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The foreigner’s guide to WeChat payments in China

Update, as of April 14, 2019: Numerous commenters on this blog post described, as of February, a new situation: WeChat will no longer allow you to accept money into your wallet without a Chinese bank account number. I just returned from a four-day trip to Beijing, and found that this was completely true.  No matter what I tried, whether getting a “red envelope,” transfer, them scanning me, or me scanning them, I always got the message saying that without a Chinese bank account, I cannot receive money.

However, several readers of this blog also noted that if you use the desktop version of WeChat, you can accept the payment.  That is: Download the desktop version of WeChat to your computer.  You will not see the “wallet” function there.  Have someone transfer money to you on WeChat.  You’ll be able to accept that transfer on the desktop machine, and it’ll appear in your wallet on your phone, as well. 

I have confirmed that this works on the Windows desktop version of WeChat.  I have also confirmed that it does not work on the Mac desktop version.  The Windows version lets you click on the “receive payment” icon, but the Mac version does not — it tells you to receive the payment on your phone, which you clearly don’t want to do.

Again: You accept the payment on the Windows desktop app, not on your phone, and it works fine.  If you try to accept the payment on your phone, it won’t work.

I don’t know how much longer this hole will exist.  I know that I’ll be in China at least twice in the next six months, and thus hope/expect to use the money when there.  I don’t know if I’ll be able to add more once this money goes away, though.

I’m planning to update the main article as soon as I can to reflect this news.  Other than adding money to your account, everything I wrote would seem to still be valid.  And I can assure you that when you pay in cash in China, people still roll their eyes and think, “What a primitive foreigner.”

Since 2014, I have traveled to China several times each year on business (to teach my courses in Python and data science at high-tech companies). On my first few trips, I tried to use my credit card to pay for things — as I’m used to doing in Israel, the US, and Europe.  But I quickly discovered that most businesses don’t take credit cards, and they certainly don’t take foreign credit cards.  Everything, but everything, was done in cash.

And thus, on those first few trips, I smugly thought to myself: I wonder when China will finally advance enough to use credit cards?

And so, after years of walking around with almost no cash on me, my trips to China would inevitably involve going to ATMs every 2-3 days, taking out large wads of cash, and using them for just about everything — groceries, restaurants, and taxis.   I was warned to always check my 100 RMB bills, to see if they’re fake, because counterfeiting was rampant.  And indeed, whenever I would pay with such a bill, the recipient would inspect it to make sure that I wasn’t giving them a fake.

Fast forward several years, and I can confidently say that China won’t ever “advance” to use credit cards. That’s because they have gone beyond credit cards to use their phones.  People use AliPay (run by Alibaba, the parent of e-commerce giant Ali Express and Tao Bao) or WeChat pay (run by Tencent, owners of the ubiquitous chat and application platform).

For at least two years, I tried and failed to get phone-based payments to work. This became increasingly problematic; not only was I still going to ATMs on a regular basis, but I was getting funny looks from taxi drivers and waitresses, all of whom were disappointed that another primitive foreigner was forcing them to use cash.  But for the longest time, I couldn’t pay with my phone to work.

Finally, in August, I was able to get WeChat payments to work.  This marked a sea change in my ability to get around in China.  Not only was it easy and fun, but it impressed the locals. And I didn’t have to visit an ATM even once.  I just finished my third trip to China in the last six months, and I can say with great confidence that phone-based payments are convenient and great.

I went through a lot of pain on my way to getting phone-based payments to work.  I’m sharing my experiences here so that others can learn from them, and enjoy using WeChat payments when they’re in China.

What are phone-based payments?

The first question you might be asking is, “What does it mean to pay on my phone?”  The basic idea is that you transfer money from a bank account (more on this in a bit) onto your phone.  You can then transfer money from the account on your phone to the account on someone else’s phone.

That is: You’ll effectively be opening a new bank account with WeChat.  If you have 1,000 RMB in your WeChat account, then you can transfer up to 1,000 RMB to someone else with WeChat.  The moment you do that, the money disappears from your account, and appears in theirs — your phone will show that you have less, and your friend’s phone will show that they have more. The transfer is instantaneous and free.

For example, let’s say that you go out to dinner with friends.  Your friend pays 100 RMB for dinner, and you want to split the cost. If you both use WeChat, then you can send 50 RMB from your WeChat account to your friend’s WeChat account.  Within moments, your WeChat account has 50 RMB less, and your friend’s account has 50 RMB more.

To many Westerners, this sounds just like PayPal. And it is, except that it’s far easier and faster to use. And it is completely free. That’s right — if you send 50 RMB, then your friend gets 100% of it, without any fees for either of you.

Moreover, no bank account is actually involved: You’re moving money from one WeChat account to another. Until and unless you move the money from your WeChat account to your bank account (which, as a foreigner, you won’t be able to do), the people who actually have your money is WeChat.

Still, this doesn’t sound that different from using a credit card, or doing an electronic transfer from one bank account to another. Except that it is. The user experience is completely different. And the fact that everyone — absolutely everyone! — uses phone-based payments in China has turned it into a seamless part of commerce, and ridiculously easy to use.

So, what’s the problem?

If you have a Chinese phone number and bank account, then there is no problem.  You transfer money from your Chinese bank account to your WeChat or AliPay account, and you’re good to go.  This guide isn’t for you.

If you don’t have a Chinese phone number and bank account, then the system doesn’t officially know what to do with you. So far as I can tell, you’re officially not even allowed to use it.

It turns out, though, that you can use phone-based payments, at least with WeChat.  (AliPay is still unavailable to foreigners, so far as I can tell.)

For several years, I tried to use WeChat for payments, but the “wallet” feature wasn’t even available on my version of WeChat. Chinese friends and colleagues were skeptical that I didn’t have this functionality, but when they saw that the menu option didn’t exist on my copy of WeChat, they didn’t quite know what to say.

This guide is meant to help you, the foreigner traveling to China without a Chinese phone number or bank account, to use WeChat payments.  I can’t guarantee that this will work — but it did work for me, and has for several other people I know.

If this guide is helpful, then let me know! And if it doesn’t work, then let me know where you get stuck, and I’ll see what I can do to help. You can always reach me as “ReuvenLerner” on WeChat, reuven@lerner.co.il via e-mail, or @reuvenmlerner on Twitter.

The software

If you want to use WeChat payments, you’ll need to install.. WeChat. That’s right, nothing more than that.  However, if you’re planning to visit China, then you should realize that your access to the App Store (iPhone) or Google Play (Android) will be cut off while there.  Thus, it’s crucial that you install WeChat before you visit China.

(I would also recommend installing a VPN (virtual private network) on your phone before you go to China, so that you can use your favorite non-Chinese apps. Don’t have a VPN? I’ve used ExpressVPN for several years, and am delighted with how it works, both in China and in other countries.  Visiting China without ExpressVPN, or another VPN service, is a really bad idea — because once you get there, you won’t be able to download or install it easily.)

You can set WeChat to work in either Chinese or English. My Chinese is getting better, but I still stick with using it in English, and my instructions here will assume that you’re doing that, too.

Installing WeChat generally means downloading and installing the software, and choosing a username. I chose what I thought was a normal username, based on my first and last names (“ReuvenLerner”) — but it seems that many people in China simply use their phone number as their username. This doesn’t really matter very much, because almost no one in China ever enters a username; rather, you scan the other person’s phone to add them. That is: Sure, you can add me as “ReuvenLerner” on WeChat by typing my username. But why would you do that, when you can scan a QR code?

Indeed, QR codes are a primary way in which WeChat users communicate and share information (and payments, as we’ll soon see).

If I want you to add me, then I can go into WeChat and press the “me” button in the lower right. At the top, next to your picture, there’s a small bar code. Press on that, and you’ll get a QR code that other people can scan.

You can then add me by clicking on the “+” at the top of the main menu, and choosing “Scan” from the menu. That’ll start up a scanner for QR codes that uses the phone’s camera.

If you’re new to WeChat, then you’re in for a treat; it’s a great chat program, and there are oodles of groups that you can join. It’s normal for people in China to join lots of groups, and to share their latest photos, experiences, travels, and (of course) meals in “moments.” But we’re going to ignore that functionality here, in order to focus on the payment system.

Wallet

In the above screenshot, you’ll see that my “+” menu includes “Money.” Moreover, my personal page (visible in two of the above screenshots) includes the “Wallet” functionality. By default, this will not appear in WeChat. Indeed, when I told Chinese friends that I couldn’t send or receive money, they immediately asked to look at my WeChat home page. They were rather surprised that “Wallet” didn’t appear.

Here’s the thing: The “Wallet” menu item won’t appear until you register with WeChat for payments. But how can you do that?  From what I can tell — from personal experience, helping others, and reading online — it’s a multi-step process:

  1. Have someone send you a WeChat payment. That is, ask a friend to send you a payment, even one that is as small as 1 RMB (approx 14 US cents, as of this writing).  Now, there are two ways to send someone a payment on WeChat. One is a “payment transfer,” and the other is a “red envelope.” In my experience, things won’t work if the person sends you a red envelope. Rather, have them send a transfer payment. The cost is the same (i.e., free), but until I registered with WeChat for payments, I couldn’t receive red envelopes.
  2. When your friend sends you the transfer payment, you’ll get a special WeChat message saying “Received,” with the amount of money you got.
  3. Note: You still haven’t actually received the money!  In order to put it into your account (and no, you don’t have an account yet), you’ll need to accept it.  Click on the payment to accept it.
  4. At this point, WeChat will realize that you don’t yet have an account.  It’ll prompt you to enter your Chinese bank account number. This is where things can go wrong. Enter your Visa credit-card number. No, it’s not a Chinese bank account number. And yet, it will work.  Perhaps other companies’ credit cards will work; I’m really not sure, but it’s worth a shot. You might also need to enter an ID or passport number; once again, this is where I’ve seen things go wrong.  In theory, this is where the WeChat folks can and will stop foreigners from using their payment system — but in practice, they’re allowing foreigners to use it.
  5. Once you’ve entered your credit-card info, you’ll be able to accept the payment from your friend. WeChat will show you (as in the above screenshot) that you’ve accepted the payment.

That’s it!  You should now have a “Wallet” menu item on your WeChat “me” page. And if you go into your wallet, you should see the payment that your friend sent to you.

You’re now ready to start sending and receiving WeChat payments.

Again: First have someone send you a transfer payment. Then, when you receive the payment, register with WeChat’s accounting system.  Use your Visa card instead of a Chinese bank account number, and a passport or ID number instead of the Chinese ID number.  If, after doing this, you then see the “Wallet” menu option, you’re (literally) in business!

If this goes wrong — well, there’s no official source of information for what to do; WeChat doesn’t officially support foreigners.  And their help system is automated and in Chinese. So here are some suggestions that I’ve seen elsewhere:

  • Remove and re-install WeChat from your phone. When you remove WeChat, be sure to remove all files and data associated with it.
  • Change the language from English to Chinese, and back again.  If you don’t read Chinese, then note the location of the menus before switching the language.
  • If it didn’t work for you outside of China, then try to accept the payment within China.  For many people, that seems to make the biggest difference.

Security

Before you continue, you should add some security to your WeChat wallet.  After all, this is a wallet in every way, and can be used for all sorts of payments.  If someone steals your phone, then they can use your wallet for payments.  (They might disappointed to discover that as a foreigner, you cannot easily add money to your WeChat wallet — but they will be able to spend the money you do have there.)

Go to the “Wallet” menu option.  In the top right, you’ll see four squares, three empty and one filled in with white. Pressing that takes you to the “Pay Center” screen, with several options, including  “payment security” option. You want to turn on “Wallet lock,” which lets you set a pattern password.

In other words: Every time you open your wallet, you’ll need to swipe a pattern of dots in order to use it.  That’s a good thing.  You can always change the pattern later on, if you want.

You should also set a (separate) password to make payments. This is done via the “manage payments” menu item within the “Pay center” screen, which also calls its “password management.”  Every time you make a payment, you’ll need to enter this 6-digit code.

Adding money to your WeChat wallet

If you’re an average Chinese user of WeChat, and you want to add money to your WeChat wallet, then it’s very easy: You “top up” your wallet from your bank account. That’s why you need to enter a bank account into WeChat when you first register.

But if you don’t have a Chinese bank account, then you’re sort of stuck.  There are two options that I know of:

Give a Chinese friend cash, and have them send you WeChat money.

This is a popular option among people who are only in China for a short time, or who just want to experiment with WeChat payments.  I’ve met a number of foreigners who do things this way. I’m sure that some Chinese are also happy to get foreign currency; I have no idea about the legality of this, and (of course) you need to agree on the exchange rate with whoever is paying you. You can also go to an ATM, withdraw cash, and do the whole process in RMB, which avoids such problems and questions.

Use a service, such as VPayfast.

My preferred option is to use an online, paid service. I’ve been using VPayfast (http://vpayfast.com/) since I first started to use WeChat payments. The Web site looks like a fly-by-night operation, but I’ve found them to be reliable. They have service (available via WeChat, of course), and while I first used them in English, I then decided to switch to Chinese — and they were far more responsive.

VPayfast moves money between different accounts, and they cover a large number of them. So you can pay with a credit card and get WeChat money. Or you send money to AliPay. Or get money from PayPal.  And so forth.

True to their name, I’ve found VPayfast to be very fast; within an hour of entering an order, they charge my credit card and send me a WeChat transfer payment.

My biggest frustration with VPayfast was that they required some documentation before allowing me to use a credit card: I needed to send them a picture of my passport (or ID card), and also show them my credit card (with only the final 4 digits showing).  Once I did that, though, it was very fast to add money to my WeChat account.

They do charge for this service, and it’s not small: On a purchase of 1,000 RMB, I paid $173.75, plus a $12.16 service fee.  You would think, with such a margin, that they would have money to pay for a nicer Web site! But beggars can’t be choosers, and they have provided me with great service for for many months.

Update: Another service!

After this blog post was published, I discovered another (and different) way to load money onto your WeChat wallet.  I haven’t ever used this, so I can’t tell you how good/bad/reliable it is. It’s called “Swapsy,” and the idea is that you say how many RMB you want in WeChat.  They find someone who wants the equivalent amount in (for example) USD, via PayPal.  They provide each side with the other’s payment details, and let the people exchange money.  They claim (of course) that it works well and reliably, and that by checking people’s IDs they’re not going to have problems, and that they guarantee the transaction amount.  So it sounds good overall.  My biggest problem is that they guarantee transfer of funds within 1 day, which is usually longer than my window of patience or planning allows.  But you should know that the service exists.

How to pay

All of this setup is great, but the point of WeChat payments is to pay!  So, how does that work?  It turns out that there is a wide variety of ways in which to use WeChat payments; it’s more of a platform and ecosystem than a single payment method.

Person to person

The most common, and easiest, method for WeChat payments is person-to-person. The person to whom you’re sending money must already be a WeChat friend of yours. Then, start to compose a message to them. Just as you can add a photo to the message, you can also add a “transfer” to them.

When you press on the “transfer” button, you’ll be asked how much money you want to send to them.  Enter an amount in RMB.  You’ll then be asked to enter your password. Do that, and — zip! — you’ll see a reddish-orange “transfer” icon appear.

The recipient will see this in their WeChat app, and will then have to accept the transfer. Once they do, you’ll see that they received it (and when).  The money will be removed from your account, and placed in theirs.  (Actually, the money is typically removed from your account right away, even before they accept the transfer.)

It’s traditional, especially around Chinese New Year, for people to gift “red envelopes” to one another. Obviously, these are traditionally physical envelopes with a red color, with money inside — but WeChat lets you send red envelopes to friends, relatives, and others with great ease.  I think that the effect is similar, but I’ve never really sent any red envelopes.  I received a few, but that was before I could use WeChat payments, which meant that they expired long ago and are no longer valid.

As a foreigner in China, I’m often using a VPN to access the Internet, either on a WiFi network (e.g., at my clients’ offices, or in my hotel room), or using my phone’s roaming plan. I’ve learned through experience that keeping the VPN on when using WeChat payments means that they’ll take a bit longer, and can sometimes time out.  My suggestion is thus to turn off your VPN when you’re using WeChat payments.

You scan them

If you’re transferring money to a friend, then what I described above is the best. But what if you just want to pay someone, such as the owner of a store? In such a case, you can scan them.

Many stores have a WeChat QR code next to the cash register. I’ve similarly seen restaurants where the waitstaff brings you a piece of cardboard with the QR code on it. In any case, the idea behind this code is that you don’t have to be friends with them to pay — you can just scan, enter an amount of money to send them, and authorize the payment.

Taxi drivers all accept WeChat payments using this system: If you ask to pay with WeChat, then they’ll hold up their sign, which you can scan.

You can scan using the “scan” functionality in the main “WeChat” menu.  The scanning function will show you the square in which it’s searching for, which makes it easy to aim. Once it finds the QR code, it’ll beep, and then ask you how much you want to pay them. Actually, you normally need to say how much you want to pay; in some cases, it’ll be entered for you automatically.

You then enter your six-digit payment password.  After a few moments, you’ll see a “success” page on your phone, and both of you (the person you’re paying and you) will get WeChat messages indicating what you just paid, and to whom.

I have yet to encounter someone who will not take WeChat payments. Fruit vendors on the street, taxi drivers, restaurants, supermarkets — they all take WeChat.

I’m writing this in December 2018, on a trip to Guangzhou and Shanghai.  To my surprise, the ticket-vending machines in Shanghai still require that you use cash. (Of course, most locals now use a phone app.)  But in Guangzhou, the vending machine lets you press a button to pay with WeChat. When you do that, it pops up a QR code on the screen; you’re expected to scan it within 60 seconds. If you do so, then the vending machine gets a notice indicating successful payment, and gives you a subway-riding token.

I also ordered meals from a delivery service that works with foreigners. (Don’t get me started; both MeiTuan and EleMe, the two main delivery services, don’t know how to deal with foreigners.  Grrr.)  I ordered on my computer, then said that I want to pay with WeChat. Up popped a QR code, which I scanned on my phone, and approved with my password.  Within seconds, the Web site indicated that my payment had gone through, and my order was approved.

They scan you

Some restaurants and stores, and many supermarkets, have a different way of doing things: They scan you, rather than you scanning them. (It’s typical, in such cases, for them to say 我扫你, or “wo sao ni,” meaning, “I scan you.”)

In this case, you need to go into the main “WeChat” menu and choose “Money.”  You’ll need to enter your pattern password.  This brings up a QR code on a green background that others can scan in order for you to pay them.  Don’t share this QR code!  People can use it to take money from your WeChat wallet!

The store will have a scanner that they use to look at your phone. You’ll need to approve the payment by entering your password.

Note that once a restaurant has scanned you, it’s quite possible (and common) for them to add you to their WeChat announcement feed. They, of course, are delighted to have additional people following their store and getting announcements (including discount codes).  You might be less excited to receive so many announcements; you can always erase them, and stop following the company, afterward.

Integrated with another app

In some cases, programs — especially on the phone — can hook into WeChat for payment.  For example, if you want to pay for taxis with Didi, you can do so by specifying WeChat for payment.  You’ll need to authorize the connection and payment.  It’s pretty straightforward, and simply requires your approval.

Go through a third party

In some cases, for reasons I don’t quite understand, restaurants don’t always run their own payment systems.  Rather, they go through MeiTuan or another third-party provider.  This is especially true at restaurants that have automated ordering: In those places, you sit down, scan the QR code at your table, choose items from a menu, and pay.  The waiter doesn’t need to ask you what you want; he or she just brings it to you when it’s ready.  Very convenient, but this is also generally unavailable to foreigners, from what I’ve seen.

In such restaurants, I’ve found that WeChat will time out, have problems, be unable to connect, or even (in some cases) require that you log into a third-party system, such as MeiTuan.  This turns out to be a major stumbling block.  It doesn’t happen often, but it’s both embarrassing and frustrating when it does.

Fortunately, I’ve found that people in China are very nice and accommodating, especially about these things. (They tend to think that foreigners are weird and don’t understand anything, which lets you get away with quite a lot.)  In the cases where it doesn’t work at all, I’ve found that I can generally convince the waiter or cashier to scan me, and do a person-to-person transfer. They can then settle the bill directly with the restaurant.

Things to consider

That’s about it, in terms of the mechanics!  Once you get used to using WeChat for payments, everything else will seem primitive and slow in comparison.

But there are things to consider.  Here are a few of them.

Transferring from WeChat to a bank account

Forget about it.  I’m sure that it’s possible, but you’ll almost certainly end up losing a lot of money in the process.  If you’re planning to return to China, just leave the money in the account. And try not to put too much money in your WeChat account at a time.

If you have a bunch of RMB left over at the end of your trip to China, and you don’t want to keep them there — perhaps because you don’t know when you’ll next be returning — then you can ask VPayfast to transfer them back to your credit card. But I have to believe that you’ll lose more than you’ll gain in the process.

A more practical solution is probably to transfer the RMB, via WeChat, to someone else in China. They can then give you cash, or (if they’re a foreigner) even give you your local currency.

AliPay

I’ve ordered from Ali Express for many years. They’re very convenient and inexpensive. They’re also the same parent company (Alibaba) as China’s Taobao and WeChat’s competitor in the phone-payment space, AliPay.

It’s confusing, but phone-based AliPay is not the same as the AliPay you use to order from Ali Express.  It took me a long time, and a while talking to various customer-service representatives at AliPay via their online chat system, to figure this out.

Perhaps, at some point in the future, AliPay will allow foreigners to use their system.  But for now, stick with WeChat, which seems to work for most of the people, most of the time.

What if they go out of business?

TenCent (the parent company of WeChat) is one of the largest and most profitable Internet companies in the world right now. So yes, it’s possible that they’ll go out of business, taking your WeChat wallet money with you, but it seems unlikely to me.  And if they do, hundreds of millions of people in China will freak out — not something that I would want, if I were their business owner.

So yes, you’re basically putting money into a company that’s not a bank, isn’t regulated as one, and which can (in theory) do whatever it wants.  And if they decide that you have committed fraud, or some other scam, then good luck arguing with them.  I can’t imagine it’ll be easy or straightforward.

My strategy is thus always to have no more than 1,000 RMB in my WeChat wallet.  I can add to it whenever I want, and that’s usually good for a few days (at least) when I’m traveling in China.  In the worst possible case, that money will be gone, or unavailable for a while. But I wouldn’t put my life savings there, or anything close to it.

What about privacy?

In China?  Privacy?  Ha!

You have to assume, when you’re in China, that privacy basically doesn’t exist.  With WeChat payments, that goes double: Not only should you assume that WeChat has information about what you have bought, and where.  You can assume that they have shared your information with all of their customers, and with the government. That’s the way things work in China.

What if I have problems?

From everything I can tell, WeChat’s service is in Chinese only, using a bot.  Even if you use the English version of the wallet, all communication with their service will be in Chinese.  There is a “help” menu, and it looks like it’s in English… until you enter that part of the app, and then everything is in Chinese.

Bring cash with you, just in case

On a few (rare) occasions, I’ve found that WeChat payments just don’t work. This happened to me much more at the start than has been the case recently; I’m not sure if this has to do with me resetting my phone (as per WeChat’s suggestion) or something else. But I learned to have at least a bit of cash with me, just in case.

Actually, that’s not entirely true: I have had so few problems in the last two trips that I’ve gotten used to going around almost cash free. However, knowing that the Shanghai metro doesn’t take WeChat payments, I made sure to have at least a bit of cash on me, to buy tickets. But I’ve spent five weeks in China over the last six months, and I haven’t been to an ATM even once. Rather, I’ve just used the (little) cash that remained from previous trips.

I hope that this guide helps you!  If you have any updates or suggestions, then please let me know — again, I’m “ReuvenLerner” on WeChat, or reuven@lerner.co.il via e-mail and @reuvenlerner on Twitter.

  • Damien says:

    Hi,
    Just wanted to let people know that I had to downgrade the Windows WeChat app to version 2.6.5 to be able to accept transfers.
    I previously had version 2.6.7 installed and the transfers were simply not showing up.

  • Will says:

    I have about 400RMB in my Wechat Wallet with my Canadian CC linking to it. For some reason, I can’t use WeChat Pay to pay at retailers here in Canada (we have many Alipay and WeChat Pay supported retailers here). WeChat asks me for Chinese Bank Account verification everytime I scan.

    Have you ran into this issue before? I am heading to China in a few months so I am hoping to get this sorted out before I go. Thanks!

    • reuven says:

      It’s possible that the problem is you’re trying to pay people while you and/or they are not in China.

      But it’s also possible that they’re blocking usage/payment by people without Chinese bank accounts. I’ll be back in China this August, and while I’ll be setting up a bank account there (as part of setting up a Chinese company), but until then I’m happy to see/hear reports from people on the ground, to find out what does and doesn’t work.

  • T says:

    Thanks so much for the Windows workaround tip! That works with transfers from any source, as far as I’ve tested.
    I also noticed that Yayaka.com (Wechat account topupchina) uses a different way of sending money. So instead of a transfer, it’s a different kind of transaction. And that worked on my phone as well. Too bad their rates are pretty bad (± 19% fee).

  • Rob says:

    Here is a small data point that might help. I live in the US and thought I was able to bind my US credit card, but 8 hours later I received a message in Mandarin (which I don’t read or understand) that seemed to indicate a problem because I don’t have a Chinese bankcard. I tried to do a Swapsy transaction but it timed out while it “verified” that I could receive funds – and this is still the case.

    However, Yayaka, a top up company that I believe is based in Singapore, offered to send me a test amount in the form of a red envelope containing Y0.30. I was able to transfer these funds into my WeChatWallet and my balance is now Y0.30. I should mention that this all happened on an iPhone.

    Now I am planning on transferring a larger amount in for my trip to China next week. Should I take the Y.30 red envelope transfer as a sign that a larger (say Y2,500) transfer will work and I won’t lose my money?

    Incidentally, the Yayaka fees are quite high compared to the very modest Swapsy fees, but if it will work it will be well worth it to me. Traveling in China using cash is a real pain in the neck. With all of the tourist infrastructure China has built, allowing foreigners some use of WeChatPay seems absolutely essential for them to have a positive experience in the Country.

    • Jim says:

      Rob, I also tried Yayaka for the first time last night and chatted with “Jane” on WeChat, a helpful person behind Yayaka. I’m also U.S. based and have yet to get a bank account in China (so my WeChat account is also unverified). Even though the Yayaka website stipulates that you should ONLY engage them IF your WeChat account is verified, I was able to convince “Jane” to humor me with a 1 Yuan “gift card” (NOT “red envelope”!) and upon a PayPal payment, a QR code is immediately sent to my WeChat (which I tapped and held, per her instructions) and was able to accept the gift card into my wallet.

      As others have mentioned above, “transfer” (from a friend) still works on WeChat Windows client for now, and we also know “gift card” works (when using service such as Yayaka – and I agree, the exchange rate stinks but they cover credit card fee at least), but I know for sure it’s a NO GO for “red envelope” as it forces you to accept on your mobile and therefore triggers a real name authentication we’re all stuck in. So be careful when someone tries to send you a red envelope (or using a service that offers to send red envelope instead of gift card).

      Swapsy is no longer an option for most of us who don’t have a verified WeChat account (which explained your trouble), as they will reject your QR code when you try to enter it in your e-wallet. In fact when you try to produce a QR code (to receive money) on your WeChat app, you will immediately see a pop-up asking you to verify. So Swapsy is good for AliPay (where it hasn’t stopped me yet from producing a ‘Receive’ QR code).

      And I can attest that your non-Chinese debit/credit cards in your AliPay or WeChat accounts (even if you’ve managed to add them) won’t do you any good at all, that I don’t understand why anyone would bother. Yes, you can put them in, but try using them to pay for something, and you’ll know what I mean.

      Thought I would share, and for those who want to test-drive your WeChat/AliPay wallet before you go to China, visit some of the charitable organizations online that allow you to scan their WeChat code…and help feed those hungry children in China (for just 20 Yuan, you’ll buy food enough for 5 kids – as an example).

  • cfr says:

    Anyone knows how can i recieve wechat money without the windows app? I dont have a computer with me 🙁

    • If you don’t have the Windows app, and you don’t have a Chinese bank account, then it would seem you’re stuck. Sorry.

  • Jose Rubio says:

    Hey Everyone, I just confirmed. Just got to China and couldn’t receive any money transfer or red packet without China Bank Card on my mobile phone. But I was able to receive money transfer through the Windows App! Doesn’t work with the Red Envelope, because it asks you to open those on your mobile phone.

  • Holger says:

    Hey, accepted wechat money today via vpfast, they told me to use the wechat windows app to accept payment. Then accepting transfer without Chinese credit card works! Not the Mac app unfortunately. Give it a try.

    • Dof says:

      If you bind wechat with any visa/mastercard, not necessary vpfast, you can accept transfer, on windows.
      But the main problem for me is i cant accept on mobile.

    • Jerry D says:

      I’m not sure how they are sending you money though. I tried scanning my cousins bar code and sending money and it wouldn’t even let me send saying her account does not allow her to receive money until she verifies with a China bank card(exact wording I forgot what it was).

      I was able to send money via transfer but that requires you to be friends. Did the vpfast make you add the person as friend before they send you money to be accepted using windows?

      • Holger Kruse says:

        Yes, I added one of their contacts as friends.

        Not sure if important, but to activate my wallet function I needed to link my european mastercard in wechat. Then the wallet appeared. Accepting the transfer on mobile gave me the message to verify a chinese bank card (as others reported), but the windows app does not care about that. I could accept without problem. Maybe they will fix this workaround as well in the future..

        • This is fascinating. I’m on my way back from a 4-day visit to China. I encountered the same problems as everyone else is describing here, and tried as many ways as I could think of to put money onto my wallet.

          It sounds like the desktop version of WeChat for Windows is indeed a hole. We should expect that it’ll be patched/closed in the very near future. I’m going to try this on the Windows machine I have at home, and will then report/update to everyone.

          • Lin Hoe says:

            Not totally true. We were in China. My wife has a China bank account. I told her to send my a red package containing 50RMB. I just wanted to try out whether I can receive it. Upon receive it. It prompted me to enter a bank card. I entered a Citi bank credit card number and soon I received the money in my wallet. I yet to test out the money can be used

  • Alex Mann says:

    You can add wechat Id topupchina. They will send you money and complete the transfer for you for a fee of around 14%. They allow payments for it via. PayPal. I tried this and had no problems.

  • Mike S says:

    Hi,

    Is anyone using Swapsy to help with WeChat money or any other form of USD to RMB (and vice versa) transfer? Please let us know how it works. Thanks.

    • Mike S says:

      …apologies, looks like Swapsy already been covered. I now have a verified account, but am somewhat hesitant to use it.

  • Mike S says:

    So, quite disappointed to hear the latest tightening of regs regarding WeChat $. However, I am willing to open a Chinese banking account, and already have a Chinese phone #. Should that be enough to allow me to use WeChat Money? (BTW, I am a US citizen.)

    As with Reuven, I will be in China on long, intermittent stays, and would like to avoid carrying a lot of cash with me. Besides. EVERYONE in China now pays with AliPay or WeChat Money, and it’s almost universally accepted. In fact, I’ve been to a couple of places where this was the only form of payment accepted–they would not accept RMBs nor my US credit card.

    In a word, armed with a Chinese phone # and Chinese bank account, can a US citizen use WeChat pay while in China? Thanks

    • I want to say “yes,” if you have a Chinese phone number and bank account number, then you should be able to use WeChat pay. At least, that’s my strong impression.

      I’ll probably be starting a Chinese company (to distribute my Python programming training courses) in the coming months, and will thus have a Chinese bank account that I can use. And I’ll likely get a Chinese phone number, too. Once I have those, I expect to be able to get back to using WeChat payments.

      But without those two pieces of information (a phone number and a bank account), you’re stuck. Which continues to baffle me a bit — I mean, there are *so* many tourists, and as Mike wrote, tons of places strongly prefer to use WeChat payments over cash.

  • winduser says:

    I happen to read your blog, and find it very interesting. Since I’m working in a tech company, I often read and research news, legal documents and everything about the tech industry in China. And I think I might give a hand about the difficulties and confusions on the commenters have experienced.

    Firstly, WeChat Pay and Alipay, as far as I know, accept International VISA and MasterCard Credit Cards not later than January 2019. You may pay everything by adding your credit cards to WeChat Pay or Alipay. Though your privacy might be compromised (However I must disagree, the privacy policies of WeChat Pay and Alipay seem very identical to MasterCard, VISA and your banks), paying by WeChat Pay and Alipay is very safe. Usually, you can pay by credit cards by “I scan you.” “You scan me” is another thing, We’ll talk later.

    Secondly, money in WeChat Wallet or Alipay Wallet is quite a different thing. According to the regulations of PBOC ( People’s Bank of China, the central bank of China), paying by the money in those digital wallets (WeChat Wallet and Alipay Wallet are only two biggest digital wallets in China) should be verified as a real person. As verification methods varies, you can pay at different limits:
    – No face-to-face verification, payment limited to 1,000;
    – Face-to-face verification, or more than three independent methods to verify, payment limited to 100,000
    – Face-to-face verification, or more than five independent methods to verify, payment limited to 200,000 (highest)
    Verifying users’ bank accounts is a popular independent method. Setting up bank accounts is not hard in China though, banks still requires to be present, check IDs, and fill in some details. So most bank accounts are reliable and legal; therefore it’s effective to check whether digital wallets’ users are real person who do legal stuffs. That’s many of you have been asked to verify by filling in the Chinese bank accounts.

    However, you may also experience many occasions that you transfer your money to someone else. Usually it’s called ” You scan me.” But it’s complicated: the common “you scan me” is limited to 500 yuan by PBOC because of its insecurity (QR code in print is very insecure as you can imagine). It means you can only transfer 500 yuan a day to anyone by scanning the QR code printed and shown to you. For an instance, you pay your breakfast by scanning their QR code at 100, and several hours later pay the lunch somewhere else at 400. It’s already 500, which means you cannot pay by scanning anyone’s QR code. So, many payment service providers created a new QR code —— scan merchants’ QR code and guide you to a payment website. It’s safer because it requires you to fill in the money you want to pay and your immediate verification default by WeChat Pay and Alipay. The technology behind it is to use the Web APIs for WeChat Pay and Alipay, so you need to scan those QR Codes with WeChat and Alipay apps.

    On the first you-scan-me occasion, transferring money can only be possible if you add your Chinese debit cards in those digital wallets, or you’ve got money in those digital wallets. On the second though, you may pay by credit cards.

    Usually, only small merchants do not accept ” I scan you” and the second occasion of ” you-scan-me.” In Shanghai where I live, most merchants have scanners to scan your QR code or allow you to pay by credit cards by a QR code directing to a payment website.

    In a word, I recommend to use your Alipay and WeChat Pay, not by the money in those digital wallets, but by credit cards. If merchants only accept QR code in print, I recommend to pay in cash. No big deals.

    • JAD says:

      @winduser Is there any difference between foreign Visa CREDIT cards and Visa DEBIT cards in WeChat’s system?

  • Jerry D says:

    What a bummer. I just came back from China on March 25 and was enjoying the use of WeChat to pay for everything.

    I was just about to top up my WeChat with swapsy and saw that they had a warning about accounts now needing a China Bank card to receive any cash. I searched around until I saw this blog.

    I had no issues using the WeChat money the whole time I was in China but now I can’t add more, I don’t know what to do.

  • Pavel says:

    I was temporarily unblocked and I was able to transfer money from my wallet to alipay. ))
    I left 1 rmb in my wechat wallet))
    With the help of a Chinese friend.
    https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B98s1LI9yOjKM1piMHlBNXpVS0d5c21DR2VYSWUzS0RGVTY0/view?usp=sharing

  • C&S says:

    Currently in China. Can confirm the issue with no longer being able to receive money… on a separate note, my fiancé has a Chinese bank account setup and tried to make a transfer out and received the message that he needs to verify his account with w/ cell number and ID # (he only has his passport which is what he used for the bank account and it’s not working for the verification) **update** after trying once more, WeChat has blocked it on saying the account may be compromised… anyone else have any experience with this?

  • Uc says:

    A friend of mine helped me in his identity verification of wechat wallet pay is anything wrong with it?

    • Meaning that you’re going to use a friend’s Chinese ID and phone number for your wallet? I’m guessing that this will work, but don’t know what rules it follows (or violates).

  • Sam Mah says:

    Hi, I have downloaded the Wechat 7.0 on a Huawei phone. I live in Canada. This version is already given me a Wechat Pay function. Have no problem to enter my Visa detail. I cannot pay the items at Miniso and receive a red pocket. Any help is highly appreciated Thank you.

    • There is increasing evidence, over the last month or two, that something changed in WeChat making it impossible for foreigners to receive money.

      I was going to wait until my trip to China in two weeks to update the blog post and mention this, but the evidence seems pretty overwhelming. I’m going to add something to the top of my post now.

      I wish that I had something useful or positive to say here, but it seems that while people with money already in their WeChat accounts can spend it, they can no longer receive it or add it to their wallets.

      • Raymond says:

        I got rejected as of today wechat transfer money too. My last successful transfer was on 19 Feb, a month ago… I’m outside China now, will try again when I’m in China again. Same case with no China bank card.

  • Batxolo says:

    Unfortunately I might be the one confirming it is blocked now.

    I was last October in China and configured my wechat pay without any issue. I got some credit and used perfectly.

    I’m currently again in China mainland and I used most of my credit I had left, so I ask a Chinese friend for sending me money via transfer or via red package 200RMB as usual.

    For both option I’m getting the message “According to local regulations…”. We changed the phone to Chinese, etc. but same issue.

    It looks like we can’t get money anymore without a Chinese bank card!

    • Ugh, this is very sad. Thanks for the update.

      I’ll be in China in another 2-3 weeks. If I confirm this as well (which I expect I’ll have to), then I’ll put a warning/banner across the top of the blog post.

      How frustrating.

  • Brendan says:

    Here are a few more data points:

    (1) Reuven was unable to accept my transfer and I was unable to accept a transfer from him. We each got the same error message about needing a Chinese bank card in order to continue using WeChat Pay.

    (2) I successfully transferred 1 RMB to a friend who doesn’t have a Chinese bank card and is physically located in the US. However, he is a Chinese national, has had a WeChat account for a long time, and used his Chinese identity card to verify his account. (He moved to the US about 7 years ago at age 16, so he has had no need for a Chinese bank account.) So … not having a Chinese bank account is not necessarily an impediment to accepting transfers — at least so long as your account is verified with a Chinese identity card.

    (3) Not surprisingly, I was unable to accept a transfer from the same friend. I got the same error message again.

    I’ll be curious to hear the experience of non-Chinese users trying to accept transfers when physically located in China. I’ll be back there later this year and using WeChat is soooooo convenient!

  • Brendan says:

    A friend recently had the same bad experience others are having.

    My own experience was good. Last year I set up a WeChat account as described in the post and had no problems while visiting China last September. (I live in the US and used a US bank card to verify my identity on WeChat.) As recently as February I was able to receive and send red envelopes for the new year.

    This week a friend (also US-based) who will be traveling to China next month opened a WeChat account and verified her identity with a US bank card. But when I transferred 1600 RMB to her, she received the following error message when she tried to accept the transfer:
    “According to local regulations, you must add a mainland China bank card to complete your identity information in order to continue using WeChat Pay”.

    I will send Reuven 1 RMB as he suggested to see whether he can still accept transfers.

    • Bad news, I’m getting the same error. I’m hoping that this is because I’m not in China, but I’m going to guess that they discovered this loophole and closed it.

      • Sparky Guru says:

        I am getting this error to trying to receive cash

  • Pavel says:

    After talking with support my wallet was blocked forever)))

    Does anybody know how to get 300 rmb from wallet? Is there a way to transfer them to a friend in China, for example, on his bank card?))

    • Wait — you contacted support, saying that your account was frozen, and their response was to freeze your entire wallet? Did they indicate why this would be the case?

      And again: Are you in China, or outside of it? My guess/hope is that in China, you’d be in better shape.

      Unfortunately, I think that this is an important cautionary tale for all of us: Since we’re basically going around the rules that the Chinese government has imposed on WeChat, we can’t really complain too much if/when things go wrong. Yikes.

      If they locked your wallet, then I’m not sure how you can get money out.

      • Pavel says:

        No, I’m not in China now.
        The reason is:
        https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Uk4iv4imWKQWtGYz2Twq4CbTs_vOP8zQ/view?usp=drivesdk

        But I don’t know what rule I’ve broken ((

        • Pavel says:

          Hello. The last answer from support is (Chinese google translate)
          “You account is temporary blocked because new regional restrictions. Please withdraw the balance of the payment account within 2 days. You account will be closed two days later.”
          But when I tried to transfer money to my Chinese friend(money – transfer to china bank card), I was again immediately blocked :)))
          Wrote a new request for support.
          It looks like only alipay is available for payments in China for foreigners..

  • Pavel says:

    I was blocked(abnormal risk in my account) after receive 279 rmb in wechat wallet through vpayfast.com 04.03.2019 ((
    My account was verified(
    I have 300 rmb, and don’t know how can unblock my wallet((

    • Are you currently located in China? We keep seeing reports of people being blocked from using WeChat payments outside of China. But I haven’t seen anyone physically in China complain yet. (Which doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, of course…)

      Sorry to hear that this happened. Also, I’m not quite sure what you can do. You could turn to WeChat service, but it’s … well, let’s just say that it’s not super friendly, especially if you don’t know Chinese. I wish you the best, and please report back here with updates.

  • Hajo says:

    No, my comment re. using the Windows version was outside of China. It seems they are locking down the service by the day now. However, as I observed over the years, people who have a valid account with credit on it seem to be grandfathered. Reuven, I believe there is no worry for you – I just returned from China yesterday and things still worked a treat.. But newbies seem to be out of luck.

    • Good to hear for me, and sad to hear for others. Thanks for letting me know — although I do have to wonder if you can try Windows in China, and it’ll work…

      • TZ says:

        Hi, i also recently discovered that the receiving transfered money ceases to work on an international credit card bound account while overseas.
        I wonder if this is the case if ur in China as well?
        Can anyone confirm?

        • I was never able to receive funds while outside of China. (That’s why this guide says that if you’re having problems, you should make sure to be physically in China before giving up.) That might have been my mistake in the past, thinking that the failure was because of WeChat, when it was actually my location. I’ll be in China again within the coming month, and if things continue to work, then I’ll guess (hope/assume) that it’s a location thing.

        • MMS says:

          Hello, I am living in China and have been using WeChat wallet without a local bank card for over 6 months, having money transferred from my husband, who has a bank account. We both have local phone numbers and WeChat versions. Today when he transferred money to me I got the notice that I could not continue without entering a bank card number. That let me to this post, and I re-entered my foreign visa but still no luck. If anyone has any different experiences please keep us posted as this is going to be a big problem
          🙁 Many in our foreign community also had to re-verify their identity with passports and pictures in the recent weeks, so it seems regulations are being tightened.

    • JW says:

      For a data point, I tried this from the US shortly after Reuven posted it. The first hurdle was an account lockdown, which required verification from someone in China. Already, as a tourist, I had to ask a pretty remote LinkedIn connection to vouch for me.

      Once the account was verified, I couldn’t accept a transfer. But I could accept a 5¥ payment via QR Code (which is how swapsy works).

      But in the last two weeks, the QR method has been blocked.

      We’re supposed to be on the ground in a week or two, so I’ll try again there. From a tourist’s perspective, I’d like to prepare ahead, but they don’t make it easy. If FB/WhatsApp is going down the WeChat path, they’ll have an advantage merely because of the open financial systems.

      • JW says:

        Just got back. I could not use swapsy or vpayfast to transfer cash in while in-country, and could not receive cash from others. Someone suggested trying a Windows version, but I didn’t have access to Windows while there.

        I probably could have imposed on a friend for a WeChatPay “relative card,” which is like an allowance card for children. It gets linked to the sponsor’s mainland bank account. But I muddled through with cash for a week.

        One data point: in Beijing, I noticed a lot more ApplePay signs than American Express or Visa. I went to a tourist restaurant that took American Express, and they had to haul out an ancient credit card reader dedicated to that task.

        • Ugh, this is getting depressing.

          I assume that there’s no difference, but can someone scan your phone and transfer money to you that way? (That is, if you show them the “accept money” QR code, they scan you and make the transfer that way.) I’m guessing that the answer is still “no.”

          As for non-Chinese credit cards, virtually no store I’ve ever seen accepts them. Hotels do, and a small number of restaurants and supermarkets I’ve gone to do. But it’s pretty rare and frustrating for everyone involved.

          Sigh.

          • JW says:

            I think the answer is no. That did work for me in January while I was in the US with a Chinese friend sending.

            The “Accept Money” QR code is also Swapsy.com’s method, and that no longer works. Even in-country, I received notice that a transfer was pending via QR code, but I could not accept it without a mainland bank account.

            I suppose I didn’t try it while the sending party physically scanned my phone, but I don’t think that makes a difference.

            Surely they’ll come up with some way to let tourists back into the system. 12%+ is a fantastic return for risk-free currency exchange, and you know Alibaba/QQ wouldn’t turn that down. I think they’re worried about capital flight, and shutting the loopholes is the priority. But maybe soon.

            (For anyone planning around these things, Carrefour was the big retail store I noticed with ApplePay. Which is only one, but it’s pretty useful.)

  • Juliana says:

    Hello! thank you for your post! I was able to get the “wallet” on we chat, I added my credit card! All great! Buuuuut, when I am going to perform a payment it says my “credit card isn’t supported”. Have you seen that?

    • I haven’t seen that. However, that *might* mean that you don’t have any money in your WeChat account, and they’re trying to top it up (i.e., add money) via your credit card. If you don’t have money, then transfer some there, and try again. And if you do have money, then I’m not sure what to suggest!

    • Domi says:

      I was using WeChat the way Reuven Lerner describes, but about a week ago, when i want to recieve Money or grab a HB(Red Envelope) i get the notification that its not possible because i have to add a Chinese Bank Card.

      So i have the dire feeling they disabled this option.

      @Reuvenlerner, does this still work for you ? can you still accept Transfers with just a Credit Card attached to your WeChat?

      Greets Domi

      • Uh oh… I haven’t been in China since I wrote this blog post. I’ll be back next month, and really hope things still work. If someone reading this wants to try to send me 1 rmb, I’m happy to update you – although it’s possible that the payment only works if you are in China, so that night not be a reasonable test.

      • Hajo says:

        Just ran into the same. You can install the Windows version of WeChat, log in there, ask the friend to resend you the packet/transfer and accept it there. The Win version doesn’t ask for a bank account (yet…).

        Good luck!

        • Eun Eun Ko says:

          Out of alllllllllll the advises i read online for the past few hours, I thought this is seemingly the most helpful. But I tried and doesn’t work, sadly. The web version will still ask u to ‘see it on your phone’.

          • What Web version? You mean, you can’t get it to work on your phone, and you tried other people’s suggestions regarding on the Web?

            As I wrote above, I’ll be back in China in another few weeks, and I’m hoping that I’ll be able to use WeChat to pay for things. I’ll see what else I can find out on the subject… I can assure you that it took me a few times, and I was absolutely convinced that things wouldn’t work for me, until they did.

            Tell me, are you in China now? It would seem that all of this only works if you’re actually in China.

  • Brian Leitch says:

    Brilliant. I spend a lot of time in China. My Wife is Chinese. It would be great to go and pay the bill at a restaurant and pay with my WeChat. I would probably stick to paying cash for smaller amounts as I think sometimes it takes longer to use WeChat than to pay 10RMB. Main use maybe sending money to the Wife when she is in China.

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