5 things to consider before upgrading your SIM card to pay for bus, train rides

A mobile phone equipped with a Near Field Communications (NFC) capability being used to make purchases. PHOTO: ST FILE
Remote video URL

SINGAPORE - Commuters can finally tap with their phones to pay for bus and train rides. This follows two years of Near Field Communications (NFC) mobile payment trials by the Land Transport Authority.

In short, NFC short-range wireless communication technology allows for data transmission between a mobile device and a contactless card reader.

It had several false starts in Singapore dating as far back as 2003, when the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) promoted the use of cellphones to pay carpark charges. The service failed to take off partly because it was too cumbersome.

As recently as August 2012, IDA revived the concept at retail outlets, but it did not garner much consumer interest.

Today, NFC payment is accepted by 30,000 retail points here, including ComfortDelgro taxis and stores like Watsons.

Missing all these years is what many believed to be the "killer" application: payment for bus and train rides.

Even though this is now possible, there are a few things to consider before jumping on the bandwagon.

1. Get NFC SIM card

Commuters must buy a new NFC SIM card from their telcos priced at $37.45, and turn on their device's NFC function before tapping to make payments. The ez-link purse is stored in the SIM card, not in the mobile phone. It works in the background to enable payment, but the phone must not run out of battery.


To check their ez-link purse balances, users need to download the EZ-Link app from the Google Play store. Like the ez-link card, the ez-link purse has a five-year validity. The expiration date is displayed in the EZ-Link app.


Only NFC handsets that follow the national standard - the Contactless e-Purse Application Standard (Cepas) found in every ez-link card - can be used here. Handset certification is done by a consortium that runs the government-backed mobile payment system. The consortium includes SingTel, StarHub, M1, Citibank Singapore, DBS Bank and smart card chip maker Gemalto.

As of Tuesday (March 29), only 19 handsets from LG, Samsung and Sony have been approved for transit payment here.

4. The wait goes on if you are an Apple iPhone user

Apple has reportedly put its NFC chip on "lockdown", restricting its use to only its mobile payments platform Apple Pay, which is expected to roll out in Singapore later this year.


Singapore's NFC SIM card is a separate payment system from other digital wallets like Apple Pay or Samsung Pay, also expected to launch in Singapore this year.

Apple Pay and Samsung Pay require users to add their credit card details to a digital wallet stored on their phones before they can tap to pay for goods.

For starters, Apple Pay will accept Singapore-issued American Express cards.

Samsung Pay will accept Singapore-issued cards by DBS Bank, OCBC Bank, Standard Chartered Bank and American Express.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.