If you’ve heard from anyone about life in China, or even simply browsed through our website, you’ll have heard and seen it over and over again – WeChat. You probably know it’s an app, not dissimilar to WhatsApp, but you might not know just how important this app is, to 90% of Chinese people (even the older folks can be seen tapping away on the bus), and everyone that comes here to work.
So, what do you need to know? WeChat, or Weixin as it’s known here, was launched in 2011 and now has over a billion users. It’s main use is instant messaging, just like on WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, but there’s also a whole lot more that this trusty app is capable of. Let’s run through some of the weird and wonderful things you can do on WeChat:
Voice Calls, Video Calls, Voice Messages
These are the basics. Just like it’s Western cousins, WeChat offers totally free video and voice calls, meaning it’s super easy to keep in touch with friends.
WeChat also comes in a much smaller installation package than WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger (both of which are also blocked in China), so you don’t have to worry about it bloating friends and family’s storage space back home.
Send Money Easily
You don’t have to feel stingy asking people for money in China, because once you’ve linked WeChat to your Chinese bank account, your mates have no excuse not to, literally, push two buttons to send cash to you.
If you want to do as the locals do, you can send a small red ‘packet’ in the app, which mimics a traditional Chinese envelope containing money. Now that’s cultural.
Pay for Stuff
In China it’s not common to use cash or a bank card. Most payments are done through WeChat, or another e-wallet app called ‘Alipay’. Once your account is linked to your Chinese bank card, you’ll be able to use WeChat to pay.
How, you ask? Well, think about those little square black and white barcodes you sometimes see on posters. These are ‘QR codes’ and are all the rage in China. When you pay for something here, you either bring your own personal payment code on to your screen to be scanned, or you scan someone’s receiving code, and simply tap in how much you ought to pay. And you thought contactless was nifty.
Share Your Life
WeChat’s obvious comparison is with WhatsApp, but actually it has features which are more akin to Facebook. There is ‘WeChat Moments’, which acts as a timeline of sorts, where all your friend’s updates are posted, open for likes and comments by you.
‘Moments’ is also a place where businesses and restaurants will post special offers and deals, so make sure you start following all the café’s and bars you like when you get to China!
Race Your Friends, Everyday
If you install the ‘WeRun’ feature into WeChat, your phone will track and display yours and your friends’ steps daily, in an aggregated league table which runs from 12AM to 11PM daily. The leader at any point in the day has the coveted glory of setting the league’s cover photo (alas, I have only achieved this once in a year).
So what’s the big deal? Well, you’ll soon find just how addictive it can be to look throughout the day at how lazy your friends are being, especially with the option to give them a sarcastic ‘like’. If you’re feeling nicer, you can even donate them some of your steps. That is if you’re not sat around yourself!
Book Anything, Anytime
Coming to China can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you want to travel to somewhere. WeChat makes it easy, because you don’t have to leave the app to book transport or flights. Through WeChat you can hail an uber, book a train, reserve a bed at a hotel, or a seat at a cinema.
And that’s only part of it. Deep within the options, you might want to pre-order food at a restaurant, scan one of China’s millions of multicoloured bike-share cycles, or even book your dog in for a wash and blow dry (yes, you can do that through WeChat too).
Is there anything else to tell you? Probably, but some of the best things on WeChat you hear about when you meet other people using it. So, what’s next? If you’re thinking of coming to China with Chinglish, download it now (it’s available on all app stores and fully in English), have a flick through, and remember that if you get an interview with a school here, this is how they will contact you.