Using Maps and Navigating in China Last updated on 2019-06-14
Navigating China’s big cities is relatively easy, as their subway systems have English signs. Airports also have signs in English. However, once you step outside, it’s a different story. You should always carry your hotel’s address, and any other addresses you might need, written down in Chinese. Very few Chinese cab drivers, if any, speak English, and even fewer can read it. Even if the characters mean nothing to you, you will still need them when trying to find an address.
If you are traveling on one of our tours, you don't need to worry about maps; your guide and driver will handle all the directions. However, if you are traveling by yourself, it is a good idea to install a map or navigation app on your smartphone before your trip.
Does Google Maps Work In China?
Google Maps is perhaps the best online map application available on smartphones. However, unless you have a VPN installed (learn more about using your cell phone and the internet in China here), all Google services, including Google Maps, are blocked by the "Great Firewall" of China. Although you can download your maps before coming to the country, some features that rely on network will not work, such as searching for a place, planning a route, or navigating.
If you already installed a VPN on your mobile phone, then you will be able to access Google's services and use Google Maps in China. Be aware that, due to China's intentional offset, you will see a discrepancy between the street map, GPS position, and satellite imagery in China, so don't rely on the positions shown on satellite imagery.
Alternative Map & Navigation Apps
Travelers who use an iPhone can use Apple Maps, which works well in China and does not require a VPN. If you use an Android phone and don't have a workable VPN on your phone, you need to find an alternative to Google Maps. One choice is Maps.me, which is available in English, works with GPS position, and allows you to download offline maps for large areas. There are many other map apps and services you can find on the internet and try out on your phone as well.
Baidu Maps and Gaode Maps are two popular local map apps in China. While they are good, they only have Chinese versions. If you don’t feel overwhelmed by the amount of Chinese characters, however, you can use them during your travels in China.
WeChat is China’s super app and offers countless different services, including a “location” option. To use WeChat’s maps, you’ll need another WeChat user to send you their location. WeChat’s location service is especially helpful when you’re trying to meet with friends who are already at a certain place. While it’s all in Chinese, the “real-time location” feature shows how far apart the other person is, and how to get to where they are. They can also send you voice messages to guide you. Learn more about how to set up and use WeChat here.
Other Tips for Using Maps on Your Mobile Phone in China
One thing to remember is that Google Play is not accessible in China, so travelers who use Google Play should install any apps needed before leaving for China.
Downloading maps on the go will use up data fast and may be slow in China, so it is advisable to download the offline maps of the areas you will be before you head to China. When you are in China, you can also use your hotel's free Wi-Fi to find destinations and plan routes before heading out.
Tour Map of China
We have customized this Google map to show you the location of different venues. Note that this map will not display properly if you are accessing it without a VPN in China.
The China Guide is a Beijing-based travel agency that customizes private tours, educational student tours, and incentive trips across China. We have more than ten years of experience creating tours for all kinds of travelers from the United States, Germany, France, Spain, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and beyond. We promise all our tours have no hidden fees, no shopping stops, no touristy restaurants, just memorable experiences! Learn more about us or contact us to start planning your perfect China trip.