How to Access Gmail, YouTube, Facebook, WhatsApp in China
It is well-known that several essential websites are blocked in China:
- The entire Google suite of products. This includes Gmail, Google search, YouTube, Google Drive, Google Scholar, etc.
- The entire Facebook suite of products. This also includes WhatsApp since it is owned by Facebook.
- Most other “Western” social media, such as Twitter.
- Most blogging sites, including WordPress.com, Blogger.com. This includes not only the login pages but also all sites created by WordPress.com, Blogger.com, etc.
- Most file-sharing sites, such as Dropbox.
As you can see, the Great Firewall of China blocks many essential services that will inconvenience most people, whether you are a businessman, student, or just a casual tourist. It has worsened in recent years (2019 onwards) as the Firewall has gotten much stronger and many VPNs do not work as well as they did.
In this comprehensive guide, we will cover a variety of options (VPNs and more) that will help you bypass the Great Firewall of China, and connect to Google, YouTube, Facebook, et cetera. We include Free as well as Paid services, as well as non-VPN solutions.
***Very Important: All the VPNs be it free or paid must be downloaded and set up before you enter China. Once you enter China, you may not be able to download or set up an account on the VPN.
Most websites do not tell you about Free VPNs as they gain no benefit (commission) from doing so. We will only recommend trusted, reliable free VPNs here. Do note that there exists some shady “free” VPNs that have the potential to steal or leak your data. The below Free VPNs do not require any credit card data.
***Important: If you are only relying on Free VPNs, it is recommended to download and set up 2 or 3 alternatives. This is because Free VPNs are usually less stable and more prone to be blocked as there are fewer server locations.
Windscribe Free VPN Review
A very decent Free VPN that is from a actual professional company. You get around 10 GB free data bandwidth that resets each month, with potential to get more by tweeting or referring to your friends.
I have personally tried the Free version of Windscribe in different cities in China, and it works (most of the time). Do not expect perfect connection though. If you decide to go with Free Windscribe, sign up here at the official Windscribe website.
TunnelBear Free Review
TunnelBear also provides a free plan (500 MB monthly) that does not require any credit card info from you. Based on my experience, Windscribe Free is better than TunnelBear free (based on chance of connection, and number of server locations). However, that being said, it can very well occur that at any given time, TunnelBear can connect while Windscribe cannot. Hence, the recommendation is to get both Free Windscribe and TunnelBear.
Lantern VPN Free Review
Lantern VPN is unique in the sense that it is not a VPN, but rather a “peer network sharing” tool. Since it works differently from a VPN, it could be the case that it is not blocked while other VPNs are. Lantern has a Free option (URL: https://getlantern.org/) which allows you to browse restricted websites while in China.
If you decide to upgrade to the paid version (Lantern Pro), you get more data and faster speed. Use my code YJVD2WT and get 3 months free when you sign up!
Conclusion for Free VPNs
It cannot be overemphasized that you need more than 1 choice if you are going the Free VPN route. It is highly recommended that you download and setup all of the above 3 Free VPNs before stepping foot into China.
Paid VPNs (翻墙软件 in Chinese) refer to those that require a monthly (or yearly) subscription fee. What many sites don’t tell you is that even Paid VPNs do not work 100%. Typically the VPNs are in an arms race with the Great Firewall. Once the Firewall makes an algorithm update to block the VPN, the VPN will engage in a time scramble to unblock itself. During that time, the VPN will not be accessible to the public. That being said, paid VPNs have more server options so it is more likely that it can successfully connect to one of those servers, compared to free VPNs which typically only have a few server locations.
PureVPN is our top choice for Paid VPNs due to its affordability and its track record.
PureVPN has a special “Optimized for China” set of servers, which allow users to bypass the Great Firewall of China effectively and automatically. In the event of intense blocking by the Firewall, just contact the PureVPN support which is very responsive. They will then direct you to adhoc manual steps to connect to a server, while they fix their main app. (I have tried this before.)
Sign up for PureVPN using this official PureVPN link.
Promotion: Use the coupon code: discount10 for an extra 10% discount on PureVPN subscription.
NordVPN is consistently ranked top among all VPNs online. NordVPN is based in Panama which has no mandatory data retention law so they absolutely do not store logs.
NordVPN also has the ““obfuscated servers” function which disguises a user’s traffic to better avoid it being detected by the Firewall.
Sign up for NordVPN using this official NordVPN link.
Conclusion for Paid VPNs
Many sites don’t tell you this, but in 2019 even Paid VPNs do not work 100% in China. Also it depends on the city, sometimes it works in Beijing but not Shanghai and vice versa. Good VPNs like the above work constantly to update their algorithm to minimize the downtime. You would still definitely want to supplement your Paid VPN with 1 or 2 Free VPNs to serve as backup.
Hong Kong-Macau SIM Card
The foolproof method of bypassing the Great Firewall of China is to use a Hong Kong-Macau SIM card. This is because even though Hongkong and Macau are part of China, there is no Firewall there under the “One Country, Two Systems” law. In summary, you will definitely be able to access Facebook, WhatsApp, Google using this SIM card.
This is an excellent option if you are a light to moderate internet user (the SIM card has a fast data limit of 6 GB, after which you still have data but the speed is reduced to 128kbps).
Tip: You should purchase the SIM card from China Unicom as it is one of the largest and most reliable telecommunications company in China.
China Unicom SIM card (Amazon’s Choice):