Alternatives for digital services blocked in China

If you have read my recent article about the internet environment in China, you might have already installed a VPN in preparation of moving here. And if you haven’t, but would like to, get ExpressVPN, I can only recommend it!

But maybe you are opposed to running this type of service, seeing as it is technically illegal to do so in China. Or you just want to avoid the hassle of switching on a VPN (and thus slowing down your internet connection) for each and every task you want to accomplish with your cell phone.

Whatever the reason you want to stay VPN-free some time, here are some alternatives to popular apps, sites, and services that definitely work in China.

The king of apps

WeChat (微信 Wēixìn) – this app is kind of the combination of WhatsApp and Facebook. And, even if you are using a VPN service, you will definitely want to get this app installed. While there are rumors life in China IS in fact possible without WeChat, it is not recommended…

WeChat lets you send & receive messages from your contacts, see what they have been up to from their WeChat moments, pay at restaurants, shops, supermarkets etc. with WeChat pay (though you need a Chinese bank account for this one), follow official WeChat accounts to get the information you desire and much more.

If you want more information on how to set up and use WeChat to its fullest capacity, let me know. I can definitely write another article or 10 on how to do that.


Instead of googling things, in China, you should “bing” them. Go to or download the Bing app to your smartphone to find things behind the Great Firewall.


As an alternative for Spotify, try 网易云音乐 (Wǎngyì yún yīnyuè)  or QQ音乐 (QQ yīnyuè). They are popular apps in China and available in the Apple Store or the Android App Store. Most of the music in both apps is free, if you want some special features, you need to pay for them.


For news reading, China Daily is a major source where people can get news in English. You will read news from China, Asia and all around the world, and you can choose the categories you are interested in. CNN is another option, and so far, it works with Chinese internet service and mobile data service. The address of these two news reading sites are and Both of the apps are available in Apple’s App Store and the Android Store.


Bilibili and 人人视频 (Rén rén shìpín) are currently the most used apps for video content in China. Bilibili started out as a website for lovers of anime, mangas, and cartoons, but it now also offers short video clips, fun videos, documentaries, reality shows, fitness and more. Renren shipin on the other hand is a much better resource for TV series and movies. Sure, some of the videos are only available for members, but it also has a sufficient amount of free videos.

Sport Apps

Have you pledged to finally get fit this year? Or are you a sports nut anyway and need your daily dose of happy hormones from exercising? Either way, here are several sport apps for you that work really well in China. First, there is Nike Training. There are different exercises focusing on endurance, mobility, strength and more available, and the explanations are in English. Second, Keep Yoga is an app for yoga lovers, the instructions are in English, but the app runs a bit slow sometimes. And last but not least, there is Keep. This is an app all in Chinese but they have videos explaining how to do every exercise, and they have good HIIT courses for all levels of users. All of these apps are free to use (with optional in-app purchases).


Outlook e-mail service and calendar services work well in China, so you can continue to use your account or get a new one for e-mail communication and keeping your daily to do list.


Good map services to replace Google maps in China are Baidu Maps (百度地图, Bǎidù dìtú), Apple Maps if you have an iPhone, Gaode Map (高德地图, Gāo dé dìtú), or an app called LostLaowai. Google maps information for roads or locations in China are not very accurate anyway, so you are better off getting one of the ones mentioned above instead.

App to find places for leisure activities

大众点评 (Dàzhòng Diǎnpíng) – this is the app that contains almost all sorts of information that you would need for spending your leisure time, like new restaurants & bars & coffee shops in town, where you can get proper care for your pets, reviews from people who have been to places, locations of stores, restaurants, and more, and contact information.

Granted, the app is in Chinese only, but you will quickly figure out how to navigate interfaces that are not in English.


As a result of E-commerce, more payment transactions are done with cards and cell phones. The two most popular e-payment options in China are Alipay (支付宝, Zhīfùbǎo) and WeChat Pay. You can pay with them pretty much anywhere – at a 5-star hotel or when you buy fruit from a donkey cart on the street. Both are available for smart phone users, and WeChat Pay is a feature of WeChat.

If you have been to China before and/or are living there now, what are apps and services you would not want to live without? Let me know in the comments below!

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