Visiting China soon? Here are the best China travel apps according to a seasoned traveler.
I’ve traveled extensively throughout China, and I’m confident the apps I’ve shared below are the only ones you’ll need.
These China travel apps will help you get around, eat the right food, and generally make your trip easier.
Most importantly, none require you to have any knowledge of Mandarin or a Chinese bank account or phone number to use it.
This is the most important China travel app of all.
Without a 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 you’ll need a quick translation.
For example, you might want to buy a Chinese souvenir 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 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. It’s one of two major digital payment methods, the other being WeChat Pay, which I talk about further down.
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.
Select the international version of Alipay, and go into ‘Tour Pass’. This gives you 90 days of paying on your phone when visiting 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.
If you’re uncomfortable providing your personal information to Alipay, you’ll have to use cash in China instead. Otherwise, your international debit card can be used for purchases at some places.
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.
This travel app helps you organize 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’s free, or you can upgrade and get premium features.
Get the PackPoint app here.
Another option – if you want one less app on your phone, check out my comprehensive China packing list. I created it to help make China travel easier, and you can even download the list as an interactive PDF.
5. Metro China Subway
There are so many cool places to explore in China, and many are accessible via the subway train network in the big cities.
The Metro China Subway 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. Just note that Baidu is only in Chinese.
While I’m still on the topic of getting around, you should also download DiDi for your trip.
It’s one of the best China travel apps and works pretty much the same way as Uber or Lyft.
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!
I recommend using the in-app message translation feature instead. Your hotel concierge can also help if you get stuck.
Ctrip is one of the most popular holiday booking sites in China, and you can do everything in English.
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 Ctrip.
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, Ctrip is a great app to have.
Another good accommodation booking app is Agoda (fairly popular in China) or Hostelworld if you’re on a shoestring budget.
Get the Ctrip app here.
Ahhh, who could forget about converting currencies when traveling?
The free currency app, XE, has everything you need for international currencies. This includes 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.
XE is a helpful travel app not just for China, but any country you’re visiting. I particularly like it when I’m on a layover in another Asian city and have no idea about that country’s currency conversion rate.
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 stores and markets.
Get the XE currency app here.
What about WeChat?
Chinese social media giant WeChat is by far the most popular app used in China.
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 don’t recommend you download it.
Why? You currently need a Chinese bank card to use WeChat Pay, though there are plans to make it more foreigner-friendly.
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.
What about food delivery apps?
The main Chinese delivery apps, Meituan and Ele.me, are in Mandarin and you need a Chinese phone number to register.
This makes them problematic for tourists, especially if you’re not going to be in China for a long time.
However, there are alternatives if you’re in Beijing, Shanghai, Suzhou or Hong Kong. You can read more about this in the article on how to order food in China using delivery apps.
What about bike sharing apps?
You need a Chinese payment method, and that’s if you can even find the app in your app store.
So, you’ll need to take the train or bus, or walk instead.
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 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!
Let me know below if you think I’ve missed any must-have China travel apps. You might also like the epic-sized article I wrote about Chinese culture. You’ll need to grab a coffee!
Main image credit: Supplied by Mike Cairnduff.