What is Alipay, and how does it work?

Panna Kemenes

Alipay is a mobile payment app used by Chinese nationals to make cashless payments.

Just as apps like Venmo and PayPal are popular in the US, Alipay enjoys a similar level of popularity in China. You can download the eWallet service on your mobile and use it to make online payments and transfers.

This article will explore Alipay’s features and provide an overview of the service.

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📝 Table of contents

What is Alipay, and how does it work?

Alipay is an eWallet app that lets users store debit or credit card details to make online and in-store purchases using their phones. It works as a mobile wallet-based payment method, similar to the likes of Apple Pay.

Alipay can be used to make purchases where the merchant has listed Alipay as a valid form of payment.

While the app started with simplified and traditional Chinese, it has recently added English. This makes it more accessible to native English speakers traveling through China.

The app is free to use, you just need to create an account and add your card details.¹

How do I pay through Alipay?

The Alipay eWallet offers both online and in-store purchases to customers, giving you the flexibility to pay as you prefer.

Online payment

With online payments, it’s as simple as selecting Alipay as your preferred payment method at the checkout page.²

This implies, of course, that the online merchant accepts Alipay, so you should check before you go ahead with the transaction.

In-store payment

Alipay also allows you to pay in-store using your mobile. Payment is simple, and there are two methods.

The merchant-presented mode involves scanning the merchant’s QR code on your phone. You can then enter the payment amount to complete the payment.³

You will often find the merchant QR code next to the tills, or on restaurant tables.

Merchants who join the Alipay network do not need to buy any equipment for collecting payment this way. They simply share their QR code with customers.

Alipay with QR code

The second method is the customer-presented mode. Some merchants may also have Point of Sale systems. In this case, the merchant can scan the payment code presented by the customer to collect the payment.

This method can be faster, as it works well even where there is a weak connection.⁴

Alipay payment

Can I use Alipay without a Chinese bank account?

Alipay was created with Chinese citizens and businesses in mind. Initially, it was only available to Chinese citizens and residents with a Chinese bank account.

Luckily, Alipay has since become available for short-term use by tourists.

If you’re visiting China for up to three months, and you’re looking for a simple way to manage payments, Alipay is an excellent option.

Since 2019, customers traveling in China have been able to use Alipay’s e-wallet using a 90-day Tour Pass.

Alipay Tour Pass provides visitors to China a way to pay online without a Chinese bank account.

Load enough funds to cover your trip, and you can use Alipay as if it were a prepaid card. You can top up with a minimum of 100 yuan and a maximum of 2000 yuan, though there is a limit to the number of times you can top up.⁶

If you want to use Alipay for longer than 90 days, however, you will need a Chinese bank account.

💡 If you need to send Chinese Yuan (CNY) to Alipay users, then you can do so via Wise - an easy and low-cost way to send money aborad!

Is Alipay safe?

Alipay is not FDIC insured, which means that any funds you add to your account won’t are lost should the company go out of business.⁷

The mobile payments app does offer several features to ensure your data is safe, and your transactions are secure.⁸

These security features include:

  • Advanced encryption - through encryption, Alipay protects your private data, as well as making any payments secure.

  • Risk management - Alipay uses a risk management framework to keep fraud attempts at bay and prevent money laundering.

  • Real-time Monitoring - Alipay has real-time risk monitoring that uses data to detect a user’s risk level as well as keeping an eye on all payments 24/7.

Pros and cons of using Alipay

As you might imagine, there are upsides and downsides to using an app like Alipay. Here are some of the commonly-cited pros and cons of Alipay:

Pros of using Alipay

  • Can be safer than carrying cash - carrying around a lot of cash on your person abroad is rarely a good idea. With Alipay, you can omit the risk of losing money by having funds in the app.

  • Convenient payments - in this digital world, using cash abroad seems unnecessary. That’s why Alipay is a convenient alternative, as it streamlines the process of paying.

Cons of using Alipay

  • Not FDIC-insured - funds stored in Alipay aren’t FDIC-insured. This means that if the company goes out of business, you could stand to lose any money you have in the account.

  • Only for short-term use as a tourist - Alipay only available for 90 days without a Chinese bank account.

What is the difference between PayPal and Alipay?

PayPal and Alipay are both peer-to-peer payment platforms, but there are some key differences between the two.

Alipay is popular in China and available only to Chinese nationals. There is a 'Tour Pass' for those traveling in China, too. PayPal is popular and accepted in Europe and the USA.

PayPal charges a foreign exchange fee, whereas Alipay only has a transaction fee.

🤓 You can read the guide on what PayPal is and how it works to find out more.

Send Chinese Yuan instantly to Alipay users with Wise

With Wise, you can send your Chinese Yuan (CNY) to Alipay users. All you need is the recipient’s name and Alipay ID to complete the transaction.

You can also receive money through Alipay free of charge when the sender uses Wise to transfer the funds. Check the latest exchange rate for USD to CNY.

Open a Wise account in minutes 🚀

You can read more about how to send CNY instantly, or watch the video guide!


  1. ‎Alipay - Simplify Your Life on the App Store
  2. Alipay Online Payment | Convenient e-Wallet payment solutions
  3. In-store Payments Overview
  4. Alipay Offline Payment | Enhance in-store payment experience
  5. Alipay launches international e-wallet, giving foreigners access to mobile payment platform in first for China
  6. Use Alipay tour pass on your China tour
  7. Alipay Merchant Services Terms and Conditions
  8. Alipay Member Protection

All sources checked 27 May 2021.

Please see terms of use and product availability for your region or visit Wise fees and pricing for the most up to date pricing and fee information.

This publication is provided for general information purposes and does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its subsidiaries and its affiliates, and it is not intended as a substitute for obtaining advice from a financial advisor or any other professional.

We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether expressed or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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