Should you use mobile payment in China?

Anyone who has visited China in the past years must have noticed, mobile payment is the way to go for Chinese. While mobile payment is slowly gaining ground in the West, in China this type of payment has progressed rapidly. The most used platforms are WeChat and Alipay. To pay you need to create an account and link it to your bank account. Payment is done by scanning a QR code which you can find everywhere, from small convenience shops to fancy restaurants and public transport. Chinese use it as a payment method or for transferring money.

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Up until a few years ago this payment option was only possible if you had a Chinese bank account or credit card. To have either of these, you have to be a Chinese citizen or a resident. However, more recently both WeChat an Alipay have added the option to link a foreign creditcard to your account as well. This means that now, also foreigners in China can jump on the trend of mobile payment. Cards that are supported are for example VISA, MasterCard or American Express. Linking an international creditcard is not without hassles, as many users have commented that their cards are not recognized by the app. But as this is still a new feature things will probably run smoother over time.

You can find a step-by-step manual for linking your international creditcard for both Alipay and WeChat in this blog.

So should you use mobile payment when you visit China? I think that depends. When you're there for study, work or a longer stay it can certainly be beneficial to have this as a payment option. It can become inconvenient having to withdraw cash on a regular basis and foreign debit- or creditcards are not accepted everywhere. Also, platforms like WeChat are essential for communication in China, being the Chinese equivalent of WhatsApp and western social media (which are all banned in China). The question thereby is, do you really want to share your financial and personal information to WeChat, and thereby also to the Chinese government. That is something to consider for yourself. If you don't, you can simply use 'traditional' payment methods such as cash.

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