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Cashless in China with Alipay and WeChat pay

My cashless trip to China where the rise of mobile payments made a cashless society.

Last June I’ve been to China, in Chongqing and in the Guizhou province. Thanks to my University, Università Cattolica, I studied Chinese language, culture and economics at the Southwest University of Chongqing.

These regions I have been to are not touristic at all, but they’re obviously big, productive and in fast developing. The growth of Chongqing it will be the focus of another post because now I am going to talk more about how I was cashless and cardless during my trip to China thanks to mobile payments.

Prior to the emergence of mobile payment apps in China, the country was primarily a cash-based society. From meals, clothing, rent, bills, taxis, and almost everything else, paying cash was the norm. However today, apps like Alipay and WeChat are transforming China into a cashless society. These mobile wallets, which link users’ bank cards to a smartphone application, each has hundreds of millions of active users; combined they hold 92% of the market share.

This statistic reports the number of users of selected mobile payment platforms as of August 2017. It’s an old chart but it shows the trend (now these data are increased).

Today, Tencent’s WeChat Pay has a 900 million monthly active users, while Alipay, from Alibaba affiliate Ant Financial, has over 500 million monthly active users. For comparison, Apple Pay has 127 million users globally.

A Mastercard in China

When I came back I remember my tweet about the use of my Revolut Mastercard shocked everybody. As you can see in the pic below, it appears some transactions I did in China with my card. For those who maybe don’t know, in China, there’s no Mastercard or Visa. Only UnionPay is accepted but in the major banks’ ATMs you can use your own western cards.

So, how I survived? I linked my Revolut card to Alipay and Wechat Pay!

The largest benefit of paying with payment apps is convenience. I used both Alipay and Wechat for paying the restaurant, the street vendors, the coffee shops (I found also expresso coffee makers; as I am Italian, it’s very important), for buying the fruit from the farmers, topping-up my Chinese number, for paying the taxi (with Alipay you can actually hail a taxi and even book a flight at the best tariffs).

By simply scanning a QR code you can do almost everything, even paying a rent, utilities and also paying everybody. Even China’s homeless now take payments by smartphone!

This scenario may be difficult to imagine in Italy and across much of the developed world but in China, it is fast becoming the norm, rather than the exception. In Italy we have Satispay but I still notice some friction in this payment method.

WeChat Pay and Alipay apps on my smartphone

Lastly, for foreigners who cannot speak Chinese too well (like me), using mobile payments can make your life in China much easier, allowing you to purchase things despite any language barrier.

If you would like to use these mobile payments app while travelling in China I advise you to follow all the tutorial at www.travelchinacheaper.com

As China continues to transition away from a cashed-based society toward mobile payments, using WeChat and Alipay in China to pay for things can make any foreigner’s life a great deal easier. You may even be envious of this new cashless-based system after returning to your home country.

Mobile payments and digital wallets will continue to be a dominant part of the Chinese economy. The only question is, when will the rest of the world follow suit?


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