Foreigners looking to pay for a glass of wine with cash in the mainland may find themselves out of luck, as payments in the country go increasingly cashless.
Eating and shopping have become almost an online-only experience on the mainland with the ubiquitous use of Alipay and WeChat Pay, each of which have hundreds of millions of daily active users.
“Electronic payment has almost reached every corner of China’s inland. It started in around 2010. It has become so popular that China has actually become a cashless society. No one actually uses cash nowadays for the payment,” said Ding Yifan, senior fellow at the Taihe Institute and former Vice Director of the World Development Institute.
“People are getting used to using various internet platforms for everything, for ordering food, booking a restaurant, for everything,” he said.
Despite e-payment's widespread popularity, some tourists find it hard to fit into this digital infrastructure.
A Russian tourist surnamed Salakhov said he had been turned away from a bar just because he did not have a WeChat Pay account.
“We went to the bar… When we ask him, can we pay by Visa card? He said no, only WeChat.”
“I have a little bit of a problem with this because I have cash only. I don’t have WeChat. My friend from China, he pays for us when we go out for drinks, or taxis, or other transfers,” he said.
Miriam and Yasmine, exchange students from Cameroon, said they are having a hard time adjusting as e-payment is not common in their home country.
“We use more cash [in Cameroon]. We don’t use electronic payment, no. Because I’m just new here so there are difficulties,” said Miriam.
“Sometimes we have some friends to pay for us using electronic devices. Some friends pay for us [for food] and then we give them cash. Because we don’t have a bank account and electronic payment yet,” she said.
Shaik, who travelled from Pakistan to Beijing to work, said it is hard to survive in the capital without a digital wallet.
“It’s very convenient but at the same time I’m new here, I’m finding it a bit difficult because my WeChat is not open yet. It’s 10 days and I can’t make any transactions. WeChat is a common mode of payment, but it is taking too long for it to be functional,” she said.
“I keep using cash, but I’m running out of cash now. It is inconvenient for tourists."
But Ding noted that more is being done to close this digital-payment divide.
"Recently, both Alipay and WeChat Pay have come up with agreements with Visa cards and Mastercard. So that once tourists come to China, they can register with their Visa card or Mastercard. They can pay like a Chinese [resident]."