Al-enriched surface layers containing a Mg17Al12 intermetallic phase and a solid solution of Al in Mg were fabricated by heating Mg specimens in contact with Al powder in a vacuum furnace. The layer formation process proceeded through partial melting at the Mg-substrate/Al-powder interface. The test results suggest that a good contact between the Al powder and the Mg substrate is required during heat treatment. In this study, a pressure of 1 MPa was applied to improve the contact of the Al powder with the Mg specimen. When the powder was pressed down during heating, it was possible to reduce the process temperature from 450 °C to 440 °C. The layers produced at 440 °C in a short heating time (40 min) were thick, continuous and uniform. The microhardness of the Al-enriched layers was much higher than that of the Mg substrate. The results of the electrochemical corrosion tests indicated that the Mg specimens with an Al-enriched surface layer had better corrosion resistance than the bare Mg. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.