It’s taken a few years, but contactless payments, also called tap and pay, are finally catching on in the US. You no longer have to swipe or insert the chip end of a card into a reader to use your credit or debit card. In the age of credit card skimmers, this is long overdue.
You can now tap to pay for groceries, coffee, and even rides on public transit in some cities. Better than tapping a card, you can instead use a smartphone that requires your fingerprint, face ID, or a PIN to authorize the charge. If you have an iPhone, Apple Pay is your ticket to this faster and more secure way of paying.
Here’s a brief overview of what Apple Pay is, as well as instructions for how to set up and use it.
What Is Apple Pay?
Apple Pay is a service by Apple for digital payments. It has two main parts. The first is Apple Wallet. That’s the app on iOS devices where you set up credit and debit cards for contactless payments. You can also use Apple Wallet to pay for purchases online. The second part is Apple Pay Cash, which lets you send and receive money, similar to Venmo, PayPal, Cash App, or any other mobile payment app.
Most Apple devices from the last few years work with Apple Pay, including iPhone models with Touch ID (except iPhone 5s), Apple Watch, Macs with Touch ID, and a few others listed on Apple’s website.
How to Set Up Apple Pay on iOS
1. To set up Apple Pay on a supported iPhone or iPad, first, check that you have the latest version of iOS by going to Settings > General > Software Update. You also must be signed into iCloud with your Apple ID.
2. Open the Wallet app.
3. Tap Add Card or the plus sign at the top right.
4. Either scan a credit or debit card to upload all the relevant information, or manually enter the details.
5. Your bank may require some kind of authorization, so check whether you’ve received additional instructions by email or text.
6. When the bank has cleared your card for use in Apple Pay, tap Next in the Apple Wallet app.
7. Once you have at least one card added to the Wallet app, you may want to go over your settings, which are hidden somewhere else. Go to Settings > Wallet & Apple Pay to find them. Here, you can change which card is set as the default for purchases and which one for transit rides. You can also enable or disable Apple Pay Cash. One setting I recommend enabling lets you choose which card gets charged before you put your device near a reader by double tapping the side or home button.
How to Set Up Apple Pay on Apple Watch
1. You’ll need your iOS device to set up Apple Pay for an Apple Watch. Open the Apple Watch app on your iOS device.
2. Go to My Watch and select your watch.
3. Choose Wallet & Apple Pay.
4. From here, the prompts are similar to setting up Apple Pay in an iOS device. Complete the steps, including bank authorization. When you’re finished, you’ll be able to tap to pay using your watch even if you don’t have your phone with you.
How to Set Up Apple Pay on macOS
1. To set up Apple Pay on a Mac, you need a device with Touch ID, or a 2012 model or later with a supported mobile device connected via Bluetooth.
2. In macOS, go to System Preferences > Wallet & Apple Pay.
3. Choose Add Card and enter all the requested information. Just as with a mobile device, you may need to complete additional steps as required by your bank.
4. If you’re using a 2012 Mac or later in conjunction with a mobile device, you must complete one final step. On your iPhone or iPad, go to Settings > Wallet & Apple Pay and turn on the option Allow Payments on Mac.
How to Use Apple Pay
There are three different places you can use Apple Pay, aside from Apple Pay Cash. The instructions are slightly different depending on where you are.
Contactless Payments in Stores
To use Apple Pay for a contactless payment, wait for the point of sales terminal to be ready. Usually, it displays the amount due when it’s ready.
To change your default card, move your device near the reader. The Wallet app payment screen appears automatically when it senses the reader, except for Apple Watch, in which case, you need to double tap the side button. If required, keep your finger lightly on the home button for Touch ID, look at the camera for Face ID, or enter your passcode. You’ll hear an audio tone or feel a vibration and see a checkmark and the word “Done” when the transaction goes through.
To change the card from the default, don’t approach the reader! Rather, first double tap the side or home button (depending on your device) then tap the stack of cards that appears at the bottom. Your available cards fan out on the screen. Choose the one you want and then complete the transaction as you normally would.
You can pay with Apple Pay anywhere on your iOS device or Apple Watch where it appears as an option. Select Apple Pay as the payment type. An image of your card appears. To choose a different card, select the “next” icon and make the change. Verify your billing and shipping details as necessary. Finally, confirm the payment by following the prompts to authenticate the transaction.
When using Safari on a Mac or mobile device, you may find some websites that allow you to pay using Apple Pay. With mobile devices, you follow nearly the same instructions as you would to pay within iOS.
To pay from a Mac with Touch ID, click the Apple Pay button. Confirm or change your details. Then, select the card you wish to charge. The Touch Bar prompts you through the process of authenticating.
If you have a Mac that’s from 2012 or later but doesn’t have a Touch Bar, you can swap in an iOS device or Apple Watch for the authentication. Connect the device to your Mac via Bluetooth. Everything works the same until you have to authenticate, which you do on the secondary device.
Is Apple Pay Safe?
Generally speaking, contactless payments are safe, and they’re made safer when you apply an authentication requirement, such as Face ID, Touch ID, or a passcode.
If you use Apple Pay for transit payments, then you should know it’s the only aspect of Apple Pay that specifically does not allow you to use an authenticator. In other words, you tap your device to the transit reader and enter without requiring you to even unlock the phone. I can only guess the reason is to keep people moving into subways and busses quickly.
If you lose your phone and transit payments are enabled, then someone could take a few rides on your card without your permission. You can suspend transit cards from working via Find My iPhone, and you can remotely erase your device with it, too, but only if your device is online. A better option would be to disable the affected cards entirely through your bank.
If you’re concerned about safety, it’s not a bad idea to review Apple’s full statement on security and privacy for Apple Pay.
Travel With Apple Pay
If you’re traveling internationally any time soon, I highly recommend enabling contactless payments on a mobile device and trying it out a few times to get the hang of it before you leave. In countries where contactless payment readers are available, using a contactless payment type is often the norm. You might feel much more welcome if you pay like a local.
Keep in mind that a country doesn’t have to be on Apple’s list of supported places in order for Apple Pay to work as a contactless payment type there. Being on the list simply means credit and debit cards from banks in that country will work in the Apple Wallet app. For example, Croatia isn’t on the list (yet), but the US is. If you’re Croatian with a local bank card, you can’t enter your card into Apple Wallet and therefore can’t use it for Apple Pay. However, if you have an American-issued bank card in Apple Wallet, you can use it in Croatia anywhere that accepts contactless payments.
Additionally, a contactless reader doesn’t have to have an Apple Pay logo to work. It merely needs one of the many supported contactless logos.