WeChat Pay vs. Alipay: Which Payment Apps Do You Need in China?

WeChat Pay vs. Alipay: Which Payment Apps Do You Need in China?

In China, WeChat Pay and Alipay reign supreme in the realm of digital payments. If you’re planning a trip to China, make sure to arm yourself with these indispensable apps (Quick note: We’re referring to the China-specific versions here).

Curious as to which app will suit your needs best? Don’t fret, for we have compiled a comprehensive comparison of these two titans of mobile payments. We’ll leave no stone unturned in providing you with a crystal-clear understanding of each platform. Let’s kick things off with a brief overview of both payment systems.

Table of contents: WeChat Pay and AliPay

Which are the most popular payment apps in China? WeChat Pay and AliPay

To answer this question, I’m sure to tell you that WeChat Pay and AliPay are the most popular payments app in China. But before we put them into the arena, let’s have a brief introduction to these 2 apps.

What is WeChat Pay?

In 2013, WeChat Pay (formerly known as TenPay) was added to WeChat, which is one of China’s most popular instant messaging and social media apps. You can top up money on WeChat Pay for paying your supermarket bills, making transfers to friends, or even giving “red packets” (a monetary gift to send during special occasions) to your loved ones.

Although WeChat Pay is a newer player in the market compared to its main competitor, Alipay, its large user base has enabled it to quickly establish itself as the dominant payment app.

What is Alipay?

Alipay is a digital payment solution owned by the e-commerce giant Alibaba. It was initially launched in 2003 to facilitate online payments on the Alibaba website.

In 2008, Alipay introduced its mobile e-wallet, which has since become widely used for various payments beyond just Alibaba products. Before the launch of WeChat Pay, AliPay was the dominant player in China’s mobile payment market.

WeChat Pay v.s. Alipay: What’s the difference?

In the past decade, China has been transitioning towards a cashless society, thanks to the rise of 2 mobile payment giants: WeChat Pay and Alipay. And now basically mobile payments dominate the market in China (barely you could find the local using cash in China.), and that can be confusing for foreigners who are new to the systems.  While both WeChat Pay and Alipay streamline electronic payment and online shopping, their payment scenarios and service ranges differ significantly.

In short, WeChat Pay suits those earning and spending mainly in China and needing integration with popular social media. For global convenience in financial services, consider Alipay.

In the following, we’ll take a closer look at WeChat Pay and Alipay to understand the differences between these 2 payment apps.

WeChat Pay has a larger user base than Alipay

Here is a table that shows some market data between 2 smart payment systems.

Comparison Between WeChat Pay And AliPay
  WeChat Pay Alipay
Market penetration rate 93% 86%
% of China’s mobile payment market 42% 54%
Settlement currencies 16 14
Supported devices Devices that support WeChat All phones, tablets, and PCs

Most people in China use WeChat (1.24 billion users in Q1 2022). It’s not surprising that WeChat Pay has more users than Alipay because, for most people, it’s easier to use WeChat Pay because many people already have the app installed. You can simply add your bank details to WeChat Pay instead of downloading a separate app like Alipay.

WeChat Pay has social features, while Alipay focuses on mobile payments.

One key distinction between WeChat Pay and Alipay is that: WeChat Pay is integrated within the WeChat social media app, where you can start a chat and play games with your friends, while Alipay is a standalone mobile payment platform.

Generally speaking, people use WeChat Pay to manage their daily routine—buying groceries, paying bills, transferring money to friends, sending red envelopes, and other everyday transactions, while people use Alipay for e-commerce payments and financial services, although it was originally designed as a payment platform for Alibaba.

WeChat Pay vs Alipay: Fees & Limits

Service WeChat Pay Alipay
Sign up Free Free
Top up Free Free
Withdraw Free up to RMB1000, then 0.1% fee, min RMB0.1 Free
Merchant Payment Free Free
Transfer Free within WeChat Free within Alipay
Red Packet Free Free

WeChat Pay or Alipay? Which one fits your needs?

Nowadays, WeChat Pay and Alipay can be used for almost anything. You can use them to order food, get a taxi, top up your electricity, buy plane tickets, and send money to friends. In fact, some shops and venues only accept mobile payments. (It’s best to download at least one app before traveling to China.)

Here is a brief list of services that accept mobile payments:

Payments WeChat Pay Alipay
In-store purchase Yes Yes
Online purchase Yes Yes
Didi (taxi service) Yes Yes
Food delivery order Yes Yes
Taobao (online purchase) No Yes
TMall (online purchase) No Yes
Jingdong (online purchase) Yes No
Peer transfers Yes Yes
Red Envelopes Yes Yes
Utility Bills Yes Yes
Train/plane tickets purchase Yes Yes
Bike sharing apps payment Yes Yes

Online shopping platforms prefer different payment apps: Alipay for Taobao, TMall, and WeChat Pay for Jingdong

Did you know that Alipay is accepted on Taobao and TMall shopping apps, but WeChat Pay is not? That’s because these apps are both owned by Alibaba and they don’t want to promote their competitor. On the other hand, WeChat Pay is exclusively available as a mobile payment option on Jing Dong, and you can even access Jing Dong directly through the WeChat app.

WeChat Pay can do more than online purchases: Didi, Dianping, Waimai, and Tongcheng-eLong

WeChat has partnered with numerous Chinese companies, offering direct access to their services through Mini Programs. These include popular apps such as Didi for calling a cab, Dianping/Waimai for food delivery, and Tongcheng-eLong for travel bookings.

Alipay 3rd party services available: Eleme, Taobao, and Hellobike

Alipay is more than just a payment app – it also offers access to a variety of third-party services directly within the app. For example, users can order food delivery from Eleme, shop on Taobao, and even rent bikes from Hellobike, all without ever leaving the Alipay app.

In short: WeChat Pay for daily expenses, Alipay for online transaction

Consider using WeChat Pay if you often make transactions for everyday expenses like food, groceries, and bills. If you plan to buy from Taobao or Tmall, Alipay may be more convenient for online purchases.

How to top up WeChat Pay or Alipay with a foreign bank card?

I believe this would be the most asked questions How to top up WeChat Pay or AliPay with a foreign bank card. Since November 2019, WeChat Pay and Alipay have allowed users to link a foreign bank card to their account. Here is how you can do it:

Alipay “Tour Pass”: top up to 10,000 RMB with a 90-day spending period

Alipay’s “Tour Pass” e-wallet allows you to top up with a foreign bank card and enjoy a hassle-free travel experience in China. With a maximum top-up limit of 10,000 RMB and a validity period of 90 days, you can easily manage your expenses on the go. Keep in mind that a service charge of 5% applies. Plus, any remaining funds in your Alipay account will be refunded automatically after 90 days.

WeChat Pay: Only credit cards are available for topping up

WeChat Pay allows you to directly pay for purchases using your foreign credit card from your digital wallet. However, if you link a foreign bank card to WeChat Pay, you can only use it to pay vendors and cannot transfer money to friends or send red envelopes. Debit cards are not accepted for WeChat Pay transactions.

Which banks offer WeChat/Alipay bank account binding in Hong Kong?

Most of the Hong Kong banks all offer WeChat Pay/Alipay, including HSBC, Standard Chartered, Hang Seng Bank and Citibank. Contact your banks for binding your bank account with WeChat/Alipay.

Final words

If you’re trying to decide between WeChat Pay and Alipay for your mobile payments in China, it’s important to understand their similarities and differences. While both can be used for most daily payments and transactions, WeChat Pay may be the better choice if you’re new to mobile payments in China. Since WeChat is already an essential app for living in China, it makes sense to use WeChat Pay instead of downloading a separate app. However, if you plan on shopping on Taobao, Alipay will be your only choice. Ultimately, it’s up to personal preference and what works best for your lifestyle.

Frequently Asked Questions: WeChat Pay vs Alipay

Can WeChat Pay and Alipay top each other up?

Direct fund transfer between WeChat Pay and Alipay is not possible. However, if both are linked to the same bank account, you can withdraw from one and top up the other.

Is it possible to send money abroad with AliPay or WeChat HK?

Currently, AliPay HK doesn’t support international transfers. WeChat Pay is also limited to users in China, Malaysia, and South Africa.

What is the difference between WeChat Pay and Alipay?

The main difference between WeChat Pay and Alipay is that WeChat Pay is an additional feature of a social communication app, while Alipay is solely a payment app. WeChat Pay is more commonly used for everyday expenses, while Alipay is also known for online purchases.

Can WeChat transfer money to Alipay?

Transferring money to Alipay requires you to have a Chinese bank account, but if you’re a traveler who doesn’t have a Chinese bank account, you may consider topping up your Alipay account through “Tour Pass.”

Can you use WeChat Pay without a Chinese bank account?

Yes, you can still use WeChat Pay without a Chinese bank account. You may top up your WeChat Pay account through a credit card top-up.

Can you use Alipay without a Chinese bank account?

Yes, if you’re traveling to China and don’t have a Chinese bank account, you may use your Alipay account with “Tour Pass”.

Can I use WeChat Pay in China?

Yes, WeChat Pay can be used in China. You can use WeChat Pay for everyday transactions like paying your bills or making a transfer to your friends.

Can You Use WeChat Pay or Alipay outside China?

More and more countries are starting to accept WeChat Pay and Alipay as payment options, but currently only Chinese citizens can use them abroad. However, to use these payment options overseas, you need to have a mainland Chinese ID.

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Are you having trouble setting up a WeChat Pay Hong Kong account? Fear not, for we have all the information you need to know about how to open an account and make the most of it. Check out our comprehensive tutorial on WeChat Pay Hong Kong!

Looking to link your bank account with Alipay and WeChat Pay? Take a look at this informative blog post on “How to Open a BOC Greater Bay Area Bank Account That Links with AliPay and WeChat Pay in Hong Kong.”

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