Foreigners Can Use WeChat Wallet With This Workaround

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As an American, it blows my mind that Chinese businesses accept neither credit card nor cash after a long history of counterfeit money.  They only accept mobile, electronic payment — WeChat Pay or AliPay.  That alone isn’t really an issue, except for the fact that it’s impossible to set up a WeChat Wallet without a Chinese bank account.

So what’s a girl to do?  Find a workaround, of course.  There are several steps, but it works and it makes paying for things in China so much easier.

wechat app

What is WeChat?

WeChat is a popular all-in-one app in China.  It basically stands in for WhatsApp and Facebook, serves as a travel booking app for trains, planes, and hotels, plus has functionality to hail rides through DiDi (Chinese Uber).

The WeChat Wallet is widely used throughout the country and works much the same way Apple Pay or even a Starbucks app does on your phones at home.

Even in places that accept cash, mobile payment is a huge convenience because you never need small change for street vendors, are less likely to be ripped off by taxi drivers who “can’t make change”, and you won’t be fumbling around because you’re unfamiliar with which bills and coins you need to pay your bill.

chinese yuan

–> HEADS UP! <–

As of May 2019, the technique below does NOT work for WeChat.  I’ve been following the comments from other readers and travelers and EVERY workaround is failing.

But good news!  Now there’s a workaround for Alipay, although it comes with a 5% surcharge starting in 2020.  Up to you if you’d rather settle for paying cash everywhere in China or if you’d like to pay 5% for convenience.

(I’m leaving the WeChat information underneath here, just in case that workaround ever comes back, or in case you’d ever like the extra context).

Create WeChat Account

Creating an account is easy.  You’ll need to download the app on your phone and then sign up with your mobile phone number (one account per phone number).  They’ll send a verification code by text message and you’re good to go for basic functions like messaging.

Even if you have no intention of using WeChat payment, you should set this up because tour guides will likely use this to communicate with you.

How to Set Up WeChat Pay

When you first login to your account, you’ll only notice screens for messaging and contacts — nothing at all that looks like a payment service.

At the top of your screen, click on the magnifying glass and search for wallet.  You should see the “My Wallet” feature pop up.  It will say that you need to add a Chinese bank card, but in my experience, you can also add international Visa or Eurocard credit cards.

Walking through how to add a foreign credit card to WeChat is as simple as typing in your card number and billing address, though be aware you might get a “busy message” and have to try 2-3 times.

wechat wallet foreigners

WeChat Pay for Foreigners Isn’t *Quite* That Simple

The good news is you’ve linked a credit card which verifies your identity and is an important step in WeChat sign up.  Unfortunately, you won’t actually be able to pay for anything with your credit or debit card on the app unless it’s officially issued by a bank in mainland China.

Thus, we’ll begin the workaround.

Loading Money to WeChat Pay Without Chinese Bank Card

If you know and trust someone in China, you can have them send money to your WeChat Wallet and then pay them back offline.  Funds are sent instantly and your balance can be used anywhere WeChat Pay is accepted.  This is, by far, the ideal situation.

When you’re in-country, you could even ask a hotel concierge or tour guide if they’d send you a payment in exchange for cash payment — although asking might be awkward 😉

Presumably, most tourists don’t know anyone in China and want their balance set up before they start their trip.  It was very convenient for me to arrive and immediately be able to pay for my DiDi ride from the airport and a street snack to power me through.

The way I did this was by adding funds to my WeChat Wallet with a service called Swapsy.

swapsy usd to cny

How Swapsy Works

Swapsy is a person-to-person marketplace for users to swap US Dollars for Chinese Yuan.  One person will send dollars through Paypal or Zelle and in return, they’ll receive an equivalent amount in CNY deposited to WeChat or Alipay. 

**You do not need to live in the United States to use Swapsy, but you do need to send USD, which means you may encounter Paypal currency fees if your account is normally in euros, pounds, or any other currency other than dollars.**

And before you ask me to clarify, yes, you are sending money to a stranger.  There is an inherent amount of trust that goes into this, though Swapsy supposedly guarantees the swap.  All my transactions worked as expected, so I can’t verify if/how they assist if the swap doesn’t pay out.

Although Swapsy is easy to use, it does require you to verify your real name by uploading a copy of your driver’s license or passport, so you should get started a few days before your trip begins to ensure everything’s in order before you arrive.  You’ll also need to link your finance accounts (Paypal, WeChat, etc.) to Swapsy.

Sending Money Through Swapsy

Once your account is verified, you can enter the marketplace.  There are two ways to trade money:

  1. Find someone’s existing request and pay them the amount specified (lower fees and essentially an immediate match)
  2. Start your own request for a specific dollar amount (higher fees and you may need to wait for someone to match up with you)
list of wechat pay offers
Looking through the WeChat Marketplace Offers

Once you select a swap amount, you’ll be directed to choose whether you are going to send USD through Paypal or Zelle and if you’d like to receive CNY via WeChat or Alipay.

Then, Swapsy will tell you who to send the money to (e.g. a Paypal account email address) and ask you to upload proof of payment (like a screenshot) after you’ve completed the transfer.

Since the other user needs to manually send you the reciprocal payment, it can take take up to 24 hours for you to receive money.

swapsy load wechat wallet for foreigners

Swapsy Fees

Good news first: Swapsy uses the official interbank currency exchange rate.  Hooray!

However, they do charge you a separate fee (paid in “Swapsy credits”).  The fees range from 0.4%-1.5% depending on if you initiate the transaction or match up with an existing transaction and whether you send payment through Paypal or Zelle.  It’s worth noting that Paypal credit card fees, if any, are charged separately and payable directly to Paypal.

On small transactions, you’ll still be charged a minimum fee of 100 Swapsy credits = $1 to transfer money.

When signing up, you’ll get 500 free Swapsy credits if you use a referral link (the best public offer is otherwise 300 credits).  You’ll also get 200 credits for verifying your ID and 100 credits for verifying your phone number.  Free credits expire after two weeks, but if you time everything correctly, you’ll probably get enough free swaps to cover your entire trip.

All the money in your WeChat Wallet is stored as a balance and can be used for payment throughout China.

A few quick Swapsy tips:

  • Paypal fees are higher than Zelle, but they go through more quickly.  There are often holding times (1-2 business days) with Zelle when sending money to an individual for the first time.
  • Because Swapsy has a minimum $1 fee, you’ll be charged the same whether you use Zelle or Paypal on swaps of $100 or less.
  • When I returned home to the USA, I started a new, custom match for the 430 CNY left in my WeChat Wallet and was able to effectively empty my wallet back into USD.
  • There is a maximum $2,000 day / $16,000 month limit per Swapsy account.

How to Use WeChat Pay

There are two ways to pay using your WeChat Wallet.  Most brick & mortar businesses will ring you up at the register like normal.  Then, on your app, you’ll hit the “+” sign on the top, choose money, and click OK to display a barcode.  The vendor simply scans the barcode and payment is instantly made.

how to use wechat pay
Steps 1, 2, 3 to use WeChat Pay

In some circumstances, the vendor won’t have anything to scan your barcode so paying is slightly more difficult.  

Instead, you’ll hit the “+”, then “Scan”, which will bring up a QR reader.  You’ll just scan their QR code (trust me, they have one), type in the amount you want to pay, and select to pay with your balance.  You’ll get a final screen reviewing the transaction where you hit “Pay Now” to type in your PIN code and send the money.

pay with wechat wallet
WeChat Money Transfer instructions

This sounds more complicated than it is.  I didn’t know what I was doing the first time, so I just handed my phone to the vendor and she did it for me while I watched.  After you do it once, it will be very easy for you on future payments.

Bottom Line: It’s Not Straightforward, but WeChat for Tourists is Possible

You can still use cash for all your purchases in China, but mobile pay is king.  If you’re willing to put in a little effort and plan ahead, WeChat Pay without a Chinese bank account is still possible and will make your travels through China easier.

Don’t forget to read all the comments below for more recent tips!

76 thoughts on “Foreigners Can Use WeChat Wallet With This Workaround”

  1. Hi Becky,
    Thanks for the info. Did you use a Chinese SIM card? Or were you able to use your own (roaming)?
    Thanks

  2. I got Wechat wallet limit cannot send out funds. It’s said must be I put new card through the person that rent me the card. How to withdraw if I can.

  3. I’ve tested it. It is simply NOT possible to receive money, as long as you haven’t finished your verification. It needs to be done first and also requires a chinese bank account / card.

    A friend of my sent 1 CNY. Didn’t work. Twice.

      1. Same thing happened to me on Alipay. You can receive funds but not accept them or use them until your identity is validated, which requires:

        WeChat Pay: Chinese Identity and Chinese Bank Card
        AliPay: Acceptable foreign identity (US Passport can work for instance) and Chinese Bank Card.

        As a foreighner can’t use either payment method without a chinese bank card at this time it seems. I tried many workarounds for both and always ended up being asked for a chinese bank card, sometimes even when trying to pay with a merchant.

      2. I correct my previous statement (may not be posted yet).

        With AliPay I was able to have someone send me 1 yuan and it shows up as a balance in my account (as of May 20, 2019). This was after I have entered and validated US phone number and email address. I have tried to validate identity but that requires chinese bank account number.

        I have not yet tried to spend this money. I will try having a friend transfer a larger amount and see if I can buy coffee from luckin coffee which does not accept credit cards or cash. That will be a good test.

    1. You friend can send thru ‘transfer’ instead of red packets. To received the money, you open it on PC instead of Phone

  4. Hello,
    I tried having someone send me money through wwchat but I can’t accept it without verifying my identity with a Chinese bank card! Would I be facing the same issue if I use swapsy? Or is the money directly in your wechat balance instead of me having to “accept” it?

    1. @Zzz, As the article states, WeChat closed this loophole in February 2019. You now need to complete the same process via Alipay.

  5. Eduardo Torres

    How can this work? As of May 17, 2019 I set up WeChat Pay and my Chinese friends can’t send anything because my WeChat app insists I must have a Chinese bank account first. Then how can Swapsy work for a foreign tourist who wants to visit China?

  6. I was able to receive money but I tried using it in Hong Kong at a vendor that took WeChat but could not get it to work. I then re added my foreign credit card but haven’t tested it since. In July 2018 I was able to pay with WeChat in China. I am able to receive funds and not sure if it’s because I tried to use it in HK.

  7. I think this route is dead. Even Swapsy now says:
    “WeChat and Alipay require a mainland China bank card or China ID to receive money now. Please make sure your wallet meets this requirement, otherwise you will not be able to receive CNY.”

  8. Folks, my observation:

    1. All bets are off on this page for WeChat users with NO Chinese ID and/or Chinese bank card. Per Becky’s explanation.

    2. There seems TWO levels of authentication in WeChat: Adding your bankcard (just to enable WeChat Pay itself) and Verifying your ID or ‘Real Name Authentication’ or RNA for short (to enable MORE features on WeChat Pay).

    The first level is done (or so it seems) by entering your International credit card(s) BUT remember you CANNOT use these card(s) to make ANY payment, this is *just* to enable WeChat Pay. Yes, it seems like a waste of time but it’s a required process, and WeChat made it clear that the only bankcard you can really use to pay is the Chinese-issued ones. If it doesn’t take your debit/credit card with valid billing address, keep trying, but make sure it’s YOUR OWN card. Using someone else’s card will get your account suspended.

    The second level is the “gold mine”, which is having either a Chinese ID or Chinese bank account (and therefore a Union Pay bankcard – and before you ask whether a foreign-based Chinese bank-issued Union Pay works for RNA..the answer is NO). This second level “unlocks” more things on WeChat Pay, including but not limited to much higher transaction and top-up limits beyond the daily 1000 Yuan top-up you’re normally allowed for, the ability to top-up from, or withdraw to, your (Chinese) bank account, similar to what most U.S. based person can do on their PayPal account, and I’m sure there is more.

    3. AliPay seems to have a similar two levels of authentication as WeChat Pay but with slight variation. Theirs seems to be an ID check (with ANY passport of the world) *just* to enable AliPay, and then RNA to enable more features in AliPay, similar to WeChat Pay’s features above. As you grumble through this, understand that WeChat and AliPay aren’t the only ones required to do this, most (non-US) app-based digital wallet services are required to do KYC (Know Your Customer) for anti-money laundering (AML) measure, etc. and by experience some countries insist on you having their National IDs (or the app is useless to you). It’s just amazing that Venmo and PayPal don’t make you go through this, but I digress.

    4. Let’s assume that most of you have done at least “Level 1” (i.e. uploading your passport into your AliPay and/or entering your valid international bankcard into your WeChat Pay), which you can do today (and don’t wait till the last minute when they change things on you!!)

    5. WeChat supports 3 types of money movement: Transfer (i.e. your friend/contact transferring money to you), Gift Card, and Red Envelope (or hong bao). Transfers and Red Envelopes are NO GO, as accepting them requires Real Name Authentication (with Chinese Bankcard and/or ID), so don’t bother. And don’t panic either, unaccepted Transfers and Red Envelopes go back to the payer after a couple of days so you don’t have to do anything.

    6. However, if a person you know (or a business) can send you a (WeChat) Gift Card (in the form of a QR code that they send to you in a chat), you will be able to tap & hold this QR code to “pretend-scan” it, and after answering a couple of prompts in Chinese (and if you don’t read Chinese, use the camera instant translation feature from Google Translate or Baidu Translate – more accurate – from another phone), then the money ends up safely in your WeChat wallet. Use it like you would per Becky’s notes above. This method (as of today) still works, but WeChat can be of course random so it’s subject to change without notice.

    7. As for AliPay, I can attest that today, I was able to complete a Swapsy to AliPay using Becky’s steps above, EXCEPT that she forgot to mention how to set up your Swapsy Chinese (CN) e-Wallet with your AliPay. From your AliPay app, you go to the place where it produces a QR code to receive money into your AliPay wallet. Hint: it’s NOT the QR code you use to PAY others (and be careful with this QR code since people CAN siphon money out of your balance, esp. if you don’t PIN-protect your account). The (Receiving Money) QR code is unique just to you, you can save it (as an image to your phone, email it to yourself etc etc). Swapsy will need you to upload this image and they WILL verify that you’ve gone through at least “Level 1” authentication.

    Swapsy for WeChat Pay is now out, because they now demand that you’ve gone through the entire RNA process, so even if you’re able to produce a ‘Receiving Money’ QR code from WeChat Pay (which you COULD do if you have quick fingers, because the second after you bring it up on the WeChat app, the RNA prompt would show up), Swapsy will know that you can’t receive WeChat Pay(ment).

    8. When using PayPal for Swapsy, remember to send your payment as ‘family and friends’ payment and NOT ‘goods/service purchased’. Why? The latter will actually try to charge your Swapsy “match” a fee (so they get less money from you) and he/she will immediately dispute the transaction, and nothing you can do other than contacting Support and have them negotiate for a refund, re-do, etc.

    9. Keep things under 1000 Yuan a day, please. That’s roughly US$130-140 as of this writing. Remember that abusing this may cause your WeChat/AliPay account to be suspended (and no, they don’t have to tell you why – it’s their law).

    10. When you’re finally able to have some balance in your wallets, how do you know if they work before you get on that plane? Find a charitable organization in China (online) that takes WeChat and AliPay donations. Most do. Scan the corresponding QR code on your computer screen (remember: blue for AliPay, green for WeChat Pay), follow short instructions on your app, normally in Chinese, again, use the translator trick above, and the way it normally work is they have a set donation amount (of like 20 Yuan, or you can opt for higher amount if you feel generous), add it to your cart, choose to donate ANONYMOUSLY (otherwise it will take you through the pain of verifying your cell number, etc etc) and then Submit. And refresh your screen to ensure the money is taken out of your wallet balance properly.

    And just like Becky’s article, everything I said above are subject to change without notice, so don’t grumble if you find this article months later and things stopped working. 🙂

    One more hint (if you don’t speak Chinese). Two methods of paying someone (a cab driver, a restaurant, a street vendor, etc). You scan THEM or they scan YOU. Remember these two phrases: “Wo sao Ni” …. and … “Ni sao Wo”. Goes without saying that “Wo” (say it like “war” without the ending “r”) means “I”, “sao” roughly means “scan”, “Ni” means “you”. Know these two phrases and you won’t go hungry.

    1. @Jim, Wow, thanks for such a thorough and helpful comment. I read it once but I’m going to re-read it another time or two and link to it from within the article for others to read and digest. At this point, I won’t be returning to China myself until 2020 but hopefully these hints will work (at least temporarily) for other travelers. I may try them myself to hit a few favorite Chinese businesses in Toronto in the meantime, just to test out the process. Thanks again!

    2. Hi, Jim
      Thanks for your thorough comment.. As per your suggestion, my friend in China send me a QR Code through WeChat and I can input how much I want to pay him, and continue with linking bank account. But after the entry of my Indonesia Credit Card’s number, it just stuck on that page and doesn’t give me any message of error or information. Do you know why it’s happened? I just need to activate my WeChat’s Wallet feature in International version of WeChat. Please give me some info about this. Thanks

      1. @David, I’d start by uninstalling the app and reinstalling, to see if it’s a tech error. Otherwise, try a different card, if you can. Most of WeChat these days (for non-Chinese accounts) is “trial and error” rather than official troubleshooting.

      2. @Becky, Thanks for you suggestion. But I have tried to uninstall and install numerous times. Even using China VPN to test it out. Unfortunately, the problem still occur.

      3. But, do you know if there is a way to install china version of WeChat? I would like to, if it’s possible for me to use WeChat Wallet feature through there. Thanks

      4. Hello guys

        FYI, now we can verify WeChat using International Credit Card again. Today to be exact, I manage to get my WeChat Wallet feature showing up by telling my friend to send me 1 CNY and I clicked through and verify my identity. Just four days ago, I can’t even getting through Credit Card section, it just stuck on that page. For you guys that failed to activate WeChat Wallet feature, I suggest you to try again today.

    3. Great tips Jim! I am using Swapsy to my Alipay and it still works for me. I do have a question. Today I tried to transfer ¥5,000 to a friend but Alipay gave me an error message. So I split the transfer in separate payments and Alipay allowed me to transfer ¥4,900 then I got an error message. I have transferred over ¥3,000 in one go before and never had problems. Why can’t I transfer the remaining ¥100? Do you know if there are daily or weekly transfer limits? Do you think my account has been blocked? Thanks!

      1. Ireme, I don’t read this site that often, so apology for the delay. When doing Swapsy (or even asking a friend to transfer you money), DO YOUR BEST not to exceed 1000 Yuan at a time – and just to be safe, don’t do more than 1000 Yuan a day. Why? Anything over that (when you’re using an unverified account) may trigger an audit. I know you said you were able to transfer 3000 Yuan without an issue, but remember …them the rules… meaning the rule of WeChat/AliPay are subject to change without notice.

        Maybe I’m just being conservative here but you should be leery about transferring a large amount when your account is somewhat unverified. Play by the rule and you should be safe.

  9. @Jim, the above observations are great. Thanks! One question, though. I was talking through #6 with a Chinese friend of mine and we were both confused as to whether a Chinese person or business can send purpose-unspecific gift cards to another individual or whether gift cards within WeChat are only purpose-specific (e.g., a Starbucks gift card, that I send to a friend to buy a cup of coffee and only a cup of coffee at Starbucks and only Starbucks). In other words, neither of us could understand how my friend would send me a purpose- or merchant general gift card for X# of RMB via WeChat that I could then pretend scan in the manner you suggest. Any clarifications you or others might have would be great.

    1. @Oliver, a quick Google for ‘WeChat Gift Card’ yielded (on the top of the search result) a small company called Yayaka, which I believe is Singapore-China/virtual based company. I went ahead and followed the instructions (i.e. add a specific contact called ‘topupchina’ as your WeChat “friend”, and I got a live person named Jane who immediately responded and answered any question you may have. “Jane” will insist that your WeChat Pay account is fully verified (both Level 1 and RNA) but you might convince her to try sending you a very small amount (say 50 Yuan or even 10 Yuan) into your WeChat Pay. Upon payment via PayPal (only Paypal btw) she sends you a gift card QR code to your WeChat, Tap and hold, select ‘Scan QR into image’ (or something like that). Voila, it went into my balance. Jane will send you instructions on what to do with this QR code.

      A couple of observations:
      1. Yayaka limits you to 1000 Yuan per transfer. For good reasons, you DON’T want to blow this limit and trigger an audit
      2. Yayaka only accept Paypal – GOOD: you can use your credit card, not direct debit, they said they will cover the fee. BAD: the exchange rate stinks, it’s definitely not Swapsy-good. I got around 5 Yuan and change per USD 1, where the current going rate is 6.9 Yuan per USD 1.
      3. Still a good option when you’re in a bind, but just beware you’re going to lose money if you transfer a lot.

      And as the disclaimer says – this is good until the next guy closes this loophole, please proceed with caution, do not abuse and break this for the next honest guy, if you get my drift.

  10. Theresa Nunnally

    Just here to say that I just tried yayaka and oh man!!! This is the ONLY thing that has worked for me!!! Thank you guys for all the incredibly helpful info.

  11. Here is my experience. My wife has a China bank account and China mobile number. Just last week while we are in Beijing I asked her to send 50yuan red package to my wechat account. I could not accept it at first. Then I tried to key in my credit card number and detail. The money immediately shown up in my account. But I do not know whether it can be used in China. I did not test out when I am there. Just yesterday (back in Singapore) I saw a juice vending machine which accepts wechat payment. I tried it but money was not deducted. So i conclude it cannot be.

  12. I use WeChat Pay with a Chinese bank card, Chinese mobile number and foreign passport. It works fine for me at shops in China, paying from my WeChat wallet or directly from my bank account. It also works on micro programs and websites. The only place I haven’t tried it is outside of China.

    I couldn’t get AliPay to work because my bank or AliPay doesn’t support the Chinese bank card, Chinese phone combination and a foreign passport. It said I needed to use a Chinese ID card for RNA. I stopped there because I already can use weChat Pay. 🙂

    1. @Garry, Thank you for sharing your experience. I believe there should be no problems when using WeChat Pay with a Chinese bank card, like you have.

      1. ps. I don’t understand why folks here just open a Chinese bank account? It’s a pretty simple process and then they would have WeChat Pay without issue.

        I’m not a Chinese national nor do I live in China and it was a simple process to open an account. I fund the account with cash and it works fine.

      2. @Garry, For someone vacationing in China a single time for 1-2 weeks, I think opening a Chinese bank account would be more paperwork than it’s worth.

    2. >>I don’t understand why folks here just open a Chinese bank account?

      I went to Bank of China just a few days ago. No luck. They are saying you cannot open chinese bank account if you have tourist visa.
      Seems like China and wechat is doing everything for you not to spend even a dollar in China. Really embarrased.

      1. @Michael @JIM

        Try a different or a smaller bank. Most of the time, the Chinese do not want to do it if it differs from the usual process. There are rules, but they can bend them. The larger banks probably are less likely to bend. However, the smaller banks will probably only speak Chinese. I had to provide my passport, birth certificate and SSN.

        I found it easier to get a bank account than a phone number in China! Which, if you can get a bank account, you will need a Chinese phone number that has to be on file at the bank in order for WeChat Pay to work. Alipay does not work for me because my bank doesn’t support it or vice versa.

        I also cannot use WeChat Pay at merchants outside of China, but I can buy online with it.

        It took me two trips to China and about six months to accomplish this because of the red tape but it is possible if you preservere.

    3. Hey Garry, I think the fact you were able to open a bank account in China is truly a jackpot. I’ve read pages and pages of experience where people are being turned away if you don’t have a long term visa or stay-permit. If you were able to open a Chinese bank account, as a foreigner on a tourist visa, I think most of us here would like to know how, where, etc. If you were a Chinese speaker who was able to sweet-talk the bank, that’s a different story of course. 😉

      1. I went with a Chinese speaking person to open an account and the bank employee just did not know how to do this.
        After a few calls they required a verified tax ID from my country.

      2. @JIM
        It is possible. I don’t think any laws were broken by me getting a back account. I think China wants to keep tabs on folks so employees want to do everything by the book – or are lazy.

        It’s more about persuading the employee to do it than anything else. Yes, speaking Chinese helps. 😉

        I have a tourist visa but I’m in China often so it was worth the effort. .

      3. Hi Jim,
        I met a foreigner today in China that has WeChat pay and was able to use it. He indicated he opened a bank account at an ICBC in Beijing. He said he got it with a tourist visa without any problems. Here also spoke no Chinese at all.

        While searching for this thread, I found this article,

        https://www.travelchinacheaper.com/open-china-bank-account

        You really just need to go to a bank that is willing to help you.

        You will also need a Chinese phone number to add to the account because it is required to setup WeChat Pay.

      4. Hi Garry, (I can’t believe this thread is still alive – that’s awesome!)

        I think it’s great that guy you met back in August got an ICBC account in Beijing with no questions asked; I read through the article you referred to and even the author was a little bit leery about anyone (with just a tourist visa) to give it a whirl.

        I don’t know if that guy you met was an U.S. citizen, but we are often denied foreign bank accounts thanks for FATCA. I’ve seen banks in certain countries that explicitly say ‘No Americans!!’ since they don’t want the headache of having to do compliance report etc. to the IRS, even if that account doesn’t bear any interests. So that’s also a potential hurdle, even when you find a bank that’s willing to bend the rules. The current trade war is also not helping the situation.

        I also understand that if one was to really try opening a bank account, they should stick with Tier 1 cities (translation: big cities. Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen, etc) where you have a much better chance of them used to dealing with ex-pats, foreigners, etc.

        You’re correct about the Chinese number; and miraculously, my AliPay and WeChat accounts are still active (even without a Chinese bank account) and still able to use Swapsy to recharge my AliPay account and WeChat transfer from friends/ family (using the WeChat for Windows trick below) so I think I’m OK (without a bank account).

  13. hi guys, im a polish citizen living in china, swapsy seems great but unfortunatelly since im polish i cannot use it, do you know any other app providing this kind of serivce? i m rather interested in getting money out of China btw, thanks in advance

  14. As of today 6 of August I can confirm that wechat pay does not work ok even if you receive money from a Chinese friend. The app just does not let you accept the money until you add a China bank card. although both alipay and WeChat allowed me to add my foreign credit card, neither allowed me to pay for anything or receive any money.

    Very very sad. 🙁

  15. @Becky You’re awesome, such a great person. Thanks to you, this post and others comment give me a lot of information that i (and any others foreigner) should know about WechatPay/Alipay, even they not working now.
    You got my heart man.
    – from a Vietnamese.

  16. Thanks for the tips! I was able to use a passport and foreign bank card to open a Alipay account. However, Alipay soon locked my balance and I was unable to do any more transactions. They will ask you to do another step of the “real name verification”. Obviously, I couldn’t do it with a Chinese bank card (don’t have one).
    They give you another option, “verify face”. Here, you have to send a picture of your passport and a selfie. It usually takes 24 hours to approve and once it does, it should unlock your balance and allow you to perform transactions again.
    Note that this will only unlock the balance feature, and not much else as this still isn’t a true “real name verification” (still need a Chinese bank card for that). Hopefully this is a permanent fix for those whose balance is locked by Alipay after a period of time.

    1. Mike, I experienced the same when my AliPay balance surpassed 5000 Yuan, and that triggered the same thing you experienced (i.e. my balance being frozen) and I can attest that I had to go through the same thing (verify face and picture of passport). Just have to make sure your passport number matches what they have on file and I’ve written (down below) about my experience where somehow AliPay didn’t have a correct passport number on file and my verification got rejected every time. And yes, crossing fingers that I’m good for awhile!

  17. “I went with a Chinese speaking person to open an account and the bank employee just did not know how to do this.
    After a few calls they required a verified tax ID from my country”

    As per @VIT’s comment above, it IS possible with tax ID and a knowledgeable employee.

  18. Just hit 6 different banks today, with a Chinese friend.
    Basically all give excuses to not open a foreign a personal account.
    It is really frustrating be in China for 45 days, and only have to use money all the time!!!

    1. There is a new solution for WeChat. Get a chinese friend to send you money. Use WeChat for PC to accept it. (please make sure you are logged into WeChat for PC before asking for your friend to send you) (otherwise, it won’t show up to accept on PC)

      1. This does not work. Wechat for PC will show “Red packet received. View on phone.”

        I can also confirm that in most cases you cannot open a bank account unless you have a work permit. I’ve spoken to many people here (I’ve been in China for 16 months) and haven’t met anyone able to open an account on a tourist visa. I can’t even open one on a busines visa.

        The only exception I have heard of, but cannot verify, is that some people with 10 year tourist visas can open an account.

        Oh, none of the work arounds work anymore, just tried to accept a red packet. Could enter my Singapore bank account card but then aked for a Chinese card later.

  19. I just tried @ALEXANDER method of using WeChat for PC (today is 16 September 2019), but it doesn’t work. The desktop version will say “Red packet received. View on phone.”, which means I have to go back to my smartphone’s mobile version to accept it and again it will ask for mainland China bank card. Not sure whether I am missing some steps or they have fixed the loophole.

    FYI, as on 16 September 2019, I can say that it is not possible to use WeChat Pay (I still have some balance in the wallet) to pay offline merchants in Hong Kong and Singapore. Probably old news, but I just want to share latest info here.

    By the way, does anyone know whether it is still possible to use WeChat Pay (assuming there is some balance in the wallet) to pay offline merchants in mainland China itself? Otherwise, my money will forever be stuck in my wallet. I can still transfer my entire balance to a friend and ask her to pay me cash, of course, but cash is not convenient in China now.

  20. Just a correction to my comment above. Actually, WeChat for PC works! Note: your friend must send to you using regular “Transfer” instead of using “Red Packet”.

    Now that we can top-up the wallet using this method, I would like to know whether anyone manage to spend it within China if it is not yet linked to a mainland China bank card.

  21. @Jeremy are you using the WeChat application for PC or via a browser? I am not able to look into Wechat pay via the app on my computer. Am I seeing it wrong or is it possible i don’t have permission for this?

    Hope you can help!

  22. @Julia, I downloaded and installed the Windows version app. I just checked the app again and I don’t think there is a Wallet (or WeChat Pay) within this app. Therefore, I guess it is normal that you are “not able to look into Wechat pay via the app”. However, that is not important, because you use this app solely for the purpose of accepting money which your friend transfers to you. It will surely go into your Wallet and you can verify it by checking the balance or transaction via your phone’s WeChat.

    In summary, the WeChat for PC app has minimal function and you will not see the WeChat Pay feature. But it can accept money. Then use your phone to check the new balance.

    And even if it works, I suggest that you do not top-up too much money unless you are very certain that the money can be spent within China. Otherwise, all your money will be stuck in WeChat wallet and is useless.

  23. I tried signing up for wechat using 2 different cell phones and it said I needed another wechat user to scan me in, otherwise I can’t register. So it ain’t all that easy. Once I did that, which wasn’t easy, my wechat doesn’t even come with a wallet feature

    1. Suzanne Spottiswood

      I’m just trying to work it out. I found a current user to scan me in but I cannot find “wallet” on the phone app ??? We’re heading to China in less than a week and fear that we may only be able to eat in hotels ……and buy goods in major shops …….it limits the fun and authentic experiences!

  24. let me also add that opening a Chinese bank account is mad hard. they always ask me for proof of employment and address. i had a couple of accounts that i opened years ago that were permanently suspended cause i had no documents. things definitely ain’t as easy as they were. back in the day i used to use alipay. no real name. not even a phone number. i just signed up with an email address

  25. Hi fellas, for those who have managed to have WeChat Pay and/or AliPay set up, I wanted to give you a heads up that I was prompted to present some ‘extra identification’ when I inadvertently surpassed 5000 Yuan in my (AliPay) wallet balance, and failure to do so (after 30 days) would cause my balance to be frozen. I’m not sure if this a new regulation or not but apparently if your wallet balance is over 5000 Yuan for more than 7 days, it triggers this extra check.

    I don’t have a Chinese bank account, and I had given them my passport number in the past (as well as a foreign-based Visa/Mastercard) JUST to complete the first pass of registration a few months back. So the extra identification they need is simply a snapshot of that same passport, as well as a selfie (without the passport). Easy right? (Note: ideally you could also put in your Chinese (bank account) bankcard number, which I think the majority of us don’t have.)

    Well, it took some back and forth, but AliPay somehow had a totally different passport number on file, and since their prompt does not display the full passport number (but rather something like “Please scan your passport number ********233”), I completely missed the fact that it does not correspond with my actual passport number. So I basically got rejected everytime I submitted my scan & selfie until I corrected the data re-submitting.

    If you’re faced with this similar situation (5000 Yuan is roughly USD 700 and if you’re planning a few weeks of stay in China, that’s at least what you want to carry in your wallet), please double-check the passport number on file with them. Especially if your passport has expired since the last time you registered for your wallet.

    On another subject, some folks are wondering how they can effectively test their AliPay and WeChat *before* they land in China. I’ve written here before (or maybe on a different site) about the possibility of just doing an online donation with WeChatPay and AliPay, and as it turns out, your charitable donations are processed differently from your (retail/online) purchases. Case in point… while my account was frozen (see my first paragraph), it still allowed me to make charitable donation, but online purchase would fail.

    So I’ve found two very inexpensive ways to do an online purchase from the comfort of your own home. There’s some work involved here if you don’t read Chinese, it requires a computer (not your mobile phone!), but with some patience (and using Google Chrome with automatic Google Translation), you should do just fine.

    For WeChat Pay, go to JD.COM (e.jd.com) which is an Amazon.com-like site affiliated with Tencent, the company that owns WeChat. Set up an account if you want, and purchase yourself a very cheap 1 – 2 Yuan e-book (that’s roughly less than a quarter US dollar). Pick a topic, ANY topic, as long as it’s cheap – you’re not gonna read it anyway. Upon checkout, you will be presented an option to pay with your WeChatPay, just scroll all the way down the page to find a QR code which you scan with your mobile phone’s WeChat app. Complete your purchase, verify the balance was taken out correctly from your (WeChat Pay) wallet.

    For AliPay, go to Taobao (www.taobao.com) which is also an Amazon.com-like site owned by Alibaba, set up an account if you want, and same deal, pick a very cheap 1-2 Yuan e-book. Upon checkout, you will be presented an option to pay with your AliPay, but here’s the difference. Instead of a QR code to scan, Taobao will ask for your AliPay PIN number. Enter it, and complete your purchase, verify the balance was taken out correctly from your (AliPay) wallet.

    The trickiest part of the above is probably muddling through Chinese sentences trying to set up the account, so it’s important that you use Chrome and translate them automatically. Disclaimer: I do have a Chinese phone number and a Chinese shipping address (of a friend) so I don’t know if foreign phone number would work (but adding a foreign address does). Remember you’re not going to ask them to ship anything, so don’t worry too much about it.

    If anyone has any other tips on how to test your WeChat or AliPay accounts, please share.

  26. Alipay just launch prepaid card for foreigners to use within the app, using foreign credit card. To topup, just change region setting in app to international and tourpass mini app option will b in the first page. Other option just search for tourpass in the app. Topup max of RMB2000, using foreign credit card. First time topup require snapping pic of visa. manage to topup myself without any problem. Exchange rate by credit card. No extra charge by Bank of Shanghai until next year. Tourpass balance is separate from Alipay waller balance.
    using it suppose to be exactly the same as using alipay wallet. before scanning, there is an option below the qr code in the app to choose whether use the tourpass or alipay wallet. had report from other chatgroup that the use is seamless, n no problem topping up even when in china, since the credit card is recorded in the app.
    Browsing tru the FAQ, the tourpass only last for 90 days (same as most tourist visa), unused balance will be credited to the original paying credit card.
    Still unanswered question: Alipay never mention the ceiling topup amount (RMB2000 at anytime, but how many times can topup within 90 days?)
    Now is the best time to use, by next year, there may be extra charge from Bank of Shanghai, heard to be quite steep.

    ps. Wechat reported trying to come out with similar strategy but no official news yet. The windows method of receiving transfer still work as of this week. (another person transfer fund, not red packet, accept using windows wechat and it will credit to the wallet balance)

  27. I also cannot find the “Wallet” feature in Wechat, but when I hit the plus sign on the upper right hand corner, one of the selections was Money. When I hit that, it says “Quick Pay is not enable”, and that I need to “Add bank card before using this feature.” Would the “Wallet” feature show up after I do this?

    1. @David, It is unfortunately well documented that Wechat has removed this feature but Alipay is allowing travelers to use their mobile payment. I suggest you try using them instead.

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