The internet environment in China

Most of you (whether you have traveled to China yet or not) will have heard about internet censorship in China. This phenomenon, called “The Great Firewall” by some, is something you need to think about before coming to China.

A number of websites, apps, and services which you use daily in your home country might be blocked and inaccessible when you arrive in the country.

Sample list of blocked services

It is difficult to give a definitive answer to the question which websites, apps, and services are blocked in China. This list is constantly evolving and changing. I have nonetheless tried to put together an overview with prominent examples for websites, apps and services:

Social Websites and Apps

A vast majority of social networks (both the website and the app version) are blocked temporarily or completely in China. Well-known examples are: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Snapchat, Picasa, Flickr, Google+, Google Hangouts, Tinder, and Xing.

Blogging Websites and Platforms

Both and powered sites are blocked as well. Since these services run in the background, you might sometimes not even be aware that a certain site runs on Blogger or WordPress. But when opening them, you will notice that opening times are extremely long, or the site won’t open at all.

Emailing Services

The main email service affected by the Great Firewall is Google’s Gmail. So, if you have a Gmail account, consider getting an alternative email before coming into the country.

Search Engines

The largest search engine in the world, Google, is censored in China. Other search engines that are affected are DuckDuckGo and Yahoo, as well as some smaller ones.

Messaging Apps

Many messaging apps won’t open while you are accessing the web in China, mainly Facebook’s messenger, slack, WhatsApp, Line, and KakaoTalk. Or sometimes you will be able to access them, but some messages will take a long time (hours or even days) to transmit, and oftentimes pictures will not load or won’t send at all.

Streaming Apps and Websites

Many of the major streaming services are blocked in the Middle Kingdom as well, such as YouTube, Netflix, Vimeo, Vevo, Spotify, Hulu, SoundCloud, HBO, PlayStation, Bet365, NBC’s and Fox’ streaming services and more.

News Websites

A lot of the world’s largest news websites are censored in China. Examples are the New York Times, the BBC, the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Reuters, the Independent, Le Monde, L’Equipe, Der Spiegel, the Epoch Times, and more.

Cloud Storage, Information, and Sharing

When it comes to information websites, cloud storage solutions, and sharing platforms, here is a partial list of what is inaccessible: Wikipedia, Wikileaks, Google Drive, Google Docs, Google Calendar, Dropbox, Shutterstock, SlideShare, Slack (mentioned above), iStockPhoto, Scribd, and Piratebay.


Other platforms you might have trouble accessing are,, Quora, Amnesty International, various publications promoting Tibet as a separate state, the site of German TV channel NDR, and more.

This list is far from complete, but gives you a rough overview of sites and services that are currently blocked.

How to check whether a service you habitually use is blocked

If you would like to check whether a certain site or service you use in your home country is blocked in China, there are tools online which let you do so. The advantage of knowing before you leave your country are obvious – you can cancel any existing subscriptions and avoid wasting money and/or find an alternative that works fine in China. One tool you could use to check is this one by vpnMentor.

What to do?

There are really two options for how to deal with the Great Firewall. The first one is to find alternatives to the apps you are used to that will still work in China in spite of the censorship. The second option is to circumvent the barrier altogether.

Should that be your wish, what you need is a virtual private network (a VPN). It is what I am using to continue posting on Facebook and Instagram, even though I am located in China at present. This service sets up a secure connection between you and the internet. When using a VPN, all your data traffic flows through an encrypted virtual tunnel. This means that your IP address is disguised when you use the internet, making your location invisible to everyone, including the Chinese authorities.

Most VPN services give you a choice of servers that are located in various locations, making it appear as if YOU were in those locations, and letting you access the services normally blocked in China.

The choice of VPNs is almost endless, but there are differences in the services they offer. Some are free to use, but those tend to resell your data to companies for various purposes. Most services are paid, and prices can vary by quite a bit.

So, what should you pay attention to when picking a VPN? I would check that it offers

  • a large variety of servers
  • quick debugging options when regulations tighten and most VPNs fold
  • good customer service

The VPN I myself have been using since 2014 and have been very happy with all this time is ExpressVPN. What I love about them is that they have a large number of different servers (even several that allow me to use Netflix USA while I am in China), and their customer service is lightning-fast and super friendly. They have a round-the-clock chat option and I have always been treated very courteously by the support staff.

If you would like to give them a try, feel free to do so through this link. It lets me earn a small commission, at no cost whatsoever to you. I only recommend services I absolutely love and trust, and have been using myself.

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