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

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Warning: confirmed by multiple reports that 2,000 RMB is a cumulative hard cap for the card for the 90-day duration. Once spent, you cannot load more and cannot as yet get a new card. Maybe you can get one after 90 days. Make that 2,000 RMB count!

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: confirmed by multiple reports that 2,000 RMB is a cumulative hard cap for the card for the 90-day duration. Once spent, you cannot load more and cannot as yet get a new card. Maybe you can get one after 90 days. My reading of the terms (see below) is correct, unfortunately.
  • 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

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. Reporting says the maximum card balance is 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). Updated: confirmed by multiple reports that 2,000 RMB is a hard cap for the card. No one yet has been able to load more or get a new card when using up the 2,000.

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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Ben Ng
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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?

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.

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.