China leads the way in the use of electronic payments in Asia and worldwide
In China, the preferred method of payment has shifted from cash to mobile payment, to the detriment of credit cards. Indeed, China is now the world leader in the use of payment via mobile phone applications. Alipay and WeChat Pay are the main payment methods used by almost the entire Chinese population, whether urban or rural, and can be used to pay for fruit from a street vendor or to buy a plane ticket to Europe.
Electronic payment: essential for accessing certain applications and services
Cash payments are still accepted in theory, with the exception of orders and services linked to applications such as DIDI, a very widespread car-for-hire service in China, equivalent to Uber, or home catering services. These applications can only be paid for by electronic payment. You will therefore not be able to order a DIDI driver without first setting up an electronic payment solution. Note that DIDI can be used directly via Alipay and has an English interface, which is not the case for all applications. In fact, some applications such as Meituan and Ele.me, which sell takeaway food, are still only available in Chinese.
The decline in cash payments in all sectors of the Chinese economy
It should be noted, however, that the majority of vendors (taxi drivers, grocers, etc.) and businesses (restaurants and others, etc.) strongly prefer to be paid by Alipay and WeChat Pay rather than in cash.
In theory, international bankcards are accepted in shops, restaurants and hotels in major cities such as Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen and Guangzhou, but as terminals accepting international cards have been used very little or not at all over the last 3 years, this is no longer possible.
Electronic payment is now available to foreigners.
Historically, these 2 methods of payment were only available to holders of a bank card issued by a Chinese bank, which made travelling in China increasingly complex for non-resident foreigners.
To make your journey easier and ensure that you can make payments in all circumstances, it’s advisable to opt for one of the electronic payment options: WeChat Pay and Alipay.
Since August 2023, these methods have finally been accessible to foreigners who do not have a Chinese bank account! It is now possible to register for Alipay or WeChat Pay with :
- a non-Chinese telephone number
- foreign passport details
- an international bank card
… Finally, create an Alipay and/or WeChat Pay account. Once you’ve done that, you can use these 2 applications for your everyday purchases.
The exchange rate applied to your transactions is set by the bank issuing your bank card. However, some functions, such as money transfers or red envelopes (an option for sending gifts to contacts, echoing the tradition of red envelopes given to children for the Chinese New Year), may not be accessible with a foreign bank card.
Before signing up for WeChat Pay and Alipay
- Before registering for one of these applications, make sure that you are able to receive the verification codes by SMS that will be sent to you when you create your account (if not, you will need to obtain a Chinese SIM card).
- It is possible to register from abroad, but identity verification must be carried out in China, as the face scan function is not available in some countries.
Practical installation guide : ALIPAY
- Download the application and sign up for the international version
- Add your bank account by pressing “add now”, then let the application guide you through the registration process.
- Scan the retailers’ QR codes or present your personal QR code to pay.
Practical installation guide : WECHATPAY
- Install WeChat on your phone (or make sure you have the latest version, update if necessary) then register with your phone number or log in.
- Activate Weixin Pay: to do this, click on “Me” – “Service” then “Wallet” in the application. You can also activate Weixin Pay by clicking on Me – settings – general – tools – weixin pay at the bottom of the screen.