Useful Apps for Living in China as a Foreigner 2023

You have your new TEFL job in China. You’ve had your documents legalized, authenticated and approved. Your brand new Z-visa is now proudly housed inside your passport. You’ve spent hours on SkyScanner looking for the best flights possible and you are now almost ready to jet off and embark on your new adventure! 

While you are almost ready to leave home behind and explore pastures new, there are a few items that you need to add to your “to-do” list to make your acclimatization as seamless as possible. Read on to discover the four most useful apps for China.

WeChat Official Logo

1. WeChat

WeChat is really the only non-negotiable item on this list. You can probably get by without the other items I will mention, but without WeChat you may find yourself disconnected from your employers, friends and colleagues very quickly.

For those who are unfamiliar with what it is, WeChat is the number one social app in China. It is much, much more powerful than the likes of WhatsApp and almost everyone you meet will be using it regularly. You will find that the Chinese teachers at your school will want to communicate with you using it, while most sports teams and social events will have dedicated groups on the platform to connect.

You can use it to message your friends and colleagues, but it is also used to make payments in shops and bars, to book flights and trains tickets, to find hotel rooms and even have food delivered. Once you have familiarized yourself with all of its functions it will become your go-to social app in China.

VPN Logo

2. Choose a VPN

Most of you will be aware that the internet in China is heavily regulated, with many Western apps and websites blocked by the “Great Firewall”. The likes of Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp are blocked. This makes it tough to stay in contact with friends and family at home – especially if they do not use WeChat. 

This is where a good, reliable VPN will become necessary. VPN’s make it seem as though you are accessing sites from a location outside of China to maintain your access to the websites and apps that you use. 

There are many free VPNs out there, but they can be unreliable and slow so it is worth investing in one of the paid services. NordStream is very popular amongst expats in China and will make it easier for you to stay in touch with friends and family at home.

3. Translation App

If you are already conversational in Mandarin then you can probably skip this step. However, if your knowledge of the language is limited or non-existent it is super important that you have a translation app on your phone.

Getting around in China is not the same as in Western countries where you may be able to rely on the locals having at least a basic understanding of English. You may be surprised by how uncommon it is for locals to speak English, and even those who do are often too shy to attempt to converse with a  native speaker. 

You are going to need a translation app to help you from the day you arrive. The most commonly used is Google Translate, which is free and highly recommended. There may be some paid alternatives, but the Google product is reliable and easy to use. Just make sure you download the Chinese dictionary before you go!


4. Money Matters

It’s important that you think about your money before leaving. It’s probably going to be a month before you receive your first paycheck and you need to be comfortable that you have enough savings to see you through that first month. In addition, you will need to contact your bank to make sure that your card will work in China and to be aware of any fees that you will be charged for using the card there.

If you are working in a public school you are likely going to have more time off than you have had since university, so you are going to want to take the opportunity to travel across Asia. When you do set up your bank account in China, also ask if the bank card you are issued can be used in other countries as this is often not the case. 

You can also look at the possibility of using a digital bank like Revolut to help you convert money into local currency when you are on your travels. Revolut does not support transfers to and from Chinese yuan, but you can transfer from GBP, USD, CAD etc. to many other Asian currencies. The rates are often attractive compared to the bricks and mortar currency exchange outlets, and fees can be lower than your traditional bank at home. Obviously, you should do your own research on this and make sure that it will benefit you before applying.

Tom Bogues

Tom is the Director of ESL Job Center. He has been working in the TEFL industry in one form or another since 2016 and is now using that experience to match quality teachers with quality schools across China.