Foreigners’ Guide to China’s Payment Solutions

This article aims to provide an overview of the payment options and tools available to foreigners in China. From traditional bank transfers to mobile payment platforms like Alipay and WeChat Pay, the landscape of financial transactions in China is both diverse and technologically advanced.

by | Apr 7, 2024 | Policy & News

As an increasing number of foreign nationals come to work, study, and live in China, becoming acquainted with and utilizing various Chinese payment methods is an essential aspect of daily life. Navigating the evolving landscape of payment methods for foreigners in China unveils a blend of traditional banking services and digital solutions, tailored to ensure a seamless financial experience for international visitors and residents alike.


Opening a Bank Account in China for Foreign Nationals


Foreign nationals are eligible to open bank accounts with local commercial banks in China, facilitated by current policies. Here’s a breakdown of the types of bank accounts that foreigners can open:

  • Personal RMB Savings Account: This is ideal for everyday expenses and salary deposits.
  • Foreign Currency Savings Account: Offers convenience for managing foreign currency funds within China.
  • Company Account: Tailored for foreign-invested enterprises operating in China, these accounts support the day-to-day business transactions.


Different banks in China have different regulations for foreigners opening bank accounts. We recommend calling in advance to inquire about the specific requirements and to schedule an appointment for opening an account. Generally, the following materials are needed:

  • Valid Identification: Such as a passport or any valid travel document issued by foreign authorities.
  • Valid Chinese Residence Certificate: Including a work visa, residence permit, and similar documentation.
  • Proof of Residential Address: Documents like a rental agreement or utility bill may suffice.

For those intending to open a business account, additional documents are necessary, including the business license, the company’s articles of association, and other pertinent records.

The account opening process involves completing an application form and, subsequently, receiving a bank card. Banks strongly encourage downloading their mobile banking app. This digital tool simplifies account management, enhances security, and offers protective measures against loss or unauthorized access.


Digital Payment for Foreigners in China


China’s digital payment landscape has significantly evolved to become more inclusive for foreigners. Now, foreigners can easily install and set up accounts on leading mobile payment platforms like WeChat and Alipay. By simply downloading the apps and registering with either a foreign or Chinese mobile phone number, users gain access to a world of convenience. As of last July, foreign visitors can link their Visa and Mastercard accounts to WeChat Pay and Alipay. This development allows them to effortlessly book taxis, navigate the subway system, and make purchases at countless vendors throughout this predominantly cashless society. This initiative represents a renewed push to integrate foreign credit cards into these platforms, building on the preliminary steps taken in late 2019.


Guidelines for Linking International Bank Cards:


  • Authorization Requirements

When attempting to link an international bank card with Alipay or WeChat, it’s necessary to secure authorization from the card’s issuing bank. Be aware that some banks might decline the request if they cannot recognize the connection data. In these instances, reaching out to the bank’s customer support or opting for a Chinese bank card are viable alternatives.

  • Transaction Fees

For QR code payments via Alipay or WeChat with an international bank card, no service fee is charged for transactions up to RMB 200. However, for amounts exceeding this limit, a service charge of 3% of the transaction value is applied. This fee structure ensures transparency and predictability in payment processes.

These enhancements in digital payment solutions underscore China’s commitment to creating an accommodating and seamless financial ecosystem for foreigners.


Recent Developments and Future Directions


China is evolving into a cashless society, where mobile payments are the norm for daily transactions. This shift, however, has presented challenges for foreigners due to the limited acceptance of international cards and the decreasing use of cash among businesses. To counter these obstacles and rejuvenate tourism, Chinese authorities are expanding mobile payment options for foreigners and urging tourist hotspots to accept both cash and international bank cards. Alipay and WeChat Pay are now accommodating more foreign bank cards and streamlining the identity verification process.

The People’s Bank of China recently announced enhanced limits for foreigners, allowing up to US$5,000 per mobile transaction — a significant increase from the previous US$1,000 cap. The annual limit has also been raised to US$50,000. Additionally, major tourist sites are upgrading their payment systems to accept a broader spectrum of transaction methods.


In Practice: A Case Study from Shenzhen


On April 1st, in Shenzhen, a collaborative initiative involving leading banks, payment apps, and card payment providers introduced new measures aimed at improving the transaction experience for foreign visitors.

Launched during the 2024 Shenzhen International Shopping Carnival and under the guidance of the People’s Bank of China, these measures were designed to cater to the preferences of international tourists. They include adjustments in mobile payment methods, standardization of transactions for smaller cash amounts, and the innovative deployment of e-CNY hard wallet products. These efforts are geared towards facilitating easier bank card transactions for larger amounts, promoting QR code-based mobile payments for smaller purchases, and ensuring the availability of cash transactions.


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