Back in late 2019, it was announced that WeChat and Alipay would let people add foreign credit cards to use mobile payment in China. Considering how much easier it is to purchase goods and services using WeChat in China, this is a huge announcement for expats and travelers to China. But does it work? And if not…what other options are there?
Up until this point, it’s only been possible to connect a Chinese bank card (usually UnionPay) to your WeChat Pay or Alipay account.
For foreigners, this meant opening up a bank account in China, which takes a bit of time and patience, not to mention a long-term residence visa.
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!
Back in early 2018, WeChat announced that they would begin accepting foreign credit cards as an option on their platform. That was two years ago and, well…
…it never worked (as many commenters on this article have attested to).
Here’s what you need to know about using WeChat in China, including my thoughts on the wisdom of giving the Chinese government all your financial information (hint: this is key).
Conditions | Foreign Credit Cards & WeChat
Back in 2018, WeChat had set up a number of limiting conditions to add a foreign credit card to use WeChat Pay.
- First, you had to download WeChat in China, which meant you couldn’t set up WeChat Pay before you arrived. That sucked.
- Second, you couldn’t use a debit card; they only accepted credit cards.
This time around, it seems that things are different. While it’s not clear exactly how WeChat will be handling the change, right now Alipay launched an international version of their app that caters to foreigners.
Here’s what we know so far:
- WeChat will accept Visa, MasterCard, JCB, Diner’s Club and American Express Cards (credit cards, not just debit cards);
- You won’t need a Chinese phone number to register your account; it can be done with your foreign phone number.
- Apparently, this marks a loosening of regulations around foreigners with WeChat Pay accounts.
You see, throughout 2019, many foreigners who had previously had WeChat Pay accounts without a Chinese bank account had been shut down. Now, it seems like that will be changing.
Adding a Foreign Credit Card to WeChat | My Experience
Disclaimer: Because WeChat hasn’t yet rolled out this new feature, I can’t be 100% sure this is how the process will eventually be done. However, what I’m about to show you is the current process of adding a foreign credit card to WeChat Wallet.
Currently, it doesn’t work.
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 [middle name]” 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 the card should (theoretically) get added to my WeChat Wallet.
And this is where things will hopefully change with this new announcement from WeChat and Alipay.
Right now, I can’t add a foreign credit card (as you can see from the error message above), but in the near future, that’s supposed to be different.
Security Alert | Is This a Good Idea?
Before we continue with some alternatives to adding a foreign credit card to WeChat Pay, we need to address a very important question that you should be asking yourself:
Is giving my financial information to WeChat a good idea?
It’s a well-known fact that China’s government has backdoor access to WeChat. That’s just part of life for Chinese people, but for those of us who have a choice…
…do you really want China to have access to all your personal info?
Consider this: when you add your foreign credit card to WeChat, you’re going to have to give WeChat – and by extension the Chinese government – the following information:
- Your Verifiable Identity: They need to know who you are, so you’ll have to verify your identity using your passport, which means they’ll have your real name and ID number.
- Your Phone Number: You’ll have to provide a working phone number using a text verification code to open up a WeChat account. Now your name is attached to a phone number.
- Your Address: Your credit card verification is attached to your address, so you’ll need to give that to them.
- Your Credit Card Information: Finally, you’ll be required to give your credit card information.
Wow…that’s a lot of information that the Chinese government all of the sudden has access to. I don’t know about you, but that’s slightly scary.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t do it; I mean, it’s certainly going to be a more convenient way to travel to China. But I want you to understand what kind of privacy you’ll be giving up in order to do so.
And if that seems like a bit too much, here are your other options.
Alternatives to Using Foreign Credit Cards with WeChat Pay
So until foreigners are granted the ability to add credit cards to WeChat, what alternatives do we have to pay with WeChat or otherwise? Is cash the only option?
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 with residence permits 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.
- Cash: Finally, it’s perfectly acceptable to still use cash in China. It’s not exactly easy, but it’s possible. Many Chinese ATMs accept foreign debit cards and will spit out Chinese Renminbi for you to use.
Conclusion | Foreign Credit Cards on WeChat Pay
There are changes that are coming to the system, but for now, we still need to wait before we can add a foreign credit card to WeChat Pay.
Nobody has given a clear timeline for the rollout of these changes (and it’s almost been a year), so we’re really just in a wait and see period.
As travelers or expats, using WeChat is convenient but not absolutely necessary. Don’t be afraid to get cash from a Chinese ATM.
And if you absolutely must 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 WeChat Wallet yet. Based on my experience, it doesn’t work yet. I’ll let you know when things change.