10 Must-Have Apps for Living in Shanghai

Apps |© jeshoots / Pexels
Apps |© jeshoots / Pexels
Photo of Rachel Deason
28 January 2017

In a world that is increasingly technology-reliant, Shanghai is leading the march towards total smartphone domination. Hailing a taxi? There’s an app for that. Ordering food? There’s an app for that. Hiring a maid? You guessed it – there’s an app for that too. Every aspect of daily life has been digitized by China‘s largest city, and you better get on board if you want to keep up. Here are the 10 must-have apps to get you started.


It should go without saying that WeChat is essential to life in Shanghai. The messaging app is used for much more than texting. Bosses use it to update employees, local publications use it to keep the public apprised of the latest city happenings, and friends use it to transfer money between themselves. This one app has the functionality of WhatsApp, GroupMe, Venmo, Snapchat, and Facebook, combined.

Wechat Logo

Didi Dache

Cabs aren’t always easy to hail in Shanghai, especially at peak times throughout the day. Enter Didi: China’s answer to Uber. For prices often much lower than traditional taxis, a Didi is available anytime, anywhere. The app is only available in Chinese for now, but it is intuitive to use once you have figured out a few of the key characters. Hook it up to WeChat for increased ease of use.

Bon App!

Bon App! is one of two useful restaurant review apps in the city (the other being Dianping), but Bon App! caters specifically to Westerners with Western tastes. Turn on your phone’s GPS to search Mediterranean food near you, or use one of the app’s curated lists to find local restaurants, the perfect date spot, or the best place to take out-of-towners you want to impress. Bon appétit!

Baidu Maps

Apple Maps works in Shanghai, as does Google Maps (VPN enabled), but Baidu Maps is the most reliable, accurate, and up-to-date of the three. Find the best routes for car, bicycle, public transport, and walking. Once you input your destination in Chinese, the app will guide you every step of the way, or give you an overview of where you can expect to go.


Within the last few months, bike sharing platforms have taken over the city. The leader of the pack is Mobike, a little orange bicycle you can’t go two blocks without seeing. For one RMB per half-hour of riding, Mobike is a great alternative to walking. The app is available in English and incredibly easy to use. Once you have an account, simply open the app to scan the QR code of the bike you want, and you’re ready to ride!

Ayi Bang!

Having a maid is not just for the elite in Shanghai. Maids, known as ayi, can be hired on a short- or long-term basis, to do anything from regular housekeeping to cooking to childcare. Ayi Bang! is an app that will help you select a short-term ayi for standard or deep cleaning. There are also options for pest removal, floor waxing, and more.


With several food delivery apps in Shanghai, it takes a lot to stand out. Fast, cheap service that guarantees hot food to your door in under an hour makes Ele.me a leader in the industry. No more cold food. No more exorbitant fees. Choose from a long list of Chinese and Western options.


Don’t have time to go to the salon? Make the salon come to you! Helijia is an app that sends manicurists, hair stylists, personal trainers, and more right to your door. The app is particularly popular for its nail services, letting users choose a style, price, artist and time, just with the tap of a few buttons.


If you intend to get around the Great Firewall of China to access blocked websites like Google, Facebook, and Instagram, you will need to download a VPN (Virtual Private Network). One of the best mobile-friendly versions available is Hexatech, a free service that offers connections through one server. For connection through multiple services, upgrade to the paid edition.

Explore Shanghai Metro Map

Finally, get to know your way around the city via the world’s largest metro system. The Explore Shanghai Metro app is searchable without an internet connection and is the easiest way to figure out how to get from point A to point B.

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