You can access Google in China, but the process isn’t as straightforward as in other regions.
The easiest way to use Google in China is with a VPN (I recommend NordVPN), which accesses the search engine and other Google products in less than 10 minutes. You can also try out five (5) alternative methods I discussed in the rest of this piece.
You need this workaround because Google’s services are blocked in mainland China, preventing Chinese internet users from accessing Google’s DNS.
Read on to learn more about using Google and its associated services when you’re in China.
How and Why Is Google Blocked in China?
Google wrapped up its services in China as far back as 2010 because it wouldn’t concede to the demands of the Chinese government.
To keep working in China without bans or restrictions, the Chinese government requires that Google censor the results and sensitive keywords shown to Chinese users. It was also demanded that the search engine giant store data locally in the country.
The latter would put Google in the Chinese jurisdiction, meaning the company is subject to data seizure since it’s under Chinese sovereignty.
Thus, setting a nationwide internet filtration system humorously called the Great Firewall of China, the country took down access to many Western websites and platforms – including Google.
Fortunately, while the Great Firewall is robust, it’s not so strong that we can’t get around it.
Whether you’re traveling to China, living there, or just passing through, the methods I discuss in this guide work well for accessing Google.
What Google Services Are Banned in China?
The DNS level ban of Google in China removes access to all Google services in the country.
Besides the search engine itself, you can’t use other Google-created and maintained services like Google Docs, Google Maps, Google Sheets, Google Slides, Google Authenticator, and others once you’re in mainland China.
While there are Chinese alternatives to the Google search engine (the most popular is Baidu), you won’t get western results when you enter a query.
The results you also get are highly censored and monitored, so you don’t have the whole web experience.
How to Unblock Google in China? (6 Methods)
I’ll discuss six methods to access Google and its services in China, why they work, and how you can make them work for you.
Let’s get to it:
Method #1 – Use a VPN (Easiest & Fastest Method)
VPNs feature multiple server locations in different countries. Connecting to any one of those servers makes it look like you’re browsing the web from such locations.
So, when you’re in China, get access to Google and its services by connecting to other server locations.
Here’s how to do this.
- Purchase a VPN service from a trusted provider (I discuss preferred providers below, but I recommend NordVPN).
- Connect to a preferred server location (US, UK, Australia, etc.).
- Use Google and its services freely.
Can You Download a VPN in China?
You might not always get to download a VPN once you are in China, as the country blocks access to the websites of some VPN providers.
- Download the VPN before you enter China.
- Ask a trusted friend to send you a VPN apk file (for Android users).
- Use a proxy webserver to access the VPN website.
- Use your unrestricted hotel Wi-Fi to download VPN.
- Go to Hong Kong to download your VPN.
Those pointers should get you access to a reliable VPN you can use to unblock Google services while in China.
Method #2 – Reconfigure Your DNS Server (Mildly Technical)
I mentioned earlier that China blocks Google on the DNS level, so reconfiguring the DNS server is an excellent way to access Google.
In this case, we’d use the Cloudflare DNS server to gain access to Google.
Cloudflare is a caching program that serves you with copies of the internet closest to you. This reduces the server lag time and ensures you get faster results.
Before we get started, install Google Chrome on your PC.
- Launch your Google Chrome Browser.
- Click the three vertical dots (menu) in the upper right corner and go to “Settings.”
- Click “Security and Privacy” in the right menu bar.
- Click “Security” in the menu options that appear.
- Scroll down to the “Advanced” section and toggle the “Custom” DNS section.
- From the dropdown, choose “Cloudflare (18.104.22.168).”
- Browse Google services freely.
The downside to this method is you can only use Google and its services on your PC. You also need to have Google Chrome for this method to work.
Likewise, since Cloudflare only serves results from the server closest to you, you might not get access to western results. That, and it’s a hit-and-miss method that might not work sometimes.
Method #3 – Use TOR Browser
The TOR browser behaves similar to a VPN in that it houses several servers you can connect to. As far as the similarities go, that is enough to get access to Google and other websites blocked in China sometimes.
Note that the Tor browser is only available on PC and Android devices. If you have an iOS device, you’re better off with other options on this list instead.
- Download and install the FREE TOR browser.
- Launch and configure the browser.
- Connect to a preferred TOR bridge.***
- Access Google services in China.
***Watch the video below to set up your TOR bridge:
Now, here comes some serious considerations.
The TOR browser isn’t optimized for speed, so you’ll suffer very slow speeds when browsing with it.
Likewise, only the connections within the TOR browser are secured, and you cannot use your Google apps on mobile (unless you access them from within the browser).
iOS users are left without help here.
You won’t get this issue with VPNs that work for multiple platforms (iOS, Android, Windows, Linux, MacOS, gaming consoles, and even smart TVs).
On top of that, China’s government’s censorship is started cracking down on Tor bridges around 2017, making most of them less effective in accessing Google’s services.
Method #4 – Use “Roam Like Home” Data Plans
Some network providers/ISPs offer “roam like home” plans to use your device in other countries like you were in your home country.
These plans work across voice, text, and data – so you get to access internet services like you’re in your country.
The best part is that you don’t incur additional roaming plans when subscribed to this roam-like-home model.
Since your ISP’s server is the one you connect to first, you get access to Google and its services even while in China. The quick guide below shows how to maximize this fix.
- Check that your ISP offers Roam-Like-Home Plans.
- Check that China is a supported location.
- Read the terms and conditions of the service.
- Purchase a Roam Like Home plan.
- Follow your ISP’s guide to activate the program.
There is a lot of fine print around this plan, and it could get costly very fast.
Before committing to one, make sure you read all about the hidden costs and charges they don’t present to you.
Method #5 – Use Hotel Wi-Fi
Some hotels in China offer unregulated Wi-Fi internet access to guests. When you choose such hotels, connecting to their internet allows you to bypass restrictions and access Google services.
You can also unblock Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms not accessible from China when connected to such hotel Wi-Fi.
Follow the quick guide below to make this work.
- Find hotels that offer unrestricted Wi-Fi.
- Book a stay at such hotels.
- Connect to the hotel Wi-Fi once you’re there.
- Browse the internet without restrictions.
The main issue is that the hotel is now your ISP, and they can see all your internet traffic on the internal network.
Before connecting to the Wi-Fi, the terms and conditions you signed up for most likely give the hotel rights to see, collect, and monitor your internet traffic, including your conversations and passwords.
You can get around that by using a VPN to mask your internet traffic. But then, if you’d use a VPN, why go through the stress of looking for a hotel with unregulated Wi-Fi, too?
Beijing is cracking down on such hotels, as well, and there might be none of them around soon.
Method #6 – Travel to Hong Kong
Hong Kong remains a part of China but works independently of the larger country. This allows the region to enact its laws and practice its systems.
One of the many ways Hong Kong differs from China is internet censorship. So, you can access Google and its services if you take a trip to Hong Kong.
Note that the results you get from the Hong Kong version of Google will also be highly limited compared to what you can get elsewhere.
Some links may even be unavailable to click from the search engine results pages, especially if you browse Hong Kong’s Google version while still in China.
If you’re not interested in any deep and highly accurate searches, the steps below are for you.
- Travel to Hong Kong.
- Use Google and its services.
I see traveling to Hong Kong to access Google services as inconvenient and expensive.
I checked how much the train from Shanghai to Hong Kong costs, and it’s about $149 (single trip). A return trip would be twice that price, and you’d be in the Second-Class train section.
For the price of a single trip, you could get a 2-year NordVPN plan and have some change left.
That allows you to surf Google and its services faster from within China, enjoy data and internet privacy, unblock other content, and secure multiple devices simultaneously.
3 Best VPNs for China
Earlier, I showed how a VPN is the fastest, least expensive, and most straightforward way to unblock Google services in China.
Not all VPNs work well under such strong internet censorship, though. Here are the three VPNs you can use while in China.
NordVPN – Best Overall VPN for China
NordVPN boasts 5400+ server locations in 60+ countries to allow you to unblock Google locally.
It also helps you stay safer when surfing the web in China via its strict no-logs policy. This makes it impossible for the Chinese authorities or government to obtain data on what you were doing online while using the VPN.
The VPN provider is also highly optimized for speed, so you don’t feel the lag when surfing the web.
However, you might notice the connection difference when using obfuscated servers from NordVPN. The upside is that the speed difference isn’t grueling, and this feature is a double guarantee of bypassing the Great Firewall of China.
If you use multiple devices, you can simultaneously connect up to 6 of them to a single NordVPN subscription. That secures your connection on all devices, gives you better internet privacy, and unblocks Google (as well as other content) for you at the same time.
ExpressVPN – Best for Multiple Locations
ExpressVPN gives you access to servers in 94 countries, ensuring you have a higher chance of finding your country on the server list. This allows you to unblock and use Google (and its services) like you were still at home.
Its one-click connection protocol connects you to the internet, where you start enjoying all the unblocking features in no time. Plus, thanks to ExpressVPN’s proprietary TrustedServer Technology, you don’t have to worry about data leaks to the government.
Speed is also one of ExpressVPN’s strong suits as it continues to deliver faster connection speeds. Even with the industry-standard 256-bit military-grade encryption to protect your data from Chinese authorities, this VPN is still fast.
Coupled with public Wi-Fi safety (which means you can use hotel Wi-Fi without fear) and a threat manager that blocks trackers/malicious third-party code, you’re in good company with ExpressVPN.
PrivateVPN – Best for Group Travellers
PrivateVPN is famed for being able to unblock BBC iPlayer, Netflix, and even work for secure torrenting from anywhere.
These promises bear testament that it’ll work seamlessly to unblock Google’s services in China.
It might not be the fastest VPN, but the connection drop is negligible. It also has a no-logs policy, allowing you to torrent sites securely from China and giving you internet data privacy.
The downside with PrivateVPN is that it only features 200 servers, but these servers are spread over 60 countries.
You can connect up to 10 devices on a PrivateVPN plan simultaneously. While there’s a low chance you always have up to 10 devices of your own to connect, you can always share with others in your travel group.
If you’re traveling with family, friends, work colleagues or just travel buddies, you can even split the cost to get better value for money from the VPN provider.
What Are the Best Servers to Unblock Google From in China?
Unblocking Google from Taiwan, Hong Kong, or Macau gives you access to local search results. These locations will also return the fastest results since the regions are closer to China.
Connect to your home server location if you want to get local content. This will only work if Google is normally available in your home country. Otherwise, you’re better off connecting to other supported server locations.
Server locations like the US and UK give you access to the majority of western results on the Google search engine. However, you can connect to any location to use other services from Google besides search.
If you’re using a paid service from Google, I recommend connecting to your local servers. This way, you can keep getting your bills (and fulfill them) in the local currency. Otherwise, you’d have to pay in another currency which could drive the price up due to taxes and exchange rate fees.
Don’t forget that the server location you choose to unblock Google from bears on your search results. If you’re only interested in using other Google apps, any supported location will do.
Can You Use Google Meet in China?
Google Meet is unavailable in mainland China, but you can use the Google service from Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. You can otherwise unblock Google Meet with a VPN within China by following the steps below:
- Download and install a VPN (I recommend NordVPN).
- Connect to a supported server location (US, UK, etc.).
- Open the Google Meet app and use it normally.
NordVPN is one of the fastest VPN providers with extensive server locations and tried-and-trusted unblocking technologies.
Google’s search engines and other services aren’t blocked in Taiwan, Hong Kong, or Macau. You can connect your VPN to any of these server locations to get faster results from the search engine.
These locations also ensure you get more Asia-specific and targeted search results than if you were connected to other servers.
The Chinese Firewall program is powerful and prevents most VPN providers from unblocking access to Google and other websites. VPN providers like ExpressVPN, NordVPN, and PrivateVPN have invested in obfuscated servers and highly secure data encryption, which makes it possible to bypass the Chinese firewall restriction.
Free VPNs will fare no better here and might even leak your internet activity to your ISP and Chinese authorities while in the country.
It’s best to choose premium VPNs designed for internet data safety on top of their reliable unblocking protocols.
The Google Chrome browser can be downloaded and used in China without restrictions.
Google Chrome remains the most widely used browser in China, claiming almost 50% of the total browser market share.
However, the browser cannot be used to access Google’s search engines or other Google services unless you use a reliable VPN.
You can use the Google Pixel smartphones in China, but you won’t get full access to all their functions and services.
Installing a China SIM card in your Google Pixel phone disables the Google Feed and prevents the phone from connecting to Google’s servers.
Installing a VPN on the phone will bypass certain website restrictions and unblock Google services, but you still cannot reach their servers.
OTA updates are impossible on a Google Pixel smartphone used in China, even with a VPN installed on the phone, since it cannot ping the Google servers.
A good workaround is to install your VPN on a router (which is broadcasted via Wi-Fi to your Pixel devices) to reach Google’s servers to update your feed and download updates.
I recommend installing NordVPN or ExpressVPN router software, as they’re the most capable of getting around the Chinese firewall.
Google Maps isn’t available in China, as the service is also hosted on Google servers, which are blocked from Chinese servers. Google doesn’t have a strong presence in China either, so its Maps aren’t as updated or well-detailed as other regions.
Unblocking access to Google Maps with a VPN is ideal but might not give you all the accurate mapping and direction information.
Baidu Map is a great, well-detailed alternative for China. The app is in Chinese, limiting non-Chinese speakers from getting the full advantage. In that case, you can unblock Google Maps anyway and use what limited functionality it might have, which is still plenty more than other alternatives.
The Great Firewall of China currently blocks Google Docs.
You can use a VPN to unblock access to Google Docs (and your entire Google Drive) or choose local alternatives like Baidu and Tencent.
Otherwise, you can try other cloud document storage alternatives in China, although they might not work as seamlessly as Google Docs.
If you must use Google Docs in China, unblock Google’s services with NordVPN to get access.
There are multiple obstacles to using Google Authenticator in China.
The app isn’t available on the Chinese version of the Android app store, which prevents users from downloading and using it in the region.
If you have the Google Authenticator app anyway, it cannot connect to Google servers and won’t be able to send MFA codes to your mobile device.
There are workarounds to using Google Authenticator in China.
Still, using alternatives like Microsoft Authenticator apps is better due to the sensitivity of getting these codes to secure logins.
Even then, some restrictions limit the app’s functionality, as detailed in this official Microsoft guide.
China frequently bans VPN providers for not providing the country backdoor access to their servers, but these sanctions aren’t enforced against individuals.
The Chinese government seldom takes action against locals using a VPN, but ex-pats and foreigners should be safe.
You can use a VPN to unblock Google, Google’s services, and other websites legally in China if you aren’t committing any crime via your online activity.
Now That You Can Use Google In China
Earlier, I mentioned having more than one VPN provider as a backup, especially if you stay in China for a while.
The country invests heavily in its firewall network and will sometimes temporarily bring down some VPN providers.
Whenever there’s any problem with your connection, the suggested VPN providers are user-friendly and will help you troubleshoot the issue fast.