SOME POINTERS

China travels 101: Must-have apps

In Summary

• Facebook, WhatsApp, Google and Instagram banned so get WeChat and download a VPN

• Taxi apps are so popular, it’s nearly impossible to get a taxi on the street, so it’s better to just download DiDi

The financial district of Pudong in Shanghai
The financial district of Pudong in Shanghai
Image: Reuters

Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Google are all banned in China, so it’s worthwhile taking the effort to download Chinese alternatives prior to your visit. You can also download a VPN before your visit to access banned applications, however, VPN service is often unreliable.

As long as you have your phone, you won’t get lost or confused! There are three main telecom providers in China: China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom. You can get prepaid SIM cards for any of them, just bring your passport for registration purposes. Data is pretty cheap in China, so you can go to any one of them.

WeChat (微信): This is the top one and recommended for you to get in touch with your local Chinese friends, or other expats in China. Nowadays, WeChat ID is more popular than your phone number in China. This Chinese-developed app has become one of the world’s most popular mobile messaging and social networking platform.

You will see most people using WeChat Pay and Alipay to pay for nearly everything with a QR code. You can’t use it because you don’t have a Chinese bank account.

Most large institutions accept credit cards, but it’s good to keep some cash on you just in case. Taxis do NOT accept credit cards, only cash, mobile money, and metro cards.

You can get a metro card with a 50 RMB deposit.

Most large institutions accept credit cards, but it’s good to keep some cash on you just in case. Taxis do NOT accept credit cards, only cash, mobile money, and metro cards.

VPN popular social media and connectivity apps such as Facebook, Instagram, Youtube and Gmail, as well as many news websites, are inaccessible via Chinese networks. However, you can access these platforms via a virtual private network or VPN.

A VPN works as a secure channel for protecting private web traffic from interference and censorship. VPN cannot be downloaded within China, so download it BEFORE you get here. Recommendations: Astrill (http://astrill.com), Express VPN (http://expressvpn.com).

DiDi (滴滴) is China’s very own version of Uber. The app is available in both Chinese and English with a user interface very similar to Uber’s. Like most ride-sharing apps, DiDi has various options ranging from 'Express' to 'Luxe'.  

Because taxi apps are so popular, it’s nearly impossible to get a taxi on the street, so it’s better to just download this app. This also helps you avoid trying to communicate a Chinese address to the driver.

Autonavi Navigation (高德地图): Google map does not work in China. Autonavi Navigation is a sophisticated map search with a 3D option, public transport routes with accurate waiting times, traffic conditions and even a cool heat map function showing busy areas within the city. It has an English version.

Google Translate: While many Google services are blocked, Google Translate is working petty well in China. Although it is not always 100 per cent accurate, it is useful for looking up how to say simple sentences, especially as it shows the Pinyin as well as the characters for Chinese. For taxi drivers, you might have to show them addresses, and the big font is pretty effective for them.

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