Stay Connected While in China

by Adam Gill

Internet access just keeps getting worse in China, and many who travel there for business or pleasure can get so frustrated with it. Business travelers need to stay connected to ensure the proper flow of information to and from their contacts, both in China and at their base of operations. They also need to be able to stay in touch with friends and family back home. Vacationers need to be able to check up on what’s happening at home, and post updates of their adventures. We use a lot of apps for communication these days, but most of these will not work in China. So, before jumping on that plane, there are a few things that you need to set up so that connectivity is not lost behind the Great Firewall.

Chat Apps

Most messaging services are blocked in China, so travelers need to be prepared for this. We often take for granted all the ways that we can chat or leave messages for the people that we need to keep in touch with. Sending and receiving urgent updates is going to be a challenge if you are not able to connect to WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, or any of the other apps that you usually use to communicate. Business collaboration can be especially tricky as apps like Slack are also unavailable in China.

WeChat is the chat app that is allowed access in China. The version of this app that is available in China is not exactly the same as the versions that are used in other countries, but the main thing here is that it works. Everyone uses WeChat in China because it is pretty much the only chat app that works well there. You will have the best chance of maintaining communications with people in China as well as in other parts of the world with this app. Before you leave for China, sign up for your free account and make sure that you get all your important contacts to sign up as well so that you can message them later on without a hitch. An additional advantage of WeChat is that it is local, and sends a positive message to your local contacts in China, which helps to build rapport.

Email

Just as most messaging systems are not allowed in China, most email services are also blocked. Using WeChat to send quick messages is one thing, but you will probably want to keep your email access open for longer messages or sending and receiving files. If you use Gmail, for instance, you will not be able to open your emails in China. A good way to get your emails while you’re in China is to use a forwarder. As of now, Hotmail is not blocked in China, so if you don’t already have one, you can set up a free Outlook (Hotmail) email account and set all your emails to forward to that account while you are in China. Be sure to do a check first, though, because we can never know which services are going to be blocked next by the Great Firewall.

Calls

VoIP is blocked in China, so Skype and similar apps are going to be useless there. You can use your mobile phone to make calls, but this can get very costly very quickly. If you need to do voice calls that you cannot complete with your chat app, you can buy a local SIM card and a burner phone and save a bunch of money. This is especially wise when you are communicating with people in China. Your contacts will also appreciate that you have a Chinese mobile phone number since this makes it a lot easier for them to contact you when they need to. You can only improve your chances for new deals and building relationships this way.

Get a VPN

If you are not already using a personal VPN for online security back home, now is the best time to sign up for one. China is not really a safe place to be online, since the government is always watching and there are a lot of cybercriminal threats there, especially for foreigners. VPNs will provide you with communications security so that your messages are not intercepted. Surveillance and hacks can be a big threat to your business, and can also put you in danger even if you are just traveling for pleasure.

You may often find yourself looking for WiFi hotspots while you are in China since you will not likely have your own Internet connection there or have constant access to a safe connection. Your VPN will secure your sessions from any malicious elements that prey on WiFi users, again, especially travelers who they can easily target at airports, hotels, and popular cafes. You don’t want to get a virus that exposes all your personal and financial information and passwords. Just remember that not all VPNs are created equal, so you want to be wise and choose one that can give you proper security and privacy. The good ones are not free, but they are reasonable enough for what they provide.

Aside from security, VPNs can provide you with better Internet access. In case your local apps or accounts fail, your VPN will help you regain access to your original accounts back home. You can go back to using your usual messaging and email, and even use Skype again, which is also quite useful for keeping in touch with the folks back home. Not all VPNs give you equal access, however, so you should choose one that has a good track record for providing clean access. Once your VPN is set up, you can even use Google and access your favorite news, social media and video streaming sites. This can be a great pleasure on those lonely nights or whenever you need a taste of home.

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