Decades of internationalization pays off as UnionPay recognized across world

SHANGHAI, Jan. 18, 2024 /PRNewswire/ — UnionPay, one of the world’s largest payment brands, is embracing a new chapter of development after its global acceptance scope spanned 183 countries and regions and issuance outside the Chinese mainland surpassed 230 million cards recently.

Thanks to its 20 years of internationalization efforts, it can contribute more “Chinese solutions” to the global payment industry.

On Jan 18, 2004, with approval from the People’s Bank of China, UnionPay launched card services in Hong Kong, marking the beginning of the internationalization efforts made by Chinese bank card brands.

In 2012, UnionPay International, dedicated to international business, was established. Its international strategy evolved from “where Chinese go, UnionPay card services follow” to a more comprehensive “global network, international brand,” aiming to better serve China’s resolve to open wider and to set a high standard in the payment sector.

With the recent initiation of UnionPay card services in El Salvador, its global acceptance scope now covers 66.4 million online and in-store merchants outside of the Chinese mainland. UnionPay cards have been issued in 81 countries and regions outside the Chinese mainland. Currently, UnionPay International has cooperated with more than 2,600 institutions globally.

First choice of tourists

As China’s payment industry has rapidly evolved over the past two decades, UnionPay International has actively enhanced its network service capabilities, diversified product offerings, and improved payment scenarios to provide high-quality financial payment services for both Chinese and international residents engaged in trade and cooperation.

During the New Year holidays, Chinese tourists celebrating globally found UnionPay’s distinctive three-color logo ubiquitously present, whether in the streets of Hong Kong and Macao or at merchants in Bangkok, Tokyo, Abu Dhabi and beyond.

According to a Nielsen report, UnionPay has become the most widely accepted international card brand globally. Since the first UnionPay transaction landed in Hong Kong, UnionPay cards have been accepted in 183 countries and regions around the world, among which 99 countries and regions support UnionPay mobile payment products. UnionPay acceptance rates in the Asia-Pacific, Europe, North America, and other regions have increased to approximately 80 percent.

In China’s Hong Kong and Macao, hundreds of thousands of merchants, millions in South Korea, and almost all QR code merchants in Malaysia and Sri Lanka support the UnionPay app.

Building on the foundation of practicality, UnionPay International has collaborated extensively across industries to create a rich ecosystem for UnionPay payments, giving cardholders more convenience and ease when making payments.

In 2023 alone, tourism bureaus in Australia, South Africa, Singapore, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, international duty-free group DFS, travel platform, and tax refund agency Planet Tax Free, among others, have collaborated with UnionPay International, enhancing its payment capabilities in scenarios such as hotel bookings, transportation, dining, and shopping.

Currently, UnionPay payment services are supported in more than 5,000 overseas schools, the top 10 hotel groups globally, renowned airlines, cross-border transportation such as the China-Laos Railway and public transportation in popular overseas tourist destinations.

Close collaboration in cross-border payments between commercial banks and UnionPay International provides personalized options for residents. Various commercial banks have introduced distinctive UnionPay card products, such as cross-border cashback cards, Prestige Asia, cards themed in “Tour South Korea”, and more, catering to different customer segments. Connected to the UnionPay app Network Payment Platform, commercial bank apps can also directly use UnionPay QR codes in overseas acceptance scenarios.

Global expansion

Since the resumption of cross-border movement, international events like Canton Fair and the China International Import Expo have been successfully held in China, making it essential to provide quality payment services for overseas visitors in China.

Currently, outside the Chinese mainland, more than 230 million UnionPay cards have been issued in 81 countries and regions, 180 UnionPay local wallets have been established in 35 countries and regions. These diverse UnionPay payment products cover multiple functions, including card swiping, scanning and cash withdrawals, meeting the needs of both daily life and cross-border payments, positioning UnionPay as one of the preferred payment brands for visitors to China.

This journey began with the opening of UnionPay card acceptance in China’s Hong Kong, where Bank of China (Hong Kong) issued the first local UnionPay card in the same year. This marked the localization of UnionPay International business and the starting point for exploring payment services for residents around the world.

Currently, the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area has issued 30 million UnionPay cards in total. In the countries and regions involved in the Belt and Road Initiative, the cumulative issuance reaches 170 million cards. In countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Mongolia, Singapore and Kazakhstan, UnionPay has become the go-to payment card, favored by local students, workers and teachers, becoming integrated with local life.

These cards can be used in almost all POS terminals and scenarios in China, including taking public transportation, shopping on the Taobao app, booking tickets on travel agency, hailing a ride on the Didi app, and ordering food through the Meituan app.

Drawing from its experience of promoting QR code payments domestically, UnionPay has continually extended its mobile payment services to residents outside the Chinese mainland.

In 2018, the Hong KongMacao version of the UnionPay app landed in Hong Kong. Subsequently, UnionPay International has innovated cooperation models, supporting overseas wallets to bind UnionPay cards or issue UnionPay virtual cards within their apps. This allows users to utilize familiar local products for payments on the Chinese mainland, without the need for additional account creation or downloading domestic apps. Authentication can be completed through local institutions, eliminating the requirement to provide sensitive personal information to third-party platforms.

Leading Chinese solution

While providing high-quality payment services for overseas residents, UnionPay International collaborates with central banks, national payment networks, and payment alliances of various countries to establish technical standards for payment networks, QR codes, and chip cards. In doing so, it contributes more “Chinese solutions” to the global payment industry.

Adapting to the trends of industrial development, UnionPay International actively seeks new strategies to build global network advantages through the development of both cards and mobile payment.

In recent years, many countries have accelerated the construction of local payment networks and promoted the interoperability between different networks. Since 2023, UnionPay International has collaborated with local networks in 15 countries and regions overseas to promote the interoperability of QR codes. Sixteen projects have been implemented or are in progress including payment networks from Southeast Asian countries such as PayNet of Malaysia, NAPAS of Vietnam, Bakong of Cambodia and LAPNet of Laos. The acceptance scope of UnionPay QR codes outside the Chinese mainland has subsequently increased to 6.5 million merchants in 45 countries and regions. This establishes UnionPay as a payment product with major advantages in the Asia-Pacific region.

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