Alipay opens to foreigners (but it doesn’t work very well)

Business & Technology

Alibaba-affiliated fintech giant Ant Financial “has introduced an international version of its mobile payment app, Alipay, allowing travelers to link foreign bank cards to the service for use in China,” according to TechNode. However, there have been many reports of issues with Alipay’s new feature.

Photo credit: SupChina illustration

In the last four years, China has gone almost cashless — even beggars accept alms given by mobile phone payment. This has made travel quite inconvenient for people who don’t have a Chinese bank account because getting a mobile payment account is difficult without one.

Some Chinese platforms have attempted to accommodate foreigners before. For instance, Tencent’s WeChat Pay, one of the two popular mobile payment systems, already supports credit cards issued by foreign providers, but the functionality of the payment service is limited compared with what local users get.

Now Alibaba-affiliated fintech giant Ant Financial “has introduced an international version of its mobile payment app, Alipay, allowing travelers to link foreign bank cards to the service for use in China,” per TechNode.

In theory, Alipay allows foreigners to:

  • Buy a prepaid digital bank card through the Bank of Shanghai, which can be scanned for QR code payments.
  • Link those cards to debit or credit cards from other countries.
  • Hold up to 2,000 yuan ($285), for up to 90 days, with any leftover funds automatically refunded.

BUT in practice, there are many issues with Alipay’s new feature. We asked SupChina Access subscribers about their experience with the new app, and they told us of many problems. Some international credit cards simply didn’t work with the app, and others found that they were unable to “top up” the Alipay account with additional money. Also, transferring money between Alipay accounts did not seem to be possible, according to one reader.