Alipay for Foreigners || Big News for 2023 (How To Link Your Bank Card)

How to Use Alipay (Link Foreign Bank Card + Top Up Alipay)

Link Your Bank Card To Alipay In Minutes

Lex the Lion LTL

Alipay is one of China’s biggest and most used apps and we recently received some very useful news for foreigners about using Alipay which we want to share with you right away.

For the first time, you can now link your foreign credit/bank card to Alipay and pay for things without cash in China.

This is hugely significant given the fact China is generally a cashless country these days.

Let’s discover Alipay and how we can benefit from it as foreigners.

Alipay for Foreigners || What is Alipay?

Alipay for Foreigners || Using Alipay in China

Alipay for Foreigners || The Press Release

Alipay for Foreigners || How to Top-up Alipay?

Alipay for Foreigners || Other Solutions

Alipay for Foreigners || FAQs

What is AliPay?

AliPay is an app widely used throughout China.

In fact, it is one of China’s biggest apps.

Within the app, the main feature is quite simple, paying for things.

Alipay-for-foreigners

Need to buy milk and bread?

Use Alipay.

Want to book some train tickets?

Use Alipay.

Want to pay your gas and electric bills?

Use Alipay.

Starting to see a theme here?

You can also send friends money, via “red packets”, and even chat.

Most Chinese nationals who have a phone will have the app. We’d probably go as far as saying 99% of locals in fact.

Although WeChat is regarded as the most commonly used app to pay for things, Alipay will not be far behind.

Check out the differences between the two giants in this quick video guide:

Using Alipay in China

WeChat and Alipay have always had one shortcoming for foreigners and it’s actually incredibly relevant to a lot of our students here at LTL Language School.

To be able to pay for things using these two apps, you need a Chinese bank account, and that is becoming increasingly troublesome (麻烦 máfan – useful word alert), especially if you are coming to China short-term.

If you are a student for let’s say less than 6 weeks, do you really want to go through the hassle of opening a bank account?

Probably not given the fact it’s not that easy in China!

Therefore, using these apps to pay for things is not possible (until now).

Campbell the Marketing Wizard, enjoying his cashless coffee!
Campbell with his cashless coffee!

DID YOU KNOW || Some places in China you cannot actually use cash to pay for things, they genuinely only accept mobile payments!

The world we live in…!

An example, Luckin’ Coffee, a hugely popular discount coffee shop which our teams in Beijing and Shanghai particularly enjoy, on a daily basis!

This coffee shop is solely driven by online payments so no bank account, no Luckin’ Coffee for you!

Anyway, for these reasons, this news is all the more significant because the above scenario is now solvable for those of you coming to China and not opening a bank account.

WeChat Pay vs Alipay 🥊 Which One is Better? 2023 Edition Thumbnail

WeChat Pay vs Alipay 🥊 Which One is Better? 2023 Edition

Your complete guide to using WeChat Pay vs Alipay in China. Find out which mobile payment app is the one for you and how you can use them.

Alipay for Foreigners || The Press Release

According to the below press release from Alipay, a foreigner can now attach their foreign bank card to Alipay and use this to make purchases in China.

This is a huge breakthrough in China and will make a big difference for foreigners coming to China and not having to bring cash.

The official release from Alipay is shown here below:

Using Alipay in China

So, now you probably want to know how to link your foreign bank card to Alipay?

Here is how to do it, plus another useful solution…

Using Alipay in China || How to Top-up Alipay?

When spending money as a foreigner using Alipay you have two options:

1 – Link Your Bank Card to Alipay

This is quick and easy to set up (with less caveats) but is not guaranteed to work.

Linking a bank card in Alipay is easy. Just follow these steps:

  • Open Alipay
  • Click the ME icon on the bottom right of the screen
  • Click BANK CARDS
  • Click the + icon on the top right of the screen
  • Enter your bank card number, or scan your bank card

You’ll see the list of bank cards that can be linked with Alipay. These currently include Visa, Mastercard, Unionpay, and Diners Club.

NOTE || There is no American Express functionality but we believe they are looking to add this in the near future.

Now, the important thing to note with this method is that it may or may not work.

Unfortunately there is no way of knowing straight away. Just because Alipay says its supports Visa cards, it doesn’t mean your transaction will go through in China.

You’ll notice in the above screenshot my Visa card has successfully linked, but this doesn’t guarantee success.

Unfortunately you will not know until trying to pay in China whether it worked or not!

So it’s important to have a back-up… hence the 2nd method…

2 – Open a Tourcard

This method is more full-proof because what you are essentially doing is opening a bank account through Alipay, and it just takes a few clicks.

Alipay for Foreigners || How to use Tourcard

There are a few downsides though, so let’s run you through it.

  • Open Alipay and search TOURCARD
  • Open the Tourcard mini-app (Alipay includes hundreds of mini-apps you can find by searching)
  • Click ENTER
  • Click USE NOW and verify your personal info
  • Choose an Amount to Top Up
  • Make your payment

In completing these steps you’ve effectively opened up a brand new BANK OF SHANGHAI account in a matter of minutes.

Pretty cool, right?!

You won’t get a bank card though, this is simply an account you will use inside of Alipay.

There are a few things you need to know which are a little bit of a pain in truth.

1 – There is a 10,000CNY limit.

Now, whilst this is a step forward from the previous 2,000CNY limit of the now discontinued (but essentially the same, Tourpass), it still ties our hands a bit.

10,000CNY is roughly…500CNY is roughly…
1,400USD70USD
1,100GBP55GBP
1,300EUR65EUR
2,000AUD100AUD
1,900SGD95SGD

Whether this is enough for you is entirely case dependent. How long are you in China for? If just a couple of weeks, or even a month – you’ll be OK.

What about if you’re in China for 3+ months? You’re going to need another solution on-top of this. We’ll come onto that…

2 – There is a 5% top-up service charge.

This one is a kick up the backside. An unnecessarily large charge just to use the service, but it is what it is sadly.

That means if you want to top-up the full 10,000CNY you’ll be spending another 500CNY on top of it (see why we included it in the table above now!?)

Alipay for Foreigners || How to Link My Card

3 – The Tourcard is only active for 6 months

Going back to those of you who are staying in China longer that 6 months… another hurdle.

The Tourcard will automatically close after 180 days of opening. If you have failed to spend all your money, no problem, it’ll be refunded to your bank upon expiration.

The good news is you can open a new Tourcard after these 6 months have expired.

4 – Only certain banks will work

You’ll notice in the screenshot that only Visa, Mastercard, Diners Club and JCB account holders can use Tourcard.

Tourcard is clearly a useful feature and makes the life of a foreigner in China easier, but it’s important to be aware of the limitations.

3 – Get a Friend to Send Your Money

This is probably the easiest solution of all but will rely on who you know in China already.

If you have a friend in China who has a Chinese bank account and a verified Alipay account, they can quite simply fire over some money to your account.

Is all you will need is a verified Alipay account yourself (i.e. upload scan of passport, take selfie etc) and you’ll be good to go.

You’ll then just need to find a way to pay them back!

We must thank a student of ours from our forum for this solution.

After hearing he made use of this hack, we tried it with some of our students and it worked a treat.


We hope this list helped.

Anyway… we mentioned other solutions for those of you who are planning to stay longer and spend more than 10,000CNY…

Alipay for Foreigners || Other Solutions

Firstly – whilst it goes against everything we’ve said… it’s still worth taking some cash to China.

You won’t be able to use it much, but it’s always worth having this back-up.

Perhaps you owe a friend some money, maybe you’re in a taxi, or you are wanting to buy some souvenirs from the local stalls?

In all of these situations cash can still work – so whilst it’s not king in China anymore… have a bit to hand before taking off for China.

Secondly – get a Wise account. Wise is an excellent option for those of you who travel and regularly hold multiple currencies.

Wise: the international account | Money without borders

Wise allows you to hold currencies from all over the world including USD, EUR, GBP, JPY, HKD, KRW… and yes, you guessed it CNY (Chinese Yuan)!

Wise is essentially a Visa card, which means it should also work with Alipay’s functionality, but again, it’ll be person dependent.

Either way, get yourself a Wise card, and convert your cash to CNY.

TOP TIP || Getting a Wise card is MUCH cheaper than exchanging cash at the airport or at those cash exchange stores. I never do this anymore and would advise anyone against it. Wise cuts these fees right down.

Thirdly – Try setting up a WeChat Pay account. You’ll absolutely need WeChat for contacting people in China regardless, so WeChat Pay can be a great way to consolidate these two functions.

To learn how to set up WeChat Pay, check out our WeChat Pay for Foreigners guide.

WeChat Pay have also recently allowed the linking of international cards for tourists and short-term visitors too!

Finally – be sure to link your bank card to Alipay as we mentioned above.

If you run out of cash on your Tourcard, by linking your bank card to Alipay itself, this will hopefully provide you with an alternate solution.

It may work at some vendors, and may not at others – but you’ve given yourself the best chance.


Coming to China provides challenges few other countries provide, but we know China better than most and we sincerely hope this article has eased some of your fears about how to spend money in China.

Want to discover some more really cool features about Alipay with our video? Check it out…

Did you find this useful? Do you have any questions? Let us know in the comments below.

Do remember, although we are here to help, we are not Alipay support. If you have problems with your account, it’s best to contact Alipay directly and not us!

Alipay in China || FAQs

What is Alipay?

Alipay is a Chinese app used for a number of things, but primarily, paying for goods and services.

Alipay is mainly used by Chinese nationals in shops/restaurants and convenience stores to buy goods.

It can also be used to pay for utilities, buy movie tickets and even purchase flight tickets.

What is Tourcard?

Tourcard is a mini-app inside of Alipay.

This mini-app allows you to set up an online bank account with the BANK OF SHANGHAI that has a limit of 10,000CNY.

What is Tourpass?

Tourpass is now discountinued.

It has been rebranded as Tourcard and is a way for foreigners to spend money without using cash in China.

The Tourcard has a limit of 10,000CNY and closes after 180 days of use. Previously, Tourpass worked for only 90 days and had a limit of 2,000CNY.

Are there limitations to Tourcard?

Unfortunately yes!

1 – There is a 10,000CNY limit.

2 – There is a 5% top-up service charge.

3 – It is only active for 180 days.

4 – Only Visa, Mastercard, Diners Club and JCB account holders can use Tourcard.

Check out this article to find out some alternate solutions.

Can I link my foreign bank card to Alipay?

Yes you can!

It’s super easy to do and there is no limit on the amount you spend.

Find out how in this article.

Do I need a Chinese bank account to travel around China?

No you don’t.

With the news that you can link a foreign bank account to Alipay, this means you can gain all the benefits of the Alipay app and start spending in China without needing cash.

Can foreigners use Alipay in China?

Yes, Alipay is available for everyone to use in China, you can use it in English or Chinese meaning it is also convenient for most to use.

How do I set up Alipay in China?

You simply download Alipay from your App Store on your device.

You will need to register a mobile number and set up your account.

Once this is complete just link your bank card (Chinese account or now a foreign account is also possible) and you are good to go.

How do I top up Alipay with foreign credit card?

You will need to link a bank card to Alipay which you can do so by visiting your profile and then BANK CARDS.

If you linked your Chinese bank account to Alipay there is no need to top-up your account. It is simply linked to your bank account.

If you linked your foreign bank account to Alipay the same applies, but it may or may not work (there is no way of knowing until you try and make that first transaction).

If you topped up your Tourcard you have a 10,000CNY cap and you can top up by visiting the Tourcard mini-app inside of Alipay.

Is Alipay the only payment app in China?

No, WeChat is the primary payment app in China and these two dominate the market.

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  1. Sonja
    Reply

    Very interesting Indeed! What about Who has a chinese telephone Number AND a foreign credit card? Will the sane processo apply? Because if you need to have your foreign sin card in when purchasing with alipay..we’ll, that seems to be pretty expensive in roaming costa, doesn’t it?

    1. LTL Team HQ
      Reply

      Hi Sonja,

      Certainly is an interesting development and I think WeChat will follow up soon also. Ultimately if it helps foreigners spend in China at convenience, everyone wins.

      So I have a Chinese phone numbers (I live here) and a foreign credit card from the UK, and I linked this up with no problem as the screenshots show. I’ve heard someone people had trouble but I think this is very much touch and go, some do, so do not. I time I think it will roll out to all versions of AliPay on all App stores.

      Answering your final sentence though, you do not need a foreign SIM card as I can vouch for.

      Hope this helps.

      Regards

      Max

  2. C. Wichert
    Reply

    I cannot top up my account. After 2000 RMB this method of payment doesn’t work anymore.

    1. LTL Team HQ
      Reply

      Hi Mr Wichert,

      Yes according to AliPay 2000RMB is the maximum you can top up. I am not sure when you are allowed to top-up another 2000RMB, that’s something you will need to keep an eye on.

      Glad you managed to top up the 2000RMB though, great start!

      Regards

      LTL Team

    2. nancy
      Reply

      u can top up multiple times.but 1 times maximum amount is rmb 2000

      1. Katie Coy
        Reply

        Thanks Nancy. Yes, it seems that you are able to to only top up 2,000 CNY per time, but can top up multiple times.

  3. How do you change the credit card you use to top up the prepaid bank of shanghai tour pass? I cannot figure this out. Any help is appreciated.

    1. LTL Team HQ
      Reply

      Hi,

      When you bring up your payment QR code as if you are about to pay, see where it says the bank just underneath the QR code?

      Click the bank and you’ll be given all your current linked options you can use.

      Hope this helps

      LTL Team

      1. Oh sorry, I worded that question wrong.

        When you open up Tour Pass, have to put in passport info and your personal information along with a credit card. How can you change that credit card?

        1. LTL Team HQ
          Reply

          Sorry I also mis-read your question!

          I think the best way to do this is go to ME at the bottom right of your screen then BANK CARDS, here you can attach as many bank cards as you wish, then when you top-up you should be given a selection of cards to choose from.

          Regards

          LTL Team

          1. Victoria

            Okay I did this but it doesn’t show up for me. I still only have the option to top-up with the original card I used even though I deleted it and I don’t have that card any more???

      2. Andre
        Reply

        If you got it to work without sending you to verification, asking for bank card pictures, then saying verification failed an end of story, you are lucky. Could not make any use of it.

        1. Max Hobbs
          Reply

          Things do change very often with apps like this

  4. Do you need mobile data (or roaming data) or connection to a WiFi in order to pay using the Tourpass? Cheers.

    1. LTL Team HQ
      Reply

      Generally yes, but actually I’ve found before you can still process the payment IF THEY SCAN YOUR QR. If you try to open yours it will not as the code changes each time, using data/WiFi, so if you get them to scan you (use this – 你可以扫我吗?), then you should be fine.

      I had this situation at a 7/11, no data, but payment still fine.

      Regards

      Max

    2. LTL Team HQ
      Reply

      Generally yes, but actually I’ve found before you can still process the payment IF THEY SCAN YOUR QR. If you try to open yours it will not as the code changes each time, using data/WiFi, so if you get them to scan you (use this – 你可以扫我吗?), then you should be fine.

      I had this situation at a 7/11, no data, but payment still fine.

      Regards

      Max

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  8. cynthia
    Reply

    Please am finding it difficult to sign up Alipay account ..Am a Nigerian what do I do? I need to pay my vendors.. pls help me.

    1. Max Hobbs
      Reply

      Hi Cynthia,

      First you need to download the app from the app store you have, then simply register when opening the app for the first time.

      LTL

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  11. Doryan
    Reply

    Hey,

    very interesting.

    Do you know if the re is a way to use Tour Pass more than 90 days ? Ca we buy another one at the end of this 90 days ?

    1. Katie Coy
      Reply

      Hi Doryan,

      As far as we are aware you can only use the Tour Pass for 90 days and unfortunately there isn’t a way to extend this. However you can now also link foreign bank cards to WeChat so you may want to look into this, you can see some more information about this in our WeChat Pay vs Alipay blog.

      Thanks,
      The LTL Team

  12. Susan .
    Reply

    I am a foreigner not entering into China does it means tt it’s not applicable to me ? When they mention tour pass does it mean you hv to be physically there in China for tour then u can TOP up alipay ?

    1. Katie Coy
      Reply

      Hi Susan,

      Unfortunately only Chinese citizens are able to use Alipay outside of China. This includes both the Tour Pass and normal Alipay transactions as well. You may be able to top up the tour pass before entering China, however you won’t be able to use that money unless you are in China.

      Hope that helps.

      The LTL Team

  13. Susan
    Reply

    Can i TOP up my alipay even if I am not on tour to China

    1. Katie Coy
      Reply

      Hi Susan,

      Please see our reply to your previous comment :).

      Thanks,
      The LTL Team

  14. Gifted
    Reply

    Hi,

    Please, is there any other way a foreigner can top up directly from AliPay without been in China? (Nigerian to be precise).

    1. Max Hobbs
      Reply

      You can top up using your foreign bank card using Tourpass

  15. Can use the tourpass, eventhough i’m not in china?
    For payment on the items?

    1. LTL Team HQ
      Reply

      Hi Jian, you would need to use it in China I’m afraid. The idea of Tourpass is to help people go cashless inside of China.

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  17. Nemanja
    Reply

    hey guys! Did you see a info under “Limitations of top-up”, where it says “Currently you can top up as much as 10k CNY in Tour Pass. Once you reach this limit, you can’t top up. If you want to top up more, you can reactivate after Tour Pass Expires or after you apply for refund”?

    Does it mean that in total, for 3 months, I can spend only 10k?

    1. Max Hobbs
      Reply

      That seems correct Nemanja. Perhaps top up 2,000 first and see how it goes using it. If it works well, top up in smaller increments rather than one big 10,000 lump sum.

  18. Matteo
    Reply

    I tried both to top-up and to add a credit card directly but both do not work … I checked and now (Aug 2021) only adding debit cards to TourPass works I think (I did not try yet). Are you sure credit cards are supposed to work? I tried VISA released by different countries and MasterCard. Both not working. Any help would be appreciated… thx!

    1. Max Hobbs
      Reply

      The rules and regulations do really change often Matteo so what might be valid in June can change by August… such is the situation with many things in China. Sorry we cannot help more!

  19. Matteo
    Reply

    I am unable to add a credit card on Alipay as well as to use that to top-up a Shanghai bank account on TourPass. Are you sure that credit cards are working? According to Alipy message I get only debit cards are supposed to work (I did not try) … let me know thanks.

  20. Matteo
    Reply

    I was able to add my credit card to TourPass and I see I can also use that for TakeOut. Also I added the international credit card directly to Alipay BUT did you notice that with that you cannot do TakeOut? Does it happen to you ?

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  22. Silas
    Reply

    Great guide, great video. Thanks for your help

    1. LTL Team HQ
      Reply

      It’s our pleasure Silas!

  23. Interesting, but unfortunately, my country is not on the list of the Nationality/Region.

    1. Max Hobbs
      Reply

      ☹️

  24. elobo christelle
    Reply

    i need the international customer service number. my account us frozen.

  25. Hardly any point in touching this Alipay garbage unless you’re going to China. I had a client who paid me on this trash app, thought I’d be able to use it in on holiday Cambodia where Alipay is very popular, but apparently foreigners not allowed to use their own money if its not in China.

    1. Antony
      Reply

      I urgently need Alipay to answer my question.

      I am applying for a evisa at the immigration website of a a country I plan to visit.

      My VISA bank card is located in the EU. When I try to pay for my evisa, my application is registered correctly, but my payment fails with the message “Payment order refused”.

      I contacted my bank and they said that the website that I tried to pay to (probably worldpay.com that processes the payment on behalf of the country I apply for evisa from) have not implemented proper KYC rules and regulations for secure payment. These are new EU rules for socalled secure ( albeit currently making it impossible to pay in some instances) online payments.

      However, there is an option to pay with Alipay/Wechat. I really need to use Alipay but for now I have chosen not to transfer funds from my EU based bank/VISA card to go through the tourpass option that, as (far as) I understand these funds once landed in the Shanghai bank cannot be used to pay online abroad as my need is.

      This situation is extremely difficult.

      Is there a way I could use Alipay to pay for my evisa with a linked VISA debit card issued by my bank in the EU?

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  27. Ng Wil Ming
    Reply

    when I click tour pass , system show temporary cannot use mini app .

    1. Max Hobbs
      Reply

      It seems they have discontinued it 🙁

  28. Calvin
    Reply

    Can Singapore citizens use Alipay in China for all payment with Singapore credit card linked?

    1. Max Hobbs
      Reply

      You’ll likely need a Chinese bank account unfortunately, but don’t take this as gospel. Give it a try and let us know in the comments. Prepare a contingency place though. These rules change for each country and type of card all the time.

  29. Brian Patti
    Reply

    Very helpful information and much appreciated. I was wondering about leftover money in the Alipay account.

    Lets say I top up with 2000RMB and when I return flight to my home country (Canada in this case) I still have a balance of 500RMB on Alipay. Can I get it put back into my Canadian bank account?

    Thanks in advance

    1. Max Hobbs
      Reply

      You should be able to yes. You just won’t be able to spend it in Canada but deposits and withdrawals you should be fine.

  30. Brian Patti
    Reply

    Only one thing on which I am unclear. I live in Canada (others insert your country here). Do I download and sign up for Alipay AND load money while in Canada or do I download Alipay in Canada but finish signing up and loading money only after I arrive in China?

    Third option: do I wait until I get to China and get my new temporary number and simply do all of it (download app, register and load) once there?

    I am supposed to get a temporary phone number from LTL. Do I use that temporary number to register with Alipay? If I register in Canada, I will no longer have that phone number (SIM Card) active while in China and that’s where I am a bit confused, if it is connected to your phone number and that number changes once in China.

    Thanks

    1. Max Hobbs
      Reply

      Hi Brian, you can use your own phone number in Canada that’s fine. You can also load money with your local card so you have some on there straight away.

      When you get your temporary number it shouldn’t change anything. Just note down your log-in details safely. The only thing you may have to do is receive an SMS to verify who you are and that will be sent to the number you register with. In this case just swap the SIM’s over quickly and note down the code. This can happen randomly so you may or may not experience it.

      Hope this helps 🙂

  31. Tokhirjon
    Reply

    Good afternoon!My full name is too long, only my first and last name is written on my bank card. But I’ve been using Alipay for a long time, and it has my full name. I also uploaded my passport to verify my identity and my full name is written in my passport. When I try to link my bank card to Alipay, the real-name does not match (because the number of letters in my name is too many for the bank’s database). I look forward to your suggestions on how to solve this problem.

    1. Max Hobbs
      Reply

      Hi Tokhirjon, that’s a shame and sounds awkward for you 🙁

      Unfortunately we don’t have the answers I’m afraid. It’s best you contact Alipay support to try and solve this, or use WeChat pay instead?

  32. Millie
    Reply

    Thank you so much for this manual. It is quite helpful for our trip.

    1. Max Hobbs
      Reply

      Really pleased about that Millie. Do let us know how you get on 🙂

  33. Jonathan Carpenter
    Reply

    Hi there, I have heard that tourpass is no longer available. We are visiting China in September. What do we need to do now? Do we need tourcard? Any advice is really welcome.

    1. Max Hobbs
      Reply

      Yes it’s TourCard now, essentially the same as TourPass but with a few slight changes which we outlined in the article. Hope it helps.

      We’re releasing a video on our Youtube channel this week explaining more so stay tuned for that

      https://www.youtube.com/@LTLlanguageSchool/videos

  34. Leesa Davies
    Reply

    Can I use Chinese Cash to top up my Alipay Account even if I don’t have a Chinese bank account. I read I can visit a McDonalds or other places to use cash to add cash to my Alipay wallet. Does this also apply for foreigners?

    1. Max Hobbs
      Reply

      Unfortunately not. You’ll need to transfer it from your foreign bank account.

  35. Glenn Mowbray
    Reply

    8/25/23 American in US….just tried to signup for Tourcard…entered my US mobile number, hit button for verification…….and Nothing…no text with verification number. What do I do now, please?

    1. Max Hobbs
      Reply

      Hmm tricky one there Glenn. Could you maybe try another number (a family member of friend)?

  36. In an era where digital transactions are becoming the norm, digital payment platforms like Alipay are gaining popularity for their ease and convenience.

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  • LTL Avatar Sabatino Antonini
    Sabatino Antonini , Student Advisor

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