5 Must-Have Apps for Travellers and Expats in China

5 Must-Have Apps for Travellers and Expats in China

Traveling to China isn’t exactly like traveling to other countries. 

For one, the country is enormous! China is the world’s most populous country, and the 4th largest territory-wise. You can easily spend months exploring the fascinating culture, lush nature, and intriguing history.

However, many of the apps you’re used to using– like Google, Wikipedia, and Twitter– are blocked. That’s part of why you want to know ahead of time which apps you’ll need when you get to China. 

Below, we’ve compiled the five most essential ones.


This one is essential if you’re planning to spend a significant amount of time in China.

WeChat is the most commonly used chat program in China. If you make some local friends, they’ll ask if they can connect with you on WeChat. This is the default way to communicate with friends, colleagues, business clients, dates– anybody.

But WeChat isn’t only a chat program. You can also use the app to pay in shops (if it’s linked to your Chinese bank card), buy movie tickets, and transfer money to other people with the app.

You can even go into some restaurant and scan a barcode with WeChat to get the menu! If you want to be able to meet up with some new Chinese friends, WeChat is a must.


You will definitely, definitely need to get a VPN app on your devices for your trip to China.

Without getting a VPN (ideally you want to install it before your arrival in China), you won’t be able to access any of the websites you’re used to which are blocked in China. That means Facebook, Google, Gmail, YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram, and even Wikipedia. And then how will you keep friends back home updated about your travels?

Some VPNs work in China better than others. You want to make sure you find one that won’t be blocked when you arrive. It’s also not a bad idea to keep a copy of a VPN programs installed on a USB key, just in case you need a backup.


In China, where hanzi characters are used, Waygo is an essential translation app. Waygo is especially useful for translating food menus and signage. All you have to do is point your smartphone at the text, and Waygo translates it for you. What makes Waygo unique is that, when translating food, it will offer up images of your translated word or phrase alongside the text: that way you really know what you’re ordering.

Moreover, Waygo doesn’t require an internet connection, it uses up minimal disk space, and it’s free for up to 10 uses a day. The app works for Japanese and Korean, too, if you want to do some extra traveling during your time in China.


Waygo is good for a gastronomic tour of China, but what if you’re staying a bit longer and want to learn some Chinese phrases? For that, Pleco is your indispensable learning tool.

Pleco is actually the most popular app in China. You can type the Pinyin (the romanization of the Chinese sound) of the English word into the search box, and the app will search for the closest match. You can also copy and paste text from online into the app and tap on the words that you need translated. Pleco is essentially a dictionary app, but it also contains dozens of specialized word banks, like medical and business dictionaries.

China Air Quality Index

We know, suggesting this app is a bit of a grim idea. But China does have famously poor air quality, partly due to its continued use of coal, and knowing the air quality is essential for your health and peace of mind. After all, if you’re in a city, there will be days when the air is so polluted that you are advised not to go outside.

Simply having this app handy will allow you to check what the air quality is in the morning, so you can know whether or not it’s a good idea to take that stroll– or stay inside and watch some Netflix (via VPN, of course).

Team LM
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