Alipay, the mobile payments and lifestyle platform owned by Ant Financial, is opening its platform to international travelers in China for the first time.
Starting Tuesday, tourists visiting China will be able to download and use the app during their trip, giving them access to the most popular form of payment – and the most popular mobile-payments provider – in the country.
Visitors will need just an overseas phone number, a visa and their bank card to sign up for Alipay’s “Tour Pass” mini-program. They can top up in increments of as much as RMB2,000 ($285), and use the service to not just make offline payments but also hail cars, purchase train tickets and book hotels, among other features available within the Alipay app. Access to Tour Pass lasts three months, and then any leftover funds are refunded automatically.
Mobile payments are the norm in China, where virtually every mainstream business in the country accepts them – even street hawkers. But before today, a local phone number and Chinese bank account was required to access Alipay, which precluded short-term international visitors from using the app.
In a note to media, Alipay said that inbound tourists to China are increasing every year, thanks to eased visa requirements to boost tourism. In 2018, 30.5 million international visitors arrived from overseas, an increase of 4.7% from a year earlier, according to government data. These tourists are also spending more, with expenditure in areas such as hotels, shopping, and food rising 5.1% to a total of US$73.1 billion last year, the data showed.
Alipay was launched in 2004 to facilitate payments between buyers and sellers on e-commerce marketplace Taobao. Today, together with its local e-wallet partners in Asia, Alipay is used by more than 1.2 billion users.
Ant Financial is an affiliate company of Alibaba Group. In September, Alibaba purchased a 33% stake in the fintech company.