If you visit China you will very quickly realize that most people in the large cities don’t carry cash these days and they don’t use EFTPOS for paying either.
Instead they use WeChat or Alipay apps on their phone to pay. In my experience WeChat is used the most, with the ubiquitous QR code scanners on every store counter, and in every cafe or restaurant. Quite frankly I’ve felt like a dolt pulling out cash to pay for a coffee at Starbucks. The problem is that the international version of WeChat doesn’t make it easy to set up the wallet functionality, which requires you to connect to a local Chinese bank account or credit card. Tencent does have global ambitions for WeChat so I imagine they will start to support international credit cards eventually, but as it stands today they don’t work..and that is if you can even figure out how to activate the wallet functionality in the first place.
Thankfully, with a little trial and error I was able to activate the wallet on WeChat and even credit my wallet with some Yuan, despite running the international version of the app. Here’s how I did it…
How to set up WeChat wallet
- The first thing you need to do is to have a Chinese friend of colleague send some Yuan to your WeChat account. Any amount will work, as little as ¥0.10 will be fine. The act of sending Yuan via WeChat to your WeChat account will enable the wallet functionality on the app. The wallet doesn’t show up by default on the international version of the app, but receiving some funds will activate it.
- Once activated you will be able to view your wallet and balance from the Me tab in the app. You can now use the wallet to send WeChat payments to any of your WeChat contacts, though you will need to top up your balance ahead of time because the app doesn’t currently support international credit cards or bank accounts. You’ll only be able to spend as much as you have in your wallet balance.
- To top up your WeChat wallet you really have two options:
- Ask you Chinese friend to send funds to your account and you pay them back by some other means. This is probably the best option as you can agree a reasonable exchange rate, something close to the official rate of the day.
- You can use a 3rd party service like Micredits.com where you can buy Yuan funds for your wallet via PayPal. I used this service to add some finds to my account and it worked well, though it does seem to be a little bit manual. Effectively you are paying the service in USD via PayPal and they will then manually send you Yuan to your WeChat account. Understandably they make a cut on the USD to RMB exchange rate…and it is quite a cut. I paid $24.50 USD for ¥100, where the official rate values ¥100 at <$16 USD. It worked for me, but I don’t know I would recommend it…certainly you’ll get a better deal if you can pay a friend some other way and have them send the funds to your wallet.
And that’s it..actually quite simple, if a little bit of a work around. You will at the very least be able to add funds to your wallet and use these to send funds to any of your WeChat contacts, though at the time of writing you still can’t use these funds to pay instore using WeChat pay because your WeChat wallet isn’t verified until it is actually connected to a Chinese account. So yes, it is rather limited, but still handy if you need to be able to send funds to friends or colleagues to pay for your share of dinner!
Final note: in the wallet app inside WeChat you will find that you can add a credit card, but (at the time of writing) these can’t be used to top up your balance. I’ve added my card but every time I try to top up my balance it asks for the card details again, and just goes round in circles. It appears that this functionality just hasn’t been enabled yet, but you have to assume that this is on the cards to be enabled at some point in the future, which will definitely make it much easier to use for the international audience.