The Essential Apps to Survive in Shanghai as an Expat
The Essential Apps to Survive in Shanghai as an Expat

The Essential Apps to Survive in Shanghai as an Expat

Technology is moving faster in China than anywhere else in the world. This contributes to mobile usage being an essential part of daily life for the Chinese people. Are you planning to move to China? Maybe more specifically to Shanghai? Are you unsure of which apps are a necessity? This blog will help you find the most popular mobile apps in Shanghai. Those that are both very easy to use and understand but will also make your life easier.  Let’s have a look at the main apps! 


wechat shanghai

First, WeChat is the app you will use the most when living in China. It is an all-in-one messaging app, created by Tencent. Through its WeChat Mini Programs, it provides different kinds of services such as online shopping, gaming, financial services and more. These mini “Apps” are built into WeChat, which cannot be downloaded in an app store. Tencent’s goal is to have their users remain in the same app for as long as possible. They don’t want the user to leave the app for different purposes. 

Another WeChat feature is WeChat Pay. You can activate this paying-service by connecting your Chinese bank account to your WeChat account. You will no longer need a wallet with cash. Just scan the QR code with your phone and complete the payment.  All this makes WeChat a very convenient and indispensable app in China. 


In addition to WeChat Pay, there is another paying system that is well known in China. Alipay is a substitute for WeChat Pay. Some people prefer Alipay because it requires less clicks to pay and it is very useful for those who use Taobao (also a very popular app we will discuss a bit later). So, don’t hesitate to download Alipay even if you already have WeChat Pay. Both paying systems are accepted everywhere in China. 


Struggling with a word? Use Pleco to find out what the translation is. Pleco is a mobile Chinese dictionary that will give you all possible translations and synonyms of the word you are searching for. It also allows you to handwrite the character in order to get the meaning in English. This is a fun and creative way of learning Chinese characters.

pleco app

Transport in Shanghai  

Shanghai is huge. Getting from point A to point B can be done in different ways depending on what kind of transportation you prefer:


Do you want to explore the city on a bike? As you walk down the streets of Shanghai, you will see a lot of orange and blue bikes. The difference between them is that the orange ones are from Mobike, which is linked to WeChat Pay. Whereas, the blue bikes are from Sharebike and are linked to an Alipay account. Find a bike, unlock it by scanning the QR code. Ride to your destination and then lock the bike. There is no need to find a docking place, you can leave the bike wherever you want on the street. 

Metro Shanghai 

Using the metro is very easy with Metro Shanghai. With this app you can type in your metro station destination and the app will find which metro line will get you there the quickest. It will also inform you of how much the ride will cost and if there are any transfers along the way. So, there is no need to search and get lost using the excessively colored and puzzling metro map in the station. With the Metro Shanghai app, you will find your way faster and easier than ever before.

metro shanghai app



Is the metro station too far away, or are you unable to find a bike? Then the DiDi app can also help you to get to your destination. DiDi is a taxi hailing service. You can order a car at any hour of the day and you will wait no longer than five minutes for it to arrive. It is very safe and allows you to communicate with the driver in English through the in-app translated messages. Adding to this, DiDi is also very inexpensive. The total cost of your ride will be based on your personal preferences in the type of car, accommodations, and features that you chose as well as the distance to your destination. It will never cost you a fortune and it will make your travel experience simpler and very enjoyable.  

Baidu Maps 

Finding your way around on your own can sometimes be challenging, especially when you have just arrived in China. You might open Google Maps first, but China has its own version. It is called Baidu Maps. This navigation app is more accurate than Google Maps and loads faster. The only possible challenge is that there is no English version yet. However, it is worth the download as you will have no problems using it in Chinese. 

Want to plan a trip, but you don’t know how? Travelling through China is not complicated at all. With you can easily book train or plane tickets and find a hotel that best suits your preferences. Paying for your tickets can be done with WeChat Pay and with your foreign card. After purchasing your e-tickets you will receive a bar code which you take along with your passport to the ticket booth to receive the ‘physical’ tickets. This is a fast and easy way to start your Chinese adventures! Page Break 

Food Delivery Apps 

On almost every street corner you can try some of China’s most delicious dishes. Your meal will be served in no time at all and you can even take it home. Yet, sometimes, you might not feel like going and getting food. So, what better place than China to order delivery? There are plenty of restaurants that work together with food delivery services. Two very popular ones are Meituan and These delivery services offer you a large variety of (mostly Chinese) restaurants where you can order cheap but very delicious food. If you crave more of a worldwide cuisine, then Sherpa’s will satisfy you for sure!

Bon App

But hey, don’t get too lazy with the food delivery apps. Explore the many restaurants outside!  If you need inspiration for where to go, Bon App is the app to download. This bilingual app is dedicated to connecting people and providing honest venue reviews. These reviews include pictures and price categories of the food, and they are written by people who have already visited the restaurant. Bon App hosts 80% of China’s English reviews and it is the most trusted and transparent in the industry. You can create a personal account and add things you like to do, the cuisines you love to eat, and then you can connect with locals, expats, or internationals to meet up at a place that you both like. 

Mei ri you xian - 每日优鲜 

This WeChat Mini Program is very useful if you don’t have time to go to a physical grocery store. Doing grocery shopping has never been as easy as it is with Mei ri you xian. You can go through the different product pages and add the products you need. Then, check your cart to make sure nothing is missing and pay for your order with WeChat Pay. In no more than one hour, your groceries will be delivered to your door. How amazing is that? 


We can safely say that after WeChat, Taobao is the next most popular mobile app in China. It is the Chinese version of Amazon where you can order whatever you want and, of course, get it delivered to your place. It is the biggest eCommerce website in the world, so don’t worry, you will definitely find what you need.  


Last, but not least, you will need to install a VPN (Virtual Private Network) before you visit China, unless you prefer to detox from western social media, of course. The above mobile apps don’t require a VPN, but if you want to use Facebook, YouTube, or any other western social media app, then choosing the correct VPN is a must! This is because China has the “Great Fire Wall” which blocks any possible entrance to these apps. There are different VPN providers, so choose wisely which one to download before entering China. 


Now that you know which apps you should have on your smartphone, don’t wait to download them. They will make your daily life in China easier and more convenient. It doesn’t take much time to get used to them, and as a nice extra, some of these apps will help you to learn Chinese. So, go ahead and start exploring the most popular mobile apps of China! 

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