12 English Apps Every Shanghai Expat Needs

posted in: Asia, China, Expat Life, Shanghai | 3

Moving to Shanghai can be a bit overwhelming, but luckily there are many English friendly apps that make it easy to navigate the city like a local. Here are my faves:


WeChat is basically the Facebook of China. Everyone has one. It is the number one social media app in the country, and most people will ask you for your WeChat ID before even asking for your phone number. You can make video and voice calls while connected to WiFi, free of charge. With this app, not only can you talk to your friends, but you can connect it to your bank account and pay vendors, taxis, and even order movie tickets.


Like WeChat, you can connect this to your bank account and use your phone to purchase things and pay vendors. It uses a “QR” code, which is essentially a digital bar code. You can add friends and exchange money back and forth if you need to go dutch. You can pay taxis, utility bills, and rent with Alipay, too. I rarely carry cash on me anymore because this is so much more accessible. Be aware that you can only use this app if you have a Chinese bank account.


There are several food delivery apps, but Sherpas is the only English one. Its clientele is mostly geared towards foreigners, so they have a ton of western restaurants. The delivery fee is anywhere from 15-25 kuai, and it comes to you in about 45 minutes. Note, however, that orders after 5:30 require a minimum order of 100 CNY for delivery. You can order through their WeChat official account and pay through Alipay or cash on delivery.


This online supermarket is amazing! This french run company is a godsend for the winter months when you don’t want to make the trek to the supermarket. They are a bit pricier than the Carrefour or other popular supermarkets, but the products are high quality and the produce is beautiful. Every new costumer gets a welcome gift (I received a huge seasonal veggie basket). Their delivery is very quick and dependable, and usually comes within a few hours. Again, after you order, you can pay with WeChat or Alipay.


Taobao is an online store, much like Amazon. You can get pretty much everything you need for insanely cheap prices. It’s great, but it’s all in Chinese (obviously). However, there is also an English version of the site, Baopals. This store has everything that the Chinese version has, just with an English search engine. Everything is delivered to your specified address within a week. You can pay with your Chinese card or, you guessed it, Alipay.

    Smart Shanghai

This is a great resource for anyone new to the city. It provides reviews, directions, and Chinese addresses for restaurants, bars, clubs, malls, gyms, etc. in the directory. It also includes articles on upcoming events going on in the city. They have a section where you can look for housing and jobs. and you can also buy and sell things on their Craigslist-like feature. I actually found my real estate agent and first apartment through this site. Although the apartment itself was a mess, I did stick with my agent, who helped us find a better apartment.


Airpocolypse is an app that helps you keep track of the AQI (Air Quality Index). Unfortunately, China’s reputation of horrible air pollution is not entirely baseless, so it is good to be aware. This app has hilarious commentary, so you can be entertained while you decide whether a mask is necessary for the day.

    Metro Man Shanghai

It’s always good to have a metro app on hand. There are several to choose from. Even Apple Maps will give you a metro route when you search for directions. I like using the Metro Man Shanghai as it is user-friendly and gives you all the train times with decent accuracy. It also includes the first and last train times for every station.

    Express VPN

Everyone coming to China needs to have a VPN (Verified Private Network) to access all the websites that are blocked, like Facebook, google, and YouTube. It’s also generally a good idea to use it when you are on a public wi-fi and need to access things that are private, such as your bank account. I personally use ExpressVPN because it has always been reliable for me. The price for subscription is about $9/month.

    Baidu Translate

Translation apps are a definite necessity when living in a foreign country. Baidu seems to be the most accurate and reliable. You don’t need a VPN for this one since Baidu is the main search engine used in China. Pleco is also a good one to use if you need to look up a single word and can be used without internet access.


This app was recently recommended to me. It differs from other translation apps because you can just hover your phone over the picture and get the characters translated in real-time. Unless you pay for the premium version, however, there’s a limit on how many times you can use it a day.

    QQ Music

Finally, QQ is a great music streaming app to use when Pandora and Spotify aren’t working, which is pretty often. I like this one because you can download music onto your phone and listen without internet access.

3 Responses

  1. Tom Greenwood

    Okay, I think your turning Chinese, I think your turning Chinese I really think so lol! Great info. Sounds like you are doing great. Love your commentaries. Keep them coming.

  2. Tom Greenwood

    Thanks for replying so quickly. I’m sitting here with grizzy and Lori telling them about your post.