents of a hundred different varieties of flowers.
- Goldfish Market- A whole street full of shops selling small fish in plastic bags and accessories Tung Choi Street, Mong Kok.
- Bird Market- MTR Station Prince Edward, exit "Mong Kok Police Station". Walk down Prince Edward Road West until you reach Yuen Po Street "Bird Garden".
- Apliu Street- MTR Station Shum Shui Po, this is the place where you can find cheap computer goods, peripherals and accessories. However, this is the worst place to buy a mobile phone, as they tend to be even more dodgy than small stores in Mongkok.
- Stanley Market- A place for tourists rather than locals, shops sell everything from luxury luggage items to cheap brand name clothes. Accessible with the number 40 minibus from Causeway Bay. Also, no.6 and 6A bus from Central, and no. 973 bus from Tsim Sha Tsui.
- Textiles - Sham Shui Po MTR exit. Several square blocks around Nam Cheong St. (between Cheung Sha Wan Rd. and Lai Chi Kok Rd.) hold dozens and dozens of wholesalers to the textile trade. Although they are looking for big factory contracts, most shops are friendly and will sell you "sample-size" quantities of cloth, leather, haberdashery, tools, machinery and anything else you can think of to feed your creative impulses. Ki Lung Street has an outdoor street market selling smaller quantities of factory surplus cloth and supplies at astoundingly low prices. Haggling is not necessary.
Discounts and haggling
Some stores in Hong Kong (even some chain stores) are willing to negotiate on price, particularly for goods such as consumer electronics, and in many small shops, they will give you a small discount or additional merchandise if you just ask. For internationally branded items whose prices can be easily found (i.e. consumer electronics), discounts of 50% are extremely unlikely. However, deep discounts are often possible on merchandise such as clothes. However, if there is a shop that is selling goods with a 50% discount, most local people will likely avoid buying there because it's too good to be true.
Electronics stores are often packed together in the same place, so it is often easy to spend a few minutes comparing prices, and to know the prevailing international prices. Start by asking for a 10 to 20% discount and see how they respond to you. Sometimes it maybe appropriate to ask "is there any discount?" or "do I get any free gift?". It is sometimes possible to get an additional discount if you pay cash because credit card companies charge 3% on your bill.
The reputation for being a shopping paradise is well deserved in Hong Kong and, added to which, it is also a safe place to shop. Overcharging is seen as an immoral business practice by most local people, and is unlikely to spoil your holiday. Plenty of hotlines are available for complaints.
In areas crowded with tourists, traps do exist. They are often nameless consumer electronics stores with attention grabbing neon signs advertising reputable brand names. Many traps can be spotted if they have numerous employees in a very small store space. Often, several of these stores can be found in a row, especially along Nathan Road, in Kowloon and in parts of Causeway Bay.
One trick is to offer you a low price on an item, take your money only to 'discover' that it is out of stock, and then offer you an inferior item instead. Another trick is to give you a great price on a camera, take your credit card, and before handing over the camera convince you to buy another "better one" at an inflated cost. They may also try to mislead you into buying an inferior product, by claiming that it is a quality product.
One trick specially encountered in electronics shopping are missing items from the box, such as batteries, etc. Once you realize that an important item is missing and come back to the shop to get it, it will be offered at an inflated price. Reputable shops open the box that you will get in front of you and let you take a look to make sure everything is in there and even switch on the equipment before you pay.
Watch out for persons (usually of Indian subcontinental descent) who approach tourists in the busier areas of Kowloon. They do spot Westerners from a great distance and will make a direct line toward you to sell you usually either a suit or watch ("Genuine Copy" is the a phrase often used). Learn to spot them from a distance (since they are already looking for you), make eye-contact, put up your hand and definitively shake your head. Good, strong body language in this regard will help you be approached far less often.
Although the law is strictly enforced, tourist traps are usually designed by villains who are experts at exploiting grey areas in the law. Remember, no one can help you if unscrupulous shop owners haven't actually broken the law.
The official Hong Kong Tourism Board has also introduced the Quality Tourism Services (QTS) Scheme that keeps a list of reputable shops, restaurants and hotels. The shops registered usually cater only to tourists, while shops that offer you the best deals usually don't bother to join the programme.
Watch out for people (mostly southeast Asian descent) around tourist areas road asking you where you're going. Don't tell them which hostel or hotel you're searching for, otherwise they will offer to "take you there".
Supermarkets and convenience stores
Like many crowded urban areas where most people rely on public transport, many Hongkongers shop little and often, so therefore there is an abundance of convenience stores which can be found on almost every street corner and in most train stations. These include 7-Eleven, Circle K (known as 'OK' by the locals) and Vanguard. Convenience stores are more expensive but are normally open 24-7 and sell magazines, soft drinks, beer, instant noodles, packaged sandwiches, microwavable ready-meals, snacks, contraceptives and cigarettes. Many stores have an in-store microwave for preparing ready-meals as well as hot water for preparing instant noodles and instant tea/coffee, and also provide chopsticks for eating food on the go.
Park 'n' Shop and Wellcome are the two main supermarket chains in Hong Kong and they have branches in almost every neighbourhood, some of which open 24-7. In urban areas, some stores are located underground and tend to be very small and cramped, although they have a much wider product choice and are somewhat cheaper than the above convenience stores. City'super, Great and Taste are expensive upmarket supermarkets that focus on high-quality products that are aimed towards a more affluent market. Apita and AEON are large Japanese-style supermarkets with a wide product selection and food courts. The YATA department store chain also offers a Japanese-style supermarket experience, though it is rather overpriced compared to the aforementioned similar chains.
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