China separate Uber-apps adds global challenge for foreigners

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As an overseas visitor to China, you’ll be in the position of not being able to call Uber for transport. It’s a challenging situation that could also apply to permanent residents in the country! The reason for this dilemma can be traced back to Didi Chuxing, a Chinese company that is buying the separate Uber business operation in China. The issue has arisen from an update launched by the company which splits the Uber global app from the Uber China app. In effect, now, Uber is two separate entities, with an independent global app and one for China!

Although similar to the previous Uber app in China, the new Chinese update there are certain key changes. In the first instance users are obliged to create a new account for Uber China, which requires a Chinese mobile phone number and a valid Chinese payment method; for example, Alibaba’s Alipay digital wallet, Baidu Wallet or, Union Pay. Chinese Uber customers have had the advantage of one month transition period, with the company reporting that “the majority” of users have upgraded to this new facility.

However, the challenge is that any visitor to the country, or who does not have access to the required payment options, is prevented from obtaining the app and therefore, using the Uber service in China. Uber China/Didi said in a statement “We apologize to our users for any inconvenience may be caused by this transition. The Uber China team has been working hard to make the new version faster-responding and more user-friendly,”

It’s a challenging situation for visitors to China, enhanced by the Didi Chuxing apps being available in Mandarin only and requiring local phone numbers. It means visitors are deprived of a convenient transportation service that is the only option for booking a taxi via your phone!  A further challenge is posed by non-Mandarin speakers trying to hail a taxi with limited Mandarin!

There is a positive side; with Didi Chuxing has announced that “multilingual, international features” will be introduced in the future, but a timeframe for this has not to date, been revealed.

Didi recently admitted for the first time that it has ambitions for expansion overseas, however, the meaning of this statement is not clarified. It could entail organic growth or the acquisition of allies like Grab (Southeast Asia), Lyft (USA), or Ola (India). Alternatively, it could mean that the future of Uber’s “international features” form part of a global initiative.  Although this is not at present clear Didi Chuxing is in the process of testing the market climate and its potential by way of the partnership with vehicle rental giant Avis. This provides the means for users of the service to arrange their booking from within the Didi Chuxing app!

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