Don’t let the Great Firewall keep you from the ones you love! Here’s how I get in contact with friends and family back home in the US while I’m living in China.
The Cell Phone Situation
Before coming to China, I called T-Mobile and made sure my phone was unlocked. I have an Android, Eric has an iPhone, and we were both able to unlock our phones. When we got to China, one of Eric’s teachers helped us go to China Mobile to purchase a SIM card and replace our American ones. So far I’ve had Chinese cell service on my phone for 4 months and only paid $30 total, including the SIM card!! The data has been really crappy, so I mainly rely on Wi-Fi, but it’s essential that I’m able to make local calls, and this has done the trick.
Wi-Fi Without VPN
As you probably know, China has something called “The Great Firewall”, which prevents internet users from accessing a variety of websites including Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and a lot of other sites that are common in the US. While using Chinese Wi-Fi without VPN access, here are the options I have for getting in touch with friends and family back home:
I love the WeChat app on my phone, and it seems Chinese people love it too based on how many users it has! This is kind of like the Chinese Facebook – people add family and friends, post “Moments” (which looks like a Timeline), and message each other back and forth.
I use WeChat to keep in touch with Eric’s family and local friends. With WeChat you can send texts, short voice messages, and even make voice calls and video calls – all for free! If there’s someone back home you’ll really miss and they have a smartphone, get them to create a WeChat account. It’ll almost feel the same as texting and calling each other in the States.
I used LINE to keep in touch with Eric while he was in Taiwan, where this messaging app is extremely popular. I also got some of my close friends from home to download it so we could keep a group message going. I primarily use it to message friends, but Eric and I used to do voice calls and video calls a lot while he was in Taiwan. Bonus: the emojis on LINE are ridiculous and adorable.
Non-Gmail E-mail Address
Yahoo and Bing both work in China, but I created a local e-mail address as back-up at 163.com. This website is in Chinese, so Eric helps me navigate it when I need to use it. Sometimes VPN will go out because of a national holiday, and when it does, this is the only way I can communicate with my non-smartphone-using family. I rarely use my 163 e-mail, but it’s comforting to have it as back-up.
Before coming to China, Eric and I purchased a VPN plan through ExpressVPN. We each have our own because you can only be logged into VPN on 2 devices at a time. It cost $100 for the entire year, which I realize is expensive, but as a vlogger and blogger it’s worth every penny!! ExpressVPN has been very straightforward and easy to use.
Skype is unfortunately blocked in China, so speeds can suffer because of the fact that you have to use VPN to access it, but I’ve made numerous successful video calls to my parents.
I also use Skype to call phones, which has been a vital resource for us! I highly recommend you put just $10 in Skype credit on your account so that if you anticipate moments when you’ll need to call your bank, your doctor’s office, your Mom, or any other US phone, you’ll be ready to do so. The minutes are really cheap, and I haven’t even gone through half my minutes yet, despite making dozens of long phone calls.
I keep in touch with most of my friends and family the old-fashioned way, through Facebook, but you may not realize a cool option offered on the Messenger app – Wi-Fi calling! I remember a time when my friend and I were both in Hong Kong (which doesn’t have the Great Firewall), and neither of us had local cell numbers but we both had Wi-Fi. We had messaged back and forth making plans, and when it came time to finding each other in the airport, the Wi-Fi calling worked like a charm!
From time to time, my giant group of college friends will make a big group video call using Google Hangouts. All you need is a G+ or Gmail account, and you can start a Hangout. I’ve talked to 6 people all at once, but I think you can have up to 10!
If you have any questions about keeping in touch from China, or suggestions for future blog posts, be sure to comment below!
Thanks for reading 🙂 Talk to you soon,
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