China has some of the world's most rigid restrictions concerning what websites you can and cannot access. Many sites simply are inaccessible in China due to a firewall. The term that has been coined for this is the "Great Firewall of China." Many of the apps and websites that we use on an everyday basis are useless in China. Apps such as Google Maps, Gmail, You tube, WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook and many news websites including CNN, the WSJ, New York Times and many more are blocked due to this Firewall. Even Skype is hit and miss. In addition, the vast majority of all non-Chinese websites are purposefully slowed down. This of course is a huge inconvenience for many US/Canadian travelers to China as we have become accustomed to relying so many apps and sites and in particular Facebook, Instagram, Gmail, Google Maps and WhatsApp and Skype.
What About Chinese Approved Sites?
Sure, there are other sites and apps that you can access to achieve many of the same objectives. For example WeChat, similar to WhatsApp which doesn't work in China, is a hugely popular app that is used virtually universally in China. There are government approved websites for news in English (China Daily for example) as well as apps for finding your way around (Baidu Maps). But, who wants to spend their time downloading and learning how to use a new app while on vacation and who would rely on any news source knowing in advance that it is censored? Not many. This is why it makes perfect sense to invest in a temporary VPN for your trip.
Using a VPN
The way around blocked site and app access is to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network). A VPN works by encrypting the data sent to the website thereby allowing you to safely and privately access any website you want. Therefore, not only is a VPN useful for allowing you to access any app or website but it also safeguards your information which is particularly useful when accessing sites where online security is essential such as online banks.
Is Using a VPN in China Legal?
The Chinese government realizes that VPNs are being used and has taken steps in order to try to detect and block VPN use in China. In fact, it is virtually impossible to find a VPN provider within China and many VPNs just do not work in China. And while the Chinese government has restricted VPNs, using a VPN is legal but you need to set it up on your device before you get to China.
Setting up a VPN
Setting up a VPN is a bit complex which is why we set it up on your rental device for you. We do charge a small fee for this service but most users would agree that it is well worth it for the following reasons:
Many VPNs don't work well or at all in China. Ours is meant to work specifically in China.
Many providers will not sign you up for short term VPN access.
We will install it on your rental phone. Installing VPNs is time consuming and, if you make a mistake and try to fix it while in China, you cannot.