Travel in cashless China just got easier for foreign tourists
Ant Group, owner of Alipay, the world’s largest digital payment platform, is expanding its global network to include 10 major e-wallets from across Asia. That marks a significant step toward making travel and spending in the People’s Republic of China easier for foreigners.
Seven e-wallets from Macau, Mongolia, Singapore, South Korea, and Thailand will now be supported through the “Alipay+” cross-border payments program, a press release announced today (Sept. 19). They join three services from Hong Kong, Malaysia, and South Korea that were part of the program’s launch in 2022.
In China, both Alipay and WeChat Pay dominate the digital payments market. People in the virtually cashless nation use digital apps to pay for everything: Grabbing a snack from a vending machine, renting a portable battery at a mall, or unlocking a shared e-bike are all enabled with the scan of a QR code.
That means tourists traveling in China are often unable to access the full range of dining, retail, and transportation options. If they don’t have a Chinese bank account and phone number, they come up against what is effectively a digital payment wall. Making purchases through apps or e-commerce shopping is also unavailable without a financial setup in China, and using a credit card can be hit or miss because card machines aren’t ubiquitous. In 2019, Alipay began offering short-term visitors a digital prepaid card so they could shop like locals.
But Alipay’s e-wallet expansion will make those consumer options more accessible to East and Southeast Asian tourists, without the hassle of opening a temporary bank account. Eric Jing, chairman and CEO of Ant Group, said in a statement that the “regional multi-party partnership” would “help travelers enjoy greater choice and convenience” while in China.
Alipay has more than 1 billion (pdf) users, according to an Ant Group filing with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in 2020, and works with 80 million merchants.
One big number: 175 million
E-wallet users now covered through Alipay+
A list of e-wallets that can be used in China via Alipay+
🇭🇰 Hong Kong – Alipay HK
🇲🇴 Macau – mPay
🇲🇾 Malaysia – Touch ’n Go eWallet
🇲🇳 Mongolia – Hipay
🇸🇬 Singapore – Changi Pay, OCBC
🇰🇷 South Korea – Kakao Pay, Naver Pay, Toss Pay
🇹🇭 Thailand – TrueMoney
Alipay is looking to cash in at the Hangzhou Asian Games
The timing of Alipay’s announcement comes just ahead of the 2023 Asian Games, which kick off on Sept. 23. Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province, will play host. As the first large sporting event in China since the pandemic, it’s a big opportunity for the country to jumpstart a regional economy—especially amid a sluggish post-covid recovery.
Hangzhou is anticipating a bump in consumption thanks to the influx of travelers. In June, the city gave away 100,000 tickets to foreign tourists, and one million “gift packs” (which included subway passes and prepaid SIM cards) to lure attendees from abroad. The Asian Games are expected to generate 414.1 billion yuan ($56.8 billion) in gross domestic product, according to figures cited in the South China Morning Post.
Ease of spending through apps like Alipay will be key to facilitating that consumption. NetsUnion Clearing Corp. of China, Beijing’s central clearing platform for third-party digital payment providers, has made that intention clear.
“We are committed to providing robust support for important cross-border mobile payment scenarios and events such as the Hangzhou Asian Games,” the state-run organization said in a statement, adding that it aims to create an “open and inclusive cross-border consumption environment in China.”
A total of 45 countries across Asia will compete in the Games, which include sports like dragon boat racing and sepak takraw (a.k.a. “kick volleyball”). It will be the third time China has hosted the “Asiad” since its inception in 1951.
💳 How to set up and use an Alipay account as a tourist in China
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