Sunday, November 10, 2019

"Welcome to China. You Probably Can’t Buy Anything, Though"

China was never an easy place for tourists, but lately just about everything seems to have gone square-shaped—as in the payment-app QR code needed to unlock much of the Middle Kingdom.

It’s how people hail taxis, consult doctors, pay for meals and book flights. Even beggars are asking for money via QR code. Not needing a wallet has simplified life for China’s 1.4 billion people, but it can leave the 140 million tourists arriving in the mainland each year helpless.

They can’t rely on familiar apps. Google is blocked in China. Uber has ceded the field to local ride-hailing app Didi. Yelp doesn’t operate in China.

The dominant payment platforms— Tencent Holdings Ltd. ’s WeChat Pay and Ant Financial Services Group’s Alipay—have been near-impossible to use without a Chinese bank account.


“Ten years ago it was cash for everything. Now it’s WeChat for everything,”


Regulators are trying to help. The People’s Bank of China has declared it illegal for businesses to refuse cash. The bank’s Shanghai branch recently said it was examining payment barriers for foreigners.