HKU Exchange Knowledge Dump

Dec 17, 2016


Getting Funds from American Account

The best option I know of for anyone that can open an American bank account is the Charles Schwab High Interest Chequing Account. This account comes with a VISA Debit card that gives the best exchange rate possible. It has 0% foreign transaction fee, and reimbursements for all ATM withdrawals anywhere in the world. And since any foreign transactions through the VISA/PLUS network use mid-market exchange rates, how ever much of the local currency you withdraw from the ATM, the exact midmarket rate in USD will be deducted from your account.

One disadvantage of the Charles Schwab account is that you need good credit score to open it since they do a soft pull on your credit when you apply. If this is a challenge, the the alternative is the Capital One 360 Chequing Account. This comes with a MasterCard Debit card that give 0% foreign transaction fees, but does not waive the ATM fee for all ATMs. This means that you will get a midmarket exchange rate through the MasterCard/Cirrus/Maestro network, but you will likely be charged an ATM fee. I was able to determine, on one occasion that I really needed cash from an ATM, that HSBC and its subsidiary Hang Seng does not charge an ATM fee on this card.

Considering that anyone who goes on exchange will also be travelling, the Charles Schwab option is a no brainer. You don’t have to worry about exchanging money when travelling to a new country. Simply go up to an ATM that is on the VISA/PLUS network in the destination country and take out cash. You literally cannot beat the exchange rate.

Octopus Card

This is a near perfect implementation of tap-to-pay that payment processors are just releasing to USA and Canada. The octupus card is a reloadable cash card you can spend almost anywhere. You can purchase the card at any MTR Station(Hong Kong equivalent of subway/metro station), and you load the card with cash in increments of 100 HKD at any location that accepts octopus card. I say the octopus card is a near perfect implementation fo tap-to-pay because it is ubiquitous in Hong Kong, sometimes more so than VISA and MasterCard. Every store/cafe at HKU used it, but next to none of them support credit or debit card. I also buy groceries, take the metro, and even pay at McDonald’s with my octopus card.

Telephone Service

I went with a Data only plan from 3 Mobile. It was 168 HKD for 1GB of LTE data. I found this to be more than enough for general web browsing, using Google Maps, and messaging apps. There are also similar alternatives from CSL and Smartone.

If there’s the possibility of getting Google ProjectFi, I would recommend that. ProjectFi has partnerships with many telecomm companies in different countries, and it charges the same rate for international data. This is especially useful if you plan to travel a lot. I had an iPhone and had to buy a travel plan in every country I visited.


I did not research this in-depth but I did have to visit University Health Services for two occasions. Once for a travel appointment, and once for a bacterial throat infection. The travel appointment was because I was travelling Vietnam, and I was worried I would need preventative malaria medicine. This turned out not to be necessary for the places I was visiting, but make sure to check for information about the areas you plan on travelling to for health information.

For the throat infection, I was prescribed cough syrup, decongestant, and antibiotics. I did not have to pay for anything as the university paid for it. This came to me as a great surprise. I’ve never gotten free medicine before. I guess you could said I paid for it with my tuition, but if I had been in Waterloo, I would still have paid the same for tuition, and not gotten free medicine. I also learned from my doctor that you can buy antibiotics off-the-self here. However, if you get it through the university it’s free.


Food is very cheap here compared to Canada and US. I ate a majority of my meals on campus. There are three cafes I frequent on campus, and many others in residences and halls. Breakfast was around 25 HKD, and lunch and dinner were around 35 HKD each on campus. Food at restaurants can also be had for very cheap most of the time. There are very few occasions where I had to spend more than 80 HKD – roughly 10 USD – on a big meal.


If you have questions or want me to elaborate, feel free to contact me.