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 traveling or living 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 Google, Gmail, YouTube, WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram… and even Tinder!
This is why it's my number 1 China app.
There are a lot of different VPN apps available, and some are better than others (see the best VPNs for China here).
Sign up for one before you arrive in China or you may find yourself with no access to the outside world.
If you want to access 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 hard to pay for basic services with cash.
3. China Train Booking
If you plan on traveling around China, chances are you'll be using the country's bullet train network.
The network is the biggest in the world and easy to use. And the China Train Booking app makes it even easier to use.
Directly synchronized with China Rail, ticket availability is updated every second. This kind of accuracy gives you the peace of mind you need.
The China Train Booking app can help you get around China with ease.
Foreign credit cards are accepted, and you can even get a ticket sent straight to your doorstep.
It's perfect for lazy people!
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.
A translation app is critical if you're going to China.
I must admit I've had some pretty funny conversations with Chinese people using this app!
There are lots of other free and paid translation apps available (you can check out this guide), but I use Google because it's what I'm most comfortable with.
5. Google Maps
If you have a China 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'll 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.
If you want to book flights and accommodation all over China, then you need to download Ctrip.
Also known as Trip, Ctrip will give you some options that you just won’t find on other travel apps.
Ctrip is one of the best apps to book your holidays in China.
There’s an English version too (here), which overcomes any language problems you may encounter with other Chinese booking 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 while you're in China.
7. China Air Quality Index
Getting this app for China might seem like a grim idea.
After all, it will tell you exactly how bad the air is where you’re staying. However, it’s better for your health and peace of mind if you use it.
If you’re in a big city, there will be days when the air is so polluted that it's actually dangerous to go outside.
Pollution can be an issue in some of China's big cities, and there's an app to monitor air quality.
This app will let you know when you need to be careful.
You can see why this app is super-popular with foreigners in China.
If you want to learn some Chinese, or even survive in China, having a dictionary app on your phone can be very useful.
Pleco is the most popular dictionary app in China, and with Mandarin learners. And it’s really 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.
9. Didi Chuxing
To help you get around, you need ridesharing app Didi Chuxing – 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 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 English. But that’s ok, Didi can translate your messages to the driver.
Alternatively, you can use one of your other China apps, like Google Translate or Pleco.
Last but not least – shopping!
Taobao is China’s biggest 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 traveling or living in China.
Do you recommend any other must-have China apps? Let me know in the comments.