China has a whole universe of awesome apps that you may not have ever heard about, but once you land here, you’ll find them indispensable! For everything from online chatting to making payments, finding great restaurants to hailing a taxi, these 9 apps will help you navigate China like a local!
The one app to rule them all: WeChat is an essential app for daily life here in the Middle Kingdom. Far beyond just a powerful chat app, WeChat provides countless functions to manage life in the Middle Kingdom.
You can use your WeChat Wallet to pay for almost anything: from restaurant meals to clothing in shops, movie tickets to flight tickets.
Some restaurants don’t even have menus anymore, you just scan a QR code on WeChat to order food on your phone. China has gone practically cashless, many people don’t carry real wallets anymore as you can use your phone to pay your bills, transfer money to friends, or even buy from a street food vendor. WeChat is the app you’ll open most for everything from communication to retail therapy.
WeChat is also China’s most popular social media platform: through WeChat Moments people share photos and stories, similar to Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. You can also follow your favorite company to stay updated with news, promotions and events.
Other handy functions on WeChat include a tool to share your location in real time or use Friend Radar to meet and add people nearby to your contacts.
Alipay is China’s second major digital payment app, together with WeChat Wallet. You can use it to pay for goods and services, make direct transfers and pay bills. Through long-term use of the app, you can earn a credit score based on your purchase history. You can open an Alipay account at a local bank in China with your passport number and Chinese phone number. Just about any place of business in China will accept both Alipay and WeChat Wallet payments.
What can you use Alipay for?
- Shop on most Chinese websites, including Taobao
- Transfer money to other people
- Pay credit card bills
- Pay phone bills
- Invest in Alibaba’s mutual fund (only for people with a Chinese national ID)
- Check your bank balance
- Shop at supermarkets, restaurants and vending machines
- Hail a taxi
Bon App is a super-app dedicated to connecting international people and providing honest venue reviews. Travelers and locals alike use Bon App to discover great places in their city, meet friends and attend great events.
Bon App is China’s number one bilingual app providing thousands of reviews and venue details for restaurant, hotels, spas, schools, hospitals and more.
Bon App hosts 80% of China’s English reviews, with the industry’s most trusted and transparent content. Users can browse reviews and pictures to find everything from new hot spots or legendary venues you shouldn’t miss. Users can also follow friends and experts to get inspiration for where to go next, discover top trending restaurants and even get tickets to the latest events.
If you are travelling and looking for new venues to discover, Bon App guides you with constantly updating recommendations, curated lists and lifestyle guides. You can also find handy links right in Bon App connecting you to Taobao and Trip.com with just one tap.
Bon App is also the best place to meet like-minded people and connect with the local community. Follow and add other interesting users on Bon App so you can send a direct message to chat on Bon App or meet up in real life.
Bon App is an international community of locals and expats. It provides a friendly and convenient platform for connecting with other global citizens.
Anyone can post photos, reviews or stories to share with the Bon App community. Posted stories can earn cash money from users who give “tips” to their favorite authors.
Inside China, you will need a VPN in order to access many common websites and apps including Gmail, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Google Maps. ExpressVPN is one of the most reputable and consistent VPN services for use within China. You can choose from hundreds of server locations around the world to find one that is stable and fast. You can ask questions or report issues through their 24/7 customer support line by live chat and email. Make sure to apply for an account and download ExpressVPN before you come to China to maintain access to all your essential accounts outside the “Great Firewall”.
Why should you use Express VPN?
- Excellent speeds throughout the server network
- User-friendly and reliable
- Strong encryption, great security features, and no leaks
- Located in a privacy-friendly jurisdiction (BVI)
- Proven no logs VPN provider
- Large, secure server network, servers running in RAM-disk mode
- Browser extensions with HTTPS Everywhere
- Split Tunneling
- Dedicated VPN router app
Mobike is the world’s first and largest dockless, cash-free bike sharing platform. Bike sharing has revolutionized pedestrian transportation in China: you can find a bike almost anytime and anywhere: the bright orange Mobike’s are literally on every street corner. If you don’t spot one immediately, the app shows you all nearby bikes through GPS mapping. Unlocking the bike by scanning its QR code only takes a few seconds. You can pay for the bike through your WeChat Wallet or Alipay account, and the cost per hour is literally pennies. You’ll save time compared to walking, and for close distances when there’s traffic jams, biking is often faster than driving.
AirVisual Air Quality Forecast
Air quality has improved in some major Chinese cities over the past few years thanks to government efforts to move factories and require cleaner technology. However, air pollution can still sometimes reach dangerously unhealthy levels, depending on the season and city.
AirVisual Air Quality Forecast reports air pollution levels all over the world in real time. When you open the app, it detects your closest monitoring station and also provides your local weather forecast. Download this app to know what days are best for taking a run at the park and which ones are best to stay in with the air filter on high (or wear your 2.5pm mask!).
A detailed graph shows the hourly or daily history of air quality along with activity recommendations depending on current pollution levels. You can scroll through major cities and compare their rankings on the Air Quality Index, providing for some interesting global pollution insights!
In many Chinese cities, the subway is the most convenient and cheapest way to get around. In fact, Shanghai’s subway system is the longest in the world and takes you swiftly across this massive metropolis for less than a dollar.
ExploreMetro is a subway app for navigating in Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen and Guangzhou quickly and easily: simply download the Explore app version for your destination city. The app provides transfer information, first and last trains, subway station exit maps, subway ticket fees and more, and it updates regularly with the latest station information.
DiDi is the Chinese equivalent of Uber or Lyft and is essential to hailing a car on rainy nights or during rush hour when taxis are scarce. The app is available in English and you can pay for your rides using your WeChat Wallet, Alipay account, an international credit card or cash.
Similar to Uber, Didi provides a choice of cars, such as Express, Taxi, Premier and Luxe. Luxe cars can only be booked through the reservation, and they come with well-trained and suited up drivers. Luxe cards are ideal for picking up business clients at the airport or taking a date out for a special occasion, while Express cars are the most economical choice.
The DiDi app provides comprehensive safety services, such as the option to add emergency contacts, audio recording, privacy screening (which blocks your phone number from drivers’ view) and more. You can even program the app to send a message to your emergency contact when you enter a vehicle and to continuously provide your contact with your GPS real-time location.