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Google Wallet: How it works, which countries, and everything you need to know

Google Wallet
(Image credit: Android Central)

The original Google Wallet launched in 2011 as a Nexus phone exclusive, allowing contactless credit card payments at specific locations. But a lack of NFC-enabled phones, not enough retail partnerships, and little consumer interest ensured the initiative never really took off despite Google's best efforts.

Android Pay took Wallet's place in 2015 as a payment system with much more business support and infrastructure, while Wallet scaled down into a peer-to-peer payment system. Then both services consolidated into the Google Pay brand, a single app for both tap-to-pay and sending money to friends, and Google Wallet ceased to be.

Four years later, Google decided to rebrand its payment service one more time by pulling the Google Wallet name out of hibernation. It will soon launch a new Google Wallet app, replacing the Google Pay app in all but a handful of nations. 

Confused? We don't blame you! But we're here to explain how the new Google Wallet system will work, how it will be similar and different to the old Google Pay, which countries will support it, and when features like driver's licenses will come to it.

Google Wallet, summarized

Google Wallet example animation

(Image credit: Google)

Before Google Wallet, Google Pay could store more than your credit cards and bank accounts; it could also save boarding passes, event confirmations, transit balances, and other tools that weren't strictly "payments."

By rebranding to Google Wallet, Google is signaling that the app isn't just for buying things. Instead, it's truly meant to be a digital wallet that saves any credit and debit cards, passes, proof of vaccination, gift cards, and coupons you'd typically keep in a physical wallet.

If you have something stored in Google Wallet, other Google apps on Android phones will have access to this information. So, for example, if you receive an email on Gmail with a delayed flight time, it'll notify you and change the stored boarding pass information. Or, Wallet will sync with Google Maps, so if you choose a route that includes public transit and the transit system accepts Google Pay, it will show a banner with your current Wallet balance.

This is where it gets a bit convoluted: Physical store locations will still support "Google Pay" as before. But you'll use the Google Wallet app to select your digital cards and make those Google Pay transactions. So if you see that a store accepts Google Pay, that means you'll need the Google Wallet app now, not Pay.

What can you store in Google Wallet?

Google Wallet

(Image credit: Google)

Whatever cards you were able to store in Google Pay in the past, you'll now be able to store in Google Wallet, from credit cards to transit passes. Also, during Google I/O, the company announced new digital ID cards that will eventually work with Google Wallet in the future. 

First and foremost, you can store credit and debit cards in Google Wallet. Most banks and cards are supported, but to make sure yours are, Google has a list of supported contactless payments (opens in new tab) sorted by country. 

You can add your loyalty cards or membership cards, assuming the program's company has submitted its API to Google Pay. You'll then be able to tap your phone or watch to apply discounts or balances, as well as pay directly for items.

Plus, you'll keep your boarding passes and event tickets in Google Wallet, so entering a plane or stadium is as simple as pulling them up and tapping your phone.

Google Wallet example animation

(Image credit: Google)

Google Wallet will technically cache transit cards as well, though at the moment, it only seems to support Clipper Card in California. And parking passes will also show up here; at Google I/O, they gave the example of a Walt Disney World parking pass.

In terms of new features, you'll be able to store COVID-19 vaccine passports; Google says that "if you take a screenshot of your boarding pass or Covid vaccine card from an Android device, we'll give you the option to add it directly to your Google Wallet."

In the future, Google Wallet will even host hotel room keys, office passes, and digital car keys — though the latter will require your car to work with the feature.

Google's biggest challenge, however, will be to enable digital driver's licenses or college IDs. These will come to Google Wallet starting in 2022, but not necessarily for you depending on where you live.

Can I store my driver's license in Google Wallet?

Digital Driver's license graphic

(Image credit: Google)

During Google I/O 2022, VP of Product Management Sameer Samat announced on stage that "we're working with states here in the U.S. and governments around the world to bring digital IDs to wallet later this year, starting with driver's licenses." 

You'll be able to tap an NFC reader or share a QR code to convey your license information. We don't know yet what it'll look like, as the I/O visual example they gave had a "for illustrative purposes only" disclaimer. 

Google hasn't announced which states or nations will support digital licenses yet, and without state permission or the approval of law enforcement and the TSA, a Google Wallet license would be all but useless, leading to confusion.

Apple has already begun to receive permission for digital licenses in certain U.S. states, so we can expect the following states and territories to support them on Android phones as well: Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Ohio, Puerto Rico, and Utah.

As for other states or nations, we'll all have to stay tuned for more information.

We've also heard rumors that not all Android phones can support licenses. Esper senior technical editor Mishaal Rahman found evidence the feature may require something called Identity Credential Hardware Abstraction Layer, something that phones upgrading to Android 13 may not have. But Google hasn't mentioned any such restrictions as of yet, so don't lose hope.

Which countries will get Google Wallet?

Google Wallet

(Image credit: Google)

In the 38 countries listed below, your Google Pay app will automatically convert into Google Wallet once it's available. It'll offer all of the same services before, along with some new ones.

  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Brazil
  • Bulgaria
  • Canada
  • Chile
  • Croatia
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hong Kong
  • Hungary
  • Ireland
  • Israel
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Kazakhstan
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Romania
  • Slovakia
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Taiwan
  • Ukraine
  • United Arab Emirates
  • United Kingdom

In addition, both Singapore and the United States will receive the Google Wallet app. But they'll retain access to the Google Pay app, which will serve as a peer-to-peer payment platform. Those living in these countries will have to download Google Wallet separately.

The only exception to these lists is India, which had its own unique Google Pay app and won't transition to Google Wallet.

Google Wallet vs. Google Pay

Google Pay app

(Image credit: Andrew Myrick / Android Central)

Comparing Google Wallet vs. Google Pay only matters for users in Singapore and the United States, where GPay will remain its own separate app. But in essence, Google Pay will become what Wallet used to be: a peer-to-peer payment service.

Google Pay will allow you to connect with your contacts so you can send or receive money. You can pull money directly from your bank account or send your balance back to the bank. It also has special offers from merchants, as well as your searchable Google Pay transaction history in case you need to check old payments.

By contrast, Wallet will focus on tap-to-pay or tap-to-enter services will partnered vendors and organizations. You can use digital cards in your Wallet app to pay at physical Google Pay locations, but it doesn't enable P2P payments.

Google also claims Wallet has better interconnectivity with other Google apps like Gmail, Calendar, and Maps — something the Google Pay app never offered.

Google Wallet vs. Samsung Wallet

Samsung Wallet

(Image credit: Android Central)

Google promised in May that the new Google Wallet would arrive in the coming weeks, but as of late June we've yet to see it. That's allowed Samsung to get the jump on Google and announce a new Samsung Wallet app that combines Samsung Pay and Samsung Pass. Sound familiar?

Like Google Wallet, Samsung Wallet collects your digital payment cards, boarding passes, vaccination cards, and digital car keys — and will also add IDs and licenses in 2022, though once again we don't know which will receive support.

Unlike Google Wallet, Samsung Wallet will support passwords, a remnant of the feature on Samsung Pass. Anyone invested in crypto can "monitor their digital asset portfolio by checking the value of their cryptocurrencies across various exchanges" within Wallet.

Samsung Wallet is available now, but only on Samsung phones via the Galaxy Store — whereas Google Wallet will come to all Android phones via the Play Store — and only in six countries: France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the U.K., and the U.S.

Michael spent years freelancing on every tech topic under the sun before settling down on the real exciting stuff: virtual reality, fitness wearables, gaming, and how tech intersects with our world. He's a semi-reformed Apple-to-Android user who loves running, D&D, and Star Wars. Find him on Twitter at @Michael_L_Hicks.