China’s Alipay Tour Pass Launches for International Visitors (It Actually Works!)

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Update: the cap for the card has been increased to 5,000 RMB. Some users have been able to spend beyond cumulative 5,000 RMB. See the comments for reports.

I’m in Shanghai for our annual fall visit (join us on 11/11/19 for our meetup). I’ve spent several days updating bank accounts with my new passport and getting key China mobile apps working again.

This sounds like it should be trivial. It is anything but, even though I speak and read Chinese and have local bank accounts (though no longer a work visa).

Mobile Payments in China

Alipay (from Ant Financial, part of Alibaba) and WeChat Pay (from Tencent) have been embraced by Chinese to an incredible extent. Many small retailers no longer accept card payments of any kind, some not even cash. Large retailers usually maintain token cash and card lines, while reserving huge areas of self-checkout for Alipay and WeChat Pay.

Users of these apps love the quick payment by QR code scan, frequently with various bank and merchant payment discounts.

Decathlon checkout

The problem for international visitors is these are tied to Chinese IDs and Chinese bank accounts and Chinese mobile phone numbers. Government policy is to have total information and total control in the financial system and in building the social credit system, which runs counter to having the door open for easy commerce by international visitors that lack requisite local credentials.

Complicated workarounds come and go. Such attempts usually end in despair. Think you’ve successfully added an international credit card? Wait for the transaction failed message written only in Chinese.

Realistically, you have needed a Chinese bank account and a Chinese mobile phone number to reliably use either service (a non-Chinese passport has been ok).

Alipay Tour Pass

Alipay Tour Pass

source: Ant Financial (parent of Alipay)

Alipay announced an international visitor service called Tour Pass.

I was skeptical that it would be usable, yet in crowd-sourcing with a frequent traveler group on WeChat, we have three people who have successfully set up and loaded a Travel Pass, while one has gotten an error that he is not eligible. Thank you to sparkzone, HasteFlier, and others for sharing their experiments with me.

Here’s how it works:

  • Download the international Alipay app from Google Play or Apple Appstore (not the AlipayHK ap and not the Chinese local Alipay app).
  • Register your info and load with a minimum of 100 RMB / maximum of 2,000 RMB (credit card or debit card accepted).
  • Warning: there is a 5,000 RMB cumulative hard cap for the card for the 90-day duration. Once spent, you cannot load more (though there are conflicting reports) and cannot as yet get a new card. Maybe you can get one after 90 days.
  • You’ll see a trial transaction of 1 RMB followed by the main load.
  • Exchange rate is close to interbank rate (a 500 RMB load today shows as US$71.15, XE’s rate list $71.42).
  • No transaction fee to December 31, 2019, BUT the terms say the fee going forward will be a steep 5%.
  • Load transaction appears to be a purchase, not cash advance, though have not posted yet (cards tested include the US BofA Premium Rewards, a UK Visa, and an EU Revolut).
  • You’ll need to submit a copy of your passport.
  • You’ll be asked to submit a copy of your visa, yet some travelers do not need a visa (like visa-free transit); early data points are that submitting passport only or again has worked in lieu of visa.

Once successful you will have a virtual prepaid card from Bank of Shanghai in your account that:

  • Is good for 90 days.
  • You can use for various in-person payments via QR code.
  • You can use in-app miniprograms such as Didi for car service, rather than needing to separately download those apps and set up accounts with them (poke around the “More” screen).
  • Unused funds at the end of 90 days will be refunded back to the original purchase card.

How to Set up Alipay Tour Pass

Follow along in screenshots. If this is your first exposure to the info overload busyness of Chinese apps, finding things is a Where’s Waldo experience. For your first install of the app, steps may differ and the Tour Pass might pop up as an initial option.

Home screen look for “More.”

Alipay Home Screen

“More” screen look for “TourPass”:

Alipay More Screen

At the “Tour Pass” screen select an amount to load:

Alipay Tour Pass Home

If you don’t see Tour Pass you can try to find it by in-app search, though you may get this result, like James (and we don’t know how to fix it):

At the load screen, provide your info and follow the rest of the steps.

If you’ve succeeded, you’ll see this:

Alipay Tour Pass Confirmation

Image courtesy: Brian Watson

Readers, Give it a Try

Let us know what works and doesn’t for you.

The Fine Print

Open questions:

  • How often can you get new accounts?
  • What is the real limit? The app says each load is a maximum of 2,000 RMB. The terms* say the cumulative load value is capped at 2,000 RMB, which would be a real pain to keep getting new cards (see notes below). Update: the cap for the card has been increased to 5,000 RMB. Some users have been able to spend beyond cumulative 5,000 RMB. See the comments for reports.

AliPay TourPass 5000 Limit

For those who want to dig into the details, here are all the terms and conditions:

*上海银行对您购卡及充值金额做限额控制,最低充值限额为人民币100元,累计充值金额不超过2000元人民币,具体以服务页面提示为准。您购卡或充值时,上海银行根据您购卡或充值的人民币金额,按国际卡组织提供的实时汇率划扣您本人国际卡组织银行卡内相应款项并以人民币形式存放在消费卡内。根据业务变化调整,上海银行可自行决定对您的消费卡充值金额及次数加以限制。
Bank of Shanghai shall limit the Prepaid Card purchase and recharge, with the minimum recharging limit of RMB 100 and the accumulative recharge amount shall not exceed RMB 2000. The details shall be subject to the prompt on the service page. When you purchase the card or recharge, Bank of Shanghai will deduct the corresponding amount from your bank card issued by International Card Organization on the basis of real-time exchange rate provided by the international card organization and deposit it in your Prepaid Card in the form of RMB. According to the adjustment of business, Bank of Shanghai may limit the recharge amount and frequency at its own discretion.

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OZOMATLI OLIVEIRA
Guest
OZOMATLI OLIVEIRA

Hello guys! I was in China last week and it worked in the beginning. I topped up twice but after the third time, I couldn’t use the app anymore, the money got stuck and I couldn’t pay anything else. Now I’m back home and I don’t know how to get this money back

Rynne
Guest
Rynne

Has anyone managed to use it for online payments (e.g. Taobao)? The FAQ says that you can use tourpass to pay for online payments but it has only worked for me one time. It has been an “unsupported payment method” since.

KO User
Guest
KO User

I have used it on taobao for shopping, the experience is seamless, debits your tourpass wallet directly and credits the merchant, including sending you the transaction confirmation…

You need to download the taobao app and sign up with your alipay account…

trackback

[…] Let’s start with Alipay. With Alipay, you can create and top up a virtual card with a mini program inside the app called Tour Pass. Here are instructions on how to do so. […]

Shelley
Guest
Shelley

This is wonderful! I finally got the Tour Pass to work! I was told that it was not possible to get the tour pass once I had entered China, but I did! Now I want to get a shared bike. How can I use the Tour Pass to get a shared bike? Thanks so much for this great information.

trackback

[…] China’s Alipay Tour Pass Launches for International Visitors (It Actually Works!) […]

Bob P
Guest
Bob P

I loaded Y2000 yesterday using an US based visa credit card. The transaction showed up as an international purchase, not a cash advance. Tried to use it 3 times, one of them failed for unknown reason but the other 2 succeeded. I spent about Y800 total. Just out of curiosity this morning I tried to top up and it worked. I was allowed to reload the balance back to Y2000. So looks like the max balance you can hold is Y2000 but you can continue to top up once you go below. I’m not sure if there is a new… Read more »

Bob P
Guest
Bob P

Update: used DiDi today to get a car to airport. I was asked to prepay due to the long distance. When we arrived, the actual fare ended up lower than what I prepaid. DiDi sent the overage back to my Tour Pass automatically. Everything was smooth. I reloaded my Tour Pass again and bought some gifts at duty free shop. Also scanned the code on a vending machine to buy a bottle of water. Again everything worked. Heading back home now. Will report back when I received the balance refund to my credit card.

Steph Yong
Guest
Steph Yong

I have hit 5000 yuan they don’t allow me to top up anymore

Woks
Guest
Woks

Yes, I called up the international hotline, was told that you could do multiple top up max 5000 rmb, each time cannot exceed 2000 rmb. So this means all your top up adds up to 5000 rmb or below.

Llavidooo
Guest
Llavidooo

I have charge 2000 yuan on the card and it works, the problem is when I try to send money to a friend (transfer) inside alipay, I can not choose the Tourpass card, it only allow me to select another credit card that I have from a chinese bank. Do you know why?

Theo
Guest
Theo

Hi all, I tried to top up again my tour pass account but i didn’t make it. A message showed up saying ” Fund loading failed”.
I managed to spend around 800 RMB so far using this app. Any idea?

PMYR
Guest
PMYR

I can’t seem to be able to pay. I always end up with “Fund loading failed” and that my card issuing bank refused the transaction. I used an international credit card as well. How did you pay for it? I’m trying to change the credit card but I have no clue how to do it. Any help would be appreciated!

Lily
Guest
Lily

I’ve been using Alipay’s tourpass since I arrived in Shanghai. I was panicking over the Y2000 load limit and have exceeded the amount 3 days I got here…BUT today out of the blue I tried re-loading and it works! I tried Y100, then Y500 and now I have Y1500 in my tourpass. I don’t know how it happened! Must be a glitch or something in their system. I’m not complaining though and will continue to reload my tourpass at random moments. Key is to start small, try Y100 then work your way up.

Woks
Guest
Woks

Hope Alipay can communicate better as to this possibility of doing multiple top up beyond the 2k rmb, meaning within the 90 days people are allowed to top up max 2k rmb as and when needed.

Rob
Guest
Rob

So I signed up this morning, linked my US Visa credit card and put Y500 on it from my credit card. Then the app crashed and it lets me sign in using an SMS code, but says I must verify my account by entering a mysterious 18-digit debit card number (which is definitely unrelated to my 16-digit credit card number). Calling Alipay customer support was no use – I even had a Mandarin-speaking friend try.
Now Alipay has Y500 of my money that I can’t use.

John
Guest
John

Do you link the alipay app to a credit card or debit card account?

Svea
Guest

The 1 RMB payment gets declined by my bank… I’m so sad, the setup worked perfectly until that point. I will try it again but I have no idea why it’s not working.

TCCQuest
Guest
TCCQuest

WePay is piloting linking a credit card.

https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/gz_qyMs0xviiP7XHh9bsMQ

Ben Ng
Guest
Ben Ng

Hi all, great explanation on setting up TourPass. I am currently in China using TourPass. A few things both my partner and I have experienced while using them 1. The maximum load limit is currently at 2000RMB, I have not been able to spend it all to really tell what will happen thereafter (as in to be able to load another 2000RMB or not), but when you attempt to top up when its low- it will not work. 2. There is a cap in how much you could charge to your TourPass in a transaction- if you have yet to… Read more »

Chua
Guest
Chua

I can confirm that after using 2000RMB, there isn’t opportunity to load more money.
This has been confirmed with customer service too, who said nothing can be done. A shame because I was just getting use to Alipay, and paying for taxis/restaurants without worrying if they’d accept card/cash!

Neal
Guest
Neal

Great tip and clear instructions. I plan to share this with all of my international colleagues that come visit China.

Mike
Guest
Mike

Can I change the credit card after the setup process? I did setup with revolut, the top-up worked the first time, but now not anymore. Is there a support hotline?

CC Huang
Guest
CC Huang

Thanks for the article. For James’ issue, I believe it may be due to a Macau, Taiwan or HK phone number. I started with a Taiwan mobile number and ran into the same problem (i.e., cannot find Tour Pass microapp.) Then I switched to a US mobile number for a try. After logging into AliPay, you will be prompted “If you want to use the International Version of Alipay?”. After confirming, I am able to see “Tour Pass” on my open screen. The remaining process of uploading passport info page and adding fund works exactly like you’ve mentioned. Thanks for… Read more »

David
Guest
David

Hi, does anyone know if Hong Kong residents can use Tour Pass, if we use the international version of Alipay? HK residents don’t need passports to go to China – we use a special “Home Return Permit” (it looks like an ID card), and it requires no visa. Would it work if I enter the Home Return Permit number where it asks for Passport number? And I wouldn’t be able to provide a copy of my visa, because I don’t need one.

Fanny
Guest
Fanny

Hi..can i change my credit card number to top up tourist pass alipay? I have a problem with the language when i try to read other menu. Thanks

Jeff
Guest
Jeff

Does anybody know if i replenish 2000 RMB and spend it in one day can i replenish another 2000 immediately? i would need to spend around 25,000 rmb over a few days. Can we replenish 2k spend and keep replenishing?

also, does it only work to scan a qr code or can i pay a vendor via an email address as well?

kuai
Guest
kuai

No, Maximum Accumulative loading amount is 2000 rmb. I tried to load 2nd 2000rmb. it fail. so this product is suck. anyone have

Woks
Guest
Woks

After you have signed up and top up money in tour pass, your account in alipay is still unverified. Can I ask if indeed this tour pass is able to be used when in China to make payments ? Nobody wants to reach China only to find it not able to make payments as is not verified, meaning you still need a China issued bank card and China mobile number.

ben
Guest
ben

I just joined and loaded Y100 with a Chase Ink. I uploaded my visa. Not sure what it is coded as yet. It shows up as SH Wallet. I was hoping it would code as telecommunications services. Looks like it won’t.

FMG
Guest
FMG

Ben, do you know if the transaction is considered as Cash Advance or Purchase by Chase? Also, is there a Foreign Transaction charge for this?

David
Guest
David

Honestly I’d rather go to Kansas

ABC
Guest
ABC

Make you wonder how technology makes life easier. No wonder travel to CN is light. It’s easier going to Russia.

TCCQuest
Guest
TCCQuest

Thanks! Very helpful.