China’s central bank is encouraging local businesses to accept foreign payment cards

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A coffee shop at Beijing Capital Airport shows that customers can use Visa, Mastercard, the digital Chinese yuan and other payment methods.

CNBC | Evelyn Cheng

BEIJING – China is encouraging local banks and businesses to accept foreign bank cards and is considering other measures to make mobile payment for international visitors even easier, said Zhang Qingsong, deputy governor of the Bank The People of China.

“Banks and retailers (such as hotels, restaurants, department stores and even coffee shops) are encouraged to accept foreign bank cards,” Zhang said.

His written comments, exclusive to CNBC, come as Beijing has stepped up efforts to encourage visits from foreign tourists and businessmen. In recent months, authorities have implemented visa-free travel policies for residents of several European countries and Southeast Asia – following strict border controls during the pandemic.

Mobile payment in China started in the last several years. But while it has been convenient for locals to scan a QR code with a smartphone to pay, restrictions on the financial system have also made it difficult for foreigners to make payments. Shopping centers prefer not to accept foreign credit cards.

But that has started to change in recent months.

Last summer, the two major mobile payment apps WeChat and AliPay began allowing verified users to link their international credit cards – such as those from Visa. Tenth by WeChat, while AliPay is operated by Alibaba Affiliate Group Ant.

“We are fully aware that foreign visitors care deeply about their privacy,” Zhang said “We take this matter seriously and have implemented information protection measures.”

“Now, when using Alipay or WeChat Pay, foreign visitors do not need to provide ID information if the total amount of annual transactions is below $500,” he said. estimate that over 80% of transactions are below this level. We are also looking at whether the $500 threshold could be raised in the future.”

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Zhang and other officials attended an event Monday at Beijing Capital Airport to formally open a payment service center for visiting foreigners.

While their public comments referred to the digital yuan, they focused on discussing the availability of currency exchange, greater acceptance of overseas cards and more mobile payment support.

The number of travelers in and out of mainland China “continued to improve but both remained below 2019 levels,” Visa officials said on an earnings call in late January. according to a FactSet transcript.

Foreign financial services businesses have also begun to see better access to China, after years of waiting when international firms criticized Beijing for favoring domestic players until they became big. enough.

Mastercard announced in November that its joint venture in China received approval from the PBOC to begin processing domestic payments. The campaign waited almost four years since their request was approved in principle to begin preparations.

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Zhang said China’s plan to support foreign payments in the country would focus on allowing card transactions for large payments and mobile payments for smaller amounts.

Users of 13 foreign mobile wallet apps can also use QR payment codes directly in China, Zhang said, without naming the apps.

“At the same time money is always available and accepted,” he said.

Ant Group said in September that users of 10 major mobile payment apps in countries such as Singapore, South Korea and Thailand could use the same apps to scan AliPay QR payment codes in mainland China – a result which the company calls Alipay +.

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