8 Apps for Visiting (or Life) in Beijing

Before you arrive:

  • a VPN app, either Betternet or Express VPN. Particularly if you use an Android phone, you’ll need a VPN to search or use any Google functionality unless you’re able to use a proxy or a router with VPN attached.
  • Download Google Translate and download/enable Chinese for offline use. You can save phrases as well and have a custom phrasebook.


  • WeChat: Even if you’re just visiting and don’t have a SIM card, you’ll want to get WeChat if you’re going to be around for more than a day, or you expect you’ll have regular WiFi access. It’s what WhatsApp wants to be – you can order taxis, book hotels, chat with friends, read the ubiquitous QR codes, send and receive money, and more. Everyone uses WeChat; the ability to translate messages (better for the Chinese-to-English side, admittedly) is also amazingly useful.
  • Explore Beijing is a very simple app: it is for navigating the subway system. You need to know the names of the stations you’re using, but you can find out how long it will take to get from A to B, the fare, an approximate duration, and any changes you’ll need to take. Definitely a must-have for getting around.
  • Air Visual is a straightforward AQI (Air Quality Index) app.
  • Ulmon CityMaps2Go for navigating through Beijing (or any city, frankly).
  • Pleco for translation in general.
  • Baidu is the default search engine in China, and on the web app you can select from using Bing, Yahoo, Baidu itself, or even (if you’re in a VPN environment) Google.

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