How to Use Public Transport in China (+ Must-Have Apps)

Understanding China’s public transportation system is a must if you want to get around as an international student living and studying here. Navigating public transport might seem daunting at first, but with a little guidance and familiarity, you’ll easily get around the cities in no time.

Useful Apps 

WeChat has more than one million mini-programs, some of which offer a convenient way to pay for various transport systems across the country. (IMG: IC Photo / CX Tech)

One of the first things to keep in mind is that Google Maps is not available in China, so you’ll need to download Baidu Maps, the most widely used navigation app in the country. It offers public transport directions, real-time traffic updates, and street level views, making it an indispensable tool for getting around.

Additionally, each city in China has its own city-specific transit apps, usually available as mini-programs within the popular messaging app, WeChat. These apps allow you to pay for the Metro system or bus system in that particular city, and they provide crucial information about routes, schedules, and ticket prices.

Having these two apps ready on your phone make it much easier for you to travel smoothly during your time in China.

The Subway System

Gangxia North Station in Futian District, Shenzhen City.

When it comes to navigating China’s subway systems, a little preparation goes a long way. It’s important to familiarize yourself with the subway map, which you can easily find on Google or WeChat.

WeChat offers a variety of interactive navigation apps that provide real-time traffic information, making it easier to plan your route and stay updated on any delays.

Keep in mind that the subway system is usually written in Chinese, but don’t worry – English names are provided underneath each stop.

The cost of the subway varies depending on the city, but it is quite affordable in general. A cross-city trip typically costs ~10 RMB.

You can pay either with a manual ticket (cash) or a transportation card/QR code for a contactless experience.

Taxis and Didi

Getting around China using taxis and Didi (similar to Uber) is a breeze, offering convenient options for travelers.

Taxi rides can be paid for in cash or through WeChat/Alipay. To ensure smooth communication with the driver, it’s a good idea to have the Chinese name and address of your destination written down, or have a screenshot to show them.

For those who prefer a seamless experience, Didi is an excellent choice, allowing you to input your destination directly in the app and communicate without language barriers.

Whether you opt for a taxi or Didi, navigating China’s bustling cities will be a hassle-free experience for all travelers, including those who are not fluent in Chinese.

Public Buses 

Wechat Payment System for Public Bus Fares (IMG: YICAI)

Mastering China’s bus system is a rewarding experience, with its remarkable efficiency and frequent bus arrivals every 2-3 minutes.

To make your journey smoother, download Baidu Maps and the WeChat app for city-specific bus information.

For payment, use a transportation card or WeChat/Alipay to avail of discounts.

However, be prepared for a challenge when deciphering bus stops and information, as they are usually written in Chinese characters, which can be confusing for foreigners.

Despite this, with the right apps and a sense of adventure, exploring China by bus becomes an economical and memorable experience.

Public Bicycles

Public bicycles are a fun and economical way to travel short distances in certain cities, with options available in different colors, such as orange, yellow, and blue.

To get started, download the corresponding app for bicycle usage and parking in designated areas.

Whether you need to cut a 10-minute walk down to just a few minutes or want to explore the city from a different perspective, these public bicycles provide an enjoyable and scenic option for your commuting needs.

Study Abroad in China

Armed with the right resources and a spirit of adventure, you can explore this incredible country with ease and affordability. Be sure to check out the essential apps we suggested, such as Baidu Maps, Didi, Alipay and the most important one to have; WeChat. Embrace the journey and immerse yourself in the wonders of China’s public transportation network.

If you’re still considering studying abroad in China, browse the universities and programs on our platform and click Apply to easily submit your application.

Kay is a marketing assistant at China Admissions. A "third-culture kid" based in Thailand, she has had lifelong exposure to international communities and has worked with top global brands. Having studied abroad herself, she encourages young minds to invest in their self-development and foster an appreciation for new countries and cultures.
Kay Marlowe

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