When it comes to internet access in China, tourists often have questions and concerns about the country’s unique internet landscape, which includes network coverage, access methods, censorship, and restrictions. Here are some common questions and answers about internet access in China.
1. What does China’s internet access Look like by 2023?
China’s internet population grew by 11 million in June 2023. 4G networks cover almost all cities and villages, and there are currently more than 2,937,000 5G base stations. So, when traveling in China, tourists can access the internet in most areas, except when driving to uninhabited areas.
According to data from July 2023, China is ranked 12th in the world for mobile internet speeds and 7th for fixed broadband. Internet access in China is typically a positive experience.
2. Which websites and social media platforms are blocked in China in 2023?
- Google Apps (Drive, Docs, Calendar, Maps etc.)
- Microsoft OneDrive
- Google Play (i.e. no downloading Android apps)
Most Western news sites are blocked in China, such as the following major sites:
- New York Times
- Financial Times
- Wall Street Journal
- Google (text and voice)
- Amazon (Alexa)
You can use Bing in China, but the results within China are censored.
- Facebook Messenger
- KaKao Talk (Korean)
- Skype (although it sometimes works, it’s not reliable)
- Google Hangouts
3. How can I access blocked websites and apps in China?
Although international roaming allows you to bypass the restrictions of the China Great Firewall, it is not a good choice if you plan to stay in China for an extended period of time because the costs are very high. Therefore, it is recommended to download VPN apps before your departure and purchase local data plans in China.
4. What must I do to access the internet on my cell phone before I leave for China？
. Check network compatibility
Your phone may or may not be compatible with Chinese networks. If your phone supports GSM technology, it should work with Chinese carriers. However, it’s important to check if your phone is unlocked, meaning it can accept a SIM card from a different carrier. If your phone is locked to a specific carrier, you may need to contact your carrier to unlock it or consider using an international roaming plan.
. Download VPN app
It is advisable to download two or more VPN apps as their performance can sometimes be unstable. Before entering China, I searched for the latest VPN recommendation videos on YouTube to ensure unrestricted internet access during my time in China. The latest content often has higher reliability.
5. How can I get cheap, reliable and high-speed internet access in China?
Option 1: Get a local SIM card:
Online purchase: Before you leave, you can conveniently purchase a SIM card and data package from the website Nihao Mobile. Simply provide your hotel’s delivery address, and the package will be delivered to you the next day at the earliest. In China, you will be amazed by the speedy express delivery service. If you wish to start using your phone as soon as you arrive at a Chinese airport, you can also pre-purchase a SIM card with data from Amazon.
Airport purchase: Many international airports have service counters operated by China’s two major telecom operators, China Mobile and China Unicom. When purchasing SIM cards and data packages, foreigners are required to present their passports. The drawback of buying at the airport is the higher price.
Telecom operators stores: To locate the nearest service carrier shop and purchage the SIM card.
Option 2: Buy a China phone
If you cannot ensure that your phone is compatible with Chinese networks before your departure, to avoid the hassle of unlocking your phone, you can always purchase an inexpensive phone when you arrive in China.
6. What is the Chinese equivalent of Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Youtube or Amazon?
If you are traveling to China for study, work, or if you want to know more about China while you are traveling there, I suggest you use and browse websites or social platforms that are commonly used by Chinese people.
Below is a list of the corresponding Western and Chinese websites or social media platforms of the same type：
- Google — Baidu, Bing
- Facebook, Twitter — Weibo，WeChat
- Instagram — 小红书
- TikTok — 抖音，快手
- Youtube — bilibili
- Amazon —Taobao，拼多多
- Slype — WeChat
7. Are there any restrictions on personal social platform usage in China?
China has a strict regulatory mechanism for content published on social platforms, automatically blocking content that deviates from mainstream Chinese values. Content on Chinese social platforms must adhere to local laws and regulations.
8. Is VPN (Virtual Private Network) legal in China in 2023?
Although China utilizes firewalls to block many foreign websites and social platforms, whether or not the use of a VPN violates the law is determined on a case-by-case basis.
In general, the use of a VPN does not violate Chinese law, but the use of a VPN to create, copy, access and disseminate on the Internet acts that incite, resist, or undermine China’s Constitution and laws, as well as administrative regulations, is a violation of Chinese law.
9. What are the rules regarding online content and censorship in China?
- Opposing the basic principles determined by the Constitution;
- Endangering national security, leaking state secrets, subverting state power and undermining national unity;
- Damaging the honor and interests of the state;
- Inciting ethnic hatred and ethnic discrimination, and undermining national unity
- Undermining the state’s religious policy and promoting cults and feudal superstitions;
- Spreading rumors, disturbing social order and undermining social stability;
- Spreading obscenity, pornography, gambling, violence, murder, terror or abetting a crime;
- Insult or slander others, infringing on the legitimate rights and interests of others;
- Containing other contents prohibited by laws and administrative regulations.
10. Are Free Wi-Fi connections available in hotels, restaurants, and cafes？
Hotels in China usually offer free Wi-Fi connections. Some restaurants or coffee shops also offer free Wi-Fi, and you usually need to ask the waiter for the account number and password for the link.
11. Are Free Wi-Fi connections available in Airports, Train Stations, Bullet Trains, Cruises?
Yes, free Wi-Fi is available on China’s high-speed railways, as well as in most airports, train stations, and cruise ships. However, it should be noted that Wi-Fi access in these public places typically requires a cell phone verification code, which may not always be sent to foreign cell phone numbers. Therefore, to use the free Wi-Fi in these locations, you usually need to have a Chinese cell phone number.
12. Is it safe to use public Wi-Fi networks in China?
Generally, public Wi-Fi networks in China are safe, but it’s advisable not to enter sensitive personal information, like your bank card details, on web pages while using free public Wi-Fi to minimize the risk of occasional incidents.
13. How does the Chinese government monitor internet activity?
Commonly, Chinese government monitoring online activities (including WeChat and other social platforms) is using key words.
Must-Download Mobile Apps in China
1. mobile payment apps
Mobile payment is widely utilized in China, and not being able to pay by mobile phone can lead to significant difficulties.
Currently, Alipay is the most user-friendly mobile payment app for foreigners. To learn how to recharge funds and make various payments, such as purchasing goods, ordering takeout, using various modes of urban transportation like taxis, subways, buses, and bikes, as well as booking domestic air and train tickets in China, please refer to the following article:
WeChat pay is another commonly used payment app. If you need to keep in touch with your tour guide or new friends you meet while traveling, then be sure to download WeChat, which is a very powerful social app.
To learn more about WeChat Pay, read the article: WeChat Pay for foreigners in China in 2023: A comprehensive guide to using WeChat Pay as an Expat
2. Maps and Taxi apps
Baidu Maps and Gaode Maps are widely used in China and provide detailed maps, navigation, real-time traffic information, public transportation routes, and taxi-hailing services.
If you are unable to read Chinese, you can also use the iPhone Maps app to look up directions. There is no need to open a VPN to use the iPhone Maps app. For taxi-hailing, you can use either Alipay or Didi.
3. Apps that helps you find good food
In China, people can buy everything they need without leaving home. Among them, “饿了么” and “美团外卖” are apps for ordering food delivery, buying fruits, and daily necessities. You can also click ‘Takeout’ on the Alipay app to enter the app ‘饿了么’.
If you want to find nearby restaurants recommended by everyone, then you need to download the app “大众点评“.
In short, China is a highly digitalized country, and its service providers are highly developed. Hope this article is helpful for your travel.