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Mobile Phone Apps You Need to Live in China
Written by: Lynda Galea
Last Updated: November 17, 2020
In China, everything you could possibly wish to do can be done using your smart phone. Therefore, having the right mobile apps can be a life saver if you want to experience life in China conveniently, and can help you to get around efficiently. I can recall countless different occasions when having the right mobile app helped me to bridge the language barrier and prevented me from getting lost in a new city. In this way, I can honestly say that having the essential mobile apps and a decent cellphone is crucial for life teaching English in China.
1. Getting Around
Getting around in a foreign country can be a hassle. With the long lines for tickets and language barrier to consider, the most simple of tasks can become a frustrating challenge. For this reason, I have grown to rely on several mobile apps when planning my travels.
C-Trip: C-Trip is the first travel app I recommend. With this app, one can easily book hostels, train tickets and flights from the comfort of home, and all in English. The perk of this app is that everything can be booked and managed in one place and one simply needs to show proof of payment and identification to pick up the necessary tickets upon departure. A downside is that the tickets can be a bit more expensive on the English version of C-Trip.
Didi Taxi: Didi Taxi is comparable to Uber. Earlier this year, an English version of Didi was released. With the Didi Mobile App, depending on your location, you can easily find a nearby taxi at a reasonable rate. There is also the possibility to share vehicle with another customer at a discounted cost (similar to Uber Pool). Didi is a convenient way to get around any city and town in China. An aspect of Didi to be aware of is that the driver might call your phone to ask about your location in Chinese. Therefore, I would recommend learning some basic Chinese to be able to at least describe your location, or asking a Chinese-speaking friend to help you out if the need arises.
Trip Advisor: Although many websites such as Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and such are blocked in China, Trip Advisor is a tried and true global app that is available for use even in China! This app can be helpful when looking for key sites of a city, group tours, hotels and much more. [Read More: I'm Going to China: What the Heck is a VPN?]
2. Buying Things
Alipay: When it comes to paying for things, Alipay saves time and is considerably safer than carrying a card or cash around all the time. Once you set up a bank account in China, you can link your bank card to the app. When this is done, shopping is as easy as showing your personal QR code to the cashier. Alipay has been revolutionary in terms of convenience in China and is bound to make your daily shopping experience a cinch.
饿了么 (E le me): Ever had one of those days when you simply don’t have the energy to cook or to venture to a restaurant to eat? Well, the app 饿了么—translating to “Are You Hungry”, has the solution - convenient food delivery wherever you are! With this app, you can have a variety of foods delivered directly to your door at a reasonable cost. This app also provides the possibility of purchasing medications, flowers and shopping for supermarket items. It’s a great way to save time and gives you more time to focus on other things. Most of the site is intuitive, and can be understood through the useful graphics and food images. However, I recommend having a Chinese friend or co-worker help you with your first order if you are unsure about placing your orders. It's worthwhile to familiarize yourself with the layout of the app as this app will make your life all the more convenient in China.
Taobao: Taobao is the Amazon.com of China. On this app/website, you can buy everything your heart desires at cheap costs. Personally, I have not bought anything by myself on this website, but asked a close friend to help me navigate the site. There are also agencies which provide a translated version of the site online and help English-speaking customers successfully place orders. However, if you wish to go about buying the necessities of life, there is no denying that Taobao is a useful tool to have in your arsenal.
Youdao Translate or Baidu Translate: These translator apps are essential for life in China and will help you navigate your way through daily life and the language barrier. Whether you need to translate speech, text or images, these apps will have you covered. When I first arrived in China, by using this app, I was able to have complete conversations with Chinese nationals without speaking Chinese. I’m also able to translate Chinese menus into English and can type English into the translator in order to learn the Chinese equivalent. Even if/when you learn Chinese, this app is a useful tool to help you “fill in the gaps” of your experience. Youdao and Baidu Translate make communication in China that much easier.
4. Booking Hotels & Hostels
For hostels, hotels, B&Bs and everything in between, I recommend Trip Advisor, Hostelworld.com and Booking.com. These apps are easy to connect to without a VPN (virtual personal network) in China. Some Chinese apps for hotels/hostel include Meituan, Qunar and C-Trip. These apps provide housing to suit your specific needs wherever you wish to travel in China and beyond.
And last but not least...
5. The #1 Essential App for China
WeChat: From connecting with friends, buying things, calling a taxi, booking movie tickets, planning transportation, video chatting, voice calls, instant messaging, transferring money to friends, sending location, transferring files and connecting to public services, WeChat does it all and is used by a majority of people on the Chinese mainland. It’s a powerful and useful tool you can not live without. It’s no exaggeration, but rather a given fact. I 100% recommend for all foreigners living in China to install this app. It’s indispensable for life in China.
A Northeastern girl from Camden, Maine, Amanda never imagined her passion for languages and diplomacy would coalesce in a global journey of discovery. This ITA Alumni Ambassador is now embarking on her fourth year teaching ESL
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An accomplished traveler (she's visited 40 countries!), Lynda hails from Melbourne, Australia. Since she joined ITA in 2017, Lynda has become a primary expert on the field of teaching English online. Not only has she published numerous articles on the topic herself, but she has worked with International TEFL Academy alumni around the world to produce an entire library of information and content about teaching English online. Lynda also serves as a primary organizer of ITA's ground-breaking Teach Abroad Film Festival.
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