Accept UnionPay and Serve Chinese Consumers – and the World

September 16, 2021
Average Read Time: 3 minutes

Recently seen at a McDonald’s in Roswell, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta: a sticker promoting acceptance of UnionPay cards posted in the restaurant’s drive-through payment window. It’s definitely a sign of the times.

More than 2 million Chinese immigrants, an estimated 400,000 Chinese students, and countless visitors reside in the United States – working here, going to school here, and shopping here. Given the popularity of the UnionPay debit and credit card among the Chinese population, they likely carry them in their wallets.

They’re part of the potential market represented by the billions of UnionPay cardholders both in and outside the U.S. So if you’re a merchant or supplier of any type, accepting UnionPay cards can give you a distinct competitive advantage.

Millions of Potential Customers in the U.S.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, Chinese immigrants are the third-largest foreign-born group in the United States. Chinese immigration here has consisted of two waves, the first arriving in the mid-1800s and the second beginning in the late 1970s and continuing today. The population has grown more than six-fold since 1980, reaching 2.5 million in 2018, or more than 5 percent of the overall population born outside the U.S.

Most of the Chinese-American population in the U.S. traditionally lived on the west coast, particularly in California, and in New York. However, that pattern is shifting, with populations growing in other urban areas such as Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Houston, and Atlanta.

China also is the main source of foreign-born students enrolled in U.S. higher education, accounting for about a third of the international student body. Between 2009 and 2019, the number of Chinese students in the United States nearly tripled, according to data from the Institute for International Education.

And Billions Around the World

UnionPay is China’s sole bankcard association and the largest provider of payment cards in the world. Consider these statistics:

  • The company has over 9 billion cards in circulation, more than Visa and Mastercard combined.
  • More than 145 million cards are in circulation outside China.
  • UnionPay is accepted in 179 countries and regions and by 87 million businesses worldwide – 32 million outside China.

And then consider this final fact: among its cardholders, UnionPay often is the only card they carry. So if businesses don’t accept UnionPay, they may be losing out on millions in sales.

Tap Into Chinese Buying Power

If the number of UnionPay cards in circulation isn’t enough to convince businesses to accept it, consider the buying power Chinese immigrants represent. Chinese-Americans overall are more likely than other demographic and immigrant groups to be college graduates, work in white collar and professional occupations, earn higher median incomes (more than $71,000 for Chinese men), and own homes, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. census data.

Chinese students tend to be similarly affluent. They lean towards elite colleges and universities as their target schools, and tuition and living expenses account for much of their spending. But they also are brand-name conscious and fans of American culture – and purchase accordingly. Due to high tariffs for goods imported into China, they also benefit from lower prices in the United States. Altogether, according to a Department of Commerce estimate, these students put $15 billion into the U.S. economy in 2018.

Finally, Chinese consumers overall are “the growth engine of the world,” as McKinsey said in a recent report. Close to 40% of the country’s 1.4 billion people shop online, and as many as 25% shop online from abroad, according to one source. Consumer spending alone is more than $6 trillion – and could double by 2030, Morgan Stanley says.

Spending by Chinese travelers to the U.S. also has been significant in recent years. Close to 3 million Chinese residents visited here in 2018 and spent an average of $6,700 each, according to the U.S. Travel Association.

After a Lull, Growth Will Continue – and Merchants Can Prepare

Of course, the pandemic greatly affected both Chinese immigration, the country’s student population, and travelers to the U.S. during the last 18 months.

Overall immigration dropped 87% during the second half of fiscal year 2020 (which ended September 30) as compared to the first half, the largest decrease in U.S. history. Approval of F1 visas – those commonly given to students – slowed to a stop, as did travel to the U.S from many countries, including China.

However, when the pandemic wanes and travel, quarantine, and visa restrictions loosen, immigration and tourism are expected to resume. The U.S. began granting student visas at near pre-pandemic levels this spring. The overall Asian population, including Chinese immigrants, is expected to almost double this decade, according to the Pew Research Institute.

Merchants who enable and promote UnionPay acceptance now can benefit from the country’s current Chinese-American population and the workers, tourists, and students expected to continue visiting and living here in the future – not to mention the Chinese population as a whole. Promoting UnionPay as an accepted payment method is a simple step toward opening your business to a large and valuable group of buyers.