We're all familiar with using contactless payment gateways to pay for goods and services in Singapore, anything from PayWave to GrabPay.
However, you might have noticed a growing presence of WeChat Pay and AliPay in stores. In fact, there are 600 retail stores in Singapore, like Cold Storage, Giant, Guardian and 7-Eleven, that accept payment through the Chinese e-payment giant, WeChat.
The reason for this is to better cater to a growing number of Chinese visitors in Singapore and provide a convenient way for them to pay. And since WeChat Pay & AliPay are commonly used in China, you may find it useful when travelling in China.
HOW TO USE WECHAT PAY AND ALIPAY AS A SINGAPOREAN IN CHINA
If you have recently travelled to China, you would understand how handicapped it is to be there without WeChat Pay or AliPay. Merchants don't prefer to transact in cash as everything is paid digitally these days - Taxis, eateries, convenience stores, street vendors, shopping malls, and even at the wet market!
You can still get by with cash, but you will have to withstand looking like a total noob who takes out a wallet instead of a phone when paying. Some merchants or taxi drivers might even show their displeasure at your cash. A vegetable stall owner at the wet market grunted at me in Shenzhen when I handed him a $20 note.
Is it possible to set up WeChat Pay when you're based in Singapore? Let's find out more in the next section.
SETTING UP WECHAT PAY AND ALIPAY WITHOUT A CHINESE BANK CARD
There's currently no way to use WeChat Pay and AliPay without a Chinese bank account (which requires a valid Chinese visa) and a Chinese bank card. You will need your Chinese bank card in order to transfer funds to the "wallet" in your apps.
However, there are ways around this if you really need funds in your WeChat or AliPay wallet for an upcoming trip to China.
Some websites, as well as enterprising Chinese nationals on Carousell, offer services to assist people to top up their e-wallet via "angpows". All you have to do is to transfer funds to the supplier via PayNow and send them your WeChat or AliPay QR code. The supplier will then transfer RMB to your e-wallet. Please be careful when doing this and don't fall prey to scams!
Conversely, you cannot withdraw money from your WeChat or AliPay wallet unless you send the funds via an "angpow" to a Chinese person and have the person return the money to you.
STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE TO SETTING UP WECHAT PAY AND ALIPAY
To set up WeChat Pay and AliPay, you need a WeChat/AliPay account, your passport, a Chinese bank debit card and a China phone number linked with the bank card.
STEP 1: GET A CHINA MOBILE NUMBER
This will require you being physically present in China and purchasing a local SIM card. To buy a SIM card in China, you'll be asked for your passport to verify your identity as well as a headshot to be taken for facial recognition. This means that you can't just ask someone to buy a SIM card for you on your behalf.
STEP 2: OPEN A CHINA BANK ACCOUNT
The next thing you need is a China bank account, which will then provide you with a China debit card. Again, you need to be physically present in China to apply for it. An offshore account created with a China bank overseas (e.g. with BOC in Singapore) wouldn't work.
Some banks, or even specific bank branches, might request you to have a student visa, a work visa or a long-term residence permit. It's hard to say, so it's better to call the branch you plan on visiting to confirm the requirements.
STEP 3: JOIN YOUR CHINA BANK ACCOUNT TO YOUR WECHAT PAY/ALIPAY
Download the apps on your phone, launch it, and you will be prompted to enter your bank details and other personal information. You will also be asked to create a 6 digit PIN for security purposes.
Note that for Wechat, there's a local version of the app as well as an international version (if you downloaded it outside of China). To find the "wallet" feature in your app, you will first have to change the WeChat app language to Chinese.
This should activate your WeChat wallet. But since you would have to be in China for the above two steps anyway, it would be best to download the app in China to get access to all the features.
Moreover, you need someone who has been on WeChat Pay for at least 6 months and who has not verified more than 3 persons in one year to verify your identity.
For AliPay, the setting up process will require you to submit your passport number (or whichever identification it is that you have registered with the bank) as well as upload a picture of a valid Chinese visa.
STEP 4: AND YOU'RE ALL SET TO PAY VIA THE APPS
There are two ways to do it. One, you can generate your own QR code for merchants to scan when making a payment. Alternatively, especially for smaller merchants, they will have their own QR codes and all you need to do is scan it, enter how much you want to pay, enter your PIN number and done!
IS IT POSSIBLE TO TOP UP WECHAT PAY OR ALIPAY WITH A FOREIGN CREDIT CARD?
For WeChat Pay, you can add foreign credit cards only if you are a Chinese person with a China ID who opened a foreign credit card. This means that if you are a foreigner living or travelling in China, you don't qualify for now. However, these apps are constantly being upgraded so you never know when things will change.
For Alipay, it is possible to add foreign credit cards to your "Bank Cards" section but you must still have a registered Chinese bank account and Chinese bank card first and foremost.
USING WECHAT PAY IN SINGAPORE sing WeChat Pay in Singapore
While it is quite difficult for a Singaporean to get a WeChat Pay account up and running without the help of a Chinese (and basically impossible to do it remotely from Singapore), if you've gotten past that hurdle you can use it to pay in Singapore as more and more merchants accept WeChat Pay as an option.
WECHAT PAY OR ALIPAY: WHICH IS BETTER?
Wechat Pay is more social because it stemmed off from WeChat, which is like our WhatsApp. It's like having both WhatsApp and Paynow in one app.
It allows you to transfer money to friends and family easily. You can also keep your membership cards easily on the app and get easy statistics about where you have spend the most amount of money to keep track of spending.
AliPay, on the other hand, stemmed off from being a payment service on Alibaba, an online shopping site belonging to the same company. Hence, AliPay has more emphasis on e-commerce payment and financial services.
AliPay also offers wealth management services whereby users can invest in products conveniently via the app. Unfortunately, this service is only applicable to local Chinese at the moment.
This article was first published on MoneySmart.