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The Best Guide to Access the (Real) Internet in China

Pretty much the entire internet as we know it is blocked in mainland China as part of the country’s pervasive internet censorship. You can definitely still access anything you want through informal methods though.

1. How to Use a VPN the Right Way

This is the easiest method but there are some particularities with how you can use a VPN in China.

The trick here is that many of the mainstream VPN services like NordVPN, ExpressVPN and Surfshark claim that they can bypass China’s firewall but that’s not actually the case. Almost all of them have constant trouble connecting you to a server outside of China because the government has cracked down pretty hard on your ability to use a VPN inside the country.

So far the only VPNs that I know of that reliably work in mainland China are:

  • – Let’sVPN
  • – Astrill
  • – Mullvad
  • – 3HK
  • – Veee

A smart thing to do is to set up the VPN on your computer and phone before you get on your flight to China because once you’re there it’s harder to download and install it. Downloading the VPN when you’re already in China also opens you up to more legal scrutiny because the government can now see that you’re downloading a certain VPN. Since they can intercept anything you do over fiber or SIM card internet they’ll also see what VPN you’re trying to set up.

2. Proxy Servers

Similar to VPNs but generally less secure and reliable. You would have to find a very particular proxy server that is not blacklisted by Chinese ISPs and test it to see if it works.

3. Using a Satellite Phone

Satellite phones are actually more and more common these days because satellite internet is getting significantly cheaper. It can obviously bypass CCP’s Firewall because you’re not actually connecting to a Chinese ISP. It’s still the most expensive option for now.

This is also by far the most reliable option you can use if you have deep pockets and the significantly higher cost is not an issue for you.

4. The Tor With Bridges Method

The Tor network with unlisted bridge relays has been successfully bypassing CCP’s Firewall for a while. If you know how to use Tor, you need to configure obfs4 bridges for better results.

This is one of the slower methods, so even though it’s very hard for China to detect it, don’t expect to stream 4K videos or play Fortnite using it.

5. Expect Chinese Authorities to Cut Access to The Internet Out of Nowhere

Since China is such a tightly controlled nation especially after 2020, the government constantly cuts access to the internet whenever they want to do crowd control or suspect certain protests could get organized. Yes, that includes access to their own version of the internet, so your only option to get info to and from the outside world is to use a a satellite phone.

6. Starlink Is Useless in China

Starlink is actually of no use in China and many other totalitarian countries like Iran, Russia and pretty much anywhere else other than the countries that gave them permission to operate.

7. Some Corporate, Educational and Embassy/Consular Networks Might Have Access to the Real Internet

According to some less reliable sources that I could find, China is actually allowing some universities, corporate environments and embassies to legally bypass their Firewall without using a VPN. While it’s unlikely you’ll have access to those very specific places, if you’re going there for school or some very specific corporate setting or as a consul/ambassador you might want to ask whether you have this benefit available to you.

8. The Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan Loophole

If you will be traveling or living in one of these cities close to Hong Kong and Macao:

  • – Guangzhou
  • – Shenzen
  • – Zhongshan
  • – Jiangmen
  • – Foshan

Then you can physically travel to those 2 independent Chinese cities officially called *Special Administrative Regions* and use the internet like you normally would without a VPN. If you still want to use a VPN, the mainstream ones like NordVPN, ExpressVPN and Surfshark will work just fine out of these two cities.

If you’re in:

  • – Zhangzhou
  • – Xiamen
  • – Quanzhou
  • – Kinmen

You can take a quick ferry or flight to Taiwan.

When it comes to Taiwan, while it’s not an internationally recognized independent nation, they are de facto separate from the People’s Republic of China and more importantly the Chinese Communist Party. Because of that, the Great Firewall of China won’t affect you in the slightest while you’re in Taiwan.

9. The Legal Risk For You as a Foreigner

So first of all, using a VPN in China is illegal. Even though technically and empirically speaking, it’s unlikely to land you in hot water, especially if you’re only going there on vacation you’re still exposing yourself to some risks.

Using or not using a VPN in China is like a double edged sword. If you don’t use it, you’re exposed to direct surveillance from the Chinese Communist Party but if you do use it you’re also exposing yourself to being locked up for breaking the law. Since the enforcement of the law in China is very volatile and sometimes targeted, it’s actually kind of tough to recommend either of the two decisions. Personally I would probably choose the VPN option but until that happens I’ll just avoid going to China altogether.

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