Advisers and lawmakers in plea to make e-payments easier for foreigners

Shen Mengdan Tian Shengjie
Two Sessions hears suggestions of ways to enhance the electronic payment experience for foreign visitors as stores and restaurants switch from cash to online transactions.
Shen Mengdan Tian Shengjie

Shanghai political advisers and lawmakers at the ongoing "Two Sessions" suggested ways to improve the e-payment experience of foreigners visiting the city.

Jiang Shan, a political adviser, said that while digital payment is prevalent in China, it can be a barrier for visitors from countries and regions who still use cash and credit cards.

Cash payments made up 59 percent of point-of-sale transactions in 2022, according to the European Central Bank. China led mobile payments globally, with 77.5 percent of mobile phone users using e-payments daily, according to UnionPay.

"With the widespread use of Alipay and WeChat Pay, the number of vendors using point-of-sale (POS) devices for transactions has fallen. Many store owners do not keep enough cash as well," said Jiang, a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference's Shanghai Committee.

"International visitors face difficulties in using digital payment because of language and digital identification issues."

He suggested creating "digital IDs" based on single-source Exit-Entry Administration data to allow short-term international travelers to open bank accounts.

The bank accounts can be topped up for three to six months. International travelers can then register with Alipay and WeChat Pay and use "code scanning" payment in Chinese stores like locals.

Jiang also suggested that one-stop guides and support services at airports, train stations and special events for overseas travelers can help them download, register and activate digital payment accounts.

"For folks who can't shift to digital payment," Jiang said, "our government can give rechargeable cards like Hong Kong's Octopus card, useful at all transit and convenience stores. This can be handy."

He suggested service booths be set up at airports, hotels and banks where international passengers can buy and top up their cards and get their refunds on departure.

Cao Hui, a deputy to the Shanghai People's Congress, the city legislature, also pointed out that the payment issue for overseas tourists needs to be taken seriously. His suggestion was discussed and supported by many deputies during Tuesday's panel discussion of the Pudong delegation.

Cao is a doctor at Renji Hospital. He said some foreign experts, who were invited to participate in medical exchanges in Shanghai, told him recently that they were unable to use or were not accustomed to Chinese mobile payments.

For example, if registering a payment app with an overseas mobile phone number, expats may not be able to receive verification codes. If binding mobile payments with a foreign bank card, the expats may be charged a commission and some functions and payment amounts may be limited, he said.

Cao said: "Those who come to Shanghai for work or travel in the short term have no necessity to register for a Chinese mobile payment app. But not every store has a POS machine and cash."

Since July 2023, Alipay and WeChat Pay have been allowing customers to activate digital wallets with foreign bankcards. Around 36,000 international credit card POS devices were available in Shanghai's key commercial districts as of last November.

Shanghai is one of the world's first places to observe China, he said. It is an important issue to attract more foreign tourists to visit and enjoy the city, Cao said.

Cao suggested that to let foreign tourists experience China's online services for taxi, takeout and shopping, more telecommunications operator branches should be established, as well as more guidance signs at airports and other ports of entry.

The local transport and tourism departments can jointly launch a travel card for foreigners for public transport, taxis and scenic spot tickets, he said. The card can be sold or recharged at the city's ports of entry.

Cao said: "This year, many international events will be held in Shanghai, such as the Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix and the Olympic Qualifier Series for Paris 2024. It can be predicted that a large number of foreigners will visit the city, which is a good opportunity to let them feel the warmth of the city."

Special Reports