Apple Pay: The Essential Guide to Paying With a Digital Wallet

A woman laughs as her daughter kisses her on the cheek as she pays for groceries with her phone.
Getty Images

Available since 2014, Apple Pay is an easy way to pay for purchases online or in-store, send and receive money and — bonus! — you’ll feel like you’re in “Blade Runner” whenever you make a purchase. Apple Pay is pretty straightforward to set up, available on all of your Apple devices and can be much more secure than paying with a traditional credit or debit card. You can even send money to family and friends with no fees.

What Is Apple Pay?

Apple Pay is Apple’s mobile payment and digital wallet service that allows you to pay for purchases both in person and online using your iPhone, Apple Watch, iPad or Mac computer. Launched just after the iPhone 6, Apple Pay has enabled users to replace their physical debit and credit cards and pay at any terminal that supports contactless payments.

Through Apple Pay, you can also use Apple Cash to send or receive money and — coming later in 2022 — Apple Pay Later, a buy now, pay later option.

To use Apple Pay, you’ll need an iPhone 6 or newer with iOS 8.1 or later installed. An Apple Watch — series 3 or newer — can also be used with Apple Pay. Certain Macs and iPads can also utilize Apple Pay for online transactions. Check out Apple’s website for the full list of supported devices.

Pro Tip

Before setting up Apple Pay, be sure your device has updated to the latest edition of its software. You can find update guides via Apple Support for upgrading your iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch or Mac.

Is Apple Pay Safe?

Apple Pay is an incredibly safe way to pay for purchases because it uses built-in security features to ensure your data stays secure. For starters, Apple doesn’t store or have access to your original card numbers. Any information Apple does store on its servers is securely encrypted and can only be unlocked using a security key that only your payment network can access.

Instead of storing your card information, Apple Pay assigns a device account number when you add a card rather than using your card number. This account number cannot be decrypted by Apple and is stored in the secure element, a special security chip on your device.

When you use Apple Pay, you will need to authenticate it by using a passcode set on your device or even more secure biometrics, such as Face ID or Touch ID. For security reasons, Apple Pay cannot be used on your device without setting a passcode.

Pro Tip

Apple Pay is just for Apple devices but Google Pay can be used on Android devices and just to send money on Apple devices. Samsung Pay is another digital payment option for Android users.

How to Use Apple Pay on iPhone

One of the most popular ways to use Apple Pay is via your iPhone. After all, it’s almost always in your pocket or bag. You’ll need at least an iPhone 6 or newer to use Apple Pay.

Setup on iPhone

Step 1: Begin by opening the Wallet app on your iPhone. It is preinstalled on all iPhones running iOS 8.1 or later.

Step 2: In the upper-right corner of the screen, tap the (+) add button.

Step 3: Tap Credit or Debit Card to add your card, then tap Continue.

Step 4: Follow the prompts on-screen to add your debit or credit card. You can either scan your physical card or tap Enter Card Details Manually.

Step 5: Verify your information is correct. During this process, you may need to confirm your identity through a text message or phone call from your bank. Some banks may also require that you install their app on your iPhone to continue.

Step 6: If you have an Apple Watch, you will be given the option to add your card to your smartwatch as an additional payment option.

Pro Tip

If your credit or debit card isn’t supported, there isn’t much you can do except ask your bank about adding that feature. Otherwise, it may be time to find another bank.

Use on iPhone

Once your card has been added to the Wallet app, you can begin using Apple Pay. When you shop in person, look for an Apple Pay icon or contactless payment symbol (which looks similar to the WiFi symbol) on the machine. When it comes time to pay, the machine may also say that you can tap to pay.

Pro Tip

Still unsure if you can use Apple Pay? Just ask! The staff at most retail stores should know and are very familiar with customers asking whether or not they accept Apple Pay.

When you are ready to use Apple Pay, simply double-click the side button (aka the power button) and authenticate with either Face ID or your passcode. If you have an iPhone with Touch ID, double click the home button instead of the side button.

Once you double click and authenticate, the Wallet app will automatically open. If you have multiple credit or debit cards in your wallet, simply tap the card you wish to use. Hold the top of your iPhone near the contactless payment terminal. You’ll hear a sound and see a checkmark appear on your screen when the payment is complete.

Pro Tip

You can use Apple Pay online anywhere the checkout option "Buy with Apple Pay" is available. Once selected, double click and authenticate as normal to complete the transaction, no tapping required.

How to Use Apple Pay on Apple Watch

Paying with your Apple Watch is a fun way to handle transactions. You don’t even need to take your iPhone out of your pocket! Just make sure you added a card to your Apple Watch when you set it up in the Wallet app on your iPhone or add one directly on your Apple Watch.

Setup on Apple Watch

Step 1: On your Apple Watch, open the Wallet app. You can access all of the apps on your watch by clicking the digital crown on the side of the device.

Step 2: In the Wallet app, scroll down and tap the Add Card button.

Step 3: Tap Debit or Credit Card to add your card, then tap Continue.

Step 4: Follow the prompts on-screen to add your debit or credit card.

Step 5: Verify your information is correct. Like with a phone, you may need to confirm your identity for security with a text or call from your bank. You may have to install your bank’s app to continue.

Pro Tip

You can also add a new debit or credit card to Apple Pay by using the Watch app on your iPhone. Launch the Watch app, navigate to the My Watch tab at the bottom and select Wallet & Apple Pay.

Use on Apple Watch

Once your credit or debit card has been added, you can use Apple Pay with a tap of your wrist at terminals that accept contactless payments.

When you are ready to pay, simply double click the side button on your watch to open the Wallet app. Scroll down to the card you wish to use, then hold the watch near the contactless payment terminal. You will hear a beep and feel a vibration when the payment is complete.

How to Use Apple Pay on Mac or iPad

You can’t pay in-store with Apple Pay on your Mac or iPad. After all, think how funny it would be if you tried to tap your entire Macbook to the payment terminal. You’d certainly get a few odd looks. But you can add your card information to these devices, so you can quickly pay online at websites that support Apple Pay.

Setup on iPad or Mac

Step 1: Begin by opening Wallet settings on your device. On iPad, you can open the Settings app and then tap Wallet & Apple Pay. On Mac, you can open the System Preferences app, then click Wallet & Apple Pay.

Step 2: Tap the Add Card button.

Step 3: Follow the prompts on-screen to add your debit or credit card.

Step 4: Verify your information is correct and confirm your identity if you receive a text or call from your bank. You may need to install your bank’s app to continue.

Use on iPad or Mac

Similar to using Apple Pay on your iPhone, you can check out with Apple Pay on your iPad or Mac in any app or website that gives the Pay with Apple Pay option at checkout. These options can speed up your payment process and make your transactions a bit more secure.

If the Pay with Apple Pay option is available, select it and pick which card you want to use. Confirm your payment by biometrics, Face ID or Touch ID, whichever is available on your device.

What Is Apple Cash?

Apple Cash (formerly Apple Pay Cash) is a service similar to Venmo or Cash App. The Apple Cash feature adds a virtual card to the Wallet app in your iPhone that you can use to send or receive money. Money on this virtual card can be used for Apple Pay transactions or transferred to your bank account instantly for a fee or within 1-3 business days at no charge.

How to Use Apple Cash

To view your Apple Cash card, open the Wallet app and tap on the black Apple Cash card to see your current balance and recent transactions. To set up Apple Cash for the first time, tap the card, then follow the on-screen prompts.

The easiest way to send and receive money is from within the Wallet app. Tap the Apple Cash card and you will see two buttons appear, Request and Pay. Click the appropriate button to request money from friends and family or send money. You can also send money within the iMessage app by tapping the Apple Cash button above the keyboard.

Pro Tip

The ability to send or receive money within the Wallet app was added in iOS 15.5. If you don't see the right buttons, be sure that your iPhone is up to date with the latest software from Apple.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Where can I use Apple Pay?

In general, you can use Apple Pay in-store at any location with terminals that support contactless payments. You can identify payment terminals that accept contactless payments by looking for an Apple Pay logo or contactless payment symbol, which looks similar to the WiFi symbol, on the machine. When in doubt, ask the cashier if the store accepts Apple Pay. 

Apple Pay can be used online with any merchants that provide a Pay with Apple Pay option at checkout.

Is there a monthly fee for Apple Pay?

No, there is no fee to set up Apple Pay and no additional fees when you use Apple Pay. It’s the same as using your credit or debit card directly.

Is Apple Pay the same as Apple Wallet?

Apple Pay and Apple Wallet are related, but they are not the same. Apple Wallet is the name of the app on your device that stores your credit and debit cards and other information, like boarding passes and tickets. Apple Pay is the contactless payment service you can use once your cards are in the Wallet app. You must set up your cards in Apple Wallet to use Apple Pay.

Michael Archambault is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder specializing in technology.