HK LIFE – Navigating HSBC’s New ATM Card Farce 24

Travelling this summer? Expect a financial farce courtesy of HK’s banks if you’ve any intention to access your cash…

Why is my ATM card a piece of crap now?
Several major banks forced customers onto the UnionPay ATM network this year, instead of the internationally recognised, VISA-backed ‘Plus’ system. The mainland government-backed UnionPay network is operated under the People’s Bank of China, leading some conspiratorial HK Netizens to become suspicious of the changeover, as documented over on BadCanto Blog.

My card doesn’t work in foreign ATMS!
There are not many UnionPay-friendly terminals outside of Asia. Even if you find one, it may not have been updated to cope with new chipped cards. You can check on the Union Pay ‘globalisation’ pages to see if the card is accepted anywhere in your destination country (the site is reassuringly riddled with grammar and spelling errors).

If you do happen to chance upon a working ATM, you may still be unable to access your money as everyone with a bank account in HK had their overseas bank withdrawal limit reset to zero on March 1st. It was the HK Monetary Authority, not the banks, which insisted that withdrawal limits were reset. Banks warned of the change, but many HSBC customers will have ignored their letters amidst the mountains of advertising they send customers (which no-one can opt out of).  HSBC sufferers can call 2233 3000 or log into internet banking to sort this out.

Why can’t I have a VISA debit card like normal people?
No banks in HK offer VISA debit cards, making internet shopping and access to cash a hindrance  Instead, HSBC invites customers to ‘link’ their regular savings accounts to their VISA credit card (presuming, of course, you’re even eligible to own one). Hong Wrong had HSBC admit that they cannot guarantee that foreign ATMs will give you the option to withdraw cash from your linked savings account as opposed to spit out an extortionate cash advance on your credit account. If it’s the latter, expect insane charges on your statement when you get home. Good luck!

This is nonsense. I want to change banks!
Unfortunately, HSBC remains the least worst option, at least for foreigners in HK. Citibank have better customer service and extended opening hours, but they charge to transfer to HSBC accounts, their online banking services are less developed and its branches less numerous. Hang Seng is owned by HSBC, and the other 100+ options lack branches or are ‘built-on-sand’ Chinese state banks with little to offer.

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Other ‘Expat Life’ tips on the blog:

  • smog

    To be fair to HSBC, I’ve had my savings account linked to my Premier Mastercard credit card for several years, and only once (in the Philippines) was I unable to find an ATM which would let me withdraw direct from my savings account.

  • Kristee Quinn

    this just happened to me on a 3 week trip to India, I would have been up shit creek without a paddle if I wasn’t travelling with a friend, shameful, I am furious

  • Otlet Hoover

    The chip cards are a huge advance in banking security, and aside from the U.S. they’re widely accepted. No comment on Unionpay.

    On what basis do you say “no one can opt-out” from advertising emails? It’s long been an offence to send marketing emails after a customer has requested opt-out. A company can’t require you to accept direct marketing as a condition of receiving other services. The largest bank in Hong Kong isn’t following the law? Is this real or just uninformed ranting?

    No options? BEA has over 100 branches, and has never been a China bank built on sand (they have exposure to China real estate, but HSBC does as well). Plus their lines are shorter and their fees are lower. Not a plug, just a happy customer.

    • Tom

      Thanks for dropping by, HSBC… Point-by-point…

      *To state that UnionPay is widely accepted is utterly untrue. According to the SCMP, even HSBC themselves refuse to admit the fact that it is now more difficult for customers to access their cash.

      *I am not talking about marketing emails.

      *There are indeed no options for those wishing for a VISA networked debit card (inc. BEA) or wishing to avoid extortionate transfer charges.

      *Many would not touch mainland banks with a barge poll:

      • Otlet Hoover

        First, I’m sorry I mentioned email even though I knew you were talking about direct mail. Anything addressed to you by name (mail, fax, phone, or email) must stop if you ask them to. The blog post you linked to doesn’t mention opt-out. Ask HSBC to stop. If they don’t stop after being asked, report them to the Privacy Commissioner who would love to name & shame someone as big as HSBC. You can name & shame them too!

        I never said UnionPay was widely accepted. The chip cards are widely accepted and are an essential upgrade to 1970’s magnetic stripe technology that lets someone skim your card and encode its details onto a hotel card key. I have been refused using magnetic stripe-only credit cards in Europe. I’ve had no problems with the UnionPay chip card (but I’m sure it happens).

        • Tom

          No-one’s complaining about a chip card security upgrade, it’s separate to HSBC’s opportunistic decision to switch from internationally-recognised Cirrus/VISA network to PCC-backed UnionPay. As my article and SCMP findings mention, it’s difficult to find ATMs outside of Asia (even HSBC’s) which accept the new card. It’s been nothing but trouble for me and countless others.

          My understanding is that HSBC can continue to mail advertisements as we are their customers. It may be different if non-customers are being harassed though I will definitely check the opt-out option again when next in a branch.

  • Russell Gutierrez

    “No banks in HK offer VISA debit cards”

    Not true. I have a Hang Seng ENJOY Spending Card, which is a Visa debit card. I can load funds into it and it auto-deducts from my linked savings account if there isn’t enough balance. This debit card uses the PLUS network. On the plus side, when I’m in HK I can use the HSBC network. Overseas the plus network and HSBC atms.

    I believe Hang Seng also have a debit Mastercard, but I forget its name.

    • Tom

      It seems this is another convoluted set-up with a credit card as opposed to a true debit card. HSBC users can also load up a linked credit card with cash, but I am yet to hear of a bank which offers straightforward VISA debit cards.
      The issue of foreign ATMs, beyond your bank’s control, defaulting to the credit account remains a risk.

      • biffski

        The Hang Seng “Enjoy” card is a true Visa debit card which I use for on-line and foreign use. I have to move money to it electronically via an ATM in Hong Kong for it to be credited automatically. Otherwise, even if you deposit funds to the account directly in cash or via your computer it still will take one business day to clear, It would appear to be a “back-end” systems problem that Hang Seng (which is wholly owned by HSBC) problem. I do not have a credit card in Hong Kong at this time.

        • Charlie

          It appears to me that to own your visa debit card, you must have a credit account. Is this right ?

          You look at the application here :

          It’s an application for a credit card, not a debit card.

          • biffski

            No, this is actually a debit Visa that is called a ” Enjoy spending” card here. I do not have a credit card or line of credit with HangSeng at this time.

          • Charlie

            I have completed the application (it sounds exactly like a credit card application) and I will get back here.

          • biffski

            Probably will not work. You must go to the HangSeng HQ and fill out a specific Enjoy spending Visa card application showing proof of ID, etc. Then wait three weeks for approval. Doing it on-line will most likely not follow the Hong Kong procedure.

          • Charlie

            So the online form is just for show ? ?

          • biffski

            Probably just a standard Enjoy Visa card, not a spending (debit) card. The term debit is not well known in HK except for the “Octopus”, which really doesn’t help for on-line and travel purposes.

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