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How to choose the best contactless payment method for me

How to choose the best contactless payment method for me
Image source: Getty Images

There are many contactless payment methods. They’re similar, but they each have their own strengths and weaknesses. Here’s the lowdown on the main players to help you choose the best contactless payment method for you.

What is contactless payment?

Contactless payment is a system that uses special radio chips in things like phones, bank cards and travel cards. When you tap the object containing the chip against a contactless terminal, the system transfers your payment to the vendor. You can find out more about contactless payment here.

What contactless payment methods are available?

Four of the main methods are:

They all work on the same basic system, but they’re not all the same. Here’s how they compare.

What do you need to get started?

To choose the best contactless payment method for you, first you need the right hardware.

System Hardware
Apple Pay

A recent iPhone, iPad or Apple Watch

Be aware that while you can use your iPad to set up Apple Pay and pay for things online, it won’t work for contactless payments.

Google Pay

An Android device with Android 5.0 (Lollipop) or higher, near-field communication (NFC) and host card emulation (HCE)

Follow the steps on the Help Center page to check whether your phone can make contactless payments.

Samsung Pay

A compatible Samsung device, such as the Samsung Galaxy phone or Samsung Gear watch

Visa payWave

Contactless Visa card from your bank

How do you set them up?

Visa payWave doesn’t need any special setup. If your bank card has Visa payWave, you can start using it.

To set up Apple Pay, Google Pay or Samsung Pay, download the appropriate app from your app store. When you open the app, it will walk you through setting up an account, securing your device, and adding your cards.

Where can you use them?

All methods

All four systems are similar: they all use NFC. Tap your card or unlocked phone against a special contactless terminal to pay. You can use all four systems in all shops with a contactless terminal and on some public transport.

All mobile device-based systems

If you have a Transport for London (TfL) Travelcard, you can load that into your smartphone payment system and use your phone just as you would your Travelcard.

All mobile systems work offline, although you’ll need to connect your mobile payment system to the internet regularly to update your transactions.

Samsung Pay

Samsung Pay goes a bit further. As well as using the normal contactless system, it can also simulate the magnetic strip on a bank card. This means you can use Samsung Pay on all payment terminals except the ones where you have to insert a card into a slot.

Do they have any fees or payment limits?

None of these contactless payment methods charges extra fees when you make payments, but you still have to pay your card issuer’s fees.

In the UK, Visa payWave has a limit of £30 per transaction, although this has been raised to £45 during the lockdown.

Google Pay, Apple Pay and Samsung Pay don’t impose any transaction limits. However, individual banks and retailers often impose the same £30/£45 as for Visa payWave.

What about security?

All contactless transactions are covered by your bank’s fraud protection scheme, regardless of which method you use.

Compared with Visa payWave, mobile contactless payment methods have two extra layers of security:

  1. your real card number isn’t exposed to the vendor; and
  2. you have to authenticate before each transaction.

To authenticate:

  • Apple Pay requires Face ID, Touch ID or your passcode;
  • Samsung Pay requires a PIN, iris scan or fingerprint; and 
  • Google Pay requires a PIN, pattern, password, fingerprint or retina scan.

If you lose your card or device (or it’s stolen), all three of the mobile systems let you remotely wipe your phone (and therefore remove your payment information), while Visa payWave lets you stop or cancel your card.

So, which contactless payment method is best for you?

There’s no one right answer. Narrow your options down to the methods that run on your smartphone (or, if you have no smartphone, check your bank card). Check that your choice will work at the places you normally shop, then give it a go!

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