Is it possible to use WhatsApp in China in 2019? Even though WhatsApp has been blocked in China since June of 2017, I still remain connected on WhatsApp, 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 make sure you can access WhatsApp in China.
When it comes to being censored within China, WhatsApp wasn’t the first and it certainly won’t be the last. Since 2009, China has made efforts to block all of the major global social media platforms. It started with Facebook, Twitter, and Google but since then there have been many more websites and apps blocked in China.
WhatsApp is slightly different than most of the websites that are blocked in China since it is an app that is mostly used on a mobile phone. Similar to the way you would use Instagram in China, the platform offers desktop apps but most people interact with it on their phone.
For this reason, it’s important to look at solutions in China that focus on mobile devices.
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.
Is WhatsApp Blocked in China in 2019?
Yes. The use of WhatsApp in China has been censored since June of 2017. The app joins a host of other social media platforms that have been blocked in China.
What this means is that if open WhatsApp on your phone from within China, no matter if you’re using a network connection or a wi-fi connection, the app won’t work. It will attempt to connect and then tell you that it can’t reach the server.
If using WhatsApp is important for you to stay connected with friends and family, you’ll want to work through these three simple steps to unblock WhatsApp in China.
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 on your phone are as follows:
- Via Wi-Fi: In many major Chinese cities, you’ll find wi-fi access everywhere. As you get further inland, however, this becomes harder and harder to find. Relying on Wifi for all your internet access may not be ideal, especially since most wi-fi requires text message verification. You’ll need to have either a Chinese SIM card or global roaming from you home carrier in order to accept these text messages and access the free wi-fi. Learn more about how to find WiFi in China.
- 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. Some carriers already offer free texting and limited international data while traveling, but not all of them. You’ll need to check to make sure. Rest assured that anything that isn’t covered by your plan will be quite expensive.
- Via a local SIM card: It’s not difficult for a foreigner to get a Chinese 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 SIM card. Otherwise, you’ll have to go to a China Unicom or China Mobile store to purchase. This option does take time, however, so it’s not ideal for the average traveler.
Making sure you can access the internet in China is just the first step in solving this problem, though. As I already mentioned above, there’s still a problem using WhatsApp in China since it has been blocked.
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 WhatsApp in China. There’s no need to dive into the specifics of how it work, just know that a VPN is 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 for the entirety of your trip to China.
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.
Step 3: Log on to WhatsApp!
One you have access to the internet on your phone and a reliable VPN installed and running, you should be able to log onto WhatsApp without any problems! Connected with your friends and family and share photos from your trip around China 🙂
I will say that there are times when I’m using WhatsApp that I need to disconnect and connect to another VPN server, but that doesn’t happen very often. I’ve been able to chat with friends and family using WhatsApp on a daily basis over the past year. It’s a great way to stay in touch and it doesn’t require asking people outside of China to use WeChat (the popular Chinese version of WhatsApp).
Conclusion | Using WhatsApp in China
It’s quite possible to use WhatsApp 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 get onto Facebook or even upload videos to YouTube in China, it takes a little bit of creativity and a little bit of patience, but being able to share your experiences on WhatsApp can be worth the effort.
Were you able to use WhatsApp while traveling in China? How did it go for you? Let me know in the comments below.