Must-have apps in China: A Foreigner’s Guide

20 Jun 2024

Here’s an in-depth guide to the must-have apps in China for any foreigner living or visiting.
As you embark on your journey in China, equipping yourself with the right digital tools is crucial for navigating daily life. From communication to transportation, these essential apps will transform your experience, making it seamless and enjoyable.

1. Communication: Staying Connected

WeChat (微信)

WeChat is more than just a messaging app; it’s a super-app that integrates social media, payment services, and much more. With WeChat, you can chat, make video calls, share moments, and even book services. It is the primary mode of communication in China.
Key Features:

  • Messaging: Text, voice, and video messaging capabilities.
  • Moments: Share photos and updates with friends.
  • WeChat Pay: Pay for goods and services, transfer money, and more.


  • Ensure you verify your identity to unlock all features.
  • Familiarize yourself with the privacy settings to control who can see your Moments.

QQ (腾讯QQ)

QQ is another popular app for communication, particularly among the younger population. It offers instant messaging, voice chat, and video calls.
Key Features:

  • File Transfer: Easily share large files.
  • Customization: Personalize your interface with themes and avatars.
  • Entertainment: Access games and music.

2. Navigation: Finding Your Way

Baidu Maps (百度地图)

Baidu Maps is the go-to navigation app in China. It provides detailed maps, real-time traffic updates, and public transportation routes.
Scan QR code to downloadKey Features:

  • Accurate Directions: Detailed maps and route planning.
  • Public Transport Information: Real-time updates on buses and trains.
  • Local Recommendations: Discover restaurants, shops, and attractions.


  • Download offline maps for areas with poor internet coverage.

Gaode Maps (高德地图 Amap)

Gaode Maps offers comprehensive navigation services with an emphasis on accuracy and user experience.
Scan the QR code to download
Key Features:

  • Live Traffic Data: Avoid traffic jams with real-time updates.
  • Augmented Reality Navigation: Get visual directions overlaid on real-world views.
  • Public Transportation: Detailed routes and schedules.

3. Transportation: Getting Around

DiDi Chuxing (滴滴出行)

DiDi is China’s premier ride-hailing app, offering services ranging from taxis to private cars and shared rides.
Scan QR code to downloadKey Features:

  • Multiple Ride Options: Choose from economy, premium, or shared rides.
  • Safe Ride: Safety features including emergency contacts and ride tracking.
  • International Version: Available in multiple languages, including English.


  • Link your international credit card for hassle-free payments.
  • Utilize the in-app translator to communicate with drivers.

Meituan Bike (美团单车) and Qingju (青桔单车)

For shorter trips, bike-sharing apps like Meituan and Qingju are incredibly convenient. These apps allow you to locate, unlock, and pay for bicycles scattered throughout the city.
Key Features:

  • GPS Location: Find bikes nearby.
  • QR Code Unlocking: Scan to unlock the bike.
  • Affordable Rates: Cost-effective transportation option.

4. Payments: Managing Finances

Alipay (支付宝)

Alipay is one of the leading digital payment platforms in China, enabling cashless transactions everywhere from street vendors to high-end stores.
Key Features:

  • Payment Options: Pay via QR code scanning, online purchases, and more.
  • Financial Services: Access savings, insurance, and investment products.
  • Lifestyle Services: Book hotels, buy movie tickets, and more.


  • Set up your account with a local bank card for full functionality.
  • Explore the mini-programs within Alipay for additional services.

WeChat Pay

Integrated within WeChat, WeChat Pay offers similar services to Alipay, making it a versatile tool for daily transactions.
Key Features:

  • Peer-to-Peer Transfers: Easily send and receive money from friends.
  • Merchant Payments: Scan QR codes to pay at stores.
  • Bill Splitting: Conveniently share expenses with friends.

5. Shopping: Retail and Groceries

Taobao (淘宝)

Taobao is China’s largest online shopping platform, offering an extensive range of products from electronics to clothing.
Key Features:

  • Vast Selection: Millions of products available.
  • User Reviews: Read feedback from other buyers.
  • Secure Payments: Trusted payment options through Alipay.


  • Use the image search feature to find products by photo.
  • Check seller ratings and reviews before purchasing. (京东) specializes in electronics and home appliances but also offers a broad selection of other goods. Known for its reliable delivery and genuine products.
Key Features:

  • Fast Delivery: Same-day or next-day delivery options.
  • Authenticity Guarantee: Assurance of genuine products.
  • After-Sales Service: Comprehensive customer support. (饿了么) and Meituan Waimai (美团外卖)

For food delivery, and Meituan Waimai are the top choices. These apps offer delivery from a wide range of restaurants, grocery stores, and more.
Scan QR code to downloadScan QR code to download
Key Features:

  • Wide Selection: From local eateries to international chains.
  • Real-Time Tracking: Track your order from preparation to delivery.
  • Discounts and Promotions: Frequent deals and discounts available.

6. Learning Chinese: Language and Culture


Pleco is a comprehensive Chinese-English dictionary app, perfect for both beginners and advanced learners.
Key Features:

  • Handwriting Recognition: Draw characters to find definitions.
  • Flashcards: Create custom vocabulary lists.
  • Audio Pronunciation: Hear correct pronunciation of words.


HelloChinese is an interactive app designed to teach Mandarin through engaging lessons and games.
Key Features:

  • Structured Lessons: Grammar, vocabulary, and speaking practice.
  • Speech Recognition: Improve your pronunciation with feedback.
  • Cultural Insights: Learn about Chinese customs and traditions.

7. Social Media: Staying Informed and Entertained

Weibo (微博)

Weibo is a microblogging platform similar to Twitter, where you can follow news, trends, and celebrities.
Key Features:

  • Trending Topics: Stay updated with the latest trends.
  • Interactive Features: Live streaming, videos, and more.
  • Diverse Content: News, entertainment, sports, and personal blogs.

Douyin (抖音, TikTok)

Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, is a short video platform filled with creative content.
Key Features:

  • User-Generated Content: Discover videos from millions of users.
  • Personalized Feed: Tailored content based on your interests.
  • In-App Challenges: Participate in trending challenges and events.

Navigating life in China as a foreigner is vastly simplified with these essential apps. From communication and transportation to shopping and learning, these tools are designed to enhance your experience and help you adapt quickly to the local lifestyle. Download these apps and make your stay in China not just manageable but truly enjoyable.

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