We recently travelled to London and everyone was tapping their cards and phones to pay for most things. This spurred a conversation and half the party had no idea if their phones could do it and if it could how to set it up, so here’s how.

Step one – do you have an Apple phone or an Android?

If you’ve a recent Apple phone you’ve got a system called Apple Pay built in. This is contactless payment system that works by tapping and can also be used on the web. Apple have agreements with most UK banks and setup is just a matter of putting your details into the Apple Pay App on the  phone once, verifying via a text message or email. Then when you want to pay just unlock the phone and tap.

Android phones are almost as easy. Android Pay uses a technology called NFC that the vast majority of mid-range and above handsets have already installed. Check the list here and if your phone is compatible download the Google App here. As with Apple most but not quite all banks support Android Pay but Google are good enough to provide a list here. Setup is simple – enter your card details, get a verification text and it’s ready to use. The Android Pay app will also let you scan in your loyalty cards which is an decent bonus and let me halve what I was carrying in my wallet.

Where are they accepted? Most places with card payment systems. If you see the contactless payment logo then their system will almost certainly work with your phone. The retailer doesn’t have to do anything special to accept them and there’s a good chance that the Android Pay logo in particular won’t be displayed. I’ve come across several places where the staff didn’t know that it worked and were very sceptical but that’s happening less and less. If it doesn’t work worst case is that nothing happens.

Why would you want to use your phone instead of a tap to pay card? There are several reasons – the first is far better security. Tapping with your phone only works if your phone is unlocked whereas a card could be used by anyone. Phones also regenerate your card number and pass on a unique number to each retailer so if you do get your details stolen you’ll be able to identify where the leak was. Unlike with cards the phone will tell you exactly how much you just spent with your contactless payment – very reassuring if you don’t fully trust the retailer. Finally the £30 limit on NFC cards isn’t a factor for phones – at most places they can be used to pay for any amount. In short it’s generally safer and more convenient.