In short, don’t. Just use cash and Alipay. But if you must, read on.

There have been a lot of recent articles about how both Alipay and WeChat Pay have opened up for use by foreigners. Alipay has added a “Tour Pass” feature, where you can use your foreign credit card to add cash to an Alipay account. It takes only a few minutes to set up, and after 90 days of inactivity, Alipay will refund your remaining balance. This convenience comes at the cost of a steep 5% transaction fee, but in China’s increasingly cashless society, this can sometimes be worth the price.

While most merchants will accept Alipay, some only accept WeChat Pay. You would think that since Alipay has become so easy to use that WeChat Pay would follow. It turns out that is not the case. So how do you set up WeChat Pay as a foreigner?

(It’s worth mentioning that all of this is actively changing, and hopefully things are much easier by the time you’re reading this.)

After you install WeChat, you may notice there is no money screen in the app. You can enable it from the chats page by clicking on the plus sign at the top right corner and clicking on “Money”. You should see a green money page and if you enable quick pay you’ll be able to get a QR code that merchants can now scan to charge you money. If you go back and click on “Me”, you should see a new button for “WeChat Pay”. Clicking on this should show a wallet balance of ¥0.

While WeChat Pay will let you add a foreign credit card, you can’t actually use the credit card to pay merchants in P2P transfers. You can do some minor, undocumented functions such as Mobile Top Up, but to use WeChat Pay around town you’ll need to have someone send money to your wallet.

You’ll either need to get a friend to send you cash, or use a third-party service such as vpayfast or Swapsy. vpayfast takes a steep transaction fee to send money to your WeChat wallet, and Swapsy matches you with other users who want to trade RMN and USD with a smaller transaction fee. vpayfast does ask you to take pictures of yourself with your driver’s license and credit card to verify your identity. This is sketchy, but it does work, and they have customer service that can help when you inevitably get confused or when the rules change yet again.

After you get someone to send you cash, you do not want to cash it out within the WeChat mobile app. It won’t work, and you’ll need to have the money re-sent. For some reason, foreigners can only accept cash using WeChat on Windows PC. If you’re like me and you don’t have a Windows PC, then this gets tough. You’ll either need to find a way to run a Windows VM on your machine, or get access to a Windows PC. I opted to get an AWS EC2 instance running Windows and used Remmina’s Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) to connect to my Windows instance.

Once you have WeChat on Windows, you can accept money and load it into your WeChat wallet. Hooray, now you can finally use WeChat Pay – but with restrictions!

If you want to have more than ¥1,000 in your wallet, and be able to transfer more than ¥1,000 in payments accumulated over a day, you will need to become “Real Name Authenticated”.

To get “Real Name Authentication”, click on Me -> WeChat Pay -> Money -> Receive Money. You’ll see a warning about needing a Chinese bank card. Click through the screens and input your foreign credit card information. If you’re lucky, the following screen will ask you to take a picture of your passport and a selfie of you with your passport, which will be used to get you “Real Name Authentication”. I had to try this a few times as I kept getting errors that the servers were busy, but it would add my card anyway. If you try to add an existing card, it will error out, so if you try again, go back to Me -> WeChat Pay -> Wallet -> Cards and remove the card before re-adding it.

After you take all the photos to authenticate yourself, you can see the status of your Real Name Authentication if you click on the three dots in the top right corner of Me -> WeChat Pay.

Once you’re Real Name Authenticated, you can finally, finally use WeChat Pay!

or you could just use cash. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯