Many foreign travelers to China have complained that with the country embracing digital payment systems, paying for things in cash has become a frustrating experience for them, since many places no longer accept cash and cash has become an increasingly rare sight in the country.
Foreign travelers who have wanted to sign-up for one or more of China’s digital payment systems have found it a difficult process since these platforms require a Chinese bank account, and it’s difficult for people on tourist visas to open bank accounts in China.
China mobile payment giants Alipay and WeChat Pay are going to make this process easier and are now allowing overseas users to link their digital payment accounts to their international bank cards, a solution that is being hailed as a game changer by foreign payment firms.
Both platforms have said that international visitors can link their Chinese digital payment systems to international bank cards from American Express, Discover Global Network, JCB, MasterCard and Visa to their accounts.
Mastercard said in a statement on Thursday that it saw this as a move to expand choices for travelers, while Visa said that said "This partnership means that we’ll be working towards an environment where Visa cardholders will be able to use their Visa card in China at the millions of places where WeChat Pay is accepted."
The announcements by Alipay and WeChat Pay came during a major import fair in Shanghai that was aimed at showcasing the country's free trade credentials. Both Alibaba-backed Alipay, and Tencent, the parent company of WeChat Pay made the announcements at the trade fair and then announced the changes on their websites.
A customer using Alipay at retail
A significant portion of business and consumer transactions in China are made through the platforms, and users use Alipay and WeChat Pay for their daily tasks such as buying groceries, booking taxis and paying bills.
Tencent said in an email statement that, "The inconvenience of not being able to use the widely adopted local mobile payments is becoming a major pain point for overseas people living in or visiting mainland China,"
A graphic shows how easy it is for international travelers to sign-up for Alipay
China has been dogged by allegations of protectionism for many years in its financial industry and has limited foreign payment firms to access what will be the world’s largest bank card market by 2020.
American Express won approval in 2018 to clear card payments in China, becoming the first U.S. card network to gain direct access. Mastercard had submitted application materials in 2017 but voluntarily withdrew its application in 2018 and resubmitted its application this year, and is now waiting for government approvals.