Moving to China can be a great opportunity for work and to embrace new cultural experiences. Like any other major transition, the move will come with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. While on one side, you’ll be immersed in incredible history and way of life, you will also have to deal with China’s aggressive internet censorship.
Known as the Great Firewall, China’s internet censorship system is made up of both technical and legislative measures that block access to many websites, restrict discussions on certain topics, and monitor people’s communications.
If you’ve lived in almost any other country, you essentially have to find a way to subvert these restrictions, because many of the websites and platforms that your friends and family use are blocked. Unless everyone you want to keep in contact with is already on WeChat, you will need to find a way to access websites and apps like Facebook, WhatsApp, and Skype.
Connecting to people back home isn’t the only reason you may want to evade the Great Firewall. You may also want to access the open internet so that you can look at unrestricted news and content.
Even sites like Wikipedia, The Guardian, and The Washington Post are blocked in China, as well as any information on a wide range of topics deemed harmful by the government. This list of banned websites covers more of the most popular sites that have been blocked.
How Can You Beat the Great Firewall?
If you want to use blocked platforms or access restricted content while in China, the best way to go about it is with a VPN. Virtual private networks essentially create encrypted tunnels between your phone or computer and the VPN provider’s server that they connect to.
This means that when your web traffic goes past China’s censorship technology, all that it can see is a jumbled mess of encrypted ciphertext. If the systems can’t see what you are doing, then it’s much harder for them to block it.
Over the years, China’s censorship systems to have become more and more advanced, cracking down on VPN operators and those that use the services to access the open internet. Many of the VPN services that used to be able to circumvent the Great Firewall are now blocked.
In this cat-and-mouse game, only the most advanced and dedicated VPN providers can stay ahead of the authorities. Since the landscape is constantly changing, it’s hard for potential VPN users to find out which service will work in their situation.
How Can You Find a Working VPN?
One of the best places to start is this guide on which services still work in 2019. Bear in mind that the situation is dynamic, and there is no guarantee that the VPNs that worked in the article will work in your current circumstances.
It’s best to use the list as a starting place, and then try out whichever VPNs you like the look of. Most of these operators offer free trials or periods of 30 days during which they will give you your money back if you are unsatisfied with their service. However, it’s important to sign up and download the necessary apps ahead of time, because VPN websites and major app stores are often blocked in China.
It’s best to take advantage of these opportunities to make sure that you can get the service to work before you make a long-term commitment. You should also be aware that just because a VPN is functioning at the moment, there’s no guarantee that it will work in the future.
While it’s usually cheaper to subscribe to a VPN for a longer period of time, you need to weigh up the risks of your service getting blocked. No one wants to get stuck paying for a service that they can’t use any more.
Once you’ve done a little bit of research and tried out a service, you can subscribe and then happily access every part of the internet that you normally visit. VPNs make it easy to log on to Facebook to see what’s been happening, to chat with your friends on WhatsApp, or even read foreign news. All you have to do is connect, and you’re good to go.
Paul Bischoff is a tech writer covering IT-related subjects since 2012. A digital nomad who depends on the internet to make a living, he’s always seeking out the best value and highest quality products and services on the web. He previously worked as the China editor at Tech in Asia and is a regular contributor at Mashable, as well as several blogs for internet startups around the world. You can find him on Twitter at @pabischoff.