Hong Kong is a banking hub, and as such you’ll find it very easy to sort out all things financial here. There are ATMs on practically every street and most banks are very customer-friendly – there’s enough competition for it to be in their interest. Banks are regulated by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority and your money is safe. You’ll see HSBC, Bank of East Asia and Hang Seng everywhere, since they’re the biggest banks here, but with 70 of the world’s top 100 banks keeping a presence in Hong Kong, you’ve got plenty of choice. Many expats use HSBC simply through familiarity back in their home country.
Opening an account is straightforward. You’ll need passport, Hong Kong ID card, your work visa and proof of address, such as an electricity bill or letter from a government body. This last requirement is the only one that can sometimes be tricky for new arrivals; if it’s a problem, ask the bank to post you a letter, which you then return as proof of address. There may be a monthly charge for your account, though this can often be waived if you have a minimum balance. Shop around if you don’t like the conditions. Banks all have phone and Internet banking services, and you can even plump for a purely Internet account, which should be free. You’ll still get an ATM card and you’ll be able to move your money around online, by phone and via ATMs. Getting a local credit card shouldn’t be a problem once you have an employment contract and thus a demonstrable source of sufficient income.
This being Hong Kong, you’ll be pitched all sorts of complicated/useful extras – keep it simple if you really just want to keep your money somewhere, but if you’re a banking whizz you’ll be in your element. Most relevant for foreigners are foreign currency and multicurrency accounts, which can be very useful when you need to transfer money abroad. Service is friendly and efficient, and English is spoken. Banks are usually open 9am-4:30pm Monday to Friday, and 9am-12:30pm on Saturdays – closed on Sundays. However, branches are increasingly staying open later in the evenings. Like everywhere else, lunchtime is when things are busiest.
The currency, of course, is the Hong Kong dollar (HK$); you won’t be able to use RMB or US dollars as cash. Bank notes come in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1,000. For coins, there’s 10 cents, 20 cents and 50 cents, as well as 1, 2, 5 and 10 dollars. The currency is linked to the US dollar at a rate of HK$7.75-7.85. One side effect of this is that the managed rise of the Chinese RMB against the dollar in recent years has led to a big improvement in spending power for mainlanders. Hong Kong banknotes are issued by three different banks, meaning the design on one side varies; there are even still coins and banknotes with the queen’s head on them, dating from pre-1997. They’re no longer produced and thus starting to disappear, but are still perfectly legitimate. You’re unlikely to find yourself passed a forged note.
ATMs are everywhere, including MTR stations. You’ll see a wide range of banks represented, but the important thing is that HSBC and Hang Seng have a joint network of ATMs called ETC; all other banks in Hong Kong are networked through JETCO machines, by far the most common. There’s a fee of HK$15-30 if you use a different network; otherwise it’s free. They almost all take Visa, MasterCard and American Express for cash advances, too.
Hong Kong is moving fast towards being a cashless economy for anything other than the smallest shops. You can use your Octopus card for small purchases; your bank card will be an EPS card, meaning it can be used as a debit card; credit cards are accepted everywhere. People do still use cheques in Hong Kong, but they’re fading away over time. This is a city that accepts few hindrances in being allowed to take your money from you as efficiently as possible.
You can change money commission-free in your own bank, and there are also high street bureaus de change. As ever, you’ll almost certainly get the best rate by using your credit card in an ATM.