Beijing's essential apps

The must-have apps for Beijing living you need to download now

Photo: Erik Eveland
Beijing is a city where there's virtually an app for everything, from buying groceries, to checking the metro timetable, to monitoring the air quality. Whether you're new to Beijing or are a long-time Beijinger, we all need a refresher course on this city's must-have apps. Arguably, the most important app you'll need is a wall-jumper, but luckily for you, all the ones that follow don't need a jumper to make your Beijing life just that little bit easier.

Price Free (iOS and Android)    
What is it? An instant messenger, calling app and ePayment all in one 
Use it for Instant messaging, voice messaging, cashless purchasing, following businesses, buying rail and flight tickets, cinema tickets, shopping on
Best feature Besides all the basics that all messaging and calling apps have, WeChat has stickers and a brilliant split-bill function
Language English, Chinese and 16 more

WeChat is known as the super app of the Chinese online sphere. Not only is it the primary instant messenger app the entire country uses, once you've connected a Chinese bank account to your WeChat, it's also an easy and safe method of cashless payment. The social media function, WeChat Moments, allows you to follow businesses and friends to keep up to date on what's happening in your community. You can also share what you are up to on WeChat Moments with contacts and add to your Time Capsule, a new feature similar to Snapchat and Instagram stories. 

One of the more entertaining features on WeChat is the stickers section. These tiny animations perfectly capture any mood or message, and you can even make stickers of yourself (click here to learn how). In addition, WeChat also has a brilliant built-in translation function. Simply take a photo of Chinese text or press on any given instant message and choose the translation function. Simply put, if there's one app you download prior to coming to China (besides a wall-jumper), it's WeChat.

In terms of finances, every WeChat user has a customised QR code, which is what vendors scan to collect money. In the Money section, you also have a specialised QR code to receive money and a feature to split bills, making dining with friends easier than ever before. Alternatively, you can also message and receive money directly from your mates, so there's no longer any more excuses for IOUs. In the Wallet section, you can top up your phone credit, pay bills and even share a bank account with family members. There are also third-party apps connected through WeChat which allow users to purchase goods in their area  – from cinema tickets to hotel rooms to taxis to train and flight tickets – for a discounted price.  

20170720123041593Price Free (iOS and Android)
What is it? An ePayment app 
Use it for Cashless purchases, large bank transfers, kuaidi (parcel delivery), the ePayment app used for Taobao
Best feature Can link to a foreign bank account
Language English and Chinese

Alipay is most useful for large purchases and international bank transfers as the app can be linked to a foreign bank card and can also be used outside of China. However, transferring money to friends within China is usually easier on the ubiquitous WeChat. There are benefits to using Alipay instead of WeChat within China. Some restaurants and shops have special discounts for Alipay users, but most importantly, you'll also need an Alipay account to shop from the website of wonders that is Taobao. Either way, it's a good idea to have both WeChat Pay and Alipay downloaded on your mobile device to be ready for any situation.

Screen Shot 2019-04-02 at 2 EDITEDPrice Free; 1.99USD (approx 13RMB) for the Pro version (iOS and Android)
What is it? A currency converter
Use it for Knowing real-time conversions
Best feature Ability to customise a list of up to 10 currencies
Language English, Chinese and nine more

Previously featured as 'App of the Week' on iTunes, the BBC and CNN, Xe Currency Converter allows users to both convert and monitor live currency rates all in one place. Other notable features include access to historical charts for any currency pair and the ability to use the app offline.

Price Free (iOS and Android) 
What is it? China's Google Maps
Use it for Finding the best way from point A to point B
Best feature Street view and bus tracking
Language Chinese only

Baidu Maps has it all, from voice control to remote car-wash requests, to up-to-date traffic conditions. The interface is only available in Chinese but certain points of interest can all be searched for in English. Click here for a guide to Baidu Maps. 

20170720124832217Price Free (iOS and Android) 
What is it? An integrated dictionary, document reader and flashcard system
Use it for  Finding the exact definition of any given Chinese word or phrase with 125,000 entries, including classical Chinese texts
Best feature Handwriting recognition system for when you don’t know the pinyin of a given Chinese word
Language English only

Pleco is unique in that it is a free, extensive, online English-Chinese dictionary. It's also a lifesaver for when you see a particular Chinese character but don't know its pronunciation or meaning – simply draw the character on your keyboard and find out. Unlike other translation and dictionary apps, Pleco gives all the meanings of each character, allowing you to properly understand its meaning in context. The paid app includes a camera function, fullscreen handwriting, handwriting and tone drills, diagrams and customisable dictionaries.

20170720121322172Price Free (iOS and Android) 
What is it? China’s largest online marketplace
Use it for Online shopping
Best feature The ability to buy anything and everything you could ever think of – and more
Language Chinese only

If it exists, it will be on Taobao. Full stop. You can buy virtually anything – from pimped out rain gear to a snack bowl with phone grooves – with just one tap. However, as Taobao is owned by Alibaba, you'll need to have an Alipay account to buy all the weird and wonderful (and practical) things Taobao has to offer.  

Screen Shot 2019-04-02 at 3 editedPrice Free (iOS and Android) 
What is it? A grocery delivery app
Use it for Shopping at your convenience
Best feature Flash deals and one-hour delivery
Language Chinese only

Use Jingdong Daojia for everyday essentials, from medicine to convenience store goods to fresh fruit. Delivery from international supermarket April Gourmet is also available. Unlike regular Jingdong delivery (which generally takes about a day), Daojia can deliver within one to two hours, making it ideal the next time you have a culinary emergency – just expect to pay more for the privilege. 
"Screen Shot 2019-04-09 at 2.15.03 PM"Price Free (iOS and Android)
What is it? The Beijing Subway's official mobile payment app
Use it for Paying for the Beijing subway using your phone
Best feature Immediate top-up, general convenience of not needing a metro card
Language Chinese

As the Beijing's Subway's official mobile payment app, you can use Yitongxing to access the metro simply by scanning a QR code on your phone – no metro card needed. To use Yitongxing, simply link the app directly to your payment method of choice – either your bank account (ICBC only, unfortunately), Alipay, JD Pay or WeChat Pay – and Yitongxing will automatically deduct each trip's subway fare from your account. 

"appicon"Price Free (iOS and Android) 
What is it? A metro route planner
Use it for Planning your subway journey, including where to change lines
Best feature Accurate route, time and fare information you can use offline
Language English, Chinese and nine more

With an average of 10.55 million trips a day, Beijing Subway is the world’s busiest metro system. Unsurprisingly then, it's pretty useful to know the most efficient route from point A to point B. This app will not only show you all your route options but will also tell you how much any given journey costs and how long it will take, as well as giving you a full map of the Beijing metro. Furthermore, you can use this handy dandy app whenever you travel throughout the region, as it offers you the choice of 33 Mainland cities plus Hong Kong, Taipei and Kaohsiung.

Screen Shot 2019-03-26 at 5.23.37 PMPrice Free (iOS and Android) 
What is it? China's version of Uber
Use it for Hailing a cab
Best feature Taxi proximity map and feature to book ahead
Language English and Chinese

With coverage in roughly 300 cities and over 500,000 taxis around China, you'll almost never be stranded anywhere with DiDi. The app has taxi options fit for all budgets, from normal taxis to DiDi premier vehicles. If you're fluent in Chinese taxi talk, the Chinese version is built into WeChat. If you're not, you can download the DiDi app and use the English version. English language typers can also message their driver in English and the app will translate the message for the driver, and vice versa. 

"timg-2"Price Free (iOS and Android) (Note: Type 'ShouYue' into app stores)
What is it? A chauffeur service (also available in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hangzhou and Shenzhen)
Use it for Booking a car service 
Best feature Taxi proximity map and feature to book ahead
Language English and Chinese

Shouqi Yuechue is DiDi’s high-brow cousin offering the same convenience for chauffeur services. The in-app messaging automatically translates between English and Chinese making it easy to communicate with the driver. 

"download__app_icon"Price Free (iOS and Android) 
What is it? A bike sharing app
Use it for Biking anytime, anywhere
Best feature Only 1RMB (for the first 15 minutes)
Language English, Chinese and 12 more 

As the world's largest mobile bike operator, it's hard to find a street corner in Beijing that doesn't have an orange bike parked on the curb. Pricing starts at 1RMB for the first 15 minutes, with an additional 0.5RMB for every subsequent 15 minutes. Though you may sacrifice your comfort if you rent an old bike without an adjustable seat (new ones do have this feature), you're still getting around at a bargain price. In order to register, you'll need to take a photo of yourself holding your passport and wait 24 hours for confirmation before rolling around town on your new orange wheels. And unlike when Mobike first started, new users no longer need to make a deposit to use the service.

"Screen Shot 2019-03-26 at 5.47.52 PM"Price Free (iOS and Android) 
What is it? Bike sharing app
Use it for Biking anytime, anywhere
Best feature Adjustable seats
Language English, Chinese and 13 more 

Founded in 2014, Ofo is Beijing’s OG bike sharing app. Despite financial strains (and near bankruptcy) at the end of 2018, Ofo continues to be a bike share option for Beijingers. That said, sign up at your own risk, as recent reports have users struggling to have their deposits (199RMB) refunded. In comparison to Mobike, each Ofo trip also starts at 3RMB (a not inconsiderable mark-up). New users must also register with their passport upon signing up. 

Price Free (iOS and Android)
What is it? Hotel, train and flight app
Use it for Booking your whole trip in one place
Best feature Special offers and discounts
Language English, Chinese and 18 more

As Ctrip's English-language app, allows you to book hotels, trains and flights all in one place. There are also special offers and deals on all of the above you often can't get anywhere else. Beware that when you first reserve train tickets, they are not confirmed until you receive a confirmation email. If the ticket issuing fails, you'll receive a full refund.

"sherpa-download"Price Free (iOS and Android) 
What is it? A food delivery app
Use it for Midnight snacks and predominantly Western eats
Best feature Can deliver wine and beer and the entire thing is in English
Language English and Chinese

Slightly more expensive than its Chinese counterparts, Sherpa’s is one of China’s only English-speaking food delivery services. If you're craving Western food, we recommend using this app since it generally has all the Western options you could want. Beware that there is a 15RMB delivery fee for the first 3km and an additional 5RMB charged for every kilometre after that, but for those of you ordering between 2-5.30pm Mon-Fri, the delivery fee is waived within the 20RMB delivery zone (as long as you spend more than 80RMB). There is also a driver tracking map within the app and if there are problems with your order, a nice English-speaking lady is likely to call you.

Meituan Waimai (美團外賣)

"Screen Shot 2019-03-26 at 6.04.46 PM"Price Free (iOS and Android) 
What is it? A food delivery service… and more 
Use it for Daily meals and errands
Best feature Hongbaos and discounts
Language Chinese only

Meituan is everyone’s go-to food service. You can also deliver your groceries, fruit and medicine. The app shows which shops have different deals, making it easy to save money. Also, since the given shop sets the delivery fee, which is often free, it means that Meituan is a consistently cheap option. Like Sherpa's, a driver tracking map is also available. 

Eleme (餓了么)

"Screen Shot 2019-03-26 at 6.09.08 PM"Price Free (iOS and Android) 
What is it? Another brilliant delivery service that makes life easier
Use it for Daily meals and errands
Best feature Hongbaos and discounts
Language Chinese only

Essentially, the biggest difference between Meituan and Eleme is that each app offers slightly different stores and discounts. Since Eleme is also a part of the Alibaba Group, you'll need Alipay to use this service.

Dazhong Dianping (大眾點評)

"20170720123641932"Price Free (iOS and Android) 
What is it? China's version of Yelp
Use it for Finding highly rated restaurants and shops near you
Best feature Reviews and photos that show diners what to expect
Language Chinese only

If Yelp and TripAdvisor had a love child with Groupon, it would be Dazhong Dianping. Use Dianping to receive discounts from certain shops and to read reviews from customers (or just look at the number of stars the place has got). Besides restaurants and shops, there are offers for practically anything you can think of in your community (from hotels to cinemas to museums) on the app.

"g translate"Price Free (iOS and Android)
What is it? A translation app
Use it for Quick and easy translation on the go
Best feature Document translation
Language English, Chinese and 58 more

Yes, Google Translate is accessible in China. It includes text, speech and instant camera translation. Also, pinyin is handily featured underneath the Chinese text.


"Screen Shot 2019-04-02 at 5.02.13 PM"Price Free (iOS and Android)
What is it? A translation and dictionary app
Use it for Overcoming language barriers
Best feature Voice-to-voice, website and offline translation 
Language English, Chinese and 22 more

Can’t understand your taxi driver’s erhua? We’ve all been there. iTranslate includes written and voice-to-voice translation, transliteration and dictionary functions to make life a little easier. The app can also translate text through the camera function.

Baidu Translate (百度翻譯)

"u=1620305419,1847772406&fm=26&gp=0"Price Free (iOS and Android)
What is it? A translation app
Use it for Quick and easy translation on the go
Best feature Accurate Chinese translation 
Language Chinese only  

Baidu Translate offers similar services to that of iTranslate and Google Translate, but a noticeably more accurate translation when translating from English to Chinese. We’re not saying it’s a perfect translation, but it often sounds more authentic than its non-Chinese counterparts. Be aware though that Baidu Translate will not translate politically sensitive terms.

"u=1898243396,2682810148&fm=15&gp=0"Price 10USD (approx 67RMB) per month for the Basic Plan; 20USD (approx 134RMB) per month for the Plus plan (iOS and Android)
What is it? Chinese-language learning through a video translation app
Use it for Learning Chinese in a fun way 
Best feature Film trailers, music videos, news and inspiring talks catered to your Chinese level
Language English and three more

FluentU will not quiz you to death with dull flashcards and grammar drills. Instead, it will teach you Chinese through pop culture. All videos are subtitled and translated. You can press on every word for a full definition in context.


"u=3008666977,4016378283&fm=26&gp=0"Price Free for basic version; 8.99USD per month (approx 60RMB) for the Pro version (iOS and Android)
What is it? A vocabulary-focused language app
Use it for Personalised language courses with video game-like features
Best feature Use your own pictures to learn words in Chinese
Language English, Chinese and 20 more 

As the 2016 iPad App of the Year in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden and the 2017 Google Play Awards’ Best App, Memrise is not just any language-learning app. Linguists and developers worked together to make language courses that adapt to each learning style. The app has clear graphics to make sure your tones are spot on and mnemonic cues to solidify new vocabulary and grammar. Also, there is a feature to challenge your friends to make language learning feel like a video game. 


"Screen Shot 2019-04-02 at 6.12.26 PM"Price 14.99USD (approx 101 RMB) per month (iOS and Android)
What is it? A Chinese character-learning app
Use it for Mastering Chinese characters (hanzi)
Best feature Stroke order instruction
Language English only

Skritter hones in on one of the most challenging parts of learning Chinese: calligraphy. Though learning how to write Chinese characters can be daunting without the guidance of a teacher, Skritter has made it approachable. The app breaks down the basics of hanzi, from stroke order to placement of characters on a page, in a clear and accurate way. It even tells users where they went wrong. 

"air visual"Price Free; 1,480RMB for the Pro version (iOS and Android)
What is it? An in-depth, real-time pollution app
Use it for Knowing the current air quality
Best feature Interactive map with 10,000+ locations around the world
Language English, Chinese and 15 more

Be prepared for air pollution with official readings from the US Embassy and consulates around China. The app also tells users the key pollutants and what precautions to take to stay healthy. Compare the pollution to different cities in China to around the world. With the Pro version, you can even compare the outside pollution levels to those inside your home. 


"App+Icon"Price Free (iOS and Android) 
What is it? China-specific air quality app covering 26 cities
Use it for Knowing the AQI and sharing information with other users
Best feature Image sharing
Language English only

Airpocalypse makes air quality fun... if you can imagine that. The app has a function for users to upload their own photos and add a witty caption to celebrate the good days and get through the bad ones. It also uses the US Embassy's official reading, meaning the AQI is as accurate as possible (for those within the boundaries of its reach).

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  • 4 out of 5 stars