Before living in China for a semester (or even just visiting for a week or so) you have got to know that China blocks your favorite websites! Don't worry — you can still use Facebook and Google if you know these travel tips.
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Have you heard of the great firewall of China? It is essentially an internet firewall to keep out all of the things that are deemed inappropriate by the government of China. The firewall was created to maintain the integrity and cultural ideology of China ... while still allowing the internet to be used for business.
Basically that means that while you're teaching in China with ILP, you'll find out that you can't use websites like Facebook, Blogger, Instagram or anything Google related unless you have a VPN.
What's A VPN?
A VPN (or Virtual Private Network) basically makes your computer look like you're not in China, but that you're somewhere else — somewhere that allows those websites. While there are many reasons VPNs are used, they are frequently used by foreigners who are traveling to China who want to access the sites they typically use back at home.
What Websites Are Blocked?
You'll be able to use the internet without a VPN but you won't be able to access your favorite websites like:
- Everything Google: Gmail, Google Drive and Google Docs, YouTube, etc
- Social media: Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook
- Streaming entertainment: Netflix and Hulu
- Sharing videos: Vimeo
- Media storage and sharing: Dropbox
- Blogs: Blogspot
To check and see what other websites are blocked you can visit this super handy website.
So, with a VPN, you can access those sites?
Yep! If you do a little research, you'll see that there are so many options for VPNs and that can be a little overwhelming. We have compiled a list of recommendations and bad reviews from our ILP volunteers based on their experiences. Hopefully this helps you to find one that works well.
One really important note!
If you choose to use a VPN, you really need to download it BEFORE going to China. If you wait until you're already in China, you run the risk of it not working.
Here Are A Few Recommendations:
As a head's up, just know that the longer you get the VPN for, the smaller the cost per month is (getting a VPN for 6 months will most likely be cheaper than getting it for just 1 month). All of these VPN recommendations can work on a phone, laptop or tablet.
Check out all the pricing options and make a choice depending on what works best for you!
*Pricing was last updated March 2020. You'll want to double check their site for most up to date information and current sales.
You'll also find a bunch of free VPNs out there. My biggest word of caution is to remember that sometimes you but get what you pay for. It's important that you want to install your VPN before you get to China, so if you take your chances with a free VPN just know you might not be able to change your mind later on when you're in China and it's not working as great as you hoped. However, some volunteers have said that Snap VPN work pretty well. If you're interested in that one, you can get it on Google Play, Apple, and Android.
This is a USA based company that has made an effort to have the speed of their VPN boosted just for China! We've had lots of volunteers who have had good luck with this VPN (this is also the VPN I personally use and love). They've got a $9.99/month plan for 6 months which is a good option for volunteers living abroad for an entire semester, otherwise plan on paying $12.95 per month. There's also options for cheaper pricing if you're signing up for longer subscriptions.
Their package lets you connect 5 devices simultaneously for $12.95 if you're buying it month to month. Some ILP groups have coordinated to purchase a VPN between 2-3 people if it can connect to multiple devices, so you can also do that to keep costs low. There's also options for cheaper pricing if you're signing up for longer subscriptions.
This is another VPN that ILP volunteers have said they've had luck with. You can connect up to 3 devices simultaneously for $9/month which is one of the better deals you'll find. There's also options for cheaper pricing if you're signing up for longer subscriptions.
We've also been hearing good reviews about this VPN, so sounds like another good option to check out. Their plan is $11.95/month with options for cheaper pricing if you're signing up for longer subscriptions.
VPNs that volunteers have given bad reviews for
Like we said before, free VPNs are a bit of gamble, so we've put together this list of VPNs that volunteers have said they didn't really love to help you narrow your options down.
- Strong VPN
- Hotspot Shield
Want to learn more about spending a semester teaching in China?
ILP sends American college-age volunteers to spend about 4 months living in China like a local, teaching English, and having big adventures. To put it lightly, it's an experience you'll always remember. Come check it out!