Or How I Learned to Love China and Truly Be a Lazy American.
When you first get to Beijing, one of the field trips you go on is to set up your bank account. Right around that time, you will also be required to get yourself the WeChat app on your smartphone. At the time I didn’t realize how this would be game changing. WeChat comes with WeChat Wallet. WeChat Wallet is like something out of a sci-fi novel. It basically IS your bank. Let me explain.
You link your Wallet to your bank card. You can get money into your Wallet in two ways. The first way, is just to have it deduct your spending straight from your bank account like digitally swiping your bank card. Alternately, you can preload the Wallet with funds from your account and spend from this pool instead. This is great if you need to stick to a budget. Throw a few thousand RMB into your Wallet for the month and you can always see the balance. Can I go on a boozy weekend pub-crawl? Let me check my Wallet.
Now, if you are from the States like me, you might think ‘Yeah, seen that before in other payment apps…so?’ WeChat Wallet’s true functionality comes from the way it is linked into a huge variety of 3rd party apps. Let me start with the ones I have used personally. I top up my mobile every month through the Wallet. I never have to go to a cellular provider or give one my bank account info. “Tap tap tap” and paid. Need a ride home after the buses stop running? Call a Didi (Similar to Uber). “Tap tap tap” and done. Don’t want to spring for a taxi? Bike sharing is huge here. “Tap tap tap”. Want to get dinner but not put on pants? “Tap tap tap” and the food is on its way.
Seriously, using the Wallet along with all the affiliated apps you could never leave your apartment. If you do desire to treat your skin to some life giving sunlight the Wallet can help you there too. Need movie tickets? Plane tickets? A hotel in Shanghai? The Wallet is like that friend who always “knows a guy” that can help. If I was forced to give one singular best thing about WeChat Wallet is that I have yet to find a place that doesn’t take it. I have heard that there are some but I have even seen street vendors with the little scan code signs on their carts. My roommate hired a housekeeper to come clean our place and he just transferred money to her Wallet from his when he paid her. It really is that simple.
So, come to Beijing, get your bank card, put it in your physical wallet and never look at it again. Just make sure to keep your phone charged. No one likes the guy that says ‘Can I just send your money later, my phone’s dead?’