Setting Up Zhifubao (Alipay)

When you live abroad, your internet accounts are all from back in your home country, but you’re not. This creates a particular kind of problem.

Last week, I wanted to buy a game through Steam (ironically, it was Papers Please), but they wouldn’t allow me to pay because my account says I’m Dutch and I was logging in from China. When I wanted to log in to Amazon, I needed my Dutch phone number - which I no longer have - to verify my account. Dutch government website: same thing.

It works the other way around too. I tried to set up Zhifubao, or Alipay, the other day (Zhifubao allows you to pay online, in taxis, send money to your friends, etc.). It took three calls to their helpline to find out how to be able to enter a Chinese cell phone number in combination with a foreign passport. I’ll save you the details of my struggles, but here are the steps you need to take:

  1. Have a bank account with Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) or Bank of China (BoC);
  2. Go to the bank and enable internet banking;
  3. Create an account through the Zhifubao website [www.zhifubao.com] (NOT through the app) and use your e-mail address, not your phone number;
  4. Fill out your details;
  5. After the page where you fill out both your passport number and your bank account number, Zhifubao will check with your bank whether these two match. The reason you need to have an account with ICBC or BoC is because other banks do not support this check for foreigners;
  6. To connect your Zhifubao account to your bank account, you need to transfer money once, and you should be good.

I never actually got to the last step because my account is at a different bank, but I’ve been told it should work this way. Good luck.


Kevin writes columns for the GoEast Blog on studying Chinese, Chinese culture, and life as a foreign student. He has studied China and Chinese for over five years, first in his home country the Netherlands, then in Beijing, and now attends Fudan University's Chinese Society department.