Like it or not, mobile applications (apps), from messaging ones like WhatsApp and Telegram, to those providing transport information and services such as Google Maps and Grab, have become an integral part of our daily lives. Even in China, where internet regulations may limit or totally restrict some of the functions available on the apps you’re familiar with, the use of digital technology, especially mobile devices, in the country is nonetheless highly pervasive.

So if a trip to China is on the cards for you, don’t fret just yet. There are various well-developed apps for use in the country, with functions similar (if not better) to what you are used to at home. We’ve shortlisted seven of the must-have apps that will enable you to explore China with ease, be they for making payments or travelling within and across.

Available across popular operating systems, the following mobile applications are available in English, perfect for international visitors. Download them on the Apple Store and Google Play Store.

1. Changi Pay – For convenient payments

use mobile payment app changi pay in china at alipay+ merchants use mobile payment app changi pay in china at alipay+ merchants

Changi Pay can be easily accessed from the Changi App, enabling users to pay at Alipay+ merchants in China.

In China, while bigger merchants accept payments by credit or debit cards, smaller merchants mainly accept payments via QR codes on local mobile apps, which contain e-wallets linked to a local bank account. If you don’t have a local bank account which can top up these e-wallets, you may encounter some difficulty paying for your smaller purchases, for instance, to the cab driver or street food vendor. However, if you’ve got Changi Pay, then the problem is solved! Changi Airport Group has partnered with Alipay to enable you to conveniently make mobile payments in China via Changi Pay, on the refreshed Changi App.

Changi Pay users can now tap on one of China’s largest payment networks, Alipay, to pay for purchases at tens of millions of Alipay+ enabled merchant outlets in China. Even without a Chinese bank account, you can enjoy easy and fuss-free shopping, as if you were a local with this payment function.

Best part? Enjoy attractive exchange rates and avoid incurring foreign transaction fees that are often charged for overseas credit card transactions that can go up to 3.5%.

Existing Changi Pay users simply need to set up a Liquid Account and top up via PayNow to start making payments in China. If you are not a Changi Pay user yet, you will have to activate Changi Pay in your Changi App (it's a quick process!) before setting up your Liquid Account.

Don’t miss these launch promos:

Top up S$50 into Liquid Account and receive S$40 worth of e-Vouchers and promo codes without any spend requirement!

To get even more bang for your buck, receive an additional $10 worth of Changi Pay e-Vouchers when you spend in China. For a limited time only, make three transactions with a minimum spend of RMB100 each to receive one S$5 e-Voucher, which can be used in Changi Airport, Jewel Changi Airport and on iShopChangi, and one S$5 e-Voucher which can be used in Lotte Duty Free stores when you return to Changi Airport. Find out more about making overseas payments with Changi Pay here.

Do note that you will need a Singapore-registered mobile number, and a Singpass account to set up a Liquid Account to make payments in China.

More details about the Changi Pay payment system in China are here. Sign up for Changi Pay now to enjoy these perks!

Available for both Android and iOS.

2. Didi (滴滴) – Getting you to where you need to be

didi china mobile app pickup drop off location didi china mobile app pickup drop off location

Select your pick-up and drop-off locations in China, and indicate other service preferences easily on Didi.

didi china mobile platform payment options for foreign tourists didi china mobile platform payment options for foreign tourists

Register an overseas bank card or activate other payment methods for hassle-free payment on Didi.

This is your Chinese version of Grab or Uber. Didi is especially handy for places public transport cannot access (read: many tourist attractions in China).

Other than basic functions like selecting pick-up and drop-off points, you can also choose between the different tiers of vehicles and select service options – for example, if you wish to share the ride.

When using the in-app messaging function, the app also automatically translates English text into Chinese characters (and vice versa), making it easy for you to communicate with your driver. Register your credit card on the Didi app for hassle-free payment.

Available for both Android and iOS.

3. Mobike (摩拜单车) – To explore the cities like a local

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Bike-sharing mobile platforms like Mobike make travelling within cities more convenient!

mobike interface of where bicycles are parked in shanghai, china mobike interface of where bicycles are parked in shanghai, china

Locate Mobikes in your vicinity and “unlock” one to start your adventure.

Mobike is a bike-sharing application – also available in Singapore – so you may be familiar with this one. If you’re up for travelling around like the locals and want to take in all the sights and sounds of the city, cycling is your answer. The mobile app identifies bicycles in your vicinity and serves as a “key” to unlock bicycles via QR code.

The Mobike mobile app, and therefore the user experience, is similar to the one you use in Singapore, so there is no need to download another app. However, the price of renting such a bike is dramatically lower in China. While it would cost you S$1 for 30 minutes in Singapore, it costs only RMB1 (about S$0.20) for the same duration in China.

Available for both Android and iOS.

4. WeChat (微信) – The ultimate app for communication… and more

wechat app interface of conversations wechat app interface of conversations

Access all your conversations and subscriptions in “Chats”

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Liven up your exchanges with adorable stickers on WeChat.

WeChat is the ultimate instant messaging app in China. Other than basic text and voice message exchanges (similar to WhatsApp and Telegram), WeChat has a host of other functions. Share photos and takeaways from your journey via WeChat Moments or dive into local life by following official accounts (Sixth Tone is a good source of English-written news coverage in China).

WeChat Pay, as of late, allows tourists to link their foreign bank cards to make payments across the country! However, there are some things to bear in mind when using WeChat Pay. Firstly, there are spending limits, so make sure to keep track of your expenditure! Secondly, be wary of transaction fees. For purchases bigger than RMB200 (~S$38), there is a transaction fee of 3%. 

Available for both Android and iOS.

5. Pleco Chinese Dictionary – For easier communication

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With Pleco Chinese Dictionary, you can translate English to Chinese characters conveniently, perfect for international visitors who are not savvy in the language.

pleco chinese dictionary use on mobile browser pleco chinese dictionary use on mobile browser

Activate Pleco’s “Clipboard Monitor” for seamless translation while accessing Chinese text on your mobile browser. Simply highlight the text and select "Pleco" to translate.

The Pleco Chinese Dictionary mobile app allows you to translate text from English to Chinese, and vice versa. One of its many functions includes the ability to detect when the user might require assistance in translation via a “Clipboard Monitor”. When browsing content online, once the user copies text, Pleco automatically brings you to the app and provides a translation of the text copied.

Pleco takes translation a step further by enhancing the educational experience. You can better understand individual characters in a phrase, find out the exact strokes to write individual characters, or even explore phrases similar to the character(s) translated.

Available for both Android and iOS.

6. Amap (高德地图) - Navigating your way around the streets

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Search for locations to visit and get related recommendations on Amap.

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On Amap, you can get a comprehensive list of detailed directions to and from points.

You might find that Google Maps doesn’t quite work in China.

Amap is an alternative and offers all the map functions you are familiar with – including searching for a specific location and plotting a route between start and end points. Amap offers plenty of added information as well, such as entry fees for tourist attractions.

Available for both Android and iOS.

7. Dianping (大众点评) – The go-to app for food

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Indicate the city you are located in to receive public-reviewed recommendations ranging from food to entertainment, all collated for you on the Dianping mobile app.

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Find out more about recommendations and embrace the next unique experience with a simple search on Dianping.

This mobile app is your HungryGoWhere, Chope, and Burpple all rolled up in one.

The range of dining and retail options in China can be intimidating. With the limited time that you might have in China, Dianping will be able to help narrow down your choices!

Dianping consolidates public-generated reviews and lists out top picks in your vicinity. If you are feeling adventurous, just input your city on the app’s homepage. This will produce a list of public-reviewed eateries and services, ranging from entertainment to beauty options. Alternatively, you can search for a desired service or activity and be ready to try something new.

Available for both Android and iOS.

 

You might need some time and effort getting used to these mobile applications unique to China, but they will certainly help you have a more fulfilling trip for your next visit to the country!

Since these apps require a regular internet connection, it's best to have a portable Wi-Fi router on you for an uninterrupted internet connection. Of course, drop a powerbank into your bag, too so your mobile devices are always running.

 

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Best Time to Visit

China is a huge place, and thus, local climates vary between provinces. Do identify cities or provinces well in advance to visit during ideal weather.

Transportation

Metros and buses are often abundant, affordable and accessible in major cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. Where public transportation is not as convenient, consider using private-hire services such as Didi.

Consider domestic flights or highly-efficient High Speed Rail (HSR) rides to zip between cities and make the most out of a trip to China.

Currency

China’s local currency is the Chinese Yuan, or Renminbi (RMB). Despite the ubiquity of cashless payments in China, rest assured that cash is still widely accepted. You may learn about getting the most of your currency exchanges here.

Book Now

Flights are available from Changi Airport to over 25 cities in China. Book your trip now.