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5 Apps You Need In China (That Aren’t VPNs)

By Natasha Cohen08/10/2020 Living in China, Tourism

You probably already know that you’ll need to download a Virtual Private Network (VNP) before travelling to China in order to use websites and apps like Google, Facebook and YouTube.

But there are also lots of other apps – many developed in China – that will help make your stay there even better. And because a couple of these apps don’t have an English interface option, it’s the perfect way to learn more of the language along the way. Here are a few must-haves.


Dianping lets you browse restaurants, hotels and shops by area and type. So you can either see what’s nearby your current location, or choose a different location to see more options. And when it comes to restaurants, it also lets you browse by cuisine – for example Sichuan-style, Western, coffee or dessert.

A little like Tripadvisor or Google Reviews, Dianping also lets its users post photos and reviews of the places they’ve visited. So if you find a restaurant you like the look of, you can check it out on the app and see what other people have to say about it, and how they rate it.


Now that you’ve found yourself some great places to shop and eat, how do you get there?

Baidu Maps, also sometimes listed as Amap in the app store, lets you do everything from seeing where your nearest metro station is to planning your journey. It’s much more accurate than Google Maps in China, and is a must-download for keen travellers.


WeChat is China’s most popular messaging app, and works almost like a combination of WhatsApp and Facebook. You have a chat function where you can send instant messages to your contacts, and a ‘Moments’ function where you can post pictures and updates for your network to see. You can also follow and contact businesses on WeChat.

If you’re making friends in China, it’s essential to download. Adding people is easy: either you can search for their username in the app, or simply scan their unique user QR code from their phone.

Recently, WeChat also made its popular WeChat Pay function available to the rest of the world. This means you no longer have to have an active bank in China to be able to use mobile payments with the app. This is super handy because many places in China accept mobile payments – and some are going completely cashless altogether.


Like WeChat, Alipay also became available for foreigners without a Chinese bank account to use. You can simply register for a ‘Tour Pass’, then top it up with funds to use it as a digital, mobile prepaid card.


Last but certainly not least, you might want a reliable dictionary and translation app. Pleco lets you search characters by drawing them with your touchscreen, searching for a pinyin word or typing in a character using a Chinese keyboard, as well as translating from English to Chinese. You can also use its camera translation function, which translates any Chinese written down in realtime simply by you holding your phone camera over the words.

You can check the pronunciation of any words you look up by listening to the audio clips. And to make sure you’re using a new word you’ve learned in the right context, Pleco also gives lists of sentences using it.

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