Despite the rumors, VPNs continue to be the best way to get around the Great Firewall of China. Nonetheless, due to an intense campaign during the second half of 2017, many VPNs have stopped working or their services have been affected substantially.
In this article, which we update monthly, you will be able to see which VPNs continue to work in China.
As a response to the commercial tensions with the US, in September 2019 Zoom services were restricted to users in China. It seems that this block is going to be permanent as many other similar western services.
Since September 2017, WhatsApp has been almost completely blocked in China. Currently, without using a VPN, you can’t send or receive voice messages, videos, images, or any other types of files.
Text messages are sometimes capable of getting around the restrictions, but they can arrive hours late.
In December 2017, the Skype app disappeared from the App Store and other app markets in China. Even so, Skype has never stopped working in China.
The apps have not been blocked. Even so, the App Store has blocked downloading these apps for users who are located in China, which means that you will not be able to download the apps or update them unless you have a VPN active on your phone (manually configured or by downloading the app in advance).
Some news pointed to the possibility that China may release the block to Google Maps for users in Mainland. However, at the present moment, Google Maps is unavailable in China without a VPN.
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.
Websites blocked in China
Here’s a list of the most popular websites which, at the moment, are blocked in China:
- Google Hangouts
- Google Play (without a VPN you won’t be able to download any app)
- KaKao Talk
- Google (both Google.com and local versions like Google.com.hk, Google.fr, etcetera)
- Duck Duck Go
- Various foreign versions of Baidu
- The New York Times
- Finacial Times
- The Wall Street Journal
- The Economist
- the Washington Post
- South China Morning Post
- The Independent
- Daily Mail
- Google News
- Many pages of Wikipedia
- Netflix (no service, website accessible)
- Amazon Prime Video
- Hulu (no service, website accessible)
- BBC iPlayer
- Pandora Radio
- Some local versions of HBO, Fox and Syfy
Email providers and Work Tools
- Google Drive
- Google Docs
- Google Calendar
- Generally all Google services
- Most of VPN websites
Adult websites are almost all blocked; I don’t know of any exceptions.
Websites and apps that AREN’T blocked in China
Below is a non-exhaustive list of websites and apps that are popular in the West that haven’t yet been blocked in China:
Calls and Video Calls
- Skype (not very reliable)
- HBO Asia (sometimes it has been blocked temporarily)
Email providers and Work Tools
- Yahoo mail
What can you tell me about Chinese sites?
Chinese sites, in general, all work and 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.
How to know if a website is blocked in China?
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.
Besides, some sites 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 to access blocked websites in China?
The easiest and most popular solution is to subscribe to a VPN service (here you’ll find the services we currently recommend).
Note however that, especially after 8 PM (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 (an 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.
Is it true that all VPN access has been blocked
This information, published by Bloomberg in 2017 and originating from an unknown source, was quite doubtful at the time and was quickly debunked by the Chinese Ministry of Industry.
China indeed started a campaign to limit VPN use in 2017, which reached its peak in 2018, but it was mainly focused on companies with headquarters in China, such as GreenVPN. Despite one-time attacks, this campaign was not extended to all VPNs, probably for two main reasons: technically speaking, it’s difficult to be able to block access to the global network, and because this could severely affect the Chinese economy (many small businesses and individuals depend on this type of service for their business activities).
In 2017 and 2018, many VPNs stopped working or their performance was seriously affected. During the following years, periodic campaigns of increased restrictions have been taking place, reducing the functionality of many VPNs. However, some well-known VPN services (such as those we recommend in this article) continue to work well, and it is unlikely that they will stop working. These types of campaigns have been common over the years, especially around important political or social events (the Olympic Games, party congresses, etc.).
Other frequently-asked questions
In China, there are multiple local social networks, and the most popular one is currently WeChat.
Other instant messaging apps like FB Messenger, Line, Telegram, or Viber are also blocked in China. The only exceptions are the Chinese apps WeChat or Weixin.
While Yahoo’s website and Yahoo Mail are still accessible, Yahoo’s search engine (search.yahoo.com) has not been accessible in China since September 2018.
The reason for the blocking is probably a business reason so that preference is given to local cloud storage systems.
Not all other similar question-answer services are blocked in China. While Yahoo Answers and Stack Exchange are still accessible, AskReddit and Answers.com are blocked.
What are the best VPNs for China?
|Features||What’s the Best?|
|Main Advantage||Fastest and Easiest to Use||Most Secure||Cheapest(among the best)||Dedicated IPs||It depends on your needs!|
|Money Back Guarantee||30 days||30 days||30 days||30 days|
|Monthly Plan||12.95 USD||12.95 USD||9.95 USD||11.95 USD|
|Yearly Plan||6.67 USD/month(exclusive offer: 3 months free)||3.75 USD/month||3.33 USD/month||6.99 USD/month|
|Support||24/7/365(Best service in our experience)||24/7/365||24/7/365||24/7/365|
|Countries with Servers||94||64||56||61|
|Payment Methods||Credit Card, Paypal, Bitcoin, Alipay, Union Pay and others||Credit Card, Paypal and Alipay||Credit Card, Paypal, Bitpay, Alipay, Perfect Money||Credit Card, Paypal, Bitcoin, Alipay|
|Desktop Apps||Windows, Mac, Linux||Windows, Mac||Windows, Mac||Windows, Mac|
|Browser Extension||Chrome, Firefox, Safari||No||Chrome, Firefox||Chrome|
|Mobile Apps||Android, iOS, Windows Phone||Android, iOS, Windows Phone, Blackphone||Android, iOS, Windows Phone||Android, iOS, Windows Phone|
|Simultaneous Connections||Yes (until 5)||Yes (until 5)||Yes (until 5)||Yes (until 6)|
|Encryption Protocols||OpenVPN, L2TP-IPsec, SSTP, PPTP||PPTP, OpenVPN™, L2TP/IPsec, Chameleon™||OpenVPN, IKEv2, PPTP, SSTP, L2TP||OpenVPN, IKEv2/IPsec|
|VPN Location’s Switchings||Unlimited||Unlimited||Unlimited||Unlimited||Languages Supported||16||5||5||21||Try ExpressVPN➤||Try VyprVPN➤||Try Ivacy➤||Try NordVPN➤|
[Photo Credits (Creative Commons CC0): Pixabay.com]