Cashless payments Singapore: A thorough overview

Elle Kasser

Moving towards an increased use of cashless payments is a priority in Singapore.

There are aspirations to eliminate the use of cheques by 2025¹ - and although there’s no desire to remove cash as a payment option entirely, much is being done to make it easier and simpler to access the benefits of cashless payments such as e-payments and mobile payments.

In fact, according to the latest government figures, 97% of households made at least one e-payment in the last year². This number will only rise, as more and more digital payment platforms become the norm, allowing simple and seamless payments for all.

This guide walks through some of the easiest ways to go cashless in Singapore - from using a contactless bank card, to tapping your phone to get on the MRT, and splitting the restaurant bill with friends using a digital payment platform. Let’s dive right in.

Table of contents:

Cashless Payment Singapore

Most popular cashless payment methods in Singapore

The most common cashless payment methods used in Singapore include:

  • Scan a merchant QR code and pay using your phone
  • Send or receive money using just a mobile number
  • Use mobile payment apps to request payments

With a cashless payment app like DBS Paylah! or POSB PayNow you’ll be able to shop and send money using only your phone. You can also go cashless using contactless debit cards - and manage your day to day finances using your online banking facilities.

In fact, there are such a broad range of cashless ways to pay, there’s really hardly any need to carry your wallet anymore. Whether you need to jump on a bus, buy a snack, or send money to a friend, you can probably do it with one of the methods we’ve outlined below.

To make it easier, we’ve split some of the most common and popular cashless payment methods into groups. However, many of these payment methods and platforms perform more than one function. Take a look at this handy guide, and explore the methods you prefer a little more to get a full view of how they can make your life a little easier.


Card and contactless card payments

If you don’t want to carry cash, but are happy to carry a card with you, you’ll find you can pay in stores and most restaurants. If you have a contactless card you can also use it for rides on public transport - it’s as simple as tapping your card on the reader to confirm payment. Otherwise, you can still put your card into the machine, or give it to the store staff to process your purchase.

You’ll hear contactless payment technology called several different names, which are all a form of shorthand. You might find you’re asked if you want to pay using PayWave - this and Tap to Pay are the Visa contactless payment systems. Or you may be asked if you want to use PayPass. That’s the Mastercard equivalent³. You can also pay using your contactless American Express at many retail locations.

Different bank cards come with different terms and conditions - including different fees and benefits. Take a look at the bank cards you hold to see if they’re the best on the market for your personal needs - and switch to something more suitable if not.

It’s also worth a quick word on contactless card security here. Contactless cards are very secure - because they’re not handed to anyone else to make payment there’s little chance of them being copied. However, there is a small risk that someone nearby could take advantage of the contactless technology to defraud you. If you’re concerned about this, consider getting an RFID sleeve for your card - available online on sites like Lazada - for added protection.

As well as bank cards issued on the main networks Visa, Mastercard and American Express, there are a few other specialist cards you may find useful for cashless payments:


NETS CashCard⁴

NETS CashCard - and the other NETS cards outlined below - are said to be the only cards which can be used to pay for car parking fees and ERP charges throughout Singapore.

Buy a card for SGD10 at a range of locations including 7-Eleven and Fairprice, and top up your credit in stores and automatic top-up machines which are widely available. To get your NETS CashCard you’ll need to be a Singapore citizen or long term resident.

FlashPay⁵

NETS FlashPay offers the functionality of the NETS CashCard, including car park payments - but also can be used for regular shopping and rides on public transport. FlashPay is another stored value card - so you’ll need to top up the card, or set it to auto-top up from your bank account. However, you can top up easily using the FlashPay app.

Contactless CashCard⁶

The NETS Contactless CashCard is the next generation card from NETS, offering auto top-up as well as a rewards program called WINK+Go. You can get your card from a range of convenience stores or online - and top up online, in ATMs, or using convenience stores for a fee.

EZ-Link⁷

EZ-Link cards have been a feature in Singapore since 2002 - making them part of the fabric of the place now. EZ-Link cards are flexible, and can be used as a multi-function card for riding public transport and paying ERP charges, as well as spending in some stores.

Because they can be used either as stored value cards, or set to auto top-up, they’re also great for children or short term visitors who need to ride the MRT or take buses, and can’t use a contactless debit card.


Online banking payments

If you want to pay a bill or send money to someone online, you can also do so with your online banking system. No cash - and relatively little hassle. To send money to someone using your online banking system you’ll usually need to know their full bank account number. If you’re looking for a way to send money to a friend that’s even easier, keep reading for more on ways to send money using only their phone number.

Each of Singapore’s major banks have their own online banking systems - UOB has UOB Mighty⁸, while DBS has DBS Digibank⁹ for example. Online banking systems tend to offer similar services, including money transfers locally and internationally, bill payment and secure online shopping through digital security measures.

It’s worth knowing that you may not always get the best deal available if you rely on your regular bank for international payments.

If you need to pay a bill overseas, or send money to someone in a foreign currency you might find you’re better off looking at a specialist service like Wise. You’ll be able to send money conveniently, online or through an app - using the real mid-market exchange rate and with fees that are up to 7x cheaper than banks and PayPal.


Pay in stores using your phone

For most things in Singapore, you can get by without even carrying your card if you should choose to do so. As long as you have your phone, and set up Apple Pay¹⁰, Google Pay¹¹ or Samsung Pay¹² you can make payments using the same near field communication used by contactless cards. That means you can pay in stores and restaurants, and on public transport - anywhere you see the contactless symbol.

The type of mobile phone you use will dictate which of these mobile payment systems you can use.

Older phones, or those without smart functionality may not be able to access these newer platforms - and there are still a few bank cards which aren’t compatible.

However, if you have a suitable phone model, and a card which can be used, getting set up is as simple as downloading the app and linking the card - or cards - you want to use. Your phone can then be used in the same way you might use your contactless card, to pay in stores and restaurants and on public transport.

See if your regular bank cards can be used with Apple Pay, Google Pay or Samsung Pay, and you can leave your wallet at home for good. Learn more about Apple Pay in Singapore, here.


Pay in stores via QR code

Even if you don’t have Apple Pay, Android Pay or Samsung Pay set up, you may be able to pay in stores using your phone, thanks to QR codes.

PayNow and PayLah!

PayNow is a payment network offered by 9 major banks in Singapore. PayLah! is similar, but run by DBS, and easiest to use if you’re a DBS/POSB customer already¹³. You can use PayNow and PayLah! to send money easily to friends - but can also use it to scan a merchant’s barcode to make a direct payment from your phone to theirs. You’ll find this payment method often offered in smaller stores, and places like salons where they may not have other payment terminals available.

GrabPay

If you regularly use Grab for rides around town, you might find that signing up for GrabPay is a smart move¹⁴. You can link your GrabPay wallet to a bank account for seamless payments, or top up through PayNow instead.

You can then pay in stores which show the GrabPay QR code, as well as using your GrabPay wallet for Grab rides, to buy food deliveries and more. Payments made through GrabPay contribute towards your Grab Rewards, so you can earn and spend Reward points.

AliPay and WeChat Pay

Both AliPay¹⁵ and WeChat Pay¹⁶ are popular digital payment platforms which originated in China. They’re increasingly available in Singapore, especially in areas with Chinese influence, or where Chinese visitors may go. You can’t easily open an account with AliPay or WeChat Pay unless you have a Chinese bank account and mobile number. However, if you have these - or have an existing account already, these can be good ways to pay instore via QR, or to send money to others.

Learn more about AliPay and WeChat Pay here.


Send money to others using your phone

If you need to pay back a friend for a meal out, or split a taxi fare, you can do so instantly - and without cash - by using one of the many peer to peer payment options available.

We’ve touched on some of these already, like PayNow and PayLah! Both of these allow you to pay people with just their phone number - no need to ask for bank details, or to wait for processing. It’s instant and simple.

Aside from these apps, you can also choose other tools such as OCBC Pay Anyone if you happen to bank with OCBC, AliPay or WeChat Pay.


It’s worth noting that peer to peer payment systems in Singapore - and indeed in other countries around the world - tend to only work if you want to make a local payment in the currency the platform is built for. PayLah! and PayNow for example, are perfect if you want to send money to friends here in Singapore, but they’ll need a local phone number to get set up on the system.

If you want to send money to someone based overseas, you’ll need another option, such as Wise - for low cost international payments which can be made entirely online, no cash needed.

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Why go cashless?

Going cashless is easier than ever. By using contactless technology to pay with your card or phone, sending money using peer to peer services and apps, and managing your money online through your own bank’s digital banking platform, you hardly need to handle cash at all.

That makes life easier - but it also reduces the amount of unnecessary contact with others during this global pandemic. Many stores and restaurants state that contactless payments are preferred for hygiene reasons - and even many Hawker Centres are set up for mobile and digital payment.

For retailers and merchants, handling, counting and banking large amounts of cash can come with fees - and takes a significant amount of time. Because of this, the chances are that even once the pandemic is over, your local stores and restaurants will still prefer cash-free payment wherever possible.

Going cashless also means you don’t need to carry a wallet of heavy coins, or ask your friends for their full bank details if you need to send them a payment. All in all, it’s really easy to see why cash payments are reducing rapidly. While cash will never be eliminated, it’s a great time to embrace the cashless options out there to see which can make life a little easier.

Take a look through the cashless payment methods available above, and see which interest you. There are so many different options, the chances are that no matter what you need to do, there’s a cashless option for you.


Sources:

  1. Channel News Asia - Singapore should aim to be cheque-free by 2025: Ong Ye Kung
  2. Statistics Singapore - Newsletter Issue 2, 2019 - Prevalence of E-Payment Transactions
  3. DBS - Visa payWave FAQs
  4. NETS - CashCard - For Car Park Fees and ERP Charges
  5. NETS - Where can I top up the NETS FlashPay Card?
  6. NETS - Next Generation CashCard
  7. EZ-Link
  8. UOB - Mighty Overview
  9. DBS digibank online
  10. Apple Pay
  11. (SG) – Send money, book movies or tap to pay
  12. Samsung Pay - Mobile E-Payment Service in Singapore | Samsung SG
  13. DBS - PayNow with DBS
  14. GrabPay
  15. Alipay
  16. WeChat Pay

All sources checked on 13 January 2021


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