What is WeChat and Why do You Need it in China?

Whether you’re moving to China or just visiting it’s a good idea to download the WeChat app. This free communications application is one of the most important tools you will need in China. When we say WeChat does everything we really mean it. So before you read on, go ahead and download the app.

Designed by the company Tencent, WeChat is a one-stop-shop for everything in China. It originally began as a communications app similar to its predecessor QQ messenger, in western standards, it was similar to WhatsApp, Facebook messenger or Skype. The app began by allowing users to communicate with friends for free via instant text message or video call. The app later grew to allow for group messages and file transfer. Now, there isn’t a lot this app can’t do. The following is a basic list of 10 functions WeChat serves.

Ten Basic WeChat Functions

  1. Moments & Time Capsules

Click on “discover” at the bottom of the app. Then, click on “moments”. Here you will be able to scroll down and see a feed of your contacts and their ‘moments’, similar to Facebook feed. People usually post pictures or videos about their lives with small captions, although a lot of people now use this space for advertising and marketing purposes which can get annoying – there is an option to “unsee” these people’s posts! Time Capsules is a new addition to WeChat. Similar to Instagram’s “highlights” section, this function allows users to make small recordings that are displayed for only 24hrs.

2. Groups

WeChat allows users to make groups of up to 500 members. Chinese people are quick to make groups. They love groups! For example, if you meet someone for the first time they will likely ask for your WeChat first “Ni you Weixin ma?” and then add you to a group. If someone is planning a party they will likely make a group on WeChat to make planning easier. Businesses now use groups as an informal way of effective communication between colleagues and management. Teachers will make groups with their students and parents and larger organisations such as expat magazines will make groups to encourage discussion and for marketing purposes.

Groups have become so important on WeChat that group etiquette is now a topic of discussion! Many groups now share “group rules” such as restrictions on annoyances such as advertising and marketing or forbid the use of foul language or harassment. Most groups will also elect a group leader, someone who has the power to evict members who misbehave or break the rules.

3. Subscriptions & Official Accounts

Subscriptions is a function within the app that allows businesses and organisations who release regular written content space on WeChat. For example, if China Daily applies to open an Official Account, it will need to be approved by WeChat before it can be accessed by the public, only then can the official account appear under the Subscriptions section of the app. Users may search China Daily and then add the official account to their subscriptions.

For businesses that sell goods or food, official accounts are particularly desirable. Now, WeChat has developed a “delivery” function within the official account page, which allows users to order food within WeChat using money from their WeChat wallet (more about that later) and adding points to their loyalty cards. Same goes with merchants who sell products, users are now able to purchase directly from an official account.

4. Top Stories

Think of Top Stories as your daily dose of Chinese gossip. It’s what’s trending on WeChat. It’s Daily Mail news. And it’s lifestyle tips and tricks. It has two functions “wow” and “top”. Wow, allows users to see what people in their contact list (their friends) is looking, reading or posting. And Top gives users a selection of the countries most trending stories.

5. WeChat Pay

This is where WeChat gets really interesting, this is where using the app becomes most important for everyone in China. Think of WeChat Pay as your wallet. A place where you can store money (or have it linked to your bank account) and a function that allows you to pretty much pay for everything.

The functions of WeChat Pay

  • MONEY. Click on this and you will see your personal barcode, this is what vendors will scan when you want to pay for something. Most places in China now will use this option, even food markets and street food vendors! Be sure to have it on PAY VENDOR. Switch to RECEIVE MONEY and this will reveal your personal QR code that people will need to scan in order to send you money. REWARD CODE is used to give out and receive rewards. The SPLIT BILL function allows users to go dutch, PACKETS NEARBY allows users to send and receive red packets (a Chinese tradition of giving “lucky money” in a red envelope and the TRANSFER TO BANK CARD option allows users to send money directly to someone else’s bank account.
  • CARD REPAY. This function allows users to repay money onto their credit card accounts.
  • MOBILE TOP-UP. Is pretty self-explanatory. Users can add their phone number as well as a bunch of other phone numbers and pay through the app to top them up with credit and data. So, one needn’t wait in a line down at China Mobile anymore, or better yet, one can now top-up from another province!
  • WEALTH. Is a savings and investment function. Allowing users to check on today’s top investments, have a look at the market, invest money or save it. This function is in Chinese, which is usually a good sign that it is closed to foreigners.
  • UTILITIES. This is probably one of the most useful functions for foreigners. Here, all you need is your landlord’s utility card numbers and you can pay all your bills in one click of a button. You can pay your electricity, water, gas telephone, home internet, cable television, car fuel, heating costs and traffic violations. Ask a Chinese friend or colleague to help initially set this up for you and the rest is easy.
  • QQ COINS. Is WeChat virtual money. 1 QQ coin can be bought for 1 yuan and is used to pay for things online and online gaming.
  • PUBLIC SERVICES. Although still fully in Chinese, this function is a useful tool for navigating a city’s public services. For example, one can find out information about busses, hospitals, banks, taxis, the weather, renting and government offices.
  • TENCENT CHARITY. Is a function that allows users to donate to reputable charities. We are unsure if foreigners can use this function or not.
  • RAIL&FLIGHTS. Users can now purchase railway and flight tickets.
  • RIDE-HAILING. Users may use the ride-hailing app Didi Chuxing to book a private car.
  • SPECIALS. The company JD has also teamed up with WeChat to allow users to buy directly through the app.
  • FOOD DELIVERY. Users can order food through WeChat direct to their location.
  • MOVIE TICKETS. People can book tickets to the latest movies through the app.
  • LOCAL BUSINESSES. China’s version of Yelp, Da Zhong Dianping, has teamed up with WeChat to allow users to check ratings and reviews of restaurants and shows.
  • HOTELS. Here, users can book, flight, train and event tickets, as well as hotel rooms.
  • BUY TOGETHER, WOMEN’S STYLE & FLASH SALES. These are all powered by third party sellers who display clothing and goods specials. Users can shop directly here.
  • USED GOODS. Is a function that is also powered by a third party company. It advertises and sells second hand goods.
  • HOUSES. Here one may browse, buy or rent property in their area.

6. Favourites, Scan & Games

WeChat Favourites allows you to favourite things within the app, such as images, videos, documents or chats. By favouriting something, you’ll be able to keep it and access it later. It will not expire.

SCAN allows users to scan QR codes in order to add contacts, pay for things or find out information about something. It also offers instant translation! Something particularly useful for foreigners.

WeChat features a selection of China’s most popular online games where users can not only play games but create accounts and chat with other players too. Cards & Offers (Coupons)

7. Virtual Business Card

Exchanging business cards in China has always been a first port of call business tradition. There are now two ways you can share your business card in the online world of WeChat. It is now becoming popular for people to prepare virtual business cards which can be used in WeChat. You might need to ask a Chinese person to help you do this. It looks a lot more professional than simply showing your personal WeChat QR code, which is the second and most used way. If you allow people to scan your personal WeChat QR code, remember that that person will become one of your contacts and will have access to your private moments. If you’d like the relationship to remain strictly professional then it is advisable you look into making a WeChat compatible virtual business card.

8. Virtual Fapiao (Tax Receipt) Info

If you do business in China or are of managerial position in your company, there’s a strong chance that you might need to be handing over your company’s Fapio (tax receipt) information to restaurants, bars, train or plane companies in order to get your money back on business expenses. So it is worth your while setting up your virtual Fapiao via the function under My Profile.

9. Mini Programs

Mini programs are “sub-applications” that allow users access to advanced features such as e-commerce, use of coupons, games, prizes etc. These are particularly useful for large companies or merchants selling goods in China or abroad.

10. File Transfer

If you work on a computer and are constantly in need of transferring files and feel email is too slow, then use File Transfer! Simply log in to on your desktop. Scan the QR code. This will open your WeChat, you can now talk to friends or send files from your phone to the computer and back again, pretty nifty.

Useful Chinese for WeChat:

  • “WeChat” – 微信 wēi xìn
  • “Can I scan your WeChat?” 我可以扫一扫吗?Wŏ kĕyĭ sǎoyisǎo ma?
  • “You scan me” 你扫我 nisǎowŏ

Useful websites:

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