A Little Adrift

A Little Advice…VPN to Get Around the Great Firewall of China

I feared entering China – and not because I didn’t think they’d let me in; my visa was expensive (US $150) but easy to get. No, it was the thought of being without internet access. All I have read about in the news these last few years has centered on the Great Firewall of China and the censors the Chinese government has in place to keep information firmly outside of their borders–they incubate their citizens from certain topics we find commonplace in the world outside of China and foreigners and concerned citizens are forced to use a VPN for the  internet. (VPN reviews & various short and long-term options below, updated in 2014).

Not THAT Great Wall – we’re talking the Great Firewall of Internet censorship!

And some of those subjects happen to be precisely the arenas my clients play within. Part of my story is the fact that I work from the road consistently, the whole way around the world – it’s how I pay for it all. So, entering China meant potentially losing access to my client’s sites. What’s a traveling worker to do?

Steps to Overcome China’s Great Firewall

Researching the real story about accessing blocked websites from China yielded no conclusive results. In fact, information around these here inter-webs was sketchy at best. I concluded that it wouldn’t be hard to login to Facebook even though it’s censored, but what about the rest of the world wide web?

It’s all there. But you’re going to need a VPN (a virtual private network) installed on any of your devices in order go around China’s censors. I’m not a travel techy guru, I leave that to other tech travel bloggers, but here’s what I figured out:

Test Your Site in China

For those working remotely, the first step is finding out which websites if the websites you need are even blocked.

The Great Firewall of China.org is is a wonderfully simple site—you type in the website you’ll need access to and they tell you if it’s blocked in China. And it even details out which regions of China have blocked the site.

Install the Appropriate VPN Programs

Depending on how long you’re staying in China should determine if you go the free VPN route or choose one of the paid options. For the free ones though, keep in mind that these are open and public servers that you are routing through and you should protect your privacy and don’t log into your bank account and sensitive information!

If you’re in research mode, here are the five top-ranked providers in 2013, they list a few I haven’t linked to here. Also remember that it is imperative that you download and install your VPNs before you enter a restricted country or it’s all a lot harder.

What to Expect from VPNs and China’s Firewall

Prepping for a conference call on a street corner after hunting down wifi in Australia

With China being China, it’s best to say you should be prepared for the unexpected. Everyone had assured me I could access my Gmail account without issue – and then the very day I landed in Beijing the two powers that be (Google and China) had a little kerfuffle and Google accused China of blocking Gmail – which it had. Briefly.

Additionally, some hostel computers will actually have VPN installed on their shared-used computers, so that’s an option too!

I decided to take make a mini-vacation out of my time traveling in China, but was still grateful to have access to the outside world when needed thanks to VPN services.

If you’re planning long-term or RTW travel our planning advice may help clarify other issues besides VPNs that can crop up!

Any other tips, thoughts, advice on VPN services and China’s Great Firewall?