VPN, Alipay, WeChatPay and SIM cards

Old Jan 20th, 2020, 06:12 AM
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,367
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
VPN, Alipay, WeChatPay and SIM cards

My husband and I will be going to China at the end of March for 5 weeks. We start in HK, then visit Yunnan, Guilin/Yangshuo, Xi'an, Beijing and Shanghai. We are US citizens (live in NY) and I'd appreciate some clarification over the use of payment apps and whether foreigners can use them. I'd also appreciate any advice on the use of a SIM card.

I will set up a VPN (Express sounds reliable) prior to leaving. I've been finding conflicting information about WeChatPay. As of November 2019, I understand that it was supposed to accept foreign credit cards like Visa and MasterCard, but it's unclear whether it has been working. I'm having a hard time finding out any concrete information. I've read that Alipay can be set up with a foreign card (bank card? credit card?). How essential is it to have access to one of these apps? Is cash only an option? I have precooked my hotels using a credit card and half are through booking.com so I would assume that the hotels would accept foreign credit cards.

We arrive first in Hong Kong and then fly to Kunming 5 days later. If we get a SIM card, should we wait till Kunming? If so, will we be able to put it on the VPN as we will get the SIM card after we arrive?

Would it make sense for us to open an account at HSBC? Is this a "Chinese" bank, and if so, would it make it easier if we opened an account there for the time we are traveling?

The rest of the trip is coming together. I'm working with an agent for the Yunnan portion of the trip (for CONVENIENCE) and the remainder of the trip we are doing independently.

Many thanks for all your help and advice!

progol is offline  
Old Jan 20th, 2020, 07:52 AM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Jan 2016
Posts: 314
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Wechat announced that they would accept foreign credit card (probably as a response to Alipay's announcement) but I do not think that it is in place yet. Even though I have a Chinese bank account, I have not bothered to instal any of them. Cash still works although you need to have small bills as some places may have a hard time for change. HSBC is not a Chinese bank.
A VPN is on your phone and is not related to the SIM. Once you install it, it does not matter what SIM you have. Actually you do not even need a SIM as you could access the web only on wifi.
If you decide to buy a SIM card, it can be a bit of an ordeal. You need to find a shop that sells it and know how to deal with a foreigner. There is some paperwork involved and you need to bring your passport. Some website will sell you one and have it delivered to your hotel but it will obviously be more expensive.
CanadaChinaTraveller is offline  
Old Jan 20th, 2020, 09:48 AM
  #3  
 
Join Date: Oct 2010
Posts: 408
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
There are all sorts of problems with Alipay and WeChat, ubiquitous though the latter is for its social aspects if you spend any time in China, not least the issues of monitoring and documented back doors for uploading who knows what onto your phone. The provision of connection with foreign credit cards was instituted once in the past and then taken away again, so even though it was very recently reinstated, and avoiding all the other negatives, even if you went this route I wouldn't rely on it. Word from Beijing is that even if you successfully set up the connection, which involves several tricky steps, it's credit card only, not debit card.

Whether or not your hotels accept foreign credit cards will depend upon how upmarket you've gone. It should be understood that presence of familiar credit card signage does not guarantee that non-Chinese versions of cards are accepted, and China in general has moved on from the credit card model before it even really arrived. If you're shopping somewhere that shows a willingness to accept foreign cards you can be absolutely certain you're somewhere that's going to charge you many times more than you need to pay. If you can find a ticket agent that accepts cards there will be a surcharge of up to 4%, and if you ask your hotel to make arrangements you'll have to pay cash even if the hotel does take cards. There are also many problems with direct currency conversion. This is the global scam in which you're smilingly asked, as if it's a service, whether for convenience you would like to pay in your own currency. Make the mistake of choosing 'yes' and the appalling exchange rate applied will mean you pay up to 7% more. But in China, even at some otherwise respectable hotels either you are not offered the option (although credit card companies require this) or even if you choose 'no' the DCC is applied anyway. Credit card companies may reverse the charges after they appear on your bill but some are less helpful than others. Some people resort to writing '¥RMB only" on the credit card receipt when they sign, in order to help if there's a dispute later.

In short, for the short-term visitor, it's cash all the way. However, there are floods of forged notes, particularly of the ¥50 and ¥100, some of very high quality, some even issued by ATMS, and you will notice that every larger note you try to spend at even the tiniest shop will be checked under ultraviolet light to see if various images fluoresce and to see how the paper itself absorbs or reflects the light. If a note is rejected there’s no point in arguing. On the other hand if you’re dubious about a note you are being offered no one will quarrel with your request for a replacement. Always keep a stock of smaller notes as taxi drivers, for instance, will grumble if you attempt to pay for a ¥15 ride with a ¥100 note. This also opens you to a popular scam in which your ¥100 is returned as fake when in fact your perfectly valid note has been deftly swapped for the fake one which is being "returned" to you.

Bank machines (ATMs) that accept cards using mainstream foreign debit systems are ubiquitous in the sorts of places you're going, and though you'll need to check with your bank/card issuer what its charges are, these supply the best exchange rates and the best result over all. Avoid over-the-counter money changing is slow but if you do it go to a bank and not to an airport money changer where rates and charges can be dodgy. You'll find ATMs at the airport on arrival, and if your card has Union Pay, Visa, Visa Electron, Plus, Mastercard, Maestro, Cirrus, JCB, or American Express system logos it will work in just about any ATM from any Chinese bank except Ever Bright. If you've a card not using any of the above systems then larger cities have branches of major overseas banks such as HSBC, Citibank, Deutsche Bank, whose machines take every form of plastic ever created, but you'll need to look up locations before you leave. Needless to say, although some banks have got beyond this now, you'd be wise to notify your bank and card issuer that you're going to be in China before you leave. English options are available on screens, and there are instructions what to do if the PIN is expected to be six digits and yours only has four, for instance. Recently cash limits per withdrawal were typically ¥3000, and sometimes as low as ¥2500, but such sums can go a long way in China and multiple withdrawals from the same machine are usually possible, merely meaning if you're on a flat fee per withdrawal system you'll be a little more.

You may occasionally these days encounter a little tutting if you can't pay electronically because you cause the shop assistant a little more work. In the West now you occasionally encounter places that only accept electronic payments, and perhaps that will become common in China, too. But not yet. If you acquire a stored-value transit card in cities such as Beijing (as you should) it can also be used for a host of purchases in smaller shops, although phone-based payment is taking over from this, too.

As for SIM cards, the days of picking up one cheaply at a newspaper vendor are gone, and full facial scans are now required. In short, even if you don't install WeChat on your phone you make yourself entirely trackable and identifiable by the most comprehensive surveillance state history has yet to produce. If you don't mind that, then go ahead (but be careful where you shop for a SIM card and certainly never at an airport unless you like paying a great deal more than necessary). It may now be time to consider putting up with roaming charges, depending on what these are for your system, or simply using wi-fi--ubiquitous in hotels, cafés, etc. to make and receive calls, texts, and email over the Internet, upload maps before setting out, etc., with a VPN installed if you want to use social media. The effectiveness of different VPNs come and go, many having found the cost of trying to keep up with China's blocking efforts too great. I've found WiTopia effective on computers and phones in the past. Be sure to subscribe and download relevant software before leaving home. The establishment of the VPN on the phone is sometimes achieved via instructions issued over live chat after arrival in China which may require a laptop with the VPN already operating in order to achieve. Enquire before subscribing.

It's important to understand that Hong Kong is a separate place. The situation is a little more complicated but in general a SIM for Hong Kong will not work on the mainland or will come with other complications. HSBC is not a Chinese bank but a British one, and its branches on the mainland are very few compared to those of mainland Chinese banks. Their bank card works well in China and charges are low, but you're drawing on HK$ funds when using the card, which if you're not from HK will involve you in a double exchange.

temppeternh is offline  
Old Jan 20th, 2020, 09:51 AM
  #4  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,367
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Thanks so much, CanadaChinaTraveller,
That's very helpful. I guess the question about having the SIM card is the speed which we can check data during the day. We have T-Mobile, and while we do have a data plan, it's pretty slow. But you're right, it's probably just the WiFi at the hotels that will be what we use.

We have an extra phone so if we can get a SIM card, it wouldn't hurt us. Don't they have them at the airport? Or is that not really a good idea?
progol is offline  
Old Jan 20th, 2020, 02:49 PM
  #5  
 
Join Date: Jan 2016
Posts: 314
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Some airports have counters selling them. As said above, more expensive than if you buy at an official China Unicom outlet in town but a lot less trouble. One can easily waste nearly half a day looking for the right place to buy a SIM and going through the motions.
CanadaChinaTraveller is offline  
Old Jan 20th, 2020, 06:11 PM
  #6  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,367
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
temppeternh, I missed this earlier - it must’ve posted after my own earlier response. Thank you so much for the very detailed explanation. It’s a lot of information to digest but it does seem like cash may be the easiest way to go. You have given me much to think about how much we will be open to China’s intense surveillance system.

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.
progol is offline  
Related Topics
Thread
Original Poster
Forum
Replies
Last Post
crellston
Travel Tips & Trip Ideas
4
Apr 29th, 2015 10:51 PM
Amit_SanJose
Europe
8
Dec 21st, 2010 11:14 AM

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On


Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Do Not Sell My Personal Information


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 04:05 PM.