chinese apps

30 Must-have Chinese Apps for Spending Time in China

 No access to Google, YouTube, Facebook or Whatsapp in China? No problem!

The Great Firewall of China might prevent you from browsing your usual sites and platforms, but there are plenty of alternatives and essentials that will tide you over.

Whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, moving here for study or work, learning Chinese or not, we’ve got a list that covers all the bases.

Contents

Daily Apps

WeChat

chinese apps

Developer: Tencent

Monthly active users: Over 1 billion

Available on: iOS | Android

Price: Free

If there’s one app in this list that you absolutely can’t live without while in China, it’s WeChat. Referred to locally as 微信 (wēi xìn), it’s your primary line of online communication with family, friends and coworkers.

Some service providers also like to use WeChat, which lets non-locals book appointments through chat instead of calling and communicating in broken Chinese.

WeChat has several in-app translation functions. Users can translate any text into English or Chinese, making it more convenient to communicate with natives. And let’s not forget that the app is equipped with OCR (Optical Character Recognition) technology, meaning you can also translate images of text scanned with your phone.

But WeChat is much more than just a messaging app. In addition to being the main form of online communication in the mainland, it’s also an e-Wallet. WeChat Pay is one of the most popular methods of payment in China. If you select the “Pay” function, you can pay for utilities, phone bills and more.

And if that’s not enough, locals also use WeChat mini programs for shopping, food delivery, travel deals, event tickets and more.

Alipay

chinese apps

Developer: Alibaba

Monthly active users: 845 million

Available on: iOS | Android

Price: Free

More people may be using WeChat as their e-Wallet of choice, but if you’re staying in China for three months or less, Alipay or 支付宝 (zhī fù bǎo) is what you need.

Most Chinese e-Wallets require a Chinese phone number and a local bank account. Fortunately, if you download the international version of Alipay, you can sign up with your regular number and connect an international bank card to the app.

Of course, you can still use cash to pay for stuff, but some vendors might not have enough change if you don’t pay the exact amount. And only certain establishments accept foreign bank cards as a method of payment. Better to be safe with Alipay than sorry.

Other than being an e-Wallet, Alipay is also necessary for everyday use because of the health code mini program. Depending on what establishments you visit, you may be asked to present your health code for entry.

ExpressVPN

chinese apps

Developer: Express VPN International

Available on: iOS | Android

Price: Paid, free trial available

Want to visit your favorite websites, update your socials and stream all your favorite shows while in China without a hitch?

ExpressVPN is a reliable VPN service that will help you bypass the Great Firewall and let you browse the internet as you normally would. And if you’re an Android user, ExpressVPN will actually let you access the Google Play store.

While it might be on the pricier side compared to similar apps, residents of China favor ExpressVPN because of its multi-platform capability, vast number of servers and overall speed. There are several cheaper alternatives that also work smoothly in China, though they don’t boast the same perks that Express does.

Just remember that you need to download the app and follow these steps before you come to China.

Sogou Input

chinese apps

Developer: Sogou

Monthly active users: 482 million

Available on: iOS | Android

Price: Free with paid premium options

While the iOS and Android Chinese keyboards are pretty straightforward to use, Sogou Input or 搜狗输入法 (sōu gǒu shū rù fǎ) is an intuitive keyboard that makes Chinese typing a breeze.

With this app, you don’t have to worry about switching between the handwriting and pinyin keyboards built into your phone, as Sogou lets you do it all on one screen.

Plus, you can maximize the keyboard to give yourself space to write more characters (or just more space in general if you struggle to write that small). There’s also voice input if you don’t feel like writing manually.

Other features include text prediction, a grammar checker, custom emojis and skins as well as stickers and GIFs.

Even though the app was originally intended for native speakers, Sogou Input comes in handy for Chinese learners. But you don’t have to be learning Chinese to make use of the app.

In addition to Chinese, there are keyboards for English, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Russian, Arabic and French. And the English keyboard has a built-in thesaurus for more than 4,000 commonly used words.

China Travel and Transportation

Ctrip

chinese apps

Developer: Trip.com

Monthly Active users: Over 50 million

Available on: iOS | Android

Price: Free

Although there’s a myriad of apps and mini programs for booking flights and hotels, Ctrip still manages to be the most popular method for travel planning.

Ctrip or 携程 (xié chéng) is the Chinese version of Trip.com. Used by locals and foreigners alike, Ctrip accepts payment methods such as Chinese bank cards, WeChat Pay and Alipay. So it’s ideal for China-based foreigners who don’t have an international debit or credit card.

But if you’re a traveler with an international bank card, the standard Trip.com app will make more sense for you.

China Train Booking

chinese apps

Developer: China Highlights International Travel Service

Yearly active users: Over 30,000

Available on: iOS | Android

Price: Free

Buying train tickets at the station is relatively straightforward—that is, if you live in a Tier 1 city. Metropolises like Shanghai and Beijing conveniently have designated ticket booths for foreigners, but you might not be as lucky with Tier 2 and 3 cities.

Thankfully, foreigners now have access to China Train Booking, an app for buying train tickets in English. So if you struggle to speak Mandarin or read Chinese on local train travel apps, this is definitely what you need.

Even Tier 1 city dwellers will find this app useful since they can book their tickets ahead of time rather than arriving early at the station to wait for the next available train.

And don’t worry about having to print out your tickets. All train stations in China accept e-tickets.

Airbnb

chinese apps

Developer: Airbnb

Monthly active users: 2.1 million (in China alone)

Available on: iOS | Android

Price: Free

Hotels can be pricey, so travelers on a budget will be happy to know that Airbnb is thriving in China. And believe it or not, it’s more frequently used by locals than foreigners!

The most popular Airbnb destinations are Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu, Chongqing and Guangzhou, but homestay accommodations are available throughout China. Thanks to millennial travelers and the power of social media, lesser-known cities such as Foshan and Wenzhou have become a couple of the fastest-growing Airbnb destinations in the country.

Just be aware that you’ll need to register your temporary residence once you get to your Airbnb, assuming the host doesn’t do it on your behalf. You can register online instead of visiting the local police station.

Meituan

chinese apps

Developer: Meituan

Monthly active users: 569.3 million

Available on: iOS | Android

Price: Free

Although the majority of locals and expats use DiDi Chuxing or 滴滴出行 (dī dī chū xíng) to hail rides, it’s been taken off the app stores due to a government crackdown.

Thankfully, there are other options for hiring cars and taxis, such as Alipay. But for cheaper rides and extra discounts, Meituan is where it’s at. Known as 美团 (měi tuán) in Chinese, it’s quietly taken over as the top ride-hailing app in China for non-Didi users.

Meituan isn’t exclusively a ride-hailing app—it’s primarily a shopping app for local goods and services, and car hire just happens to be one of the features on there.

While Meituan is exclusively in Chinese, you can follow this guide to make it easier for you to use the app. You can search for your destination using pinyin, though it’s probably best to look up your destination in Chinese beforehand if you can’t read or write in Mandarin. While you’re at it, you might as well save your favorite destinations in your notes for easy copying and pasting.

MetroMan China

chinese apps

Developer: Wuqiu Ping

Available on: iOS | Android

Price: Free with paid premium options

Shanghai and Beijing boast two of the top 10 best metro networks in the world. China’s subway systems in Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities are extensive. So at some point during your stay, chances are you’ll be taking the subway.

You can always find a metro app for the specific city you’ll be visiting. But if you do have plans to explore a larger region, you might as well download the MetroMan China app which contains subway maps for 43 cities. You can look up fares and plan your route while using the app offline.

What’s also great about MetroMan is that it’s available in 11 languages, which is perfect for non-native English speakers.

Shopping Apps in China

Taobao

chinese apps

Developer: Alibaba

Monthly active users: 750.91 million

Available on: iOS | Android

Price: Free

If you can’t live without the convenience of Amazon, Taobao has got you covered.

From generic everyday items to obscure gag gifts, it’s hard not to find exactly what you need on Taobao or 淘宝 (táo bǎo) in Chinese. Taobao has a ton of stores for international companies that have set up shop in China, but in case you can’t find a specific brand or item, Taobao will recommend a domestic—and often cheaper—alternative.

Note that everything on the app is in Chinese, with no in-app translation feature for chats. Be prepared to have your preferred translation app ready just in case the sellers need to communicate with you.

As an Alibaba app, you’ll need to sign up with an Alipay account.

Xiaohongshu (RED)

chinese apps

Developer: Xingin

Monthly active users: 100 million

Available on: iOS | Android

Price: Free

Also known as Little Red Book in English, 小红书 (xiǎo hóng shū) is like a combination of Instagram, Pinterest and Amazon.

It was first introduced in 2014 as an e-commerce platform for fashion and luxury goods, but it has since grown into a content-sharing app where users can write posts and upload pictures and short clips to review, advertise and offer tips on products.

Naturally, this is where you’ll find lots of Chinese influencers. So if you’re interested in what products are trending or want to read honest reviews before you make any purchases, Xiaohongshu will definitely come in handy.

Hema

chinese apps

Developer: Alibaba

Monthly active users: 13.7 million

Available on: iOS | Xiaomi

Price: Free

Grocery shopping can be time-consuming and tedious, but not with Hema.

As a cashless grocery chain, residents in Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen and Guangzhou can shop in-store with nothing more than their phones. They also have the option to get their groceries delivered to their homes via the app in as little as 30 minutes after checkout.

The app does more than facilitate grocery delivery. While shopping for domestic and imported items in their physical stores, you can also scan barcodes to discover the origin of products.

Since it’s owned by Alibaba, you’ll need to have an Alipay account for checkout.

Fun fact: The characters for Hema are 盒马 ( ), which literally means “box horse.” 盒马 is a homophone of 河马 (hé mǎ) which is the Chinese translation for “hippo” and also the brand’s mascot.

Chinese Food and Restaurant Apps

Dianping

chinese apps

Developer: Meituan

Monthly active users: 628.4 million

Available on: iOS | Android

Price: Free

One thing you need to know about Chinese people, as a whole, is that they’re major foodies.

If a restaurant gets awesome reviews, locals are willing to wait in line for three hours to experience the food themselves! If you’re all about scouting the latest food trends, you’ve got to download Dianping.

In addition to restaurants, you’ll find information on businesses like hotels and entertainment venues. You’ll also see info on door-to-door services such as babysitting and moving companies. Known as 大众点评 (dà zhòng diǎn píng) in Chinese (which literally translates as “public reviews”), Dianping is China’s answer to Yelp.

Besides seeing what’s popular among the locals, you can also use the app to make reservations, grab great deals, book hotel stays and purchase tickets to movies and special events. Just be aware that this app is entirely in Chinese.

Ele.me

chinese apps

Developer: Shanghai Rajax Information Technology Co., Ltd.

Monthly active users: 55.56 million

Available on: iOS | Xiaomi

Price: Free

Aptly meaning “are you hungry?” in Chinese, 饿了么 (è le me) is the go-to food delivery app for locals and foreigners alike. 

Even though the app is in Chinese, it’s not too difficult to figure out how to use. The only part that might be a bit challenging is setting up your profile, because you’ll need to include your address in Chinese. Otherwise, picking a restaurant and ordering food is a breeze since everything’s got pictures.

But if you still struggle after a while, you can instead access Ele.me through the WeChat mini program. That way, you can use the WeChat translate function.

Discounts are automatically included on the order page and additional discounts can be found on the payment page.

Besides food and drinks, you can also order groceries, medication and toiletries from participating stores and pharmacies.

Meituan Waimai

chinese apps

Developer: Meituan

Monthly active users: 64 million

Available on: iOS | Android

Price: Free

Although you’re definitely spoiled for choice on Ele.me, some restaurants deliver exclusively through Meituan Waimai or 美团外卖 (měi tuán wài mài). Personally, I don’t use Meituan Waimai all too often, but the app comes in handy when I want to order from places like Papa John’s.

For restaurants that appear on both apps, you can always compare the discounts so you can get the best possible deal on your meal.

Note that Meituan Waimai is a separate app from Meituan (the ride-hailing app).

Meituan Waimai is also available as a WeChat mini program.

Chope

chinese apps

Developer: Chope

Monthly active users: 3.7 million

Available on: iOS | Android

Price: Free

Passing through Hong Kong or Shanghai? Chope is definitely worth the download if you have a hard time making reservations on Dianping and absolutely hate waiting in line for a table.

You can search by restaurant, cuisine or location. If you don’t know where to start, you can always check out the food guides, new or popular restaurants, daily specials and more. Once you’ve narrowed down where you want to eat, making a reservation is a straightforward process. Just select your date, time, number of people and indicate any special requests.

Every reservation earns you a certain number of Chope dollars. Once you accumulate enough Chope dollars, you can purchase in-app deals such as spa vouchers, restaurant discounts and all sorts of gift certificates.

That’s

chinese apps

Developer: China Intercontinental Press

Available on: iOS

Price: Free

Although this one’s more of a general lifestyle news and listings app, I mostly use That’s for finding brunch and holiday meal deals, food-related events and newcomers in the Shanghai F&B scene.

If you want to take full advantage of the app’s features, That’s also keeps you updated on current affairs, new restaurants, weekend markets, school community news, travel inspiration and much more. The best part is that everything is in English, although Chinese is included sporadically for names, addresses and such.

And if you love participating in raffles and getting insider info on exclusive events, it’s also worth following their official account on WeChat.

Originally a magazine for expat families in Shanghai, That’s has since expanded into multiple platforms and is now operating in various cities including Beijing, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Tianjin, Suzhou and Sanya.

Chinese Social Media

Weibo

chinese apps

Developer: Sina Co.

Monthly active users: 566 million

International version: iOS | Android

Chinese version: iOS | Android

Price: Free

Literally translated as “microblog” in English, 微博 (wēi bó) or Weibo is the mainland version of Facebook and Twitter. Whatever’s going on in the news or trending in online communities, you’ll find it all on Weibo.

And like all social media platforms, Weibo is also used for seeing what your friends are up to.

While mostly used by native speakers, international celebrities and foreign brands are also using Weibo to reach out to Chinese fans.

The original Chinese app has a translation feature to cater to non-Chinese users, but the English translations aren’t the best. Unless you know some Chinese, you might want to consider using the international version instead.

Douyin

chinese apps

Developer: ByteDance

Monthly active users: 686.48 million

Available on: iOS | Android

Price: Free

You know what TikTok is, right?

In case you don’t, it’s a very popular video-sharing app where people dance, sing, share recipes, perform short skits and more in bite-sized clips. It’s become a trendsetting platform that can turn everyday creators into influencers overnight.

But TikTok basically wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Douyin!

抖音 (dǒu yīn) or Douyin first launched back in 2016, with its international counterpart (which merged with Musical.ly) introduced to the market in the following year.

So if you’re an influencer thinking of increasing your number of followers in China, Douyin is definitely an opportunity to expand your fan base.

But hey, you don’t have to be an influencer to enjoy the perks of Douyin. The app’s also great for general entertainment purposes and participating in viral challenges.

Chinese Media Apps

Bing

chinese apps

Developer: Microsoft Co.

Monthly active users: 145 million worldwide

Available on: iOS | Android

Price: Free

With Google and Yahoo blocked in China, the Chinese rely on local alternatives Baidu and Sogou. But as popular as those two search engines are, they are not foreigner-friendly.

Thankfully, Bing is back. It’s the only major foreign search engine that’s survived all these years.

It is true that it was blocked temporarily and has since received a Chinese makeover (with censored search results), but the most important thing about Bing’s return is that foreigners can use it in China without a VPN. You can also filter your search by Chinese or International search results.

Obviously, Google is available once you’ve got your VPN on, but it’s good to have Bing as a backup search engine in times your VPN is acting up.

Bilibili

chinese apps

Developer: Bilibili Inc.

Monthly active users: 237.1 million

Available on: iOS | Android

Price: Free

Meaning “beep beep” in English, 哔哩哔哩 (bì lī bì lī) or Bilibili has been dubbed as the YouTube of China. Many people also call it “B站” (B zhàn), meaning “B-Station”.

It first started as a video-sharing platform for anime, comics and gaming content, but it’s since grown to host broad-spectrum entertainment, from lifestyle videos to educational clips.

But unlike YouTube, Bilibili has a unique commentary feature that creates a sense of community while watching videos, where comments are displayed on videos in real-time.

This allows people to have live conversations with others who are also watching the same video. It’s like the live chat feature on YouTube, except it’s available on all videos and not just live streams.

KuGou

chinese apps

Developer: KuGou Technology

Monthly active users: 298 million

Available on: iOS | Android

Price: Free with paid premium options

Translated as “cool dog” in English, Kugou or 酷狗 ( gǒu) has become one of the top three most popular music streaming apps in China. It allows you to listen to the radio, as well as download and play songs, albums, podcasts and audiobooks from their massive library.

But what makes the app different from Spotify and other western music streaming services are the karaoke features. If you love to sing along to your music, the lyrics conveniently appear on the screen so you don’t have to manually search for them on your browser.

And if you’re feeling brave, you can even live-stream your karaoke session!

iQIYI

chinese apps

Developer: iQIYI Inc.

Monthly active users: 605.79 million

Available on: iOS | Android

Price: Free with paid premium options

Can’t get enough Asian dramas? Binge all your favorites and browse for new titles on iQIYI or 爱奇艺 (ài qí yì). With the library constantly being updated, you’re guaranteed to find everything from the classics to the latest trending shows.

Some movies and episodes are even available for download with only the free account!

And no worries if you can’t read Chinese. The international version of iQIYI offers multilingual support, allowing you to change the language setting from Mandarin to either English, other popular languages like Spanish or Southeast Asian options like Indonesian.

For exclusive content and ad-free video streaming, you can also upgrade to a premium account.

Tencent Video

chinese apps

Developer: Tencent

Monthly active users: 605.79 million

Available on: iOS | Android

Price: Free with paid premium content

If you want to go beyond Asian content, 腾讯视频 (téng xùn shì pín) or Tencent Video is the app for you. The library includes a mix of original productions, concerts and sports events.

In addition to Chinese dramas, variety shows and movies, you can also find Hollywood hits and international TV shows on the platform. These videos can only be accessed with a premium account but you can stream the first episode of a season for free.

In addition to exclusive video content, a VIP account also lets you stream in HD.

Dictionary and Translation Apps

Baidu Translate

chinese apps

Developer: Baidu Inc.

Available on: iOS | Android

Price: Free with paid premium options

When it comes to translating between Chinese and English (or other languages), Baidu Translate is probably the best online tool out there.

Known as 百度翻译 (bǎi dù fān yì) among locals, Baidu Translate offers the most accurate English to Chinese translation of all the translation apps. In fact, numerous native speakers have relied on Baidu Translate alone to learn English and other popular languages. It includes learning features like bilingual texts, vocabulary help for official exams, pronunciation guides and much more.

But if you aren’t a native or fluent Chinese speaker, the next best thing would be to download Microsoft Translator.

Microsoft Translator

chinese apps

Developer: Microsoft

Available on: iOS | Android

Price: Free

While Google Translate works quite well for translating between a variety of languages, the Chinese to English (and vice versa) translation could definitely use some work. And the translation feature on WeChat is pretty good but it only works between English and Chinese.

If you want to translate between Chinese and other languages, Microsoft Translate can help you out. The app is straightforward and very user-friendly, with options to translate text, audio and pictures.

The latest update includes handy tools such as a phrasebook and a conversation function. And when verbal communication and translation functions fail, this chat feature allows you to have translated text conversations with native speakers who also use the app.

trainchinese

chinese apps

Developer: trainchinese

Available on: iOS | Android

Price: Free with paid premium options

Forget carrying a phrasebook in your pocket. Trainchinese is a complete dictionary app that favors commonly used words over obsolete terms from ancient Chinese texts to ensure you’re actually talking the way that native speakers would.

In terms of characters, you can switch between Simplified and Traditional Chinese. As for the phonetic system, you can pick pinyin with tone marks or numbers. There’s also the option of using Zhuyin or the bopomofo system commonly used in Taiwan.

Trainchinese is packed with loads of other features, such as flashcards that include handwriting training, making it very useful for serious Chinese learners. But as a free dictionary app with thousands of vocab lists, audio recordings and example sentences, trainchinese is also extremely useful for those that just want to get by on their travels.

Trainchinese also has OCR capabilities which may provide you with more accurate English translation compared to WeChat or Microsoft Translator.

Apps for Learning Chinese

HSK Online

chinese apps

Developer: Shanghai Yuxuan Information Technology

Available on: iOS | Android

Price: Free with paid premium options

If you’re planning on working for a Chinese company or studying at a university, you’ll be required to take the HSK.

The HSK or 汉语水平考试 (hàn yǔ shuǐ píng kǎo shì) is the official method for measuring Chinese proficiency, specifically your listening, reading and writing skills.

The HSKK or 汉语水平口语考试 (hàn yǔ shuǐ píng kǒu yǔ kǎo shì) is the test that specifically measures your speaking skills and it’s required for certain institutions.

Your best bet for HSK prep is none other than HSK Online. It contains HSK vocab practice, mock exams as well as previously administered exams, all of which will be graded by teachers who provide corrections and detailed explanations.

Most importantly, it preps you for all six HSK levels. Believe it or not, most HSK apps only prep up to HSK 4 or 5.

HelloChinese

chinese apps

Developer: HelloChinese Technology

Available on: iOS | Android

Price: Free with paid premium options

There’s a whole world of amazing language learning apps out there, but if you want one that’s specifically for Mandarin, HelloChinese is what you need.

Popular among foreigners in China who don’t have time for lengthy tutoring sessions, HelloChinese offers gamified lessons catered to complete beginners. The bite-sized lessons get you speaking right away by introducing commonly used words and phrases with the help of pinyin, native audio pronunciation, grammar and culture notes.

The lessons test you on your listening, reading, speaking and writing skills so that you have a well-rounded Chinese language education.

And if you want to study offline, HelloChinese courses can be downloaded so you can learn Mandarin at any time.

Ninchanese

chinese apps

Developer: Nincha Languages

Available on: Android

Price: Free with paid premium options

If HelloChinese is way too easy for you, Ninchanese is an excellent option for learners who are intermediate level and above.

Like HelloChinese, Ninchanese is a gamified learning experience that aims to improve all language skills. On top of the interactive lessons, you can also play and compete against fellow users. You can also chat to help you get used to typing in Chinese and see how natives really talk to each other when they’re online.

Ninchanese also contains HSK content for levels 1 to 5 if you need extra help.

This app is ad-free so you can just focus on learning without distractions.

Although there isn’t an iOS app for Ninchanese, the website can still be accessed on Apple devices. Just make sure that you visit Ninchanese via Google Chrome for the voice recognition feature.

 

You’ve made it to the end of the list! Although it’s unlikely that you’ll need all 30 of these Chinese apps, it’s better to have all this information now to prep you for your future adventures in China!

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