Some Internet sites are blocked in China, and unfortunately, they are probably the ones that are most popular in western countries.
Some people make reference to “the Great Firewall of China”, which the Ministry for Public Security (MPS) developed to control access to sites which are considered dangerous for Chinese citizens.
It is fairly well known that Facebook, YouTube, and Google are among those that are blocked.
However, the list is constantly shifting and changing day by day, with sites being added and removed from the unavailable list.
As many people are aware, there are ways around the Great Firewall, but you need to be prepared before you travel to China.
Before you go, you need to set up a VPN account (Virtual Private Network), and install the VPN software on the device(s) you want to use in China. Then you need to open the VPN software and connect to a server location that is not blocked.
Your choice of which VPN service to use is not quite so simple because, like the blocked websites, it is something that can change from day to day. Therefore, close to the time when you plan to travel to China you will need to search for the most suitable service.
As Gmail doesn’t work in China, you may want to temporarily use another email address, such as Yahoo or Hotmail if this is important to you.
China Educational Tours provide a SIM card and portable WiFi rental service for you.
Nowadays free Wifi is available everywhere such as hotels and restaurants, even on the streets, and Internet speeds in China are generally lightning fast, despite the huge population and heavy use. Presumably the absence of so many other sites makes for more available bandwidth.
However, there are some sites that are so slow as to make you give up. For instance, making a video call on Skype can defeat your patience. Also there are certain times of day when accessing sites outside of China (the ones that are not blocked) is so slow that everything grinds to a halt. One example is 8pm Beijing time, which coincides with start of business in American morning and European afternoon.
Whether you can use your phone, and whether in the end you will really want to use your phone, depends on a number of factors.
These factors include which country you (and your phone) are coming from, who your carrier is, whether they will lock your phone (and whether they are willing to unlock it), depending on what kind of plan you are on, what kind of phone you have, and so on.
Even if you are actually able to use your phone, the costs of making calls, and receiving calls, are likely to be prohibitive, and international roaming charges can be very high.
Firstly, you need to check with your carrier, and find out about whether your phone is locked, whether they will give you an unlocking code, and what costs you will incur.
As long as your phone is unlocked, you can purchase a SIM card for one of the three carriers China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom, suitable for your phone and network.
You could also purchase a phone handset very reasonably in China, and a SIM card to use in it. This could be very useful for keeping in touch with fellow travelers and your tour guide. However, if your reason for wanting a mobile phone is to make and receive International calls, you need to make other arrangements such as purchasing an IP card.
Another option is to rent a handset and use a pay-as-you-go SIM. When you come to choose a network, you would do best to take advice from your local guide about what is most suitable in the area where you are traveling.
If you are wanting to call home, and there is a phone in your hotel room which may seem like an easy option, be aware first of the costs and surcharges.
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