When talking about travel in China, it’s hard not to touch on the topic of the ‘Great Firewall of China.’ For those of you that don’t know it, this is the Chinese government’s way of limiting access to websites and apps within mainland China. If you’ve ever heard about Google, Facebook, Whatsapp or any other service not being accessible, you have this firewall to thank for it.
Of course, traveling to China and not being able to access these everyday services can be an inconvenience (no posting on Facebook), or even a headache (no Gmail or Google Maps). But this shouldn’t stop you from experiencing the beauty and history that China offers. Read below to learn a few alternatives for staying connected in China and having access to your favorite services and websites.
Why Should I get a VPN?
As mentioned above, the Chinese firewall blocks access to many websites, services and apps that you are likely to be using on a daily basis in China. Some of these include:
- Anything Google related (Search, Gmail, Maps, Play Store, Translate, Newsstand, Youtube, and other similar services.)
- Some social media (mainly Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat.)
- Other services, such as: Tinder, Dropbox, Github, Vimeo, Soundcloud and Flickr.
The list is long and changes happen frequently, so don’t be surprised if websites or apps not mentioned here are blocked in the future. But you should have an idea as to how traveling in China can be inconvenient without many services that you are used to. With a VPN enabled, your device will connect to a server outside mainland China (usually Hong Kong) and give you access to unrestricted internet use.
Do I need a VPN for Hong Kong, Taiwan or Macao?
At the moment, only internet traffic within mainland China is restricted, which means you can browse the internet normally in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macao, without a VPN.
Are VPNs Legal in China?
While the legality of VPNs in China remains a subject of much debate, as a traveler should have no problem. Many foreigners and even Chinese nationals use VPNs on a daily basis. As long as you are not using it to criticize China in any way or for illegal purposes, you should not have any issues.
Before Your Trip – Things to Know
Having access to a VPN is essential as soon as you land in the airport. Regardless of how you will get from the airport to your accommodations, you will probably need certain services such as messaging, navigation or translation services. A VPN will allow you full access to these, just remember the following:
- Choose a VPN provider that works well in China. Some have been blocked by the government over the years, so it’s important to choose a VPN that works properly in the country. Our top picks for VPNs are: VyperVPN, AirVPN (which offer free trials) and also ExpressVPN. This is a handy comparison between the top rated VPNs in China.
- Download the VPN app to your phone, tablet or computer BEFORE leaving home. This is especially important for Android users since the Google Play store is blocked in China. You don’t want to realize this once you reach China and have no way of downloading the app.
Once You Arrive
- Purchase a data SIM card at the airport that you can use with your phone, tablet, laptop or portable WiFi device. Alternatively, you can also rent a portable WiFi hotspot with a data plan, which you can have shipped to the airport before you leave your country.
- Once you are connected to the internet on your device of preference, simply go to the VPN app (or open the software on your laptop), follow the prompts, and gain access to unrestricted internet.
Have any comments, suggestions or additions to this post? Let us know in the comments. Please also be aware that this is simply a guide and we are not legal experts. We will update this page with any new information that will be helpful on this topic.
Last updated: April 2017