Here’s a roundup of the best apps for foreigners to use in China.
I’ve traveled, worked, and studied in lots of different places around China.
While it’s an incredible country to visit, there are some things that can be challenging because… it’s China.
But with the right apps on your phone, your trip can go from zero to hero!
Here are all the apps for China I swear by.
Best apps for traveling to China
Whether you’re traveling to Shanghai or Shenzhen or somewhere in between, you need the essential travel apps.
This is the most important China travel app of all.
Without a virtual private network (VPN) app, you won’t be able to use all your favorite sites like Instagram, Facebook, Google, Gmail, YouTube and WhatsApp when using Wi-Fi.
This is because the Chinese government blocks major Western websites and apps.
A VPN app will make it possible to stay in touch with loved ones back home, and allow you to do the things you probably take for granted like watch Netflix or read the news online.
During my travels in China, I’ve found ExpressVPN to be the most reliable VPN.
If you have time on your hands, you can compare the best VPN apps for China by reading my review here. Most of the features are fairly similar though.
Get ExpressVPN here.
2. Google Translate
Most people who travel around China book a tour with an English-speaking guide.
This is great as it takes the stress out of things. However, you’re still going to find yourself in situations where you’ll need a quick translation.
For example, you might want to order some Chinese food or ask for directions. Having the Google Translate app on your phone will help you in these sticky situations.
You can also use your phone’s camera to translate street signs and food on a menu. The best thing of all is you can access Google Translate offline!
I recommend Google Translate because it’s easy to use and everyone knows Google. But there are plenty of other great China travel apps to help with translation, such as Waygo.
Sometimes I use Bing to translate if I can’t be bothered turning on my VPN (Bing isn’t blocked in China).
Chinese people use their phones to pay for practically everything, from train stations to coffee and clothing. And when you’re traveling in China, you can too.
Alipay is one of the two major digital payment methods in China. The other is WeChat Pay, which I talk about further down.
Download the international version of Alipay and all of the main functions will be in English.
To be able to make payments with the app, you’ll need to add your bank or credit card as well as prove your identity by uploading your passport details.
I suggest getting set up before you leave your country, in case there are any issues.
If you don’t want to provide your personal information to Alipay, you’ll have to use cash in China instead.
But that can be a pain as barely anyone uses cash, and small vendors won’t have change for big notes. Credit cards are hardly used in the country either.
Get the Alipay app here.
Best apps for solo traveling in China
Make independent travel in China easier with these handy apps.
I’ve stayed in numerous hostels in China.
Truth be told, they’ve all been functional and super clean. And, the people working there have been helpful and chill (I guess that’s standard in most hostels around the world, right?).
The Hostelworld app makes booking your bed in China a breeze. You can see photos, reviews, availability and, of course, pricing.
I’ve found most Chinese hostels will help you book tours and some even run their own.
Get the Hostelworld app here.
Now, you won’t be able to find your hostel if you don’t have a good map app!
Maps.me is a super-popular choice because the maps are available offline, and you get them for free. So, you’ll be able to find your way around China without having to rely on an internet connection.
Just be mindful that you’ll need to download the map before you hit the ground running.
Also, note that Maps.me is open-source software, so anyone can contribute to its development. This means that maps are not 100% accurate.
That’s why some people prefer to use Google Maps (but you’ll need a VPN to use Google in China). If you can read Mandarin, I recommend using Amap or Baidu Maps instead.
Get Maps.me here.
Traveling to China soon? See the China travel apps page for more great apps to help you get around the country.
Best apps for living and working in China
Live like a local and use the same apps as everybody else!
6. WeChat (微信)
Need to communicate with Chinese people? Then WeChat is your app.
With more than a billion users, this is the mother of Chinese tech.
WeChat is so much more than a messaging app. You can pay for a meal in a restaurant, book train tickets, play games, and even donate money to homeless people.
As long as you’ve got WeChat Pay connected, you can pretty much live in China without the need for almost any other app on your phone.
WeChat, or more specifically WeChat Pay, is also an indispensable app for foreign tourists in China.
There’s no need to have both Alipay and WeChat Pay on your phone, as they’re both accepted everywhere. So, just choose one or the other.
Get WeChat here.
7. Taobao (淘宝)
Taobao is China’s Amazon and it’s the biggest online marketplace in the world.
You can buy anything you need or want from Taobao. You can also sell stuff, and each seller has a rating set by previous customers.
If you’re living in China and need something delivered fast, Taobao is the place to find it.
The app is in Chinese, but with a little practice and know-how you can learn how to use it knowing only English.
Plus, online shopping is a great excuse to practice reading Chinese characters!
8. Ele.me (饿了么)
Are you hungry? Well, that’s exactly what “Èle me” means in English.
Ele.me is one of the leading food delivery apps in China, but you can buy practically anything you need including flowers, electronics, makeup, and even adult toys!
Getting stuff delivered to your door in China is way easier than sourcing what you need from physical stores.
But like Taobao, you’ll need a basic understanding of Mandarin to navigate your way around the app. You can refer to this article on ordering food in China which explains how to do it.
Get Ele.me here.
9. KuGou (酷狗)
At the end of a hard day’s work in China, there’s nothing better than chilling out to some cool music (and having a beer, thank you very much).
And you’re in luck with KuGou, because it’s the cool dog of all Chinese music apps.
No, I mean really. KuGou literally means “cool dog” in Chinese.
Over 300 million people listen to music on KuGou every month. This makes it almost as popular as Spotify on a global scale.
And just like Spotify, with KuGou you can do things like create playlists, follow your favorite artists, and watch videos. There’s even a KTV (karaoke) streaming section in the app which encourages amateur singalongs!
Get KuGou Music in the App Store.
10. Tantan (探探)
If you’re single and staying in China long term, you might want to go on dates and meet that someone special.
Tantan is the Chinese version of Tinder. You simply swipe left or right on a profile, depending on whether you like what you see.
To stop fake profiles and protect people, Tantan can identify authentic photos and verifies users with a powerful moderation system.
With more than 10 million daily active users, Tantan is one of the hottest Chinese dating apps to ‘play around’ with.
It also has an English version, so give it a go!
Interested in how the Chinese live? See the top apps in China for the most popular apps used by the locals.
Best apps for studying in China
Here are some great apps to help with the studies and the hip pocket.
Regardless of what you’re studying in China, if you want to learn Mandarin while you’re there, having a dictionary app on your phone is vital.
Pleco is the most popular dictionary app with Mandarin learners. And it’s really easy to use.
You can either type the Pinyin or the English word into the search box and the app will search for the most likely options.
One of the best features, however, is looking up unknown Chinese words using your phone’s camera.
I also use WeChat’s translate function to help me decipher things, but it’s not always an accurate translation.
Get Pleco here.
12. Hello (哈啰)
Hello, or Hellobike, is ideal for cash-strapped students who want to whizz around the city.
Simply find a bike, e-bike or e-scooter via the app, scan the QR code and off you go!
Bike rides start at just 2 RMB (about US$0.30) for every 30 minutes, making it the cheapest mode of transport around. If you plan on peddling a lot, a monthly plan might be best.
There are designated no-park zones, so make sure you leave your wheels in a suitable place.
You’ll need to use a Chinese payment method to use Hello, which is why this app is more suited to expats in China rather than travelers.
Get Hello here.
13. iQIYI (爱奇艺)
You don’t actually need to be in China to use iQIYI. But I always find I’m more motivated to immerse myself in a foreign language or culture once I’m in the actual country.
iQIYI is a video streaming platform that offers a huge number of Chinese movies and television shows.
It’s similar to Netflix (which, by the way, is blocked in China unless you have a VPN), except there’s heaps of free content.
The actors speak standard Mandarin which helps with your listening comprehension. You can also turn on the foreign language subtitles if you need extra help.
Get iQIYI here.
Thinking about studying Chinese in China? See the Mandarin schools in China page for all the major language institutes.
Best overall apps for foreigners in China
In my opinion, there are two standout apps for China.
WeChat lets you communicate with the locals, organize your life, and pay for stuff with either a foreign bank card or a local Chinese one. Amazing.
ExpressVPN allows you to access all the big foreign websites and apps, and stay connected with home. Also amazing.
I hope you liked my article on the best apps to use in China. Are there any apps that you swear by? Let me know in the comments!
Main image credit: Rob Hampson on Unsplash.
FAQ about the best apps to use in China
What are the best apps for foreigners in China?
Whether you’re going to China for a quick trip or a longer stay, the best apps are ExpressVPN, Google Translate, and WeChat Pay or Alipay.
What are the best dating apps for foreigners in China?
Try Tantan or Momo if you can understand Mandarin. Otherwise, there is ChinaLoveCupid which is mostly for Chinese women interested in foreign guys.
What’s the best Chinese chatting app?
Hands down it’s WeChat.
What’s the best payment app in China?
WeChat Pay and Alipay are both great and perform similar functions.