Today we will look at all the apps you need to download before you go to China. The list will be separated into five very handy categories: Social, Maps & Transportation, Entertainment, Online Shopping and Finance.
Note: The reason why you need to download these before going to China is because your app store may not work once you arrive in China! So download and add your friends on these apps so that you can stay in touch.
Watch our video here or scroll down to see the full list:
QQ: This is the equivalent to "Whatsapp" in China but includes so many more features! You can stay in touch with friends and families through messages, voice calls and video calls. Furthermore, you can also share posts in your space, play mobile games and utilize mobile payments (e.g. recharge your phone, do online shopping or transfer money)
WeChat: This is a must-download app! If you can only go to China with one app, then this is the one you should download. WeChat is called 微信 (wēi xìn) in Chinese and the app has overtaken QQ to become the market leader in this space. With WeChat, you can use features such as the "shake feature". The "shake feature" allows you to meet new people regardless of location by just shaking your phone. When shaken, your phone sensors detects the movement and displays other WeChat users who have shaken their phone at the same time.
Furthermore you can also use the scan function to translate restaurant menus and signs into English. This is a really useful feature for travel. Another useful function is the ability to translate in-chat messages.
If you enjoy shopping, following brand accounts can help you unlock in-store discounts!
Maps and Transportation
Maps: If you think that you can use Google Maps or Apple Maps here well, then you need to think again! The apps often have a satellite offset issue which means that you may not be getting the most accurate and up-to-date location information. Therefore, the best app for you to download is Baidu maps 百度地图 (bǎidù dìtú). This is a Chinese app which will have the most accurate data with a wide range of features including - transportation and traffic data, as well as 3D maps and street views too.
Baidu Maps does not have English, so if you are only comfortable with an English app,
then Google Apps may be the best app for you. If you do go with this option, please download a VPN before you go so that you can access the app properly in China.
Another alternative is to save the Chinese names of the locations you want to go to in your notes app on your phone before you go. Once you are in China, copy and paste the Chinese locations into Baidu Maps and follow the directions. The app is quite similar to a standard map app so should be quite intuitive to follow.
Public Transport: Aside from maps in general, it is also useful to download the subway app for the city you are going to. For example, apps for the Shanghai Metro 上海地铁 (shànghǎi dìtiě) or maybe Beijing Subway 北京地铁 (běijīng dìtiě). If you are travelling cross country on a train, the Ctrip app is very useful for booking train tickets.
Taxi: Unfortunately Uber is not widely used in China and sometimes if you are out in the rain, trying to wave down a taxi which is empty, sometimes they will not stop and the reason why is because someone has probably already booked it. The app DiDi 滴滴 (dī di) comes into good use here. If you have WeChat already, you will be able to access this from the WeChat Wallet section by choosing the "Ride Hailing" option. The convenience here is that the payment is directly taken from the bank account connected to your WeChat account.
If you are just installing Didi, make sure you have a Chinese cell phone number and enter a payment method. You will be able to access similar types of rides that Uber would offer such as a ride share, premium, luxe version as well as just the normal taxi.
Are you a Netflix or a Youtube binger? In China, Netflix and Youtube doesn’t work. To get your fix of shows and movies while you are in China, download the iQiyi (爱奇艺 Ài qí yì) app. You can watch hit shows for free here and also upgrade to a VIP paid service for a few dollars per month. Again, if you have a WeChat account, you can also set up your payment on there too.
For the music lovers out there who need their Spotify, you can download the NetEase Cloud Music app (网易云音乐 wǎngyì yún yīnyuè) which operates on a similar freemium model.
Amazon may be a staple for you but it doesn’t really have a big presence in China. Instead, we have the Taobao (淘宝 táo bǎo) and JD.com 京东 (jīng dōng) app which can fulfil all of your online shopping needs and wants.
Forget cash or card payments in China, those are old school! Nearly everyone, even people asking for money from you on the streets will be using digital or mobile payments. That’s why the final very useful app you need to download is Alipay 支付宝 (zhī fù bǎo). It’s a very popular e-Wallet app in China where you can pay for things using your smartphone in-store, online or even do money transfers. It’s quite similar to Paypal.
We hope you found this article useful! Be sure to check out our free language resources to prepare for traveling, working and studying in China.