10 Apps Every Expat Should Use in China

Living abroad can be extremely rewarding, but it does get a little tough sometimes. Especially if you live in an enormous foreign country, with a completely different language and culture – like China for example. Fortunately, technology can make your life much easier nowadays.

Pretty much everyone owns a smartphone these days and we’re all used to loading them with apps. As in other countries, Chinese people also use apps for all sorts of everyday purposes. Experienced expats call some of these apps lifesavers, as they help them navigate successfully through a country and culture that can be a little confusing sometimes.

So, if you’re a foreigner living in China or you’re planning a trip there soon, here are some essential apps for you:

Express VPN

Accessing your internet basics in China can be frustrating. To check your Gmail, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter you need a VPN. According to experts, Express VPN is the best choice if you’re looking to stay connected to the web while in China. It’s got very good speed, stellar customer support and is very reliable.


This is probably the best known Chinese social media application with a huge number of active users. It allows you to send texts, voice messages, photos and videos, and to make phone and video calls to friends with the app, no matter where they are. And best of all? Those calls are all for free (as long as you’re connected to the internet).

Waygo Visual Translator

With Waygo you can instantly translate Chinese menus and signs into English just by hovering a smartphone camera over them! Now, it doesn’t know every single dish or character, but it does a good job translating most of the dishes you can find in a Chinese menu. And the best part – it works offline!

Explore Metro Maps

If you live in one of the bigger cities in China, like Beijing or Shanghai, the Explore Metro Maps is a must-have subway app. You can get the time and price information and plan your route easily. The app works offline and is up-to-date.

Pleco Chinese Dictionary

This is one of the most popular offline Chinese-English dictionaries. It features pinyin as well as English and Chinese characters. The dictionary is perfect for those who want to learn Chinese seriously as well as for those who need to translate something on the fly.

The additional paid add-ons provide a few more very helpful tools, such as more dictionaries, handwriting input, flashcard system and an optical character recognition tool that is similar to Waygo.


Taobao is one the largest e-commerce marketplaces in the world. You can buy anything your heart desires there! The purchased items are usually cheaper than in the stores and can be shipped straight to your home or office, sometimes even on the very same day! Definitely a godsend for any expat in China!

Google Maps

10 best GPS app and navigation app options for Android

Don’t get hopelessly lost, download this app now if you don’t already have it. It will help you explore new places and make your way through this enormous country. You will however need a VPN in order for it to work in China.  

Air Quality China

Air pollution has become a serious problem in China. This app helps you check real-time Air Quality Index values for all major Chinese cities. Stay healthy!

Bon App

Hungry? Download Bon App and choose where to try something tasty next. This app offers listings and reviews of popular places and is similar to Yelp, but it’s aimed at expats in Shanghai. Soon, however, it will be available for other major Chinese cities too.


If you live in China, you’ve probably seen lots of people watching videos or movies on their smartphones on the bus or metro. They most likely used Youku. This app offers you a huge selection of Chinese and foreign movies and TV shows for free!

The list of these apps is far from exhaustive, and you should keep asking people around you for recommendations, as these technology hacks can really improve your life!


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