11 Applications you’ll absolutely need if you study abroad in China
In a world where you can hardly imagine life without a phone, China is definitely the pinnacle of mobile technological development. In China, people can leave their homes without their wallets, but not without their phones. So if you’re planning to study abroad in Shanghai or China in general, whether for summer school or an exchange programme, here are some mobile applications we definitely recommend that you download to ease into life in China from the get-go.
The Essential study abroad Apps
WeChat – Chinese super-app a.k.a remote for life in China
Without a doubt, the number 1 app you will need on your phone if you’re heading to China any time soon. Phone numbers in China are now passe. Instead, you will be asked by new acquaintances to connect over WeChat by simply scanning your WeChat QR code. The same goes in the business context, where professional communication is often done over WeChat these days.
In addition, you can order and pay for anything anywhere using the money stored in your WeChat wallet. And when we say anywhere, we mean anywhere.
Download WeChat here.
Astrill VPN – stay connected to life back home while studying abroad in China
For someone used to Western social media and platforms, there is as good as no internet in China…unless you download a VPN. VPN stands for “Virtual Private Network”, and is all you need to scale the Great Firewall of China.
With a good VPN, you will be able to use popular websites/apps such as Facebook, Instagram, Google as well as Whatsapp to stay connected with your family and friends, as well as most importantly, to brag about your awesome experience in China to everyone back home.
There are plenty of free VPNs available, but connection tends to be spotty. We’ve tried and tested Astrill VPN or VPN Express, and both have worked well for us during the past summers in Shanghai. VPNs often have a one-month trial for first-time users, which would be sufficient for you if you’re just in China for a summer study programme, for example.
Download Astrill VPN here.
Didi Chuxing – Your Uber ride in China
When they say that Shanghai is the city that never sits down, they mean it. This means that during your summer exchange in Shanghai, you will often find yourself after a party at 3 am, looking for a ride back home. And especially if you’re not well-versed in the Chinese language, the Didi app is your answer. The Didi app is available in English, and even has a great in-app translation function, so you can communicate easily with your driver through template responses.
And the cherry on top of the cake – fares on Didi are more favorable than the already-affordable ordinary Chinese taxis. Didi taxis are abundant in China, and makes getting from A to B on a hot summer’s day a breeze.
Download Didi for Android here.
Download Didi for IOS here.
The Useful Apps
Explore Shanghai – Metro map
Shanghai is the city with the most advanced and most diversified network of metro lines in the world. That means that you can get virtually anywhere in Shanghai with the metro. So if you’re planning to study abroad in Shanghai as a poor student, the metro is your best bet, at less than 4RMB (0.52€) per ride.
But the extensiveness of the Shanghai metro also means that the crisscross tangle of metro lines on the metro map can be a little confusing to navigate, especially if you’ve never been to a city as large as Shanghai. To always know which line to take and which station to change trains at, download the Explore Shanghai map here!
Download Explore for Android here.
Download Explore Shanghai for IOS here.
Baidu maps – never get lost in Shanghai
Being in Shanghai for an extended period of time be it for a summer school or a longer exchange, is a great opportunity to explore Shanghai beyond the regular touristy spots. Regardless of your choice of transport (Didi, the metro or on foot), a good map is always a good companion to have.
With Google Maps in China being largely unreliable, Baidu Maps is your best bet. Baidu Maps offers the most up-to-date solutions, with 2D and 3D views, state-of-the-art satellite imaging, real-time traffic data, navigation and offline maps.
Download Baidu maps for Android here.
Download Baidu maps for IOS here.
Shanghai Summer School offers two programs in partnership with Donghua University:
Ele.me – food to your doorstep
Ele.me is Chinese for “Are you hungry?”
Whether you’re up late preparing for an exam, hungover on a Saturday morning, or simply being lazy, Ele.me has got your back. There is nothing better than getting food delivered to your doorstep when you are hungry but don’t have the time or energy to go out and get food.
From Chinese food, to a cuppa boba, to a good greasy burger and fries meal, Ele.me has them all. Simply make an order on the app, indicate where you want them to deliver the food to, and then wait.
We remember the countless times Ele.me helped satisfy our late night hunger pangs last summer during summer school…
Download Ele.me for Android here.
Download Ele.me for IOS here.
Mobike – Convenient and affordable bike sharing
We personally think that the best way to overcome short distances and ninja around the hordes of people in Shanghai is by bicycle. And of course, China has the answer to that. 8 million answers, in fact. You can find the distinctive orange Mobikes everywhere around Shanghai.
To use a Mobike, simply unlock the bicycle of choice by scanning the QR code on the bicycle with the Mobike app. Once the built-in lock clicks open, the bicycle is yours to ride wherever you want to. When you get to your destination, park it wherever you dismount, and lock it again using the app.
You get all this convenience for just 1RMB for half an hour. That’s 0,15€.
Download Mobike here.
The Just for Fun Apps
Trip.com – make the most of your summer exchange
You cannot come all the way to Shanghai for summer school and not take the opportunity to explore China and Asia! A pre or post summer school trip is often a must-do when in Shanghai. Some favourites include Beijing for all the historical goodness, Xi’an for the treacherous HuaShan hike, and Chengdu for the pandas.
Trip.com is without a doubt, China’s number 1 online travel platform. And using the trip.com app, you can find and book your accommodation, flights, train and bus tickets, and even attraction tickets without any hassle at all.
Download Trip.com app here.
Xiami – music streaming a la Spotify
For the music-lovers, Spotify, Apple Music and Pandora are officially not available in China. But it’s ok, because Xiami to the rescue! Life in China during summer school is awfully quiet without it.
Xiami is a music-streaming app that allows you to search for and play all genres of music within the application. Your shower singalongs to Beiber does not need to cease just because you’re at summer school in China!
And the best thing about it? It’s completely free-of-charge.
Download Xiami music for Android here.
Download Xiami music for IOS here.
Tik Tok – Vine on steroids
If you ask us what’s all-the-rage in Chinese social media these days, the answer is without a doubt – short-form mobile video content. The Chinese are crazy about creating and sharing short videos on the Tik Tok (douyin in Chinese) app. In mid-2018, TikTok reached 500 million monthly active users worldwide, and 150 million daily active users in China.
TikTok is 15-seconds of raw, real video content without boundaries – whether you’re having your breakfast at 7am, struggling to tell the difference between tones during Chinese class at 9am, or documenting the little moments of your Chinese study abroad experience.
The app has started numerous viral trends and spawned internet celebrities around the world. Study abroad in China over the summer and become internet famous? Why not?
Download Tik Tok here.
Tan Tan – Dating like a local
Like many other apps we might be used to, Tinder is out of action in China. That, however, does not mean that your social life will come to a standstill in China. Again, China always has its own alternative app. Tan Tan is one of the most popular ones.
Get to know the locals. 😉 Browse profiles recommended to you based on your location, distance and gender preferences, and then swipe right to like, and swipe left to forget. Easy-peasy. Who knows, your summer study abroad trip to Shanghai might be love-life changing?
Download Tantan here.