Chinese payment giants revive effort to accept foreign credit cards
By Josh Ye
HONG KONG (Reuters) – 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 as the country’s payment system has kept credit cards out for years.
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 mainland China.
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 highly closed-off to overseas tourists since mobile apps became the predominant payment method in the country in the late 2010s, triggering a boom in ecommerce. 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 or cash.
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 China closed its borders during the COVID-19 pandemic 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 China began reopening 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.
Overseas tourists including those from Hong Kong and Macau spent US$131 billion in mainland China in 2019, before the onset of the pandemic.
Visa and Mastercard have not replied to Reuters’ requests for comments.
While China’s mobile payment networks have been closed off to foreign-issued credit cards, domestically issued credit cards under Visa and Mastercard have long been supported.
(Reporting by Josh Ye; Editing by Kim Coghill)