Not too long ago, news broke that WeChat had begun allowing users to tie foreign credit cards to their WeChat Pay account. Considering how much easier it is to purchase goods and services using WeChat in China, I was naturally intrigued! So I decided to give it a try and see how it worked. [Spoiler alert: it didn’t work well for me or for the hundreds of people who have left comments, which are worth reading]
Up until this point, it’s only been possible to connect a Chinese bank card to your WeChat Pay account (or even Alipay for that matter). For foreigners, this meant opening up a bank account in China, which takes a bit of time and patience.
There are other other global payment solutions for China that are great, but these are alternatives to WeChat at best. If only WeChat could accept Visa or MasterCard as payment options, life in China would be so much easier!
It was announced in 2018 that WeChat would begin accepting foreign credit cards as an option on their platform. Expats of the world rejoiced, right!? Well…it wasn’t quite as simple as that. Here’s what I found out.
Conditions | Foreign Credit Cards & WeChat
WeChat made it clear that there are a few conditions that must be met in order for you to add a foreign card to your WeChat Pay account.
- You must download WeChat in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan. WeChat limits certain features based on where you download the app. This is surprisingly important.
- You must use a credit card, not a debit card. Currently, WeChat says they accept Visa, MasterCard and JCB, in addition to all of the Chinese bank cards that work.
That sounds simple enough, right? Living here in China as a foreigner, I meet both of those requirements. I’ve downloaded the app here in mainland China and I have a Visa credit card.
Unfortunately, that isn’t the whole story.
Adding a Foreign Credit Card to WeChat | My Experience
As I open up WeChat on my phone, the first thing I do is click “Me” on the bottom menu to find my “Wallet”. From here I can click on the “Cards” menu item. As you can see, I already have a WeChat Wallet activated, so theoretically this should be easier for me to do.
I’ve already added my Bank of Communications card to WeChat, which works very well, I might add. However, I’d like to see if I can add my foreign credit card. So I’ll go ahead and click “Add a Card” and see what we can do here…
The first sign that things might not go well is that it won’t let me change the name on my card. It insists that my name is “Summers Joshua Stewart” because in China, they put your last name first.
Of course, this isn’t how my name is listed on my credit card, but oh well. We’ll continue anyway.
Once I’ve added all my card information, address and contact info, I’m ready to finish this process. I press “Ok” and then hold my breath until I see…
Trust me, I’ve tried with every foreign credit card I own and each time I’m met with a message of failure.
It seems that the one condition WeChat didn’t entirely explain was that you have to be a Chinese person with a China ID who opened a foreign credit card. (some commenters have noted that they have successfully added a credit card to their WeChat wallet but they are unable to use it to make purchases)
Doesn’t do much good for us foreign travelers and expats living in China.
Adding Money to WeChat Pay as a Foreigner?
So if we as foreigners can’t add our credit card as a payment option for WeChat Pay, what other options do we have to pay with WeChat?
Fortunately, there are a few solutions that I’ve mentioned above but I’ll go into more detail here:
- Open a Chinese Bank Account: The easiest way to add money to WeChat Pay is to connect it to a Chinese bank account. Foreigners are legally allowed to open an account and it usually only takes 1-2 hours to get it done. They’ll issue you a bank card immediately and you can add that card to WeChat.
- Use a Global Payment Solution (U.S. residents only): I’ve recently started using a new global payment solution known as ECARD. It’s a UnionPay-branded card that gives me the ability to use any ATM in China and pay for things anywhere cards are accepted (which is better than Visa/MasterCard). I load the card with my U.S. bank account (it’s pre-paid) and although I can’t use it with WeChat, it works for pretty much everything else in China. If you’re interested, it’s free to apply for ECARD.
- Peer-to-Peer Exchange: Of course, since many travelers don’t have friends in China to send them money, you’ll need to find another way to get money onto WeChat. That’s where something like a peer-to-peer exchange service can help. These services connect you with somebody who wants US dollars so that you pay them $100 via Paypal or bank transfer. They in turn pay you the equivalent RMB to your WeChat account. Unfortunately, this only works if you already have your WeChat Wallet activated.
Conclusion | Foreign Credit Cards on WeChat Pay
For now at least, it seems that all the hype about adding a foreign credit card to a WeChat Pay account is pointless. WeChat is aimed at the Chinese market and that’s who they’re looking to serve.
As travelers or expats, using WeChat is convenient but not absolutely necessary. If you want to add money to your WeChat Pay account, you can do so using the alternate methods mentioned above.
Otherwise, don’t bother trying to add your foreign credit card to your account once you get here. Based on my experience, it doesn’t work yet. I’ll let you know when things change.