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Limitations of PayPal Standard with Subscriptions

Since WooCommerce version 5.5.0, PayPal Standard is hidden for new installations. This change doesn’t affect existing stores. We strongly encourage everyone using PayPal standard to use the recommended PayPal Payments extension instead, which is our full-stack solution (credit card processing, PayPal checkout, subscriptions, pay later options, etc).
Although PayPal Standard can be used with Subscriptions, it is also one of the most limited payment gateways. For this reason, it is highly suggested that you understand the limitations that will exist for your subscriptions that use PayPal Standard.

What does PayPal Standard not support?

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Multiple Subscriptions

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The multiple subscriptions restriction refers to the purchase of more than one subscription per transaction.

Recurring Total Modifications

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Store admins will be unable to modify the recurring totals in a subscription. If you’d like to see more details regarding what recurring total modifications are, you can view the Change recurring totals section in the Manually Add or Edit a Subscription documentation.

Billing Date Modifications

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Store admins will be unable to modify any of the billing dates for a subscription. Billing dates include the ‘Next payment date’, ‘End date’, and ‘Trial end date’. If you’d like more information regarding billing date modifications, you can view Change billing schedule section in the Manually Add or Edit a Subscription documentation.

Upgrading/Downgrading (Switching)

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Some stores choose to offer a way for their customers to change the subscription that they are currently subscribed to via the Switching functionality in Subscriptions. Switching is not possible with PayPal, as it involves changing the current product line item of a subscription. If you’d like more details regarding Switching, you can view our Subscription Switching Guide.

$0 Recurring Totals

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Subscriptions where the total cost is charged up front, but an item is still shipped on a regular basis. WooCommerce Subscriptions does work around this limitation by sending the initial purchase to PayPal as a one-off purchase and then processing the renewals itself; however, subscriptions with a $0 recurring total won’t show up in your PayPal account like other subscriptions.

$0.01 Recurring Totals

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To record the second trial period, PayPal sends a payment IPN for $0.01. This IPN should be ignored, however, it appears exactly the same as a standard renewal payment. For this reason, WooCommerce Subscriptions will ignore IPNs for $0.01. If you want to test PayPal Standard, please use a product with a recurring total greater than $0.01.

Sign-Up Fees

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WooCommerce Subscriptions will work around this limitation by splitting the payment if it includes a sign-up fee. It can then add any initial amount to an initial billing period, which PayPal (unfortunately) refers to as a Trial Period, and then set the correct recurring amount for all future payments. The initial and recurring totals add up correctly, and the billing schedule is the same as agreed on your site; but it may be confusing to your customers if they review a subscription’s details in their PayPal account and see Trial Period listed on a subscription with no mention of a trial period in your store.
Screenshot of two trial periods with PayPal Standard
Two Trial Periods with PayPal using $0.01 Value

Other Limitations

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Requiring Subscribers to Have a PayPal Account

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PayPal requires subscribers to have a PayPal account for automatic recurring payments, unless the account has registered for Enhanced Recurring Payments (PayPal only offers Enhanced Recurring Payments to US companies). This means that customers will not be able to check out without having a PayPal account or by creating one during the checkout process.

Billing Schedule for Subscriptions Using PayPal Standard

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PayPal controls the schedule for charging recurring payments and batch processes payments, so payments are not processed exactly when due. Instead, PayPal processes a payment within 24 hours of the due date.  For example, if a recurring payment is due at 2pm on July 1st, PayPal may charge that payment anytime between 12:00am and 11:59pm on the 1st of July. Depending on your timezone, this may cause payments to be processed on a different day than customer signup.

Currency Limitations

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If a payment is held at PayPal because it is in a currency not supported by the merchant’s PayPal account, when that payment is accepted at PayPal.com, PayPal does not send an IPN message to notify WooCommerce or Subscriptions that the payment has been completed.  Because of the way that PayPal handles this, there is no way to automatically update the order’s status for the transaction. The store manager will need to manually update the order’s status in WooCommerce to reflect the successful charge.

PayPal Merchant Accounts

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PayPal Standard also limits the PayPal account holder from using the same PayPal account on multiple websites. PayPal does not allow you to set multiple IPN URLs in a single PayPal account. It also does not allow applications, which you could consider WooCommerce Subscriptions as one, to set different IPN URLs for each website. As a result, PayPal Standard can only be used to sell subscriptions on one website.

Migrating Away from PayPal Standard

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There are a few options for migrating away from PayPal Standard, depending on what you would like to accomplish.

Use a Different Payment Gateway for New Subscriptions

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This method allows PayPal Standard to continue functioning for existing subscriptions but have customers use a different gateway for new subscriptions. Over time, or when you ask your customers to manually change the payment method associated with their active subscriptions, the existing subscriptions using PayPal Standard would decrease. Any new subscriptions would use the new payment gateway, making the switch a gradual process. In order to use a different payment gateway for new subscriptions only:

  1. Add the new payment gateway plugin to your site. Have this new payment gateway setup before the next steps to ensure that your customers will have a way to pay.
  2. Disable PayPal Standard for Subscriptions.
    1. Go to WooCommerce > Settings > Payments
    2. Click PayPal
    3. Under the Enable/Disable heading, uncheck the Enable PayPal Standard for Subscriptions option.
    4. Save.
  3. [Optional] You could then email your customers, asking them to change the payment associated with their subscriptions. Directions for customers changing the payment method can be seen in the Subscriber’s View documentation for Subscriptions. With Subscriptions 2.5, store managers can also get the link that directs to the page for the customer to change their payment method for a subscription. To get this link:
    1. Go to WooCommerce > Subscriptions
    2. Click the subscription you would like the link for
    3. The link is at the bottom of the billing details section. Right click and select Copy Link Address
      Pay Link for Customer
      Pay Link for Customer
You can use AutomateWoo to automatically send emails to customers, asking them to update their payment methods.

Enable Reference Transactions on Your PayPal Account

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In order to enable Reference Transactions for your PayPal account, you must first contact PayPal for approval. The Enabling Reference Transactions for Subscriptions guide may assist in figuring out how to get this accomplished. One thing to note with enabling Reference Transactions on your PayPal account is that all existing subscriptions will still use PayPal Standard, while new subscriptions will begin using the more advanced features of Reference Transactions.  The best way to tell the difference between PayPal Standard and Reference Transactions is by the payment ID token present in the subscription (shown below). Subscriptions that are currently using Reference Transactions will have a payment ID token that starts with B-, while subscriptions that are using PayPal Standard will have a payment ID token that starts with I-. These details can be found in the subscriptions ‘Billing Details’ section, which can be found in each individual subscription. Once Reference Transactions has been added to the account, no further steps are needed. Subscriptions that were created before Reference Transactions was enabled will continue to process through your PayPal dashboard, while subscriptions that were created after Reference Transactions was enabled will process renewals directly within your WooCommerce Subscriptions dashboard.
PayPal Payment ID Token
PayPal Payment ID Token

Cancel Existing Subscriptions that Use PayPal Standard

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In addition to either of the methods listed above, you may also want to end all current PayPal Standard subscriptions, stopping them from renewing within PayPal. To accomplish this, you would do the following:
  1. Navigate to the Subscriptions dashboard page.
  2. Locate all subscriptions currently using PayPal Standard. This can be found by looking for the PayPal Billing ID, which will begin with an I- for subscriptions that are using PayPal Standard.
  3. Once these have been located, you’d want to ‘Cancel’ each. This will cancel the subscription in both WooCommerce and PayPal, effectively ending the renewal sequence.
Once you’ve followed the above steps, none of your site’s subscriptions will continue to renew directly in PayPal. Any subscriptions that were created after the transition to Reference Transactions will now renew directly in Subscriptions and WooCommerce.