The most wonderful and annoying thing in China is WeChat Pay. It's a complete pain for foreigners to load a balance, but yet it is used to pay for literally everything. The ease of use, and sometimes exclusive use of WeChat Pay makes it an absolute necessity to have when travelling.
Unfortunately, foreign credit cards cannot be linked to WeChat Pay. Here are two ways to pay without having a Chinese mainland bank account or credit card.
Disclaimer: GroovyMashedPotatoes.com does not accept any liability for loss. If you're trying a transaction with an untrusted party, make sure to start small, then order more. Luckily, in this exchange scenario, receiving foreign currency for the sellers is highly desirable.
Activate WeChat Pay - How to set up WeChat Wallet
You will need to first activate WeChat Pay. Just a few quick steps and you'll be ready to start rolling in the Yuan:
- Download WeChat in the Chinese app store
- In the Contacts section of app, search "Wallet" and click it
- Go through the process of opening your WeChat Wallet account; you will need to do a real name verification by entering your credit card details.
- WeChat Pay will now appear in your profile
- Proceed to fund your WeChat wallet
How to fund your WeChat Wallet without a Chinese credit card
- Have a Chinese friend send you money on WeChat and pay that person via another means like cash, PayPal, Bitcoin.
- Buy Yuan with a foreign credit card directly from Yayaka.com e-commerce site (we have no affiliation with Yayaka)
I thought Yayaka was a sketchy option. Pay some random website and hope you get money back. Seems like a scam. However, we were in desperate need of WeChat money, so I went for it and tried a test transaction for $10 USD. Go through Yayaka's normal checkout process, and pay with your credit card, it's straightforward.
To my surprise the transaction worked! I added WeChat ID: topupchina and in a few hours they sent me what's known as a red packet, an envelope with money! It seems like the maximum red packet size is 200 Yuan so if you order a bunch, prepare for a lot of QR codes to be sent your way.
Yayaka makes money on the exchange rate and it doesn't work out that great for us. But hey, that's the cost of doing business. There may be other websites that have better exchange fees.
Over 18 days in China we used about 1,000 Yuan. You can literally pay for ANYTHING in China with WeChat pay so it wasn't a problem to use it all. Make sure to bring cash with you as well because some places don't have EFTPOS (credit card machines).
If this process is putting you off from visiting China, read our article on 11 reasons why China is a hidden travel gem.
Where WeChat Pay is specifically useful
- Taxi rides - many taxis don't carry change. Good luck trying to break that 100.
- Small food/drink/produce stands. Buying one banana... WeChat Pay.
- McDonalds order screens. After salivating over the menu, nothing was worse than receiving a digital payment only option.
Make sure to read our article on 10 Things to Avoid When Travelling to China
Good luck! Remember, whenever building trust in a financial transaction, start small. Make sure it works before you increase you transaction size.