China received 30.5 million foreign visitors in 2018, an increase of 4.7 percent from the previous year. They spent about US$73.1 billion in lodging, food, shopping, among others, Ant Financial estimates. However, without a Chinese bank account and a local mobile phone line, foreigners have found it difficult, if not impossible, to find any smartphone app to pay for online purchases in China. That hurdle will be now removed under a pioneering effort by Alipay.
Starting from Nov. 5, Alipay, an affiliate of Ant Financial Services Group, will give foreign visitors to the mainland access to its mobile payment platform according to a statement. It will allow visitors up to 90 days’ usage of its smartphone application without requiring a local bank account or mobile phone number. Ant Financial is an associate of Alibaba Group Holding.
Under the program called ‘Tour Pass,’ the company will introduce an international version of its Alipay app for download and registration using their international phone numbers. The app will enable visitors to pay for their transactions using a 90-day prepaid card from the Bank of Shanghai. The move will open the door for Ant Financial to extend its dominance in the home market and tap into growing tourism in the world’s second-largest economy.
Ant Financial said the 90-day prepaid card could be reloaded using their international debit or credit cards. The minimum top-up is 100 yuan, with the balance capped at 2,000 yuan. Users can top up “multiple times,” and Alipay has set an undisclosed but “reasonable” ceiling, it said.
The international version of the Alipay app is not being made available for Hong Kong and Macau mobile phone users, Ant Financial said. There is a mobile payment solution called Alipay HK for Hong Kong users, which is different from the mainland version.
To gain access to China’s mobile payment services, Hong Kong residents can open a Chinese bank account through Bank of China (Hong Kong), one of the city’s three currency issuers, without having to do so onshore.