Most Useful Websites & Apps in China





Website and App

Astrill is probably the most important website for expats in China. In order to get around the Chinese government’s internet censorship, also known as China’s Great Firewall, you will need a VPN (Virtual Private Network). This is the only way to access websites such as Google, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter and a few thousand more.

Astrill is so far the most stable VPN available. You can download it on the website and install it both on your computer and phone.



It goes from $6 – $10 per month for a personal plan, depending on the duration you select. You can find their pricing here.

Groups are recommended to choose the Home plan add-on, which allows up to five different devices to share the same account and is cheaper.


Wechat (微信)


Wechat is a very popular Chinese texting and voice messaging service and is the app you need to stay in touch with people in your city and beyond. Developed by Tencent, this application is a mix between What's App, Facebook and several other services. With more than 600 million users, Wechat ranks as the world’s 5th most used application.

WeChat is primarily a text and voice instant messaging app, but it also offers several other features. Like Facebook, the application has a “Moments” newsfeed to post messages, photos, videos, articles, etc. and share them with friends and only friends. This is not an open network so you can only see the publications and comments of your contacts.
On top of that, it allows you to locate other users through a Tinder-like geolocation including “Shake,” “Look Around” and “Drift Bottle.” It also possesses a QR code scanning that allows brands to find a call function and video conference, as well as online games and even the opportunity to shop or to book a taxi.

You can download the app here. In order to get WeChat on your computer, follow this link after you have downloaded the app on your phone.




Pleco is a free, comprehensive Chinese dictionary for both Apple and Android.  

It is an invaluable tool while in China, possessing a huge character database with multiple ways to access the information. One is by typing in the English, and another is by typing the Pinyin. Additionally, you can also search Pleco by drawing in the character(s) of a word. Once a word has been found, you can see a list of possible definitions and example sentences; if the word has a two or more characters, you can break down the word and view each individual character. Pleco also provides example sentences for words searched and keeps a record of your search history in case you need to look up a word again.

If you are interested in additional features, Pleco provides multiple add-ons and upgrades available for purchase, which are available here.




Waygo is another Chinese translation app but works a bit differently from Pleco. Rather than serving as a comprehensive dictionary, Waygo provides the ability to translate typewritten Chinese. It uses your phone’s live camera to recognize printed Chinese characters and translate them. This can be incredibly useful in places like restaurants, where looking up the individual words would be time-consuming and inconvenient. Waygo can recognize both traditional characters and simplified. Another major benefit is that Waygo needs neither data nor wi-fi to function.

The free version of the app allows for ten translations a day. In order to get unlimited translations, you must upgrade to the full version for $6.99. This app is best in conjunction with other translation apps such as Pleco.

Waygo is available for both Apple and Android.


Air Quality China


Because of China’s rapid industrialization and development, many of its cities have air quality that can be very poor. An air quality monitoring app is a must for any extended stay in China.

Air Quality China provides air quality data for more than 430 cities in China. It lists multiple statistics for each city, including a real-time air quality graph, a past 24 hours graph, and a past 30 days graph. Air quality can be viewed either in the Chinese


Online Shopping


Taobao (淘宝网) and Tmall (天猫)

Websites and Apps

Although both Taobao and Tmall are only in Chinese, they are China’s top shopping websites and valuable resources that should not be overlooked. A step-by-step guide to both websites is available from Tech in Asia to help English speakers navigate the websites.

Like, Taobao and Tmall are online shopping websites offering a variety of products. These include but are not limited to clothes, shoes, furniture and home décor, jewelry, lipstick, books and music, electronics and appliances, food, and books and music.

Taobao and Tmall are very similar, being two branches of the same company. The main difference is their focus. has a consumer-to-consumer (C2C) focus, meaning that anybody who has something to sell can do so on Taobao. As a result, Taobao is cheaper than Tmall and offers a wider variety of products. However, due to the fact that anybody can sell there, you are more likely to run into scams or defective products (although Taobao does have a department specializing in shutting down any shady businessmen that may appear on the website).

On the other hand, Tmall’s goods are only from officially recognized, established companies such as Nike and Godiva. The quality of the products is guaranteed, and there are few if any problems with order misplacements and errors or faulty products. This is reflected in the more expensive prices, although Tmall still tends to be cheaper than brick-and-mortar stores.

Website is an online shopping website with a wide variety of products to choose from. Offerings range from clothing for all genders and ages to electronics, health and beauty, and even home and garden. The Super Deals section highlights particularly good sales and lets you browse them at a glance. guarantees buyer production, meaning that if an item you purchased through the website is bad quality or not what you ordered, will award a full refund. also has a delivery guarantee, or your money back. Finally, has a safe payment system to help keep your financial information secure when you make online purchases through their website.




Ctrip (携程) and eLong (艺龙)

Apps and Websites

Ctrip and eLong are two travel agencies providing hotels and flight information throughout mainland China.

Ctrip is China’s leading travel agent and has a huge network of flights and hotels. Besides booking hotels and buying flight tickets, you can use it to get deals on tour bundles, book train tickets, and even manage corporate travel. It also offers flights abroad.

Like Ctrip, eLong is a travel agency focusing on flight and hotel bookings. It offers tours and hotel deals as well as a “Travel Tools” section that includes travel rewards, community information, and airport shuttle bus information. It offers both domestic and international flights.

Ctrip and eLong are very similar, with the main difference being user interface and price of flights. Ctrip is typically cheaper for domestic flights than eLong, but eLong tends to be cheaper for international flights. Both companies also offer a hotline and travel deals, as well as information on a number of famous destinations in China.

Access Ctrip here or download it for Apple or Android.

Access eLong here or download it for Apple or Android.


Didi Chuxing (滴滴出行)


Didi Chuxing is a taxi app that functions similarly to Uber. When you want a taxi, you can send out a request on the app, as well as an option of offering anywhere from 5 to 20 yuan on top of the original fare. Very few drivers will pick you up if you add nothing or only add 5 yuan because if they are not extremely close to you, there is a good chance they will be able to find other customers before they reach your location.

This app is very convenient when it is difficult to get a taxi, such as when there is bad weather or when you are in a particularly crowded area. As it is only in Chinese, we made a step-by-step guide in English but keep in mind that some Chinese knowledge will be necessary.

The app is available for Apple and Android.



App and Website

ExploreMetro is an app providing metro maps for numerous cities in Asia; in China, they offer Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen. These maps are clear and easy to use and do not need an internet connection to be accessed, meaning that you can access the subway map of these four cities at any time and in any place. Additionally, the app keeps up with metro construction and updates itself accordingly. If you enter a start and end point on a line, the app can also tell you the price and estimated travel time for that trip.

ExploreMetro has a website and is available as an app for Apple and Android. You can download the app by going to the website and choosing the appropriate city.


Dazhong Dianping (大众点评网)

App and Website

Dazhong Dianping is a Yelp-like restaurant locator app with tens of thousands of restaurants in its database. A number of criteria can be used to narrow down the search, including proximity to you, location, and types of food (some options include local cuisine, hotpot, street food, coffee shops, bars, and Western).

Dianping provides user reviews and ratings for each restaurant as well as average prices and customers’ pictures of the food to give you an idea of exactly what type of food to expect. It also offers group-buying discounts, functioning similarly to Groupon.

Although this app is only in Chinese, it is truly worth the struggle, as it can lead you to discovering delicious and inexpensive food off the beaten path. A step-by-step English user guide from Life on Nanchang Lu is available here.

Dianping has both a website and an app, available for Apple and Android.