Normally, money-changing is about as note-worthy as waiting at the dentist. Occasionally, it’s analogous to the root-canal if you’re bothered to do the math. I recall during my St Andrews days seeing 20 cent spreads on the USD/GBP rate.
Hong Kong is a different story. The core neighborhoods are replete with small money changers looking to buy and sell US Dollars, Euros, Yuan, Baht, et cetera. I’ve seldom seen a truly bad deal like you find in the US or Western Europe. As of this writing, one USD buys $7.85, per the Google “spot” rate. The “worst” rate I saw in Tsim Sha Tsui hovered around(1 USD buys) HK$7.50. That’s better than the offer of $1.85 per £1 back (I did not take it) when it was worth $1.70.
My go-to is to pay a visit to Chungking Mansions on Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui. CM is one of my favorite places in the world. I jokingly refer to it as the Mos Eisley of Hong Kong – a warren of tiny hotels/hostels, African restaurants, Indian/Pakistani snack stalls, convenience stores, electronic shops, and money changers. Learn more here. I am simultaneously amazed and delighted that it hasn’t been gentrified.
Coming here is a game to me. I always have leftover something-or-other in my wallet, so I read the boards and shop the rates. Typically, the shops nearest the street have the worst rates, while the innermost money changers have the best.
On my last visit, Singapore Exchange Co (green sign, a minute’s walk in) had the absolute best rate for USD. I have used them before to sell HKD and buy NZD (a much harder currency to get a good rate for). On this auspicious day, they were selling USD for below spot (7.845 versus 7.861 that day, according to xe.com). I hopped on that right quick.
I wondered if there was a similarly good deal Island side. Over a bacchanalian dinner-feast at the Chariot Club, I asked this of my friend’s girlfriend. She mentioned Berlin in central. Their rates explain why, and the queue for service can be quite long. I also found another one (favored for Chinese Yuan exchange) called Ngau Kee.
If you have a lot to change (thousands of USD or more) or are bored, HK changers are also open to bargaining versus the posted rates. Have fun! Never overpay.