Chinese people love the latest technology and they use their phones for everything.
As a result, there are plenty of apps that you can use while you’re in China.
They’ll make it easier for you to communicate, get around, book trips and even order and pay for food.
If you don’t use some of these apps you’ll miss out on a lot of the most exciting and interesting experiences you can have.
So what are the best apps to use in China? Here’s my top 10.
1. A VPN app
It’s absolutely essential that you get a virtual private network (VPN) app on your phone.
If you don’t, you won’t be able to access all the sites you’re used to, like Facebook, Google, Gmail, YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram… and even Tinder!
Sign up for one before you arrive in China or you might find yourself without access to the outside world.
If you want to acess sites like Facebook and Instagram in China, you need a VPN app.
As the Great Firewall of China often changes, sometimes the VPNs stop working, and there’s nothing more frustrating than being unable to access your Gmail account. Just remember, it's China!
This is probably the most essential app to get when you’re moving to China.
WeChat is the most commonly used chat program in China. And it’s far more than that as well.
You can link your Chinese bank card to the app and use it to pay in shops, buy movie tickets, or transfer money to other people who have the app.
Some restaurants actually don’t even have menus anymore, they have a barcode you can scan using WeChat so the menu appears on your phone.
Restaurants in China are increasingly using WeChat as the primary payment method.
The app itself is actually so versatile, and so popular, that once you start using it you’ll wonder how you ever got by without it.
While China's younger generation loves Wechat, the older generation doesn't. They're finding it increasingly hard to pay for basic services with cash.
If you want to take weekend or holiday trips while you’re living in China, then you need to use Ctrip. This app will let you see train schedules and book your tickets ahead of time.
There’s an English version too, which overcomes the language problems that you’ll often have at train stations where they don’t always have destinations listed in English.
Ctrip is one of the best apps to book your holidays in China.
Ctrip can also be used to book accommodation all over China, and will actually give you some options that you just won’t find on other hotel apps.
Just make sure you have a VPN on your phone, or you might not be able to see all the available options on this app.
4. Google Translate
Google is blocked in China, but Google Translate usually still works.
If you don’t speak Mandarin, it can be a great tool during your stay in China. It will allow you to translate simple sentences, and that’s usually enough for you to get by until you learn how to say them without the help.
5. Google Maps
If you have a VPN on your phone, then you can use Google maps. And you will need it.
It can be a little difficult to get around in China for a number of reasons. To start with, in most cities the streets signs are all in Chinese, so finding anything can be a real challenge.
You will need a maps app like Google Maps to get around China - just make sure you have a VPN to use it.
Chinese writing is notoriously difficult to learn as well, so unless you’re a genius with languages, you’re going to need some help finding streets, buildings and even some of the most popular tourist sites.
6. China Air Quality Index
Getting this app might seem like a grim idea, after all it will tell you exactly how bad the air is where you’re living. However, it’s also better for your health and for your peace of mind if you use it.
If you’re living in a big city, there will be days when the air is so polluted that it’s actually dangerous to go outside.
This app will let you know when you need to be careful.
Pollution can be an issue in some of China's big cities, and there's an app to monitor air quality.
If you want to learn some Chinese then having a dictionary app on your phone can be very useful.
Pleco is the most popular app in China, and with Mandarin learners. It’s also easy to use.
The Pleco app helps you learn Chinese from your fingertips.
You can either type the Pinyin or the English word into the search box and the app will search for the most likely options. You can also copy and paste online text into the app and tap on the words that you need translated.
8. A train booking app
Although you can book trains using Ctrip, there are specialised train apps that have more bells and whistles.
Take the China Train Booking app, for example, where you can use their delivery service and get a ticket sent straight to your doorstep. Perfect for lazy people!
Using a train booking app in China can help you get around the country with ease.
9. Didi Chuxing
To help you get around your local neighborhood in China, you need ridesharing app Didi Chuxing.
Didi is China’s equivalent to Uber. Sign up with your phone number and payment option (international credit card is accepted), and you’re good to go.
Your fare will be automatically deducted from your Didi balance at the end of your journey.
However, if you selected ‘taxi’ as the car option, you need to tap ‘pay’ and enter the amount of your fare according to the meter.
Riding in the back of a Didi car in Qingdao, eastern China.
In case there’s a Chinese interface when you download the Didi Chuxing app, simply change it to English by tapping 设置 (settings) and then 多语言 (language).
Your driver probably won’t be able to speak any English. But that’s ok, you’ll have your Google Translate app ready to go!
Last but not least - shopping!
Taobao is China’s best online shopping site. Like Amazon, it has everything you could ever want, and it delivers your purchases to your door.
If you find yourself craving some of the comforts of home and can’t find them in the physical stores, this is the app to use.
And if you have a VPN and use Chrome, you can translate the website into English.
Taobao is China's equivalent of Amazon.
So try some of these apps, or all of them, and get the most out of your time living and teaching in China.
Do you recommend any other must-have apps for China? Let me know in the comments.