My tulmutous experience with WeChat Wallet

Posted on: October 13, 2018, by :
Commentary, Learning, Technology AliPay, cashless payments, Renminbi, WeChat, WeChat Pay, Wechat Wallet

At the start of my recent business trip to Guangzhou, China, I discovered that I committed the grievous of all errors that a seasoned (overly organized by my wife’s definition) traveller would not have done –  I left my wallet with all my cash, debit and credit cards at home! The only money I had was fifteen Ringgit Malaysia (RM15) that I kept in the casing of my mobile phone just in case I needed small amount of cash should I forget to bring my wallet when I was outside the house.

The start of the panic!

I was able to sail through immigration etc. because I had my passport with me and this was the only document (aside from the boarding pass) that I needed. Worse, I only discovered my predicament AFTER this process. By then, my wife who dropped me off in her car had arrived home from KL International Airport (KLIA). Even if she could fetch me the wallet, there would be a lot of persuading on my part to be allowed by the authorities to get through all those layers of security to meet my wife. And the clock was ticking, there was no certainty that my wife would be able to get to the airport with my wallet in time. Panic began to set in!

Transferring fund into WeChat Wallet

Then I remembered a friend from China telling me that he was able to live cashless relying only on his WeChat wallet for a week. I immediately contacted my wife to snap photographs of all my credit and debit cards and Whatsapp-ed these to me. This would allow me to “charge” up my WeChat wallet with some cash that I could use. Well that was the salvage plan.

As I already had my WeChat wallet set up and my identity verified (via a elaborate process involving snapping photographs of my MyKad and credit card), I thought adding a debit card where I could draw some cash would be a breeze. However, the debit card was only useful to you in this case if you have had authorized it to carry out  internet transactions which I did not do for my MayBank debit card nor was I had any luck with my Affin Bank card. But luckily, my Public Bank debit card did have this feature switched on and I was able to upload RM500 to my WeChat Wallet. But when I tried this wallet on, all the duty-free shops (that accepted WeChat Wallet) could not transact the payment. One of the shop assistants kindly suggested that this could be due to their system being set only to accept WeChat wallet of China visitors. Thus there might still be hope for me to be able to use my WeChat wallet in China!

AliPay is of no use

I did not give up. Next, I installed AliPay app and managed to add one of my credit cards to the system. But I faced the difficulty of verifying my identity. I was instructed by the app to upload a photograph of my passport to let AliPay’s people verify my identity. But this would take a few days (today, six weeks later, I am still waiting for an update from AliPay!). Thus AliPay was not a solution for me.
[Later, I Googled and found out that AliPay can only verify a bank card if it is issued by a bank in China!]

You need your physical credit card to access the airport lounge

I was hungry and remembered that one of my credit cards allowed me two free use of the airport lounge per month. So off I went in search of this lounge.

“Sorry sir, we do need the physical card to swipe and charge even if we can proof your identity with your passport”, was the reply I received when I presented my Whatsapp-ed copy of the credit card. Needless to say, my plan to use the lounge to get some food was in tatters. With my meager cash of RM15, I therefore could not take a chance to buy breakfast! I was looking forward to a proper meal on the plane! Hungry!

Free WiFi at Guangzhou Baiyun airport saved the day

To cut a long story short, I did not have to rely on my Wechat wallet for this trip. Guangzhou Baiyun airport provides free WiFi (you need to register to use). With this free WiFi, I did not have to switch on my mobile data roaming that would have cost me RM38 the instant I enabled it!

In this case I could use my WeChat identity to log on to Baiyun Airport’s WiFi. I was able to WeChat message the organizer of this business trip, Dr. Yan who happened to be at the airport early to meet the rest of our group. A loan of five hundred Renminbi (RMB 500) cash was promptly provided by Dr. Yan. This solved my cash problem as all transport and accommodation for the trip were arranged and sponsored by our host.

[I must add that, prior to that day, both Dr. Yan and I only communicated via WeChat. We’ve never met! I also was supposed to make my own way to the host university from Baiyun Airport about 100 km away, thus I would need to have at least RMB100 cash. There was no certainty that my Didi app which was linked to my credit card would work. It might not be a travel option. I did have the flight number of the rest of my group travelling from Taipei. If I did not meet Dr. Yan, and my WeChat Wallet did not work, my last resort would have been to camp outside the arrival gate with a placard to find them. Again, I had never met any of my group members before! It turned out that my luck was a bit better. Not only I could find Dr. Yan, he allowed me to hitch a ride to the host on a bus he arranged for the members from Taiwan.] 

Make sure you have a credit card verified travel booking app

As I had to stay an extra night in Guangzhou compared to my other group members, I promptly searched for a night’s accommodation on Trip (an app I used to book the flights for this trip). As Trip has already had my credit card details (and verified these when I booked my flights), I had no problem getting my room at a small apartment-hotel near the Baiyun airport.
[Travel tip: always have at least one of your favourite travel booking apps on your mobile phone and make sure it has all your credit card details. You never know when you will need it as in my case!]

Guangzhou’s Metro accepts WeChat pay too, but must have internet to work

To satisfy my curiosity, when I made my way to my hotel, I tried to use WeChat wallet on the Guangzhou Metro. A very nice young lady staff tried her best to help me to WeChat pay my fare. Then we discovered that Baiyun airport’s WiFi signal was too weak at the Metro station. I was not going to pay RM38 data roaming charge to carry this experiment to fruition. I went on to pay for the RMB2 fare by cash. I did have to go to another counter to have my RMB100 changed to smaller denominations that the ticket machine could accept.
[Travel tip: always carry some smaller denomination Renminbi, say in RMB10 at least for public transport etc.]

How to set up WeChat Wallet for China

WeChat Wallet comes in different versions. This, I found out when I was enlisted by my old pal, SM Liew who was experimenting with WeChat’s Red Packet feature. Red Packet allows WeChat users in China to send small “hong bao” (red packet) to their friends on WeChat anywhere in the world. To get your China version of WeChat Wallet enabled, all you need is a small Red Packet from someone with a WeChat Wallet for China. The moment you accept and open the Red Packet, your China wallet is enabled!

I repeated the same procedure successfully with my son recently by sending him a RMB0.50 Red Packet, from the RMB1.00 I received from SM Liew! Of course, my son had to get his identity verified and his WeChat wallet linked to one of his debit cards first.

WeChat Wallet Malaysia version does not like rooted phones!

With RM500 inside my WeChat Wallet and having failed to use this at KLIA duty-free shops which accepted WeChat wallet, I wanted to see if I could withdraw my money to my bank account. The moment I click “Withdraw”, I was hit with this message. “Withdrawal is not supported on jail-broken or rooted mobile phone.

Rooted phone not allowed!

A call to WeChat Malaysia’s call centre was made (on Oct 09, 2018) but I was told to screen capture the message and use the feedback system to complain to WeChat. I was promised a two-business days response, that was four days ago (this article was written on Oct 13, 2018)! I have not heard back from WeChat Malaysia since.

Feedback to WeChat, 2-business days turnaround is not true!

With this information, I can speculate that my rooted smartphone was the cause of my failure to make a payment with WeChat wallet at KLIA’s duty-free shops. So, is my RM500 stuck at my Wechat Wallet forever?

[3 hours after I published this article, WeChat Malaysia finally responded to my feedback, citing Bank Negara (Malaysia’s Central Bank) rule that rooted mobile phone cannot be used for fintech transaction as the reason. Perhaps someone from WeChat Malaysia DID read this article?]

[With the latest update (version: V6.7.3), WeChat Wallet Malaysia seemed to have “re-allowed” rooted phones to work. I was able to initiate a withdrawal from my WeChat Malaysia wallet. If the transaction can be completed, I will update it here  Two working days were all it took for the transaction to withdraw RM400 from my WeChat Malaysia wallet to my bank account to be completed.]

WeChat’s multiple device sign in, a get-around for rooted phones!

Unlike Whatsapp, WeChat does allow multiple mobile devices to access it. But you can only do so one at a time. This means if you access WeChat on a spare mobile phone, yoru existing WeChat app will be signed out on the main phone. I had installed WeChat on my Amazon Kindle tablet before and using “username and password” option to sign in, I was able to access my WeChat Wallet for Malaysia and the offending message above did not come out. I can now withdraw my fund from this wallet by accessing WeChat using my Kindle!

Lesson learned and shared:

  1. Don’t forget your wallet when you travel, especially to overseas destinations!
  2. In case you have left your wallet at home on your trip, you should always keep one of your credit cards in your checked-in luggage [it may be worth paying the extra RM25 tax a year for this!].
  3. Always have a passport cover. Have a small cards holding wallet or just a small Ziploc bag to house some cash and one of your credit cards or debit cards inside. Keep this Ziploc bag with your passport all the time. But remove this Ziploc bag whenever you face the immigration officer (whether at home or abroad) to avoid confusing the good official who may take this as a bribe!
  4. Don’t rely on WeChat Wallet for your China trip unless you are going to have
    a) Cash uploaded to the wallet and
    b) mobile data roaming or a local SIM card.
    You cannot make use of your WeChat wallet if you do not have access to the internet in China! And it is very difficult now to get a SIM card in China.
  5. If you want to use WeChat Wallet in China, make sure that you have your WeChat Wallet for China enabled and find a way to upload RMB into it first. Of course you must have access to the internet while you are in China.
  6. Have at least one travel booking app installed in your smartphone. Make sure this app has verified your identity and your credit card. Even if you do not have your credit card with you, this app can still be used to make your bookings (like I did with Trip).

If you need to learn more and get updated with the latest discussion on WeChat Wallet for China, do check out this thread on Tripadvisor. For Americans, there is a fintech site, Swapsy which provides free transaction for swapping US$ for RMB on WeChat Wallet platform. Swapsy only works if you have a US ID card, so it is of no use to those without a US ID.

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