Is it possible to access Google in China in 2020? Even though Google has been blocked in China since early 2011, I still remain a regular user of all Google services, 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.
Let’s start with one simple question that needs to be answer: Is Google blocked in China?
And the answer is simple: yes, it is.
When it comes to being censored within China, though, Google is in good company. There are many other blocked websites and apps in China such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, not to mention the “western media” that has been heavily censored.
What sets Google apart is that it’s not just one simple service; the block encompasses ALL things Google in China. This includes stuff that most of us use on a daily basis such as Gmail, Google Docs, Google Maps, YouTube and more. Yes…all of it is blocked.
So what are your options? Thankfully, not all hope is lost. Here are three simple steps to get you connected to Google 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.
Step 1: Access the Internet in China
It sounds simple enough to access the internet in China, right? 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, especially since a lot of Wifi requires the ability to receive a text PIN (thus needing a working phone number in China). If this is your preferred method of connecting, you’ll want to read this guide on 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. 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 and is usually billed to you on a per day basis. Beware: it can be expensive.
- Via a China SIM card: Although a bit time consuming, 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.
- Via a Rented China Phone: Of course, if you want to eliminate all the hassle of the above options, you can also consider renting a phone in China. There are services that will mail you a phone to your home that will work the moment you land in China. You can rent cheap Android phones or nicer Apple iPhones.
It’s important to understand that accessing the internet in China is just the first challenge you face. Even if you’ve chosen international roaming, once you arrive in China, many of your favorite apps will still be blocked including, as we’ve already discussed, everything Google-related.
Step 2: Connect to a VPN (Virtual Private Network)
Ideally, you will setup a 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 or computer right now. A subscription to one VPN will give you access to Google in China on both a laptop and phone/tablet.
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 Google services like Gmail, Google Maps, Google Search and allow you to watch YouTube in China. There’s no need to dive into the specifics of how it works, 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 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. I use these VPNs equally and have active subscriptions to both.
Step 3: Log on to Google in China!
One you have access to the internet on your phone and a reliable VPN installed and running, you should be able to log onto Google’s homepage and use Google in China, including all services on your computer or phone without any problems!
It’s perfectly fine to keep your VPN connection running at all times while you’re traveling around China (that’s what I do personally). Because a VPN does slow down your connection slightly, though, I know some people who prefer to only connect when they need it.
There are times in China when you will need to disconnect and then reconnect to another VPN server, but that doesn’t happen very often to me. I’ve been able to stay connected via Gmail in China for the past decade and use Google search pretty much on a daily basis. Only on rare occasions has my access to Google in China been cut.
Final Thoughts | Using Google in China
It’s quite possible to use Google in China – and I hope you have a chance to do so! Whether you’re a daily Gmail user, you love to watch YouTube videos, or you need to have access to Google Maps so you don’t get lost, access to Google is often invaluable.
Were you able to use Google while traveling in China? How did it go for you? Let me know in the comments below.