I arrived in China before WeChat had taken over everything. In fact, I still remember carrying cash around and routinely taking out money from the ATMs. But I also lived in Luoyang at the time, which isn’t as developed and modern as Beijing and Shanghai. But I remember relying on the desktop version of QQ to contact people (QQ was all the rage back then) but there was no English version for phones just yet, and naturally the phone version of QQ did not include a translator. Things have sure changed!
Launched in 2011, QQ’s owner, Tencent, launched Wechat. A new instant messaging app that has since then taken China, and some parts of the world even, by storm. Similar to WhatsApp, Line, and other messaging apps, on the surface, but WeChat has developed a very sophisticated network of mini-apps, games, payment options, taxi-hailing, and bike-sharing. You can access just about anything form WeChat these days, and it can seem daunting at first, but believe me, just like Alipay, WeChat is a must have for anyone living in China.
The most critical function of WeChat is to connect with people. You can stay in touch with friends and relatives, inside China and out. I had my family back in Denmark get WeChat on their phones because I do not always have access to Facebook. So now I can chat and call my parents and my sister with ease. You can send text messages, voice messages, videos, share your location, send a location, do voice- and video calls. WeChat has it all.
You can also let the world around you know what you are up to, using your Moments. Moments are similar to Facebook posts, and allow you to post short video clips, up to 9 pictures or text messages that others can “like” and comment on. This is how my family knows what I am doing every day.
You can add users based on their WeChat username, their phone number, QQ number (if they initially had one) and a personal QR code.
In WeChat you can also create chat groups. Groups can easily hold up to 500 members, and with some upgrades, they can have up to 1000 members. Groups are great for a couple of friends organizing an event or activity, or just putting your whole family together or even your department at work.
WeChat pay, a feature similar to Alipay, has also become one of the cornerstones of WeChat. Restaurants, shops, even street vendors now allow you to pay with WeChat. You can have money in your WeChat wallet, or you can link your WeChat wallet to your bank-card as you do in Alipay and then do payments via scanning their QR code and sending the specified amount of money, or you can open WeChat pay, and they will scan your payment code. It is simple, efficient and very safe.
So how do I get WeChat?
Well, I am glad you asked!
WeChat can be found in most APP stores today, either as WeChat or 微信 (weixin) it’s Chinese name. Don’t worry, if you download the Chinese version of the app, you can change the language to English later. Open the app on your phone, and you can change the language on the front screen at the top right corner, log in at the bottom left, and sign up for your account at the bottom right.
On the following screen, you should enter your name, select the region of your phone number (in my case, I am already in China), enter your phone number and select a password. The password should be between 8-16 characters long and contain a symbol as well as a number. For example WeChat?0005
Click the green Sign Up button, and you’ll be taken through a little security check where you have to drag the missing piece of the picture onto the correct spot.