Editor’s note: this article has been updated with clarifying information from Tencent which you can find at the bottom of this article.
It can be hard to keep track of exactly what Chinese WeChat users can use the app for, and the list of features is growing by the day—in part supported by the platform’s so-called mini-programs, which add additional features to an already feature-packed app. Even just for travel businesses, the number of travel-oriented features can seem intimidating. This time around? Tencent’s WeChat-integrated tax refunds.
While companies around the world may have been busy trying to crack marketing on WeChat or deciding whether or not to implement WeChat Pay, Tencent has been quietly developing its tax-free project. Today, WeChat tax refunds are available at a staggering 79 airports in 19 countries. It should be noted that Tencent claims to offer tax refunds at 77 airports in 26 countries and regions in the list released with the announcement, but Jing Travel instead counted 79 airports in 19 countries on the same list.
However, WeChat’s tax refund feature isn’t actually a core WeChat or WeChat Pay feature but a WeChat mini-program developed by WeChat’s parent company, Tencent. The service’s official English name is We Tax Refund—adding to the confusion owing to the “We”—whereas it’s explicitly branded as a Tencent product in Chinese (“腾讯退税通”). Tencent tax refund centers at airports are unfortunately branded as “微信退税” (WeChat Tax Refund).
Confusing branding adds to the WeChat confusion for industry stakeholders
Confusing branding or not, the long and short of it is that Tencent does tax refunds through WeChat, with the added nuance that users need to download the mini-program to take part. It’s not a default WeChat or WeChat Pay feature, at least not at this time.
With that out of the way, what does We Tax Refund actually do?
For users who have installed the WeChat mini-program, tax refunds are available through airport refund centers, downtown refund centers, as well as at home in China. The caveat is that users—no matter where they apply for refunds—will have to fill out tax refund forms as usual. The added convenience is that refunds will be processed quicker and deposited in RMB to users WeChat Wallets. The company has previously indicated that it will roll out instantaneous refunds later this year.
Users can’t ditch the tax refund forms just yet
Needless to say, Tencent isn’t the first (nor the last) company to tackle Chinese tourist spending in general and tax refunds in particular. WeChat Pay has been aggressively expanding abroad, and a more convenient tax-free shopping experience could help give Tencent an upper hand against rivals Alipay and UnionPay as they battle it out on the international stage. Of course, both Alipay and UnionPay are also making efforts to tackle tax refunds for Chinese customers abroad.
As of right now, Chinese travelers can enjoy WeChat refunds in the following countries:
- Austria (2 airports)
- Croatia (2 airports)
- Czechia (3 airports)
- Denmark (2 airports)
- Estonia (1 airport)
- Greece (9 airports)
- Lithuania (3 airports)
- South Korea (1 airport)
- Finland (1 airport)
- Germany (14 airports)
- Latvia (1 airport)
- Norway (6 airports)
- Switzerland (3 airports)
- Sweden (3 airports)
- Italy (16 airports)
- The Netherlands (1 airport)
- Spain (6 airports)
- Portugal (4 airports)
- Slovenia (1 airport)
From a quick glance at the list, it’s obvious that We Tax Refund is currently a predominantly European affair, with the exception of South Korea. However, even in Western Europe there are two Chinese tourist shopping havens still missing: France and the United Kingdom.
No WeChat tax refunds in France and the United Kingdom for the time being
Because of conflicting figures in promotional materials, it’s actually unknown at how many locations the new refund service is available. However, it is safe to say that, with Tencent’s tax refund ambitions, the number of countries and airports where Chinese travelers can utilize WeChat tax refunds will keep growing.
Update: Tencent reached out to let us know that it offers real-time tax refund services at 77 airports in 19 countries, with tax-refund after returning to China available in 26 countries. Tencent has issued an updated list with the correct number of airports which you can view here. Further, Tencent explains that refunds can be processed through both WeChat Pay and QQ Wallet, hence the service’s branding.