ben boyd

Travelled to 10 countries / regions

Written 24 briefs
From LA, living in Hong Kong, go to China a lot



Asia > China > Useful Info
Updated on Nov 22, 2018 Useful Info

How to access Facebook, Google, Gmail, Snapchat, YouTube, and other blocked services in China

  • A lot of Western social media and online services are blocked by the great firewall of China. This wikipedia article has the most comprehensive list of such websites I can find anywhere. The notable websites and services blocked include Facebook, Twitter, Goole search, Gmail, Google Maps, Google Docs, YouTube, Snapchat, Reddit, Whatsapp, Messenger, Slack, Instagram, Dropbox, Slack, New York Times, and BBC.
  • To get around this while you travel in China, all you need to do is to install a VPN app on your phone and laptop before you go to China. It's important to do it before you go because most VPN websites are also blocked in China. App stores there also will now show any VPN apps
  • The four most popular VPN apps for expats in China. They all cost around $10 per month +/- $2:
  • ExpressVPN: undoubtedly the most popular and best rated one among expats in China
  • NordVPN: also highly rated, though no that popular
  • VyprVPN: used by quite a bit of expats in China
  • Astrill VPN: apparently not as reliable as the others, but a lot of people swear by it
  • They're easy to set up: these commercial VPNs are designed for average users. I've used them and they're super simple to set up with a few clicks and no technical knowledge required. Takes less than 10 minutes to download and set up
  • Speed will be slow: this is just an unfortunate reality. The VPN apps will let you access blocked websites, but they'll work slower than what you're used to. Sometimes they're excruciating slow that it might as well be unusable. All of them lets you watch Netflix, but I think most of the time the speed will be too slow for that
  • Sometimes they'll be disconnected: there's kind of a cat and mouse situation going between the censors and these VPNs. Sometimes some of these VPN services may get disconnected, but they usually come back up in a relatively short period of time. If you want you can always install multiple VPNs
  • They're in legal gray area: nobody knows for sure if it's legal to use non-official VPN service in China. But regardless, no tourist, expats, or even Chinese citizens have ever been prosecuted for using VPN and millions of people use it everyday there. It's one of those things where the government mostly turns a blind eye to
  • Don't look up politically sensitive things: even with VPN, it's just good to avoid Googling or visiting websites of politically sensitive topics while in China (you probably know what they are)

For a faster and more reliable setup than VPN

  • You can use a combination of VPS (Virtual Private Server like DigitalOcean) and Shadowsocks
  • This setup can achieve comparable speeds to what you're used to at home, easily streaming big video with no delay. They're also a few dollars cheaper than VPN per month
  • This is becoming more popular among the expats in China in recent years, especially as the government increased pressure on VPNs and how much faster this set up is compared to VPNs
  • Unfortunately, you need to be somewhat technically savvy to set this up. There's no easily available commercial software to do the set up for you, and you need to do all the technical work yourself
  • Here's a very comprehensive tutorial of how to set this up step by step:
  • The tutorial says it'll take 30 minutes. But if you're not too technically savvy, this can take several hours