It has become much easier for international travelers to visit China.
Starting Friday, visitors are able to link their Visa
(V) and Mastercard
(MA) accounts on China’s most popular mobile payment platforms, allowing them to book taxis, ride the subway and pay for goods and services at millions of outlets across the country without cash.
The move marks a revival of efforts by Alipay and WeChat Pay to accept foreign credit cards after providing some limited access in late 2019. The companies previously said they were acting on the direction of Chinese regulators, as Beijing tries to attract foreign investment and international travelers to boost its flagship economy.
Alipay, China’s largest payment app operated by Ant Group, announced on Friday that overseas users can link cards issued by Visa and Mastercard, as well as Diners Club and Discover to their digital wallets. The change takes effect immediately.
“As the Chengdu [World University Games] and the approach of the Hangzhou Asian Games, more and more foreign tourists have come to China, and may have to use mobile payments for life’s basic needs,” the Hangzhou-based fintech giant, an affiliate of Alibaba Group
(BABY)said in a statement.
“Athletes and tourists from all over the world can use Alipay across the country to enjoy various convenient services such as shopping, taking taxis, taking subways, and visiting scenic spots.”
A day before, Tencent
(CZECH REPUBLIC), which owns the country’s second most popular payment app WeChat Pay, made a similar announcement. WeChat Pay in China is officially called Weixin Pay.
WeChat users can now link credit or debit cards issued by Visa, Mastercard, JCB or Discover for payment at thousands of merchants in China, the social media and gaming company said.
China is a cashless society with $434 trillion in electronic transactions per year. And more than 80% of transactions for daily consumption take place on mobile platforms, according to figures from Chinese card payment company UnionPay. Alipay and WeChat Pay dominate digital payment services, accounting for a market share of 91%.
But for most foreign visitors, it was previously impossible to access the app’s services – they needed a mainland Chinese bank account and a local mobile phone number.
In 2019, Alipay and WeChat began allowing the use of foreign credit cards on their apps as Chinese regulators eased restrictions. But only selected Chinese merchants were allowed to process the cards.
The two payment giants began loosening those conditions in recent months as the country emerged from three years of severe Covid restrictions.
Last month, Mastercard Announced that cardholders can “pay like a local” in China by linking their cards to the Alipay app and make cashless payments to thousands of merchants across the country. The move was an expansion of a partnership established in 2019 between the two companies, Mastercard said.
“With the return of travel and tourism, Mastercard is delighted to partner with Alipay to enable cardholders around the world to enjoy the best in payment security, convenience and peace of mind as they work, play, relax and roam during their trips to China,” Dennis Chang, executive vice president and division president for Greater China at Mastercard, said in a statement.
A week later, a Tencent executive said at a forum that the company would open its WeChat Pay system more widely to international card organizations, such as Visa, starting in July.
“With the increasing exchanges between China and the international community, China will host more large-scale international events and competitions,” said Chen Qiru, vice president of Tencent Financial Technology, at the “Summer Davos” meeting of the World Economic Forum in Tianjin.
“Under the guidance and support of the People’s Bank of China and other departments,” Tencent is working to improve the mobile payment experience of foreign users in China, he said.