Is it possible to access Facebook in China in 2019? Most people are aware that China censors the internet and blocks a number of different websites including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Gmail and more. There are ways to access Facebook in China, though, and that’s what we’re going to dive into today.
While some of us may be able to live without using Google, or any Google-related sites for a while, staying connected via social media is essential. Unfortunately, scrolling through Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or even Instagram in China are all next to impossible with the Great Firewall.
But, fear not! Despite the technological prowess of China’s cyber-cops, there are ways that you can get around this censorship and stay connected to the world while you’re traveling or living in China.
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.
Getting Around China’s Censorship
There are three main options to getting around the firewall to access Facebook in China, but all involve manipulating your connection so that you are either “tunneling” through the censorship or spoofing your location. Don’t worry, it’s not as technically difficult as it may sound.
Mind you, these methods can often result in a slower connection, but any connection is still better than none at all! It’s also worth bearing in mind that the Chinese cyber-cops are relentless in their search to hamper and shut down any loopholes allowing access to censored websites, so proxies and VPNs that have worked for years may one day just stop working out of the blue.
It’s not just Facebook that is blocked in China! If you would like to get a better understanding of what is and isn’t blocked in China, check out this list of all the websites and apps blocked in China.
How to Access Facebook in China
The easiest, most secure and reliable way of circumventing the Great Firewall to access Facebook in China is by using a VPN or “Virtual Private Network” (here’s an updated list of my recommended VPNs), but you can also trial free and paid proxy sites or download the Tor bundle for browsing.
#1 Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network)
First things first, though: what is a VPN? A VPN, short for “Virtual Private Network”, is a way of encrypting your data for purposes of security and masquerading your network so that it looks as though you are somewhere else. You can establish a virtual point to point connection through servers, protocols and traffic encryption, allowing users to circumvent censorship, protect your personal data and location and securely send data across the world. For a more visual representation of what a VPN is, check out this helpful video on YouTube.
In the case of accessing Facebook in China, VPNs work by creating a secure, encrypted tunnel between your computer in mainland China and a VPN server somewhere else in the world, making it difficult for China’s cyber-police to determine which sites you’re actually visiting (and then block them).
Is a VPN illegal? No short answer is no, but there is more of a nuanced answer to the question. The purpose of a VPN is ultimately not circumventing censorship, it is security. They allow enhanced online security and are an important business tool, especially within global corporations.
Although they allow you to hide your identity, they are far from unbreakable, and if you are found participating in illegal activity while using a VPN, you can still get in trouble. There are also added security risks if you go choose to use a free VPN service rather than a paid one.
Although it might seem like a better option, signing up for a free VPN service often involves a whole lot more than that. Not only will you end up downloading a lot of unwanted software and facing a lot of pop-up ads, but you open yourself up to identity theft as your browsing data and even your bandwidth can be sold onto third parties and programs. Although there are a few legitimately free VPN alternatives such as Freegate- which is technically a proxy VPN- these are notoriously slow and unreliable, and handling anything more than loading your Facebook newsfeed is next to impossible (much less videos on Facebook!)
Bearing all that in mind, it’s well worth looking into paid alternatives. A lot of paid VPNs don’t actually work in China, but based on personal experience and plenty of research, our favorites are ExpressVPN and NordVPN (I actually recommend getting both – I’ll explain more below). Whichever option you choose, the most important thing is that you download it before you arrive in China, especially if you want to be able to access social media, news or even download new apps on your phone. Yep, the China’s censors has banned both iTunes and Google Play as well!
Choosing Your VPN for China
When choosing your VPN for China, first make sure that it comes with a money-back guarantee so that you can ensure that it works on your gadgets and that China doesn’t magically crack down on it just as you arrive! That’s why I recommend you get both ExpressVPN (use this link to get 3 months FREE with ExpressvPN) and NordVPN (get up to 70% off their annual plans with this link)- both of them offer 30-day money back guarantees so you can try them out for a couple weeks and figure out which one works best for you.
Another option, especially if you’re relocating to China or using multiple devices, is looking into VPN routers. Whether you purchase a physical VPN router or configure the VPN software manually onto your existing router, VPN routers are great (ExpressVPN offers a router to purchase that has a VPN pre-configured). They allow you to connect to your VPN directly from the router in your house and office rather than from your computer or phone, allowing your VPN to extend over the whole network and allowing all devices to use the same VPN.
#2 Using Proxies in China
An alternative (and sometimes cheaper) way to access blocked sites like Facebook in China is a proxy. A proxy is a website that is based in a different location that allows you to access other websites through it. Although the Chinese cyber-cops do their best to block any known web proxy sites, there are still some that find their way through the net.
Web-based proxies don’t require any installation and are just accessed through your normal browser. However, proxies will overload you with ads and are incredibly slow, meaning that it takes forever to load a single Facebook page, let alone post a tweet, comment on a photo or watch a YouTube video.
In short, proxies are an excellent short-term solution for accessing Facebook in China, but nothing that you would want to continue for the long term.
#3 Using Tor to Access Facebook in China
Once a fail-safe way to bypass the GFW’s strict censorship to use Facebook in China, these days the cyber-cops have been cracking down on Tor with a vengeance. For now, Tor remains one step ahead, and while the main HTTP site is blocked, the Tor bundle can still be downloaded via the HTTPS website.
Tor is a free anonymity network that uses onion routing to encrypt and bounce communications across a global network. This allows you to bypass firewalls or restrictions, but also considerably slows down connection speeds (worse than a VPN). Ideal for those who want a cheap way to bypass the firewall, Tor does not require any programs to be installed and can be run off a USB drive. On the other hand, only the Tor browser will bypass the firewall, meaning that you cannot browse on Chrome or Safari, and it is not as secure as other alternatives.
Conclusion | Accessing Facebook in China in 2019
While the Great Firewall is a bit of an inconvenience for those traveling or moving to China, it does not mean that you have to sacrifice your old browsing habits. You will, however, have to look for smarter alternatives to allow you to peruse the internet freely. If you want to access Facebook in China, you’ll need to use a VPN, proxy or Tor.
Although proxies and Tor are viable options for bypassing the GFW, especially as a short-term solution, their lack of security and slow connection speeds make it hard for us to recommend them for long-term usage. Instead, investing as little as $8 a month in a VPN seems like the smarter and more reliable choice, especially with the option to configure our routers to allow censor-free, secure and reliable browsing on all our devices.