WeChat Adds Skype-Like International Calls To Its Messaging App

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WeChat, the Uber popular Chinese message app with more than 500 million active users, is taking a leaf out of the Skype playbook after it launched an international telephone calling service.

The service is initially available for users based in the U.S., Hong Kong and India, but it will roll out to others over time. ‘WeChat Out’ is different from the existing calling options inside WeChat (voice and video) because it allows for calls to actual phone numbers (mobile and landline) rather than just to fellow WeChat users.

WeChat, which is owned by Chinese Internet giant Tencent, is gifting its users an initial $0.99 in credit (which it says will allow up to 100 minutes in calls) to get things started, although it hasn’t revealed the cost of calls once that freebie has been eaten up. (Those with the calling feature enabled can look prices up inside the app as explained here.)

The service is known for being hugely innovative in China, but it is relatively late to the international calling area. Skype, of course, pioneered the concept while Line — another popular messaging app in Asia — added its own version nearly two years ago. WeChat did launch an standalone international free calls app back in 2014, but that service hasn’t set the world alight.

Tencent doesn’t break out its user numbers for WeChat based on location, but we can assume that the majority of its active users are based in China, where WeChat is the default mobile messaging app used by people of all ages. For a while it seemed like the company had stopped pushing the app overseas but it has increased its internationalization of late. Aside from this international calling feature, WeChat launched its mobile wallet — which has 200 million users in China — in South Africa, the same country where it just unveiled a $3.4 million fund for investing in local startups.