Travel Tuesday: Using Octopus Card on Apple Wallet in Hong Kong
If you’ve ever been to Hong Kong, you’ve probably seen a logo that looks reminiscent of the infinity symbol. You may have spotted it at a convenience store, grocery store, train station, or even a vending machine. This logo actually represents the city’s Octopus card system — which, as I alluded to, is not only accepted for train fare but is also heavily used around the city (including at Hong Kong Disneyland).
On previous trips, I’ve used a physical Octopus card, that I purchased at a train station. However, ahead of this visit, I learned that I could add my card to Apple Wallet. Even better, I was able to transfer leftover funds from my existing Octopus card to my digital version. However, I also discovered some quirks along with some pros and cons.
So, before I wrap up my mini Hong Kong series of Travel Tuesday, let’s talk about using an Octopus card via Apple Wallet.
Transfer Funds from an Existing Card
When the thought entered my head that, perhaps, I could now add an Octopus card to Wallet, I opened the app on my phone and tapped the plus sign icon to add a card. From there, I selected “Transit Card” and searched for Octopus. Sure enough, that familiar logo popped up and I tapped it to proceed.
Right away, I was greeted with the option to continue to “Transfer Existing Card.” Selecting the latter, I was prompted to enter the last five digits of the card number. However, I was a bit concerned when it asked for a Hong Kong ID as well. Looking more closely, I realized that this info was only needed if I wanted to activate automatic reloading. Still, I proceeded with the full expectation that it wouldn’t work.
To my surprise, it did work — and then asked me to put my phone near the physical Octopus card. Then, within a minute or two, the transfer was complete and the Octopus card was showing in my Apple Wallet. This is also how I learned that my card still had $95 HKD on it. Sadly, that’s not quite as exciting as it sounds, though, as it’s equal to about $12 American. Nevertheless, it was a few rides worth of funds.
Something important to note is that, once you transfer your funds, the physical card will no longer be valid. I would have anticipated that either would work, but found out the hard way that this wasn’t the case. Luckily, “the hard way” just meant a bit of embarrassment and a moment of confusion as I tried to figure out the issue.
Using the Card via Wallet
As I discovered, using the Octopus card via Wallet is pretty simple for the most part. While approaching a turnstile at the train station, I’d open Wallet to the card (or, in most cases, tap the notification on my phone that would show up when I neared the station) and then tap my phone to the reader. Then, just like with a regular card, it allowed me to enter. Hong Kong’s MTR fare system is distance based — so, when you get to your destination station, you then tap your card again and the funds will be removed from your balance. By the way, you do get a slight discount using Octopus compared to buying individual fare tickets.
Looking at Apple’s FAQs, it seems that Transit Cards can even be used if your phone is off. I didn’t try this but I guess it’s a good thing to know in case your phone does die.
Here’s where the twist comes in! When I first tried to add money to my Octopus card via Wallet, I kept getting frustrated that it asked me to add a valid form of payment. After all, the rest of my Apple Wallet is filled with various credit and debit card options. Alas, none of them were working.
Thankfully, Google came to the rescue and I was able to find the issue: I needed to use a different app. As it turns out, Apple Wallet only supports Octopus card reloads if you’re using a Hong Kong-issued credit/debit card. For those of us for whom that doesn’t apply, you’ll need to reload using the aptly named Octopus Card for Tourists app.
After downloading the app from the App Store, I was able to sign in using my Apple account. This then made it so that my linked card automatically populated. Here, I could see my balance and, most importantly, “top up” my balance. Selecting this option, I was then able to enter how much I wanted to add to the card and pay using Apple Pay. Also nice is that the app displays the conversion so you know how much you’re spending. Well, actually this would be even more helpful if it was just an estimate but, instead, you’ll need to pay in USD — and the conversion isn’t great. Anyway, after paying, my funds were immediately added and I was ready to go!
Pros and Cons of Using Octopus via Apple Wallet
Overall, it was pretty cool to be able to manage my Octopus card on Apple Wallet and add funds via Apple Pay. At the same time, I also felt as though using my phone was a bit more cumbersome than just using the card — and it wasn’t always as reliable. In fact, at one busy turnstile, I tried to scan my phone, thought it took, and started to move forward. Then, the person behind me scanned their card, which meant I effectively stole his entry. After a moment of pure panic, I realized I could just reach over and actually scan my card, allowing him to enter as well. Sure, this same thing could have happened with a physical card, but I do feel that those tap a bit easier.
Therefore, if there’s one major request I could make, it’s that Octopus allows the physical card to remain active even if it’s been added to Apple Wallet — like a proxy version, if you will. That way, I could enjoy the convenience of adding funds on my phone while retaining the benefits of the physical card.
Despite my minor issues, if you do plan on getting an Octopus card while in Hong Kong (which I absolutely recommend you do), I think the mobile route is a good one. Perhaps you’ll also have better success with a thinner case on your phone. Either way, hopefully, you’ll be able to make use of your Octopus card and explore Hong Kong like a local.