You probably already know that sites such as Facebook, Youtube or Google.com are blocked in China and that the only way to access them is with a VPN.
But what about the other hundreds of web sites that we normally use?
Are we sure that they’ll work in China?
One of the most frequent questions we receive is if a certain website or app, such as Dropbox Google Play, is blocked in China.
In this article we’ll list all web sites, which at the moment, don’t work beyond the Great Firewall of China, or the system developed by the Ministry of Public Security, (MPS) to control access to websites considered “dangerous” for Chinese citizens.
Which websites are blocked in China?
Here’s a list of the most popular websites which, at the moment, are blocked in China:
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Snapchat, Picasa, WordPress.com, Blogspot, Blogger, Flickr, SoundCloud, Google+, Google Hangouts, Hootsuite.
Google Play (this means that without a VPN you won’t be able to download any apps from Google Play), Whatsapp, Telegram, Line, Periscope, KaKao Talk.
Google (both Google.com and the majority of local versions like Google.com.hk, Google.fr, etcetera), Duck Duck Go, various foreign versions of Baidu and Yahoo.
Youtube, Vimeo, Daily Motion, Nico Video
The New York Times, Finacial Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist Bloomberg, Reuters, The Independent, LeMonde, L’Equipe, Netflix, Google News, many pages of Wikipedia, Wikileaks.
Google Drive, Google Docs, Gmail, Google Calendar (generally all Google services), Dropbox, ShutterStock, Slideshare, Slack, iStockPhotos, WayBackMachine, Scribd, Xing, Android, and many VPN sites.
Porn sites are almost all blocked; I don’t know of any exceptions.
What can you tell me about Chinese sites?
Chinese sites, in general, all work and moreover are extremely fast. Note that, if you’re using a VPN, some Chinese sites will not work correctly (for example many of the videos on Youku won’t be available). This is caused by the fact that some sites work only in China and, by turning on a VPN, you are “masking” your Chinese IP address with that of another country.
And if the site I’m interested in isn’t on this list?
The list published in this article is not exhaustive and bear in mind that the situation is constantly changing – a site that’s blocked today could work tomorrow – as well as just the opposite – a site that works today could stop working within twenty minutes.
To verify if a given website is blocked just insert the URL in the Greatfire Analyzer.
In addition, there are sites that are partially blocked (on Wikipedia for example some pages work perfectly while others don’t work at all), sites that go on and off and sites that despite not being blocked, are so slow that in a practical sense they’re unusable. The classic example is making video-calls on Skype: the connection is often so slow that you’ll want to skip the call.
Is there a solution or do I have to resign myself?
The only solution is to subscribe to a VPN service (here you’ll find the services we currently recommend).
Note however that especially after 8PM (Beijing time) sites hosted by servers outside of China (basically all Western sites) are often so slow as to be unusable. I’m not sure as to the reason why, but my theory is that this is the hour in which traffic between China and the West reaches its height (since it’s morning in America afternoon in Europe).
As a result the data lines are maxed out and say goodbye to your connection! I don’t even know if the problem is a result of the Great Firewall or, more simply, a physical limit between China and the rest of the planet.
Is it legal to use a VPN?
Disclaimer: here at SDC we are not qualified to give any legal advice; therefore if you choose to use a VPN you are doing so at your own risk.
That said, our interpretation is that using a VPN (acronym for Virtual Private Network) is not an illegal act in and of itself since it has to do with a technology developed to extend the benefits of private networks even to connections that travel on the Internet (or on a public network).
The VPN is, therefore, software designed to improve the security of your connection (click here to learn the technical details). In effect, many universities and – I presume – Chinese government offices use a VPN system to isolate their internal network from the public.
So the problem isn’t so much the use of a VPN, as much as the fact that you’re accessing sites that aren’t permitted in China. Is that a crime? The reality is that we have no idea and therefore can’t offer any advice.
On a practical level, our opinion is that the Chinese couldn’t care less if you use a VPN to log on to your Facebook profile or your Dropbox.
Of course, if you intend to use the Internet fraudulently, VPN or not, be aware that you’re taking a risk both in China and abroad.
Other frequently-asked questions
Is it true that all VPN access will be blocked in February 2018?
This information, published by Bloomberg and which comes from a source that is unknown at this time, is quite doubtful, as it has been denied by Chinese Ministry of Industry.
It is true that China initiated a campaign to limit VPN use in 2017, which will reach its peak in 2018, but up until now, it has focused on companies with headquarters in China, such as GreenVPN. However, it is difficult to believe that this campaign will be extended to all VPNs, as it is technically difficult, could block access to the global network and could affect the Chinese economy (many small businesses and individuals depend on these types of services for their economic activity).
In 2017, many VPNs stopped working or their performance was seriously affected. Nonetheless, some well-known VPN service providers (like those that we recommend in this article) are very unlikely to stop working. In fact, this type of campaign has been common over the years, especially during important political or social events (the Olympic Games, party congresses, etc.).
Does WhatsApp work in China?
Since September 26, 2017, WhatsApp has been blocked in China for most users (some users can still send text messages). It’s still too soon to know whether China will permanently block WhatsApp, as was the case of other similar applications, such as Line and Telegram, or whether this is simply a temporary measure. However, everything seems to indicate that the service will not be reestablished this time, as was the case in the month of July, when the service was partially blocked for a few days.
How can I download a VPN app in China?
On Android devices, you can download the .apk file directly from the VPN provider’s website (as long as their website isn’t blocked as well). On Apple devices, it’s best to manually configure the VPN (as they tend to indicate on their website), activate it, and then download the app from the App Store.
Best VPNs for China
|Features||What’s the Best?|
|Main Advantage||Fastest and Easiest to use||Most Secure (Premium version)||Cheapest (among the best)||It depends on your needs!|
|Money Back Guarantee||30 days||30 days||30 days|
|Monthly Plan||12.95 USD||12.95 USD||11.95 USD|
|Yearly Plan||6.67 USD/month (exclusive offer: 3 months free)||6.67 USD/month||5.75 USD/month|
|Support||24/7/365 (Best service in our experience)||24/7/365||24/7/365|
|Countries with Servers||94||64||61|
|Payment Methods||Credit Card, Paypal, Bitcoin, Alipay, Union Pay and others||Credit Card, Paypal and Alipay||Credit Card, Paypal, Bitcoin, Alipay|
|Desktop Apps||Windows, Mac, Linux||Windows, Mac||Windows, Mac|
|Browser extension||Chrome, Firefox, Safari||No||Chrome|
|Mobile Apps||Android, iOS, Windows Phone||Android, iOS, Windows Phone, Blackphone||Android, iOS, Windows Phone|
|Simultaneous Connections||Yes (until 3)||Yes (until 5)||Yes (until 6)|
|Encryption Protocols||OpenVPN, L2TP-IPsec, SSTP, PPTP||PPTP, OpenVPN™, L2TP/IPsec, Chameleon™||OpenVPN, IKEv2/IPsec|
|VPN Location’s Switchings||Unlimited||Unlimited||Unlimited|
|Try ExpressVPN||Try VyprVPN||Try NordVPN|