Apple Pay charges into Canada—and Australia

Apple Watch and Apple Pay
Apple Watch and Apple Pay (Image credit: iMore)

The last year has been frustrating. Apple launched Apple Pay in the U.S. back in October of 2014 and yet, despite having far, far, far better infrastructure for contactless payments in Canada and other countries, all we could do is watch from the sidelines. Well, that changes today, thanks to American Express.

While Apple Pay is also launching with American Express in Australia on Thursday, I'm in Canada, that's the implementation I had a chance to test out, and so that's what I'm going to focus on. Most of it should be really, really similar though.

That it's American Express bringing Apple Pay to Canada rather than any of our national banks is interesting for me as a customer (and kind of embarrassing for our banks as businesses.) American Express, like Apple, is an integrated vendor and that lets them not only be nimble, it lets them be bold. And the future, like fortune, favors the bold.

With American Express, you can add your card to Apple Pay in exactly the same way Americans and the Brits have been adding theirs for a while now. iTunes cards can be added automagically and other cards, scanned and authorized.

If you already have a U.S. or U.K. card added, you can add your Canadian Amex right alongside it and use all your cards interchangably. As long as the issuer supports Apple Pay, you're good to go. You can also use your Canadian Apple Pay cards in any country that supports Amex contactless payment, of course. That makes it especially great for cross-border business people and frequent travelers.

As with other Apple Pay regions, you can add cards to your iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. iPhone and Apple Watch can be used at retail points-of-sale and iPhone and iPad can be used in-app.

Unique to the Canadian market, thanks to the maturity of the contactless payment system here, is the lack of the typical $100 transaction limit. American Express is treating Touch ID one the iPhone and passcode on the iPhone and Apple Watch, as just as secure as a chip and PIN. High marks for the enlightenment there, Amex!

Apple Pay

Apple Pay (Image credit: iMore)

Security is part of what makes Apple Pay so great. My credit and debit cards have had NFC payment chips for years and years already, yet I've always been super careful with them. The last thing I want to do is drop my card without realizing it and end up buying gas and burgers for miscreants, should they find it. (Yes, the credit card companies cover me for fraud, but the miscreants still got gas and burgers!)

Better still, you don't have to go through the hassle of waiting for a physical replacement card. Amex can update your Apple Pay card directly.

With Apple Pay I don't have to worry about it. There's no card to drop and no contactless transaction without my authorization.

Likewise, while chip and pin is secure, every machine has a completely different, often complex, interface and experience, and you never know which one you're going to get—and be forced to figure out. That's extremely stressful for people who already find technology inaccessible. Apple Pay, by stark contrast, is simple and consistent.

There's also no information shared, which is huge for me. I have nothing against loyalty and reward programs, but if I'm giving merchants my data for analytics, I expect something in return. When they can just snoop transactions, I'm not getting that. When they have to make programs compelling enough that I'm willing to sign up for them, then we both benefit. That's how it should be, and that's how Apple Pay's distinct credit, debit, reward, and store card programs force it to be.

The only downside here is that I don't see American Express as a contactless payment option as often as I see Visa and MasterCard. They're launching with a lot of big partners, including McDonald's Canada, but it may not be everwhere for a while.

That's part of what makes the lack of support from Canada's banks so vexing. I don't have a Canadian Amex right now, but I'm signing up for it just to use Apple Pay, and it'll be my go-to from now on. Amex was probably counting on that, which is why it's rolling out Apple Pay in Canada and Australia now, and expanding to Hong Kong, Singapore, and Spain next year. First mover advantage goes to the first mover.

Yes, convenience and security really are that important to me. And Canada's banks, and other international financial institutions, should be concerned by that. Because, if there's one thing more valuable than money, it's time and effort.

So congrats to American Express and Apple for getting this done. I look forward to shopping with you soon!

Update: Corrected Australia launch date, it's Thursday.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • This goes to show how short sighted bank management is. The banks blocked Apple Pay because of the 0.15% service fee. But in so saving that fraction, they have opened up space for their competitors. Much like what we have seen with Barclays in the UK, by refusing to offer Pay they have seen customers start to gravitate away and had to quickly announce that they would introduce Pay in early 2016 and they hoped customers would stick with them until then. (Barclays also complicated their situation by having a long gestating MCX/CurrentC type payment system called BPay, that they must have poured money into developing and rather than scrap it they launched it to see if it had legs, even after it was likely Pay might cut bpay's feet off.) AMEX is seizing a great opportunity (which should somewhat offset their loss of Costco Ca exclusivity), one that will ultimately propel other banks in Canada to begin offering Pay, when that happens, we will see that, in addition to a lack of vision, bank ceo's are reactionary. As a longtime holder of both visa (1994) and AMEX (1993), I can say that I like the friendly, professional and customer oriented folks at AMEX. (My experience at Amex is also that if you are told no, and you have compelling arguments, keep escalating and following up, and after about 5 calls, an Amex manager will tend to approve things that underlings claim is not possible.)
  • This is great news. I have already added my AMEX AirMiles card and will now use Apple Pay as often as I can. The Canadian chartered banks will eventually come on board but AMEX is implementing new ways to get in the faces of consumers...good for them.
  • Apple Pay is now showing in my Wallet app but when I try to add my Amex card, under the terms and conditions it says that the service is not available in Canada.
    I guess I'll try again later....? Sent from the iMore App
  • It depends on whether your AMEX card is through a bank or on its own. I read that only Amex cards not associated with a bank will work with Apple Pay in Canada. Sent from the iMore App
  • Oh geez! Yeah, mine is through Scotia Bank so that may be the case.
    Thanks for the heads up!
  • I just added my Airmiles Amex to my iPhone and  Watch. The process was easy. It's my go-to card now.
  • Looked through the list of supported vendors in Canada (, a bit surprised to see the TTC being listed as "Coming Soon". Think this might the first time that the transit folks are being forward thinking. A real shocker.
  • Although Rene doesn't mention it, you can expect adoption of Apple Pay by vendors to be extremely slow though. For instance Whole Foods accepts Apple Pay in the USA and was one of the very first adopters of it, but they aren't on the Canadian list because like most vendors ... they don't accept American Express. So for those people expecting that this list of vendors is going to take off like a rocket as it did in the USA, think again. It's going to be a lot slower. Only when the BANKS in a particular country get on board with Apple Pay will the list of vendors grow appreciably. Vendors aren't going to start taking Amex just because Apple Pay. There is simply no reason for them to do so, and plenty of reasons why they should not.
  • I had Amex, and it is not always accepted. Now it maybe better now, because it has been a couple of years. I tried to use it at gas stations, and ran into problems. One of the Warehouse store would take it either. But I could say the same with Discover to. Maybe it was some sort of exclusivity with Visa or MasterCard at those places. But there was always good perks, and specials with it. Sent from the iMore App
  • I tried using it at Timmies. The employees couldn't figure out how to make it work. *sigh* #learningcurve
  • Weird. Usually they don't have to do anything for contactless payments. Most times they don't even know. Better option is to not confuse them and just say you are paying with credit then tap and go.
  • Also, I'm not 100% sure Timmie's even accepts Amex.
  • I thought the same thing but just googled it and found an article that highlights Timmies as one of the retailers that will accept it. Sent from the iMore App
  • Big fail!!!! I don't know anyone with half a brain that actually uses amex in Australia due to the high surcharges that local vendors charge for each transaction. Not to mention there are a lot of vendors that don't offer amex because of these fees. When Apple get visa and MasterCard on board in Australia I'll pay attention.
  • Spot on! Amex is a distant 3rd in Aus.
  • Amex is distant 3rd in Canada too.
  • This is why I keep saying that it's irresponsible for tech sites (especially those with a hard-on for Apple like this one), to keep saying that "Apple Pay is live in Canada" or some such. How could it be right to say that Apple Pay is "live" in country A, B, or C, if NONE of the banks in that country are actually on board? NO Canadian banks are on board with Apple Pay. NO Australian banks are on board with Apple Pay. Amex is a USA card that is intended *only* for the richy-rich types. Regular working folks don't even QUALIFY for an Amex card and the vast majority of businesses (around the world) *don't* accept Amex mostly for the same reason. This is true regardless of whether it's being used in conjunction with Apple Pay or whether it's just being used as a card. The whole idea that the fact that a *minority* *foreign* card is accepted in a teeny-tiny fraction of upscale businesses in a particular country equates to "Apple Pay is live," is just a joke. A bad, sad, joke.
  • Only American Express that sucks. Sent from the iMore App
  • Guess the Australian banks are still trying to play hardball. Hopefully just a matter of time.
  • Good news.
  • I don't know about "charges". More like silently walks in, in slippers, in the middle of the night, into Canada without anybody noticing. American Express? Really?
  • I just walked into Rexall in downtown Toronto and bought a few things. I asked at the cash whether they take Amex and she said yes. I know they have credit card tap terminals because I tap my VISA card there all the time. They have no Apple Pay or similar signs and I didn't even ask her if they accept Apple Pay, I just waited for the terminal to display the amount owing and the "Tap, Swipe or Insert Card" message to appear, and I tapped my phone. It didn't work the first time, but I think I took my thumb off the reader too quick. I tried it a second time, and it worked like a charm. The salesperson almost fell over she was so surprised! Can't wait to try it with my Watch. Do I need to turn the watch over / face down onto the reader, or just bring my wrist close to the reader?
  • I'm glad it finally showed up in Canada. Now maybe Rene will stop complaining about it. :)
  • I don't understand it either. They bring it to Canada but I still can't even connect any of my credit cards or bank cards to it yet so how am I even suppose to test out this feature? The feature that have been introduced to iPhones over a year ago and yet Canada still have limited access to it. Maybe I'll just wait another few months or so until it starts to become relevant in Canada