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10 apps you’ll need to have before visiting China

Visiting China for the first time can be a fun but also troublesome experience. To keep yourself connected with the outside world and enjoy the experience seamlessly, here's a list of recommended apps that you can download from Apple App Store or Google Playstore to overcome connectivity issue and be a smart traveller in China.

1. Stay on Facebook and Instagram with VPN Express


If this is your first time visiting China, you might be shocked to find out that most of your frequently used apps do not work anymore. The firewall in China has blocked a list of websites and apps from working properly. So, you will not be able to access apps like Google or Facebook.

If you still want to stay connected, VPN Express will come in handy. It provides a secured channel and protects private web traffic from China’s interference and censorship by modifying your IP address – ‘tricking’ the network that you’re surfing the internet in a different country.

After testing a couple of VPN apps, VPN express ranks the best in reliability. It offers a 7-day free trial which is enough for a 7-day trip. Once your trial is over, you can purchase their paid plans to continue surfing freely. It’s really worth the price if you cannot live without updating the Instagram.

2. Ctrip for last minute booking

Ctrip app is a must-download app if you’re intending to visit around China cities. Besides being the biggest online travel agent in China that offers everything from flights, hotels, tour packages, rails, destination activities to cruises, Ctrip also has the best customer service that operates 24/7. If you have any customer issues, you can expect them to follow up with you in 15 minutes.

After you’ve done a booking on Ctrip, they will prompt you if you’re keen to join the trip WeChat group created by them. The group connects you with other travellers who’ve booked the same trip so you’ll be able to network with new friends.

3. WeChat and WeChatPay (微信, 微信支付)

From our Prime Minister’s speech years ago at the National Day Rally, you might have already known that China has turned into a cashless society. Digital wallet is preferred everywhere – from shopping to dining, everything is paid with a mobile wallet such as WeChat Pay or Alipay. Be prepared to be stared at when you take out cash to pay your meals.

Do note that VISA, Master and American Express credit cards are not accepted in many parts of China.

To use Wechat Pay, simply just scan the merchant’s QR code, then insert the amount you’d like to pay and tab submit. In cases that you’d like to ‘Go Dutch’ after dining, WeChat Pay also allows you to split the bill easily with your friends.

4. Baidu Map


As mentioned above, Google doesn’t work in China, this includes Google Maps. Your best bet for navigation in China would be Baidu Map. Baidu Map interface is very similar to Google Maps but some of the words are in Chinese. It also has voice-guided GPS navigation for walking, public transport, and driving.

Baidu Map also contains a comprehensive list of restaurants, cafes, cinemas, shopping, places of interest and more. Drop a pin at your favourite venue and keep them highlighted while you explore around the area.

5. Metro China Subway


The subway is one of the most common forms of transportation used in China. So, downloading the Metro China Subway app gives you a better view of the public transport system in each city. Some China cities might have a very complex subway system, this app also provides enter or exit instructions of the station to help you navigate around. Filter by duration or simplicity (least number of transfer), and you can get the best option that fits your needs. And, one more plus point is this app is available in English

6. DiDi Chuxing (滴滴出行)

Not keen to squeeze in the subway or metro? Di Di might be your best choice! Di Di is a private car or cab hiring platform in China similar to Grab or Uber. Insert your pick-up and drop-off destinations, choose the vehicle type, and get matched with a driver in seconds. You can pay Di Di for these rides using WeChat pay too!

7. Dian Ping (大众点评)


Covering more than 300 cities and over 1 millions shops, Dian Ping is China’s leading platform in providing independent consumer reviews and merchant information (similar to Tripadvisor). With the hundreds of thousands recommendations by locals, the platform ensures authenticity and quality of reviews which makes it one of the most trusted review platforms in China

The robust search filters also allow you to find the best restaurants within your budget and vicinity. Before you splurge on an expensive meal at a fancy restaurant, it is always advisable to do some prior research with Dian Ping. The only caveat for Dian Ping is that it’s only available in simplified Chinese.

8. Waygo


Can’t speak Chinese (Mandarin)? Waygo has got you covered. Waygo is an award-winning translation app that enables travellers to scan an image of anything with Chinese characters (e.g, Menu, street signages) and it will translate the Chinese characters into English instantly. What’s great about the app it works offline!

The free trial allows 10 free translations per day and paid options are available at S$2.58 for one week of free unlimited translations or you prefer to pay S$8.58 for unlimited translations for life.

9. Air Matters

Air pollution can reach extremely unhealthy levels in different cities of China. Air Matters provides data from more than 10,000 monitoring stations over 50 countries. With this app, you can check the real-time pollutant index, temperature, wind, humidity, visibility and any other information regarding the current climate or weather of the city you are in.

Tip: Bring a mask in your bag when you’re heading out in case the pollution index goes up during the day.

It’s a daily routine for the Chinese local to do a round of checks on the app before leaving their home.

10. Currency converter


Our last recommendation is the XE Currency app. I bet most of you already have an exchange app in your phone. If you haven’t downloaded, you should give XE Curreny a try. It’s a comprehensive exchange app that helps you calculate the exchange prices you quickly. I personally like the calculator function which reduces the hassle of going back-and-forth between exchange app and the calculator app.

You are able to select the up to 10 currencies to monitor after downloading the app. It will be of great help especially when looking for the best bargain at the Silk Market in Beijing.