Bypass “The Great Firewall” – How to Unblock/Access Gmail in China
China’s internet is like a Walled garden. Most of the world’s most popular apps and websites are banned in the country.
This includes Gmail, which is also blocked in China but not because China has a problem with Gmail itself. China has beef with Gmail’s parent company i.e. Google.
That’s because Google doesn’t comply with Chinese demands to “de-index” or “Alter” some search results in its search engine. And because the Chinese government doesn’t really like any such services that don’t give in to its demands, it banned Google and all of its services from operating in the country.
So now, if you want to access Gmail in China, you need to get the best VPN that works in China.
Best VPN options to unblock Gmail in China
#1:Unblock Gmail in China with Surfshark: #1 Recommended VPN
Best Plan: $1.99/month (2 Year Deal)
#2:Unblock Gmail in China with NordVPN: Fastest China VPN Best Plan: $3.49/month (3 Year Deal)
#3:Unblock Gmail in China with ExpressVPN: Highly Stable Zero Logs VPN Best Plan: $8.32/month (1 Year Deal)
But not all VPNs work well in China because for that, you need a certain special set of features that we will discuss in details later.
Among those that work, we recommend you to opt for Surfshark to unblock Gmail in China because of its the best and most affordable provider in this regard ($1.99/month).
Best VPN for Using Gmail in China
As said earlier, when it comes to unblocking/accessing Gmail in China, users can always rely on VPNs.
However, VPNs that work well in China need to have these characteristics:
- Must have a China-specific site (All VPN sites are banned in China, so the provider needs to offer a redirection site so that people can access its site in China)
- Must have servers in nearby regions like Hong Kong or Singapore for faster speeds
- Must be able to bypass the Great Firewall of China (This is an internet blocking mechanism developed by the Chinese Government to stop sites it doesn’t like from being available)
- Zero logs policy
- No DNS/WebRTC leaks
- Fast Speeds
- Apps on Windows and Macs and even an .apk file for use on mobile (VPN apps are not available on Play Store or iOS store in China so to get these VPN apps for mobile you need to be able to download their .apk files from the provider’s website)
- Unblocks Netflix and supports Torrenting
After a very lengthy round of testing, we came up these 3 top VPN providers that can allow you to unblock Gmail in China and even other services:
Surfshark – Cheapest Best VPN Service for China
Surfshark ticks all the right boxes for all the requirements as a China VPN. It works perfectly in China and offers a specially dedicated site for the country as well so that users can even access its site in mainland without major problems.
You can get Surfshark VPN for just $1.99/month, which is the cheapest price among the VPNs that work in China, making it a perfect contender if you are looking for a reliable service for unblocking Gmail in China but without breaking the bank.
The servers offered by Surfshark now exceed the 800+ marks and a good distribution of them are located in close proximity to China in countries like Hong Kong, Singapore, and India. This will ensure fast speeds for Chinese users always.
You can easily download its Windows and Mac app from its website but for the mobile apps, you will need to ask its excellent live chat support to offer you with a .apk file.
All in all, this is the best choice VPN for unblocking Gmail in China.
- Surfshark’s China-specific working link: https://shark-cn.com/
- For comprehensive Surfshark review, go here.
NordVPN – Most Servers Near China
NordVPN boasts a no logs policy and provides military-grade, 256-bit AES encryption, perfect for ensuring your privacy in China.
Its redirection link for China is also working currently in 2019.
As for those located in China, NordVPN offers you the highest number of specialized servers near China that can allow you to bypass the Great Firewall without problems.
And it’s not costly either. A 3-year subscription at NordVPN will cost you around $3.49/month, which is well within the affordable range.
In our tests, we found NordVPN to be the fastest VPN service for China and perhaps the most stable one.
NordVPN’s novelties don’t end there as its service includes features like automatic kill switch, DNS Leak/IPv6 Protection, Stealth Mode, Tor, and Double Hop!
On top of this, just open the NordVPN app, head towards advanced settings, and activate “obfuscated servers”. This will allow users to use the VPN under heavy restrictions, as they use extremely secure networking of servers, to create a protected and encrypted connection for you to enjoy!
- NordVPN’s China-specific working link: http://nord-for-zh.com/
- For comprehensive NordVPN review, go here.
ExpressVPN – Extremely Reliable for Unblocking Gmail in China
Based in the British Virgin Islands, ExpressVPN is a reliable and privacy-focused provider that can easily allow you to unblock Gmail in China.
ExpressVPN was among the first providers to offer a redirection link for China and this link still works incredibly well.
The VPN boasts a strong reputation for anonymity and offers a strict no-logs policy so you can be assured that your data won’t land in the hand of the Chinese authorities ever.
Once you sign up with ExpressVPN, you gain access to 3000+ ultra-fast servers.
The only issue with this VPN is that its cost is quite high at $8.32/month, much higher than NordVPN and Surshark, but if you can afford this cost, the value you are getting is definitely worthwhile.
By using it, you can bypass Chinese geo-restrictions and not just access Gmail but also services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and BBC iPlayer, along with other social media apps like Facebook, Instagram, Google+, Snapchat, and WhatsApp, all of which are inaccessible to users in China.
You even receive 256-bit AES military-grade encryption and dedicated apps for Windows and Mac. .apk files are also available for easier compatibility with iOS and Android in China.
- ExpressVPN’s China-specific working link: http://exp4links4.net/
- For comprehensive ExpressVPN review, go here.
Gmail Blocked In China
Google was already facing a tough time in the Chinese market, after the introduction of its Chinese version of Google News and the Search Engine. The president of Google China “Kai-Fu Lee”, tried his best keeping the tensions low.
In 2009, Kai-Fu Lee left unexpectedly right amid the debates on Censorship Policies, and Google’s decreasing share rivaling Soso.com and Baidu. With the increased pressure of meeting the internet laws of China, Google tried cooperating.
However, one can only stay bent for a certain time, and the incident on January 12, 2010, completely changed the severity of the situation. Google became a rebel, announcing that it was “no longer willing to continue censoring”, citing a Chinese-originated hacking attack which saw the breaching of Gmail accounts of Chinese Human rights activists.
Eventual Demise of Google and its Email Service
Thousands of activists, who were found having ties to Falun Gong and other fields such as intellectual property/democracy and encryption were affected by the attack. This urged Google to redirect all search queries from Google.cn to Google.com.hk in Hong Kong.
On November 2012, Gmail further slid into more trouble. According to GreatFire.org, China had blocked access to all Google domains, including Search, Maps, News, and Gmail, due to an attempt to control the content users get access to.
Google then introduce a new software feature, warning users about blocked/censored words in China. By early June 2014, the censorship efforts were further increased, to prevent the public from bringing up the government crushing a demonstration of students.
Unable to recover from the annual disruptions, despite being accessible via IMAP, POP3, and SMTP forwarding protocols, Google services, such as Drive, Translate, Maps, and Gmail were all censored.
This ultimately led to the demise of anything “Google” in China, which includes the email service. Currently, Gmail is blocked in mainland China, which includes all parts of the country except Macau, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.
How to Check If Gmail is Blocked in China?
It is not necessary for you to use a tool or software to check whether Gmail is blocked in China.
All you have to do is enter the https://www.gmail.com into the URL, and you will receive an error immediately of the site being inaccessible in China.
As mentioned earlier, Google packed its bags in China back in 2014, after standing against the scrutiny of the Chinese Government for quite a long time.
However, ever since their market share dropped, there was no reason to continue their email service in the country.
Why Can’t You Access Gmail in China
Beginning July 2014, Gmail began experiencing severe disruptions & downtimes causing the service to go completely unusable. Great Fire a China-based privacy advocacy group blamed the Great Firewall, but it was soon discovered that the case was actually something else.
The Chinese government does not support foreign-based tech service providers to operate freely in the country, everything is monitored by the Golden Shield Project.
They even demanded that Google not only host all Chinese user data within the country but give them access to the source servers. After refusing to do so Google was requested to leave the country and all its services banned from access including Gmail.
Hosting the most powerful censorship regime in the world, the Chinese government refused to listen to the US State Department and every other authority that request them to reconsider.
Google was asked to move away to nearby Hong Kong where they host their servers to this day. The cherry on top was the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying’s comment:
“China has consistently had a welcoming and supportive attitude toward foreign investors doing legitimate business here,” she said. “We will, as always, provide an open, transparent and good environment for foreign companies in China.”
I laughed for a full 5 minutes when I read Ms.Chunying’s quote, Gmail remains blocked to this day in China.
Unblock/Access Gmail in China With VPN
The Great Firewall of China blocks off all online requests made for foreign-based communication services that its authorities detest like Gmail and blocks them instantly.
A China VPN service allows Chinese internet users to bypass the Great Firewall, using what is known as a secure and encrypted tunnel.
Once under the protection of the VPN, your IP address is secured by the VPN server. The VPN server hides your original IP address by replacing it with one of its own IP addresses. For example, if you connect to a Singapore VPN server, your IP will be replaced by one from Singapore.
How to Use Gmail in China
It is now clear that using a VPN is crucial for unblocking Gmail in China and gaining unrestricted access to other foreign services. However, how can one use a VPN, when the services are blocked in the mainland?
Step 1: International Roaming and Renting a Phone
You need to ensure you are able to access the internet upon arriving in Mainland China. For this, you can try connecting to Wi-Fi networks, but most may require text verification. A better option would be to set up international roaming with your telecom provider from home or arranging a rented phone.
Step 2: Sign Up with a VPN Provider
Connecting to the internet is only the beginning. Next, you will have to subscribe to a VPN service. One that you can use during your time in China and for bypassing the blocking in a different country. You can check out Surfshark, NordVPN, and ExpressVPN, as they all have dedicated Chinese websites available.
Step 3: Connect to a Secure Location
After installing the app from these dedicated Chinese websites, you will have to connect to a secure location for anonymizing your activities in the country. For this, choose any server closest to you. Hong Kong/Singapore can be a suitable location, as Gmail is still accessible in these areas.
Precautions to Take When You Access Gmail in China
Although you will be able to access China Gmail with a VPN, without having to worry about the Internet policy and Great Firewall, there are certain precautions; you must take after unblocking Gmail or any other Google Service to ensure maximum privacy.
Make sure you follow these handy tips:
Apps vs Notifications
Android phones use the same server for actual app information and sending in notifications. Their iPhone counterparts, on the other hand, get mail notifications from a different server.
In other words, you may still get notifications upon disconnection from the VPN, but you will not be able to open them. For this, you will have connected to a VPN service.
Subscribe to a Backup Service
The Chinese authorities are very active in making their Firewall potent so they are on a constant lookout for IP addresses coming VPNs so that they can be weeded out and blocked.
This is why it is imperative to have a backup service available. If one gives trouble working, you can always use the other one for unblocking your favorite websites/apps/service.
Download Before Landing in China
If you are planning to go to China soon, its best that you get a VPN service and download its apps on your devices before you leave.
This is because even though top VPNs like Surfshark do offer dedicated Chinese sites, no one knows when they’ll be taken down. So when that happens you wouldn’t want to be stuck without a VPN.
Other VPN-Related Tips for Accessing Gmail in China
- Choose a VPN provider that offers Internet Kill Switch & Auto Reconnect features
- Do not hesitate on getting aboard DoubleVPN or Tor Over VPN for maximum security
- Keep your VPN on when accessing foreign email, communication, and social networking sites in China
- The China Government keeps logs of all VPNs operating in the country. Avoid Chinese VPNs.
- Log out of social media apps & accounts, email accounts and websites before disabling VPN.
- Remember to clear your PC & smartphone browser caches before/after using Gmail or any other Google Service!
5 Gmail in China Alternatives
You might want to access Gmail in China because its the easiest and the most widely used email platform service out there but keep in mind that Gmail is no longer a secure email service in the world after the NSA, CIA, GCHQ, ACSC, and Mossad compromised the servers in their respective regions.
There are, however, a number of growing encrypted email services that you can opt for if you are concerned about your privacy.
Here is a list of the best Gmail alternatives and the best part about them is that they are not blocked in China:
Tutanota is a Germany based service with its own apps available, rather than using local apps like Outlook, Android mail feature and iOS default mail apps.
Powered by a fairly simple web UI and excellent mobile apps, it is something every Chinese user should consider for important emails.
Using end-to-end encryption protects all your contacts, emails, subjects, bodies, and attachments. The best part of all: the service is free of charge. Business users can get a premium account at reasonable pricing.
Based in Belgium, Mailfence is another popular alternative to Gmail, which uses signature encryption to offer maximum security. It is the creation of the experts behind the renowned virtual office tool ‘Contact Office’.
The email service is one of a kind, supporting Exchange ActiveSync, IMAP/POP, and other vanity domains like DMARC, DKIM, and SPF.
You even have apps available for all mobile devices. Since the service is located in Belgium, you can also feel assured your activity is safe from Chinese or US gag orders/NSLs.
Launched by activists in Seattle back in 1999, Riseup is a volunteer-run collective service, which provides a range of different products including online chat, email listing, VPN, and email accounts.
Though it is based in the US, the service is renowned for its mission against mass surveillance and social control.
The main aim of the product is to “… aid in the creation of a free society, a world with freedom from want and freedom of expression, a world without oppression or hierarchy, where power is shared equally.”
Zoho is another reliable Gmail alternative, which offers a smooth and ad-free UI, equipped with powerful individual and business features.
It is available in both: premium and free versions that can integrate into Zoho’s official suite of nine applications like the Office Suite, Connect, and Zoho Docs.
The overall appearance and design of the email service is also unique with the Enterprise edition being the most feature-rich. Zoho even supports POP/IMAP and other strong encryption tools for privacy!
Similar to other email services, Yandex Mail offers a free version, which gives you 10 GB of cloud storage. It provides secure encryption against spam emails, viruses, and emails from fake or reported IDs.
It supports IMAP/POP and offers native apps for all smartphones. The best part of all: it uses a secure SSL/TLS connection, which means unauthorized users cannot read your emails.
The provider even offers keyboard shortcuts for easier functioning. You even have an email scheduler available.
Guide: How to Setup VPN in China on iOS
VPNs do offer compatible iOS apps but you won’t find these apps on the iOS app store in China because the Chines government has banned them. So if you want setup VPN on your iOS device, you can follow our step by step guide to setup VPN on iOS manually:
- Go to the Settings menu of your device then go to General>VPN> Add VPN Connection.
- Select from PPTP or IPSec tunneling protocols and enter a name for the connection in the description.
- Enter the server address (request provider) in the server field and your credentials in the account and password field respectively.
- Send All Traffic switch must be turned on then click save.
- Your VPN connection is now ready to connect, go to Settings and click VPN.
- Click the Status switch to connect to the VPN and experience complete online freedom.
- Pro Tip: You can also get the iOS VPN app and select your purpose and desired server in one click.
Gmail in China FAQs
When it comes to understanding how to use Gmail in China, users may come across multiple questions/concerns. We decided to list them down in a single FAQ section below:
What Email Works In China?
Excluding Gmail (that works upon using a VPN), there are plenty of other third-party email services in the marketplace, which have been gaining momentum over the past few years.
Services for an email in China you should know about include Tutanota, Mailfence, Riseup, Zoho, Yandex Mail, and Fast Mail.
Can I get Gmail in China?
The process of unblocking Gmail is simple. Just connect to any server outside China from a working VPN service and you will be able to use Gmail in China without any hindrances.
Which Google Services are Blocked in China?
All Google-related services are blocked in China including the search engine, Gmail, Docs among others.
Wrapping Things Up
To round up, you definitely need to consider Surfshark for accessing Gmail in China as it’s our #1 recommended provider for this. Its affordable price of $1.99/month makes it a perfect contender for your long term unblocking needs in China.
Apart from this, NordVPN and ExpressVPN also work sublimely in China and can unblock Gmail and multiple other sites in the country without any issues.
Having to use a VPN simply for accessing your Gmail is quite disappointing, but since you cannot do without it, go for our recommended providers above to ensure maximum stability and privacy.