China is the only cashless society in the world and going there and not experiencing the facilities of this innovation was a constant frustration for foreigners until the beginning of 2020, when the local government released the use of apps payment methods for non-Chinese.
It is even possible, eventually, to buy things on paper money there, but the fact is that most establishments do not always have cash to pay change. And card machines are very rare, because buying on credit has never been a common habit in China. Buying with a card is possible in international hotels, but it is rarely accepted in taxis or restaurants, for example. The way the Chinese tend to pay for their purchases today is digitally, using apps like AliPay.
It works like this: through mobile payment apps, like Alipay and WeChat Pay, the Chinese choose what to buy. At the store or restaurant, they point the phone at the product's QR code and the amount is debited electronically from the customer. The operation is also done in reverse. In a restaurant, for example, the attendant can request the customer's QR – generated by the payment app – so that it can be scanned and, thus, debit the value of the product.
For your shopping experience to happen, in China, however, you need to install Alipay, the largest and best known digital payment platform in the country. Here's how to create your digital wallet in five steps:
At the Apple Store, Google Play or website Alipay, get the app. If you do iPhone or Android, choose the version Alipay – Simplify Your Life, as it is the most complete. You probably won't use all the features, but having them available won't hurt you.
Even if you have chosen to download Alipay via the website, you will be redirected to your cell phone. Once installed, open the app and follow the instructions. Easy to talk, right? The initial screen, on terms and conditions of use, is in Chinese. But it's quiet. Click the option on the right highlighted in blue. After that, a screen appears that allows you to choose the language. We recommend it to be English.
After defining the app's language, press the 'Sign Up' registration key if you have not yet signed up for Alipay. You must provide personal data, such as name, phone, email and international credit card. Don't worry, the site is secure. Give the necessary authorizations so that the app can work without restrictions.
And so we get to the Alipay home screen (on the right). Yes, there are features in Chinese, but we will do well with the options in English, especially those that are in the blue menu, at the top of the app: Scan (which reads the QR of the establishments to make the payment), Pay (pay with your QR generated in the app), Collect (receive money via QR) and Pocket. For all of these options to work, you must register an international card. Then go to the 'Pay' option. The app will open a screen that asks for the card registration. Confirm your details. As soon as the card is registered in the app, it will generate a QR code that can be requested by a storekeeper or service provider to make the payment for the purchase.
With a registered credit card, we can purchase a small amount of local currency. To make the first top-up, it is necessary to provide personal data, such as bank card and photo of the Chinese visa (take it on your cell phone). On the Alipay home screen, click Tour Pass. You can charge from 100 RMB to 2,000 RMB (at the average price of 1.67 renminbi in January, this is equivalent to R $ 60 to R $ 1,200). Well, that done, just enjoy the mobile payment.
Some credit cards may be declined, depending on where they were issued. Try with different options until you succeed.