The countries closest to going cashless: what you need to know

Discover the places around the world that are closest to becoming cashless countries, and the steps they have taken to get there.

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With the use of cash declining, countries worldwide are heading towards a cashless society. Consumers are instead opting for alternative payment methods such as credit and debit cards, contactless payments and digital wallets.

In some cases, this move to cashless payments is being prompted by retailers preferring not to handle cash at all. This is particularly true of smaller stores, pop-ups and food stands, for whom securely dealing with cash can be one hassle too many compared to the ease of handling card or mobile transactions.

While there are currently no entirely cashless countries (so far), let’s take a look at the ones that are leading the way and closest to going cash-free.

What is a cashless society?

Put simply, a cashless society is one in which every single payment and transaction is made by bank card or electronic funds, rather than by cash or cheque.

The countries closest to going cashless

So, which countries are the closest to becoming cashless, and eliminating cash payments?

Hong Kong

Hong Kong is quickly heading towards a cashless society, with initial predictions even suggesting that 2024 could be the year that the country goes fully cash-free.

While they may not quite hit that goal this year, Hong Kong is the only country that made our list of (almost) cashless countries that have incentivised citizens to go cash-free.

To boost spending after the pandemic, the Hong Kong government issued $36 billion in ‘consumption vouchers.’ These encouraged citizens to use digital payment channels such as AliPay, WeChat and Tap & Go.

It should be no surprise that Hong Kong is on track to be one of the first cashless countries in the world. After all, it was the very first country to introduce a digital payment method, Octopus, all the way back in 1997.


Sweden is one of the countries at the forefront of the cashless movement. That’s quite the irony, as the country was also the very first in Europe to issue bank notes back in the 17th Century.

Some 98% of the population in Sweden own a bank card, and there are less than 32 cash machines per 100,00 people. According to the International Monetary Fund, over half of Swedish banks no longer handle cash either.

The progress towards a cashless society is backed up by law in Sweden, with merchants legally allowed to refuse cash. It’s not uncommon to walk into a shop and find “no cash accepted” signs hanging up.


The Australian authorities have been making steps in recent years to digitise much of their economy, and Australian citizens now have access to four major digital wallet systems:

  • Apple Pay
  • Google Pay
  • Samsung Pay
  • AliPay

While experts have predicted that Australia will be fully cashless by 2030, the idea of becoming a cashless society is causing some concern. A 2024 report by online payment app Waave found that 72% of Australians found the idea of going cashless worrying.

The report found Australians were most concerned about a cashless movement excluding groups in society, as well as potential increases in fees for completing online payments.


It’s probably no surprise that China would appear on this list. Despite falling behind Scandinavia regarding cashless adoption, China is taking huge steps towards becoming a cashless country.

One of the most notable steps China has made is the introduction of QR code scanning to make a payment.

It’s common in China for customers to simply scan a QR code to complete their payment, rather than using a card reader. This makes the payment process even quicker and more efficient, and leverages the widespread smartphone adoption across the nation.


Finland is giving neighbours Sweden a run for their money (no pun intended) when it comes to going cashless.

The Bank of Finland has officially predicted that the country will be cash-free by 2029. With a huge 98% of Fins owning a debit card, that projection looks likely.

It’s not all good news for a potential cashless society however. Over half of Finland’s population don’t believe in the idea of a cashless future, meaning the government may be facing an uphill struggle to get everyone on board if they are to catch up with Sweden.

How would a cashless society impact your small business?

There are plenty of things to consider as a small business owner when it comes to going cashless. Not only will you need to have the right payment processors in place, but you’ll also no longer be able to accept cash-in-hand jobs. 

How close is the UK to going cashless?

So what about the UK? While it isn’t close to the likes of Sweden and Hong Kong when it comes to going cashless, there are positive signs already in place.

More than 50% of people in the UK have a digital wallet set up on their smartphone, allowing them to make payments electronically rather than with cash.

While there is nothing currently in UK law to enforce a move towards cashless payments, the UK government has made it clear that it does not intend to stop businesses from refusing to accept cash.

Is America going cashless?

While America hasn’t made our list of the countries closest to going cashless, it is worth noting the steps the country is making to reduce reliance on dollar notes.

Research suggests that around 40% of Americans claim that none of their purchases in a typical week are made using cash.

Many small businesses in America already have signs up stating they don’t accept cash. Card-only self-checkout stations are becoming increasingly popular across the country.

Unlike cashless leaders such as Sweden however, the US Federal Reserve is so far resisting implementing official policies or cash-free trials.

Pro-cash countries

Many countries worldwide are heading towards a cashless society, but are there any that are resisting the movement?

The short answer is yes. Germany, Austria, Malta, Spain and Cyprus are all countries that are still heavily reliant on cash, lacking the digital infrastructure to support going cashless any time soon.

Final thoughts

It’s no surprise that the journey towards a cashless society looks drastically different from country to country. Consumer behaviour is not one size fits all. Payment preferences will differ depending on a variety of factors including demographics, access to digital payment systems and the less easily quantifiable personal opinion and local culture.

For small businesses, there are plenty of benefits to going cashless, such as added security and protection for your transactions and removing the need to store and deposit cash.

One thing we do know for sure is that digital payment methods have been growing in popularity for years and that isn’t going to change. As a small business, you need to be prepared, with the systems and devices in place to accept digital payments.

The only question remaining is which country is going to win the race to be the first fully cashless country in the world and judging by this list, it could be either Sweden or Hong Kong. Both countries are quickly approaching a cashless society, only time will tell which one will officially win the race.

Lucy Nixon profile
Lucy Nixon - content writer

With 10 years experience in the digital marketing industry, Lucy is a content writer specialising in ecommerce, website building and all things small business. Her passion is breaking down tricky topics into digestible and engaging content for readers. She's also committed to uncovering the best platforms, tools, and strategies, researching meticulously to providing hand-on tips and advice.

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