If you didn’t already know, paying by WeChat in China has quickly overtaken cash as the most common method of payment. If you’re traveling to China, it’s entirely possible to get around using cash…but it’s not always the easiest option. What if there were an easier way to add money to WeChat so you could pay with your phone in China? There is, and you’ve probably never heard of it before.
Using mobile payments as a foreigner in China used to be extremely difficult. Thankfully, that has changed over the past couple years and I now use WeChat for pretty much every payment I make while living here. The only remaining challenge is figuring out how to add money to WeChat.
There are a few different ways that you can add money to WeChat on your phone:
- Link a Chinese Bank Account: Originally, I had to open a bank account in China in order to link my China bank card to my WeChat wallet. It wasn’t a simple process but it makes paying with WeChat easy from that point forward.
- Link a Foreign Credit Card: In late 2017, news broke that it was possible to add a foreign credit card to your WeChat wallet. Great news! The only problem was that you needed to download WeChat in China in order for that to work, meaning you couldn’t set it up before you go. A short while ago, I tried to add a foreign credit card here in China and it didn’t work so well.
- WeChat Balance Transfers: That leaves us with one final option – accepting balance transfers. As a foreign traveler, you can have a friend transfer you money and then use that balance to pay for things.
But how can transfer money if you don’t know anybody in China?
“Sharing Economy” Comes to Currency Exchange
I’ve recently tried out a new process for exchanging currency and adding it to my WeChat account that shows a lot of promise. It’s a service called Swapsy and it could be described as the “Uber for currency exchange”.
It goes something like this:
Swapsy acts as the platform where people who need US Dollars can connect directly with people who need Chinese yuan. They facilitate the connection and also a place that theoretically takes the risk out of such exchanges.
Free Currency Exchange | How to Add Money to WeChat
So let me walk you through how I was able to get a free currency exchange from US dollars to Chinese Yuan. As I mentioned above, I used a service called Swapsy and in a matter of less than 24 hours, I was able to have cash delivered directly to my WeChat account.
*NOTE: At the time of writing, Swapsy was operating under a different brand known as “USYNO”. They have since rebranded, although the process remains the same. The screenshots you see below still reference the USYNO brand, although all the links will point you to the new Swapsy branded website. Just an FYI.
Step 1: Request Desired Amount of RMB
After I’ve set up my account and added my payment methods for both US dollars (via Paypal) and Chinese yuan (WeChat), I simply told Swapsy that I wanted Chinese yuan in the equivalent amount of US$50.
Exchange rates are supposed to be based on the daily market rate. So far it seems fair to me, although you can double-check with online currency exchanges.
Users have a monthly exchange limit of US$12,000 – which is way more than I would ever personally want transferred. But hey, maybe that’s your thing.
Step 2: Choose Payment Accounts for Currency Exchange
Swapsy gives me the option to pay my US dollars using Paypal, Venmo or through direct bank transfer via Zelle. In my case, I chose Paypal and indicated that I would like payment of Chinese yuan to be received via WeChat.
At this point, I make a contractual agreement to pay $50 via Paypal once I’ve been paired with another person for the exchange.
Step 3: Await Pairing & Make Exchange to WeChat
Within 24 hours, I should receive an email telling me that they’ve paired me with another user who needs US dollars and is interested in making an exchange. Thankfully, each time that I’ve used this service, they’ve paired me in less than an hour.
Since I am initiating the exchange, I will pay the US$50 via Paypal (or whichever payment you choose) and then wait for my exchange partner to receive the money, connect with me on WeChat and then transfer the funds in Chinese yuan to my account.
This is the part that requires a bit of trust. Swapsy provides a full amount guarantee, which means that if your exchange partner defaults, they will cover the exchange amount. Thankfully, I’ve never had to make use of that guarantee, but it’s there if you need it.
Step 4: Confirm Receipt of Payment and Spend Your Money!
My exchange partner confirms receipt of the $50 and then connects with me via WeChat. Once I confirm him as a “friend” he or she then transfers the agreed upon amount to me as a balance transfer.
The funds are then transferred to my WeChat balance and are available for immediate use. Even if you as a traveler don’t have a bank account connected to WeChat, you can still hold a balance in your “wallet” and then use WeChat to pay for items as you travel around China.
Conclusion | Simple Currency Exchanges for Travelers
Obviously, this isn’t a long-term solution for somebody who is living in China. However, I’ve discovered that it works very well in a couple different situations:
- You’re a traveler who wants to have money available to use while you’re traveling around China.
- You’re an expat who wants to buy something online but doesn’t have a Chinese bank account yet.
- For whatever reason, you need to convert Chinese yuan to US dollars or vice-a-versa.
In each case, this simple process allows you to make the currency conversion using peer-to-peer technology, making it practically free. Give Swapsy a try for yourself and add money to WeChat!