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 has been – and in some ways continues to be – very difficult. Once set up, though, it’s extremely convenient and easy to see why everybody uses it. For the past couple years WeChat has become my primary form of payment!
The biggest challenge, however, is figuring out how to add money to WeChat if you’re a tourist or short-term visitor. Is it possible?
The short answer is…maybe.
WeChat has changed its policies so much over the past year that it’s sometimes hard to keep up. Unfortunately, most of these changes don’t benefit foreign tourists.
To begin, you need to make sure you can open a WeChat Wallet. Once that is done, I’ll share with you a step-by-step guide for creatively adding money to your WeChat Wallet.
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Open a WeChat Wallet to Send/Receive Money
The most important thing to understand with WeChat (and Alipay for that matter) is that you can’t add or accept any amount of Chinese currency unless you have a valid WeChat Wallet. You have to activate the Wallet feature; it isn’t open by default.
This is what trips most people up, so pay attention.
Are You Eligible to Open a WeChat Wallet?
It used to be that you could open a WeChat Wallet by having a friend send you a hongbao or “red envelope”. Then there was the promise that when you add a foreign credit card to WeChat, that would also activate your WeChat Wallet. Unfortunately, neither of these are now true.
China government regulations require that an official ID be attached to each WeChat or Alipay Wallet, and for now, the only way they can do that is with a Chinese bank account. It’s unfortunate, but this is the reality.
The only way to activate your WeChat Wallet or Alipay Wallet is to open a Chinese bank account.
I wish I could tell you that the steps required to open a bank account in China are simple…but they’re not. It’s extremely difficult to open an account on a short-term tourist visa, so unless you’re planning to move to China for 6 months or more, you probably won’t be able to use mobile payments in China.
Sorry, folks. China made the rules, not me.
So, if you’re one of those people who aren’t eligible to open a WeChat Wallet, you’re kind of stuck. No need to keep reading or researching…cash is going to be your primary payment method in China.
For the rest of you…read on.
How to Open a WeChat Wallet
If you have a Chinese bank account, the process of opening a WeChat Wallet or Alipay Wallet is pretty straight forward.
First, make sure you’ve downloaded the WeChat app in China. I know that sounds weird, but it seems there are different functionalities based on where the app is downloaded. The Chinese version of the app (even in English), allows for a Wallet functionality.
Next, find and click “Me” on the bottom menu. There should be a section called “Wallet” where you can click to add your China bank card. See below for some screenshot.
You can add a foreign credit card here, and while it might connect, it won’t activate your Wallet. In order to add a Chinese bank account you’ll need:
- Your Chinese UnionPay Card: This card will have a 19-digit number you’ll input into WeChat.
- Connected Chinese Phone Number: In order to open a bank account in China, you’ll need a Chinese phone number associated with the account. You’ll need this same number to authenticate your WeChat Wallet.
Because of the phone number requirement, it’s virtually impossible to open your WeChat Wallet from outside of China.
Once the card and phone number have been verified (which is pretty much instantaneous), your WeChat Wallet will be activated.
How to Add Money to WeChat | Simple Guide
Now that you have your WeChat Wallet activated, there are pretty much only two ways to add money to WeChat on your phone.
- Chinese Bank Transfer: If you have money in your Chinese bank account, it is possible to either transfer money into your WeChat Wallet or to use WeChat Pay to debit your card directly. You could even use a Chinese ATM to pull cash from your foreign account and deposit it directly into your Chinese bank account.
- WeChat Balance Transfers: Similar to Venmo or Paypal, WeChat allows free transfer of money between users. This can be done as either a direct transfer within the chat function or as a hongbao (red envelope) that is basically a gifting of money.
The first option is pretty self-explanatory. But what options do you have to move money from your home country or do a balance transfer if you don’t know anybody in China?
That’s where this creative solution comes into play.
Swapsy Review | Currency Exchange Solution for WeChat
I’ve recently tried out a new process for exchanging currency to add money to WeChat that has worked well for me. 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 a foreign currency (US Dollars, UK Pound) can connect directly with people who need Chinese yuan. Swapsy facilitates the connection and theoretically takes the risk out of such exchanges.
I’m going to walk you through step-by-step how I was able to turn the US Dollars in my US bank account into Chinese renminbi. In a matter of less than 24 hours, I was able to add money to WeChat that was available for immediate use.
Step 1: Start ID Verification
To start, Swapsy requires ID verification for security purposes. You’ll have to create a Swapsy account (get a bonus using this link) and then click “ID Verification” on the left.
Verifying your ID can be done in a matter of minutes by uploading a copy of your passport and taking a selfie with your computer camera.
Step 2: Select/Request Desired Swap Amount
After I set up my account and and added my payment methods for both US dollars (via Paypal or Zelle) and Chinese yuan (WeChat), I simply told Swapsy that I wanted Chinese yuan in the equivalent amount of US$100.
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.
Swapsy gives you the option to choose from an existing swap request, which is faster (immediate matching) and cheaper (.6% service fee) or you can start your own swap request (1.5% fee)
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 3: Choose Payment Accounts
Swapsy gives me the option to transfer through either Paypal (USD & GBP) or through direct bank transfer via Zelle (USD). 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 $100 via Paypal once I’ve been paired with one of the 10,000+ other Swapsy users for the exchange.
Step 3: Await Match & Make Exchange to WeChat
The average time between being matched and receiving Chinese yuan is 5 hours, according to Swapsy. I received an email telling me that a match was found with another user who needs US dollars and was interested in making an exchange.
In my personal experience, 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$100 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 $100 and then connects with me via WeChat. Once I confirm him as a “friend” he/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. You are now able to use WeChat to pay for items as you travel around China.
Does this look like a process you’d like to try? Use the button below to create your own Swapsy account and get a special bonus credit for your first exchange.
Conclusion | Adding Money To WeChat Wallet
Obviously, this isn’t a long-term solution for somebody who is living in China. It can be very helpful, though, when trying to avoid bank fees and terrible exchange rates when trying to move money across the border. It’s similar to the process required to transfer money overseas using Alipay, but it takes care of the currency exchange for you.
This simple process allows you to make the currency conversion using peer-to-peer technology, making it extremely cheap. Give Swapsy a try for yourself and add money to WeChat!