The smartphone has transformed expat life, giving us access to information and services wherever we go. Here are a few of the most useful apps to help you survive and thrive in Beijing.

Social media

Forget Facebook, Twitter, and Whatsapp – in China, WeChat is king. Beijingers use it for networking, sharing and gossip, and even pay their bills on it. Get used to the idea of scanning QR codes instead of exchanging phone numbers, and start building up your guanxi.

But there’s much more to WeChat than just chat. WeChat Wallet is your easy, portable payment system in a country that’s still getting used to card payments. You can top up your phone, pay utility bills, order a taxi, or book a table for dinner. If there is one app which symbolizes contemporary China’s love affair with the smartphone, it’s WeChat. The main functions are available in English, but most of the “official accounts” (mini-apps which you access through WeChat) are Chinese only.

Available for: iOS, Windows Phone, Android, Symbian, Blackberry OS


Whether you’re serious about learning Mandarin or just want to get by, Pleco is the outstanding language app for Chinese. The basic package is free, but you can buy and download up to date and specialist dictionaries, flashcards, and other added functionality. Particularly useful is the ability to read characters with your phone’s camera.

Although most of the signs in Beijing are in both Chinese and English, you’ll find this invaluable for deciphering menus and identifying those mysterious bottles of sauce in the supermarket. The flashcards are a great way of making use of the time spent on the subway or stuck in traffic. Adding new words and characters and testing yourself every day builds your vocabulary and your confidence, and there is help with pronunciation and writing too. Pleco even indicates the tones for characters, with a crafty color coding system.

Available for: iOS, Android


WeChat may dominate the social media, but when it comes to payments it’s competing with a well-established market leader, Alipay. Alipay has been running for ten years now, and has 300 million users and 80 percent of the market. It’s more than just a Paypal equivalent – you’ll see more locals paying for their shopping and dining with their smartphones than with cards. The good news is that the app is now available in English. The even better news is that once you have an Alipay account, you can go wild on Taobao, China’s online marketplace (think Amazon or eBay, but cheaper and with more fake designer goods.) Taobao itself is all in Chinese, unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, if you’re a shopaholic!). You’re likely to need help from a Chinese friend to set up your account.

Available for: iOS, Android

Getting around:
For car-hailing apps, our blogs on Uber and Didi Dache.

Three apps we wish were in English

Baidu Maps
Even if you can bypass the Great Firewall, Google Maps just aren’t accurate in Beijing. Global Positioning System (GPS) location is “offset”, meaning that it’s out often by hundreds of yards, and the maps themselves are outdated. Apple Maps are better, but lack features. Baidu Maps on the other hand are up-to-date, and offer 3D searching, traffic information, street view, and more – as long as you can read Chinese.

Available for: iOS, Windows Phone, Android, Symbian

This popular app provides you not only with user-reviews of nearby restaurants, bars, and other services (all in Chinese), but also group discounts.

Available for: iOS, Windows Phone, Android, Symbian

Taobao, its upmarket sister site Tmall and wholesaler Alibaba are at the heart of the Chinese obsession with e-commerce (though is also taking them on in the cities). But while the Taobao app is less intimidatingly busy and complex than the website, it’s still for the fluent and/or determined only.

Available for: iOS, Android, Windows

This article originally appeared on our sister site beijingkids.


Visit the original source and full text: the Beijinger Blog