Using a Chinese Bank Card Online

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    Avatar photoElizabeth391

    Hey guys,

    Some help/advice needed once again!

    I only recently opened a bank account in Chengdu, and from reading expat advice I went with ICBC. When I opened the account I was given a chip and pin card (not sure of the official name!) and the card says “UnionPay” on it. I set a pin for this card, and happily used it at ATM machines. Now I want to buy some flights online- I try to enter my card details but the card number is too long, and “UnionPay” is not an option for accepted card types.

    More google surfing lead me to believe that in order to use the card online, I need to set up online banking. So I went back to the bank, bought something called a “Ukey” which is like a USB, downloaded the software, and set up online banking. Again, I go on to the website (which is Etihad) and still I cannot use this type of card. However, going onto air asia website, there is now an option for me to do something called “99pay” which means I can use the card.

    So my questions are…

    Can I only use this ICBC card on Chinese/Asian websites to make payments?

    Do other Chinese banks offer a simple Visa Debit card service, like I can get at home?

    All advice welcomed!

    Avatar photoBrendan

    Hey Liz,

    From experience I can tell you any transacting online in China can be a pain. First thing you should know is that unfortunately many merchants based outside of the mainland do not accept Union Pay. You’ll even find this to be the case in Hong Kong.

    If you plan to be here for a while it’s worth setting up an Alipay account. It links to your bank account (via online banking), and opens up more possibilities for online purchase in China. I’ve used it for goods, flights, hotels and more.

    Another issue is that some online banking services only work within an IE browser, so that can turn out to be a real pain. I personally operate three bank accounts in order to be able to cover all the bases. Again Alipay helps you get around this if you can recharge an amount in advance to it, and then you can carry out purchases on both Windows and Mac.

    Another option/addition you could consider is a PayPal World account. You can attach your Union Pay account to the PayPal account and transact ‘cross border’ payments with any merchants who accept Union Pay.

    Visa is not something banks generally offer as a ‘debit’ card option in China, and the criteria for obtaining a credit card is high. I believe Standard Chartered plan to introduce a Visa debit card this year, but that’s of no use right now. One final option is to find a way to obtain a ‘pre-paid’ Visa card from Hong Kong, which can be used with anyone accepting Visa, online or otherwise.

    Avatar photoJerryS

    Liz, you need to download the program from your usb to your laptop. That should suffice, but if it does not, then there are a few more programs you may need to download from ICBC website.

    Also, for using the ‘chip’ as you call it, you can only use it when shopping online from a Chinese website that allows Union pay. You have to register with Taobao and Alipay. Quite easy with a translator (i.e. google translate). And you MUST USE Internet Explorer when using the ‘chip.’

    Worst case, ill tell you more about it in person. I spent soo many hours getting it to work, which it paid off because i purchase everything from taobao, send money back to US via paypal, wire transfer larger sums via ICBC online transfer system and even bought my plane ticket to HK with RMB and not converting it (damn, such a run on sentence…). All of this with no help from anyone!

    Just tinker with it and see how far you get. Internet Explorer is a must for Chinese banks and the USB err.. ‘Chip’ devices.

    Avatar photoFederico

    Hello Liz,

    I have Bank of China card and I have your same problem. With USB key now I can buy on some online shop like 360Buy… I tried registration on Alipay but really not clear process and for now I’m waiting that this company confirm my passport.

    I want try like Brendon suggest, PayPal Worldwide and link my Unionpay card, maybe it’s a good way…

    See you I hope with good news

    Avatar photoFederico

    Just finished of create PayPal China Worldwide account… perfect! finally I can use my UnionPay card online! now the little problem is with which money… 😉


    If you have another PayPal account use a different e-mail in the registration process! if you need it’s my pleasure help you…

    Avatar photoBrendan
    Just finished of create PayPal China Worldwide account… perfect!

    Awesome. Nice to know that the 3 weeks I spent being run around the houses allowed someone else to get it done in record time! Just be aware that you can’t register any one card to multiple PayPal accounts. That said the Worldwide (/c2) account is really useful, and the fees are low.

    Avatar photoFederico

    Ahahahah really thank you Brendan! it’s really a great help because a foreigner haven’t too much ways for pay online, like you said in the begin…


    Avatar photoJuan

    Hi All,

    I’m new on this forum. I’ve got here accidentally after a research on what seems to be a common topic in this forum…setting PayPal in China.

    Basically, I set my account a while ago and after a struggle trying to get it linked to my chinese bank account (China Merchant’s Bank) and many calls for support in US and finally got it verified.

    In order to test it, I ran the Sandbox app test (tutorial here: and it works fine.

    So apparently, I’m almost ready to start using it but before I do, I have a couple of questions about how things work in there:

    1. If I want to use my Paypal to receive payments not only from China but also from abroad, let’s say US, can I receive a payment through my Paypal account I made here in China and this money can be eventually transfered automatically to my local Chinese bank account?

    2.I went to the bank to activate my online bank account for Paypal and they gave me a USB. Only problem is that I have to use explorer on windows and I’m currently a Mac user. Does anyone here has or had the same issue? how to solve it? Also if you know how the USB has to be used, that wil be great to know.

    I would really appreciate if you can give me some lights on this 2 questions.

    Thanks in advance!


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