If you want to make mobile payments in China… ‘Kakao Pay’, ‘Alipay’ and ‘Paybooc’ are the only ones to remember.
China has resumed issuing tourist visas for the first time in more than three years as the country transitions from a prolonged COVID-19 pandemic to an epidemic. During the pandemic, there were many restrictions such as PCR testing and local quarantine, but recently the restrictions were relaxed to a rapid antigen test, making it easier to travel.
However, there are still challenges for foreigners. In particular, it is difficult to experience the mobile payment infrastructure firsthand. Opening a local bank account, which is a prerequisite for mobile payments, has become more difficult than before, making it an impossible task. To freely use Alipay and WeChat Pay in China, an account is a must. A few years ago, you could get one with just a travel visa, but now you need a residence permit, work permit, study permit, and other documents.
This is often an inconvenience for foreigners in China for short periods of time, such as business trips or vacations. Without seamless mobile payments, you’ll have a hard time accessing online services, public transportation, and brick-and-mortar stores. Many smaller businesses don’t even accept credit cards.
This has led to a lot of questions about how to use Alipay and WeChat Pay freely in China, so we took a look at the mobile payment services available on the continent for foreigners, especially Koreans, without a Chinese account.
Let’s just remember Kakao Pay, BC Card Paybooc, and Alipay Tourcard.
If you’re a frequent traveler to China, Alipay and WeChat Pay are a must, but for short trips and business travelers, a combination of Kakao Pay, BC Card Mobile App Paybooc, and Alipay will do. As long as you have these three services, you’ll be able to use mobile payments in China without too much trouble, unless you’re traveling to a remote area.
You can use Kakao Pay through KakaoTalk without installing a separate app, and Paybooc is convenient because you can register and use your domestic credit card. Alipay can be used by charging RMB to your credit card.
Kakao Pay via KakaoTalk
“Kakao Pay has been accepting payments in China since March this year,” said Won-Keun Shin, CEO of Kakao Pay, while announcing the company’s 2022 results.
According to Mr. Shin, Kakao Pay can be used in two ways: CPM and MPM. CPM (Customer Presented Mode) is a method in which the consumer generates a QR code, and the merchant scans it to communicate, and MPM (Merchant Presented Mode) is a method in which the merchant’s QR code is read by the consumer with a mobile phone. At a store with a POS, you can pay with your own QR code or barcode and scan the store’s QR code to pay.
Currently, the payment is linked to the Kakao Pay account, but if it is linked to a debit or credit card, it will be more convenient for users.
However, it is worth noting that KakaoTalk is not available on local internet networks in China as of the end of April, although there is no problem roaming or using a VPN to pay.
BC Card Paybooc
BC Card has partnered with Union Pay to launch a QR code payment service in China. You don’t need a physical Union Pay plastic card to use the service, just the Paybooc app. It is important to note that you will need to enable the Union Pay QR setting to “Mainland China” in the Paybooc app settings tab.
The advantage of Paybooc is that it can be used freely in stores that accept UnionPay. While mobile payments are all the rage, Union Pay is the continent’s physical payments powerhouse, and most of its Chinese locations are merchants. Paybooc’s biggest advantage is its universality.
The biggest advantage of Alipay is that it can be used almost anywhere mobile payments are accepted in China.
To use Alipay as a foreigner, you need to verify your real name with your passport and mobile phone number (Korean numbers are accepted). Once verified, you can register your debit/credit card from your country. The downside is that it’s difficult to pay with QR codes at street vendors and small stores.
If you register your country’s credit card on Alipay and scan the QR code, you can pay by entering the 3 digits of your credit card CVV. I tried the same method on WeChat Pay, but international credit card payments were disabled.
A service that compensates for the above-mentioned disadvantages of debit/credit cards is Tourcard. Tourcard is a service that was renamed to Tourpass at the end of April. The difference is that Tourcard, which was previously only supported by Alipay, can also be used on WeChat.
The Tour Card works by purchasing a prepaid recharge card from the Bank of Shanghai and using it to pay for domestic (international) cards such as Visa, MasterCard, JCB and Diners Club. The recharge fee is 5%, which isn’t cheap. The prepaid card is valid for 90 days and the balance is refunded when you cancel the card.
It’s easy to use. Download the Tourcard mini-program, set the top-up amount (up to CNY10,000) and enter your personal information. After filling in your personal information (English name, passport number, date of birth, etc.), you’ll need to upload a photo of your Chinese visa. You can use your current or previously issued visa. Finally, you’ll need to register your payment card (Visa, MasterCard, JCB, Diners Club).
In the past, foreigners had to go through a complicated process to use mobile payment services in China, including purchasing a local SIM card, opening, and registering an account, installing a payment app, and so on. Recently, however, the door has been gradually opened to foreigners. In particular, it is expected to expand due to the Hangzhou Asian Games, which will be held in September this year.