The Importance of UnionPay for International Ecommerce Merchants

oday, let’s absorb the story of a young Chinese couple. They met while studying abroad in Paris, France. Wengen was small in stature, with a sharp mind. He quickly fell for Xiaoling, whose beauty veiled her quick brain.

At the time of this story (the mid ‘90s), buying things in France challenged international students. Payment cards like Visa and MasterCard existed of course, but weren’t universally available for international use.

Wiring money from bank-to-bank was expensive and took a few days, and one had to have the right “papers” to establish French bank accounts.

Both students managed to set things up, and each lived a Parisian adventure using cash and locally-issued Carte Bleue payment cards. The Internet and eCommerce were yet to come.

Fast-forward a few years, and their daughter (Li Xiu Yiu) followed in their footsteps. Born in Shanghai, she’s attending their Parisian alma mater and doing very well as one of the 550,000 + Chinese students studying abroad.

Like many Chinese Millennials, she turns to the Internet for comparison shopping, then visits a French store in-the-flesh to try things and to buy. Though she eschews personalized goods, Li Xiu Yiu made an exception and ordered a T-shirt that says, “My name means Elegant & Brave.”

Li ordered the T-shirt on a British website, using her UnionPay card from home. In fact, the UnionPay card serves as both her credit card and debit card — providing cash for Paris market vendors via UnionPay’s global ATM network, debit transactions in restaurants, and a credit card for larger buys.

If you haven’t heard of UnionPay, and don’t accept it yet on your eCommerce website, you’re missing out on lots of international online traffic.

Not only from Chinese students abroad, but also from consumers in 168 countries and regions around the world — a critical opportunity for eCommerce merchants. Let’s look at the whys and wherefores.

Background/History of UnionPay

China UnionPay (aka UnionPay or CUP), a financial services corporation, provides bank card services and is the major payment card scheme in mainland China. Founded in March 2002 — headquartered in Shanghai — UnionPay operates under the approval of the People’s Bank China. Their interbank network links all ATMs issued by the various banks across China.

To expand acceptance around the world, UnionPay entered into several card reciprocal agreements with other payment networks like Discover, RuPay (India), JCB (Japan) and BC Card (South Korea) beginning in 2005.

For example, Discover Network signed an alliance with CUP Network. The long-term agreement allows Discover cardholders to use their cards at UnionPay ATMs and POS terminals in China, and facilitates acceptance of UnionPay cards on the PULSE network in the U.S.

China UnionPay cards can now be used in over 100 countries outside China. The UnionPay debit cards may be used only in the UnionPay network and in others that have negotiated and signed contracts with UnionPay.

So, Li Xiu Yiu and classmates with CUP cards from other countries may shop in person, online, or via mobile apps while expanding their horizons in Paris.

Outbound Chinese Travelers & UnionPay

2018 is the EU-China Tourism Year (ECTY), declared by the European Union President Jean-Claude Juncker and the Chinese Prime Minister LI Keqiang.

Since China represents the world’s largest travel market (in both outbound travel and expenditure), online travel booking sites, airlines, hotels and other travel-related businesses stand to benefit throughout the EU. This follows a record year of Chinese visitors totaling in the millions in 2017.

The United States and Canada benefit too from Chinese tourism to North America, attracting just under 3 million visitors in 2015. Forecasts expect that to rise above 5.72 million in 2021.

Wolfgang George Arlt, wrote in Forbes, “UnionPay…saw transactions jump by 40% this year when compared with the Chinese New Year period in 2017, especially in Asia-Pacific, Europe and North American.” During Chinese New Year 2017, more than six million Chinese traveled abroad.

Travelers like to shop online before and after they travel. So, if you want your share of the outbound Chinese traveler dosh, don’t neglect UnionPay acceptance on your website. Who knows? If your products catch their attention, you may have more online customers than you thought possible.

Online Shopping and China UnionPay

Because of the sheer number of people living in China, marketers pay close attention to their online shopping habits. No doubt preferences change in China as they do everywhere else, but it pays for eCommerce retailers to keep up with shopping trends to garner their share.

The Ten-year Report on Online Shopping Overseas, published by China Daily and the Telegraph, reveals the habits of online shoppers and how they changed between 2005 and 2015.

Interestingly, favored websites moved from Hong Kong and Macau to Japan, South Korea, North America, Europe and South America during that timeframe. In general, shoppers prefer local specialties, cosmetics, and skin care products. See another take on eCommerce shopping habits here.


When you want to add UnionPay to your eCommerce payments arsenal, reach for PayArc. We’re a direct Discover acquirer, and by using our payment solutions you too can accept UnionPay online.

With six billion cards in circulation around the world, why wouldn’t you want to accept UnionPay cards — So that international customers who prefer using their UnionPay debit or credit shop on your site?

Get the scalability you need in over 25 currencies from PayArc’s global network of acquirers and banks. With leading-edge solutions from seasoned professionals with years of experience in the payment industry, PayArc is the only partner you need for your payment processing solutions.

You have a business to run. Our business is to help you run it better.

If you need to add a world-class payment processing capability that integrates easily with your online, in-store and mobile merchant solutions, look no further than PayArc. We’d love to do business with you.

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