Unlike Poland, where you can easily install your Polish SIM card on a drug dealer cell phone and get on with your life just fine, in China you’re gonna want a top-of-the-line smart phone with a long battery life because if there’s one thing you need to adjust to life in China, it’s your phone.
Now, you can bring a jailbroken phone from back home and it will probably work with a Chinese SIM card as long as the frequency bands are compatible (GSM vs CDMA, google it), but sometimes even when the phone is compatible, your American- (or wherever) bought phone may start to get really slow and lose battery quickly when you put in the Chinese SIM card. (Do I know this from personal experience? Maybe.) Luckily there are lots of good and relatively cheap phones from Chinese companies (I got the OnePlus 6, about $600) which is a good investment if you’re going to be here longer than a month.
So, the apps you’re gonna need. Brace yourself.
Everyone in China uses WeChat. No one has ever texted me through China Mobile. It’s China’s equivalent of WhatsApp, only it’s not encrypted, obvs, because the Chinese gov’t ain’t down with that. I personally like WhatsApp better, but when in Rome, you know. It also tons of MiniPrograms that you can add on to WeChat, and you can scan any QR code and download or use other apps that might help you out.
I haven’t seen cash in a month. I just buy everything with Alipay. Even street vendors got their little Alipay QR codes printed out, I can buy some dragonfruit off the side of someone’s bike with Alipay. You could probably pay panhandlers with Alipay.
This is by far the best Chinese translator. No, Google Translate doesn’t work very well. Baidu Translate has the best translation and is great at translating pictures as well as text. You can find it in the Apple store or the Chinese app markets.
It’s like Amazon or Ebay, but on crack. You can buy pretty much anything except take-out and groceries (but we’ll get to that in a second). Plus, since this is China, it’s all super cheap thanks to all those very lax labor laws (sorry sorry sorry). It is all in Chinese but once I got accustomed to the site on Chrome (where I could translate it automatically), I could order things without knowing much Chinese.
Amap or Lost Laowai
While Apple maps works pretty well, it’s not always accurate. And don’t even think about Google Maps. Not only do you have to turn on your VPN to get access, but half the information is outdated anyway. Your best bet is a Chinese app. Amap is in Chinese but is really easy to navigate if you’ve ever used a smart phone in your life, although you usually can’t put the street names in English. And while Lost Laowai doesn’t have the best interface, it is accurate and in English.
Probably the best thing about living in China is how easily you can become a hermit and never leave your house. Anything you can’t buy on Tao Bao, you can find at a local store or restaurant through Elema, and for a small fee, someone will pick it up and deliver it to you on their e-bike. Also in Chinese, but that’s what Baidu Translate is for.