Must Have Travel Apps for China

As mentioned in our previous post about our favorite travel apps, technology has really helped to enhance our traveling experiences and here are some top travel apps for China.  And while we’ve had years of travel experience, we learned quickly that traveling in China was very different than any other place we had been.

The obvious obstacle is the Chinese language, as well as the “Great Internet Firewall” which limits your ability to access certain websites…including Facebook and Google.  To tackle these challenges of traveling in China, we have created a separate list of must have travel apps for traveling in China!  These apps are absolutely essential to make your experience more enjoyable.

WayGo  WayGo          Download on app

From our experience, this is one of the most important apps to have while traveling China.  Chinese is one of the most difficult languages to understand, or even read! Waygo is an award winning visual translation app.  It works offline as a translator and dictionary for Chinese, Japanese and Korean. But the best thing about it is that we can simple use the camera on our smartphone to highlight foreign text and instantly translate it to English so we can read it!

I can’t tell you how valuable this app has been for us.  Basic things like ordering at a restaurant is a nightmare in China, especially for newcomers who have not begun to memories or recognize basic characters.  We always use this app at restaurants, but it’s also incredibly helpful to translate important signs around town and transportation maps.  It is a MUST – and well worth the small price tag.

Using the Waygo app to translate a dinner menu - none of which would be recognizable to us!
Using the Waygo app to translate a dinner menu – none of which would be recognizable to us!


vypr VPN  vypr VPN              Download on app

Traveling through China is a great experience, but it’s difficult to share your experience back home with your friends and family via social media.  Some people don’t realize that popular social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Google is blocked by the government.  It is possible to access these websites only if you can get around the “Great Firewall of China” with a VPN service.

*** While you can download the app for FREE, you MUST still sign up for a vyprVPN account.  Click on the banner ad below to claim your discounted rate.

What’s a VPN?  In basic terms, there are internet servers all over the world.  If you can connect to a server in another country and encrypt your connection, it is as though you are not in China but elsewhere in the world (for example: we may connect in Singapore, Australia, Germany or the US). We use VyprVPN, the world’s fastest VPN which encrypts your Internet connection and protects your online privacy. VyprVPN helps defeat online censorship, and its deep packet inspection prevents your ISP from throttling your Internet connection.

So it not only allows us to bypass the firewall here in China so we can access our usual websites, but it also helps maintain our internet speed and protects our private information.


OffMaps  OffMaps 2          Download on app

This would have to be our favorite travel app and one that we rely on a great deal while traveling the world…even beyond China.  With this app, we can download city maps from all over the world.  The best part is that it is accessible offline by using GPS technology to track you in real-time (even when your data is turned off).  So you can see exactly where you are on the map, and even which direction you are pointing!

OffMaps uses up-to-date crowd-sourced OpenStreetMap (the Wikipedia of maps) that offer a lot of useful information beyond simple roadmaps from ATMs and bus stops to restaurants and bars. This app not only allows you to search locations, but you can pin locations and make a note about the pin for future reference.

We LOVE this app, and it will help guide you turn by turn to your destination…or keep you from getting lost.  GET THIS APP!  Two maps are included for free, more maps can be purchased from within the app for only 99 cents!


China Trains  China Train          Download on app

Traveling by train is a great way to see China, and it may save you money rather than flying from destination to destination.  Plus, some of the best places to see in China are in the countryside and will not have an airport, so you will have to take the train anyway.  This app makes it easy to plan and book your train travel around China.  It provides an up-to-date train schedule and a ticket booking service for the booking request for the major Chinese cities.

You can use this free app to plan your train journey in China, to book the train tickets, or even to ask any questions about train travel in China and then get the answers from the travelers who have first-hand experiences.


Metro China  Metro China Subway        Download on app

You will ride the subway at some point if you are traveling to major cities in China.  We love being able to have easy access to the Subway / Metro maps on our phones and not fumbling around with paper maps.


China Explorer China Explorer:  A Travel Guide Download on app

Whether you’re planning a trip to China or simply want to get to know the country better, this app provides a simple overview of the country’s historic landmarks, diverse peoples, and most unique landscapes.

Preparing a trip to China is no easy task. The country is roughly the same size as the United States, and it is a much less familiar place (the city names and locations can be difficult to pronounce…let alone remember!). It stretches from the Himalayas to sprawling coastal cities, from the Gobi Desert to the subtropical jungle.


Trover  Trover         Download on app

Trover is the app for travelers. You can satisfy your wanderlust cravings with a collection of geo-tagged traveler photos. Users can join their global community and post photos of their discoveries, including notes and tips for other travelers.  Then other users can create visual bucket lists of where they want to go by searching the global community of photos.

What we love about this app is that the geotagged photos go a step further from something like Pinterest, because you can actually see where the photo was taken.  And if you are currently on the road, you can use the map to search nearby points of interest, see pics, and read the notes from other travelers.


China Air Quality  China Air Quality Index          Download on app

To wear a mask or not?  That is a question you need to ask in certain cities around China…on a daily basis!  This app helps you to decide whether or not to wear your mask around the city.  But we would always recommend that you bring a mask with you just in case.

This app provides real-time broadcasting air quality information for cities in China. It provides data from more than 1800 monitoring stations for over 400 cities and shows air quality information from your nearest monitoring station.  It supports data from US Embassy / US Consulate in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, and Shenyang.  It’s also available for Apple Watch.


Viber  Viber            Download on app

Keep in contact with friends and family, for free with Viber!  Viber users can text, make HD-quality phone and video calls, and send a photo and video messages worldwide over Wifi or 3G – for free. Viber Out can be used to make calls to non-Viber mobile and landline numbers at low rates.

Viber is available for many smartphones and platforms.


Pleco  Pleco Chinese Dictionary         Download on app

When I arrived for teaching training in Beijing, this was the app everyone was talking about…it’s a must!  Pleco is the ultimate Chinese learning companion – an integrated dictionary/document reader/flashcard system with fullscreen handwriting input and lives OCR.  So it not only helps you to translate and communicate while you are traveling around China, but it is a great tool to actually learn the language.


Learn Chinese  Learn Chinese – Mandarin        Download on app

Learn Chinese is an easy to use mobile Chinese phrasebook that will give visitors to Chinese-speaking countries and those who are interested in learning Mandarin a good start in the language. Learn Chinese is recorded using native speakers for authentic pronunciation while ensuring it is easy to understand. This is a recommended app for tourists and business people visiting China.


Chinese English Dictionary  Chinese English Dictionary – Bravolol Download on app

This is a super simple app that we use daily.  This Chinese English Dictionary & Translator app is now on iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch. It covers over 170,000 words and phrases of the contemporary Chinese language (Both Traditional and Simplified Chinese), along with example sentences, audio pronunciations, fastest search speed, flexible search methods, and more.


Trip Advisor  Trip Advisor        Download on app

With millions of traveler reviews/opinions, photos, and maps, TripAdvisor really is an incredible source of information for planning a trip. With just a few taps, you can check the airfare, hotels, restaurants, and fun things to do.


Calculator  Calculator          Download on app

This calculator has a perfect design that maximizes the size of the buttons and display, with a great layout for fast and easy calculations.

** If you are shopping in foreign markets (like those in China), having an easy calculator with big buttons will help with negotiating prices — especially if there is a language barrier!

These apps help us get around in our day to day life around China.  Read more about why you we left our loves to live in China.


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Must Have travel apps for china


18 thoughts on “Must Have Travel Apps for China”

  1. Good Apps! A VPN is a must. From our experiences next time i spend 60 days in china it’s going to be with a junk computer and a junk cell phone. After that i would destroy them. Even if you use a VPN your items can and will get messed-up. Ours did and we used a VPN Nonstop.

    1. Hey David – thank for reading & for the comment!

      May I ask what kind of trouble you have had with your devices since leaving China (how were they messed up?). We have been hear for 5 months now, and using a VPN, we haven’t had trouble (knock on wood…).

      Thanks & hope all is well with you!

      – Liz

    1. Hey Alex – thanks for the comment. We have never tried that app because we have been so happy with OffStreet Maps. But we will certainly give it a try.

      Thanks for the suggestion & happy travels!

      – Liz

  2. Really helpful post guys. I haven’t used a couple of the first suggested apps and I’m going to check them out. I have really been using whatsapp a ton since we’ve been working/traveling in Europe. Plus since they’ve just added voice too it’s been very handy. Safe travels guys.

    1. Thanks Donny – we hope all is well with you! Yeah, the translation apps have been super helpful here for us. And of course, we couldn’t get anything done without the VPN! But we are always discovering new apps – which we’ll be sure to add here.

      Cheers to you two!
      – Liz

  3. An app that most people use in China and you will be asked if you have it while you are there is WeChat. Its something that if you want to stay in touch with people you meet in China you must have. You can text, voice and video call. You can use it for people in the states or China, anyone else who has the app. One of the perks is it has a translation button so if your friend writes something in Chinese you can translate it. There’s no need for a vpn since almost everyone in China who has a smart phone uses this app. Its also useful for a friend writing/texting an address to you. For anyone who’s going to be in China for more than a few weeks or wants to stay in touch with the Chinese people they meet. WeChat is a must have app.

    1. Thanks for reading, and for the comment Stephanie!

      Yes, WeChat is huge here in China. Most visitors to China won’t have a need for it, but if you are planning to stay in China for quite some time (including living and working) — then WeChat is a must!

      Everything is done through WeChat – even our bosses send us notes on WeChat. It is similar to text messaging, but more like social media for everyone. People are always on WeChat. There are some micro-blog functionalities too — although we haven’t gotten into using it that way yet.

      But it is a great way to stay in contact with people that you meet, and create a network of friends. It also makes it easy to get in contact with each other – as well as having translation capabilities.

      Cheers & happy travels!

  4. Fantastic! I am going to visit China next week. I desperately need these apps for this trip. I have packed my luggage already but I haven`t pack my apps yet 🙂 Best regards! Thank you!

    1. Hello Mario – thanks for reading and for the comment!

      Yes, I believe many of these apps have an Android version that you can download as well – although, possibly not all. But you bring up a good point! During our next update, we will definitely look into it and include Android links. Thanks and happy travels to you!

      – Liz

  5. Hi guys, I have been going to a different area of China every year and I’ll be back again in 2018. I’ve been using a different VPN, is there any reason we like Vypr VPN more than others? Good Article! Another good app for booking your travel within China as well as hotels and hostels is Ctrip.

    1. Hi Roger — thanks for reading and for the comment!

      ** I apologize for the delay, we’ve been traveling for a couple weeks! **

      Vypr VPN was one of the top rated from all the articles we read. We liked the different security levels, as well as the number of servers available and how we could pick and choose so easily between so many. We purchased Vypr and honestly, it has always worked so well that we’ve never felt the need to change to another one. We have lots of friends in China who use different VPNs, Astrill, Express, etc. and it seemed reviews of them were always mixed. Some people liked them, some people didn’t. I’m sure there are varying reasons and that everyone could have their own experience. But there were definitely times when our Vypr worked while other people had trouble with theirs. So it’s up to your preference really, but this has been our experience.

      Also, yes Ctrip is quite good for booking travel in China. We’ve used them for train tickets in particular, and it worked quite well.

      Cheers to you and happy travels!

    1. Thanks for the comment Irene!

      Yeah, is AMAZING for travel in general (we use it everywhere) – but it is extremely helpful in China too. A VPN is also a must for China, thanks for adding your recommendation.


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