Even in this day and age, thousands of websites and mobile apps are still being blocked in China. These include popular websites and apps such as Google, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and certain news sites. Imagine not being able to check your Gmail, access your work files on Dropbox or document your travels on Instagram. This firewall would no doubt be a huge hindrance to anyone visiting China, whether it’s for work or leisure.

As fellow Travel Intern Clara and I were on a mystery trip and only found out that we were headed to China an hour prior to our flight, we were unable to amply prepare ourselves. When we arrived in China, we were in for a rude awakening as we discovered that many websites were blocked. We could not use Google Maps to navigate ourselves to our accommodation; Google Translate to find phrases in Chinese; Google Search, Google Docs and Gmail to access important information. We essentially felt naked in a foreign country. There’s a handy website to check if a website is currently blocked in China.

Here are some essential apps that will make your travels in China better.

Betternet - Apps for travelling in China

1. Betternet

Betternet is a free VPN service that requires no registration and allows you to access almost any website in any country. (You can update your followers about your travels in China in real time on your various social media platforms!) It also protects by encrypting your private information from hackers when utilising public wifi hotspots. The app requires a stable wifi connection through a hotspot and cannot be used with mobile routers.

Betternet 1- Apps for travelling in China

Waygo - Apps for travelling in China2. Waygo

Waygo is a visual translator than scans foreign text (Chinese, Japanese or Korean) and automatically translates them into English even without an internet connection. It works best and is mostly used to translate restaurant menus and signages. The free trial version allows 10 free translations per day but there are purchase options: S$2.58 for one week of free unlimited translations and S$8.58 for unlimited translations for life.

Waygo 1- Apps for travelling in China

Pleco - Apps for travelling in China3. Pleco

Pleco is one of the most popular Chinese dictionary apps available. This useful app has handwriting recognition (a paid add-on), which would help those who don’t know how some Chinese words are pronounced. It’s not only useful for those visiting China but also for those who are interested in picking up the language.

Pleco - Apps for travelling in China

WeChat - Apps for travelling in China4. WeChat (微信 Wēixìn)

WeChat is a text and voice messaging communication service similar to WhatsApp and Telegram. It is primarily used on mobile but also available on web-based platforms such as OS and Windows at http://web.wechat.com. Though WhatsApp and Telegram aren’t banned in China, WeChat is the dominant communication service used there. We made many new friends during our trip and they requested to add us on WeChat so we could stay in touch!

WeChat - Apps for travelling in China

TripAdvisor - Apps for travelling in China5. TripAdvisor

TripAdvisor is probably the most popular travel app in the world. With millions of reviews from fellow travellers including photos, opinions and even curated itineraries, it’s a good source of information regarding your travel destination. However, for the lesser known Chinese cities, TripAdvisor may have its limitations as they are lack tourist reviews. For that reason, why we also recommend the next app, Dianping.

TripAdvisor - Apps for travelling in China

Dianping - Apps for travelling in China6. Dianping (大众点 Dàzhòng diǎnpíng)

Dianping is China’s leading platform in providing independent consumer reviews and merchant information. The platform is built on hundreds of thousands of recommendations by locals ensuring authenticity and quality. Dianping has tons of cool functions such as making online restaurant reservations, take-out service, coupon promotions but visitors to China will find the reviews section the most useful. One can find the best rated restaurants, attractions or entertainment by proximity, cuisine/type. In addition, in each restaurant listing has recommendations on which dishes to order, the price and how to get there. The only catch is, it’s only available in Chinese.

Dianping 1 - Apps for travelling in China

Baidu Maps - Apps for travelling in China7. Baidu Maps (百度地 Bǎidù dìtú)

Baidu Maps is a web mapping service application offered by Baidu and can be used on both web-based and mobile platforms. It provides voice-guided GPS navigation for walking, public transportation or driving together with live traffic conditions. It is incredibly detailed with a comprehensive list of restaurants, cafes, cinemas, shopping malls and many other services. However, like Dianping, it’s only offered in Chinese.

Baidu Maps - Apps for travelling in China

CityMaps2Go - Apps for travelling in China8. CityMaps2Go

CityMaps2Go offers many city maps that are available offline. Just download your desired city map on an Internet connection and you’re good to go. It tracks your real time location using your GPS location to help you navigate through the streets easily. It also has the function for you to save locations of interest so that you can create your own-curated list.


CityMaps2Go 1 - Apps for travelling in China

China Air Quality Index - Apps for travelling in China9. China Air Quality Index

The China Air Quality Index app provides realtime information on the air quality and weather for the different cities in China. One can check the pollutant index, temperature, wind, humidity, visibility and other information as well as the forecast for the next 24 hours and the coming week. A nice function is the advice the app provides whether the weather is suitable for outdoor activity or if it’s necessary to wear masks.

China Air Quality Index 1 - Apps for travelling in China

Learn Chinese - Apps for travelling in China10. Learn Chinese

Learn Chinese is a simple and easy to use phrasebook especially for travellers who need to know and speak the basics. There are the necessary English phrases and their corresponding Chinese translations in hanyu pinyin and audio for easy reference.

Learn Chinese 1 - Apps for travelling in China

We discovered these apps by asking the locals and fellow tourists what they themselves use when travelling in China. We wish we had these from the start! These were extremely useful apps that improved the way we travelled and got around.

Do you know of any essential apps that we missed out? Do let us know in the comments!

Want to travel like a local? See also:
8 ways to see Hangzhou and Nanjing like a local
What to eat in Hangzhou and Nanjing

Do download the Scoot Mobile app on iTunes and Google Play too. Other than being able to book your flights on the go, you can manage your Scoot experience, and stay up to date with the latest fare deals! No way you’ll miss out on unbelievable deals again.

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  1. Great article, thanks for the tips! As the world’s largest country, China has a myriad of world class attractions to offer. However, there are also quite a number of crooks who target tourists in the country.

    Do be wary of the English practice/offer to help scam, fake traditional Chinese medicine clinics, cheap low quality tours, fake monks, tea house scam, arts gallery/school scam, fake officials at Mao’s tomb at Tiananmen square, fake tickets, fake silk/jade/jewellery/pearl and many more!

  2. I think there should be one more app listed — China Train Booking app. I used it since 2015, and it really saved my ass many many times. I made my bookings in the app, then they sent me tickets to my house! Within 2 days! No need to wait at train station to pick up my tickets – you know how large popularity the Chinese is! It is definitely worth a recommendation.

  3. Thank you for the list! I will definitely try out some of these apps when I return to China this week.

    By the way, WhatsApp did not connect when I had a layover in Beijing two weeks ago. I was able to send & receive with iMessage, TripAdvisor, and Skype.

  4. I am in Beijing as of Late July 2018 and Better Connect is blocked and it not possible to download mapping apps. My major problem is my Samsung in preloadef with all Google apps…damn Samsung. So maybe updste your article… Only way of messaging I have is using Wechat and Hotmail. GPS is also blocked, probably because it linked on my phone to Google Maps. The map functions on my hotel booking sites are also blocked. ( both Expedia based companies – they always inaccurate anyway – and Booking.com. ). Good luck everyone.. and welcome to China!!!

  5. I would recommend in addition Bon App! – expat friendly F&B and lifestyle app is very essential! especially when travelling solo. It is a bilingual combination chowmein of Yelp + Tripadvisor + Facebook, with even a community behind the user base. The Bon App community connects online, socializes over meals, shares honest reviews, and explores the best a city has to offer; all in one app.
    Make sure you download the App though, the webpage is subpar.
    I’ve found so many great restaurants and even met other foreigners through the meets function. And unline Dianping, everything is in both English and Chinese.

  6. Hi Guys,
    sorry to tell you but I would Never book Chinese flights on non Chinese travel sites, you will not get all the options for various carriers and they will be more expensive. Use C trip for flights and hotel bookings it has an English version. Not sure about the comments for train booking as you cannot book a train ticket without a I.D Card. Foreigners have to go to the station or send someone with their passport to book a ticket. Of course maybe the guy is travelling with a ticket in some Chinese girls name, but I would not advise it. Note only Chinese high speed trains are comfortable and fast the train number should start with a G some areas only have D class trains but check the travel time and it should be OK any other class and you maybe faster on a bike and comfort etc will be severely lacking
    There is a useful app for Taxi’s “Taxi China” you can use if travelling local to your hotel. I have not used it for a while as I drive but it used to be OK. I would be careful of using DIDI its like uber but they are not taxi’s and the drivers often park in places that are convenient for them not you! therefore you will often need to walk to the car park to meet your lift and when he rings you to make the contact if you don’t speak the local dialect you maybe in a mess.
    Finally I live in a part of China that is relatively rural (although it’s the main tourist area in China) and have not spoken to a native English speaker in 3 years most of these blogs are written by people who live in Shanghai and Beijing and live in a relatively incestuous environment the Taxi drivers will know most of the places they will go to. Where I live the driver may never have spoken to a non Chinese in his entire life and he maybe does not know the restaurant you want to go too, even if you were a local you would need to guide him.


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