Visiting China soon? Here are the best China travel apps that I use and recommend every time.
I’ve traveled extensively throughout China, and I keep coming back.
So, I know that the apps I’ve shared below are the only ones you’ll need (the first three are critical).
These China travel apps will help you pay for things, get around, communicate, and generally make your trip easier.
Most importantly, none require any knowledge of Mandarin or a Chinese bank account or phone number.
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 or WhatsApp. This is because the Chinese government blocks major Western sites 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 normally 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.
2. Google Translate
Most people who visit China go on 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 there’s a language barrier and you need a quick translation.
For example, you might want to buy a Chinese souvenir or ask for directions. Having the Google Translate mobile app 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 sweetest 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, including Waygo and Pleco.
Chinese people use their phones to pay for practically everything, from train tickets to street food. And when you’re traveling in The Middle Kingdom, you can too.
Alipay is one of the best apps for foreigners in China. But you can also use WeChat Pay. You only need to download one of them as they both do the same things.
When you download Alipay, the first screen that appears may be in Mandarin.
Don’t stress – just tap on the button on the right to get in. Enter your phone number to receive a four-digit security code, then enter the code in the app.
Add your foreign bank or credit card, and once it’s been validated, you’ll be able to buy everyday things in China.
Alipay also has a Tour Card option, which gives you 90 days of paying on your phone while you’re visiting China.
This involves a temporary Chinese bank account being set up for you, and there are top-up limits and fees. So, it’s more cumbersome than simply adding your card to Alipay.
If you’re uncomfortable providing your personal information to Alipay or WeChat Pay, you’ll have to use cash in China instead. But this is getting increasingly harder as China moves to a cashless society.
Otherwise, your international debit card can be used for purchases at some places like large supermarkets.
Get the Alipay app here.
Do you love traveling, but hate the packing part?
Well, before you even get on the plane, you’ll have to create a packing list so you don’t forget anything. The good news is PackPoint makes it a whole lot easier.
If you’re anything like me and need structure, this app is super helpful.
PackPoint tells you what you need to pack in your suitcase based on how long you’ll be in China (or any destination), the weather, and the activities you have planned during your trip.
The app has a free version, or you can upgrade for premium features.
Get the PackPoint app here.
5. MetroMan China
There are so many cool places to explore in China, and many are accessible via the subway train network in the big cities.
The MetroMan app makes it easy to plan your travel, work out the best routes, and even calculate the cost of your trip.
This is great for solo travel in China or if your package tour is bookended by a free day or two.
This handy little app is suitable for every Chinese city that has a subway system, from Beijing in the north to Guangzhou in the south.
6. Google Maps
A navigation app is worth its weight in gold – not just for traveling around China but in any country overseas.
Finding your way back to your hotel and exploring all the famous places in China is easier with Google Maps (or Apple Maps if you’re an iOS user).
Just remember to download your VPN app before you arrive in China because Google Maps won’t work in China otherwise.
There are alternative Chinese map apps such as MAPS.ME and Baidu Maps. Just note that Baidu is only in Chinese.
While I’m still on the topic of getting around, you should also download DiDi Chuxing for your trip.
It’s one of the best China travel apps and it’s China’s version of Uber or Lyft. DiDi drivers literally turn up in minutes!
Just be warned – the driver may call you to confirm your exact location. Unless you can speak Chinese, you won’t be able to make sense of the call!
This has happened to me numerous times.
If you’re confident that you’re located where the app says you are, just stay put are don’t answer the phone. Your driver should still arrive.
When you’re in the car, I recommend using the in-app message translation feature if you need to communicate with the driver. Or use Google Translate.
Trip (formerly Ctrip) is one of the most popular holiday booking sites in mainland China, and you can do everything in English. Yay!
I’ve used it time and time again for tours, hotels, flights, airport transfers, and my favorite – bullet train bookings.
If you’re on a packaged tour, where everything is sorted, you may not need Trip.
However, if you’re taking advantage of Visa-Free Transit and you have some time to explore, or your tour has finished and there’s more you want to see, Trip is a great app to have.
Get the Trip app here.
Ahhh, who could forget about converting currencies when traveling?
The free currency app, XE, has a simple interface to know how much things cost in China. (In case you don’t know, the local currency is 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.
XE is a helpful travel app not just for China, but any destination overseas. I particularly like it when I’m on a layover in another Asian city like Hong Kong and I have no idea about the local currency.
Oh, and before you head to China you might want to familiarize yourself with counting money in Chinese. It’ll help you when shopping in the markets.
Get the XE currency app here.
10. Sherpa’s Food Delivery
The leading food delivery apps in China are Meituan and Ele.me, and they’re used by millions of Chinese every day.
The problem is, these apps are only available in Mandarin. So, unless you can understand Chinese characters, you’re going hungry!
Luckily, that’s where Sherpa’s comes in. Not only can you order food straight to your hotel door using their English version app, you can also get alcohol, groceries, and even movie tickets.
Sherpa’s is currently available in Beijing, Shanghai and Suzhou, and they even have a bilingual call center if your order goes astray (I can’t say that’s happened to me yet).
Just note that delivery fees are higher than Meituan and Ele.me, but remember you’re paying for the privilege of an English app in China!
What about bike sharing apps?
Want to ride a bike, e-bike or scooter in China?
You’ll need either Alipay or WeChat Pay in order to pay, but you’ll first need to navigate your way around the bike app which is in Chinese.
Ask a local or your tour guide to help you.
My final, most important tip
Make sure you download your essential apps before you arrive in China.
In particular, you need to download your China VPN app before you arrive, otherwise you won’t be able to access major Western websites and apps. (If you want a cheaper option than ExpressVPN, see my China VPN review).
And, the Google Play store only works in China with a VPN.
So, for the best possible experience in this amazing country, arrive prepared!
What are you favorite travel apps? Let me know in the comments below. Next, take a read of my epic article on Chinese culture. You’ll learn a lot.
Main image credit: Supplied by Mike Cairnduff.
FAQ about China travel apps
What apps should I download for travel in China?
The most important ones: a VPN app so you can access foreign apps and websites, Alipay or WeChat Pay so you can pay for things, and a translation app like Google Translate or Pleco.
How do I use Alipay and WeChat Pay to pay for things in China?
You scan the vendor’s QR code and then enter the amount on your phone, followed by your password. Or, you hold up your app’s QR code to the vendor’s scanner (no amount or password required).
Which taxi app works in China?
DiDi is the best one as that’s what all the local use. The app’s in English, but the taxi drivers only speak Chinese.
What is the most commonly used app in China?
It’s WeChat, without a doubt. When you’re in China, you’ll probably only use WeChat’s payment function, but there are lots of other useful features in the app.
Do I need to download a social media app for China?
No, because you’re probably not going to make Chinese friends on a short trip. But if you download WeChat, you’ll be able to communicate with your tour guide (which is handy if you get lost!).