China was tough to visit for many reasons. Language barrier. Culture shock. The smells, the sights. There was a lot going on that I just wasn’t prepared for. Something no one tells you: some apps require a Chinese bank card or your passport to register. I spill some major tea on which ones will work with your North American card and which ones won’t. One of the things that really kept me sane in Shanghai was using my phone. Directions, translation, car services and bookings. I had an incredible time in China and these apps made it possible.
If you want to survive your trip to Shanghai, you'll need these apps.
1. Express VPN
Sure you might find the most Instagrammable spots in Shanghai. But without a VPN you won't be able to publish those posts until you fly back. ExpressVPN was the best VPN I used while abroad.
I used this app to book my bullet train ticket to and from Beijing from Shanghai. It’s the most user friendly travel app I used out there. I also used it while booking tickets between Thailand and Mainland china and it was a breeze.
WeChat is the best Social Network out in China and it does more than just connect people. From Paying rent to promoting clubs WeChat literally does it all. I still use it to stay connected with the people I met while there.
You were probably expecting to see Google Translate on here. But Pleco is actually my app of choice for translating. The pin-yin version of words along with a pronunciation guide is available. What’s great is: you can use it with your VPN on or off.
5. SH Trip
Shanghai’s train system is easy to use and connects people to the entire city. It takes a while to understand where the transfers are and how to pick the right platform to get on. But once you do it’ll be your favourite mode of transport. The city’s app is a good way to double check your route.
6. Google Maps
No, China isn’t Google friendly. But Google Maps was my favourite method of mapping my way around the city. I would quickly map out a route before I left and take a screenshot. I liked that it listed the correct train exits since Shanghai train stations are huge. In desperate moments I would use Apple Maps or SH trip while on the train.
If you have a Chinese Bank Card
If you’re in Shanghai for longer than just a quick trip then you're likely to have a Chinese bank card. If so then you can register for the following apps.
Catching a cab without this app is almost impossible. Cabs don’t usually stop; especially for foreigners. Didi is China’s answer to Uber. It was hard to get a Didi at the Beijing train station, so be wary of that.
8. Bon App
If you’re looking for a spot to eat without checking Instagram tags or reading expat blog posts this is the app for you. You can check out other people’s reviews, but they're in mandarin. It was super helpful for my friends to track down some great eats.
There’s no Uber Eats in China. But there is Ele.me. I remember when my roommate ordered the most glorious fried chicken from Ele.me and I knew I needed the app. The delivery was fast and the food was mouth watering.
When people ask me to describe TaoBao, I say it's like AliExpress but way better. Taobao items also often arrive within 48 hours of ordering! Everything is extremely cheap and often descriptions are available in English.
Did I forget an app you love using? Comment below with your recommendations.