Visitors to China can now use Alipay instead of cash or cards

Visitors to China can now access the country’s massive cashless economy.

Alibaba-affiliated Ant Financial launched a new international version of its mobile payments app Alipay on Tuesday, marking the first time tourists and business travelers can use mobile payments in mainland China.

Not to be outdone, Tencent-owned WeChat Pay announced on Wednesday that it will also roll out services for foreigners visiting China.

The services could remove one of the biggest headaches for visitors to China, where everyone from taxi drivers to luxury malls have come to rely on mobile payments.

Alipay users can now download and buy prepaid cards within the app using international debit and credit cards. The prepaid cards expire after 90 days and any remaining money is automatically refunded.

WeChat Pay users can add international credit cards directly to their digital wallets.

Alibaba and Tencent dominate cashless payments in China with their Alipay and WeChat Pay platforms. With more than a billion users, the digital payment systems have largely replaced plastic cards and cash at registers, changed how friends and families give gifts to one another and even changed how panhandlers ask for money.

Even Apple accepts Alipay in its local stores in China, after its own payment system failed to gain traction.

Mobile payments in China hit $42 trillion in 2018, up more than 28 times from five years ago, the People’s Bank of China said in a report earlier this year.

Ant Financial said Tuesday that the new international service will allow it to tap into the growing number of visitors to China.

Nearly 31 million foreigners traveled to China in 2018 and they spent $73 billion while they were touring the country, according to government statistics. The number of visitors and how much they spent both rose by about 5% compared to a year earlier.