WeChat Pay allows foreigners to use international credit cards in China

This move will allow foreign users to pay on for goods and services from hundreds of Chinese merchants.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

Chinese internet giant Tencent Holdings is expanding access to foreigners for its digital payments service WeChat Pay in China through tie-ups with international credit card companies, hot on the heels of Alipay's new plan to launch its international e-wallet programme.

The Shenzhen-based company said its co-operation with international card organisations has been expanded to five major card organisations including Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover Global Network (including Diners Club) and JCB, to allow users to link their international credit cards to its WeChat payments platform.

This will allow users to pay for goods and services from dozens of Chinese merchants such as China Railway 12306 online tickets service, ride-hailing service Didi, e-commerce site JD.com, online travel agent Ctrip and food delivery service platform Meituan among others. The move comes as China continues to open up its burgeoning cashless society to visitors.

"In recent years, more and more overseas visitors are travelling to mainland China and some have chosen to stay and work here," Tencent said in a statement on Wednesday. "Tencent intends to facilitate more payment scenarios by stages in the future, under the guidance of the relevant regulatory bodies and policies."

Tencent first started to allow access to its payments platform for international credit card users last year. According to an official statement in January 2018, international travellers could link their Visa, Master and JCB credit cards to WeChat Pay. Overseas users previously would need mainland bank accounts registered with their passports and a mobile phone number to use WeChat Pay.

Tencent's move comes as its rival payment service Alipay gave foreign visitors to the mainland access to its mobile payment platform from Tuesday under a programme called "Tour Pass", which allows visitors up to 90 days' usage of its smartphone application without requiring a local bank account or mobile phone number.

Alipay is operated by Ant Financial, an associate of Alibaba Group Holding, which is the owner of the South China Morning Post.

China's central bank is also working on a plan to launch a digital version of the renminbi that can be "decoupled" from the banking system to allow visitors to use the digital currency without first having to open a bank account with a Chinese bank, according to Mu Changchun, director general at the Institute of Digital Currency at the People's Bank of China.

Built upon the popular digital payment services offered by Alipay and WeChat Pay, China is moving towards a cashless and cardless society, with nine out of 10 internet users already paying for things with smartphones. However, the transition has also left foreign visitors behind with their limited access to digital payments on the mainland without a local bank account.

China received 30.5 million foreign visitors in 2018, an increase of 4.7 per cent from the previous year. According to official media Xinhua, about one million foreigners were working in China as of 2018.

Mobile payment transactions reached a record 81 trillion yuan (S$15.7 trillion) from January to October in 2017, according to figures from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. Alipay and WeChat Pay account for as much as 96 per cent of the nation's mobile payment market.

Visa, one of the card companies in Tencent's plan, said the collaboration would benefit a large number of international travellers visiting China.

"Visa believes this is a great step forward, both for consumers travelling to China and the overall payments industry," Visa said in a statement in response to Tencent's new scheme. "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."

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.