Where Western social media is mostly blocked, WeChat and QQ are the giants of social messaging in China. To keep in touch with your friends and family, and new-found friends in China, send photos, and make video calls, WeChat or QQ should be your first choice.
WeChat and QQ are two convenient communication apps for travelers in China. You can use them to get in touch with your friends and family in your country, contact your tour guide in China, or meet new friends in China.
You can install them on your phone, computer, or tablet, and they are available for iOS or Android. The following introduction focuses on the app version for phones. Read on to find out what you can do with these two platforms.
Free Instant Messages — Text or Voice
These two apps provide the useful function of sending a text or voice message for free. This is useful for making new friends in China.
Free Instant Calls — Voice or Video
This is very useful if you have a tour guide or travel advisor in China. You can contact him/her in real time and talk with him/her for free. Note that this function charges for data transmission, but this is not a problem if you are in a Wi-Fi environment.
WeChat — More Convenient for Foreign Travelers in China
- Chinese: 微信 Wēixìn /way-sshyin/ 'Micro Message'
Connecting Made Easy
While most of us use our phone's built in messaging app, WeChat is a one-stop connection portal. In China, most people only communicate through WeChat when messaging, making calls, planning events or organizing groups.
A plus associated with using WeChat is the connectivity. When you meet someone, ask them for their WeChat contact. It is as simple as scanning the other person's QR code. Once the request is accepted you have them in your contacts, and you can set a tag to rember them such as "tour guide" or "guy from bar." This is an easy and free way to communicate since you may not have a SIM to call locally or internationally.
In addition to easily storing contacts, you can send and recieve contacts from others as well as group invites. There is a group for everything and everyone in China. Using WeChat you can create a travel group for you and your friends or join groups that will give you information on local art, music, food or activities.
With WeChat so integrated into everyone's daily lives in China, you will have a long list of connections in no time.
WeChat App Text Translation Function — Press and Select a Language
Don't know any Chinese characters? No problem. The app features a translation function. You can press the text message for about 2 seconds and select a language for translation help.
Meet New Friends Near You — "Shake" Your Phone
One useful smartphone-related addition is the "shake" function. With this, you can find other users nearby. In a Chinese city, you're likely to find dozens of people within just a few hundred meters. You may find a Chinese tourist or student in your area who is happy to make your acquaintance and to prepare you for your travels to come.
Payment by WeChat Wallet
It's also very popular to pay via phone and QR code in China. Link your bank account details and you can make a "Quick Pay" without cash.
As of November 2019, foreigners can use foreign bank accounts to fund WeChat Wallet.
Previously a Chinese bank account was needed and those on a tourist visa had difficulty finding a branch that would let them open an account.
To get a China bank account you would need to visit a bank on the mainland with your passport, documentation of residence (which could be a receipt from the hotel you are staying in) and a Chinese phone number, which you can get by purchasing a SIM card at the airport or at a China Unicom, China Mobile, or China Telecom shop.
Setting up the account could take between 45 minutes to a few hours. And once you got the account, you'd need to make sure you got a print out of how your name was entered as you would need this when setting up your WeChat Wallet.
WeChat Payment is taking over in China, and cash is almost obsolete as people use WeChat to pay for anything including restaurants, shops, bike shares, taxis, and street food. Using the WeChat Pay function, you can either scan a QR code and pay a vendor or have them scan your QR code to collect money. WeChat pay can be used almost anywhere you pay for something, as long as you have your phone, a signal and money in your WeChat wallet or on your bank card, you are ready to scan and pay with ease.
When paying, you are usually asked to enter your 6-digit WeChat Payment passcode to complete the transaction.
WeChat has also recently (2019) been verifying user ID for using the payment option. Entering the information, which includes uploading a picture of your passport or relevent ID you can take using your phone camera and a selfie, is completed in under two minutes, and you will be able to use the pay function again almost immediately.
“I set up WeChat before we left the States. I used a Bank of America credit card to verify the account and activate WeChat wallet. Then had Lissy send me a token amount of CNY to my new account, to make sure it was able to accept and pay out funds. I then used Swapsy (theswapsy.com). After setting up an account with them, I was basically able to trade US dollars from my bank account to CNY into my WeChat account. With money in the account I was able to purchase items like a local. It was very easy and convenient and we needed very little cash from ATMs, if at all.”
— Victor and Mary Ann Cognato, China Highlights customers in 2018 (Our staff, like Lissy Xu, can help you with WeChat.)
Share Your Trip with Friends and Privacy Protection — Moments
Unlike Twitter or Facebook, a WeChat 'moment' is only visible to accounts on your WeChat friend list. There are no fan groups, only friends. So you can share pictures or short videos on your Moments screen. Your friends can comment, or give you a "like".
It's also special in that if two of your friends don't add each other, they are not able to see the comments between you. For example, A can't see the comments from B, if A and B are not friends on WeChat. So it has quite good privacy protection.
Also, your 'moment' can't be forwarded to another account's Moments screen.
How to Sign Up for WeChat
To sign up for a WeChat account, you can use a phone number. Download the app and input the information required. It's simpler than signing up for a QQ account.
QQ — Focuses More on the Chinese Market
The cute trademark penguin picture is as familiar to the Chinese as the Google logo is to foreigners. More than 200 million QQ accounts have been opened and, at times of peak usage, over 176 million people can be online. Nearly all of them are Chinese; that's a lot of possible new friends to choose from.
International QQ — 6 Language Interfaces
The international version of QQ offers several features that can be particularly useful.
It has an English language interface or French, German, Japanese, Korean, or Spanish if you would prefer to use one of those.
Translate Button on the Computer Version
QQ's app is not that convenient for a translation function so we will explain how to use the translation function on computers.
At the bottom of any conversation window, you can open the 'Translate' button. Set it up to translate to and from your chosen language and Chinese, and — with some confusion along the way given the limitations of the automatic translation software — you're good to go. To translate replies, you have to copy-and-paste them into the 'Send message' window before hitting the button — a flaw in the design — but it's not difficult to do.
Apps Store in QQ
QQ comes packed with apps. There are the usual games, of course, but not all the apps are frivolous. Some link through to news sites and some to packages for learning Chinese. Another enables you to draw Chinese characters with your mouse, identify them, and learn their meaning.
Thanks to these you may — as many Chinese users do — find yourself using QQ for far more than just getting to know people. You can use it to get to know the country and its culture.
Meet New Friends — "Look Around"
Using QQ's user-search function you can find new friends by location, gender and age, or even with their star sign and (a very Asian phenomenon) their blood type. More than that, you can join one of the numerous QQ groups. Many students want the opportunity to practice their English online, and there are many groups dedicated to English practice.
It's a great way to meet people. If you want to be more adventurous, there are groups dedicated to anything in which you may be interested.
To get you started, here are some of the QQ numbers of our English-speaking team at China Highlights. We'll be happy to help you out with any questions you may have, so feel free to contact us for information, or even just for a chat.
Lily Guo (Expert tour designer): 2355711207
Steven Zhao (CEO): 2355711154
Share Your Trip with Friends — Q-Zone
Q-zone's function is similar to WeChat's Moments. But it's different in that everyone who is in your friend list can see the discussion and comments in your Q-zone. Your post can also be forwarded to another's Q-zone.
How to Sign Up for QQ
To sign up for a QQ account, you can use a phone number or email account.
Becoming popular in China with incredible rapidity, WeChat is, in effect, QQ for mobile phones, but is well-adapted as an alternative means of communication. While most travelers are used to WhatsApp, WeChat's platform is much more convenient to use in China as it does not require a VPN to use. WhatsApp requires the use of a VPN, and even when the VPN is on and working properly, WhatsApp only works spradically at best and at times will not work at all. In order to save yourself from frustration or missing important calls and messages, WeChat will ensure smooth use and guanteed connectivity.
Pros and Cons for WeChat and QQ
QQ and WeChat both provide feature-rich ways to meet the locals and to prepare yourself for your journey to China. Both are worth getting to know and exploring.
On the down side, QQ continues to be targeted primarily at the Chinese market and, from time to time, you may find yourself linking through to Chinese-only web pages or apps. Moreover, some features — such as the ability to see other users' Q-zones and their profile pages — appear and disappear with each new upgrade of QQ International.
As already mentioned, WeChat, aimed at the international market, loses some of its features to Internet blocking when in China itself.
However, with both programs these are only occasional frustrations. Overall, both can help you prepare for your trip to China, getting to know the country, its people, and its culture before you even leave home.
With Everything in China from an Itinerary to QQ... We're Here to Help
Are you planning your first trip to China? Our China social media and tourism savvy staff and guides are just who you need to remove any hassles, from bookings to communication. See our top first-timer tours below or contact us directly to customize your trip.