Uber’s China app is now separate from its global app — and a nightmare for foreigners

If you’re an overseas visitor to China, you’ll no longer be able to use Uber for your rides. More permanent residents may also face issues using the service from today.

That’s because Didi Chuxing, which is in the process of acquiring Uber’s China business, rolled out an update which decouples the Uber China app from the Uber global app. That means there’s now an Uber app for China and a different one for the rest of the world. The change was announced last month but went into effect at 4:00 am Beijing time yesterday, November 27.

The new Chinese app looks much like the previous version of Uber in China, but there are some key differences.

For one, users must create a new account for Uber China and that require both a Chinese mobile phone number and valid Chinese payment method, such as Union Pay, Alibaba’s Alipay digital wallet or Baidu Wallet.

Uber China users have had a month-long transition period and the company said that “the majority” have upgraded to this new setup. However, it also obviously means that anyone visiting the country, or anyone not holding the necessary payment options, isn’t able to get the app and use Uber’s service in China.

“We apologize to our users for any inconvenience may be caused by this transition. The Uber China team has been working hard to make the new version faster-responding and more user friendly,” Uber China/Didi said in a statement.

That’s a sizable blow for anyone who is visiting China. Didi’s own apps are available in Mandarin only and require local phone numbers, too, which meant that Uber, for a long time, the only option for booking a taxi via your phone in the country if you were visiting. As anyone who has ever tried to hail a taxi with limited Mandarin can attest, even just getting a ride from the street in China is challenging.

On the plus side, Didi said that it will introduce “multilingual, international features” in the future, but did not give a timeframe for when that will happen.

Didi admitted recently and for the first time that it harbors ambitions to expand overseas. It isn’t exactly clear what that means, and whether it will be organic growth or via acquisition of allies like Grab (Southeast Asia), Ola (India) or Lyft (U.S.), but it could just be that Uber’s future “international features” forms part of that global push. That’s unclear right now, but Didi is testing the water through a partnership with rental giant Avis that allows users of its users to book a car overseas from inside the Didi app.