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How do I pay in China?

With my first trip to China for a few years coming up I’ve been asking myself, how do I pay in China?

Not so long ago the question of how to pay in China would have been an easy one to answer. With cash or by putting a card into a machine. However, like consumer societies around the world, that has all been rapidly changing in China’s big cities.

In the UK, I’ve found that the amount I use cash has gone from about 50% of the time to less than 10% of the time in a matter of a couple of years. Whilst in London I enjoy the benefits of a contactless bank card, it seems even this is behind the times in China.

The trend in China has bypassed the contactless card completely, and gone straight for the mobile phone.

 

Alipay is becoming a primary method of paying in cities

The technological payment revolution was just beginning when I was last there. I made frequent use of a mobile app called Alipay, which was linked to my Chinese bank account. When I wanted to buy something, I’d pull up a barcode in the app which the cashier scanned and payment came out of the cash I had deposited in the app.

Alipay is owned by the Alibaba Group, a Chinese tech-giant which also runs the hugely popular Chinese e-commerce site Taobao. They also own Alibaba.com, the world’s largest online business to business trading platform.

The popularity of Alipay is quite staggering. In China you can use the app to pay for your food, night out and taxi. The app has even broken into Europe, walk down Oxford Street and you’ll see most shops display an Alipay logo alongside Mastercard and Visa.

I’ve been told that the success of Alipay over a contactless card with Chinese consumers is down to safety. The extra step of someone having to point a barcode scanner at your phone screen gives the user an added sense of security.

So what’s the answer to my question, How do I pay in China?

Having just bought my Chinese Renminbi I’m not sure that I’ll personally be making use of Alipay on this trip. However, I’m excited to see how the technology has come along. Who knows, maybe there’ll be so few places with enough change around that I’ll have to use it! I’ll let you know in a follow-up blogpost when I get back.

In the meantime, why not check out our post on Chinese Speaking Celebrities?

If, like me, you’re heading off to China soon why not join our Learn China @ Waterloo crash course. We cover all the basics of China in just 2 hours. Sign up here.