Are you going to travel around China and would like to get some IOS/Android Apps to make your experience easier?
Keep in mind that not all the applications that work in your country work in China, and some that do, are very slow. That’s why in the following article I present the 10 applications that I consider most useful and effective for traveling around the country.
Of course, there are many more, but I will focus on those that do not require knowledge of Chinese to use them.
Unless I specify otherwise, all of them are available for iOS and Android users. But attention Androidians:
Google Play Store doesn’t work in China, so to avoid complications, it’s best to download as many as you think you’ll need before your trip.
1. Maps – Baidu Maps or Apple Maps
Although before the arrival of smartphones people also traveled and found the places they wanted to visit, mobile map applications are an unquestionable help for the traveler.
With them, you can not only locate yourself and access more detailed information about the services you have around you, but also calculate the time and the most convenient transports for your routes.
Unfortunately for some, Google Maps doesn’t work well in China. However, in newer versions, it allows you to download some city maps for offline use. The bad news is that, as announced, some maps may not be available for offline use.
There’s another possibility, available for both iOS and Android, called Baidu Map. You could say that Baidu is the equivalent of Google in China since, in addition to being the quintessential web content search engine among Chinese users, it has as many features as this one.
For iOS users, there’s an alternative to their basic applications – Apple Maps. It’s convenient and works much like its Google counterpart.
There has one drawback for China, and that’s that all the addresses are in English (or whatever language your smartphone is set to), not Chinese. The good news is that you won’t have any problems searching for destinations in your app, but you may have them on the street if the signage is exclusively in Chinese characters.
2. Translator & Dictionary
Don’t hesitate to get a good Chinese dictionary for your trip. I’m sure you’ll need to get hold of it on the way. To prevent you from getting lost in the ocean of applications with this feature, I have summarized below the most suitable ones for your journey.
Pleco is one of the most popular Chinese-English-Chinese dictionaries. It allows you to search in both languages and when it comes to Chinese, you can enter the entry in pinyin format or by drawing the strokes manually.
In addition, it has two very useful tools: One is the “Clipboard Reader” (or clipboard reader) and the other is the “Optical Character Recognition” (OCR).
The former immediately translate any text you copy to the clipboard. However, the free version only offers translation of individual characters. So, if you’re trying to figure out what a sentence or paragraph means, you’ll have to get some imagination going.
Although it is not a dictionary in itself, this Google tool should not be overlooked. While it is true that many of the services on the American platform are not available to users connecting from China, Google Translator is an exception.
You might wonder why you would need this application if you download one of the above-mentioned dictionaries. I’ll give you two reasons: the first one is because this application is the only one that allows you to translate long sentences and paragraphs in both directions (to and from Chinese) with some consistency. For the kind of translations you will need during the trip, it is more than enough.
The second is because you have many language packs available, and not just English or Spanish (for example Catalan or Basque, official languages in Spain). In addition, you can download most of these packages and use the offline application, a great advantage for travelers.
In a country where the language is a big barrier, it doesn’t hurt to load your Smartphone with a few megabytes to help you deal with the typical situations of any trip: where to stay, how to get around, or how to access key information.
As mentioned above, this Chinese version of Google offers a variety of features. For example, its translator, which I think is one of the best translator apps in China!
Baidu translation is very comprehensive and can work very well, and when you need to communicate with locals, the people there can easily read the translated text and better understand what you are trying to say.
3. Metro App – China Subway
Another application that will make things much easier for you during your stay in big cities is one that contains the subway maps of the cities.
For China, I recommend “Metro China Subway” or “MetroMan”. It covers all the cities in China that have a metro nowadays (and some in South Korea, Japan, and other single cities like Moscow or Mexico City), and everything in the same application.
It’s available in 8 languages besides Chinese, but whatever you choose, it keeps all station names in Chinese characters and pinyin.
The most important functions are – route calculation with information about price, time, transfers, etc., the map of each station to choose the most convenient exit, and some data about the services around the stops.
4. Train and Plane Tickets – Trip
Trip.com – China Train Booking is an application that allows you to easily check train availability and book your train ticket online.
The application is owned by China Highlights, a large travel agency that has been working with foreigners visiting China since 1998, and offers train ticket booking service since 2013. In addition, the application is available for Android and iOS devices and has been running since 2015, with the aim of making it easier for foreigners to book train tickets.
Below are the main features of this application:
- Live data: The availability of tickets is in real-time thanks to an automatic system that is synchronized with China Rail, the official government database
- Accepts several payment methods: The application accepts payments with foreign credit cards, Paypal, Alipay and WeChat. This is very important since often the main problem of foreigners in China is not the language but the fact of not being able to pay with their credit cards
- Quick booking: The application interface is quite simple, and this makes it possible to book your train ticket quickly and without complications
- Customer service: The app gives you access to English-speaking customer service, from 8:00 to 23:00 (Chinese time, GMT + 8), every day of the week
You will usually receive your ticket receipts through the app. By showing the electronic receipt on your phone, together with your passport, you can easily pick up your tickets at any train station without any problem.
If you prefer, the application also provides a service to deliver your train tickets to the hotel in China of your choice within 2 days.
Trip is an ideal Chinese travel service provider for buying and booking your airline tickets and can also be useful for train tickets. It is available in eight languages and also accepts international credit cards (VISA, Mastercard, etc.).
You can access all the information regarding national and international flights in a very fast and intuitive way. At the same time, it collects all the timetables, fares, and availability of train journeys throughout the country.
The purchase of both travel cards is very simple and reliable. If you register beforehand, your data will be stored, which will speed up the purchase process. When the payment is confirmed, you will receive an e-mail with all the information related to the trip.
In the case of airline tickets, the electronic ticket will also arrive in your inbox (after the booking confirmation).
For train tickets, you will receive in a single email the booking confirmation and the reservation number of the ticket. With this number and your passport, you must go to the ticket office at the train station (either one, it doesn’t have to be the same one from which you leave) to obtain the physical ticket valid for travel.
Using Trip you can pay in 22 different currencies. On the other hand, the same application allows you to view all your reservations, purchase hotel stays or tourist packages (accommodation + transport), or check the status of your flight.
This Chinese tourism company is also trying to become the hotel search engine of choice for Asia, but at the moment it does not enjoy the popularity of its competitors in this sector, which I present below. However, it is very practical if you prefer to book transportation and accommodation in one go.
5. Hotels – Agoda, Hostelworld, Booking
These three search engines for hotels, hostels, and other types of accommodation are the most popular among travelers in Asia. Although Booking and Hostelworld are equally good options, Agoda is definitely the one with the largest variety of accommodations and promotions in the Asian giant.
In my case, I have had good experiences with all three, so it will depend on your criteria to choose one or the other. The information about the accommodations they provide, the booking procedure and the payment methods do not differ much from each other. What makes them different is the volume of the offer and the prices of the rooms. On the other hand, they are all available in several languages and accept international credit cards.
It is very useful to download the mobile application to your Smartphone because it speeds up the booking process compared to websites. In addition, all the reservation data will be stored in it, as well as the location of the establishment in Chinese. Because this data is available offline, you only have to show your mobile to the taxi driver or at the hotel reception.
6. Taxis – Didi
In China, it is not easy to take a taxi. Moreover, since the large Chinese multinational Didi Dache took over the monopoly of taxi transport services in the Asian giant, the conventional taxis available outside the platform have been considerably reduced.
For all this, it is interesting to have this application in your journey through the Kingdom of the Middle. With Didi, you can request a driver to come and pick you up at the point where you are located or where you signal to him. The car can be a public taxi, a private vehicle, a car-share, and many other options, each with a different price that you estimate beforehand.
This amount is calculated based on the type of vehicle and the destination address you enter manually in the application. Once you accept the price, the driver will pick you up and take you to the indicated destination without the need for any oral communication. The payment method is integrated in the application.
Until now, and since the summer of 2016 (when Didi bought Uber in China), this Chinese company has just announced the launch of its English-language application, which also includes credit cards from 12 countries.
7. Communication App – WeChat
While it may not seem like a must-have application for traveling in China, some of its features are very useful. The main one, of course, is that it is the most used voice communication and fast messaging medium in the Asian giant, with a current average of 768 million users connected every day.
Some say that Wechat is the Chinese equivalent of WhatsApp. However, the former has a lot more utility than the latter. In fact, WeChat in China is used more like a social network than a mere messaging service, since each account is associated with a profile where you can post photos, videos, share links, etc., to which your contacts have access.
But that’s not all. Although it is not interesting for the routines that a traveler may have, the application also allows you to associate your credit card and consequently make payments and money transfers immediately, in a small store, to a friend, in the subway, when buying movie tickets, automate the balance of the taxpayer’s taxes and a long etcetera.
With all these facilities for the consumer, it is not surprising that more than half of the population has an active account in Wechat. Among the Chinese, it is very common to ask for Wechat’s contact; it is a way of snooping into the private lives of others while expanding the personal network of contacts, so important in Eastern society.
So you should not be surprised if, before even asking your name, you are asked to scan your personal QR code which will allow them to send you a friend request (which you can either accept or reject). Personally I find this a very interesting way to make contacts in China that can help you a lot during your stay.
Wechat is available in 20 languages in addition to Chinese and is capable of translating text messages received in any of these languages to the one you have set up in your profile. Therefore, it offers another great advantage to the traveler in China, since it not only facilitates a way of communicating with people but also helps to mitigate language misunderstandings.
8. Payment App – Alipay
In a country where cash payments are increasingly in the minority and have their own credit circuit (Union Pay), making payments and purchases can be frustrating for tourists.
Currently, in China, the most used way to make payments is to use QR codes through WeChat or Alipay applications.
While both applications require linking to a local phone number and a Chinese bank account, since the end of 2019 Alipay offers the possibility for tourists to enjoy this service called Alipay Tour Pass.
Alipay Tour Pass features:
- Valid for 90 days
- Rechargeable account with any international payment method
- Minimum charge of 100 CNY (about 13 EUR)
- Maximum recharge of CNY 2,000 (about EUR 260)
- Can be reloaded multiple times
- After 90 days the remaining balance is returned to the account of the origin
How to use the Alipay Tour Pass
- Find and install Alipay’s App
- Sign up with an email account or a phone number
- Search the App for “Tour Pass”
- Recharge your Shanghai bank card using your usual payment method
- Use all Alipay’s services such as scan to make payments or Didi to book a taxi
9. Music & Video Player – QQ music and QQ Video
The long train journeys, the queues at some tourist points or back to the hotel to relax a little, are good moments to give the ears with our favorite themes.
Since platforms like Spotify and YouTube are not available in China, if you want direct access to your favorite music, you’ll have to be proactive. One option is to save all your lists in your phone’s memory; the other is to download a Chinese music player.
The most popular is QQ Music & Video (belongs to Tencent company). You’ll be amazed at the number and diversity of songs they store from around the world.
These applications allow you to access a multitude of songs, videos, radio channels or streaming music programs. In addition, you can create playlists and, if you download the songs and movies you can listen to them whenever you want without being connected to the Internet.
It’s also a great way to familiarize yourself with the Chinese music & film scene.
10. Web Search Engine – Baidu or Bing
When it comes to searching for information on the web, the most used web content search engine in the Asian giant is called Baidu.
Baidu, like Google, has many other functions, although not too interesting for the traveler. While it is very useful for searching for information or websites in Chinese, it is not so useful for other languages, not even English.
As always, there is an alternative: Microsoft’s Bing. It performs searches very similar to those of Google. You can enter your search key in any language you want and it works perfectly in the eastern country.
Bing has a mobile application (for iOS and Android) that is used as a web content search engine and also as a browser itself. So you can open the website of your choice in the same app or redirect it to your preferred browser.
We hope these app recommendations will help you to make your trip in China more comfortable. As the virtual world is constantly changing and improving, please feel free to leave a comment with your experience or any new and useful suggestions you may have, it will be of great help to us to update!