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Payments in China: Setting up your WeChat Pay and Alipay

How to make payments in one of the most cashless societies

· 3 min read

China, with its rapidly growing economy and technological advancements, is one of the most cashless destinations in the world. If you had done some research about traveling to China, you might have read about how you should set up WeChat Pay or Alipay for your trip to China. Read on to find out about how you can make payment in China.

Source: Yicai Global

Can I use international credit cards for payment in China?

Yes, you can! But, most shops will not accept international credit cards directly.

Instead, to use your international credit card, you should link your card to one of the mobile payment methods, either Alipay or WeChat Pay, and make your payment through these apps.

Using WeChat Pay and Alipay

For locals, or if you have a Chinese bank account or bank card, you will actually be able to top up your WeChat Pay or Alipay and use them as an e-wallet. This will enable storing of a balance in the WeChat Pay or Alipay e-wallet, and to allow transfers to individuals.

But, as a tourist, it is unlikely that you will have a Chinese bank account nor Chinese credit card. You wouldn't actually be able to 'top up' the wallet or to make transfers. Instead, you will primarily be using WeChat Pay and Alipay as a means for you to make payments using your credit card.

Do note that both Alipay and WeChat Pay waives the international credit card transaction fees of 3% for only transactions under RMB 200. For any amount greater than that, the 3% surcharge will be added to your payment. If you’re purchasing multiple items, you may want to request for the merchant to split the transactions so that you can avoid the fees.

Payments made through WeChat Pay and Alipay involve scanning of QR codes. It could either be the vendor/merchant scanning your QR code (which is accessible through the payment tab of your app), or it could be a matter of you scanning their QR code.

WeChat Pay vs Alipay: Which to use?

Alipay and WeChat Pay are the two biggest mobile payment platforms in China.

While payment via both apps are commonly accepted in major stores and restaurants, WeChat Pay is more commonly accepted in the smaller street vendors given its integration in the WeChat super app.

If you will be traveling to China, it is recommended that you download both WeChat Pay and Alipay, so that you have back-ups in case one of them fails, or if one isn't accepted.

Set up your WeChat Pay / Alipay in advance

Setting up WeChat Pay

To use WeChat Pay, you will need to go through an identity verification. The verification could take some time, so it is highly recommended that you set up your payments way before your trip. This will also give you time to troubleshoot any issues that you might face with the setting up of your payment methods.

  1. Download WeChat Pay from the App Store or Play Store and register using your mobile number. International numbers are allowed.
  2. After logging in, navigate to “Me” > “Services” > “Wallet”. If you can’t find it, go to “Me” > “Settings” > “General” > “Tools” > “Weixin Pay” and Enable it.
  3. In the “Wallet” section, choose “Add Card” and agree to the terms and conditions.
  4. You’ll need to provide additional details such as your name, address, and ID. If opting for a passport verification, you will need to upload a copy of your passport. Avoid using commas in your address.
  5. Once you are verified, you can add your credit cards to your wallet by entering your card details.

Setting up Alipay

  1. Download Alipay from the App Store or Play Store and register using your mobile number. Similarly, international numbers are allowed.
  2. After logging in, you will see the option to 'Add a debit or credit card' on the main page. If you don't see it, go to “Account” > “Bank Cards”.
  3. Select the option to add your bank card and enter your details.

Is China 100% cashless? Can I still use cash in China?

It is true that cashless payments are preferred in China — and that applies not only in malls and restaurants, but also for smaller shops and street vendors.

But, if you have difficulties setting up your cashless payments, fret not, as cash is still accepted. In fact, we recommend that you bring along some cash as a back-up in case your epayments don't go through.

Don't change too much money though - as you could find yourself struggling to finish using the cash. This is especially so because although cash is still accepted, the shops may not always have the change for you.

So, if you are changing money and bringing along cash, make sure your bills are smaller and that you have sufficient small change!