How to Use WhatsApp in China 2019

The messaging app WhatsApp is a necessary tool for world travelers, as international roaming fee is usually quite high, using WhatsApp to communicate with your family members and friends could save a lot of cost, it costs nothing if you use WhatsApp in a hotel or restaurant with WiFi.


However, things are quite different in China, where numerous popular foreign websites and web apps are blocked nationwide due to the country’s strict internet censorship rules, which means anyone in China using Chinese internet networks can’t directly visit or use these websites and web apps, they need first circumvent the internet censorship before using WhatsApp, luckily it’s very easy to do that.

Before we get start to learn the method to use WhatsApp in China, let’s first talk about how WhatsApp can’t directly work in China.

Or you can quickly jump to this part of the page to learn the method to use WhatsApp in China.

How and Why WhatsApp can’t be directly used in China

WhatsApp is one of many blocked web services in China, the messaging app could be directly used in China in the past, it’s only blocked since October 2017. Now if you access internet using WiFi provided in Chinese hotels or coffee shops, the app will not work.

The authority of China don’t mind foreigners using WhatsApp in the country, but they can’t tolerate more and more of their own citizens started using WhatsApp. The reason behind this is that WhatsApp is a foreign app that is not under their control, the messages or files sent via WhatsApp by Chinese citizens can’t be monitored by the authority, while they can monitor anything shared on the country’s domestic websites or messaging apps.
Fortunately numerous people in China are still using WhatsApp despite the block, because it’s not difficult at all to bypass the block, it takes only a few seconds to do it, you do not really need to be a tech savvy. To learn how to unblock WhatsApp in China, let’s first briefly talk about the technology behind China’s blocking measure.
A large virtual filtering system called Great Firewall (Don’t be confused with Great Wall) is being used for blocking those popular foreign websites or web apps.

Great Wall of China
The name of Great Firewall is originated from the computing term firewall and the China’s most famous attraction, Great Wall

The Great Firewall will detect the IP addresses of the internet users inside the country, if a user’s IP address is detected being belong to China, then the traffic between the user and the blocked site or app will be interrupted, resulting in the browser showing “unable to connect” or the app showing just blank space. If you directly use WhatsApp in China with mobile data or WiFi, your IP address is certainly belong to China, hence will get blocked, but you can easily get a foreign IP address with the measure introduced below.

How to Unblock WhatsApp in China

Below are the methods to bypass the block to use WhatsApp from within China:

Using VPN service

The most used and easiest way to get access to blocked internet service or content is use a VPN service (The use of VPN is easy and same as using a normal app on smartphones), VPN will encrypt the user’s traffic and reroute it to an intermediary server located in a country outside of China, masking your real IP address, as a result, Great Firewall will believe you are using internet outside of the region under its control and hence doesn’t block your access to those foreign sites.

So to use WhatsApp in China, you need to first sign up a VPN service of your choice. Be aware that not all of the VPN services work in China, as the blocking technology of Great Firewall is much more advanced and complicated than that of other countries in the world, the Firewall is still constantly being upgraded to fight against those measures attempting circumvent its block. In 2017, lots of VPNs were cracked down by the Great Firewall.

As of 2019, only a few VPNs still work in China, the popular ones currently being used in China are ExpressVPN, NordVPN, VyprVPN, PureVPN.

If you have no idea about which VPN to choose, I recommend you to choose ExpressVPN, it’s currently the fastest VPN for China. Or you can read this article to compare the VPN services that work in China.
After you signed up the service on the VPN provider’s website, login to your VPN account, once you are logged in, you will find a link to download the VPN app and an activation code, which will then be used to activate the VPN service on your device(Some VPNs can be activated without activation code by logging in within the VPN app with user’s account name and password). And then download the VPN app, both mobile and computer version are available, though mobile version is more common in case of using WhatsApp. After the VPN app is installed on your phone, open it and you can activate the VPN service by logging in to your VPN account or by inputting the activation code which is shown in your account panel. The next step is to select your preferred country and city of VPN server(This step will get you a foreign IP address of the country you selected), usually there are tens of countries available for choosing.

VPN locations
The interface of VPN app showing a list of locations of VPN servers

After the VPN is connected you can simply leave the VPN app in the background and go back to WhatsApp, now you will find you can again use the service of WhatsApp just like in your home country. In the same time you will be able to gain the access to other blocked websites including Google, Facebook, YouTube, etc.
VPN service is not free, as the running of the remote VPN servers cost money. A monthly subscription to a VPN service cost about $3 to $14, depending on the brand and plan of the user’s choice. This amount of cost is generally still much less than international roaming fee, and almost nothing if compared to other travel budget like flights and lodging.
As to the legality of using VPN in China, it can be sure that it’s not prohibited, millions of citizens and companies in the country are using it every day for personal uses or businesses, none of them has been charged for that. But keep in mind that what you do with VPN is a totally different case, you are not allowed to do things explicitly forbidden by the Chinese law, using it for browsing websites or normal communicating is typically tolerated.

Related Post: Which is the best VPN for China in 2019

What if you are really on a budget? If you think VPN service is a little expensive to you, below are the cheaper ways that also work to bypass the block.

Using Shadowsocks

Aside from using VPN, using Shadowsocks is the other reliable method to access blocked websites or web-based service in China. Shadowsocks works very similar to a VPN, but using Shadowsocks is not as easy as using a VPN. You can think of using Shadowsocks as like using a VPN service that is set up by yourself. To use Shadowsocks, you will rent a remote server (the cost is much cheaper than that of a VPN service) and make it a proxy server, which is similar to a VPN server, then download a Shadowsocks client app to connect to the server, after that you will be able to use WhatsApp and other blocked sites and apps in China.

If you want to learn how to use Shadowsocks, here is the step by step guide to using Shadowsocks.

Using a proxy

A Proxy is similar to a VPN, proxy also works by rerouting the user’s internet data from the device to a remote server first, then connect to the wider internet. The difference is that most proxies don’t encrypt users’ data, while VPN will always encrypt users’ data into a secure tunnel. Therefore proxies can be more easily detected by Great Firewall and get blocked. The above mentioned Shadowsocks is actually also a proxy software, but it’s much more reliable than normal proxies as it encrypt users’ traffic and disguise the traffic to appear like normal https traffic, hence Great Firewall will ignore these traffic. That’s why Shadowsocks have been working fine in China for a long time. If you want to use a proxy, you can try to use Lantern, it’s free to download and use, but as explained above, proxies will be frequently interrupted by Great Firewall, so connection dropouts is common when you use Lantern, and sometimes the connection doesn’t form at all. Like most free proxies, it has data usage limitation, which is 500 M per month, after these data is run out, the proxy will no longer work to bypass the block. So you are highly recommended to stick with the methods of using VPN and Shadowsocks.

After read these you might have already learned the ways to use WhatsApp in China. However, what if you still have no idea of the way to use WhatsApp in China? You can try to use some alternative messaging apps.

Using alternative apps

Though some other most used messaging apps like Skype, Facebook Messenger, Telegram, Viber are also blocked in China, the country’s domestic messaging app WeChat can be used as an alternative of WhatsApp, it has English version and can be used in every country.

So it might be an option for you as long as your family members or close friends agree to use it and always have WeChat running on their devices.
However, as a service operated in China, WeChat is complying with the regulations and laws of China’s internet censorship, WeChat’s owner Tencent admits it shares all of its users’ private data to the Chinese authority under the legal duty. Chat logs and anything sent via or stored in the app is kept on WeChat’s servers for censoring, which means text messages, voice conversations, files, contact books, and users’ locations are all under the surveillance.
By contrast, WhatsApp makes use of end to end encryption ensuring that only the communicating users are able to read or listen the conversations.
It is mainly for the concern of security and privacy that WeChat can’t survive in the world outside of China, as it collects too much private information and data from its users.
So it’s recommended to use WhatsApp with a VPN or Shadowsocks, use WeChat only if the above mentioned issues are not of your concern.
While the censorship may seems weird and kind of excessive, many other aspects of China are highly praised, for instance, thanks to the country’s strict security system, traveling in China is much safer than in other countries, things like robbery, theft, traffic accident, shooting are rarely happened in Chinese cities. And China is being developed rapidly, this can be witnessed in many respects, one of the most noted phenomenon reflecting this is its fast growing amount of the skyscrapers around the whole country, by 2018, the number of skyscrapers in China that over 500 ft high has surpassed 3 times that of the United States.
Don’t know which places to visit in such a large country? Take a look at these 8 most beautiful attractions in China.

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