Updated: Oct 15, 2020
Mobile apps play a central role in the Chinese smartphone revolution, and when you move abroad to China, it won't take long to realize the importance of apps, or as the locals call it "A-P-P." Understanding which apps to use, and how to use them, will feel like you've acquired the holy grail. I never knew the incredible power apps could harness before living in China. Apps in China are incredibly efficient and reliable tools. Here's a list of apps that will make your life in Beijing seamless and stress-free:
Everybody uses WeChat in China. It's strange to remember that WeChat is simply an app because of everything it's capable of. With over 1 billion monthly users, WeChat is the mothership in China. It is a multi-purpose Chinese app used for messaging, mobile/video calls, social media, mobile payments, money transfers, bike hires, and much more. China is also becoming a more cashless society, so WeChat is widely used as the number one form of payment. You can use WeChat to pay at any restaurant, cafe, bookshop, and even online orders. You will need a Chinese bank account to use WeChat pay, but you will have one if you've planning to live in China. If you're thinking about coming to China to visit or live, WeChat is one of the apps you want to make sure to have.
Alipay is another mobile payment app like WeChat. Alipay is just as widely accepted as a form of payment like WeChat pay. With Alipay, you will be able to "top up" your Chinese mobile phone each month, pay electricity and water bills, etc., all through Alipay. Alipay is also used to purchase different tickets for events, movies and to rent a bike for a ride around the city.
If you don't speak, understand, or read Chinese, Google translate is a must-have! You can have a full-on conversation with someone speaking Chinese if you use google translate. Google translate has a camera feature where you can translate Chinese characters into English. Use it a lot, and it will probably turn out to be the reason you don't get to speak Chinese after a year of living in China. It's so efficient and will make communicating with anyone very manageable.
Google translate is fantastic for instant translation, but for those interested in learning Chinese, Pleco is the app to download. Pleco is a Chinese learning app for both beginners and advanced Chinese learners. Pleco is made up of two different parts, dictionaries, and flashcards. If you dedicate yourself, you can pick up a lot of Chinese using Pleco. Pleco is available for offline use whenever there's no cell service. Download it and start your studies on the flight over to China! It's effortless to use. Knowing just a little Chinese will get you very far living in Beijing. Before you know it, you'll impress your friends back home speaking Chinese like a local!
I live in Beijing, but if I didn't, I would move to Beijing solely to use Taobao. Taobao is the "amazon" for China, except ten times better. You can buy everything and anything on the Taobao app. Not only that, but things can be cheap. I needed a new outfit for an event, so I did what I do whenever I need anything” went on Taobao. My dress was 50 RMB ($7), and the shoes were 45 RMB ($6). At this price, the clothes and shoes are excellent quality, but you can also go the more luxury route if that's what you're into. You can fill your entire new apartment with furniture and appliances all from Taobao. On top of the low prices, the delivery is speedy, and most of the time, free! It's easy to track and modify orders right on the app. The one thing to note is the Taobao app is all in Chinese, not English. Just ask a Chinese friend to teach you how to use it, and you'll be good from there. The app is easy to navigate while using one of the translating apps mentioned above. So, get ready for the best online shopping as you prepare for your move abroad to Beijing!
Happiness doesn't stop at Taobao. Meituan is among the legendary delivery apps in Beijing. Meituan is mostly a food delivery service, think "GrubHub," except better. You can order from a huge selection of restaurants, fruit shops, supermarkets, and even flower shops. Delivery usually doesn't take longer than an hour and a half. You can do all of your supermarket shopping through Meituan once or twice a week. It's impressive. You don't feel like cooking, order from one of the many available restaurants. You can even order a latte and get it delivered to your door before you get out of bed. Meituan isn't in English either, so get out your handy translator app read and have at it! If there's one thing to be clear about, you will be very well fed in Beijing!
JSS is another delivery food service. JSS is a notable service because it's one of the only apps that's actually in English! You can order fresh and organic fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, butter, basically anything your heart desires. JSS is very fast and efficient too. Not to mention, you should clearly understand the whole app interphase because it's all in English.
QQ music is the Chinese version of Spotify. Once you start making Chinese friends, it won't take them too long to share some cool music with you! They most likely will send the music through a QQ music link. You must have QQ music downloaded to be able to listen to shared songs!
DiDi is China's version of "Uber" and "Lyft." DiDi is a must-have app to use to get around Beijing. Taking a DiDi is exceptionally affordable and reliable. The cars are always spotless, private, and drivers are professional. You can take an express DiDi, which is usually an economy-sized car at very affordable rates, or you can choose more luxury options at a bit higher prices. When your feet can use a rest or skip the subway, DiD is the best next option to get around the city. The app is also in English and easy to use!
Dianping is just like yelp. You can use Dianping to find all the best new restaurants, cafes, museums, and shops all over the city. Customers leave reliable reviews and ratings on the app. You can search by neighborhoods, districts, or even by subway stations! There are multiple search categories to search through like food, movies, performances, beauty/salons, scenic spots, and sports/fitness. Dianping isn't in English, so you'll need your translator for this one for sure. Dianping is a must if you're interested in quality and planning.
Everyone needs a little help in life. These apps feel like that little extra help in daily life. Having them will make life in China so seamless will feel like a home away from home.