If you’re traveling to China soon, you need to download the right apps on your phone.

They will help you get around, communicate with the locals, and generally make life easier.

I’ve lived and traveled extensively throughout China, and I’m confident the apps I’ve outlined below are the only ones you’ll need.

So, here’s what I believe are the best China apps for traveling in this amazing country.

1. Google Translate

Most people who go to China take a pre-booked 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 to communicate with a local.

For example, you might want to buy something in a market, or even ask for directions.

Having the Google Translate app on your phone will really help you get by.

Chinese woman sitting on park bench

If you get lost, or just want to chat with the locals, Google Translate can help.

I recommend Google because it’s easy to use and everyone knows Google.

Get the app on Google Play or the App Store.

2. ExpressVPN

You can access free internet in China using Wi-Fi at places like your hotel, the airport and Starbucks.

However, if you want to access all your favorite websites and apps, you’ll need a VPN.

This is because the Chinese government blocks major Western sites and apps like Instagram, Facebook, Google, Gmail, YouTube, WhatsApp, New York Times, the BBC, and even Tinder.

A virtual private network – VPN for short – means you can bypass the Great Firewall of China and keep using the sites you know and love.

I’ve travelled extensively throughout China, and I’ve found that ExpressVPN is the most reliable.

Facebook app

Without a VPN in China, you can’t access your favorite sites like Facebook, Google and YouTube.

If you have time up your sleeve, you could compare China VPN providers but the features are all pretty similar. At the end of the day you just want something fast and reliable.

Get the ExpressVPN app here.

3. Alipay

Chinese people use their phones to pay for practically everything, from train tickets to street food.

And when you’re traveling in China, you can too!

Alipay is one of the two major phone payment methods in China. (The other is WeChat Pay – I talk about that at the bottom of this blog.)

To use Alipay, you simply scan the merchant’s QR code at the register.

Get the Alipay app here.

Help for setting up Alipay

When you download Alipay, the first screen that appears may be in Mandarin.

Don’t stress – simply tap on the button on the right to get in.

The app should detect your location and then you’ll see some English.

Enter your phone number to receive a four-digit security code, then enter the code in the app.

Street food vendor China accepts Alipay

Even street food vendors in China accept Alipay.

Select the international version of Alipay, and go into ‘Tour Pass’. This gives you 90 days of paying on your phone when traveling in China.

To load money, you’ll need to give Alipay:

  • Your personal details (from your passport)
  • A photo of your passport
  • Your credit card or debit card details.

You can add up to RMB 2,000 to your account each time, up to a maximum of RMB 5,000 per debit/credit card.

Any unused balance will be refunded to your card after 90 days, so you won’t lose a cent.

If you’re uncomfortable providing your personal information to Alipay, you’ll have to use cash in China instead.

You can also use your international credit/debit card but not for small purchases, and certainly not for things like street food.

4. Mobike

There are lots of cool places to explore in China.

Exploring on a bike is not only good exercise (you’ll be eating lots of dumplings in China), but super-easy with the Mobike app.

Mobike is one of the largest bike share companies in China, so you shouldn’t have a problem finding one of their bikes. Plus, they’re bright orange!

Share bikes in China require an app to unlock

You won’t have a problem finding a share bike in China – just have the app ready!

Once you’ve found a bike, open up the app, scan the code on the bike, and off you go!

Rides start at just one yuan (about US 20 cents), making it the cheapest mode of transport around.

Get the Mobike app here.

5. DiDi

While I’m on the theme of getting around, you need to download DiDi for your China trip.

It’s China’s version of Uber or Lyft, and works pretty much the same way.

If you’re traveling in China on a packaged tour, you may not need DiDi. But some tours have free travel days and you might need to jump in a car.

Just be warned – the driver may call you to confirm your exact location.

Didi car in China

Use the DiDi app to get around China’s cities.

Unless you can speak Chinese, you won’t be able to take the call!

I recommend using the in-app message translation feature instead.

Your hotel concierge can also help if you get stuck.

Get DiDi on Google Play or the App Store.

6. Google Maps

It goes without saying that this app is worth its weight in gold – not just for China but any country overseas.

Finding your way back to your hotel, or even navigating the Forbidden City in Beijing, is easier with Google Maps.

Remember to get your VPN app because Google Maps won’t work in China otherwise.

There are alternatives, like Baidu, but they’re in Chinese and won’t be of much help.

Get the app on Google Play or the App Store.

7. Trip

If you’re on a packaged tour you may not need Trip (also known as Ctrip).

However, if you’ve got some spare days on either side of your vacation, or you’ve got a layover in China on the way to somewhere else, Trip is a great app to have.

Australian women travelling in Dalian China

Get the Trip app to book stuff like hotels (pictured: Dalian, northern China).

It’s the most prominent holiday booking site in China.

It’s ideal for things like hotels, flights, airport transfers, and my favorite – bullet train bookings.

Get the Trip app here.

Help for train bookings

Once you buy your ticket online, you can either collect the physical ticket at the train station or have it delivered to your door for an extra 40 yuan.

If you’re picking it up at the station, bring the ticket pick-up number (from the email) as well as your passport.

Leave enough time to find the Online Booking Ticket Pick-up Counter. In Mandarin this is 互联网取票专区, but most station signs are in English as well.

If you forget your passport, you won’t be able to travel! So it’s super-important you bring it.

Train ticket booking offices China

Train stations in China are busy so plan ahead!

I personally find the 40 yuan for ticket delivery a bit steep and always collect mine at the train station.

However, the trade-off is the time you spend finding the counter, and lining up at the station. In China, you can be guaranteed there will be queues at the station!

Another good accommodation booking app is Agoda (fairly popular in China) or Hostelworld if you’re on a shoestring budget.

8. XE

Ahhh, who could forget about converting currencies when traveling?

The XE currency app has everything you need for international currencies, including China’s currency (known as renminbi or yuan).

Simply enter the amount you want to convert and it’ll appear instantly on your phone. You can even use the app to transfer money.

Chinese yuan and American dollars

A currency conversion app like XE can help you with your money in China.

XE is a helpful app not just for China, but any country you’re traveling to. I particularly like it when I’m on a layover in another Asian city and have no idea about that country’s currency.

Get the XE currency app here.

What about WeChat?

WeChat is by far the most popular app used in China.

Like WhatsApp, it’s a social media app where you can keep in contact with people (and do a whole bunch of other cool things).

One of its most powerful features – WeChat Pay – allows you to buy everyday things like food and train tickets.

However, if you’re going to China for a vacation, I wouldn’t recommend you download it.

Why? You currently need a Chinese bank card to use WeChat Pay.

And, in the short time you’ll be in China, you won’t amass lots of locals to add and have conversations with.

So there’s really no point.

My final, most important tip

Make sure you download the apps of your choice before you arrive in China.

In particular, you need to download your China VPN app before you arrive, otherwise you may not be able to access Western websites and apps.

And, the Google Play store doesn’t work in China.

For the best possible experience in this amazing country, arrive prepared!

What do you think of this list of must-have China apps for traveling? Let me know in the comments if you think I’ve missed any.