Apps are changing the way we do everything; from ordering food to finding your car, you can trust them to help you do almost anything nowadays. Nowhere is this truer than in China, where certain apps have become so essential to life there that it’s actually hard to get by without them. When you’re packing for your trip to the Middle Kingdom, don’t forget to install some of these useful apps to settle in and integrate into modern day China.
#1 Express VPN
If you didn’t already know, certain websites are blocked in China by what’s known as the “Great Firewall of China”. These sites include Facebook, Instagram, Google and WhatsApp. A VPN (Virtual Private Network) allows you to select an alternative location and surf the web as if you were there. Even if you can live without a quick scroll through your news feed every day, it’s still a good idea to get a VPN. Sites you’d never expect to be blocked can be, so it’s a very useful tool to when it comes to lesson planning, looking things up or keeping a blog.
The best VPN providers for China change frequently, and there are some free options available. But for a reliable, paid subscription you can count on, choose Express VPN. Subscriptions range from 1 – 12 months, priced at $12.95-$99.95 respectively. They offer both a PC and mobile app and allow you to use the VPN on up to 3 devices at one time.
If you haven’t already heard of it, it won’t be long before you do. What started out as an instant messaging tool similar to WhatsApp has gradually become a multi-purpose app that allows you to do anything from sending messages and posting updates to making payments and booking travel. It’s become the must-have app for any one visiting China (long or short-term), and it will make your life a lot easier! It’s also good to get friends and family back home to download the app so you can stay in touch easily.
To put into perspective; consider this; 84.5% of the population actively use WeChat, and it has over 1 billion user accounts worldwide. What are you waiting for? Download it now!
#3 Dockless Bikes
Over the past few years, the streets of China have seen various brightly coloured bikes popping up here, there and everywhere. These dockless bikes are changing the way people travel and making life evermore convenient for locals and tourists alike. Setting up is quick and easy; just download the Ofo or Mobike app, sign-up and pay a £20-30 deposit (refunded when account closed), and off you go! The best part is, most journeys are free!
#4 China Air Quality Index
If you’re worried about pollution in China, this app is a must. It displays real-time readings on air quality in cities across the country, rating them according to a colour chart from green (good), through to red (bad). It also gives suggestions as to what kind of activities should be avoided.
China’s answer to Yelp and Groupon rolled into one, Dianping is a large review platform for restaurants, hotels, shops and everything in between. It’s a great tool for not only discovering new restaurants in your area, but also securing great deals! Whether you’re looking for a cheap meal, a deal on your manicure, gym membership or KTV night, this is the app to help you find it.
Wondering what the catch is? The app is only available in Mandarin, so if you can’t read characters you might need to ask a friend to help. Once you get started though, it’s a great way to learn and practice.
E le me is a popular 24-hour food delivery platform that’s made its way across Chinese cities of all sizes. It runs through an easy-to-use app that allows you to search for dishes, types of cuisine and restaurants to find what you’re looking for. Just enter your address and some basic details to sign up, and order away!
Again, it’s only in Chinese but it comes with pictures and is very easy to use. Minimum spend varies depending on the restaurant or shop, but it’s usually no more than 20-30 RMB. Even better; the delivery charge almost always comes in at under 10 kuai!
A life-line for many a confused foreigner, Pleco is the must-have Chinese dictionary app. It offers various services (some free, some premium), of which the most useful are the standard Chinese-English dictionary, hand-writing, audio recordings, and flashcards. There’s not much more to say, except for download it now!
Similar to WeChat, Alipay also allows you to send messages, make payments and shop online. It really comes down to personal choice as to which app you use for payments, as both can be linked to either a Chinese or international bank account. If you’re living in China for a longer period, you might want to use the app to pay your rent or bills, since it has a built-in social credit system (Zhima Credit) that allows you to collect points for ‘good behaviour’ and offers perks and rewards to those with good scores. If you don’t fancy being rated, don’t worry; participation is optional.
If you enjoy a bit of online shopping, look no further. Owned by the same people as Alipay, Taobao is the world’s biggest e-commerce platform, offering almost anything you can imagine for very low prices. Just like eBay, both businesses and individuals can sell items through Taobao. Since it’s owned by the same company, you can easily make payments through Alipay, to be delivered within a couple of days.
If you’re planning to travel either within our outside of the country during your time in China, you should make sure you have this handy travel booking app downloaded ready. This Chinese owned company has been leading the domestic travel industry for years, and it’s quickly making its way overseas. With the C-Trip app, you can easily book and pay for train and plane tickets, as well as hotel reservations. Your reservation information will be stored on the app, meaning you don’t need to worry about losing scraps of paper! C-Trip frequently offers deals that will be sent straight to your phone, for both domestic and international journey’s.
Found in over 400 cities across China, Didi chuxing is a useful ride-sharing and taxi ordering app, very similar to Uber. It’s particularly useful during rush hour and busy periods when it’s hard to find an empty cab. Simply download the app, create an account and book your taxis! Payment can also be taken directly from the bank account linked to your DiDi account, or you can sometimes pay in cash (depending on car type).
#12 Baidu Maps
In case you hadn’t already pieced it together; without your VPN on, you won’t be able to use Google Maps to navigate. Instead, we suggest downloading the Chinese version; Baidu Maps. Much like the Google equivalent, Baidu Maps provides satellite imagery, street maps, street view and a route planner for traveling by car, foot or public transport. Again, the only downside to this is that it’s only available in Chinese. But providing you can recognise the characters of your destination, the rest is easy!
Looking for love or new friends? Perhaps it’s time to delete Tinder and get TanTan. This Chinese app is very similar to the western favourite, and it claims to connect interesting people with similar interests to help them form new friendships or find a partner. Simply create an account, upload a photo and get searching for your perfect match. The apps users are mainly Chinese, making this a great way to practice your Mandarin if nothing else!