How To Use WhatsApp In China
WhatsApp is a popular messaging service that enables people to stay in touch without having to pay for SMS or phone calls. Using only data, WhatsApp is a much cheaper way to keep in touch with friends and family, especially those living or working overseas. Users can send photos, videos or just a simple text message safe in the knowledge that all your messages are encrypted so that no one other than you and the person you’re chatting with sees the content.
So, does WhatsApp work in China? Unfortunately, some governments have chosen to ban the app and its use possibly because of national security concerns or to encourage the use of local communication services. Either way, if you’re traveling to China, you’ll find it impossible to even send a text message on WhatsApp unless you can unblock WhatsApp with a VPN.
A couple of years ago, WhatsApp users in China started experiencing problems making calls and sending videos. These restrictions soon extended to simple text messages, and WhatsApp was soon throttled throughout the country. It’s believed the Chinese government had issues with the strong encryption which made it impossible for them to spy on users’ communications. Today, WhatsApp is banned in China and a few other countries, but it is possible to get around that throttling if you know how.
How to Use WhatsApp in China
If you can fool Chinese authorities into believing you’re outside the Great Firewall of China even while sipping tea in Beijing, you’ll be able to use WhatsApp just as you do at home. To achieve this, you need a couple of things, one of which is a VPN.
A VPN offers a simple solution to access blocked content and apps. By creating a fake IP address, a VPN can make it appear as though you’re connecting from the country of the secure server you’re connected to, rather than the country you’re actually in.
In other words, if you’re in China but use a VPN to connect to a US server, every site and app you access will perceive your request for access as coming from the US rather than China. Simple, hey? Well, for the most part, yes, but there are a couple of issues that need to be addressed. Firstly, how to get a reliable internet connection in China.
While public Wi-Fi connections are available in most of the big cities, if you’re traveling to rural China, you could well find yourself with limited access, or, worse still, none at all. One alternative is to arrange international roaming with your normal network carrier, although this can be expensive.
A cheaper way of staying connected and keeping in touch is to invest in a local SIM card. Bear in mind that, in order to do this, you’ll need to get your phone unlocked before you leave. You will also need to present your passport when you make a purchase, but the SIM card itself and the monthly tariffs are inexpensive. If you do decide to take this road, however, make sure you allocate plenty of time as it isn’t the most linear of processes!
Once you’ve got internet access, all you need to do is open your VPN and connect to a server outside Chinese territory, thereby avoiding being completely cut off from the rest of the world. Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? The only problem is, getting a VPN in China isn’t as simple as it is in other countries.
How to Use a VPN in China
By far the best approach is to install a VPN before you leave your home country, that way it’s already set you and functional before you set foot on Chinese soil. With most VPN apps removed from Chinese app stores, you basically need a VPN in order to buy a VPN, which is the ultimate catch-22.
To get around this problem, many of the best VPNs for China have created mirror sites which replicate the content on their official websites but use a different URL in order to get around the restrictions imposed by Chinese authorities.
Alternatively, if you’re using an Android device, you can download an APK file instead. An APK or Android Package Kit is the file format used by Android to install apps. By manually side-loading a VPN’s APK onto your device, you can get around the restrictions that prevent you from installing the app itself. The process for installing an APK is as follows:
- Go to your Security settings and allow installations from unknown sources
- Download the APK file you want from a reliable source (many leading VPNs have APKs available on their own sites)
- Click on the APK file to begin the installation
- Check the permissions required by the APK file, accept and continue with the installation.
While using an APK to get a VPN on your Android device is, as you can see, straightforward, it does have a few drawbacks, the main one being the possibility of that file containing malicious code that could infect your device or even steal your data. The best way to avoid such unpleasantries is to ensure the APK file originates from a reliable source which is why mirror sites are so popular.
The Best VPNs for WhatsApp in China
There really is a wide range of options available and, when you first start shopping around for a VPN, the free ones are bound to catch your eye. However, despite the developers’ claims, many of these lack the power and agility required to circumvent China’s ferocious firewall. Free software always comes with a price and that price can be astronomical when it comes to free VPN services, some of which have been proven to track your online activities and share your personal information with third parties.
Our recommendation is to avoid free VPNs altogether and rather look for one that has a proven track record for navigating around China’s online censorship. Based on this criterion and a few more besides, we recommend the following four VPNs as the best for using WhatsApp in China.
#1 ExpressVPN – The Best VPN for WhatsApp
Powerful, reliable and dedicated to user privacy, ExpressVPN is one of the most popular VPNs around. ExpressVPN keeps close tabs on Chinese censorship, ensuring it’s always one step ahead of the censors and that its China-based users have reliable access to blocked content.
ExpressVPN is known for its speeds which are some of the fastest in the world, even when connecting to servers situated on the other side of the world. With apps available for all major operating systems, installing and navigating your way around ExpressVPN is surprisingly simple.
In addition to AES-256 encryption, ExpressVPN protects its users with an automatic kill switch that will instantly sever all connections should the VPN fail. This is crucial in China where any unencrypted traffic is liable to be intercepted by government authorities.
ExpressVPN has a proven no-logging policy so you know your secrets are safe with them. This is bolstered even further by ExpressVPN’s advanced security features, including zero-knowledge DNS and TrustedServer technology. The first of these ensures none of ExpressVPN’s servers retain any information about the DNS traffic it handled during the course of the day, while the latter guarantees that the server operates in RAM only, never saving information on a hard drive.
Impressive speeds and trailblazing security make ExpressVPN an obvious choice for those wanting to use WhatsApp in China, while its innovative customer support is the best around, ensuring any problems that do occur are resolved in the blink of an eye. A robust all-rounder when it comes to online protection, ExpressVPN is a trailblazer when it comes to online freedom and privacy which is why we recommend it as the best VPN for China – check out our review here. Even better, if you sign up now, you can save up to 49%!
#2 Surfshark VPN – Best Budget VPN for WhatsApp
This newcomer to the cybersecurity scene seems determined to achieve the impossible. Not only is it delivering highly competitive speeds using a comparatively tiny server network, but it’s also managing to fly under the radar of Chinese authorities. As a result, Surfshark has, over the two years of its existence, consistently managed to find a way through, over, or under the Great Firewall of China. Our only concern is, as it grows and its customer base increases, will it be able to maintain this track record?
Utilizing the same AES-256 encryption as ExpressVPN, Surfshark has similarly effective security features, including CleanWeb which will keep your browsing sessions free of adverts and trackers, and keep phishing attempts at bay. Its Whitelister feature helps boost speeds by only encrypting the traffic you flag while allowing secure or innocuous traffic to bypass the VPN tunnel.
With just over 800 servers worldwide, Surfshark has nowhere near the coverage of our other top VPNs. Its servers don’t know this, though, and produce highly competitive speeds in all the 50 countries Surfshark occupies.
Like ExpressVPN, Surfshark has a strict no-logging policy which gains additional weight from its location in the British Virgin Islands where there are no mandatory data retention laws. Surfshark complements its no-logging policy with a kill switch while offering the uber-paranoid a double layer of protection and encryption with its MultiHop feature which diverts all traffic through two secure servers instead of just one.
As a new kid on the block, so to speak, Surfshark’s kept its pricing extremely competitive, making it a great budget option for those wanting to use WhatsApp in China. What’s more, you can share Surfshark will all your friends as it gives you permission to connect as many devices as you like at any one time. Overall, Surfshark offers a solid service at a competitive price and, we hope, will continue to do so as it matures.
#3 NordVPN – Most Reliable VPN for WhatsApp
With one of the biggest networks of VPN servers in the world, NordVPN provides reliable connections from the most remote locations. To make sure its users have consistent access from China, NordVPN uses obfuscated servers which basically make VPN traffic look like regular traffic, thereby sneaking past even the most vigilant of censors.
NordVPN was one of the first to introduce the now industry-standard AES-256 encryption and also makes use of a variety of security protocols to give its users the best chance of a fast connection. Despite having over 5,000 servers, NordVPN doesn’t always produce the best speeds but its security is second to none.
Connect up to six devices on a single subscription and get the benefit of top-class protection. NordVPN’s apps are easy to use and it has produced one for every imaginable operating system out there, so, whether you’re an Android addict or an iOS devotee, NordVPN’s got you covered. A graphic main interface makes connecting to your server of choice extremely straightforward, even with so many to choose from!
Although NordVPN had to defend itself against rumors regarding its logging policy not so long ago, we’re confident that its point has been proved and it is a trustworthy no-logging VPN. Being situated in Panama helps matters, ensuring that all user data remains far from the prying Five and 15 Eyes intelligence-sharing alliances.
It may not be as fast as ExpressVPN or as affordable as Surfshark, but if you want guaranteed access to WhatsApp in China, you can’t go wrong with NordVPN.
There are few places in the world as heavily censored as China and visitors to the Far East are liable to find it impossible to access apps like WhatsApp and even social media sites like Facebook. While these aren’t the only banned sites or apps in China, they are some of the most popular when it comes to keeping in touch with friends and family back home.
Although WhatsApp encrypts all messages, some fear that’s not enough. Students traveling to China from the University of California, Davis, have been advised not to use the messaging app at all after three Canadian citizens were detained using exit bans and the “arbitrary enforcement of local laws”. The memo stated that university representatives were concerned that messages could be misconstrued by Chinese authorities and used “to levy charges or as an excuse to deny departure”.
In light of these warnings, if you’re taking a trip to China, whether it’s to see the eerie spectacle of the Terracotta Army in Xi’an, or to test your entrepreneurial abilities in the cut-throat business world of Beijing, a VPN is the only way to make sure you can enjoy the same online freedoms there as you do at home and stay under the radar of Chinese censors.
Of course, if you’re doing business, keeping confidential data safe and securing your communications is vital, which is why only the best VPNs will do. Cutting-edge encryption, a strict no-logging policy coupled with an automatic kill switch and international support are vital if you want to use WhatsApp in China so it’s important to select your VPN provider with care.