How to Use Payment Apps in China

Payment apps in China

Imagine a situation: you are having a great time with your friends at a bar, chatting, giggling, and drinking. Then comes the time to go home, and your friends ask you to pay the bill while they are catching a taxi. You search through the pockets and realize – you don’t have enough cash! And you don’t have your bank card on you, either. What will you do?

Chinese bar

When it comes to payments in China, having no cash or card is never a problem – you can always use your phone. In fact, that’s the most common way to pay. People use mobile payment apps everywhere: to buy vegetables at the local market, clothes at an expensive boutique, a chocolate bar at a convenience store. All you have to do is link your credit or debit card to a payment app.

So in this post, you will learn about most popular payment apps in China, and how to pay using your phone. Let’s go!


Mobile, Mobile Everywhere

mobile payment china apps

First thing you should understand is, in China, mobile payments are the primary way to pay. In the new world of technology, a phone works almost like a magic key. When you pay cash, you’ve got to find the right amount of money, count it, and wait for the change. When you pay with a debit or credit card, you need to swipe it, enter your pin, or sign a bill. All of these actions are a waste of precious time – and a fast-developing country like China has no time to spare. No wonder that this way of payment has grown popular so fast.


Getting the Apps

The first thing you have to do once you land in China is download two most popular payment apps: WeChat and Alipay. With their help, you can pay anywhere. Let’s have a closer look at the two.



payment apps in china

WeChat is a social networking app, which was first created as a chat. It grew popular very fast, and was soon acquired by a tech giant Tencent. Today, Chinese people use it for a bazillion other purposes besides chatting. It’s the biggest social networking app in China, akin to Facebook or Whatsapp, and every mobile user in China has it on their phone.

This is an app you must have.


WeChat Pay

WeChat Pay is a function inside WeChat. You’ll soon notice that even small grocery shops have a QR-code printed out as a sticker, and put on a wall or a door, that you can scan to pay for your groceries. Pretty convenient, isn’t it?

Now, let’s look at this function in more detail.

(If you can’t read in Chinese, you can always switch the language, because WeChat has an official English version.)


Navigating WeChat

First, let’s see how to get there. If you click “Me” (far right button in the bottom menu), you will get to Wechat’s main menu, and you’ll find a “Wallet” section there right under your profile picture. This is where you can check your balance, buy tickets, order a taxi, and do lots of other things.

Mobile Payment Apps in China


Linking Your Card to WeChat Pay

But first, you need to link your WeChat wallet to a credit/debit card.

It’s really easy, simply follow the instructions in the app.

Now you are able not only to pay for things, but also to receive money or transfer it to friends in your friend’s list.


Quick Access

You don’t need to go to “Wallet” every time – you can also access it from the main screen.

mobile payment china apps

Just click “+” button at the top of the screen, and choose “Money”. The app will take you to a new window with your QR-code, which shop assistants can scan to receive money from you. (Example: It’s convenient to use in stores, when you need to pay quickly.)

Also, if you click on the little button ‘Receive money’ at the bottom of the page, you will be able to receive money from others. (Example: If the cashier doesn’t have the special machine to scan your code, they have their own code printed. In this case, you click “+” and choose “Scan”, scan the code, and type in the amount you’d like to transfer.)

All of this might seem a bit difficult, but don’t worry – once you start using it, it will become so easy and natural, you will soon be asking yourself how come you lived without it before!


Other Handy WeChat Features

If you go to “Wallet” again and scroll the menu all the way down, you will discover many more options. Buy a movie ticket? Order a taxi? Buy a plain/train ticket? Book a hotel room? Top up your phone? All these services are available on WeChat, and you can pay for them inside this app. Magic!



mobile payment china apps


When it comes to Alipay, its main purpose is simple – to handle payments. Unlike Wechat, this app wasn’t built for chatting. It was created by the Alibaba group, the tech giant that also owns Taobao and Aliexpress. So it’s no wonder that whenever you shop on Taobao, you are guided to use Alipay to process your payments.

Mobile Payment Apps in China

Alipay’s interface is pretty much the same as that of WeChat Wallet. You can pay, receive or transfer money, buy tickets, order a taxi, etc. You can scan the code to pay, or show your own code to receive money.


Linking Your Card to Alipay

You will also need to link you credit/debit card to Alipay. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The steps of linking your card to Alipay are identical to the steps we took with WeChat Wallet, so just check them above.


Other Handy Alipay Features

If you click on “More” in Alipay’s main menu, you will find more features.


WeChat or Alipay: Which One To Choose?

It’s hard to say which app is more popular in China as a payment method, because both Alipay and WeChat are at the top. You can use both of them at any store, cafe or taxi.


So download them without any hesitation, and you will always be able to pay for things – even if you don’t have enough cash in your pockets.  Future is right here!

Share your opinion in comments below – or tweet us at @thatsmandarin!

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That’s Mandarin Blog offers tips and advice on living and studying Mandarin in China, and explores the stark cultural differences between the East, the West – and everything in between.

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