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How to accept Alipay and WeChat payments

China is the world’s second-largest consumer market and this has placed it on the radar for many entrepreneurs. It is a tougher nut to crack than most other markets, however, and that is not only due to the language and cultural barriers. One of the main challenges foreign businesses often face when trying to sell to Chinese consumers is how to accept their money. In this guide, I cover how to accept Alipay and WeChat payments, the two most popular wallet apps in China. Please note that this article is complementary to my guide on doing business in China.

Alipay and WeChat

Your first step will be to have your website translated into simplified Chinese. You should also ensure that all transactional emails sent are also translated, as well as all other customer-facing material. Using English to do business in China is simply not realistic as very few Chinese speak it (or any other foreign languages). I also recommend having the translation done professionally, by someone who lives in mainland China. Google Translate may have improved over the past few years but it is still nowhere near the level of a professional translator especially when it comes to technical terms, marketing etc.

You will also need to hire staff who can talk / write to your Chinese consumers. I recommend having a look at Malaysia as the wages there are very competitive and most Chinese Malaysians also speak English and will be easier to work with (they are a lot more international, it is easier to travel there to meet them, it is easier to pay them, most work tools are not blocked in Malaysia unlike in China etc). Malaysia also happens to be in the same timezone as mainland China.

Once your site is ready, you will need to decide whether you want it mirrored in a Chinese datacenter. There is no requirement to do so but the benefits may be worth it if you do significant business in China. Faster access speeds, increased credibility and a lower risk of being caught in a blanket ban (the firewall will often ban an entire IP range when targeting a specific site, resulting in non-targeted sites being caught in the crossfire). On the other hand, you will need to apply for a government license before being able to purchase hosting services in China. The license will also be tied to the specific hosting plan you purchased (including the IP your site uses) and this may complicate things for you from a technical point of view. You can learn more about the process itself here.

As an added note, you can obtain a mainland phone number by purchasing a China Mobile SIM card in Hong Kong (the ones designed for cross-border travel). You can obtain a mailing address from multiple services providers, online, without ever having to visit the country. Both the number and address will be needed to complete the license application.

If you choose not to have your site mirrored in a Chinese datacenter, I recommend having it mirrored (or hosted) in a Hong Kong or Japanese datacenter. Both have solid connectivity with the mainland and this will help speed-wise.

Now on to how to accept Alipay and WeChat. The easiest solution for this is to sign up for a Stripe account and to use their Alipay and WeChat integrations to process all the payments from your Chinese consumers. This solution requires little to no technical knowledge and can be set up in minutes. It does require that your company be registered in a supported country, however, and Stripe’s fees can be fairly high.

If your company is registered in an unsupported country, you can use a payment processing subsidiary in the UK/US/CA to access Stripe.

In practice, it works like this:
Customer in China -> payment processing subsidiary -> Your company

The Alipay and WeChat integrations on Stripe both work like a charm. They are even compatible with the Stripe Checkout experience. An added bonus of these integrations is that they also allow you to accept Visa, MasterCard and AmEx payments.

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