China Basics 101

If you’re about to take the leap and move to China, there are a few essentials that you’ll need before and once you get here. Let us help guide you through that process.

WeChat

WeChat is absolutely vital when you’re living in China. With over 960 million active monthly users, and all-inclusive functions, you’ll wonder how you’ve survived this long without it. WeChat is not only the most popular form of social media in China, everyone, and their mother uses this app in China and it is even called the modern-day 名片 (mingpian) or business card.

While WeChat’s main function is instant messaging, voice and video calls, the possibilities are endless. From group chats to sharing moments and promoting business, WeChat appears to be a combination of Whatsapp, Instagram, and Facebook. One of WeChats functions that is growing in popularity is the wallet function. While less frequently used than Alipay, WeChat Wallet can be used in most stores, cafes, and taxies.

VPN

With China cracking down on more and more foreign websites, having a VPN (virtual private network) is an absolute must in order to access your beloved sites. If you want to document your China adventures on Instagram, show everyone you’re living your best life on Facebook, or even check your Gmail account, then a VPN is highly recommended. 

What a VPN basically does, is it lets websites believe that you’re in another country, which therefore allows you to access websites that are normally blocked in China. It is a cat and mouse game between the Chinese government and VPN providers. The government tries to stop VPN providers from offering their services, whereas the VPN providers try to find a way around the internet censorship. So, you shouldn’t be surprised that VPN’s might not work for several days, as the Chinese government is trying to block VPNs, while VPN providers are trying to find a way around this blockage. 

With plenty of VPNs being advertised on the web, you may be wondering which one is the best to use in China. There are some free VPNs available in your phone app store, these are sufficient for checking your social media accounts. If you don’t mind advertisements, these are some of the best working FREE VPNs for on your mobile device: VPN Master Unlimited proxy, X-VPN Unlimited VPN Proxy and Best VPN Proxy Betternet. It should be noted that you’ll get pop-up advertisements when you open these apps, trying to convince you to pay for them, but you should be able to click these advertisements away! For all Apple users out there, make sure that your app store is set to your own country! As these VPNs are free, you should probably not use them when you’re using sensitive information, like online banking. 

When you want or need to use a more consistent VPN for school, work or watching Netflix, we recommend you to opt for a paid VPN service. Here are some of the most popular paid VPNs expats like to use in China: Astrill, Express VPN, and VP Alien. It is strongly advised to install and get this VPN services setup while you’re in a country that does not censor their internet. It is most common to install them in your home country, as VPN websites are blocked in China. These paid VPN services in most cases work on both your laptop and phone. 

Alipay

Thank goodness for Alipay. You’ve come in and revolutionized our lives and made life so much more convenient. As a stepping stone to a cashless future, Alipay makes paying for goods and services fast, easy, and safe. Alipay is also the reason why Chinese people rarely own a credit card.

To get started, simply link your bank account to the Alipay app (similar process for the WeChat wallet) and transfer money. Alipay has a chat function so if anything goes wrong with a payment to a supplier or shop, you can just chat and solve the issue.

Alipay is used to pay for bills and has one very dangerous function. Loans. That’s right! Imagine you are about to get on the subway and you realize you are short on money for a payment. Using Alipay you can request a loan for however much money you need and by the time you’re stepping off the metro, the money will be on your account. Of course, there are many requirements and punishments for those who do not pay back their loan on time.

Sherpa’s

Oh, Sherpa’s, what would we do without you? Sherpa’s is the answer to all your food delivery needs. As one of the only English service food delivery services in China, Sherpa’s has been serving hungry people since 1999. So you know they’re doing something right.

Their services span across 4 major cities in China and hundreds of restaurants throughout the city. Whether you’re craving Western, Asian, or everything in between, Sherpa’s is there to make sure you can sit comfortably in your pajamas, binge on Netflix, and have your food delivered to your door without judgment. Check out all their delicious cuisines here!

Ele.me

If you’re a bit more adventurous (or more budget conscious) Ele.me is the way to go! This app is the Chinese version of Sherpa’s, and so much more! You can have groceries, medicines and so much more delivered to your doorstep. Be aware that the app is fully in Chinese and you can only pay with a Chinese bank account, WeChat pay or Alipay, so no cash or foreign credit cards accepted. But, once you’re able to order from them, a whole new world opens up! Ele.me has much more options than Sherpa’s and also the delivery fee is significantly lower, or non-existent. It is basically a platform that combines all the restaurants and stores that have their products delivered through Ele.me. A nice feature is that once you have ordered, you’ll be able to track the deliverer, so you’ll know exactly when your food is (almost) there. Even though the app is in Chinese, there are plenty of pictures, so what you see is what you get. If you really want to be able to read what the description is about, you can screenshot it and use the translator feature on WeChat to translate it for you. Be aware that also technology has its limitations, so the translation might sometimes be a bit funky. Note that you’ll only be able to download this app from the Chinese app store. So you’ll have to switch between app stores to download the app.

Didi Chuxing

Remember when our mothers told us not to get into cars with strangers? Sorry, mom! While the concept of accepting a ride from a stranger may not seem like the safest idea, Didi is all sorts of safe. Didi Chuxing, the Uber of China. When you’re struggling to hail a taxi at 3 AM after a night out, Didi is here to the rescue.

Didi allows you to take shared cars or have a driver pick you up in a luxury car, fancy eh? You can select the type of car that you want to pick you up: taxi, express, luxury, or even a minivan. Once you’ve finished your ride, you can pay through Alipay, WeChat pay or (foreign) credit card. Easy peasy. You can also order Taxi’s through the Didi app or ‘schedule’ a time a taxi or Didi driver is going to pick you up. When you order a Taxi, you’ll have in most cases also the option to pay cash, which is a good option if you don’t have any of the above-mentioned ways to pay. It should be noted that the Didi app has two versions: Chinese and English. If you want your Didi app to be in English, you’ll have to download the Didi app from the Chinese app store.

Mobike

If you really want to be able to go and move around as you please, and you’re more the adventurous type, then Mobike is your way to go! Literally, you can easily come and go with a Mobike, as it is a bike sharing service. If you have the app on your phone and internet service you’ll be able to just simply scan the QR code on a Mobike and hop on and be on your way. You need a working (Chinese) phone number to register for a Mobike account and use the bikes. It costs approximately 1 RMB per 30 minutes when you use the bike. So, once you’re done with your ride, you just simply lock the bike and walk away.

These are just a few of the essentials that’ll make life easier in China. To see even more life-saving apps expats in China love, check it out here!

Want to make good use of these services and apps but need to improve your Chinese? No problem, come by or contact Hutong School and set up your Chinese classes!