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What is contactless payment, and how can I use it?

What is contactless payment, and how can I use it?
Image source: Getty Images


Contactless payment is not the new kid on the block. First introduced in 2007, it has grown and grown in popularity in recent years. In fact, according to UK Finance, £6.7bn was spent through contactless transactions in January 2020.

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During the ongoing coronavirus situation, contactless payment has become even more important. It helps to reduce queue times and minimises the amount of contact people have with public touch points. For more on this, take a look at our article on 4 reasons why you should switch to contactless payment right now.

If you have never used it before, you may not know where to start. We’re here to break down what a contactless payment is and what devices you can use to make one.

What is contactless payment?

It is a payment made by waving your card or contactless device in front of a reader, or tapping it on the reader. But how does contactless really work?

The contactless card or contactless device contains an antenna. When it is touched against a contactless terminal, the card or device securely transmits purchase information. Then, as with a chip and PIN transaction, the terminal will say whether the payment was successful or not.

Typically the limit for a contactless payment is £30, but during the coronavirus pandemic this has been increased to £45 to encourage people to use such payments more often.

Since its launch, contactless technology has become more and more widespread. You can use contactless payment in places such as shops, restaurants and bars and on public transport.

It is also just as safe as using chip and PIN – firstly because of how close the card or device needs to be to the terminal for the transaction to work, and secondly because the information transferred is exactly the same as that on the front of your card.

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How can I use contactless payment?

Contactless payment is not just for your debit or credit card. You can also have contactless technology on your mobile phone, fitness tracker, smartwatch, sticker or key fob. However, the most common forms of contactless use are with cards, phones or smartwatches.

How to use contactless on a card

You will know that your card has the ability to make contactless payment if it has the contactless symbol. If it does, then if you see a payment terminal with the same symbol, you will be able to touch your card against the terminal and complete your transaction.

One thing to note: if you have a new debit or credit card, for your first time using it you will need to enter your PIN. Every time after that you can use contactless, as long as your transaction is for an amount lower than the contactless payment limit.

How to use contactless on a mobile phone

Most modern mobile phones have contactless capabilities. In order to use contactless payment with your phone, you will need to set up your payment app. This will be Apple Pay, Google Pay or Samsung Pay, depending on your handset. To find out more about how to do this, take a look at our article on how to get contactless payment on your phone.

How to use contactless on a smartwatch or fitness tracker

Once again, being able to use contactless payment on your smartwatch or fitness tracker depends on what device you have. Much like when using contactless on a mobile phone, the transaction will need to be done through the associated app, for example Fitbit Pay, Apple Pay, Garmin Pay or Google Pay.

For some wearables, you will need to have set up the corresponding payment app on your phone first. So, for example, if you have a smartwatch that uses Google Pay, you will also need to set up Google Pay on your phone.

Another thing to note with contactless payment and wearable devices is that not all banks support all the payment apps. If your bank doesn’t support the payment app on your wearable device, then you won’t be able to set up contactless payments.

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