Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions


What is the fee that you charge for the currency exchange?

Using Plain Exchange is free! We provide you with the information of who has the currency that you need, rather than the money itself. This is why we are able to eliminate the role of the middleman, which is played by banks and currency cabinets in the current system, which charge commission as a result of the advantage they have - they are your only source of foreign currencies. We believe that it is unnecessary, because they currencies you need might be lying around with fellow students, on campus. By giving you information about alternative sources of currency, we want to give you more control over travel costs and gradually democratize the process of currency exchange.

Is this app legal?

Yes! Take a look at this excerpt from the HKSAR law:

"exchange transaction" (兌換交易) means a transaction between a money changer and another person relating to the exchange of different currencies”

Source: [Chapter 34, Section 2: Money Changers Ordinance, check out at ]

We made sure it is in line with the law long before we launched. Plain Exchange is not a currency exchange service but rather a platform which provides information instead of money. Our job is to connect people with offsetting needs and facilitate their exchange process by providing a chat function to communicate through and set the time and place of exchange. Additionally we received confirmation from the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department (the guys that regulate this space) that we do not break any law. Just to get started - it’s legal :)

Do you offer online transfers?

No, we only focus on cash transactions right now, just as it is traditionally, but without additional costs.

Why should I use Plain Exchange instead of the bank or currency exchange cabinet?

No commission costs is of course the biggest advantage and we do it by creating one place where users can provide information about the amount of different currencies they have and wish to exchange. Our goal is to create win-win situations rather than “win the commission - pay unfair exchange rate” situations that all of us have to deal with now. Take a look at this simple comparison we prepared to show where we want to build our advantage.


Bank: On average, you lose from 1-10% on bank rates adopted by banks in Hong Kong, depending on the popularity of the currency¹
Exchange Cabinet: the level depends on location but is usually between 5%to even 20% above market rate
Plain Exchange: 0%

Operating times

Bank: On campus: 9am-5pm, Monday - Friday *On-campus banks offer limited currencies so in reality a trip to bank’s headquarters is necessary
Exchange Cabinet: Depending on location, usually close around 8 pm in Chunking Mansions
Plain Exchange: On Campus: 24/7

Additional Cost

Bank: 50HKD² per transaction under 3,000HKD if you do not have an account with the bank
Exchange Cabinet: Cost of transport: 18-30HKD for off-campus locations + Value of time spent on looking for good rates
Plain Exchange: None, unless you choose to pick an off-campus location

¹ Based on our study of currency exchange rates, as compared to market rate on 19/12/2015, based on Hang Seng Bank, Standard Chartered, HSBC, and Bank of China 

Can I use Plain Exchange if I am not a student from HKUST/HKU?

Currently, we are only available to students in HKUST and HKU as a part of our pilot testing but we are constantly working to improve the functions of our application and we hope to be launching to the whole travellers market as soon as possible.


How does the exchange take place?

Just follow these four simple steps:

  1. Download the app and create an account. Fill in the basic information in your profile, so that other users are more willing to exchange money with you.
  2. Log in and use our search bar to find offerings which match your needs. If you find an interesting offer, click it in the list to access details like e.g. who offers it and in which location.
  3. Click the button at the bottom of the page which will take you to the chat window where you can directly contact the user who posted the offer.
  4. Start with a "Hi", express your interest in the exchange and agree on the place and time where you can meet and seal the deal.

Tip: Make sure that time and place are convenient for both the sides and always opt for public, monitored spots (See more in the section "Safety").

What if the amounts offered on the system are less than or more than I need?

This situation can always happen and you can think about it as an opportunity cost of the fact that we do not charge commission - it will almost never be exactly how much you had in mind! However, the same situation happens when we visit different exchange cabinets and we see the rates that they offer first and then decide how much we will exchange. On Plain Exchange everything is transparent and online so we encourage you to be willing to adjust up or down a little, because all offers are at the market rate already, so it is the best deal you can get :) If there is nothing close to the amount you need, or you simply have a leftover currency which you want to offer on the system, this is when you become a currency offerer. Simply click “Make an offer” button and fill in all the details. (See also: "How will I know that someone is interested in my offer?")

How do you set the market rate?

We update the exchange rate on a daily basis, based on the rates sourced from Yahoo Finance. In general, the daily fluctuations are negligible, however, we will inform you of occasional volatilities, by displaying an alert sign when the day-to-day fluctuation exceeds 5%.

What to do if I need the money urgently?

Simply set the expiry date to the latest date that you need the money by!

How will I know that someone is interested in my offer?

When someone is interested in your offer, we will send you a notification through our app - as long as you are logged in, you will instantly see it and be able to respond to them quickly. In case you are logged out, you can also enable the option which will also send you an email to the address linked with your account, to make sure you do not miss out on the exchange deal. To enable or disable these functions please go to the Menu > Settings > Notifications.

What to do if I made an offer but changed my mind afterwards?

You can always remove an offer from the system if you do not have the money which you initially offered anymore. Simply go to the menu in the left, upper corner and click “My offers”. There, you can remove the offer from the system. Tip: If you were already chatting about this offer with someone else, please make sure that you inform them about your need to remove the offer first, in order not to make them wait in vain.


What are "Safe Spots"?

The "Safe Spots" guide below is a suggested list of places on your campus, which we picked to make money exchange easier, especially for the first time users of Plain Exchange. Even though our users have not experienced any unsafe situations so far, it is still better to be precautious and meet in public places, with monitoring or security guards. You will see the list of the safe spots in the neighborhood of your location in the top of your and other user’s chat window, so you can just refer to one of them when agreeing on the place of exchange. Check them out below!

How do I know I’m chatting with a real person?

In order to become an user of Plain Exchange, everyone needs to provide us with the university e-mail, which we verify and only grant the ability to post offers on the system if the e-mail is matched with a real university account.

What happens if the user did not show up for the agreed meeting?

There could be many reasons for why someone did not show up. Don’t worry! Use the in-app chat to contact that person again and ask them what happened. In case there is no response, please email us at and let us know their username and the offer details. We will take care of checking up on the user and take action if we find out any problems with their credibility.

What happens if I get mistreated or cheated during the money exchange process?

Even though we are only a platform to connect people of similar needs, we want to make sure we also do everything we can to ensure your safety during the meeting with other users. If you encounter any disturbing behavior, please contact us as soon as possible at or in case of urgent inquiry, use our 24-hour info line.

How can I know that the money provided by the other user is real?

It is safe to assume that if someone wants to trade counterfeit money, a public platform would not be their first choice, but of course, such possibility cannot be excluded.This is why we have created simple guides to check whether the currency you have is real, which we will make available to you when you carry out a transaction using Plain Exchange. You can also simply google a query: “How to check if the money is real [country or currency name]” and you can find many tips from banks or enthusiasts on what are the telltale signs of currency credibility, before you meet up with the other user.

Important: If you discover the money is counterfeit after the exchange takes place, contact us at .


Here are some additional references to check the credibility of the most popular currencies traded in Hong Kong:


Official HKMA guidelines:


Guide from "Instructables":



Guide from


Bank of England:

The Guardian:


Guide from ECB:



Guide from


Guide from


Official government guide:

MAS guide :