According to official sources, now as a foreigner, you have a number of payment options at your fingertips while in China, ranging from mobile payments to bank cards and cash. Please follow this official guide from People’s Bank of China (PBOC), the country’s central bank, to find out more.

Available in both English and Chinese, the guide introduces a variety of payment methods accessible to foreigners in China — ranging from bank cards and mobile payment to cash and e-CNY — and provides instructions on how to use them through texts and illustrative graphics.The guide highlights that no IDs are required for transactions under a certain amount when foreign visitors use mobile payment services such as Alipay, Weixin Pay and UnionPay, and some international e-wallets are accepted by merchants in China.

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 Tour Card

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 Tour Card 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.

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.

10,000CNY is roughly… 500CNY is roughly…
1,400USD 70USD
1,100GBP 55GBP
1,300EUR 65EUR
2,000AUD 100AUD
1,900SGD 95SGD

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.

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 Tour Card 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 Tour Card 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 Tour Card.

Tour Card 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!