Living in Shanghai usually means a high level of dependency on your mobile device. Shanghainese do a lot of things with their phone (from paying bills to hailing a car, or ride a bike, or scan QR codes…) and you can find yourself easily lost in case you’re running out of battery. Or out of data.
Here is what we consider the 10 best and most useful free apps when you live in Shanghai:
1- WeChat – Chat, payment and more.
You do not really exist if you do not have a WeChat account. More than just a chat app, it is also an online payment platform and gives you access to a lot more than that. When you meet new people or companies, instead of exchanging business cards, you can just scan their Wechat code and add them to your contact list. The app is in English.
2- Alipay – Online Payment and financial Services.
Alipay (and its competitor Wechat Wallet) is widely accepted and is here to basically replace your wallet. It is very rare that a shop will not accept Alipay and most of the time you will not use cash anymore. The app is in English but some financial services inside are only in Chinese.
(See our post on Alipay here)
3- Didi – Car hailing.
Didi has merged with Uber and is you go to app for car hailing. Depending on the time of the day and weather condition, you might need to wait a bit to get a car but it is usually quite fast. The app is in English and Chinese.
(See our post on Didi here)
4- Baidu maps.
As you probably know by now, Google services are not accessible in China without a VPN and so that includes Google maps. If you have an iOS device, Apple maps work but I find baidu maps quite useful and accurate. The app is in Chinese but you should be able to quickly figure it out.
5- Baidu Translate
Usually Google translate works (the app, not the website) but a good translation tool is Baidu Translate. Just like Google Translate, it has inline translation when using your camera or a picture. The translation is pretty good from or to Chinese but not so good between two non Chinese languages.
6- MetroMan – Subway map and route calculator.
This is a good app to check your metro route. It has the station names written in both English and Chinese which I find very useful. It has a map of all the metro lines and calculates the fastest route between two stations.
7- Pleco Dictionnary
Pleco is a good dictionary with vocal recognition. It reads the words with both male and female voices and has some flashcards included. The free version is good and ad free but you will get more features if you update it with some addons.
8- Mobike – shared bicycles.
If you do not mind the traffic and are up to some exercise, renting a bicycle for short distances is often the fastest, cheapest and healthiest way to commute. Whether you go for the Orange/Silver Mobike or White/Blue Hellobikes, you will easily find them everywhere in the city. Mobike app is in English.
(See our post on the shared bicycles here)
This app is good if you want to get some food delivered, are looking for discount coupons, want to know where the nearest pharmacy is… It is widely used in Shanghai and can be very useful but unfortunately it is in Chinese. If you can ask your Chinese speaking friends how it works, you will quickly know how to use the main features.
Unfortunately the air quality remains a problem in Shanghai and you will want to keep an eye on the level of PM2.5 and other pollutants to decide whether or not you can do outdoor activities or if you need to wear a mask. AirVisual gathers measurements from many stations around the city and updates the readings every hour. The instant measurements are very accurate unlike the forecasts that are also provided. The app is in English.