The 9 Apps You Need If You’re Traveling to China: Essential Tools for a Smooth Trip


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The 9 Apps You Need If You’re Traveling to China

Traveling to China can be an exciting and eye-opening experience. However, with the country’s unique internet landscape and various blocked websites, it’s essential for travelers to arm themselves with the right apps to navigate through their adventure seamlessly. As a frequent traveler to China, I’ve compiled a list of nine indispensable apps that will make your journey smooth and enjoyable.

Having a VPN is a must-have for all travelers
Having a VPN is a must-have for all travelers. Image Source: AdobeStock

During my trips to China, I’ve found that having a VPN is a must-have for all travelers, as it allows you to access popular websites and apps like Google, Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, which are blocked in the country. Additionally, language barrier issues can be minimized by using translation apps to help communicate with locals effectively.

In this article, I will share my experience and knowledge on these essential apps, providing you with a comprehensive guide to make the most out of your China trip. So, read on to discover the top nine apps that every traveler to China should have on their smartphone!

Understanding China’s Digital Landscape

The Great Firewall

What Apps and websites are blocked in China
What Apps and websites are blocked in China? Image source: TravelChinaSolo

One thing I encountered when planning my trip to China is the Great Firewall, a system established by the Chinese government to regulate the Internet within the country. The Great Firewall restricts access to a variety of international websites, including popular Western platforms like Google, Facebook, and Twitter. As a traveler, it’s essential for me to be aware of these limitations and find local alternatives to stay connected during my journey.

Popularity of Local Apps

Since many foreign apps and websites are blocked in China, local platforms have gained immense popularity. These local apps cater to various needs, such as communication, navigation, and social media, and provide indispensable tools for travelers exploring China. Here are some of the local apps I found handy during my trip:

  1. WeChat – A multi-purpose app used for messaging, making payments, and even booking transportation. It’s the most popular app in China, with over a billion users.
  2. Baidu – A Chinese search engine similar to Google, providing search results, maps, and other services.
  3. Alipay – A widely used digital payment platform that allows me to make transactions without carrying cash or cards.
  4. Didi – A local ride-hailing app, similar to Uber, that provides transportation services across China.
  5. Amap (formerly AutoNavi) – A reliable mapping and navigation app with real-time traffic updates and public transportation information.
  6. Ctrip – A one-stop travel service that helps me book accommodations, flights, train tickets, and more, all in one place.
  7. Weibo – A popular social media platform, similar to Twitter, where I can share my travel experiences and keep up with local news.
  8. Qunar – Another travel booking platform that offers competitive prices on flights, trains, and accommodations.
  9. Youku – A video streaming platform to watch local shows and movies, much like YouTube.

Recognizing China’s unique digital landscape has helped me navigate the country more efficiently and ensure a seamless travel experience. By using these local apps, I was able to stay connected, informed, and entertained throughout my trip.

App Essentials


WeChat is undoubtedly the most important app for anyone traveling to China
WeChat is undoubtedly the most important app for anyone traveling to China. Image Source: WeChat

WeChat is undoubtedly the most important app for anyone traveling to China. It will be your best friend and your lifeline while you’re there. It’s more than just a messaging app; it’s a one-stop-shop for socializing, booking appointments, paying bills, and much more. I suggest downloading and setting up WeChat before you head to China, as you’ll need it for most of your daily interactions.


AliPay is the country's largest mobile payment platform
AliPay is the country’s largest mobile payment platform. Image Source: AdobeStock

Alipay is another essential app for travelers in China. It’s the country’s largest mobile payment platform and has become the primary method of payment in many establishments. I found it extremely convenient as I could pay at hotels, restaurants, and even street vendors without having to worry about carrying cash. Make sure to link your bank or credit card to Alipay before your trip to make transactions smoothly.

Baidu Maps

Top Map Apps in China
Top Map Apps in China. Image Source: TravelChinaSolo

While Google Maps might be your go-to navigation app, it won’t be of much use in China due to restrictions. Baidu Maps is the Chinese alternative and is actually quite reliable and comprehensive. I found it essential for finding my way around towns and cities, as well as navigating the public transportation system. Although it is in Chinese, the app often includes English names for major attractions and landmarks.


Language barriers can be challenging during any international travel, and China is no exception. Pleco is a fantastic app that I found invaluable for helping me communicate with locals. It is a Chinese-English dictionary equipped with an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) feature, which allows you to point your phone’s camera at Chinese text and receive an instant translation. This proved to be a lifesaver when trying to read menus, signs, and other essential information.

Didi Chuxing

Finally, for those times when public transportation won’t get you where you need to go, Didi Chuxing is China’s equivalent of Uber or Lyft. It is the most popular ride-hailing app in the country and is relatively easy to use, even with the language barrier. I found it especially helpful when I needed to get somewhere quickly or when traveling late at night. The app offers various car options and payment methods, making it highly convenient during my stay in China.

For Convenience


During my trips to China, I found Meituan to be an incredibly useful app. It is a must-have for ordering food and booking services in China. Meituan allows me to find popular local restaurants, order delivery or make reservations, all in one convenient app. I was saved from the language barrier as the app also provides translated menus and prices.

Air Matters

Another helpful app I discovered during my travels is Air Matters. Given China’s air quality concerns, this app provides real-time updates on air pollution levels in various cities. I found it invaluable for planning my outdoor activities, allowing me to make the most of my time in China while protecting my health.


Lastly, CTrip (now called had been my go-to app for booking accommodations and transportation in China. With its English interface and wide range of options, I had no trouble finding hotels and train or flight tickets at reasonable prices. CTrip eased my travel planning and allowed me to focus on enjoying my trip.

In conclusion, these apps tremendously helped me during my travels in China, and I highly recommend them for anyone visiting the country.


During my travels to China, I found these 9 essential apps to be incredibly helpful. First and foremost, ExpressVPN allowed me to access all my favorite sites like Instagram, Facebook, and WhatsApp, despite the restrictions imposed in the country.

Another app I relied on was Waygo, an offline visual translation application that helped me communicate with locals and navigate through Chinese menus with ease. I also used WeChat extensively not only for social media, but also for making payments and booking services, making it an indispensable tool for anyone visiting China.

Other essential apps for traveling in China include Baidu, a popular search engine and mapping tool, and DiDi, the Chinese equivalent of Uber. Both of these apps can be found in this helpful list.

Lastly, I recommend downloading these 9 important apps to make your trip to China as smooth and enjoyable as possible. These include various translation, mapping, and communication tools that will help you stay connected and navigate your way through this fascinating country.

By using these 9 essential apps, I was able to fully enjoy my China trip and make the most out of my time in this incredible country.

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