Essential Apps for Your Time in Shanghai, China
Using our mobile phones for an increasing amount of day-to-day activities has made our lives increasingly convenient, and China is on the forefront of this development. However, as China has developed its own ecosystem instead of embracing foreign IT products for various reasons, new expats are likely not familiar with the most widely used apps in China and might miss out on one of the most significant features of modern Chinese society: convenience. Therefore, we have compiled a list of app recommendations, that have the potential to make a big difference in your daily life:
Wechat is the Chinese equivalent to Whatsapp and Facebook – and more. While its primary focus is on online chat, third parties can provide so called mini-apps that work within Wechat, so that you will not need to create yet another account but can login or pay through Wechat. From all the apps in the list, this is the most important one to have, both for private as well as professional life: Almost all communication runs through Wechat.
Mobile / Online Payment: Alipay and Wechat Pay
Chinese people love the convenience of mobile payments. Alipay and Wechat Pay are the top dogs in this area and both are accepted by almost every retail store. You can connect your account to a Chinese bank card to top up your in-app balance, or set it up to directly charge your bank account.
Online Shopping: Taobao / Tek-Shanghai
Taobao is likely the internationally most well-known Chinese company and a giant e-commerce platform where you can find almost everything. However, stores selling on Taobao very rarely can provide service in English. Not an app recommendation, but a way to help with this problem is baopals.com, where you pay a small commission for which they will manage the whole ordering – and if necessary return – process.
Translation: Pleco & Bing/Microsoft Translator
While you will likely have many colleagues who speak English, most people you meet outside will speak very limited English. While you are learning Chinese yourself, a good translation app is priceless. Pleco is a great choice to study and to look up single words, while Microsoft’s Translator App is good to translate whole sentences and to output Test-2-Speech.
Ride/Taxi Hailing: DiDi
While Uber has been conquering many countries, they finally gave up competing with China’s very own DiDi ride hailing company. DiDi, other than another local competitor Meituan, features an English-language user interface, but beside rare exceptions, drivers do not speak English at all. While sometimes a bit awkward, that is no problem for reaching your destination.
Bike Sharing: Mobike and Hellobike
China considers its big wave of bike sharing one of its great modern inventions, and indeed it makes getting around the city even more convenient. Basically everywhere you can pick a bicycle and unlock it for a very low fee (usually between 0.5 and 2 yuan per ride, but subscription packages are also available). Mobike and Hellobike (which can be found within Alipay) have proven to be the most reliable bicycle providers, regarding to quality, maintenance and deposit return.
Metro: Metro 大都会
Metro 大都会 is a useful app for navigating the Metro network, just like you can with most map apps. At the same time however, it allows you to enjoy the benefits of cashless payment, as it allows you to pay metro fares using apps that are connected to your Alipay account.
Food Delivery: Ele.me and Sherpa’s
If you think ubereats is great, you will love China. Here, food delivery is a way of life and is incredibly convenient. Delivery prices are stunningly low and the selection of restaurants and different foods extremely vast. Ele.me and Meituan are locals favorite apps – and only offer Chinese language interfaces. Sherpa’s focuses the upscale market and is great for expats, but lacks a number of restaurants.
Restaurant Reviews: Bon App!
While Chinese people mostly use an app called Dianping for restaurant reviews, Bon App! is a strong replacement for the expat market. Especially as tastes and expectations towards food differ between cultures and areas, it is actually recommended to rely on fellow expats rather than Chinese when it comes to food criticism.
Traveling: Trip / Qunar
Ctrip/Trip.com and Qunar belong to the same company and make traveling around China, from flights and train tickets, over hotel stays and whole holiday packages. If you need and English interface, you will have to go with Trip.com. Available options are identical, prices can sometimes differ by a small amount.