Once touching down in China you will very quickly realise that EVERYONE has a smart phone. A smart phone in China is not just a phone it is your wallet, your office and so much more. Read on for a guide to the essential apps you will simply not be able to live without once you have settled.
Before leaving China ensure that you have installed a VPN on both your phone and on your laptop/tablet. A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a must have for China to get around its notoriously strict internet policy (the great firewall). To be able to access most social media sites you will need one of these. But also, a VPN is great if you want to watch online TV from your home country (I can’t live without BBC iPlayer and 4OD). VPN’s are very affordable and are usually a little less than 100 USD for a yearly subscription. There are also some that you can download for free however these tend to be a little less reliable.
Once in China
In China Wechat is everything! Wechat is an instant messaging platform similar to whatsapp that you will use to communicate with your new friends in China either through instant messages or video calls. Wechat is also a very popular social media platform where you can upload ‘moments’ onto your page in a similar way to Facebook or Instagram. As well as all of this Wechat has many more uses. The most popular being ‘Wechat Wallet’, a way of making payments by scanning QR codes on your phone.
Alipay is a mobile payment app. In China every shop will accept Alipay whether it’s your local supermarket, the old man selling noodles on the side of the street or even all online shops and websites, this is how you will be making most of your online transactions. You can transfer money to your friends and it will go straight into their account making those awkward bill splitting moments at restaurants a thing of the past. You can also use Alipay to top up your phone with credit, pay your house hold bills and pay for taxis.
Didi is there to make taxi travel easy! Now in English, Didi is the Chinese version of Uber. Didi has thousands of drivers and you will very rarely wait longer than 5 minutes for one to appear on your door step. It’s easy to use and cheaper than hailing a taxi from the side of the road. You are able to type messages to your driver in English which are immediately translated into Chinese and vice versa, meaning no awkward lost in translation moments and you are able to type in addresses in English. Your account is linked directly to your card and Alipay account meaning this is once again a cashless transaction.
Recently introduced in the UK and other countries around the world you will never go more than 10 metres without seeing a Mobike or Ofo bike. Cheap and efficient, these bike rental apps are a great way to get around and see the city. All you need is your Chinese bank account and a picture of your passport. Mobike’s app has an English version making it a little easier to use than Ofo as at the time of writing Ofo does not have an English version.
Looking to travel China? Ctrip offers an excellent and easy service to book your internal train tickets and flights. When booking train tickets simply choose your train, pay online and go to the train station with your receipt to pick up your tickets from the collection point.
Similar to trip advisor but with much more current reviews, Bonapp is a good way to find restaurants near to you. They also have excellent maps and recommendations as well as addresses translated in both Chinese and English which you can give directly to taxi drivers.
They also have an online booking service as well as the restaurant’s direct contact details.
Pleco is a Chinese/English dictionary and probably the best one available with many other functions other than just translation, the best being a screen reader which enables you to translate Chinese characters from your phone.
Baidu translate will do what you want Google translate to do. However with the google website being a little erratic in China, Baidu is the next best option.
Put simply, Taobao is life changing! Taobao is an online shopping platform similar to Amazon. However, the difference being on Taobao you can buy literally anything, and it will usually arrive on your doorstep the very next day. The website is in Chinese so best to ask a friend to help. From Branston pickle to suspiciously cheap football kits and designer clothes you will wonder how you ever managed to live without Taobao.
Baopals is the English language version of Taobao. It dosne’t have quite the variety and scope of Taobao but is still very much worth a look and simpler to navigate than Taobao.
Similar to Deliveroo, Sherpas will be your Sunday evening life saver! What makes Sherpas great is that all of your favourite Western restaurants are on it as well as tasty Asian restaurants. Sherpas is an English language website which is what makes it so practical. So if you are craving a burrito, burger or baozi but just can’t face the great outdoors then Sherpas will have your back. Once again you can pay using Alipay and delivery is quick and efficient.