9 Apps You Need to Survive in China

By That's, July 1, 2024

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As technology tightens its grip on our lives, we find ourselves leaning more and more on apps for just about everything. 

At That's, we've rounded up the top apps for each purpose you need to navigate life in China like a pro.

Now, before we dive in, let's address the big red dragon in the room: the Great Firewall of China.

This digital blockade has been standing tall since 2006, playing bouncer to sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even Google's feeling the burn, which means YouTube's locked out too.

But fear not, as China's got its own lineup of apps ready to swoop in and save the day, making your expat experience a whole lot smoother and, dare I say, more entertaining.

Messaging App

WeChat | Weixin | 微信


WeChat isn't just a messaging app; it's a digital Swiss Army knife that integrates seamlessly into daily life in China.

From coordinating meetups with friends to managing finances and even accessing government services, WeChat is the backbone of communication and utility.

Its multifunctionality has transformed it into an indispensable tool, with features like WeChat Pay revolutionizing how people make payments, both online and offline. 


Additionally, the app's popularity extends beyond personal use; businesses leverage WeChat for marketing, customer service, and e-commerce, making it a vital platform for brands to engage with consumers. 

Despite its ubiquity, WeChat's ecosystem can be daunting for newcomers, but mastering its features opens up a world of convenience and connectivity.

Payment App

Alipay | Zhifubao | 支付宝


Alipay's rise to prominence parallels China's digital payment revolution. 

With its robust security features and user-friendly interface, Alipay has become ingrained in everyday life, offering a seamless way to manage finances and access a plethora of services. 

Beyond its primary function of facilitating payments, Alipay's ecosystem spans diverse sectors, including travel booking, wealth management, and even social networking through its 'Ant Forest' feature, which promotes environmental awareness. 


While its international reach is expanding, Alipay does have limitations, one of which being that only Chinese citizens are allowed to use Alipay abroad.

Shopping Apps

Taobao | 淘宝

JD | Jingdong | 京东

Pinduoduo | 拼多多

Taobao-Icon.png JD-Icon.png Pinduoduo.png

Taobao, JD, and Pinduoduo represent the pillars of China's e-commerce ecosystem, catering to diverse consumer needs and preferences. 

Taobao's vast marketplace offers an unparalleled selection of products, from everyday essentials to unique finds, making it a go-to platform for bargain hunters and enthusiasts alike. 

JD, on the other hand, prioritizes reliability and efficiency, positioning itself as a trusted destination for genuine products and expedited delivery services. 

While its selection may not rival Taobao's breadth, JD's emphasis on authenticity and customer service instills confidence in buyers seeking quality assurance. 

Meanwhile, Pinduoduo's innovative group-buying model disrupts traditional e-commerce paradigms, offering unbeatable discounts through collective purchasing power. 

Navigation Apps

Gaode Maps | Gaode Ditu | 高德地图

Baidu Maps | Baidu Ditu | 百度地图

Gaode-Maps.png Baidu-Maps.png

In a country as vast and dynamic as China, reliable navigation is paramount for seamless travel and exploration. 

Gaode Maps, known for its accuracy and extensive feature set, provides commuters with multiple transportation options, including public transit, walking, and cycling routes. 

Gaode Maps' intuitive design and proactive traffic management features help users navigate congested urban centers and bustling thoroughfares with ease. 

Similarly, Baidu Maps leverages cutting-edge technology to deliver precise GPS navigation, traffic information, and route planning services. 

Baidu Maps' turn-by-turn guidance and predictive traffic analysis enable drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians to optimize travel routes and avoid delays effectively. 

Moreover, Baidu Maps' integration with local businesses and points of interest enhances the overall user experience, facilitating seamless transitions between navigation and exploration. 

Whether navigating city streets or embarking on cross-country journeys, Gaode Maps and Baidu Maps empower users to navigate China's diverse landscapes confidently and efficiently.

Car-Hailing App

DiDi | 滴滴


DiDi emerges as the lifeline of transportation in China, offering a diverse range of services, including taxis and private cars, all accessible through a user-friendly app interface. 

Its widespread availability and English support cater to both locals and expats, ensuring convenient and reliable travel experiences across the country. 

Beyond its core functionality, DiDi's commitment to customer service shines through its dispute resolution mechanisms and English-language support channels, providing peace of mind to users in unfamiliar situations. 

Moreover, DiDi's integration of safety features, such as real-time ride tracking and driver ratings, enhances passenger security and confidence, fostering trust in its services. 

Travel Apps

Ctrip | Xiechengluxing | 携程旅行

Railway 12306 | Zhongguo Tielu | 中国铁路

Ctrip.jpg 12306.jpg

Ctrip (Trip.com for those of you living outside of China) and Railway 12306 epitomize China's travel infrastructure, offering comprehensive solutions for booking flights, hotels, trains, and other travel-related services. 

Ctrip's expansive platform encompasses a wide range of travel options, from flights and accommodations to tours and car rentals, catering to diverse preferences and budgets.

Railway 12306 serves as the primary gateway for booking train tickets in China, providing a streamlined booking process and essential travel information. 

Food Delivery Apps

Meituan | 美团

Eleme | 饿了么

Meituan.png eleme.jpg

Meituan and Eleme revolutionize the dining experience in China, offering a diverse array of culinary delights delivered straight to users' doorsteps. 

Meituan's comprehensive platform extends beyond food delivery, encompassing a wide range of services, including hotel bookings, entertainment reservations, and grocery delivery, catering to diverse consumer needs and preferences. 

Similarly, Eleme's seamless ordering process and extensive restaurant selection provide unparalleled convenience and choice to users across China. 

Both apps offer innovative features, such as real-time order tracking and personalized recommendations, enhance the overall dining experience, fostering loyalty and engagement among users. 

Music App

QQ Music | QQ Yinyue | QQ音乐


QQ Music stands at the forefront of China's music streaming landscape, offering a vast library of songs and diverse features to cater to every musical taste. 

Its free version provides access to a wide selection of tracks, while premium subscriptions unlock additional perks and functionalities, including ad-free listening and offline downloads. 

Restaurant Review App

Dianping | Dazhongdianping | 大众点评


Dianping serves as the ultimate resource for food enthusiasts and adventurers looking to explore China's culinary scene. 

Its comprehensive database includes reviews, ratings, and recommendations for restaurants, cafes, bars, and other dining establishments across the country. 

Users can search for nearby eateries, browse menus, and read authentic reviews from fellow diners, empowering them to make informed decisions when dining out. 

Moreover, Dianping's integration with social media platforms and third-party services enhances the overall dining experience, allowing users to share their experiences, book reservations, and even order food delivery directly through the app. 

Additionally, Dianping's extensive coverage extends beyond restaurants, providing insights and recommendations for various lifestyle services, including cinemas, spas, gyms, and more. 

So there you have it, folks – the ultimate survival kit for thriving in the wilds of China's app jungle. 

And remember, for all your travel tips, visa advice, and insider recommendations on exploring China, stay tuned to our China Travel Tips series. 

For more articles on China Travel Tips, click here, and for the latest updates, follow our WeChat official account, ThatsGBA.

Now go forth, download, and enjoy!

[Cover image via Pixabay]

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