If you’re new to China, you may have heard people mentioning Didi, or even seen some use it. You also may be wondering, where can I get an Uber around here?! This is going to be your guide to using Didi in China to get anywhere you need.
What is Didi?
While Uber used to be present in China, Didi bought out Uber China in 2016. A theme you’ll probably notice in China is that they have their own version of every app and social media platform, and ride sharing is no different.
This makes Didi the only popular ride-sharing app in China. As far as functionality, it’s fairly similar to Uber or Lyft, except that there isn’t a carpool option, but they do have a “call a taxi” feature!
Convenience and safety for expats
Personally, I love using Didi for a few reasons. First, it actually has a full English version! It includes auto responses for messages to your driver and a pretty comprehensive list of addresses in English.
Once you select where you want to go, the driver will just see the Chinese version. This means for the China novice, the hassle of trying to explain your address to taxi drivers is a thing of the past. In fact, if you prefer the metered taxi over Didi drivers, you can even opt to call a taxi instead. Your trip will still be tracked, they will still see the address you gave, but you’ll be charged off of their meter.
The other major reason is for security. You can track your trip easily, which means you’ll know when you’re near home, but your driver also can’t really go off course. For me, safety isn’t really something I’ve thought about a lot in Chinese taxis, but being ripped off is really more of an issue. Depending where you are, if a taxi driver thinks you don’t know where you’re going, they may drive you out of the way to rack up your fee.
This is so easily avoided through Didi. If you are worried about safety, however, there’s an easy button to alert police if you’re in danger, they double check and remind you to be careful when taking rides at night, and even ask for an emergency contact.
Now that you’ve been thoroughly convinced that Didi is a great app to learn how to use, let’s get into how to actually use it.
The first thing you’ll have to do when you download the app is sign in using your phone number or WeChat account. You’ll need to add payment information, which means you won’t be able to use it until you have a Chinese bank card.
From there, your location will pop up, and it will ask you where you’re going. You should double check where the pin is showing to pick you up, because if the driver can’t find you, and calls you, it can get really frustrating (unless your Chinese is really good).
You can set a certain place as your home address, so it’s easy to select it every time either coming or going. Once I had my pin set to be outside the correct gate of my apartment complex, it was much easier to find my driver.
Finding your destination
Now it’s time to find your destination. This might take a little trial and error. Some addresses will come up easily if you know the pinyin or if the place has an English name. This can get confusing when you don’t know the translation for a street or building, and Didi does.
For example, you may be looking for shixia bei yi jie, but Didi English has this registered as Shixia North First Street, which you might not have realized. Sometimes, if I can’t figure it out, I’ll switch over to baidu maps, where the pinyin usually works. Then I can find the location and move my map around on Didi until I find what it’s been translated to.
Once you found there address, the next thing is choosing your ride type. You can choose Express, the cheapest service, Taxi, Select, Premiere, or Luxe (the options might vary by time of day or city, so you might not see them all). I usually stick to Express because it’s cheapest, but if you’re looking for suited up drivers and free water bottles, you might opt to upgrade. Sometimes there are discounts for the upgrades, so keep an eye out.
Now, you’re ready to reserve a car. This could take a few seconds, if it’s not a busy time and the weather is nice. But on a rainy day, at 6pm? You might see a queue. It will tell you what number line you are as well as the total number of people waiting. It gives an estimate of how long you’ll be queuing for but I find that it’s not always particularly accurate.
In the case of a long wait, I usually keep an eye out for passing taxis as I wait, and cancel my order if I find a taxi first.
Time to Ride!
Once a car takes your request, it will give an ETA and you can watch the car arrive. You’ll have the license, make, and color, so it is usually easy to spot. There should be a button to message or call your driver. If the driver tries to call and you don’t speak Chinese, honestly it’s easier to not answer, and send the autogenerated message (through the app) saying you can’t answer the phone right now. If there are problems, try explaining where you are as simply as possible, so that the messenger translates it well. Once your driver arrives, the rest is easy! Track where you’re going and how much the ride is going to cost, and you can set it to autopay once you arrive at your destination, you might just need to input your pin number or fingerprint to authorize the payment.