WhatsApp is used by over two billion people around the world.
Interestingly though, this doesn’t include Chinese people. They have their own version of WhatsApp.
But if you’re traveling to China, there’s a way to keep using your favorite messaging app.
In this short guide, I’ll answer the most frequently asked questions about WhatsApp in China.
Can I access WhatsApp in China?
Along with other major foreign websites and apps, WhatsApp is banned in China.
This means you can’t access it when using Wi-Fi at places like your hotel, tourist attractions and coffee shops.
Unless you have a VPN (which I explain below), you can only access WhatsApp in China when using your internet connection from home.
This could cost you a fortune. Trust me, I’ve been there!
So, how do I access WhatsApp in China?
The best thing to do is download a VPN app on your phone.
It’s important you do this before you leave your country, otherwise you may not be able to get access once you’re in China.
I recommend ExpressVPN because my personal experience with it, while working and traveling in China, has been great.
Can I download WhatsApp in China?
No. Foreign apps that are banned aren’t available in app stores in China.
That’s why it’s important to download a VPN on your phone before you leave home.
Why is WhatsApp banned in China?
China is different from many other countries, and so too is the Chinese internet.
The Chinese government wants to maintain control over the communication tools that its people use and uphold socialist ideology.
Don’t worry though, you can still access the internet in China even if you don’t have a VPN.
It just means you won’t have access to major foreign websites and apps, as well as sites that the Chinese government doesn’t approve of, like pornography.
What other apps are banned in China?
All the big ones including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Google and Gmail, and even news sites like New York Times and BBC.
Refer to this page for more.
Is there an alternative to WhatsApp in China?
Most of the major international messaging apps are banned in China. But there are some exceptions.
Skype, which is owned by Microsoft, can be used in China. Just make sure all your friends and family have Skype too!
In fact, many (but not all) of Microsoft’s platforms can be used in China without a VPN, such as Bing and Outlook.
Apple’s iMessage and FaceTime apps are other good alternatives to WhatsApp in China. Like Skype though, you’ll need to make sure your loved ones have these apps.
What about WeChat?
This app is super-popular and is used by more than one billion people Chinese people.
WeChat is China’s version of WhatsApp or Facebook, but with a lot more functionality like paying for things and booking tickets.
The downside to using WeChat is all your friends and family back home probably won’t have it, so they would need to download it.
You also need to keep in mind that your WeChat usage may be monitored and it doesn’t have the same encryption and privacy considerations that WhatsApp and other foreign apps have.
So, Skype, iMessage or FaceTime might be better options.
When was WhatsApp banned in China?
Fairly recently, in 2017.
Will WhatsApp ever work in China?
History shows that once a major website or app is banned in China, the chance of it coming back online is extremely slim.
Is Wi-Fi available in China?
It sure is, and it’s usually free.
Places like restaurants and coffee shops will probably have a password which you can get from the staff.
Airports offer free Wi-Fi too, but usually you need a Chinese phone number to get in. Most foreign travelers don’t have one so use their own internet data in airports (which can be costly).
If you’re going to be in China long term, you can get a Chinese SIM card and put it in your unlocked phone. This is how expats access free Wi-Fi at Chinese airports.
What if my VPN doesn’t work in China?
Some solo travelers who absolutely can’t go without Wi-Fi internet access get two VPNs (i.e. from different companies).
However, for travelers in groups the solution is simpler. Last time I was in China, I made sure that each person in the group had a VPN from a different company. There were times that one VPN would be down, so this helped us a lot.
You can also access a different server location from within your VPN app, but sometimes this doesn’t do much.
If the connection is down, it’s down, and you might just need to wait a little while (Chinese internet is sometimes intermittent). Or, you can reach out to the VPN company’s customer service team.
Is there anything else I need to do before leaving for China?
The four most important things to have for your trip to China are:
- Valid passport
- Visa if applicable
- Phone with VPN
- Money (cash and cards).
If you arrive in China with only these four things as well as the clothes on your back, you’re gonna be OK!
But of course, there are some other things you might want to consider. I recommend reading this article about planning, especially if you haven’t been to China before.
Key takeaway from using WhatsApp in China
Unless you have money to burn and want to use your internet connection from home, the best way to access WhatsApp in China is by getting a VPN before you leave home.
This is because WhatsApp is banned in China, and a VPN is a legitimate way of getting around this.
Have an amazing time in China. It’s a fun and crazy place – you’re going to love it!
I hope my article about accessing WhatsApp in China has helped you. If there is anything you need to know about traveling to China, just ask a question below. I enjoy answering them.
Image credit: Anton on Pexels.
FAQ about WhatsApp in China
Is WhatsApp banned in China?
Yes it is. You need a VPN app if you want to access WhatsApp in China when using Wi-Fi.
Can I access WhatsApp in China?
You can if you have a VPN, or if you use your internet connection from back home (but this could be very costly).
What are the alternatives to WhatsApp in China?
Skype and Apple’s iMessage and FaceTime apps are alternatives to WhatsApp in China.
What do Chinese people use instead of WhatsApp?
WeChat is hugely popular in China. It’s an instant messaging app with lots of extra functionality like paying for things and booking tickets.