China’s QR Code Craze – Everything You Need to Know About WeChat, Wallets, and QR Codes in China

By Evon Chua, Beijing Tour Manager

Even as a first-time visitor to China, it is impossible not to notice the prevalence of QR codes, from restaurants, attractions and even the mom and pop shops along the street. Have you ever wondered what these QR codes are for?

WeChat is not JUST an Instant Messenger

As a foreigner, you might not know much about WeChat besides it being an instant messaging tool that is similar to WhatsApp…until you’re in China and experience the full magnitude of this app. The utilization of the app is way beyond ones imagination, considering its 93% adoption rate in Chinese cities and how integrated it is within everyday life. This is undeniably the number one app in China, even in the workplace (email loses out)!

Young or Old, Businesses Small or Big, WeChat Captures Them All

It is an amazing experience to walk around a local market and see that even the grandma selling tomatoes embraces this technology to collect payment. By displaying the QR code at her store, customers can scan it using WeChat and pay her using the money they have in their WeChat wallet. Your WeChat wallet is an internal account that receives money if others pay you and can be topped directly from your bank account. There are zero transaction fees on either side, isn’t that awesome? WeChat payments are so common in China that you shouldn’t be shocked if you receive a strange stare when you pay by cash.

Top Uses of WeChat

Renting a bike, paying for your taxi, buying a train ticket, booking a hotel, grabbing movie tickets, topping up your mobile, paying your electricity bill or other utilities, ordering food delivery, shopping online etc., all of these can be accomplished using WeChat. Most people no longer carry cash, just their phone!

All retailers and service providers are essentially forced into accepting WeChat payments due to the app’s penetration across all age groups or education levels. WeChat’s ease of use means paying anyone is a couple clicks, so there’s no need to enter a long string of credit card or bank account numbers each time you want to pay someone.

You Can Transfer Money to Friends Too?!

Yes! You can send money directly to any contact’s WeChat wallet. Splitting the dinner bill or paying back a loved one is very easy in China. WeChat also has some uniquely Chinese features…you can send virtual “Hongbao,” which traditionally is a red envelope filled with cash and given during Chinese New Year, birthdays, weddings or for best wishes. During 2017 Chinese New Year, a whopping 14.2 Billion RMB (Approx. 2.1 Billion USD) was transferred on WeChat between contacts using virtual red envelopes.

So How Do You Use WeChat Wallet?

Here comes the golden question: “I am traveling to China, can I download the WeChat app and pay people with WeChat?” First things first, you can download and use the basic app (it’s free!) which we definitely recommend. You’ll be able to communicate with people in China much easier and most businesses have an official WeChat account that offer ticket purchases, payments, and details about their organization. This is much more common than visiting websites!

BUT, if you want to use the WeChat Pay function, you will need to have a bank card from Mainland China plus a local phone that is linked with your bank card. A little disappointing isn’t it? WeChat tells us that they will accept international credit cards soon, but at this time there are consistent errors when attempting to add foreign cards.

But Wait, There’s More

“Moments” which is akin to Facebook or Instagram is a popular feature on WeChat that allows users to post just about anything (some censorship is in place, it is China afterall) from their daily musings to work-related announcements, and for their contacts to react by liking or commenting. Many people spend hours scrolling through their “Moments” everyday and the rising middle class is at the forefront of this because they want to be seen doing “cool” things like hanging out in a cafe or a brewery.

Practice WeChat with Lost Plate!

If you are traveling to China, why not start learning how to use WeChat and be a step ahead of your peers back home? Lost Plate has a WeChat account (add our ID: lostplate) that you can use to find out more about our tours, chat with us, book a tour and for foreigners living in China, pay via the app. Of course, we also welcome “Hongbao” if you would like to test out the function to see how it works! 😃

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