US-based payment card companies, including American Express, MasterCard and Visa, are preparing to submit license requests to operate in China within months, three people with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters. However, it may take as long as two years or more for the companies to clear all official scrutiny, including from banking regulators, and for them to pass a security review, as well as meeting other conditions, the sources said. China first agreed in 2015 to open the card market to local and foreign businesses, a move triggered by a 2012 World Trade Organization ruling. However, foreign card companies have been unable to set up local operations in the absence of a clear roadmap from Chinese authorities. China is set to become the world’s largest bank card market by 2020, when the number of cards in circulation is forecast to rise to 9 billion from 6 billion in 2016, according to research firm GlobalData Plc.