Tourists in China Face Challenges as Country Shifts to Cashless Society

Meanwhile, using cold, hard cash was burdensome as he bounced around between the provinces of Fujian, Guangdong, and Sichuan. Mainly, he only opened his wallet to pay street vendors, but even stall operators and hawkers often prefer mobile payments. They hardly accept international cards, and Cheung found that many did not offer change for cash transactions.
“Frankly, I see it as a challenge that comes with being a foreign tourist,” Cheung complained. “China’s payment methods cater mainly to locals.”

Foreign visitor numbers yet to reach China’s pre-pandemic levels, data shows

Payment problems that Cheung and other outsiders face present a significant obstacle for Beijing to encourage people-to-people interactions as part of broader efforts to improve foreign relations and support the nation’s economic recovery.
China registered about 424 million entries and exits in 2023, indicating a 266 per cent increase from the lockdown-stricken 2022, according to immigration figures. Among those, 206 million involved mainland residents, while 183 million involved travelers from Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. The remaining 35.48 million trips were made by foreigners from elsewhere, representing just 8.37 per cent of the total.
The convenience of payments, or the lack thereof, has been mentioned as one of the factors deterring foreigners from visiting China, in addition to other considerations such as the West’s push to decouple from China, and Beijing’s national security concerns and related crackdowns.
But in the big picture of deterrents, making it easier for foreigners to spend their money should be among the easiest obstacles to overcome, yet it remains problematic.

Visa-free China travel may offer ‘additional stimulus’ Beijing is looking for

The primary currency-exchange locations for overseas travelers are airports and banks. However, travelers may be hindered by banks’ limited operating hours, excessive paperwork, and the need to provide unexpected documents.
Withdrawing cash from ATMs has also become more of a challenge, Chen added.
Central bank data shows that over 95% of Chinese residents have personal bank accounts, and that the mobile-payment penetration rate has reached a world-leading 86%.

02:27

China expands visa-free travel to 6 new countries

China expands visa-free travel to 6 new countries

That’s great for the majority of Chinese people, but what about tourists and those who struggle with – or can’t afford – mobile devices?
Outsiders who link international cards to mobile-payment apps are charged a 3% service fee for transactions over 200 yuan (US$28), and single transactions over 6,000 yuan (US$845) cannot be processed.

02:27

China expands visa-free travel to 6 new countries

China expands visa-free travel to 6 new countries

Digital payments also pose a challenge to China’s senior citizens as society widely embraces cashless transactions. More than 75% of elderly people across China usually use cash, and the proportion of those in rural areas who do so is higher, at 80.4%.
Chen at Easy Tour China also said that fewer merchants – including some three- and four-star hotels – are now accepting international credit cards, compared with pre-pandemic times.
“Cash is still the major payment method for overseas travelers,” Chen said.

Visa-free China travel may offer ‘additional stimulus’ Beijing is looking for

That essentially boils down to a steady decline in ATMs across the country since 2019. Central bank figures show the nationwide total dropped below 1 million for the first time in 2021, and by 2022 there were fewer than 900,000. Several thousand more were eliminated in each quarter last year.
At an annual work conference in early January, representatives of the People’s Bank of China pledged to optimize payment methods for overseas tourists by providing more convenient mobile-payment services and expanding the acceptance of international credit cards.
However, no further details nor timeline were provided for such changes.

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