Having the right China travel apps is essential to making your trip run smoothly. For a country that runs so efficiently and is so well developed, China is still tricky to navigate for westerners. Everything from ordering a meal to figuring out which train to hop one can turn into a huge hassle. Outside of Airports and the major tourist attractions, most things are not in English, and most people only know a handful of English words.
That last paragraph might scare you out of traveling to China. However, that is a huge mistake. China is a welcoming country with amazing people whose friendliness is only matched by their generosity. Plus, with over 5,000 years of history, there are some ancient wonders to uncover all throughout the country. Not to mention the food is fantastic.
Having the Right Phone Plan
Before we get into the best China travel apps, we first need to make sure you have a phone plan that will work in China. I use T-Mobile. For $50 a month, I get free unlimited data in over 100 countries around the world (Including China). It also comes with free texting, and 7 GB of hotspot data.
This means my phone works from the second the plane lands until it takes off. If you are locked into your current contract, I believe in most cases they will buy you out of it. I recommend T-Mobile when traveling anywhere international, it has saved me a lot of hefty roaming fees. But the choice is yours.
Best China Travel Apps
Having the right China travel apps when traveling China will make your life much easier. So let’s look at the best China travel apps.
Google Translate (Apple, Android)
Google Translate is awesome. First of all the app is free which is always a plus. It also has a variety of helpful features.
Translate Pictures- Not sure what all those Chinese characters on the menu mean? Take a picture with this handy app and it will translate the text in mere seconds.
This feature saved me a huge hassle the last time I was in China. I was getting ready to board a domestic flight. I had already checked my bag and was about to head through security when I saw my name on a flashing sign. The rest of the sign was in mandarin, so I quickly took out my phone took a picture of the sign and found out it said I had to go back to the ticketing counter to fix a problem with the luggage. (I had an external battery charger in it, which is a carry on item only).
If I had not had Google translate, I would have been running around the airport frantically trying to find someone to translate the sign, or my luggage would have stayed in Chengdu instead of making it to Beijing.
Translate Text – Google Translate easily lets you type text in English and translates it to Chinese. You can imagine how helpful this is with cab drivers, restaurants, and vendors, (everyone)
Translate Voice – In my opinion this is the weakest part of the app, but still helpful. You can speak into the app in your native language, and it will say it in Chinese. A lot of the time, the sentences are broken so speak short sentences that get straight to the point.
All these features (and the fact that it is free) makes Google translate an app you need when traveling through China.
Express VPN (Apple, Android – Monthly)
Ah yes, The Great Firewall of China. The country blocks many sites including Google, Facebook, Instagram, Netflix, and much more.
A VPN lets you get around this by rerouting your IP address. It tells the Internet you are in a different country. VPN’s also helps you keep all your info stored on the internet safely and secure while traveling.
Express VPN is the best one I have found in China. It is cheap, super easy to use, and fast (by China standards). There are some free VPN’s, but they are so slow that it is a huge waste of time and energy. Who wants to spend hours trying to upload a photo to Facebook, am I right?
Sing up for Express VPN here.
C-Trip (Apple, Android)
Travel around China runs off the app and website C- Trip. It is an app that lets you book trains, flights, and hotels. It is super easy to use and the most reliable when booking tickets in China. You simply have to have the C-Trip app when traveling China. (Skyscanner is a good alternative)
WeChat (Apple, Android)
WeChat is sort of China’s version of Facebook, what’s app, and Apple pay all rolled into one. It does an endless amount of things but is mainly used to keep in contact. If you meet cool people along the way and want to stay in touch, it will be through We Chat.
Some restaurants even give you discounts after following them. This app can do everything, from calling a cab to sending your location, to scanning a QR code or sending money. You can do almost anything with this China travel apps.
Maps.Me (Apple, Android)
WIFI/ Cell Data is not the fastest in China. Sometimes it makes you want to pull your hair out. Finding spots on a map, or figuring out how to get from A to B on the go is tricky. I’ve had a handful of times where pages took minutes to load.
Luckily, this is where Maps.Me comes into play. Maps.Me lets you download maps of an area or city. The most useful feature of is the ability to download maps and use them offline.
Maps.me can even use your GPS when you are offline making is a breeze to get around the city. It is one of the most helpful China travel apps.
Pro Tip: Download all the maps of the areas you know you are visiting before leaving home. You can download them it China, but trust me. It will be a lot easier from home.
Currency XE ( IPhone, Android – Free)
One of the best China travel apps that you need to at least look at before boarding your plane is X.E Currency. This app gives you up to date details on the current exchange rate. It comes with a built-in currency calculator that works offline. How much does that sweater really going to cost you? With X.E Currency, you can find out in a few quick presses of a button.
Trail Wallet (IPhone – $4.99)
I’ve used trail wallet for years and loved it. This app not only helps me keep track of how much I am spending a day, week, or month but also tells me what I am spending it on. (After you realize you are spending $20 a day on cups of coffee you start to adjust your spending habits fast)
Trail Wallet also lets you set a budget and gives you a gentle slap on the hand if you go over it. It is a handy way to keep track of your expenses.
Get it from the Apple Store here.
Having the right travel apps for China makes it a lot easier to navigate routes, find the cheapest tickets, know what you are eating, and keeping track of your expenses. Downloading this list made a huge difference for me when traveling through China. But don’t take my word for it, download these apps, head to China and try them for yourself. For more on the land of the rising sun check out this awesome travel guide to China.