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16 Essential Apps to Survive While Staying in China (2019)

Are you planning to go on a short trip to China? How about staying in China for the long term? Either way, you would need to have knowledge of the apps that are used in China in order to make your stay easier and to immerse yourself into living in the local Chinese way.

Below are 16 must-have apps that will help you in your stay in China.

1. Maps: Baidu Maps (百度地图), Apple Maps

If you know how to read in Chinese, even just a bit, then Baidu Maps is the perfect app. Its route planner leads you directly from one point to another, supported by audio. It shows not only various transport routes, but also factors in real-time traffic conditions, accurate waiting times, and the estimated length of time for a journey.

However, if your Chinese reading skills are not that strong, Apple Maps can be an alternative. Similar to Baidu Maps, Apple Maps helps you find different ways to your destination with spoken directions. It provides instant updates about traffic information, therefore helping to estimate your total amount of time needed to commute. Additionally, it has indexed categories, including ‘Food & drink’, ‘Shopping’, ‘Fun’, and ‘Travel’, which can suggest to you the closest attractions, hotels, restaurants, banks and ATMs and more. This would greatly smoothen your travel plan.

2. Subway Map: MetroMan (地铁通)

With MetroMan, which works in all cities in China, you get all the details of subway information. To navigate, first, pick your journey from your departure station to your arrival station. Second, pick the date and time, then the app will show a choice of different routes, with all their estimated times for the journey, number of transfers, as well as fares. You can then simply pick the right route that matches your timeframe and budget, and set off!

3. Taxi: DIDi (滴滴出行)

For those times when you’re in a rush or seek a more relaxed and convenient option, DiDi app is the best for ordering a cab. The app comes with both Chinese and English versions, making non-Chinese speakers’ lives much easier. Similar to other taxi apps, you’ll need to enter your pick-up location and destination, and from there, your driver will bring you to wherever you need to go.

4. Communication: WeChat (微信)

As many of you may already know, Wechat is the most widely used communication app across China. Apart from chatting with your friends and seeing their updates and posts in ‘Moments’, it has other features that practically help your daily activities. For example, with Wechat Pay, you can shop however you like, both in physical stores and online platforms. Moreover, you’re able to send and request money from friends!

If you’re looking to make new friends, Wechat’s ‘Shake’ function lets you instantly interact and chat with people around your area. But of course, if you have no interest in knowing people nearby, feel free to turn off this feature.

5. Payment: Wechat Pay (微信支付), Alipay (支付宝)

Do you know the majority of people living in China use their smart phones to make payments in basically all situations, such as utility bills, shops, restaurants, etcs? It’s rare that young people would still carry a wallet or cash when going out nowadays.

To use Wechat Pay, which is already pre-installed in the Wechat communication app, you can simply add your card details from Chinese or international banks, and you’re all set. To make a payment, you may display your barcode from the ‘Quick Pay’ option, which merchants will scan,   and payment will then go through!

Apart from Wechat Pay, another well-known mobile payment app is Alipay, though currently, you need to have a Chinese bank card to use it.

6. Bicycle: Mobike (摩拜单车), Hellobike (哈罗单车)

Shared bikes are especially popular in China. Of the various options, Mobike and Hellobike are the two most commonly used. They need to bond with a payment method before making fully refundable deposits, which could be either through Wechat Pay, Alipay, or proper Chinese bank cards.

Both Mobike and Hellobike require you to scan the QR code on the bike with the app. It will then automatically be unlocked, and you can ride where you want!

The two companies offer several models of bikes, catering to people with different needs, sizes, and heights.

7. Tour Guide: DianPing (大众点评)

Want to explore all amazing local places like a pro? DianPing is the app for you! It’s a Chinese version of Tripadvisor, and more! It gives information on a vast majority of places that Chinese people visit, ranging from restaurants, movie theatres, hotels, shopping centers, gyms, hospitals, learning centers, salons, karaoke, and all other services! It lists everything!

With ratings, photos and comments supplied by other customers, it helps you discover the hidden gems in China.

8. Travel Planner: Ctrip

When you’re in a big country like China, you might want to travel across cities, and that’s when Ctrip comes in to assist. Ctrip acts as your personal travel agency, offering services like accommodation reservations, transportation ticketing, packaged tours, and corporate travel management.

So, for example, if you’d like to view different options for train tickets and book online, you’re sure to find Ctrip useful.

9. Online Shopping: Taobao (淘宝)

Everyone in China knows Taobao. It’s basically an upgraded version of Amazon. It has more products, and they’re sold at much cheaper prices. If you’re staying in China for good, you’ll absolutely need Taobao. With Taobao, you can actually find anything, from physical products to services. What’s more, you can interact with the vendor directly and instantly via Taobao’s chat messenger, so you would have better knowledge about the product before making the purchase. Besides Taobao, JD.com and TMall.com also provide efficient e-shopping and delivery service.

10. Food Delivery: Waimai Meituan (美团外卖), Ele.me (饿了么), Baidu Waimai (百度外卖)

The food is one of the nicest things about China. If you’re planning to live in China, food delivery services are something you cannot do without.

Waimai Meituan, Baidu Waimai and Ele.me are three of the top food delivery apps used in China. Similar to all other food delivery apps, they offer you a list of the different food that is available to be delivered to your door, and it even gives you the estimated arrival time of the delivery.

But how about if you only want to have some snacks and beers that you can eat and drink while watching the telly at home? Or what if you prefer to cook yourself a nice meal, and you just found out that there are not enough ingredients?  Baidu Waimai and Ele.me have been impressively in providing supermarket delivery! With such efficient food delivery apps, no one ever needs to leave their home again for food!

11. Group Buying: Meituan (美团)

Things in China still not inexpensive enough? How about buying through group buying sites? Meituan is the biggest group buying site in China and includes all sorts of deals that save you money. Like other group buying sites, their deals cover basic things such as dining experiences, hotel deals, movie tickets, and even business to consumer services like home repairing services. On Meituan, you’ll also find business to business deals such as corporate training workshops and even home building materials. With such a dynamic app, a lot of things can be purchased cheaply.

Living in today’s modern world requires digital knowledge and the proficient use of mobile technologies. China today is a very modern society, so it’s no surprise that they have so many apps that help make daily life easier and more efficient. In fact, some people say China is even ahead of other countries in terms of the high-tech lifestyle. These 16 apps are sure to help you live a truly modern and digital life in China, making your stay more satisfying and allowing you to really immerse yourself in current Chinese culture.

Winkie Wong

Passionate about teaching and as a Chinese speaker, Winkie is also qualified with the Certificate of Proficiency in Putonghua by the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority. She's now dedicated to offering Chinese lessons on ChineseQQ, via Skype and face to face. Her students are from various backgrounds, levels and ages.

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