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Visited China numerous times 2016-2018



Asia > China > Useful Info
Updated on Dec 10, 2019 Useful Info

How to use mobile payments with AliPay in China as a tourist (since Nov. 2019)

  • China is known for mobile payments. In 2018, for example, mobile payments accounted for $41 trillion USD in transactions in the country, making it by far the biggest mobile payment market on earth. Most of the day-to-day transactions that locals do these days are done in either AliPay or WeChat Pay, the two dominant mobile pay platforms. For locals, cash is no longer king.
  • For visitors, it's a different story. It used to be that the only way to use AliPay or WeChat Pay was to have a Chinese bank account, which very few travelers have. So they're effectively barred from using mobile payments in China.
  • But as of November 5, 2019, foreigners can now use AliPay without a Chinese bank account. I was able to successfully test it now just and it worked for me
  • I recommend setting up your AliPay before going to China, because part of the set up process requires you to receive SMS text to your phone number, which might be hard after you leave your country. Getting a new SIM card after you get to China won't affect your ability to use the AliPay account you've set up
  • I've personally been able to successfully set up AliPay as well spending the money at lots of vendors in China, so the instructions below have been thoroughly tested
  • By the way, you can also set up WeChat Pay now without a Chinese bank account. It works slightly differently than AliPay, but I don't recommend it just yet because I found it to be a bit finicky. I was able to link credit cards on there, but then the link would stop working randomly for no apparent reason. So for now I don't recommend WeChat Pay, until they can fix all the bugs. But if you're curious, I've written about how to set up WeChat Pay here

Here's the step-by-step guide on how to set up an AliPay account without a Chinese bank account (takes ~15-25 minutes):

  1. Before you get started, make sure you have three things that are required to set up the AliPay account:
  2. A valid tourist visa to China. The app requires a Chinese visa to load money
  3. A credit card issued by Visa, MasterCard, Diners Club, or JCB
  4. A working phone number that can receive SMS text
  5. Download AliPay app from Google Play Store for Android or Apple App Store for iOS
  6. Open the app and sign up for an account with your phone number. You will receive a SMS text with a verification code that you need to enter to complete the sign up:User submitted photo of ChinaUser submitted photo of China
  7. Once you've completed the sign up process and logged in, you will land on the main screen. Here, click on the top search bar:User submitted photo of China
  8. In the search bar on top, search for "TourPass" or "tour pass" (either one's fine). Then click on the top search result, which is a Mini Program called "TourPass". Mini Program are programs that live within AliPay itself that add additional features to AliPay. The TourPass mini program is the feature that allows travelers to load money into AliPay with international credit cards instead of Chinese bank accounts:User submitted photo of China
  9. On TourPass's main screen, you can choose the amount you want to load. You can currently load up to maximum to ¥2,000 RMB (also called CNY), equivalent to about $285USD, meaning at any given time your prepaid card can only contain up to ¥2,000:User submitted photo of China
  10. On the next screen, you need to supply some information, including your nationality, passport number, full legal name as shown on your passport, date of birth, a photo/scan of your valid Chinese visa, and your credit card information:User submitted photo of China
  11. Once you've entered all the required information, click "Next" and then hit "Confirm & Pay":User submitted photo of China
  12. If the charge is successful, you will see the amount shown in the may screen of the TourPass mini programUser submitted photo of ChinaUser submitted photo of China
  13. To use the app to make a payment, exit out of TourPass mini program and go back to AliPay's main screen. Here, simply click the "Pay" or "Scan" icon near the top below the search bar:User submitted photo of China

  • You should note a few things:
  • The money you load into AliPay has an expiration date, which is 90 days from the load date. The TourPass mini program shows the exact date on which your funds in AliPay expire. Once it expires, any unused money will be refunded to your credit card
  • Aside from the ¥2,000 limit you can load to each time, there's also a ¥5,000 total load limit for the 90-day period. This means that if you've already loaded ¥2,000 twice, the third time you will only be able to load ¥1,000
  • I find the user interface of AliPay to be a little clunky for Western users. Even though the app is in English, a lot of the notifications and graphics are in Chinese. Popups with error messages are also in Chinese, so it's not a super polished experience for international users
  • WeChat Pay, AliPay's biggest competitor, supposedly also enabled foreign credit card payments. However, I've not been able to set it up yet. So for the time being AliPay is the only way to use Mobile Payments in China, but I'm sure WeChat Pay will roll it out soon.

  • How to use AliPay at a store:
  • AliPay can be used in any store in China or outside of China that has this logo:User submitted photo of China
  • There are 2 ways to pay, depending on how the store has set it up:
  1. If you see a QR code displayed by the store, then you need to click "Scan" on the main screen of your AliPay app which will use your phone camera to scan the QR code displayed in the store. Once scanned, you enter into your phone the amount you'd like to payUser submitted photo of China
  2. If the store uses a POS system, it will scan your phone instead of you scanning them. In this case, click "Pay" on the main screen of your AliPay app, and this will bring up a QR code on your phone. Give this QR code to the store and they will scan it to deduct the amount from your accountUser submitted photo of China
  • That's it! If you're still not clear, this video shows you the entire process



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3 Months Ago

We are going to stopping by Shanghai in June but won't be getting a Chinese Visa because we are going to be in Shanghai less than 72 hours. We are from the US and have a US Passport. Can we get AliPay if we don't have a Chinese Visa? Thank you.


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On Jan 07, 2020

Last year, when me and my family were traveling to china from the US, we’ve decided to use ECARD as the payment method after doing countless hours of browsing. I’ve heard that foreign travelers often had to bring cash with them to China and after some research I have found out that my Visa Mastercard are not accepted in China other than in the Airports, 5+ star hotels, and huge malls in the biggest cities (since most Chinese merchants prefer UnionPay), which seemed quite unsafe and inconvenient! We were going to use Alipay and WeChat as they are widely used but later found out that we cannot apply for one unless we have Chinese Citizen ID. After, looking for options, our friend recommended ECARD UnionPay prepaid card that was able to resolve this problem. since it has a 100% acceptance rate in China with its UnionPay network we were able to withdraw cash from any ATMs when we needed them. On top of that, we received various discounts at popular restaurants and on various souvenirs for friends back in the state which sounds almost too good to be true but indeed it is! we were able to have a smooth and unforgettable experience in China as foreigners and did not have to worry about losing cash or encounter troubles when paying. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who is a first-time visitor to china (www.ecardic.com). feel free to let me know if you want any more tips when you are traveling in China.

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On Dec 18, 2019

Hi, if I set up Alipay in my home country and subsequently got a HK roaming SIM to be used in China, can I still use Alipay in China? Thanks