Virtually everybody has WeChat in China. Unlike here in the US (San Francisco) you never have to ask which payment app (if any) your friend uses.
"Do you have Venmo, PayPal, SquareCash, Google Wallet, etc?" - asking this gets old.
Do take note that each Chinese mobile carrier actually also sets up a digital wallet for you associated with your phone number. People can push money into your phone carrier wallet. The same wallet is automatically charged for your phone usage charges. With this mechanism, you can even easily pay folks who do not use WeChat Pay from WeChat Pay (!) - all you need to know is their phone number.
To use WeChat Pay you need to link it to a Chinese debit card and getting one as a foreigner requires a Chinese bank account. Depending on your immigration visa (I had a short term student visa), that may be difficult to accomplish.
Everyone uses WeChat for messaging, but some people still have Alipay as their only online wallet. Yesterday, I asked a friend to send me some money using WeChat, but he doesn't use WeChat wallet, so used Alipay instead.
- When they started, the process accepted passports only for certain banks (and I opened a CMB account for this purpose) but now it seems to work for other banks, too (at least CCB and ICBC)
- The process of adding a card to your WeChat wallet is now really smooth, but adding multiple cards can be problematic for foreigners. WeChat won't let you add multiple cards unless they all belong to the same person. Same person = same name registered on your bank account. But the account name at one bank could be LASTFIRST, whilst at another bank it might be FIRSTLAST. In this case, you could only add one of those two bank cards.
My wife went a step further and has a fake alias for her elders in wechat, so if someone steals her login they won't know who is a gullible adult.
"The real news about Apple Pay is how painfully slow it's adoption (by merchants and consumers) is after so many years of release. In comparison, in China most people aged less than 70 and most merchants big (like Taobao) or small (someone selling a pile of oranges on the street) have been using mobile payment (Wechat Pay or Alipay) for many of their financial needs for years: paying money online / at a physical store, accepting payment, sending money to people, in-app purchase, borrowing money, buying financial products, paying bills, paying for parking ticket....there's no need to bring cash to stores or input the credit card info everytime someone buys things online. I highly recommend anyone wanting to see the future of North America's payment technology to have a trip to China. I believe there's lots of catch up to do here."
First it is a chat app. Almost everyone with a smartphone is a wechat user, including my mother over 70 years old. She even figured out how to video-chat with me in Chinese New Year Eve. I have group chats with my college classmates, high school classmates, etc.
It can be used to pay utilities, TV & internet services. By the way, the CCTV system in my remote hometown had the feature to pay all of these in TV using remote many years ago. It is a pain to navigate with a TV remote, though. With wechat, it becomes so easy.
You can pay your cellular service with wechat. As in Europe, you pay the data amount what you consume. It will remind you before you run out of money in your account.
It is integrated with Didi Dache, the Chinese Uber. Then you can pay the driver with wechat as well. You can use it to order train tickets, including the high speed trains. Order a movie ticket? no problem. Online shopping on one of the biggest online retailer? Sure. Look for where to eat? It works. And more and more ...
You can transfer money to other friends, like splitting a bill, etc.
It is so convenient that I feel my phone is much less useful when I am back in America.
The only hurdle is that you must have an China bank account to transfer money into your wechat account.
On the other hand, much of the functionality of WeChat is app based, so I can and do use didi dache without WeChat (if I pay with cash, of course, and the non-taxi service is off limits to me).
I was impressed by Australia, where RFC seems to be ubiquitous, you just swipe and that's it. Hopefully China moves in the same direction.
Then you can use Didi for private cars, which are less likely than taxis to smell of smoke.
Regarding Uber in China: they accept Baidu Wallet, which works fine for foreigners with Chinese bank cards.
"much of the functionality of WeChat is app based, so I can and do use didi dache without WeChat"
Taxi hailing is the exception rather than the rule. Many other features (group buy / daily deals, cinema tickets, mobile topup, bill payment, ...) of WeChat require online payment.
I installed many apps. I am very curious about their features and how well they worked. It was much better than I expected. It was easy to navigate the features and figure out how to use them. Considering the number of users, their traffic must be very high. They sustained the high load very well. Within my 3 weeks stay, I had only one instance that the service was slow or down. It was China Mobile. All the other services worked very well.
I opened an account in Agricultural Bank of China using USA passport. They did require a residence address in China in my case.