How to Use Alipay Without a Chinese Bank
The News Every Foreigner Wants to Hear (for 2021)
AliPay is one of China’s biggest and most used apps and we recently received some very useful news as foreigners about using Alipay which we want to share with you right away.
Before getting into that though, just in case you are unaware of what AliPay is, let’s give you an introduction to one of China’s biggest apps on the scene.
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 – How to Use AliPay in China as a Foreigner?
Alipay for Foreigners – How to Top-up my AliPay?
Alipay for Foreigners – BONUS Update for 2021
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.
Going to the shops and want some milk & bread? Use AliPay.
Want to book some train tickets through the App itself? 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 probably 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 Mandarin 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).
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 staff in Beijing 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 (2021) – Which One is Better?
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.
How to Use Alipay in China as a Foreigner?
So according to the below 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.
AliPay opens up a large number of possibilities for a foreigner which include:
- Bike Sharing
- Paying for goods at Supermarkets/Restaurants etc.
- Sending other contacts money (perhaps a split bill at a restaurant)
- Paying for utilities (like electric, if you are in China for a longer amount of time and not based at a hotel)
- Buying train/plane tickets
The list goes on, and it’s all very convenient stuff.
It opens up a large number of doors and it’s something you perhaps don’t realise until you are in China yourself.
The official release from Alipay is shown here below:
Seems easy enough and clear right?
Well, we just wanted to make sure so I have given this a test run and I must admit, to my pleasant surprise it really is quite simple.
NOTE – the maximum top-up each time is 2,000CNY which comes to roughly 300USD, 260 EUR, 220GBP and 410AUDPlease be aware these rates are rough and at the time of writing.
AliPay has not stated if there is a limit on top-ups per day or week or even account so assume you get 2,000CNY each time you need it.
That can last you more than enough time with life in China being pretty cheap by all accounts.
The only negative we noticed? The last sentence of the above release “They can then enjoy the seamless Alipay mobile payment experience in China for up to three months”.
A great shame there is a time cap on this, but still for many short term visitors, a problem has been solved.
SPOILER ALERT – A further update from Alipay actually solves this problem, but we’re coming to that later on…
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Using Alipay in China – How to Top-up my AliPay?
So the process is pretty simple for using AliPay in China and topping up with a foreign bank card.
Upon opening the AliPay app you need to navigate to TourPass which is one of the many options available. You may need to click on MORE to find it.
You can add this one to your favourites so it shows on your homepage every time!
After this you will be faced with your Tourpass account (the 2nd/3rd screenshots below)
Simply select the amount you wish to top up and enter your card details from your foreign bank.
Once entered, hit top-up and you are there.
It’s that simple!
We love it because formal things like this in China can sometimes be time-consuming and the running joke with foreigners is that dealing with banks in China, let’s just say, takes patience!
The process took me all of a few minutes.
Just for extra clarity below is the bottom half of the AliPay Press Release which shows the process of topping up all the way from downloading from your App Store.
Paying for things in China just got easier and more accessible for foreigners thanks to using Alipay in China.
Let’s hope it stays this way and, hey, if we are lucky perhaps WeChat might follow suit…
Want to discover some more really cool features about Alipay with our video? Check it out…
BONUS Update for 2021 – Using Your Bank Cards
Things have gotten better still in 2021 because Alipay have gone one step further.
I noticed this ping on my phone in March 2021:
Curious, as always, I had a look and was confronted with this press release from the Alipay app:
How does this differ from the above?
Quite simply, by being able to link your bank card to Alipay, there is no 2,000CNY cap. You are free to spend as you please.
You’ll notice with Tourpass that Alipay essentially creates a Bank of Shanghai account (as shown in the screenshots above) meaning you have the 2,000CNY cap.
However, with your own bankcard you are free to use Alipay as much as you want with no limits!
Fantastic news which benefits all foreigners. You can genuinely spend your whole time in China, whether it be 3 days, 3 weeks or 3 months, without dealing with a single cent of cash!
IT’S WORTH NOTING – You are unable to transfer money from China to your bank account so whilst you can spend freely in China. You cannot, for example, get a friend to transfer you a number of CNY, and then withdraw this to your foreign bank account.
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 – FAQ’s
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.
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.
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 as a native with a Chinese bank account.
These benefits include:
Paying for goods at Supermarkets/Restaurants etc.
Sending other contacts money (perhaps a split bill at a restaurant)
Paying for utilities (like electric, if you are in China for a longer amount of time and not based at a hotel)
Buying train/plane tickets
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 to top up AliPay in China?
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.
If you topped up your Tourpass, you have a 2,000CNY cap and you can top up by visiting the Tourpass mini-app in 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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