I’ll be traveling to China for business shortly.
Typically for work I use Gmail, Google docs, Dropbox, iCloud Drive, Apple notes and iMessages.
My understanding is that Apple’s services should continue to work but that the others will not because of China’s firewall.
Does anyone have any recommendations of a VPN to use to get around these restrictions they know will work well in China?
A few years back, I used Express VPN and I had a colleague suggest Nord VPN. Both should work most of the time, however at some points, the CCP will ratchet up their firewall and VPNs will stop working altogether, at least that’s the experience my in-laws have who still live there.
Thanks for your thoughts @motopascyyy
I appreciate that nothing is 100% guaranteed as the firewall might be updated the day I arrive. I suppose taking two options (e.g. Express VPN and Nord VPN) could help in the event that one doesn’t work - the other might.
Having traveled to China several times, and in view of Xi’s more authoritarian governance, I humbly suggest the following:
- Use a completely separate phone from your normal business or personal phone.
- Use a completely separate laptop or iPad from your normal business or personal phone
- Both of the above devices should have only the absolute required documents on them.
- Install a good VPN, I use ExpressVPN. Note: the Chinese government has very sophisticated cyber capabilities so I would not assume VPN protects your privacy.
- If at all possible, avoid using the Internet and cloud services. Keep everything encrypted on your hard drive.
- In as much as possible, conduct business by phone, document conversations as needed on your mobile device for future reference once back in country.
I also made it a practice of keeping my devices turned off when not in use.
That’s very similar to the advice that I give when people from my workplace visit China.
The advice from @Bmosbacker is excellent. I would only add a couple of points:
If you require email access, forward your email to a throwaway account at a provider known to work in China (ie. not Gmail).
Do not log into or access any of your regular accounts which contain data you do not wish to share with the Chinese government. If you absolutely must do so, change your passwords from a computer which did not accompany you to China as soon as you return home.
Do not leave your devices in your hotel room when you are not there.
The Chinese government has a known history of taking foreigner’s phones & computers for “examination” at customs and they install spyware and in some cases with laptops hardware which compromises the device. This doesn’t happen to everyone, but it is a common occurrence.
Many corporations which do business in China will give their employees a hardened laptop to take with them which contains only the data necessary for the trip. Upon return the laptops are shredded as they are considered compromised.
As extreme as all this advice might sound, it’s very similar to the advice I see from very large companies for their employees.
You may or may not be as attractive a target for snooping as employees of those companies. Then again, one of the benefits of digital infrastructure is that it’s very scalable – it costs a government very little to snoop on additional people once the tools are in place.
I go to china regularly, and I can also vouch for ExpressVPN, which works most of the time. However, it is not going to work 100% as the government is always playing a cat and mouse game with VPN providers (they will eventually block them completely I’ve been told).
I also do not take my primary laptop,I take a Dell that I reformat every time I go, and also format again when I get back. I’ve heard of employees from my company having laptops taken so I don’t take my Mac.
Do you take steps to find and remove any rootkit or other malware that might have been installed?
I give it to my company’s IT department which scans for malware and resets it to factory defaults.
I’ve been traveling to China regularly for over 20 years. All of the advice here is correct.
I take my laptop with me wherever I go and make sure I don’t connect to anything without a VPN working. My colleague had his MacBook go missing from a reputable hotel room about 5 years ago. The manager and staff just shrugged their shoulders and denied that it was possible.
I do suggest having a second phone with the bare minimum info on it and a WeChat account that is linked to ONLY that phone.
I also run the VPN when I am NOT connected to WIFI.
The best VPN I’ve used lately is ASTRILL. It is good to have at least two VPNs. Sometimes one works and the other doesn’t. Make sure you install and update ALL apps BEFORE your flight takes off for china because you may be unable to download and install them while there.
Regardless of the precautions you take, always assume that everything you do on your phone and laptop can be seen, recorded, and linked to your passport.
Having lived and worked in China on and off for years I would say that @BMosbacker’s advice is spot on… I would add don’t use hotel wifi.
For VPN, I would highly recommend Proton VPN/Mail. They also provide encrypted mail services. Both work well in China but I would avoid using them for prolonged periods. The Chinese systems will detect and block, Proton VPN is very good at agile response to prevent blocking but if you are online too long the system will detect. Oh and take a good book, unless Chinese soapies on TV are your thing…
Oh and take a good book, unless Chinese soapies on TV are your thing…
Or sumo wrestling. I occasionally ran across that on the TV in my hotel on trips to China and Taiwan. I can’t say I’m a fan.
Yes, Sumo wrestling is “unique”…