Belgian business executives planning to travel back to China need to prepare themselves to avoid practical problems regarding payments of small expenses in China, such as settling restaurant bills, hailing taxis or buying subway tickets. Typically, foreign credit cards are not accepted for such small transactions, and it has become more difficult to use cash.
China, a cashless country for many years
Since long before 2020, digital payment systems such as Ant Group’s Alipay and Tencent’s WeChat Pay, were used in China. Leveraging QR code technology, these platforms transformed smartphones into e-wallets, allowing users to pay for goods and services by simply scanning a code. The convenience of these platforms led to their rapid adoption, which was boosted even more during the past 3 years. The innovative integration of messaging, social networking, and payments within the same app (WeChat) or ecosystem (Alibaba) made these platforms indispensable in the lives of millions of Chinese citizens, but challenging for foreign visitors.
Foreign visitors often found themselves unable to pay for goods and services in China. Many shops and restaurants only accept mobile payments or Chinese credit cards. According to Chinese law, cash payments must be accepted, but because the majority of Chinese people doesn’t use cash anymore, many shops and service providers do not have spare cash for change.
Connecting foreign credit cards
Luckily, it is now possible to connect foreign credit cards to Alipay and WeChat. Both apps allow international users to add their international credit cards to the digital wallets. After verifying your identity by scanning your passport, you are then allowed to add an international credit card to your account in the app.
Alipay was first to allow major international card networks, such as Visa and Mastercard, to link with its popular digital payment system. Starting from July 1st, 2023, Tencent also announced that foreigners who do not own a Chinese bank card, can now link their international credit card to WeChat Pay. For registration and verification, you don’t need a Chinese bank account, a prepaid account, nor a Chinese phone number.
Union Pay and e-CNY
Apart from Alipay and WeChat Pay, many Chinese people also use Union Pay and e-CNY. The e-CNY, China’s new digital currency, was developed by the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) and is expected to establish an important piece of the infrastructure for the long-term development of China’s digital economy and promote the country’s competitive edge in the fourth Industrial Revolution. Most foreigners do not use Union Pay or e-CNY.
Integrating Chinese payment systems into your China strategy
Looking ahead, the future integration of China’s digital payment landscape with maturing technologies like blockchain and artificial intelligence, raises expectations of security, efficiency and user experience being enhanced even further. Moreover, the expansion of digital payment services into areas such as healthcare, education, and government services further integrate these systems into the framework of the Chinese society, which may also have an impact on international business. Belgian executives and companies should be aware of these developments and, in order to be successful in China, need to take into account the Chinese digital payment systems for their strategies.
Please contact the Belgian-Chinese Chamber of Commerce (BCECC) in case you need more information.