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Samsung Pay: What you need to know (FAQ)

Here's how Samsung Pay works and what you need to use the mobile payment system.

Samsung wants its mobile payment system, Samsung Pay, to replace the plastic cards in your wallet.

It works in almost all stores -- including those that use older magnetic-stripe point-of-sale terminals -- without merchants needing to opt in to any program or update hardware.

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Lexy Savvides/CNET

Where is Samsung Pay available?

It's currently available in (deep breath) the US, UK, Australia, Belarus, Brazil, Canada, China, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, United Arab Emirates and Vietnam.

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Which phone, bank, card and carrier do I need?

Samsung Pay works with the Galaxy S9 ($712 at Amazon.com), S9 Plus, Note 8Galaxy S8 ($540 at Amazon.com), S8 Plus, S7, S7 Edge, S6 Edge Plus, S6, S6 Edge, S6 Active and Galaxy Note 5 ($330 at Amazon.com). It's also available on smartwatches: the Gear S2 (only for transactions on NFC terminals), Gear S3, Gear Fit 2 and Gear Sport.

All major carriers in the US support Samsung Pay: AT&T, Cricket, MetroPCS, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon and US Cellular.

You will need a Visa, MasterCard, Discover or American Express card. See the full list of supported banks and cards in the chart below.

Where can I use Samsung Pay?

Samsung claims that its system will work with almost all point-of-sale systems: NFC, magnetic stripe and EMV (Europay, MasterCard and Visa) terminals for chip-based cards.

It won't work with readers where you need to physically insert your card into a slot, however, such as those found at gas stations and on ATMs.

Using Samsung Pay in stores around San Francisco, I found that it was accepted almost everywhere. These included vendors using Square readers; NFC terminals in major chain retailers like Trader Joe's and Walgreens; and magnetic stripe readers in smaller stores. Merchants may still require you to sign a receipt for the transaction.

What does the setup process involve?

Once the Samsung Pay app is installed, register your fingerprint on the device if you haven't done so already. The camera will launch so you can scan your credit or debit card. Check that the number, name and expiration date are all correct. Finally, the app will need to verify the card by sending you an SMS or email from your bank.

A total of 10 cards can be added to Samsung Pay.

How does it work?

Samsung Pay uses near-field communication (NFC) technology to process payments at tap-to-pay terminals.

The system also works with almost all other magnetic stripe terminals as well. These older systems are widely deployed throughout retailers in the US. Samsung Pay uses what it calls magnetic secure transmission (MST) when the phone is held against one of these registers. The phone emits a magnetic signal that simulates the magnetic strip found on the back of a credit or debit card.

In 2015 Samsung acquired mobile payment company LoopPay, which developed the specific MST technology used for Samsung Pay.

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Lexy Savvides/CNET

How do I make a payment with Samsung Pay?

From the lock screen, swipe up from the small Samsung Pay bar. Select the card you want to pay with, then place your finger on the fingerprint scanner to verify your fingerprint, use the iris scan or PIN. Hold the back of the phone against the payment terminal.

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You'll see a transaction notification pop up at the top of the screen.

Lexy Savvides/CNET

If you're using a debit card through Samsung Pay, you may still need to enter the card PIN on the terminal. Once the payment is made you will get a notification that confirms the merchant name and the amount of your purchase. This information is also documented in the Samsung Pay app.

How does it differ from Apple Pay or Google Pay?

The main difference is that Samsung Pay works at almost all stores that accept credit or debit cards, not just those with tap-to-pay NFC terminals. Samsung Pay also offers a cash back feature with a number of participating retailers and Chase Pay users can also link the digital wallets with Samsung Pay. Here is a chart that compares the three services.

Samsung Pay vs. Apple Pay vs. Google Pay

Samsung Pay Apple Pay Google Pay
Samsung Galaxy S9, S9 Plus, Note 8, S8, S8 Plus, S7, S7 Edge, S6 Edge Plus, Galaxy Note 5, Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, Gear S2 and S3 Apple iPhone X, iPhone 8/8 Plus, iPhone 7/7Plus, 6/6 Plus, 6S/6S Plus, SE, Apple Watch, MacBook Pro with TouchID, iPad 5/6th generation, iPad Air 2, iPad Pro and iPad Mini 3 and 4 Android phones with NFC and HCE support running KitKat (4.4) or higher
24 countries worldwide 27 countries worldwide 18 countries worldwide
Fingerprint, PIN or iris authentication FaceID or fingerprint authentication Fingerprint, PIN, pattern or password authentication
Works with NFC, magnetic stripe or EMV terminals, in-app purchases Works with NFC terminals, in-app purchases and web purchases in Safari Works with NFC terminals and in-app purchases
Credit, debit, loyalty and gift cards Credit, debit, loyalty cards Credit, debit, loyalty and gift cards
Wide variety of banks: full list here; PayPal Wide variety of banks: full list here Wide variety of banks: full list here; PayPal

Is it secure?

Samsung Pay does not store the account or credit card numbers of cards on the device, instead using tokenization for transactions. Each time a purchase is made, the Samsung Pay handset sends two pieces of data to the payment terminal. The first is a 16-digit token that represents the credit or debit card number, while the second piece is a one-time code or cryptogram generated by the phone's encryption key.

What if I lose my phone?

Payments can't be made from your phone without being authorized via fingerprint, PIN or iris scan. If you register with Samsung's Find My Mobile service you can remotely erase information on the phone, including any cards stored in Samsung Pay.

Can I use Samsung Pay even without a Wi-Fi or cellular connection?

Yes, although you will only be able to make 10 payments without the device being on Wi-Fi or cellular data. You will also need an active internet connection to add a card and to access transaction history.

Can I use Samsung Pay overseas?

For US customers, if you can use your card overseas then it's likely it will also work with Samsung Pay when you travel. The caveat is that if you try to add a card while you are traveling outside the US, you may have to contact your bank.

Does Samsung Pay also work for returns?

Yes. Merchants may require you to hold the phone against the payment terminal in the same way as when you make a payment to process the return. Also, you will be asked to match the payment information on the receipt with the last four digits of your virtual card number. This is accessed through the Samsung Pay app.

Editors' note: This article was originally published on Sept. 28, 2015, and is continually updated with new information.