WhatsApp Cloud API: What it is, how it compares, and how to get started

Niloofar Kavousi
Published January 12, 2023
Last updated February 17, 2023
WhatsApp Cloud API: What it is, how it compares, and how to get started

WhatsApp is the world’s most popular messaging app, boasting 2 billion users. Its first product was the WhatsApp Messenger app, used for daily communications with friends and family. To further support businesses, Meta (WhatsApp’s parent company) released WhatsApp Business products. This consists of two categories:

  • The WhatsApp Business app, available for free, and
  • The WhatsApp Business Platform, which contains three APIs:
    • WhatsApp on-premises API (Also known as WhatsApp Business API)
    • WhatsApp Cloud API
    • WhatsApp Business Management API

What is the WhatsApp Business app?

The WhatsApp Business app is a free app designed to help micro-businesses communicate with their customers. It offers useful features like automated greetings and away messages, as well as a comprehensive business profile. This profile includes details like a business description, operating hours, location, and a product catalog for customers to view.

Learn more in our article How to Get Started with WhatsApp Business App.

What is WhatsApp on-premises API (WhatsApp Business API)?

After the release of the WhatsApp Business app, Meta released the WhatsApp Business API to help businesses of all sizes maximize their customer communications and engagement. This API allows businesses to connect their WhatsApp Business account (WABA) to nearly any other software or tool, granting access to features and benefits like marketing campaigns, automated order confirmations, and customer self-service bots.

Since the API doesn’t have an interface, businesses need to link it to their CRM or team inbox in order to send and receive messages. The possibilities are endless with the WhatsApp Business API.

To learn more, please refer to An Introductory Guide to WhatsApp Business Platform/API.

Why is it officially called WhatsApp on-premises API?

Access to the WhatsApp Business API is only possible through third-party businesses known as Business Solution Providers (BSPs), who host the API on their own servers, hence the term “WhatsApp on-premises API”. A list of BSPs is available on Meta’s partner directory page.

Creating a WhatsApp Business account (WABA) with a chosen BSP is required to access the API. This can take between 10 minutes and several weeks, depending on the BSP. BSPs charge differently: some per message sent/received, some for every X messages, and others a fixed monthly rate regardless of volume.

For more information on BSPs and how they differ, please refer to our article Comparison of WhatsApp Business Solution Providers (BSPs).

What is WhatsApp Cloud API?

In May 2022, Meta announced the release of WhatsApp Cloud API, which is similar to WhatsApp Business API with one major difference; Meta hosts WhatsApp Cloud API itself and businesses can access it for free, directly from Meta.

Just like WhatsApp Business API, WhatsApp Cloud API allows businesses to connect their WhatsApp Business account to their other tools and workflows. It supports the same message types that WhatsApp Business API does:

How much does it cost to make use of WhatsApp Cloud API?

Creating a WhatsApp Cloud API account is free. Businesses only pay for:

  • WhatsApp conversation volume
  • A team inbox or CRM that supports WhatsApp

The cost of a team inbox or CRM

Like WhatsApp Business API, WhatsApp Cloud API doesn’t have an interface for sending and receiving messages.

You need a team inbox like Rasayel to connect with the API. Here are our pricing plans and features with each plan:

Basic Plan ($200 per month)

It’s suitable for small teams with moderate messaging volume.

  • For up to 5 team members
  • $20 per additional member
  • You can connect up to 5 channels (either multiple WhatsApp numbers or Instagram, Facebook, Telegram, and more)
  • Unlimited contacts
  • Unlimited messages
  • Importing contacts
  • Have it in your browser or as a mobile app for Android and iOS devices

Premium Plan ($300 per month)

It’s suitable for high-volume teams with complex workflows.

This plan includes the following features:

  • For up to 10 team members
  • $20 per additional member
  • You can connect up to 50 channels (either multiple WhatsApp numbers or Instagram, Facebook, Telegram and more)
  • Assignments rules
  • Custom views
  • Bots
  • Campaigns
  • Auto notifications
  • Reporting
  • Ability to integrate with Shopify, HubSpot and Zapier
  • Priority support via email or chat
  • Onboarding support

Enterprise Plan (Custom Pricing)

This is the option for teams that need a custom-tailored plan. They receive all of the functionalities of the premium plan. It has the same features as the premium plan plus the following:

  • It can be customized for the number of team members you have
  • You can connect unlimited channels
  • We provide training

You can use Rasayel for free for 14 days without credit card information. If you have questions about it, feel free to book a call with us here.

The cost of WhatsApp conversations

Creating a WhatsApp Business account on WhatsApp Cloud API is free, but if you want to send and receive messages, you must pay WhatsApp/Meta. This is also the case for if you’re using the WhatsApp Business API. WhatsApp has conversation-based pricing. A conversation is a 24-hour window of time from when a business’s first message is delivered to a customer until 24 hours later. Therefore, conversations can be initiated in two ways:

  • User-initiated conversation - A customer starts to chat with you and you reply to them. From when your first reply is delivered to them until 24 hours later, it is considered one conversation. All of the messages sent and received during that time are associated with that single conversation, incurring one charge.
  • Business-initiated conversation - The business starts to chat with a customer. The conversation starts when the business’s first message is delivered until 24 hours later. All the messages exchanged between the business and the customer in that period of time are associated with one conversation and incur one charge.

Each conversation is priced based on the user’s country code and whether the conversation is user-initiated or business-initiated. User-initiated conversations are slightly cheaper than business-initiated ones. Please, check Meta’s Conversation-based Pricing page for a full list of the prices based on region.

The first 1,000 conversations every month are free. To send more than this amount, you must add a credit card to your account. To learn how to increase the number of conversations you can have, please read our One-stop Guide for WhatsApp Quality Rating and Messaging Limits.

Comparison of WhatsApp Cloud API and WhatsApp Business API

Should you choose WhatsApp Business API or WhatsApp Cloud API for your business? The short answer is that it depends on your business needs. Here are some of the key differences between the two APIs so that you can decide which one suits your business best:

Your data is hosted in North America with the WhatsApp Cloud API.

BSPs offering the WhatsApp Business API could offer local and regional hosting of the it and according to the local laws, such as GDPR. On the other hand, Meta hosts the Cloud API in North America only.

Getting access to the WhatsApp Cloud API is instant.

With WhatsApp Business API, businesses need to go through BSPs to create a WhatsApp Business account (WABA) and access the API. The process could take 15 minutes up to weeks depending on the BSP. On the contrary, you can create a WABA to access the WhatsApp Cloud API account in a matter of minutes.

You can access the WhatsApp Cloud API for free.

Meta hosts WhatsApp Cloud API itself and offers it for free. Businesses do not need to pay anything for creating a WhatsApp Business account on it, the set-up, or the ongoing maintenance of the API. These are the costs that BSPs require businesses to pay when giving access to the WhatsApp Business API.

You don’t get SLA, disaster recovery or personalized support with WhatsApp Cloud API.

If you need SLA or disaster recovery, getting WhatsApp Business API is a better choice since you can get support from your BSP. It’s important to know what kinds of support a BSP provides before you choose them since different BSPs offer different kinds of support to businesses.

WhatsApp Cloud API doesn’t offer SLA or disaster recovery.

WhatsApp Cloud API doesn’t support media or stickerpack.

With WhatsApp Cloud API you cannot send or receive stickers. If you want to exchange media with your customers, you need to follow the steps defined on Meta’s Media page. On the contrary, BSPs support these.

You get instant access to new features and updates via WhatsApp Cloud API.

Meta quickly updates its Cloud API, but WhatsApp Business API updates require BSPs to invest in time and infrastructure. Not all BSPs can offer the same updates, so businesses may not be able to access the latest features.

If your business requires personalized support, sticker packs, and regional hosting, you should get the WhatsApp Business API from a BSP. Remember, BSPs vary in the features they offer and the support they provide. Take a look at Comparison of WhatsApp Business Solution Providers (BSPs) to find the right one for you.

For simpler integrations that you can build yourself, the WhatsApp Cloud API is a cost-effective option. If you need software such as a team inbox or CRM, make sure the solution provider is compatible with Cloud API. Released in May 2022, the WhatsApp Cloud API is relatively new. Some vendors may not have adapted their infrastructure to integrate with it yet.

How to get started with WhatsApp Cloud API?

You need to create a WhatsApp Business Account (WABA) with Meta, WhatsApp’s parent company, and connect a phone number to it. Meta has several criteria for your phone number, which you can read about on the Meta for Developers page.

Follow the steps below to create a WABA and connect a number to it:

Step 1: Set up Your Facebook Developer Account

1.1. Sign up or log in to the Facebook for Developers accountMy AppsCreate App.

Facebook for Developers account.

1.2. Select Business as your app type and press Next.

electing Business as your app type.

1.3. Enter basic information about your business:

  • App name
  • Contact email
  • Business Manager account (optional),

Click Create app.

Basic information about the business.

1.4. On your Meta dashboard, scroll down to WhatsApp → Click Set up.

Meta dashboard.

1.5. Select your Meta Business Account or leave it unselected (Facebook will automatically create a new account) and click Continue.

Selecting Meta Business Account.

1.6. Press Start using the API.

Start using the API.

1.7. [Optional] Send a free message with the provided test phone number to your personal WhatsApp number to test the integration.

Test the integration.

Step 2: Connect your phone number

2.1. Scroll down and click on Add phone number.

Adding a phone number.

2.2. Fill in your business information and press Next.

Adding business information.

2.3. Fill in your WhatsApp Business profile information and press Next. Your display name must follow some guidelines and best practices. Please, read Best Practices for Display Names on WhatsApp Business API/Platform for more information.

WhatsApp Business profile information.

2.4. Add a phone number for your WhatsApp Cloud API and click Next. Please ensure that this number is not already registered with another WhatsApp account (or WhatsApp app on your phone).

Adding a phone number for WhatsApp Cloud API.

2.5. Verify your phone number by entering a six-digit code that you receive on this number.

Verifying a phone number with a six-digit code.

That’s it! Your WABA with WhatsApp Cloud API is created and your phone number is connected to your account.

How to switch from WhatsApp mobile app (Business or Messenger) to WhatsApp Cloud API

If you want to switch from either of the apps to WhatsApp Cloud API, please follow the steps below for creating an account on WhatsApp Cloud API and migrating your number.

Before starting the migration process, make sure you create a backup on your apps. Your previous messaging history will not be transferred during the migration. You cannot migrate your backup to your WhatsApp Business Platform/API account.

Step 1: Set up your Facebook Developer Account

1.1. Sign up or log in to the Facebook for Developers accountMy AppsCreate App.

Facebook for Developers account.

1.2. Select Business as your app type and press Next.

Selecting Business as app.

1.3. Enter basic information about your business:

  • App name
  • Contact email
  • Business Manager account (optional),

Click Create app.

Basix information about the business.

1.4. On your Meta dashboard, scroll down to WhatsApp → Click Set up.

Meta dashboard.

1.5. Select your Meta Business Account or leave it unselected (Facebook will automatically create a new account) and click Continue.

Meta Business Account.

1.6. Press Start using the API.

Start using the API button.

1.7. [Optional] Send a free message with the provided test phone number to your personal WhatsApp number to test the integration.

Test the integration.

Step 2: Delete your WhatsApp mobile app account

2.1. Open your WhatsApp Business app or WhatsApp Messenger app. Go to Settings and then Account.

2.2. Select Delete My Account.

2.3. Confirm your number and press Delete My Account. It will take a couple of minutes for the disconnected number to become available.

Once the number is available, return to Business Manager and refresh your browser window. You can now proceed with the registration process below.

Step 3: Connect your phone number

3.1. Scroll down and click on Add phone number.

Adding a phone number.

3.2. Fill in your business information and press Next.

Adding business information.

3.3. Fill in your WhatsApp Business profile information and press Next. Your display name will get approved in up to 24 hours.

WhatsApp Business profile information.

3.4. Add a phone number for your WhatsApp Cloud API. Please ensure that this number is not already registered with another WhatsApp account (or WhatsApp app on your phone).

Adding a phone number for your WhatsApp Cloud API.

3.5. Verify your phone number by entering a 6-digit code that you receive on this number.

Verifying a phone number with a 6-digit code.

That’s it, your phone number is connected to your WhatsApp Cloud API account!

How to connect your WhatsApp Cloud API account to Rasayel?

If you want to use Rasayel as your WhatsApp inbox, you can connect it right after you create your WABA on WhatsApp Cloud API. It takes less than five minutes to connect it to Rasayel. Check out our article Connect WhatsApp Cloud API to Rasayel and follow the instructions in Step 3.

Final thoughts

If you want to scale your messaging on WhatsApp, you need either the WhatsApp Business API or the WhatsApp Cloud API. The WhatsApp Cloud API and Business API differ in several ways, such as their hosting location and the support you receive as a business using them. Depending on your business needs, one of them could be a better option for you.

Further reading

An Introductory Guide to WhatsApp Business Platform/API

How to Make Sure WhatsApp Approves Your Message Templates

One-stop Guide for WhatsApp Quality Rating and Messaging Limits

Best Practices for Display Names on WhatsApp Business API/Platform