10 Essential Apps for Expats and Travelers in China 2020

Traveling to China this year? I have listed 10 important mobile applications people who are planning on visiting or living in the Middle Kingdom must download to make their first weeks much easier.


Having lived in Guangzhou and Beijing, I don’t usually carry a purse with me. You’d be surprised to know many people here don’t have paper bills with them as they move around in their daily lives. It’s almost a cashless society. They use apps for almost anything!

WeChat – This is the most popular mode of payment but you do need to link it with your Chinese bank account. People also use this app for messaging, calling, shopping, paying utility bills, buying train/plane tickets, getting a taxi, everything! This app is like Facebook as it lets you share photos or posts on its Moments and like Messenger as it lets you participate in group chats and do voice or video calls. If you could only download one app, this one is what you need the most!

Alipay – This is an online payment system which tourists can use by securing a prepaid card service from the Bank of Shanghai. I remember a friend who was so frustrated when she visited Shanghai as she couldn’t buy some of the things she wanted. Some vendors refused cash payments. This app is similar to WeChat though they don’t have the calling features. In some cities, some shops only accept payment via WeChat or Alipay. That’s why it’s handy to have them both.

MetroMan China – What’s the cheapest and fastest public transport within a city? You got it- the subway! MetroMan China covers more than 30 cities such as Beijing , Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. It constantly updates when new lines or stations are added. The app can show you the station maps, routes, schedules, number of transfers, distances, and estimated fares. 

brown world map illustration
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Baidu Maps – Think of it as Google Maps. Just a bit more advanced and more updated. You do need to know a bit of Chinese but if you have a translator app or use WeChat to translate it, you could manage to find or locate places in China. Listings and icons are available for hospitals, restaurants, schools, train or subway stations, police stations, malls, etc. Plus the app shows live updates of the traffic situation ,the speed limit for each street (including the locations of speed cameras)!

Didi – If you have tried using Uber or Grab, then you won’t have a problem using this app. Download the English version, sign up, and link it to your Chinese bank account or WeChat and you’re good to go. You have transport options for your journey such as public taxi, private car, limousine etc. You can pay by cash or through WeChat or Alipay and you can request to have the receipts printed and delivered to your doorstep!

Dianping – It’s a food delivery app you could use almost anywhere in China- whether you’re in the capital or in Hohhot in Inner Mongolia. It’s easy to use as it is bilingual. If you search for a certain cuisine, typing it in English yields accurate results. If you link it with your WeChat or Alipay, you could pay for your order automatically. You could order hours in advance and even track the delivery staff’s location real time.

Baopals – It isn’t a separate app but rather a mini-program on WeChat. Simply search its official site on WeChat, follow Baopals then sign up and link it with your WeChat or Alipay. Its newest feature: paying via Paypal! Its main market is the expatriate population. My friends and I have been using it and we could vouch for it reliability. Its customer service is very good, so is the quality of its products.

AirVisual– Since coming to China, I now constantly check the city’s AQI forecast (Air Quality Index) before leaving for work. When it indicates GREEN (0-50), it means the air quality is good and I can  bring my running shoes with me so I can walk around Chaoyang park after work. I check this app every now and then as the AQI could change any time of the day. What might be green in the morning could be red or purple in the afternoon. It doesn’t only give forecast but also real-time readings of the air quality in your area.

Trip.com– This is a must-have for expatriates in China. With this app, you could book hotels, flights, trains, car rents, airport transfers and even tour packages. And it is all in English, including the customer service chat and call options. As with other apps, you could pay using WeChat or Alipay on this app. You could even track flights including those you didn’t book at Trip.com. 

Dear Translate – I do use Google Translate and iTranslate but I prefer Dear Translate the most. This app has text, AR, photo and voice translation. To use it, I would just speak to its mic. In a matter of seconds, it would type the words I’ve dictated and translate them simultaneously to another language. It’s quite useful in communicating with the locals, especially when going shopping. It’s user-friendly and it supports more than 100 languages. Plus it can be used offline – it’s definitely a great app to have!


I hope this post has been useful to you. Best of luck on your trip and don’t forget to share with us any useful app for China travelers and expats.

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