China’s UnionPay Cards Making Inroads into Murmansk

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unionpay-in-russiaFollowing on from China’s Alipay forming a Russian network via the VTB Bank, further evidence of increasing cooperation and integration between China and Russia’s point of sale financial development systems have just been announced in Murmansk. Tourists from the People’s Republic of China and other Asia Pacific countries visiting the Murmansk Region will now be able to make withdrawals and pay for their purchases using UnionPay cards. These cards are accepted by over 90 percent of local Mumansk ATMs and terminals.

UnionPay is a Chinese financial services business based in Shanghai. It provides bank card services and is a major card scheme in China, operating under the approval of the People’s Bank of China (PBOC, the central bank of China). It is also the only inter-bank network that links all the ATMs of all banks in China, and is also an Electronic Funds Transfer Point of Sale (EFTPOS) network. It is the largest card payment organization (debit and credit cards combined) in the world, based on payment transactions, schemes, and number of cards issued, ranking ahead of Visa and Mastercard. It also offers mobile and online payments.

Murmansk Fast Facts
Population: 300,000
GDP Per Capita (PPP): US$15,555 (equivalent to Chile)

Murmansk is close to Russia’s borders with Norway and Finland. Its port ranks fourth in Russia in terms of processed goods, and is the second largest in the northwest of Russia after St. Petersburg. Murmansk is one of the largest ice-free ports in Russia, has 13 berths, and is equipped with modern handling facilities. The entire city is classified as a Free Trade Zone, and it is Murmansk that is expected to develop as a major hub for the Northern Passage. Current cargo turnover is about 16 million tons with this set to double by 2025, bringing it to an amount currently similar to the French Port of Calais.

The roll-out of the UnionPay services in Murmansk is a precursor to a national roll-out later in the year, and is designed to allow Chinese tourists easier access to their Chinese funds when travelling in Russia. UnionPay cards offer new opportunities to local tour operators that specialize in Asian itineraries, the Murmansk Region’s Minister of Industrial Development and Entrepreneurship stated. Russia is poised to launch a massive 2018 tourism advertising campaign in China and Asia next year, partly to coincide with the FIFA 2018 World Cup Soccer Finals, but also as its economy becomes more integrated with Asia in the wake of sanctions placed upon it by Europe. Ports such as Murmansk are also targets for Chinese investors and their employees, who wish to secure facilities across the Arctic for passage of goods to and from China and Europe, an estimated 40 percent less expensive than current sea routes. While having UnionPay in Murmansk may on the face of it seem an odd choice, as a pilot scheme to understand trade and usage dynamics of Chinese ATM and PoS behavior – Murmansk, with its mix of Chinese investment, trade, and tourism acts as a precursor to larger potential usage on a pan-Russian basis.


About Us

Chris Devonshire-Ellis is the Founding Partner and Chairman of Dezan Shira & Associates. He is based in Europe. The firm provides European businesses and governments with strategic, legal, tax and operational advisory services to SMEs and MNCs investing throughout Asia and has 28 offices across China, India and the ASEAN nations as well as St. Petersburg and Moscow. Please contact the firm at or visit the practice at


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