State Council approves document on payment issues for foreigners

Ke Jiayun
Chinese Premier Li Qiang presided over an executive meeting of the State Council to evaluate and approve a document aimed at improving payment services for foreigners.
Ke Jiayun

The challenges that foreigners confront when making payments in China have attracted the attention of the central government.

Premier Li Qiang presided over an executive meeting of the State Council on Friday to review and adopt a document that aims to optimize payment services.

The document calls for the growth of mobile payments, bank cards, cash, and other payment methods.

Since November, Shanghai has taken the lead in providing convenience for foreigners' payments by installing over 36,000 points of sale (POS) machines that can accept foreign bank cards in commerce, cultural, and tourism sites, airports, and railway stations throughout the city.

The city is also making it easier for foreigners to utilize third-party payment platforms, exchange currencies, and withdraw cash from banks.

It took several months for the local authority to resolve these issues.

According to China Newsweek, the local government conducted a study in May last year to improve the convenience of making payments for foreigners.

Gu Xiaomin, the project's leader, found that, as a result of the pandemic, many POS machines that would accept foreign cards had been withdrawn from the market.

The study team hired a third-party agency to conduct an on-site sampling of 401 stores in local business districts and landmarks that are popular among foreign tourists.

They found only 183 places that had POS machines that accepted foreign cards, accounting for 45.39 percent, or less than half.

Gu also said that fees for swiping foreign cards were exorbitant, with single transaction rates ranging from 2.5 to 3.5 percent, compared to Alipay's per transaction fee of only 0.38 percent. Many stores therefore prefer that foreigners use cash, Alipay, or WeChat to make payments.

Another problem for foreigners is withdrawing cash.

China was the world's largest ATM market, but it declined after 2018.

By 2022, the number of ATMs had dropped to 900,000.

In July 2023, Alipay and WeChat Pay enabled the use of international bank cards in their accounts.

This allowed customers from other countries to register using their overseas mobile phone numbers or other forms of authorized identification.

However, comments from numerous overseas users revealed that registration and login frequently failed, and several were concerned about information security and privacy.

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