china travel apps

9 China Travel Apps to Make Your Trip Stress Free

I was on the subway, headed to meet my friend at the Shenzhen airport. But I missed the connection to the correct subway line!

I decided it would be fine to exit at the “Airport East” station instead of the “Airport” station where I was initially supposed to get off.

Instead of taking offers from taxi drivers at 11pm, I opened up my bike sharing app and rode a bicycle from the subway station to the airport.

The 1.5-hour walk was only a 20-minute bike ride! And it only cost me one CNY instead of 100 CNY.

In China, it’s easy to be inefficient if you aren’t prepared.

Many things there are designed to be used with technology, so you will get frustrated if you aren’t using it. Fast.

So in this post, we’ll look at nine must-have China travel apps and why they’re important.


1. Baidu Mapschina travel apps

Website | iOSAndroid

Pricing: Free

Most foreigners enter China with Google Maps and are surprised when it doesn’t work. Even if you have a VPN (more on that below), Google Maps will give you wrong addresses and street names, and you’ll be led to places that don’t exist.

Baidu is basically the Google of China, coming with its own popular search engine and mobile phone store.

Baidu Maps is the most standard map that every Chinese person uses. It’s the most accurate, up-to-date and reliable map app for the country.

You can only access Baidu in Chinese, not English. But you can type street names in pinyin and still be given their locations on a map.

And if you know some basic travel phrases, you can read the directions and figure out how to take the subway.

Or you can give your phone to a taxi driver so they can read the Chinese characters!

2. WeChatchina travel apps

Website | iOS | Android

Pricing: Free

WeChat is probably the most essential Chinese app. Everyone in China uses WeChat to do basically everything.

WhatsApp and Facebook are blocked by the government in China, so WeChat is the go-to app for messaging and social media. You can use WeChat to send text, audio and video messages. There’s also a “Moments” section, which is a lot like the Facebook Wall.

One of my favorite things about WeChat is the “live location” feature, which allows people to send their live GPS locations on a map so friends can easily find each other if they’re lost.

But WeChat is much more than just messaging and social media.

You can order food, shop online, call a taxi, buy a plane ticket and many other things using WeChat Pay—a mobile wallet most Chinese people use daily. Locals rarely use cash or card.

WeChat also now accepts international cards, alongside Alipay.

One of the best things about WeChat for foreigners is the translation feature in its messaging system.

If you need to communicate with a Chinese person about something but don’t know how to speak Mandarin well enough, all the messages sent through WeChat can be translated into Chinese and English.

3. Plecochina travel apps

Website | iOS | Android

Pricing: Free, with more features available for one-time payments of $29.99 or $59.99 (depending on the bundle you choose)

Pleco is the most accurate and functional English-to-Chinese dictionary available.

It’s essential for people who are trying to speak Chinese and need to know how to say something in a pinch.

You can save words and definitions into a categorized and editable flashcard system, which can then be set to Test Mode.

There’s also an accurate voice translator. If you hear someone say a word you don’t know, just hold your phone’s microphone up to their mouth. This will pull up the dictionary entry, which you can then save into your flashcards.

One of the most useful features for travelers is the handwriting translator.

This allows you to draw a Chinese character to find its translation. Pleco has simplified characters (used in mainland China) and traditional characters (used in Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong).

For people learning Chinese, Pleco also teaches you how to write characters with the correct stroke order. This is an essential skill to have if you’re studying Chinese characters.

Pleco is free for the basic dictionary and features, but it requires a paid subscription to get Spaced Repetition Software flashcards, camera translation and the stroke order for all characters.

4. Waygochina travel apps

Website | iOS

Pricing: 10 free translations a day, one-time payment of $6.99 for unlimited translations. $1.99 one-week trial available.

Waygo is a full-featured camera translator app for Korea, China and Japan.

It was designed as a way for travelers to walk into a restaurant, point their phone at the menu and be able to figure out what they want to order. In China, Waygo will even show you a picture of the food that you’re translating.

But it’s not just for menus at restaurants.

You can also translate street signs, store names, bus stops and anything else with characters on it. All you have to do is open the app, point your phone at the characters and you’ll be given a translation.

One of the best things about Waygo is that it works offline, so you don’t need to be hooked up to data or Wi-Fi to make sense of a Chinese sign.

5. CTripchina travel apps

Website | iOS | Android

Pricing: Free

CTrip is the one of the best travel apps for China.

You can use CTrip to buy tickets for trains, buses and planes. You can also find hotels and make reservations.

This platform is focused on travel to and from China. It’s integrated with many other large travel portals, so it often has better deals than other apps.

And unlike other Chinese travel apps, you can use lots of different payment methods. This is great for foreigners without WeChat or Alipay accounts.

CTrip now has an app in English that’s just as good as the original Chinese version, making it a no-brainer download.

CTrip is notable for its great customer support. So if there’s ever a problem, you can be sure there’s someone from the CTrip team to help you work through it.

6. NordVPNchina travel apps

Website | iOS | Android

Pricing: $3.49-$16.49 per month, depending on the plan

Many western apps, such as Google, Facebook and WhatsApp are blocked in China. So you’ll need a VPN (virtual private network) to help you access these things.

VPNs are also important for staying safe and secure online. This is essential in a place like China where internet usage is heavily monitored.

VPNs connect you to a server in a different country. Then you’re routed through that server’s I.P. address. This allows you to access the internet from the area where that server is based.

NordVPN is fast, secure, reliable and markedly cheaper than a lot of other paid VPNs. Unlike free VPNs, the company won’t store your data logs or sell your browsing habits to advertisers.

There are a lot of servers to choose from and plenty of extra features like an internet kill switch, obfuscated servers and LAN invisibility.

7. Alipay alipay china travel app logo

Website | iOS | Android

Pricing: Free

Not every place you visit in China will accept your foreign bank cards when you’re ready to pay. This is where Alipay comes in.

Like WeChat Pay, Alipay lets you link your international card so you can use it despite the limitations of the establishment’s payment options.

You also don’t need a Chinese number, unlike many other e-wallet apps. This means you don’t need to get a new SIM card to change it—Alipay works with your current, foreign number.

8. China Train Booking china train booking china travel app logo

Website | iOS | Android

Pricing: Free

China Train Booking is a must-have app for anyone traveling to China and who doesn’t speak intermediate to advanced Mandarin.

The app lets you book train tickets in Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 city stations, completely in English.

You can also book your train tickets ahead of time, which means you can avoid guessing how early you should get to the station to catch the right train.

Another convenient feat is that you don’t need to print out or get a physical ticket, since Chinese train stations have gone completely digital and accept e-tickets from apps like China Train Booking.

So no matter which city you’re staying in, you don’t have to worry about whether your purchased digital ticket will be accepted.

9. MetroMan China metroman china travel app logo

Website | iOS | Android

Pricing: Free, with paid options

MetroMan is one of China’s most popular metro apps, with subway maps of more than 43 cities.

Not only can you see the map of each station, but you also get accurate information about each metro so you know where to go and what to do.

You can plan your route with the Customizable Metro Map Theme, as well as discover the fastest route options, view travel time estimates, find fare information and more.

To top it off, you can use MetroMan China offline and it’s available in 11 languages, including English.

Why Use China Travel Apps?

Here are some things China travel apps can help you with:

  • Learning the language. Don’t expect anyone in China to speak English. In many countries, people who work in the tourism and service industries can usually speak some English. But in China, very few people speak English, including those who interact with tourists daily. Having some Mandarin language skills will be of immense benefit. If you’re conversational in Mandarin, you’ll be in an exponentially better position than if you aren’t.
  • Communication. Technology in China has progressed to the point that almost every aspect of communication can be done via people’s computers or phones. People interact this way for convenience, and China has taken the lead when it comes to using apps to communicate between small and large groups of people.
  • Getting around. When you’re traveling through China, you must know where to go and how to get there. Don’t assume that buses, trains, planes and taxis are self-explanatory. They’re not. China is a particularly challenging place to travel. Getting from point A to point B cheaply and efficiently is a nightmare if you aren’t using the right tools.


China offers access to one of the oldest civilizations in history. And experiencing this rich cultural heritage is a powerful thing.

Use these nine best China travel apps when traversing the Middle Kingdom, and you’ll have no problem getting to know the Chinese landscape, culture and language inside and out!


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