Chinese payments giants Alipay and WeChat Pay are adopting measures to make their apps more accessible to visiting foreign nationals in China following a loosening of regulations.
Ant Financial’s Alipay and Tencent’s WeChat Pay have led a massive shift towards cashless transactions in China since the middle of the decade, which has resulted in many vendors throughout the country shifting completely to mobile payments.
This has created major frustration for short-term visitors, however, given that these mobile payments platforms have traditionally required Chinese bank accounts, which can be difficult for foreigners on tourist visas to open.
Alipay has just taken the initiative in providing tourists a convenient alternative with the launch of its Tour Pass mini-program, which permits the addition of funds via the purchase of prepaid cards valued between 100 yuan and 2,000 yuan from the Bank of Shanghai.
This means tourists can use the app for online or in-shop purchases in China without necessarily opening a domestic bank account.
WeChat Pay hopes to make its services more accessible to tourists by securing the support of international financial giant Visa, with a plan that will enable people to connect existing cards to the app.
“This is a great step forward, both for consumers traveling to China and the overall payments industry,” said Visa in a statement issued on early Wednesday.
“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, instead of having to rely on cash.”
Tencent and Visa have yet to provide a specific timeframe for launch of the plan.
The moves from Alipay and WeChat Pay arrive following a sotto loosening of restrictions by regulators.
Sources told Bloomberg that the Chinese central bank recently informed multiple payments companies that they would be permitted to integrate foreign cards into their apps for domestic usage, despite concerns about money laundering and cross-border cash flows.
The Chinese central bank has also given the go-ahead to the opening of the domestic payments sector to foreign entrants.
At the start of October the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) gave its approval to PayPal’s acquisition of a 70% equity stake in Chinese payments company GoPay (国付宝), making the US payments giant the first foreign-invested company to gain access to the domestic sector.
According to the “2019 Q1 China Third Party Quarterly Data Report” (2019Q1中国第三方支付季度数据发布) from iResearch Consulting Group, Alipay and WeChat Pay account for a 53.8% and 39.9% stake respectively of China’s mobile payments markets, with remaining players laying claim to a less than 10% share.