How to use WeChat in China

Where Western social media is mostly blocked, WeChat is the giants of social messaging in China. To keep in touch with your friends and family, and new-found friends in China, send photos, and make video calls, WeChat should be your first choice.

How to use WeChat in China

WeChat and QQ are two convenient communication apps for travelers in China. You can use them to get in touch with your friends and family in your country, contact your tour guide in China, or meet new friends in China.

You can install them on your phone, computer, or tablet, and they are available for iOS or Android. The following introduction focuses on the app version for phones. Read on to find out what you can do with these two platforms.

Free Instant Messages — Text or Voice 

These two apps provide the useful function of sending a text or voice message for free. This is useful for making new friends in China.

Free Instant Calls — Voice or Video

This is very useful if you have a tour guide or travel advisor in China. You can contact him/her in real time and talk with him/her for free. Note that this function charges for data transmission, but this is not a problem if you are in a Wi-Fi environment.

WeChat — More Convenient for Foreign Travelers in China

  • Chinese: 微信 Wēixìn /way-sshyin/ 'Micro Message'

Connecting Made Easy

While most of us use our phone's built in messaging app, WeChat is a one-stop connection portal. In China, most people only communicate through WeChat when messaging, making calls, planning events or organizing groups. 

A plus associated with using WeChat is the connectivity. When you meet someone, ask them for their WeChat contact. It is as simple as scanning the other person's QR code. Once the request is accepted you have them in your contacts, and you can set a tag to rember them such as "tour guide" or "guy from bar." This is an easy and free way to communicate since you may not have a SIM to call locally or internationally. 

In addition to easily storing contacts, you can send and recieve contacts from others as well as group invites. There is a group for everything and everyone in China. Using WeChat you can create a travel group for you and your friends or join groups that will give you information on local art, music, food or activities. 

With WeChat so integrated into everyone's daily lives in China, you will have a long list of connections in no time.

WeChat App Text Translation Function — Press and Select a Language  

Long press the message and select "Translate" to translate the message into the system's language.

Don't know any Chinese characters? No problem. The app features a translation function. You can press the text message for about 2 seconds and select a language for translation help.

Meet New Friends Near You — "Shake" Your Phone

One useful smartphone-related addition is the "shake" function. With this, you can find other users nearby. In a Chinese city, you're likely to find dozens of people within just a few hundred meters. You may find a Chinese tourist or student in your area who is happy to make your acquaintance and to prepare you for your travels to come.

Payment by WeChat Wallet

It's also very popular to pay via phone in China. Link your bank account details and you can make a "Quick Pay" without cash.

Almost without exception now, you will need a Chinese bank account to use WeChat Wallet. Those on a tourist visa may find difficulty finding a branch that will let them open an account. 

To get the account you will need to visit a bank on the mainland with your passport, documentation of residence (which could be a receipt from the hotel you are staying in) and a Chinese phone number, which you can get by purchasing a SIM card at the airport or at a China Unicom, China Mobile, or China Telecom shop. 

Be sure to set aside time and arrive early as setting up the account could take between 45 minutes to a few hours. Once you get the account, make sure you get a print out of how your name is entered as you will need this when setting up your WeChat wallet. 

WeChat Payment is taking over in China, and cash is almost obsolete as people use WeChat to pay for anything including restaurants, shops, bike shares, taxis, and street food. Using the WeChat Pay function, you can either scan a QR code and pay a vendor or have them scan your QR code to collect money. WeChat pay can be used almost anywhere you pay for something, as long as you have your phone, a signal and money in your WeChat wallet or on your bank card, you are ready to scan and pay with ease. 

When paying, you are usually asked to enter your 6-digit WeChat Payment passcode to complete the transaction. 

WeChat has also recently (2019) been verifying user ID for using the payment option. Entering the information, which includes uploading a picture of your passport or relevent ID you can take using your phone camera and a selfie, is completed in under two minutes, and you will be able to use the pay function again almost immediately. 

“I set up WeChat before we left the States. I used a Bank of America credit card to verify the account and activate WeChat wallet. Then had Lissy send me a token amount of CNY to my new account, to make sure it was able to accept and pay out funds. I then used Swapsy (theswapsy.com). After setting up an account with them, I was basically able to trade US dollars from my bank account to CNY into my WeChat account. With money in the account I was able to purchase items like a local. It was very easy and convenient and we needed very little cash from ATMs, if at all.”

— Victor and Mary Ann Cognato, China Highlights customers in 2018 (Our staff, like Lissy Xu, can help you with WeChat.)

However, with increasing regulation of WeChat payments etc. in China in 2019, it is becoming even more difficult for foreigners to use WeChat Wallet. Accepted card types Visa, MasterCard, JCB, and American Express may no longer work in China, as WeChat Wallet requires a China-based bank account to function. 

Share Your Trip with Friends and Privacy Protection — Moments

Unlike Twitter or Facebook, a WeChat 'moment' is only visible to accounts on your WeChat friend list. There are no fan groups, only friends. So you can share pictures or short videos on your Moments screen. Your friends can comment, or give you a "like".

It's also special in that if two of your friends don't add each other, they are not able to see the comments between you. For example, A can't see the comments from B, if A and B are not friends on WeChat. So it has quite good privacy protection.

Also, your 'moment' can't be forwarded to another account's Moments screen.

How to Sign Up for WeChat

To sign up for a WeChat account, you can use a phone number. Download the app and input the information required.

As already mentioned, WeChat, aimed at the international market, loses some of its features to Internet blocking when in China itself.

However, with both programs these are only occasional frustrations. Overall, both can help you prepare for your trip to China, getting to know the country, its people, and its culture before you even leave home.