Chinese mobile payment giants Alipay and WeChat Pay can now be used by foreign visitors to pay for goods and services in China.
In recent years, QR-code-powered mobile payments have become ubiquitous in China, hitting $42 trillion in transactions in 2018. It’s how people hail taxis, consult doctors, pay for meals, and book flights. Not needing a wallet has simplified life for China’s 1.4 billion people, but up until now it left the 140 million tourists arriving in the mainland each year feeling locked out. Alibaba-affiliated Ant Financial launched a new international version of its mobile payments app Alipay earlier this month, marking the first time tourists and business travellers can use mobile payments in mainland China. Not to be outdone, Tencent-owned WeChat Pay followed suit a day later.
Unlike in the West, China’s consumers leapfrogged credit cards and have gone straight from cash to smartphones. Outside of international hotels and some high-end shops and restaurants, few places accept credit cards, which meant that up to now visitors had to resort to cash for most payments. The new mobile payment services could remove one of the biggest hurdles for visitors to China.
Alipay users can now download and buy prepaid cards within the app issued by the Bank of Shanghai using international debit and credit cards. The prepaid cards expire after 90 days and any remaining money is automatically refunded. WeChat Pay, on the other hand, partnered directly with Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover Global Network, and JCB to allow foreign visitors to link their credit cards to WeChat Pay.