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Chinese payment giants revive effort to accept foreign credit cards

SHINE/Agencies
Tech giants Tencent Holdings and Ant Group said that they would allow users to link international credit cards to their platforms, an issue that has long plagued foreign visitors.
SHINE/Agencies

Chinese tech giants Tencent Holdings and Ant Group said that they would allow users to link international credit cards to their platforms, an issue that has long plagued foreign visitors.

Tencent, operator of the popular chat app WeChat and payment network WeChat Pay, said on Wednesday that WeChat users overseas can link credit cards issued by Visa Inc to their WeChat app from next month.

Foreign tourists can then pay with WeChat when traveling in China's mainland.

Alipay also announced yesterday that overseas visitors to China are able to link their bank cards issued outside the Chinese mainland to Alipay to make payments at tens of millions of Alipay merchants across the country.

Alipay says it supports overseas bank cards issued by all major international card networks, including Visa, Mastercard, Diners Club International and Discover.

For the lastest move, it streamlined the registration and verification processes with no need to set up a prepaid account or acquire a Chinese phone number.

This comes after Mastercard announced last week that cardholders can link credit or debit cards to the Alipay digital wallet where they can finally "pay like a local".

Alipay is the mobile payment app owned by Ant.

China's mobile payment network became closed-off to overseas tourists since mobile apps became the predominant payment method in the country in the late 2010s, triggering a boom in e-commerce.

Foreign visitors often find themselves unable to pay for things in China where many shops and restaurants now only accept mobile payment rather than credit cards.

Prior to the easy card linkage change, foreigners in China typically needed to set up a Chinese bank account to access Tencent's and Ant's mobile payment networks.

Tencent and Ant had formed partnerships with Visa and Mastercard in 2019 to make foreign cards usable on their platforms.

But as the COVID-19 pandemic hit and international arrivals to the country plummeted, such initiatives had taken a back seat, two people familiar with the matter said.

However, the plans have regained momentum as international travel started to recover this year.

Under the new setup, international travelers can set up their foreign cards on these apps with a few simple steps.

To be sure, Tencent's and Ant's partnerships with Visa and Mastercard in 2019 already allowed some overseas users to use their credit cards in China but at the time only select businesses were allowed to process international credit cards.

Now, Tencent and Ant are opening up their entire ecosystems to foreign cards, allowing visitors to pay for a host of goods and services ranging from a quick meal at a food truck to life insurance.

"Our efforts to further open payment services to visitors coincide with the full resumption of travel and tourism to China, as well as major upcoming international events in the country scheduled this year," Tencent said in a statement on Wednesday.

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