How can I open WeChat
WeChat: What you need to know about the Chinese killer app
Anyone who takes a closer look at China cannot avoid the WeChat mobile phone app. It is not only a useful chat tool, but also a social network including a dating function and a payment service. Everything you should know about WeChat.
If you only have space for one additional app on your mobile phone before your trip to China, then you should choose WeChat. No other mobile phone program will be of greater service to you in China - even if you may think that you don't need the functions at all.
Even more: WeChat has achieved such a dominance in China today that you are missing out on an important area of the realities of many people's lives if you don't take at least a quick look at the killer app.
In this article, I'll explain why WeChat is so incredibly useful when traveling. Then I'll give you a few tips on how to use WeChat better. At the end I would like to address a few problems and dangers associated with the not entirely undisputed app.
Why you need WeChat in China
Because everyone in China really has WeChat on their mobile phone, you first need the app to text all the people you meet in China. In short: for what you probably use the almost identical WhatsApp for at home. As with the American double, you can also use WeChat to send spoken messages, pictures and much more.
In this context, please note that WhatsApp is currently blocked in China. So if you want to chat with other people, you'll either need to install WeChat (and ask your friends at home to do the same) or get a VPN. I've summarized everything you need to know about VPNs here.
Two functions that you can use within the WeChat conversation windows are particularly useful for travelers:
First, WeChat has one excellent working translation function. So if you have communication problems, you can ask the other person to send you a short message in Chinese via WeChat. Press and hold the message for about two seconds, then select "Translate". WeChat still delivers understandable sentences even after Google Translation has long been spewing out a mess of words.
Second, the app is incredibly useful when you want to meet someone but don't know their exact location. Then click in the chat window on "Lage" and then on "Real-time location". You will now see a map with the location of you and the person you are talking to. You can see how you are moving towards each other - or you can not. Important: You can only use this function if you have access to the mobile Internet.
Cash is becoming increasingly rare in China.
WeChat as an alternative to cash
One of the peculiarities of China is that in recent years there has been a digital revolution in paying small amounts: Today, only a few use cash to settle bills in restaurants and shops. Instead, they prefer to transfer small sums via payment apps such as WeChat Pay or Alipay.
It has even gone so far that some companies are grumpy about accepting cash. When researching this article, I even read that even beggars are now relying on digital solutions. In short: you will come into contact with WeChat Pay again and again on your journey and you may want to try it out.
But while WeChat Pay is the present future for most Chinese, the payment service for tourists is more of a bureaucracy turned nightmare. It was announced at the beginning of 2018 that the service would now also work with foreign credit cards such as Visa, MasterCard and JCB. Experience reports seem to confirm the opposite, however.
Link WeChat Pay to the bank account
In order for WeChat Pay to work, two conditions must be met: firstly, you must verify your identity on your profile, secondly, you must find a way to top up your account with money.
The most promising way is to link WeChat Pay to a Chinese bank account. This is also relatively easy for foreigners and takes about 20 minutes (+ up to two hours waiting in line). You can then take the Chinese bank card with you. I recommend the China Construction Bank.
With a Chinese bank account, you can not only verify your WeChat account, but also top it up with credit. Note that the (Chinese) phone number on which your WeChat is registered must match the phone number that you have stored in your bank account. Also read my guide on how to get a Chinese phone number.
You can even pay for street food online.
Alternative ways for WeChat Pay
If you don't want to open a bank account, there is an alternative way to get your WeChat Pay up and running. Note, however, that I have not tested this myself and the following paragraphs are just a distillate of numerous comments that I have found on the Internet on the subject. So please only try small amounts and leave us a comment as to whether it worked.
First you ask a Chinese friend to send you a “red envelope”. A minimum amount such as one yuan is sufficient. Now when you "open" the envelope you will be asked to verify your identity - for example with a foreign credit card.
You should now be able to use your credit and shop with your WeChat Pay. Note that you cannot transfer funds from your credit card to your WeChat account. It is only used for identification. You either have to load your account with further Hongbaos (red envelopes) that friends send you, or alternatively use services like theswapsy.com (also not tested yourself).
What other functions does WeChat have?
WeChat also has a number of functions that could also be of interest to you as a traveler.
Built-in dating platform: If you want to get to know other people on your trip to China, two functions are available to you. Via “Lookaround / Umkreissuche” you can find other people within a radius of 20 kilometers who would also like to get to know someone. With the somewhat less practical “shake”, hits from all over the world are suggested to you. These services can also be used to easily find someone for a coffee. Recently, however, rather greasy offers have increased. Here are some more tips on how to meet people while traveling.
The time line: Similar to Facebook or Instagram, WeChat also has a timeline where you can upload your photos and status messages. You can "like" or comment on the pictures of your contacts with a heart. It is worth mentioning the strict privacy: if I comment on a photo of a friend, only our mutual friends can read it. This gives the comment function a more familiar atmosphere.
Find people for activities: Works with WeChat, among other things.
Hidden features for advanced users
Although I am enthusiastic about WeChat overall, I find the app a bit difficult to use, especially at the beginning, as there is no proper instruction manual. I mean above all those applications that I only realized over the course of time that they even existed. The tips refer to the current version WeChat 6.7.
- Chat on computer: If you don't feel like typing your messages on your mobile phone, you can open http://web.endung.com in your browser. A QR code will appear on your computer. Go to "Discover" in WeChat, then select "Scan" and set the camera to the code.
- Use WeChat as a DropBox: If you're looking for an easy way to move data between your phone and computer (because DropBox is blocked in China), you can use WeChat. Start the web chat as described above. A file folder will also appear on the screen between the contacts. It's titled “File Transfer” on my cell phone and the Chinese equivalent on my computer. Now you can simply copy the files from your mobile phone into this folder and within a few seconds they will appear on your computer.
- Moments without pictures: I mentioned the WeChat timeline above. Go to Explore> Moments and briefly press the camera if you want to share a photo of yourself. However, if you just want to post a status update in the form of a text, you have to hold down the camera key for a long time. Then a simple text entry field appears.
- Status updates by group: If after a while you have a larger friends list and regularly share pictures on your wall, you may not want everyone to see every post. In these cases, you mark your acquaintances with tags. To do this, go to their profile, click the three dots at the top and define tags (groups) that are appropriate for you under “Set comments and tags”. If you now share a post, you can decide under "Share with" whether everyone should see your post or only certain groups.
- Show only the latest status messages: If you want your friends to be unable to see your old posts after a while, go to Me> Settings> Privacy. There you choose under "Visible to others" whether your posts should be displayed for 6 months or 3 days.
- Delete unnecessary data: If you've been using WeChat for a long time, a lot of data builds up, much of which you no longer need. To delete them, go to> Me> Settings> General> Manage Storage. Here you can delete pictures, videos and other sent files sorted by contacts. Note: The pictures you send are always a copy that you can easily remove.
- Permanently delete WeChat account: If you simply delete the app from your mobile phone, your account and all the data will remain on Tencent's servers. There is no ready-made way to delete the account with just a few clicks. For a complete deletion you have to write an email to [email protected] You can find letter templates on the Internet. Personally, however, I would save myself the trouble, as there is ultimately no way of checking whether everything has really been removed anyway.
With the folder you can move data quickly and easily between the mobile phone and the computer.
WeChat and data protection
In a transparency rating from Amnesty International, WeChat manufacturer Tencent did not receive a single point out of a possible hundred. For comparison: The controversial Facebook achieved a score of 73 points in the same rating.
It's no secret that Tencent is working with the Chinese government and sharing data. Certain terms are also censored. If you want to convince yourself of the automatic censorship, send a message in which you mention the name of the Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo. The message will never arrive on the other device.
You should also be aware that WeChat obtains extensive permissions on your mobile phone. According to my technical understanding, WeChat can not only monitor your chats, but theoretically also search the data that is stored on your mobile phone, such as address lists - which, however, also applies to Whatsapp and Co.
So if you have highly sensitive company data or the like on your mobile phone, you'd better install WeChat on a separate phone. Otherwise, from the point of view of data protection, I take the view that my data is better off in far-away China than with the NSA - after all, China does not share the data.
With WeChat Pay, all your purchases are stored centrally.
I avoid WeChat Pay. In the time it took to unlock the cell phone, start the submenu in WeChat and if necessary adjust the brightness, I paid twice with cash. In addition, my battery often does not last until the evening and I am not thrilled anyway when all purchases are stored in a central database.
On the other hand, it makes it all the more fun to stay in contact with my acquaintance in China, to make my photos accessible to them, which they cannot see on my Instagram without a VPN. Above all, it has been shown time and again that WeChat is programmed incredibly well and still works reliably even with very poor internet connections.
Transparency Notice: This article is NOT an advertisement as there is no connection whatsoever between me and WeChat. This is a revised article from 2013 with WeChat Pay added.
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