China Unveils New Guidelines on Optimized Payment Services for Foreigners: An Overview

Posted by Written by Lucia Brancaccio Reading Time: 6 minutes

Following continuous efforts for optimized payment services for foreign visitors and businesses in China, the People’s Bank of China has recently released a set of guidelines detailing the array of payment methods currently accessible to foreign nationals across the mainland. Spanning from mobile payments to bank cards, and cash, these guidelines also offer clear instructions on utilizing each method.

The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) has recently released a comprehensive set of illustrated guidelines titled “Guide to Payment Service in China”, (hereinafter the Guidelines) available in both Chinese and English.

These Guidelines represent the latest step in China’s ongoing effort to optimize payment services for foreign visitors, underscoring policymakers’ dedication to addressing difficulties international users face on the mainland.

In recent years China’s payment landscape has witnessed a remarkable development, with a widespread adoption of mobile payment solutions among locals. Despite these advancements playing a key role in improving transaction efficiency, significant barriers have emerged for foreigners navigating payment services within the country.

Recognizing the importance of inclusivity in payment services, the Guidelines aim to address these barriers by advocating for broader accessibility to cater to diverse consumers’ needs. To successfully achieve this goal, a concerted effort among authorities is crucial to promote the acceptance of foreign bank cards, ensure the use of cash, improve mobile payment convenience, further protect consumers’ rights to choose payment methods and optimize account services.

In this article, the key directives outlined in the Guidelines will be presented, along with their implications on foreigners’ payment experience.

China’s payment system at a glance

In recent years, China has witnessed a radical change in payment habits. Mobile payments, in particular, registered a significant surge in popularity among locals, with 86 percent of consumers embracing digital wallets such as Alipay and WeChat Pay as their preferred payment method, as these were considered more efficient and convenient.

Amid this digital transformation, traditional payment methods, meaning bank cards and cash, declined in popularity. Many establishments, accustomed to the efficiency of digital transactions, have been reported to even refuse to accept RMB cash, while also not accommodating international cards. These conditions already set a great barrier for international visitors.

Compounding these challenges are Beijing’s stringent financial and data control laws, which effectively lock foreigners out of Chinese mobile payment platforms. The rigid requirements, including mandatory identification, represented a major barrier for foreigners, who often find themselves unable to seamlessly connect their overseas bank cards with popular payment platforms such as Alipay and who consequently must rely on cash or internationally issued bank cards.

Finally, consumers also mentioned as a deterrent the imposed limitations on transaction amounts, which often left foreigners unable to complete their payments when consumption exceeds prescribed limits.

Improved payment system for foreigners

Concerted efforts from relevant departments have been instrumental in tackling these challenges. The newly released Guidelines serve as a roadmap for foreigners, aiding them in navigating different payment methods that have been streamlined and improved across multiple key sectors in China, such as tourism.

Bank cards

According to what is illustrated in the Guidelines, merchants have been encouraged to adopt a more inclusive approach by expanding the range of accepted overseas bank card networks.

Major international players like Visa, Mastercard, and UnionPay are now enjoying widespread acceptance, with UnionPay standing out for its unparalleled compatibility with any merchant’s POS terminal across China’s mainland.

Additionally, aside from these giant organizations, merchants have been encouraged to accept other payment networks as well. International visitors and consumers can now easily verify the acceptance of their bank cards by checking the logos displayed at merchants’ counters.

Mobile payments

The long-suffering barrier of mandatory identification to access mobile payments has also been eased. With transactions below a certain amount, the submission of personal IDs is no longer required, promoting in this way a better payment experience.

Concurrently, regulatory authorities are setting up their efforts to ensure a secure environment for foreigners by enforcing the implementation of the “Personal Information Protection Law”.

The combination of these two factors significantly simplified and enhanced the efficiency of the card-binding processes.

In this regard, platforms such as Alipay, WeChat Pay, and UnionPay are now offering the possibility of directly connecting foreign cards to their apps through a registration process that merely requires a mobile phone number.

The number of cards suitable for these platforms has been expanded. Alipay, for instance, extended its acceptability to networks such as Mastercard, Visa, JCB, Diners Club, and Discover Cards, while WeChat Pay further accommodates American Express. By doing so, now foreigners can embark on QR-code-driven transactions: payments can be completed either by scanning the merchant’s QR code or by having one’s QR code scanned.

Beyond the streamlining procedures of card-binding, the central bank also guided Alipay and WeChat Pay to raise the single transaction limit for overseas travelers who decided to use mobile payment, reducing this way the inconvenience caused by transactional ceilings that were too low. These two major platforms raised the single transaction limit from US$1000 to US$5000, while the annual cumulative transaction cap was raised from US$10,000 to US$50,000, putting foreigners on a par with Chinese nationals.

In terms of mobile payments, other innovative features presented in the Guidelines include:

  • The possibility of using a prepaid Tour Card, which allows users to make everyday purchases, both online and offline, seamlessly through its linkage to the UnionPay App; and
  • The possibility of relying on international e-wallets, such as BoC Pay, as payment methods, with Alipay and WeChat Pay introducing over 13 overseas wallets tailored to the needs of foreigners in China.


For those visitors who prefer to rely on cash, convenient options have been established to withdraw RMB cash directly with foreign bank cards at designated ATMs. The logo of accepted cards is displayed on these ATMs, ensuring ease of identification for users.

As an additional avenue for obtaining RMB cash, government authorities have taken proactive measures to expand the number of specialized foreign currency exchange institutions and facilities to 119. Furthermore, the range of available currencies has also been expanded to encompass over 40 varieties, allowing foreigners to easily exchange money at qualified financial institutions or bank outlets with currency exchange signs.

To ensure the widespread acceptance of cash among merchants, the relevant authorities have promoted legislation that categorizes the rejection of RMB cash by individuals or businesses as an unlawful practice. This law, designed to prevent discriminatory payment behaviors, imposes significant penalties, such as hefty fines, on offenders of what is defined as the “Refusal of RMB.

Bank account

Bank and payment institutions have also been spurred to optimize their account opening procedures, fostering greater accessibility to foreigners.

Individuals can now open a bank account by simply presenting their passport, or another valid form of identification, at any bank outlet. This streamlined process and the possibility of opening an account would grant them access to a variety of convenient financial services, including:

  • RMB and foreign currency deposit and withdrawal,
  • foreign currency purchase and sale,
  • domestic transfers and cross-border remittances, and
  • Payment services

The efficacy of these measures became evident already in 2023 when domestic financial institutions recorded an uptick, with 22 million bank accounts opened for foreigners in China — an impressive surge of 3.14 million from the previous year.


Finally, the last payment method presented in the Guidelines is the E-CNY, now accessible to foreigners through the download of a dedicated app.

To register, users can utilize mobile phone numbers from more than 210 countries and regions. The app registration service is currently accessible to users in select pilot areas, including Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Fujian, and Shandong, among others.

Further details on this method can be found in the linked article.

Assessing the impact of the Guidelines

The recent release of the PBOC’s Guidelines underscores China’s recognition of the pivotal role played by foreigners in driving tourism and international business interactions. This commitment to enhancing convenience and improving overall positive user experience within its borders can be interpreted as part of a strategic endeavor aimed at increasing China’s appeal to the global business community.

By prioritizing the expansion and streamlining of payment methods for foreigners, one potential outcome is a boost in inbound tourism and consumer spending. The facilitation of seamless transactions for tourists, including ticket purchases and attraction fees, not only allows China to enhance visitors’ experience but also drives substantial revenue growth in the tourism sector by becoming a more convenient destination for travelers. The recent actions taken by Alipay and WeChat, as outlined in the Guidelines, contribute to the development of this sector, while actively contributing to Beijing’s plan to revive the tourism industry to post-pandemic levels.

Furthermore, the optimization of payment methods also has a positive impact on the promotion of the improved image and competitiveness of China’s business environment. By catering to foreigners’ needs, China increases its attractiveness to foreign businesses, thereby encouraging deeper foreign economic engagement with the country.

Besides the positive impact on the domestic market, the new Guidelines represent a crucial step forward in the internationalization of the Chinese financial sector. This approach demonstrates a renewed commitment to further opening up, suggesting the possibility of China’s implementation of additional measures aimed at making its financial sector more accessible and welcoming to outside visitors and businesses alike. Consequently, this will push China’s financial system further into the global landscape.

For more information about foreigner’s work and life in China, please read our China Briefing Article: 2024 Guidelines for Foreigners to Live and Work in China

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