Is it possible to access Instagram in China in 2018? Even though Instagram has been blocked since the middle of 2016, I still remain an regular Instagram user, so I can tell you from experience that it’s entirely possible…as long as you’re prepared. Here’s a quick explanation of what you need to know and how to prepare yourself.
When it comes to being censored within China, Instagram is in good company. Other social sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Gmail have also been axed by the powers-that-be in Beijing.
Instagram is slightly different than most social networks, however, since almost all of Instagram functions on mobile devices only. In other words, you can’t rely on computer-only solutions when Instagram is a mobile-only social network.
Note: this article contains affiliate links, which means that at no extra cost to you, I will be compensated if you use some of these services I recommend. The good news is that in many cases, such as this link to ExpressVPN, I’ve negotiated special deals to get you 3 months of free service.
Step 1: Access the Internet in China
It sounds simple enough to access the internet in China, but you might find it more difficult than you first imagined. The most common ways to access the internet in China are:
- Via Wi-Fi: In larger cities in China, you’ll find Wifi access everywhere but as you get further inland this becomes harder and harder to find. Relying on Wifi for all your internet access may not be ideal.
- Via International Roaming: If you’re traveling to China for a short period of time, you can work with your network carrier at home to arrange international roaming. What this usually means is that you’ll be given a certain amount of data and/or minutes to use while you’re in China. Beware: it can be expensive.
- Via a local SIM card: It’s not difficult for a foreigner to get a local SIM card to access the internet via any unlocked phone. You’ll need your passport to register the number but monthly service can be unbelievably cheap. In some major airports (Beijing, Shanghai) you’ll find kiosks where you can purchase a China SIM card. Otherwise, you’ll have to go to a China Telecom, China Unicom or China Mobile store to purchase.
As I already mentioned above, though, there’s still a problem accessing Instagram in China once you’re connected to the internet since it’s been censored.
Note: In some cases travelers have reported that when using international roaming on their phone, they have access to the full internet since it is routed through their home network. Unfortunately, this isn’t always true and it can’t be relied upon as an option.
Step 2: Connect to a VPN (Virtual Private Network)
Ideally, you’ve already setup your VPN prior to arrival in China, since it’s a huge pain to do so once you’ve arrived. Take note of that as you read on and consider getting a VPN on your phone right now.
If you’ve never heard of a VPN, you can think of it like a tunnel through a wall (for a more detailed description, see What is a VPN?). Even when China has censored everything, a VPN will tunnel through and give you access to sites like Facebook, Gmail and even Instagram in China. There’s no need to dive into the specifics of how it work, just know that it’s used by pretty much any expat who lives in China, including me.
This is what usually happens when you’re setting up a VPN for your phone:
- You purchase a VPN service on your computer (5 min)
- Donwload the VPN app on your phone (3 min)
- Sign into the App and use the app to install server connections (5 min)
- Click “Connect” and you’re done!
Set aside about half an hour to get this all put together and you’ll be good to go.
One more thing: I highly recommend you download at least two VPN services for your phone as a backup in case one doesn’t work. China sometimes blocks certain IP addresses, which can cause major connection issues no matter which VPN you use. I recommend the following VPNs*:
- ExpressVPN: One of the most popular VPNs on the market that has one of the best phone apps I’ve seen. I use this every day. Best of all, they have a 30 day money-back guarantee in case it doesn’t work well for you. BONUS: when you use this link for ExpressVPN, they’ll give you 3 months free on any annual plan.
- NordVPN: Again, another VPN that has an easy-to-use mobile app and a 30 day money-back guarantee.
- VyprVPN: My final recommendation is a VPN that has been very reliable for numerous expats in China.
*Disclosure: The links above are affiliate links, which means that at no additional cost to you, I will be compensated if you decide to purchase through these links. Rest assured, I don’t recommend any service that I haven’t personally used…and I use all of these VPNs every single day!
Step 3: Log on to Instagram!
One you have access to the internet on your phone and a reliable VPN installed and running, you should be able to log onto Instagram without any problems!
I will say that there are times when I’m using Instagram that I need to disconnect and connect to another VPN server, but that doesn’t happen very often. I’ve been able to post to Instagram on a daily basis over the past year and I’ve had a very good response from people! In fact, you should follow me on Instagram if you want to see great photos from China’s beautiful and remote western region.
Conclusion | Using Instagram in China
It’s quite possible to use Instagram in China – and I hope you have a chance to do so! Take some time to make sure that you have a good VPN setup on your phone before you travel to China and you should be good to go.
In the same way you access Facebook in China, it takes a little bit of creativity and a little bit of patience, but being able to share your experiences on Instagram can be worth the effort.
Were you able to use Instagram while traveling in China? How did it go for you? Let me know in the comments below.