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How to Pay in China: Mobile Payment, Cards, Cash (2024)

Mobile payment is the most common payment method in China today. Learning how to use mobile payment in China would greatly enhance your convenience while traveling within China.

In this article, we will guide you through the process of setting up and using the two main types of mobile payment as well as some other payment methods, such as cash and credit cards.

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Things to Prepare for Payment in China

1. Download Mobile Payment Apps

Alipay and WeChat Pay are the two main mobile payment apps in China. You could choose one or both of them to download.

Based on the information gathered from our Facebook group of tourists who have visited China and successfully utilized mobile payments, Alipay is the best option[1], due to its superior success rate in both account linking and payment transactions.

Of course, you could also download WeChat as a backup.

Payment in China
Payment in China
Payment in China

2. Make Sure Your Bank Supports Payments in China

It's crucial to inform your bank beforehand and ensure that your card is authorized for international use. Otherwise, you would probably not be able to successfully register your bank card on Alipay or WeChat.

Types of foreign cards (debit and credit cards are both acceptable) that can be linked to Alipay / WeChat Pay include[2]:

  • Visa
  • Mastercard
  • Diners Club International
  • Discover
  • JCB

According to the recent feedback in our Facebook group, Barclays and Wise cards are also both okay[3]. If you have some problems, you could also join our group and post for solutions.

Payment in China
Payment in China
Payment in China
Payment in China

3. Prepare a Chinese SIM Card (Optional)

A Chinese mobile phone number is not required when you register or sign up for Alipay or WeChat. You could use your foreign mobile phone number.

The main benefit of having a Chinese SIM card is not paying US data roaming fees when using mobile payments. You could also choose to activate international roaming in advance.

Mobile Payment: Alipay and WeChat Pay (How to Use Them)

Alipay and WeChat are the most commonly used payment apps. As we mentioned before, Alipay is recommended for international visitors because setting it up is expected to be easier and less prone to issues.

  • Alipay
  • WeChat Pay

Alipay

Sign Up

  • 1. Download Alipay in your App Store.
  • 2. Enter Alipay to sign up for an account (enter your foreign mobile phone number, obtain the verification code, and complete the registration).

Tips:

1. Remember to choose Alipay instead of AlipayHK, which requires a Hong Kong mobile number for signing up.

2. Another important thing is to remember the payment password entered during signup, as it will sometimes be required for future transactions.

Add Your Bank Card

  • Step 1: Open Alipay and go to "Me" at the bottom right corner.
  • Step 2: Tap on "Bank Cards" and click "+" at the top right corner.
  • Step 3: Add your card by entering your card number or scan your card and follow the prompts to finish the linking process.
payment in China

If you have successfully added a bank card before departing for China but encounter payment issues in China, try removing and re-adding your card, and enable two-step verification[4]. This has resolved the problem for some.

ID Verification

  • Step 1: Go to "Me" at the bottom right corner.
  • Step 2: Locate the Settings icon in the upper right corner and click it.
  • Step 3: Go to "Account and Security".
  • Step 4: Find "Identity Information" and tap it.
  • Step 5: Fill in your personal information, upload your photo, etc.

ID Verification Failure Solutions

When verifying your ID, you must use your passport. Ensure the accuracy of your information, proceed through the setup process attentively, and carefully read each instruction.

If you encounter issues receiving a confirmation code during the identity verification process when adding your mobile number, consider the following solutions:

  • Confirm that you've selected the correct area code for your country.
  • Attempt using mobile data.
  • Contact your mobile service provider and request whitelisting of Alipay/WeChat numbers or texts originating from China. Afterward, restart your phone and try again.

What If I Forget My Payment Password?

  • 1. Tap "Me" and click the Settings button.
  • 2. Find "Payment Settings" and choose "Payment Password".
  • 3. Use Face ID or enter the SMS verification code sent to your registered mobile phone number to verify and reset your new password (make sure your phone has international roaming enabled in order to accept the mobile verification code).

How to Pay by QR Code in China

To pay using WeChat or Alipay in China, there are two methods.

The first method (the more common way, usually used in hotels, supermarkets, large shopping malls, and restaurants) is the merchant scanning your payment QR code. Simply present your payment QR code in front of the scanning device. The corresponding payment amount would be automatically deducted from your account.

To access the payment QR code on Alipay, find it under the search box on the home page by tapping on "Pay/Collect".

On the other hand, for WeChat, you need to tap on "Me", which is located in the bottom right corner, then tap "Money" to show the payment QR code.

Pay with your QR codeThe merchant scanning your payment QR code

The second method is scanning the QR code displayed by the shops. Open the app and tap "+" on the top right corner, and select "Scan". Then, scan the QR code displayed by the shops and enter your payment amount and password/passcode to complete the transaction.

Pay with your QR codeScanning the QR code displayed by the shops

Transaction Fees

Transaction fees are waived for single transactions under RMB 200. A 3% transaction fee would be applied for single transactions above RMB 200. You could make multiple payments of RMB 200 to avoid the 3% service charge. (WeChat and Alipay have the same requirements for transaction fees.)

If you request a refund for a transaction, the transaction fee would be reimbursed in proportion to the refund amount.

If you plan to reside, work, or study in China for an extended period, it is advisable to obtain a Chinese SIM card (for an unlocked phone) and bank card. This would enable you to fully utilize the payment features of Alipay or WeChat, including the ability to transfer money and receive red packets.

Can I Pay with Apple Pay / PayPal in China?

The usage of Apple Pay in China is extremely limited. In China, Apple Pay operates through the UnionPay channel, which means it can only be used if your bank card or credit card is UnionPay. Therefore, for most foreign tourists, it's basically impossible to use Apple Pay in China[7].

PayPal primarily facilitates international transactions, enabling users to conduct cross-border payments, purchase foreign goods or services, and make payments abroad. For example, if you book a trip to China with us, you could pay with PayPal.

However, PayPal does not offer local payment services in the Chinese mainland and cannot be used to pay for domestic goods or services.

How to Order a Taxi from Alipay and WeChat

From Alipay:

You could find "DiDi Travel" directly on the Alipay home page.

Payment in China

If you cannot find DiDi Travel there, you could tap "More" to find it.

DiDi operates similarly to Uber, where you enable your GPS location, input your destination, and choose your vehicle. After successfully requesting a ride, you simply wait for the car to arrive.

After the trip is completed, the payment would automatically be deducted from Alipay.

From WeChat:

Tap "Me", choose "Service", and find "Ride Hailing".

Payment in China

Make sure you enable your GPS location and then input your destination to hail a car.

You may find that after entering the "Ride Hailing" page, everything is in Chinese. In this case, you could tap "我的" (‘Me') on the lower right corner, find "设置" (‘Settings'), choose "语言/Language", and then select "English".

Payment in China

Payment with Bank Cards

The acceptance of foreign bank cards in China is limited. Most POS machines (card scanners at ‘point of sale') only accept UnionPay cards. Only some chain hotels, big malls, and airport shops accept foreign bank cards.

If you want to order in restaurants, shop in supermarkets, take the subway, etc., downloading Alipay and linking your foreign bank card is the best choice.

While direct payment with foreign bank cards is typically not feasible in most cases, withdrawing money from ATMs in China is highly convenient. Both Visa and Mastercard enable direct RMB withdrawals from ATMs.

Cash Payment

Due to the convenience of mobile payments, China has essentially become a cashless society, although cash payments are still accepted.

In China, cash payments are only accepted in RMB, and currencies such as USD, GBP, and EUR, are not accepted.

We recommend using Alipay and preparing/withdrawing 200–500 RMB as a backup. It's also advisable to carry one or two bank cards in case Alipay cannot successfully be used.

You could withdraw RMB directly from ATMs with most bank cards. Airports, banks, and some hotels also provide currency exchange services. Don't withdraw/change too much and keep your ATM/exchange receipts to convert your RMB back into your currency whilst avoiding extra fees/hassle.

Payment in China
Payment in China
Payment in China

Shanghai Pass

If you do not want to download or register for mobile payment apps, you could try Shanghai Pass, a newly launched physical card. This card is convenient to use and is suitable for the following situations:

  • Transportation: you can use the card to directly board Shanghai's buses, subways, taxis, and ferries.
  • Scenic Spots: you can directly swipe the card to enter multiple scenic spots in Shanghai without needing to buy separate tickets.
  • Cross-City Usage: the card can be used not only in Shanghai but also in the transportation systems of other major cities such as Beijing, Chengdu, and Guangzhou.

You can buy this card at Shanghai's Hongqiao Airport and Pudong Airport. You can preload the card with an amount of up to 1000 RMB. Any unused balance can be refunded.

References

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