Are you about to embark on a trip to China and are looking to download useful applications that will make your life much easier? This is my guide to the must-have apps for traveling to China.
Traveling in China can be a real challenge if you do not speak Chinese. Furthermore, the country enforces Internet censorship, also known as the Great Firewall. Most foreign sites and social networks are blocked, but do not worry! There are alternatives and other applications that will help you circumvent censorship.
Read below to learn more about the 8 must-have apps for traveling to China:
WeChat (Instant messaging)
Around the world, people interact with WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, but in China these apps are blocked and replaced by WeChat. WeChat is the king of applications! In China it is by far the most used application not only for instant messaging, but also for sharing photos and videos, for shopping, or for calling a taxi. If you interact with a local, you will probably be shocked by the fact that they won’t ask for your phone number or Facebook name, but rather for your WeChat information. Don’t be caught unprepared and create a WeChat account. Note that WeChat doesn’t work well if your VPN is activated, so make sure to turn off your VPN if you want to use WeChat.
Despite the restrictions, there are applications/programs that will allow you to circumvent censorship and be able to connect to Google, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Download a VPN, which stands for Virtual Private Network, to keep in touch with your family and friends at home.
There are hundreds of VPNs; I currently use Astrill VPN, but since the Chinese government often tries (and sometimes succeeds) to block VPNs, to avoid the risk of downloading a program or an application that does not work, keep informed before departing and refer to other blogs and sites to verify the status of the VPN you want to download.
Important notes: 1. most VPNs are not free; 2. if you plan to use your computer, you will need to purchase a VPN for it; 3. some VPNs may work perfectly on IOS, but poorly on Android and vice versa. This is why it is highly recommended that you check on other websites and blogs what would work best for your device; 4. having a VPN connected on 3G will consume a large amount of data, so I suggest to turn it off when you don’t need it. 5. Do not forget that Chinese websites or apps don’t work well when the VPN is turned on, so make sure to turn it off if you intend to use WeChat, Baidu, etc.
Pleco is an application that offers instant translations. In addition to providing the translation, it also provides the written form of each word in Chinese characters and its correct pronunciation. This application was crucial during my first months in China, when I still did not speak Chinese, and it still is today, whenever I don’t remember or don’t know a certain word.
Buying a train ticket online in China, especially at the beginning, can be a real challenge, as well as quite an unnerving experience!
Before discovering Ctrip, I always needed a Chinese friend to buy train tickets for me, as there were no English apps I could use. Then I discovered Ctrip and my life truly changed! In fact, buying a ticket online with Ctrip is easy: all you need to do is enter the departure, arrival, and date information, confirm, pay and you’re done! Note that you need to enter your passport number. Here you can find the complete guide on how to travel by train in China.
In addition, Ctrip is also ideal for air travel within China itself, and Asia in general. I have personally compared several apps and I have found that for air travel in Asia, Ctrip offers absolutely the best deals. Ctrip also provides English-speaking customer service both by phone and chat.
Unlike many other Chinese apps, Ctrip accepts international credit cards like MasterCard or Visa.
Ctrip is presently available in 8 languages: Simplified Chinese, Japanese, Korean, English, French, German, Spanish and Russian.
QQ 音乐 (Music)
QQ allows you to listen to music for free. Despite being a Chinese app, there is music from all over the world! At the moment, it is only available in Chinese, but its use is pretty straightforward.
- Enter the name of the song or artist you want to hear;
- Search through the list of results;
- Choose the song that matches your search;
- Decide whether to listen to it directly or to save it (recommended) for later, even when you are offline.
Saving a song is very simple: just click on the heart.
To view your list of saved songs, look for the image.
Subways in China are really efficient. MetroMan is the best app for subway maps in China. It covers all the Chinese cities that have subways and some Korean and Japanese cities as well.
The application is available in 8 different languages, but it still maintains Chinese names with their pronunciation.
Whereas the rest of the world uses Uber, Chinese people use Didi. Catching a taxi in the street of China can be stressful; sometimes taxi drivers do not stop, sometimes they do not want to turn on the meter. This is why Didi is an excellent solution. Just enter your destination and where exactly you want to be dropped off. Didi offers you the option to call taxi drivers, private drivers, or shared cars. Prices vary depending on which type of car/driver you request. Private drivers are the most expensive.
For famous bars or restaurants, you won’t need to enter the Chinese address; all you’ll need to do is witing the name of the place and the address will automatically appear.
OFO (Bike Sharing)
Do you want to explore the city by bicycle, without having to rent one for the whole day? I have the best solution! Download OFO, a bike-sharing service provider. This app will require you to enter some basic information, such as your first and last name, a photo of the first page of your passport/ID and your credit card details. Unlike most Chinese apps, OFO also accepts foreign credit cards and is available in multiple languages: Chinese, English, Spanish, French, Italian, and German.