Alipay for Foreigners || Big News for 2023 (How To Link Your Bank Card)

How to Use Alipay (Link Foreign Bank Card + Top Up Alipay)

Link Your Bank Card To Alipay In Minutes

Lex the Lion LTL

Alipay is one of China’s biggest and most used apps and we recently received some very useful news for foreigners about using Alipay which we want to share with you right away.

For the first time, you can now link your foreign credit/bank card to Alipay and pay for things without cash in China.

This is hugely significant given the fact China is generally a cashless country these days.

Let’s discover Alipay and how we can benefit from it as foreigners.

Alipay for Foreigners || What is Alipay?

Alipay for Foreigners || Using Alipay in China

Alipay for Foreigners || The Press Release

Alipay for Foreigners || How to Top-up Alipay?

Alipay for Foreigners || Other Solutions

Alipay for Foreigners || FAQs

What is AliPay?

AliPay is an app widely used throughout China.

In fact, it is one of China’s biggest apps.

Within the app, the main feature is quite simple, paying for things.


Need to buy milk and bread?

Use Alipay.

Want to book some train tickets?

Use Alipay.

Want to pay your gas and electric bills?

Use Alipay.

Starting to see a theme here?

You can also send friends money, via “red packets”, and even chat.

Most Chinese nationals who have a phone will have the app. We’d probably go as far as saying 99% of locals in fact.

Although WeChat is regarded as the most commonly used app to pay for things, Alipay will not be far behind.

Check out the differences between the two giants in this quick video guide:

Using Alipay in China

WeChat and Alipay have always had one shortcoming for foreigners and it’s actually incredibly relevant to a lot of our students here at LTL Language School.

To be able to pay for things using these two apps, you need a Chinese bank account, and that is becoming increasingly troublesome (麻烦 máfan – useful word alert), especially if you are coming to China short-term.

If you are a student for let’s say less than 6 weeks, do you really want to go through the hassle of opening a bank account?

Probably not given the fact it’s not that easy in China!

Therefore, using these apps to pay for things is not possible (until now).

Campbell the Marketing Wizard, enjoying his cashless coffee!
Campbell with his cashless coffee!

DID YOU KNOW || Some places in China you cannot actually use cash to pay for things, they genuinely only accept mobile payments!

The world we live in…!

An example, Luckin’ Coffee, a hugely popular discount coffee shop which our teams in Beijing and Shanghai particularly enjoy, on a daily basis!

This coffee shop is solely driven by online payments so no bank account, no Luckin’ Coffee for you!

Anyway, for these reasons, this news is all the more significant because the above scenario is now solvable for those of you coming to China and not opening a bank account.

WeChat Pay vs Alipay 🥊 Which One is Better? 2023 Edition Thumbnail

WeChat Pay vs Alipay 🥊 Which One is Better? 2023 Edition

Your complete guide to using WeChat Pay vs Alipay in China. Find out which mobile payment app is the one for you and how you can use them.

Alipay for Foreigners || The Press Release

According to the below press release from Alipay, a foreigner can now attach their foreign bank card to Alipay and use this to make purchases in China.

This is a huge breakthrough in China and will make a big difference for foreigners coming to China and not having to bring cash.

The official release from Alipay is shown here below:

Using Alipay in China

So, now you probably want to know how to link your foreign bank card to Alipay?

Here is how to do it, plus another useful solution…

Using Alipay in China || How to Top-up Alipay?

When spending money as a foreigner using Alipay you have two options:

1 – Link Your Bank Card to Alipay

This is quick and easy to set up (with less caveats) but is not guaranteed to work.

Linking a bank card in Alipay is easy. Just follow these steps:

  • Open Alipay
  • Click the ME icon on the bottom right of the screen
  • Click BANK CARDS
  • Click the + icon on the top right of the screen
  • Enter your bank card number, or scan your bank card

You’ll see the list of bank cards that can be linked with Alipay. These currently include Visa, Mastercard, Unionpay, and Diners Club.

NOTE || There is no American Express functionality but we believe they are looking to add this in the near future.

Now, the important thing to note with this method is that it may or may not work.

Unfortunately there is no way of knowing straight away. Just because Alipay says its supports Visa cards, it doesn’t mean your transaction will go through in China.

You’ll notice in the above screenshot my Visa card has successfully linked, but this doesn’t guarantee success.

Unfortunately you will not know until trying to pay in China whether it worked or not!

So it’s important to have a back-up… hence the 2nd method…

2 – Open a Tourcard

This method is more full-proof because what you are essentially doing is opening a bank account through Alipay, and it just takes a few clicks.

Alipay for Foreigners || How to use Tourcard

There are a few downsides though, so let’s run you through it.

  • Open Alipay and search TOURCARD
  • Open the Tourcard mini-app (Alipay includes hundreds of mini-apps you can find by searching)
  • Click ENTER
  • Click USE NOW and verify your personal info
  • Choose an Amount to Top Up
  • Make your payment

In completing these steps you’ve effectively opened up a brand new BANK OF SHANGHAI account in a matter of minutes.

Pretty cool, right?!

You won’t get a bank card though, this is simply an account you will use inside of Alipay.

There are a few things you need to know which are a little bit of a pain in truth.

1 – There is a 10,000CNY limit.

Now, whilst this is a step forward from the previous 2,000CNY limit of the now discontinued (but essentially the same, Tourpass), it still ties our hands a bit.

10,000CNY is roughly…500CNY is roughly…

Whether this is enough for you is entirely case dependent. How long are you in China for? If just a couple of weeks, or even a month – you’ll be OK.

What about if you’re in China for 3+ months? You’re going to need another solution on-top of this. We’ll come onto that…

2 – There is a 5% top-up service charge.

This one is a kick up the backside. An unnecessarily large charge just to use the service, but it is what it is sadly.

That means if you want to top-up the full 10,000CNY you’ll be spending another 500CNY on top of it (see why we included it in the table above now!?)

Alipay for Foreigners || How to Link My Card

3 – The Tourcard is only active for 6 months

Going back to those of you who are staying in China longer that 6 months… another hurdle.

The Tourcard will automatically close after 180 days of opening. If you have failed to spend all your money, no problem, it’ll be refunded to your bank upon expiration.

The good news is you can open a new Tourcard after these 6 months have expired.

4 – Only certain banks will work

You’ll notice in the screenshot that only Visa, Mastercard, Diners Club and JCB account holders can use Tourcard.

Tourcard is clearly a useful feature and makes the life of a foreigner in China easier, but it’s important to be aware of the limitations.

3 – Get a Friend to Send Your Money

This is probably the easiest solution of all but will rely on who you know in China already.

If you have a friend in China who has a Chinese bank account and a verified Alipay account, they can quite simply fire over some money to your account.

Is all you will need is a verified Alipay account yourself (i.e. upload scan of passport, take selfie etc) and you’ll be good to go.

You’ll then just need to find a way to pay them back!

We must thank a student of ours from our forum for this solution.

After hearing he made use of this hack, we tried it with some of our students and it worked a treat.

We hope this list helped.

Anyway… we mentioned other solutions for those of you who are planning to stay longer and spend more than 10,000CNY…

Alipay for Foreigners || Other Solutions

Firstly – whilst it goes against everything we’ve said… it’s still worth taking some cash to China.

You won’t be able to use it much, but it’s always worth having this back-up.

Perhaps you owe a friend some money, maybe you’re in a taxi, or you are wanting to buy some souvenirs from the local stalls?

In all of these situations cash can still work – so whilst it’s not king in China anymore… have a bit to hand before taking off for China.

Secondly – get a Wise account. Wise is an excellent option for those of you who travel and regularly hold multiple currencies.

Wise: the international account | Money without borders

Wise allows you to hold currencies from all over the world including USD, EUR, GBP, JPY, HKD, KRW… and yes, you guessed it CNY (Chinese Yuan)!

Wise is essentially a Visa card, which means it should also work with Alipay’s functionality, but again, it’ll be person dependent.

Either way, get yourself a Wise card, and convert your cash to CNY.

TOP TIP || Getting a Wise card is MUCH cheaper than exchanging cash at the airport or at those cash exchange stores. I never do this anymore and would advise anyone against it. Wise cuts these fees right down.

Thirdly – Try setting up a WeChat Pay account. You’ll absolutely need WeChat for contacting people in China regardless, so WeChat Pay can be a great way to consolidate these two functions.

To learn how to set up WeChat Pay, check out our WeChat Pay for Foreigners guide.

WeChat Pay have also recently allowed the linking of international cards for tourists and short-term visitors too!

Finally – be sure to link your bank card to Alipay as we mentioned above.

If you run out of cash on your Tourcard, by linking your bank card to Alipay itself, this will hopefully provide you with an alternate solution.

It may work at some vendors, and may not at others – but you’ve given yourself the best chance.

Coming to China provides challenges few other countries provide, but we know China better than most and we sincerely hope this article has eased some of your fears about how to spend money in China.

Want to discover some more really cool features about Alipay with our video? Check it out…

Did you find this useful? Do you have any questions? Let us know in the comments below.

Do remember, although we are here to help, we are not Alipay support. If you have problems with your account, it’s best to contact Alipay directly and not us!

Alipay in China || FAQs

What is Alipay?

Alipay is a Chinese app used for a number of things, but primarily, paying for goods and services.

Alipay is mainly used by Chinese nationals in shops/restaurants and convenience stores to buy goods.

It can also be used to pay for utilities, buy movie tickets and even purchase flight tickets.

What is Tourcard?

Tourcard is a mini-app inside of Alipay.

This mini-app allows you to set up an online bank account with the BANK OF SHANGHAI that has a limit of 10,000CNY.

What is Tourpass?

Tourpass is now discountinued.

It has been rebranded as Tourcard and is a way for foreigners to spend money without using cash in China.

The Tourcard has a limit of 10,000CNY and closes after 180 days of use. Previously, Tourpass worked for only 90 days and had a limit of 2,000CNY.

Are there limitations to Tourcard?

Unfortunately yes!

1 – There is a 10,000CNY limit.

2 – There is a 5% top-up service charge.

3 – It is only active for 180 days.

4 – Only Visa, Mastercard, Diners Club and JCB account holders can use Tourcard.

Check out this article to find out some alternate solutions.

Can I link my foreign bank card to Alipay?

Yes you can!

It’s super easy to do and there is no limit on the amount you spend.

Find out how in this article.

Do I need a Chinese bank account to travel around China?

No you don’t.

With the news that you can link a foreign bank account to Alipay, this means you can gain all the benefits of the Alipay app and start spending in China without needing cash.

Can foreigners use Alipay in China?

Yes, Alipay is available for everyone to use in China, you can use it in English or Chinese meaning it is also convenient for most to use.

How do I set up Alipay in China?

You simply download Alipay from your App Store on your device.

You will need to register a mobile number and set up your account.

Once this is complete just link your bank card (Chinese account or now a foreign account is also possible) and you are good to go.

How do I top up Alipay with foreign credit card?

You will need to link a bank card to Alipay which you can do so by visiting your profile and then BANK CARDS.

If you linked your Chinese bank account to Alipay there is no need to top-up your account. It is simply linked to your bank account.

If you linked your foreign bank account to Alipay the same applies, but it may or may not work (there is no way of knowing until you try and make that first transaction).

If you topped up your Tourcard you have a 10,000CNY cap and you can top up by visiting the Tourcard mini-app inside of Alipay.

Is Alipay the only payment app in China?

No, WeChat is the primary payment app in China and these two dominate the market.

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