You may have heard that there are many apps banned in China.

Essentially, Chinese people can’t access apps and websites that the government doesn’t want them using.

It’s often referred to as The Great Firewall of China, limiting what you can see on the Chinese internet. This also affects foreigners using Wi-Fi in China.

Luckily though, you can get around this by getting a VPN before you arrive (more on that later).

Apps banned in China

Here’s a list of all the major apps banned in mainland China. The equivalent websites are blocked too.

Google lovers

  • Google
  • Gmail
  • Google Play
  • Google Chat
  • Google Maps
  • Google Drive
  • Google News
  • Basically anything Google related!

Socials

  • Facebook
  • Facebook Messenger
  • TikTok (the local censored version is called Douyin)
  • Instagram
  • X (formerly Twitter)
  • Pinterest
  • Threads

Forums and blogging

  • Reddit
  • Quora
  • Tumblr
  • Blogger
  • Medium

Communicating

  • WhatsApp (only text messaging works)
  • Snapchat
  • Slack
  • Viber
  • Line
  • Discord
  • Telegram
  • Signal

Binge watching

  • YouTube
  • Netflix
  • Amazon Prime Video
  • Hulu
  • Tubi
  • Dailymotion
  • HBO
  • NBC
  • FOX

Search engines and information

  • Google
  • Wikipedia
  • Yahoo!
  • DuckDuckGo

Work tools

  • Dropbox
  • OneDrive
  • LinkedIn
  • ChatGPT
  • iStock
  • Shutterstock

News

  • BBC
  • The New York Times
  • The Guardian
  • The Washington Post
  • CNN
  • The Wall Street Journal
  • Daily Mail
  • CBC (Canada)
  • ABC (Australia)
  • Basically most major foreign news sites

Music, books and shopping

  • Pandora
  • YouTube Music
  • Amazon Music
  • SoundCloud
  • Barnes & Noble
  • Etsy

Gaming

  • Twitch
  • PlayStation
  • Steam

Dating and sex

  • Tinder
  • Pornhub
  • OnlyFans
  • XVideos
  • Chaturbate

Betting and casinos

  • FanDuel
  • Bet365
  • Bovada

Cryptocurrency

  • Coinbase
  • Binance

In fact, all crypto trading is banned in China.

Why are these apps banned in China?

Google is one of the banned apps in China

Google Maps is one of the banned apps in China. Image by Ingo Joseph on Pexels.

Generally speaking, an app can be banned in China for any of the following reasons:

  • Immoral or illegal, e.g. sex/dating apps, or doesn’t align with socialist ideology
  • Religious, controversial or politically sensitive, e.g. Human Rights Watch app
  • Huge following outside China (and therefore the Chinese government can’t control the narrative), e.g. social media apps.

Many foreign apps are banned in China for the third reason.

It’s important to note that the list of apps banned in China changes from time to time. New ones are often added, and previously banned apps and websites may be OK again.

For example, video meeting app Zoom and career site Indeed have previously been blocked, but now they’re accessible.

If there’s any particular app or site you’re concerned about, you can check if it’s blocked in China in real time using the button below.

Note: it’s an external website and will open up in a new window.

How to access banned apps in China

Alright, here’s the most important bit.

As a foreign tourist in China, how do you get access to all your favorite mobile apps?

It’s easy. You just need to download a virtual private network (VPN) onto your device before you get on the plane.

You can even share your VPN with others in your travel group.

Check out my expat review of the best China VPNs to get you sorted. Or, skip the review and go straight to the one I recommend here:

The cheap and nasty ones don’t work in China.

Which popular foreign apps aren’t banned in China?

Here are the major apps that are currently working in China without a VPN:

  • Apple’s iMessage and FaceTime
  • Foreign banks
  • Most Microsoft-owned apps like Outlook, Hotmail, Bing and Skype.

But there are still issues

Bank of Queensland blocked in China

Most banks are accessible in China, but don’t count on it. Image from chinafirewalltest.com on 1 March 2023.

Microsoft apps have restrictions that can be a real pain.

For example, there are issues uploading attachments to emails, Bing results are censored, and you can’t dial an international phone number using Skype.

Your personal OneDrive is totally blocked in China.

And, although you can access your bank’s website and app, there have been occasions when some banks have been inaccessible without a VPN.

For instance, Bank of Queensland (an Australian bank) was down in early March 2023.

That’s why it’s important to not be too reliant on any particular app or website while you’re visiting China.

What are the best apps to use in China?

Tourist using an app in China

There are some great travel apps for China. Image by Victoria Labadie on Shutterstock.

Two of the best apps for foreign tourists are Alipay and WeChat Pay. They’re China’s most popular payment apps.

Cash and cards are barely used these days.

China’s version of Uber, which is called DiDi, is another good app you can use over there.

You can find out more about the best China travel apps here. Or, if you’re staying in the country long term, check out the best apps for foreigners in China.

What apps do Chinese people use?

WeChat is used in China

WeChat is the most common app in China. Image by Jirapong Manustrong on Shutterstock.

China has its own version of all the major Western apps. So, the locals still get to experience the latest technology, just in a more controlled way.

Chinese dating apps, for instance, are heavily moderated and you can’t post raunchy photos. The same goes for Chinese gay apps.

Some Chinese apps are actually better than foreign ones. WeChat, for instance, is like Facebook but has a lot more features, such as paying for things.

You can learn more about the most popular apps in China here.

What about Chinese apps that other countries ban?

TikTok

India has banned Chinese-owned TikTok. Image by Cottonbro Studio on Pexels.

Currently, India bans hundreds of Chinese apps, citing national security concerns.

The Indian government first flicked the switch off for many Chinese apps in July 2020. This followed a deadly clash between the two countries in northern India.

The banned apps include games, online payment services, dating sites and even software to edit selfies.

Video-sharing platform TikTok, which had a huge following in India, is one of the most well-known apps to be blocked.

There’s also an ongoing debate in the United States to ban TikTok.

Forgot to get a VPN?

This has happened to a few people I know.

It’s super-annoying and you’ll have to go without all the apps and sites you love.

Or, you’ll need to be a little creative and use non-banned apps like Outlook, Bing, or FaceTime if you have an iPhone.

There’s also the old-school option – text message and phone calls. Just remember to enable global roaming!

My advice again, is to download your VPN before you board the plane:

Of course, you can use your own mobile data in China instead of Wi-Fi, and access everything you need to.

But depending on the data plan you have, you could be in for a shock when you receive your next bill.

I hope my list of apps banned in China has helped you. Next, dig deeper into all the major things banned in China (it’s not just apps).

Or, check out my article on the foods you can’t bring in to China. Enjoy!

FAQ about apps banned in China

What apps are banned in China?

Most major foreign apps are banned in China, including Google, YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Netflix, and X (formerly Twitter).

Is Zoom banned in China?

No, it isn’t.

Is OnlyFans banned in China?

Yes, it is. Porn is banned in China.

Is TikTok banned in China?

Yes, it is. The locals use the Chinese version called Douyin.

Is Hotmail blocked in China?

No, it isn’t. You can use Hotmail in China except upload attachments (and OneDrive is blocked without a VPN).

Is Outlook blocked in China?

No, it isn’t. You can use Outlook in China except upload attachments (and OneDrive is blocked without a VPN).

Is Bing blocked in China?

No, but the results are censored. At the bottom of the search results page, you may see fine print that says ‘Some results are removed in response to a notice of local law requirement’.

Is ChatGPT banned in China?

Yes, it is. But there's a Chinese equivalent called Ernie Bot from search engine giant Baidu.

Does Bereal work in China?

Bereal seems to be working in China but some functionality isn’t perfect, e.g. images of your contacts/friends may not appear. My best advice is to get a VPN if you’re worried about staying in contact while in China.