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The 5 best apps for Chinese survival

Mobile phone apps have evolved significantly from the Nokia brick days. For a long time, the only fun activities on our cell phones were playing Snake or Brick Master. Now phones are computers in our hands, making our lives that much simpler. Some of the best apps allow us to access social media platforms, order food, and even find love, well something close to it.

What you need to know if you’re moving to China is that some of your apps will be inaccessible while on the mainland. There are apps you must download to make your transition to your new Chinese life as easy as possible.

best apps

1. WeChat (Android & IOS)

This is honestly one of the best apps that I’ve downloaded ever. From the ridiculously cute and weird stickers to the simplicity, you need this app to live in China. WeChat is something like Facebook Messenger but without the annoying ping sound. You can talk to people anywhere if there’s Wi-Fi or using cellular data. I use it to talk to my mom back home in the U.S. while I’m here in China, and other friends located in Beijing.

1. You can use WeChat for phone and video calls, texting and also use it as your wallet

Yup, pop open a QR code, and you can check out of 7/11 using your WeChat. All you have to do is link it to your bank account, and you’re set, but just be mindful of your spending, as it’s easy to go a little overboard with the scanning.

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2. VPN Master (Android & IOS)

If you must have your Instagram and your Facebook, download VPN Master. One of the best apps for VPNs for cell phones, it gives you access to your treasured Western social media accounts.

VPN Master acts just as a regular VPN extension does on your computer, giving you access to other countries so you can log on and virtually be somewhere else. Unlike other apps I’ve downloaded, this one is completely free. So after you reach a certain number of MB, that’s megabytes for you less tech savvy folk, it doesn’t kick you off and tell you to pay $20 a month for its services. There is a VIP option, but it’s not necessary to purchase to use this app.

3. Pleco (Android & IOS)

I applaud you if you’re coming here to China fluent in Chinese. I should’ve done what you did. But Pleco was suggested to me before arriving in Beijing and thank you, Malcolm. Pleco is a Chinese dictionary. It’s very easy to use, and very helpful when I’m looking for the right Chinese translation.

There are different ways to look up words, by typing it in English or Chinese. There’s also a picture option, but you have to pay for that. Once you’ve found your word, it has an audio file of a Chinese man and woman repeating it so you can pronounce it correctly without sounding too terrible.

You can also look words up by character stroke if you have knowledge in that field. I recommend this app if you’re trying to learn Chinese, and want to quiz yourself now and then. Also, Pleco is one of the best apps to download if you’re on the run because it’s also available offline! The best apps are those with an offline feature.

4. Map.me (Android & IOS)

Ah, sweet offline maps, how we waited so long for you to exist. Map.me is one of the best apps out there. Map.me has been covered by Forbes and Tech Crunch, and even the Washington Post. You can get a map of any country right in the palm of your hand. It’ll be helpful because here in China, these street names are something to get used to. I’ve already gotten lost a handful of times trying to figure the right way.

You can create routes, find points of interest and even improve the maps by joining the community. Easily an app to feed your phone before you head to China, especially to Beijing. It’s fast, has an attractive display, and is as easy as Google maps.

5. Ele.me (Android & IOS)

Are you hungry? No, I’m not really asking you that. That’s what Ele.me translates as. My Chinese roommates told me to get this one. The only thing about this app is that you need a local to walk you through setup as it’s all in Chinese. Ele.me is one of the best apps to get food in Beijing. It has an extensive list of places in your area, and they’re all super quick. So are you hungry?

The fun and bizarre fact about this app is that Kobe Bryant is the celebrity spokesperson for this company. Yeah, you type in Ele.me and you get a 30-second ad of Kobe about to play ping pong with a growling stomach. They keep asking “Ele me?” and finally orders him food, and of course, he wins with a full stomach. You can order whatever is in your neighborhood, and you can pay with cash or card over the app.

best apps

Quick tip: If you have an Android phone, make sure to download these apps before arriving in China, as Google is banned and that means the Play Store is banned. If you have an Apple, you should be okay in downloading these apps.

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