Before Alipay opened its online payment systems to foreigners in early November this year, there were more than 30 million people who visit China annually but struggle to find alternative cashless payment methods. The Chinese cashless payment method was first launched in 2004 in China.
In China, Alipay and Tencent Holdings (which runs WeChat Pay) account for 94 per cent of the country's mobile payment market. With proximity mobile payment users in China growing by 10 per cent in 2019 to reach 577.4 million in China (by far the largest in the world), those uninitiated to the country's mobile payment systems are left out.
If you're visiting China soon or keen to find out more about this increasingly prominent mobile wallet, here's what you need to know.
#1 IT'S MORE EXTENSIVE THAN PAYPAL
Alipay is currently under parent company Ant Financial Services Group, also an Alibaba Group affiliate. In 2014, AliPay surpassed PayPal as the most extensive digital payment platform by almost 3 times.
Ant Financial partnered with CC Financial, a Singapore start-up company in 2017. Since then, CC Financial Services has acquired over 600 merchants contributing to 20,000 Alipay acceptance points locally.
To begin using Alipay, you first have to download the Alipay app.
#2 YOU CAN USE IT EVEN IF YOU DON'T LIVE IN CHINA
Since the app is released to foreigners, you can use your overseas mobile number to register for it. When the app prompts you, select 'international version'.
This allows you to access Alipay's 'Tour Pass' mini programme, which lets you use Alipay in China as a foreigner for up to 3 months or 90 days.
It no longer requires you to tie the app to a Chinese bank account which was previously the biggest hurdle for foreigners to the mainland.
As with Alipay accounts, users must submit their passport number and upload a picture of a valid Chinese visa before they can use Alipay.
#3 IT'S A PROXIMITY PAYMENT METHOD
Before 'Tour Pass' was launched, foreign visitors can only use Alipay in China if they ask someone with a Chinese bank account to transfer money to them within the app.
Visitors can now use their international debit or credit cards to load funds onto a prepaid card provided by Bank of Shanghai. The minimum top-up for each card is CNY100 (S$19). The balance is capped at CNY2,000.
The prepaid card is valid up to 90 days, and the balance will be refunded after which. There are two ways to make payment using Alipay. You can either scan the QR code of a merchant or get the merchant to scan your personal QR code. As a visitor to China, you cannot use Alipay after 90 days as the prepaid cards expire then.
#4 ALIPAY IS ACCEPTED BY LOCAL MERCHANTS TOO
You may notice that there are local merchants with 'We accept Alipay' signs in Singapore. Examples of such merchants include ComfortDelGro, Universal Studios, Resorts World Sentosa and Robinsons among many others.
These are usually targeted at Chinese visitors who are visiting or living here. With the prevalence of Alipay, these Chinese visitors can enjoy the convenience of using their existing cashless payment methods in Singapore.
Singaporeans can also apply for an Alipay account to use locally. However, you would require a Chinese mobile number and credit card in order to transfer funds to your Alipay mobile wallet. Alipay benefits you the most if you're a Singaporean who lives in China, as you will be able to use the same payment wallet in both countries.
For some Singaporeans who don't want to miss out on the convenience of Alipay, they can get friends from China to help top up their Alipay accounts without the hassle of creating a Chinese bank account. Interestingly, WeChat pay has also recently opened up its mobile payment services to foreign visitors as well, suggesting that China's cashless payment ecosystem is slowly opening up to the world.
This article was first published in Dollars and Sense.