Contactless payments have increased during the coronavirus pandemic as a safer, touch-free method of paying for shopping and other deliveries. But pandemic aside, this way of paying by mobile is here to stay - it’s quick and simple, making checkouts everywhere easier and faster.
If you want to learn more about how to set up contactless payments on your phone, read on.
- What is mobile contactless pay?
- How does it work?
- Where can I use contactless payments?
- What is a mobile wallet?
- How do I set up a mobile wallet?
- How much can I spend?
- Are mobile payments safe?
- Does my phone support mobile payments?
Contactless payment is a quick way of paying for items that eliminates the need for inserting cards. All you have to do is hover your mobile phone or smartwatch (with the payment app open and your mobile wallet set up to one or more of your credit/debit cards) over a payment terminal. The payment terminal is where you would usually insert a card, to enter your PIN and pay, or tap your card on the screen to pay contactlessly.
History of card payments
Credit and debit cards have been around since the 1950s and 1970s, respectively, but the first contactless cards were launched by Barclays in September 2007. At the same time, PayPass trialled the Nokia 6131 as the first mobile phone capable of making a contactless payment.
Though 2007 was considered the introduction to contactless technology, Coca Cola actually kickstarted this by allowing users to pay for drinks via an SMS message in 1997.
Over two decades later, contactless and wireless technology has become mainstream, with the majority of smartphone manufacturers developing their own mobile payment apps. The most common ones in use are:
- Apple Pay - for iOS users
- Google Pay - for Android users
- Samsung Pay - for Samsung users
- PayPal - a third-party, web-based app supporting most cards
Almost everyone will have the option of setting up mobile contactless payments - it doesn’t matter what mobile network you’re on, or what sort of phone deal you have - but you’ll need to check if your phone is compatible.
The wireless technology that is used for mobile payments to work is referred to as near field communications technology (NFC), which uses radio to connect. The payment terminals in shops are NFC-enabled, so are able to communicate and transfer data to other NFC-enabled devices.
When you download a mobile payment app and set up your mobile wallet, your smartphone acts like a credit or debit card. The payment terminal can then ‘read’ the data on the screen or back of your phone, and take the necessary money from your bank account.
Laptops, tablets, and smartwatches can also become NFC-enabled, enabling them to share data when in close proximity to others. Think of it like Bluetooth - a wireless connection that can link two devices together and exchange whatever information is necessary.
How to turn NFC on and off
Here’s how to turn NFC on when you need it to pay, and off to save battery and keep your phone secure.
On Apple phones, NFC is considered inactive until it’s authorised by you, using Touch or Face ID to activate it for payments. Therefore it’s not something you can turn on or off in iOS devices, but rather something that remains deactivated (effectively ‘off’), until you turn it on using Apple Pay, or another payment app.
Just because you don’t physically switch NFC off doesn’t mean it’s consuming more battery life in the background. Unless you’re constantly touching another phone or terminal, it will remain ‘asleep’ and won’t drain your battery.
- Go to Settings
- Find and tap Connections
- Find NFC and contactless payments
- Tap the toggle to the side to switch it on (blue) or off (grey)
In here, you can also change your NFC settings by choosing which payment app you’d like to use, and therefore which debit or credit card in your mobile wallet.
You can use mobile contactless payments anywhere that accepts contactless cards and is compatible with the various payment apps. This includes most retail stores on the high street, as well as pharmacies, restaurants, cafes, cinemas, and more.
You can also use payment apps over the internet, on public transport (to pay for tickets), in some schools, and between people to transfer money.
Shops and other places can reject your contactless payment, though, even if they support them, so it’s useful to have an alternative payment method with you just in case. Likewise, there could always be a connectivity issue between your phone and the terminal which could prevent the payment from going through.
A mobile wallet is a virtual wallet on your device, which stores your credit and debit card details. It is, essentially, an online version of the wallet in your pocket, stored directly on your mobile payment app.
This allows you to attach more than one card to your payment app, so you can switch between banks if needed.
Before you can set up your mobile wallet, you first need to install the payment app that is compatible with your device.
- Install Apple Pay onto your iPhone or Apple Watch
- Link a card of your choice to the payment app - you can usually do this either manually, by entering all of the details, or by taking a picture of your card
- Depending on which bank you’re with, they may try to verify that it’s actually you linking your account to this payment app. This could be done via a text, email, or call - confirm it’s you and then your card will be connected
- Start making payments by simply opening the app and hovering it over the terminal
Android or Samsung
- Install Google Pay or Samsung Pay onto your smartphone or smartwatch
- Link a card to your payment app by entering the details
- Click Activate next to your card’s payment method
- Again, your bank may want to clarify that it’s you, but once this is confirmed, you’ll be ready to start paying contactlessly with the app
Like many apps, someone with an Apple device can choose to use Google Pay if they wish, but Android users can’t use Apple Pay, as it’s only compatible with iOS. Non-Samsung users can only use Google Pay, not Samsung. Samsung users, however, can use Samsung Pay or Google Pay.
All types of devices can use most third-party payment apps, like PayPal.
Like normal cards, you can pay as much money out as you want throughout the day. Whilst there is no actual limit on how much you can pay in one transaction on Apple Pay, Google Pay, or Samsung Pay, some retailers might cap you as they do when customers pay by contactless card.
Due to the increase in the use of contactless card payments, the single transaction limit will rise to £100, which may become the new capping for mobile payments too.
Simply put: yes. Mobile payments are safe as long as the establishment you’re paying to is legitimate, such as a branded supermarket or retailer. In fact, it’s usually harder for hackers to access your details in a data breach because no financial information is transferred over and stored.
There are some things you can do to keep your information safe online though:
- Only download and use trusted payment apps from the official websites, such as the Apple Store and Google Play Store
- Use strong passwords for your app
- In your mobile payment app, you can set up multiple layers of protection such as a PIN number, Touch ID, and Face ID to be required for authorising a payment so no one else can access your account
- Keep an eye on your bank account using online banking to ensure no unauthorised payments are being made.
Most modern smartphones are compatible with contactless payments, as well as a number of smartwatches like the Apple Watch, Huawei Watch, and Fitbit (though not all stores and banks will be compatible with the watches, so it’s best to check before setting a mobile wallet up).
According to Apple, any model that has Face ID and Touch ID (exempting the iPhone 5s) supports Apple Pay, so that includes all iPhones 6 and above.
Any Android model that functions on an operating system newer than Android 5 is compatible with Google Pay.
Samsung Pay is available on all models newer than the Samsung Galaxy S6 range, including the Galaxy A series, Galaxy Watch Active and Active2, Galaxy Watch and Watch 4G, Gear S3 Classic, Gear S3 Frontier, and Gear Sport.
How to check if my phone accepts mobile payments
It’s fairly easy to find out if your model is compatible with Apple Pay (and other variations) in the Settings. Scroll down until you find Wallet & Apple Pay, usually beneath App Store.
If you can’t find this tab in Settings, then your phone isn’t compatible with mobile payments.
Similarly, you’ll find your answer in Settings. In the ‘Search settings’ bar, type ‘NFC’. If the tab for it appears, you can then choose to turn this on or off, depending on if you’re going to make a payment shortly.
If this doesn’t appear and you can’t find it in Settings and Connections, then your Android model can’t function with Google Pay.
Like Apple and Android, you just need to see if Samsung Pay is visible in your Settings. Or, you can swipe up from the home screen to see if it shows up there. If not, it’s not available on your model.
And there you have it - everything you need to know about setting up contactless payments on your mobile phone.
If your current smartphone isn’t compatible with one of the common pay apps, and you want to hop on this trend, why not start browsing for a new device? Check out our recommendations for the best of Apple, Samsung, Xiaomi, Google, and Huawei.
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