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6 must-have apps for Android users while visiting China in 2020

Updated: Jan 19, 2020


Humble Administrator Gardens, Suzhou

Going on a trip to Shanghai or Beijing or wondering to visit one of those old lovely cities like Suzhou? Sure, it would be a memorable trip with some lovely pics to take home. Till now you must have poured hours on numerous blogs to learn about restrictions, rules & regulations in the country and might have even thought for a split second to not go ahead with the trip. I had the same apprehension while I was planning my visit to Suzhou for 3 weeks. And I am going to share some useful tips and must-have apps which would help anyone navigate China without too much issue.


First thing first. Why apps belonging to Google, YouTube, Netflix doesn't work? As per Wikipedia, the Great Firewall of China (GFW) is the combination of legislative actions and technologies enforced by the People's Republic of China to regulate the Internet domestically. Its role in the Internet censorship in China is to block access to selected foreign websites and to slow down cross-border internet traffic. In plain words, apps like WhatsApp, Banking applications might work but would be very slow. On the other hand, browsing in Chrome or using Google Maps will not work. It also depends on the hotel WiFi which you are connecting to.


Suggested Read - 5 Unique facts about China


Most Useful Tip - Activate international roaming in your home network.

Example - if your home network is Airtel, activate international roaming for free and use Airtel data in China for internet usage. There are no restrictions on your home network. Netflix, Amazon, WhatsApp, YouTube, Google apps - everything is accessible.


The downside of it? Cost. International plans are always costly and if you are staying more than a week, you might want to look into other options or apps as below:


Flexiroam


We cannot stress enough the advantage of having Flexiroam in your pocket. It comes in two options - microchip & SIM. Have the Flexiroam app installed along with an option that you chose between microchip and SIM, mention the travel dates and the app shows you custom data packages which are really worth! Remember Flexiroam is only for data plans. It works by automatically connecting with a local telecom provider of the particular city or country. You can, of course, use voice over network to call anyone.

Netflix, WhatsApp, Hotstar, Prime Video, YouTube works perfectly via Flexiroam.


Check out for more information with my referral code & you will earn a free global pack- Flexiroam


ExpressVPN


A very easy and convenient-to-use app for availing VPN connectivity. It is free for 7 days post which you have to subscribe to keep using its service. Netflix did not work for me though since Netflix detects for any proxy settings. So a huge let-down on the VPN usage for Netflix. Hotstar, Amazon Prime, YouTube, WhatsApp, and browsing definitely works.


Note: The Great Firewall detects the pattern usage of VPN and will block the city which you will be connecting to in VPN. for example, if you were connecting to Bangalore through VPN, eventually this connection will be blocked. Once this happens, move to Mumbai or any other city that shows up in the app.


Check out the app here - Google Play


DiDi


A reliable, convenient and super-easy taxi booking app for tourists and locals alike. It has an English version too which would allow you to use the app seamlessly. If you have AMEX card, link it up, book Express cabs and you don't have to pay cash. If you don't have AMEX card, book Taxi and pay by cash.


Note: The app will not show the option to pay by cash while booking a Taxi. So you have to pay upfront once the ride ends. If you don't pay cash, the app will give you online options like Alipay, QQ, WeChat through which tourists like us cannot pay through.


Also, VPN should be disabled while using this app.


Check out the app here - Google Play


Convenient Tip: Before your trip starts for China, ensure you have installed all the apps, registered with your number and are familiar with the usage. This will help you avoid panicky situations later.


Trip


Trip website/app allows you to book tickets in advance for the high-speed (D/G class) trains. You can pay via AMEX card or any international card that you hold. Advance booking helps you choose the preferred timings based on your schedule. Once booked, you will receive a confirmation mail. The confirmation mail has to be exchanged with a proper train ticket which can be done at the major ticket offices or better yet at the station from where the train starts or originates.

Example - If a ticket is booked from Suzhou Station to Shanghai, the hard ticket has to be collected from Suzhou station. Once you get down at a subway station, check for directions towards 'Ticket Office' clearly written in English. Once you reach the ticket office, get in line like other people. There are ticket vending machines too for the same but the navigation in Chinese.


The hard copy of ticket

Check out the app here - Google Play

Website - trip.com


Travel Tip - If you miss your pre-booked D/G class trains, you can always go to the ticket counters and exchange the ticket for a later time at no additional cost.


Moovit


Moovit app is similar to Google Maps and is not blocked in China. Where Google Maps would not be able to provide bus details or updated routes, Moovit serves the purpose well. The bus stops will be written in Chinese but once you start Live Navigation, it will help you direct at which stop you should get down. The interface is in English, so searching a place would not be a problem. There is a small glitch in the app which is that it cannot automatically search a place entered incorrectly. You have to type the exact spelling of the place to get it searched properly.

Note: Only local Chinese apps will have up-to-date bus routes. Moovit can serve the purpose of traveling in buses to an extent. If there are any bus route changes, it cannot detect that unless the developers update the content. It's still a more reliable app than Google Maps in China.


Check out the app here - Google Play


WeChat

WeChat is the WhatsApp of China. You did not complete your China trip unless you used WeChat, added some friends, and ordered in food through the app. WeChat is the social messaging platform and also serves as a food ordering platform. No, it does not work like Swiggy/ UBER eats where you can see the restaurants. I had this one favorite Indian restaurant in Suzhou called 'Namaste Indian' to fall back as my comfort pillow. When I went out to eat there, I took their takeaway menu, asked them if they provided home delivery and added them on WeChat to start ordering. This is how food delivery for tourists works. There are other food apps to use but all are in Chinese.

The interesting feature of WeChat is that you can ask WeChat to delete all your information, photos, everything once you no longer have to use WeChat. Wish WhatsApp had it, right? ;-)


Check out the app here - Google Play


Final useful Tip (not related to above) - While traveling on metro, if you purchase, for example, a 3 RMB ticket for going from A to E station but you realize that you have to go to K station, no need to panic. Just get down at K station and ask the help-desk in the K station the remaining amount to pay.


Let us know in comments if you used any other apps in China which was very helpful for your trip.


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