Messaging apps are very prominent nowadays. A few hundred characters used to be the limit—now, you can send messages with photos, videos, and website links. And just when people thought messaging apps couldn’t get anymore better, WeChat brought something else to the table: mobile payments.
If you’ve been in China long enough, you may have seen a few instances where a person uses his or her phone to scan someone else’s phone. This is a QR code (or barcode) system that WeChat utilizes to make it easy to add contacts in the app. It’s very fast and convenient, so it’s no wonder why it’s the most used and preferred messaging app there. The same function is also utilized in the WeChat Pay feature.
In this article, we will be guiding you through the WeChat Pay feature and how easily you can make payments with it. Gone are the days when long queues at banks were just so much of a hassle. You can make payments through WeChat Pay without having to worry about counting change and giving an exact amount. So if you want to make your payments hassle-free, quick, and easy, then this article is definitely for you.
Payment Methods in China
A survey from Walk the Chat says that over 152.77 trillion volume transactions in Mainland China are made with third-party mobile payment methods. A yearly increase of 24% for transactions is also being recorded. Daily transactions made with third-party payment apps like WeChat Pay and Alipay take up 54%, which equates to more than half of the population’s transactions. One-fourth of 25% is taken up by credit and debit card users. While only 21% uses cash. It’s very noticeable that China is really focusing its transactions on a cashless basis. With more than half of consumers using third-party payment apps in China, it’s no wonder that more and more merchants choose to transact without physical cash.
What Is WeChat Pay
WeChat Pay is a feature of the WeChat messenger app that allows its users to make direct payments through the app. We have an article on the WeChat App and how you can message friends if you’re new to this app.
You can either debit or credit an amount from your card using the WeChat Pay feature. It’s very fast and convenient and you will find that you can use it literally everywhere in China. From luxury shops to grocery stores and small-time street vendors, you can make transactions with the WeChat Pay. You can even book a cab and receive or send funs to other WeChat users right in the app! Indeed, China is moving towards becoming a “cashless” country because it rarely ever uses paper money anymore. Completing payment transactions has never been so convenient.
WeChat Pay for Foreigners
Many foreigners confuse the WeChat app for the Weixin app. The two apps are quite different from each other because Weixin is a local version of WeChat. They have different payment features and Weixin can only be used in China. WeChat, on the other hand, can be used and downloaded anywhere in the world. But the WeChat Pay feature is only available for use in select countries. It’s available in Mainland China and Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. But it is also available in other countries such as Malaysia and South Africa.
Use a Chinese SIM Card
You might be wondering how are you going to use WeChat Pay if you’re just visiting China or just staying there for a while. Or maybe you’re not in China but you still want to use the WeChat Pay feature. Well, first of all, you will need to have a Chinese SIM card to register for WeChat. The thing about WeChat is that it caters to China and it’s specially made for the Chinese market. Once you get a Chinese SIM card, use it on your smartphone and register an account for WeChat.
You can always change back your SIM card once you have registered for a WeChat account. Now search for “WeChat” on the Apple App Store if you’re using an iOS device, or on Google Play Store if you’re using an Android device. Download the WeChat app and once it’s ready, launch the app on your phone. Tap on the “Sign Up” option and enter your personal details. Once you’ve finished putting the necessary information, tap on the “Sign Up” button. You will then be directed to a new page on the app. Just follow the other instructions that the app is requiring you to do until you’ve successfully created your account.
How to Activate the WeChat Pay Feature
If you have downloaded the WeChat app in China, you’ll already see a “Wallet” feature when you tap on the “Me” icon in the bottom-right corner of the app. But if you downloaded it outside China, then you will have to activate it manually. To do this, tap on the “+” icon on the top of your screen located next to the search icon. Then tap on “Money” on the next menu that appears. Now tap on “Enable Now” on the next page and you will be prompted to “Verify User Info.” Now, you can add your bank card. Over 300 different foreign credit cards are supported by the WeChat app. The most common credit cards like MasterCard, Visa, and JCB are fully supported.
If you happen to have a Chinese bank card, you’ll be able to add both a debit and credit card if you choose. Foreigners without a local Chinese bank card can only use credit cards as foreign debit cards are not supported. Take note that using foreign debit cards has some limits for the WeChat Pay feature. You can buy mobile top-ups from vendors, but you cannot make general transfers, Wallet top-ups, or send red envelopes to other users directly from your WeChat Wallet.
How to Load Up WeChat Pay
WeChat Pay acts as a digital debit card. You can top-up your WeChat Wallet and use your “load money” to make transactions. What you spend will be deducted from your Wallet automatically. There are two ways for you to add money to your WeChat Wallet:
- Peer to Peer Transfer – This option is for those who don’t have a Chinese bank account. You can ask your friends, family, or any contact to transfer money to your account through the “general transfer” feature. There is also a “red envelope” function, which is basically like sending monetary gifts. Both transaction options are free, but you cannot withdraw money using the WeChat app on an ATM unless you have a Chinese bank card that is linked to your WeChat Pay
- Chinese Bank Transfer – This option is the easiest way since you can transfer funds directly from your Chinese bank account to your WeChat Wallet. You may also opt to use the WeChat payment to directly debit from your linked Chinese bank account.
How to Make Transactions With WeChat Pay
WeChat has really taken digital and cashless payments up a notch. One of the great things about WeChat Pay is not only is it available for individuals but other foreign companies can also make use of it by signing up for an official account. Vendors from overseas will be able to use WeChat Pay to receive and transact with suppliers in China.
Here are three ways you can make payments with WeChat Pay:
- Quick Pay (Scanning the Merchant’s QR Code) – If you’re buying something from a store using WeChat Pay, then you can easily do so by scanning the store’s QR code. This will directly transfer money from your account to the store’s account.
- Let the Store or Merchant Scan Your QR Code – You can opt to have the store or merchant scan your QR code on your phone. It’s basically the same as Quick Pay, but the other way around. Money from your account will also be transferred to your store or merchant’s account.
- Online Options – You can also make payments through native and web-based options.
WeChat Pay vs. Alipay
The two most popular cashless transaction apps in China are WeChat Pay and Alipay. Although many have commended WeChat as the “everything you need” app, in terms of online transactions, Alipay can definitely rival its Pay feature. The WeChat Pay feature and Alipay can both work without an internet connection. You will find that you can definitely get more features when you’re online. With WeChat Pay, you won’t be able to gain extra points or credits. But with Alipay you can get rewards the more you make transactions.
In terms of the user interface, the WeChat Pay feature definitely looks a lot cleaner and simpler. The user interface of Alipay might be quite confusing to some. Alipay also offers more choices and discounts compared to the WeChat Pay feature, which makes it a choice for people who love to do a lot of online shopping. Alipay is owned by Alibaba and is mostly used for Tmall and Taobao, which are both e-commerce sites by Alibaba.
Indeed, Alipay is a tough competition for WeChat Pay. Currently, the market leader in China is still Alipay, but the Wallet or Pay feature in WeChat is definitely gaining more popularity. There’s been a bit of decline in the growth of Alipay as WeChat Pay has become more and more popular. However, the two platforms are continuing to operate at the top of the Chinese market. Which works better will depend on the user. The two platforms may be similar to each other, but they’re not exactly the same. There are still many noticeable differences and it will be still up to you at the end of the day which one you would like to choose.
The Line messaging app can also be an alternative. It can also act as a third-party payment app for cashless transactions.
The Pros and Cons of Using WeChat Pay
WeChat is an all-in-one app in China and has gained the praise of many users both Chinese and foreigners. But every app has its flaws, too. We can definitely say that WeChat Pay has more good than bad. But we also want you to know what its drawbacks are for you to be able to make adjustments if needed. In this section, we’ll be talking about the pros and cons of using the WeChat Pay feature.
- Make fast and easy transactions with just a few taps
- Completely cashless payments for anything
- Need only to scan a QR code or have your QR code scanned
- The most used payment app in China, so you can definitely use it everywhere
- Make bookings with cabs and hotels without hassle
- For merchants, WeChat Pay might be able to attract more consumers
- You need a Chinese bank card to have access to all the Wallet features
- Transferring money overseas is not possible
- There are no perks or points gained when using the WeChat Pay, unlike actual credit cards
WeChat Pay Tips
- You cannot use WeChat Pay in other countries aside from Mainland China, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Malaysia, and South Africa.
- Transferring from your Wallet to a bankcard outside Mainland China is not possible. This means that WeChat is not primarily a money transfer app. If you have to send money outside of China, you will need to go to a bank and provide proof of your income.
- When you receive a “red packet” or envelope, you will have to link your Mainland China bank card to make a withdrawal. You will only have 24 hours to withdraw the money or else the amount will be returned to the sender.
- Only Mainland China, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Malaysia, and South Africa have the “Wallet” feature in the WeChat app.
Time to Go Cashless
China has really made cashless transactions “the thing” in their country. Physical cash is rarely ever used anymore in that country. If you plan on taking a vacation to China or going on a business trip there, then you will need to adapt to their cashless system. Cashless transactions are great because they’re fast and convenient. There’s no need for you to lug around change and make sure that you have the exact amount to pay in stores or street vendors.
As our needs progress, so does technology and we should definitely take advantage of what it can offer us. But even if we’re adjusting and making use of what’s readily available, it’s still good to be careful. Since cashless transactions mean everything is done digitally, it’s good to still be careful in whatever transactions you’re making. Although WeChat Pay is relatively safe, there are still some who might take advantage of cashless transactions.
There are other apps that you can also use to make cashless transactions. In case WeChat doesn’t work for you, you can also choose between Samsung Pay vs. Google Pay. It’s always good to keep other third-party payment apps in case you need a back-up. We have covered the basics of the WeChat Pay feature and we hope this article will help you in making cashless transactions while in China.