Before going to China, you have to download a couple of apps. Especially if you go backpacking as I did, without the help of the travel company 🙂
People joke around that China has two Great Walls; the iconic ancient Great Wall that was protecting the empire from invaders, and digital Great Firewall, blocking almost every app you are used to.
Therefore, VPN is the most crucial app if you want to use Google services, Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, etc.
VPS is a virtual private network that allows you to circumvent the geo-restrictions. It also allows more secure browsing, but that’s not a point here:)
You pick a country (outside China) from a map and then your phone “thinks” it is in a different country, thus allowing access to blocked apps.
I have used NordVPN. I bought it only for a month for ~12$. After a month, I canceled the subscription. To be honest, I have chosen this one quite randomly. I saw a commercial online and figured might as well get it. I haven’t had any issues, and all the apps I needed worked fine.
Pro tip: do not forget the password to the app, because like me, you will have to wake up your brother in the middle of the night begging him to log into your Gmail to click on a link to change the password (no VPN = no Google = no Gmail):D
Almost no one speaks English. I met only a couple of people with whom I could talk with, and most of them were foreigners. So you definitely need an app that could translate things for you.
I have started using Google Translate, but along the way, I have discovered that the translations are not entirely accurate. People whom I showed the phone with text seemed confused.
Google Translate allows for voice translation, has great handwriting function (to write in Chinese characters ) as well as a camera function.
You have to use a VPN to be able to use it as Google services are blocked in China.
It is a Chinese app, and therefore, it will never be blocked there. The interface is mostly in Chinese but is intuitive enough to use it without knowledge of the language.
Dear Translate by Youdao.com
After some talk, ekhm I mean “showing phones to each other” type of conversation, I found out that this app is quite good. The girls I was conversing with had it, and it worked better than Google Translate, so I just started using this one along the way.
It has similar features to Google Translate; it also can scan pictures, do on-spot translation from the camera, recognize handwriting, but the quality of translation seemed more accurate.
I used those most of the time. I had a VPN and internet everywhere, so I did not have any issues. Additionally, I am used to those maps, so I didn’t feel like changing.
They are the Chinese version of Google Maps. The minus is that the addresses need to in Chinese, so unless you can copy it from the internet, you’re screwed.
The good thing about them is that they are showing bus schedules and taxi prices. But without language, it is useless.
I have installed them just in case Google Maps or the internet don’t work for me. It allows you to download the maps offline. It also has the function for you to save locations of interest so that you can create your list.
Didi Chuxing (滴滴出行)
A Chinese version of Uber. I read online that it is available in both Chinese and English. Di Di apparently offers an instant translation feature that allows you to type in English while having drivers receive them in Chinese.
I can’t say how it works because I had found out about it when I left China 😀 I would recommend giving it a try though as taxis are ripping off foreigners a lot!
DiDi needs you to have a WeChat wallet so if you aren’t able to use WeChat pay; it is possible to request Didi’s for other people. Ask your hostel/guesthouse to arrange a Didi for you.
If you have a VPN, you can continue using Messanger, Hangouts, or WhatsApp. I was not sure how those would work, so just in case I have installed WeChat.
It is a highly popular app in China, and everyone uses it. It is similar to WhatsApp combined with Facebook in one 🙂 Whenever someone talks to you and exchange numbers, they want to add you to this app.
I have found out the WeChat translations are excellent, and I had very long conversations where I was writing in English and would get replies in Chinese. Just one tap and both of us had a translation in our language 🙂
All communication with hotels, photoshoot people, and tour guides was done in this app.
Additionally, WeChat has a neat function. It allows you to pay cashless almost everywhere. There have been couple shops where they only accepted it as payment method 🙂
I read online that some users need to link the Chinese bank to the app. I have not used it, so I don’t know, but everyone around me did. Be it bus tickets, cable car tickets, entrances to museums, groceries in shops; you name it. I was really surprised that it is that successful.
Using Mobile Pay (Danish app) has only recently become more popular in Denmark and is still not that widespread. It is mainly used for paying your friends, not so much for buying tickets.
Web content search engine
Again, if you have a VPN, go and Google your way around 🙂 If not, then you have to use Baidu (Chinese Google) or Bing (it is not blocked yet). The problem with Baidu is that it is again in Chinese.
Again, VPN related. Chrome browser has a cool feature of translating the webpages while you browse through the net. I use it quite often (I am a huge fan of Chinese web novels, and sometimes I can’t wait for translations:D ) and translations are decent enough to understand main points.
You need a VPN. You might think you don’t, but you have no idea how much you are used to some apps until you can’t 🙂 Trust me!
Don’t be afraid of traveling alone through China or problems with communication. As long as you have a phone on you and those couple apps, you’re covered. I have gone all around China for two weeks and came back alive:)