China allows foreign travellers to make e-payments with their own Mastercard and Visa cards

China now allows the e-payment for any type of services in the country for international travellers thanks to the linking of Mastercard and Visa owners with e-providers Alipay and WeChat Pay. It is a big step for foreign tourists in a country where cash transactions are vanishing.

China is increasingly a country without cash. According to studies, over the past two decades, China has emerged as the front-runner in mobile payment usage. More than 87% of China’s internet users were using mobile payment services in 2021. Annually, the country spends a total of 434 trillion US dollars in transactions through electronic devices.

The country leads globally in terms of mobile payment penetration. According to a report by UnionPay credit and debit card, the total penetration rate for all forms of mobile payment reached over 87.6% in 2021. The penetration rate of mobile payments processed via smartphone applications stood at 40.4% in 2022. Foreign visitors have been increasingly confronted by shops or service providers refusing to take cash. And until now, they could not use local e-payment as international credit cards and international phone numbers (to confirm a purchase) were not allowed.

Mastercard and Visa in partnership with Alipay and WeChat Pay

China allows foreign travellers to make e-payments with their own Mastercard and Visa cards
Nanjing Road, Shanghai’s famous shopping street (Photo: alex zeng for Unsplash)

Alipay and WeChat Pay started accepting overseas cards for payment on their app on July 21, bringing some simplification to foreign travellers to China. Both e-payment providers announced they now allow overseas cards like Visa and Mastercard to be added to their pay accounts, in order to facilitate mobile payment for overseas users in China.

The measure has been approved by the Chinese government following the full resumption of travel and international business activities in China. It is also seen as a way to boost the tourism appeal for international travellers. Few figures are available about the current situation of inbound tourism, but Chinese experts speak about a slower than expected recovery. It is due to a late lifting of all restrictions to travel to the country as tourist visas only started to be issued from March 2023. Limited air seats from overseas markets are also keeping air fares high, although more capacity is coming this autumn.

A measure just on time for the hosting of large international sports events

Any facilitation while staying in China can be seen as a strong encouragement for foreign travellers to visit.

The decision to acknowledge international credit cards comes at the a fortuitous time. From 28 July to 8 August 2023, China welcomes the 31st FISU Summer World University Games in Chengdu (Sichuan). This will be followed from 25 September to 8 October by the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou (Zhejiang).

Chinese digital company Tencent was the first to announce on July 20 that it had deepened its collaboration with international card organisations including Visa, Discover Global Network, JCB and Mastercard in order to further improve overseas users’ digital payment experience in China. A day later, Alipay said that it had increased support for overseas users using mobile payments in China.

Travellers must register by providing a proof of identity (passport) and entering a code sent to their mobile phone. The access to all e-services means that any traveller can now either book a taxi or a table in a restaurant, buy an underground ticket, rent an electric scooter or reserve a show or a tour. Only financial transactions, such as transferring money, continue to be restricted. This innovation represents a real revolution for inbound tourism in China.

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