A lot of tourists and new expats that arrive in China are often shocked to find that they can’t access Instagram while inside the country. That’s because most foreign social media apps and websites are blocked by a government enforced internet filter, nicknamed “The Great Firewall of China”.

Thankfully, there is hope!

Here are some of the different methods you can use (some free, some paid) to access Instagram and all other blocked apps and websites in China:

5 ways to use Instagram in China

  1. Get a free VPN (virtual private network) app such as Lantern or Tunnelbear.
  2. Use a free VPN app trial such as ExpressVPN
  3. Get a Hong Kong SIM card with China data roaming (mobile only)
  4. Use Project Fi by Google for data roaming in China (mobile only)
  5. Create your own DIY VPN on a server with Outline (by Google)

How to use Instagram in China (with a free VPN)

A VPN acts as a secure middleman to route your traffic around the Great Firewall of China. Free VPN apps usually have monthly bandwidth limits (~500 MB), which probably won’t be enough if you plan on staying in China for more than a couple of days. Furthermore, not all VPNs work in China!

Remember to install and setup your VPN before arriving in China since most VPN websites and the Google play store are blocked.

Pros

  • Unblock websites and apps for free!

Cons

  • Limited bandwidth (usually only 500MB).
  • Not recommended for visitors to China staying more than a couple days.
  • Free VPNs can be slow.
  • Some free VPNs are dangerous! Be careful what you download.

Here’s how to use Instagram in China with a free VPN:

  1. Download Lantern: Lantern is a free VPN / proxy for Windows, Android, and Mac. It is not available for iOS. We recommend Tunnelbear for iOS users looking for a free VPN for China.
  2. Install Lantern on your device: On desktop devices, you will need to allow Lantern to change your system proxy settings.
  3. Launch the Lantern app: On desktop devices, it will launch a browser that will show all the app details. Because this is the free version, you will not be able to change the server location. You will also only be able to use 500MB of bandwidth per month.
  4.  Use your VPN: Try to use Google. Youtube, Instagram, or any other blocked app to see if your VPN is working. If you have not arrived in China yet, you can test your IP location with your VPN on here. The location should be the same as the VPN server location.

How to use Instagram in China (with a free VPN trial)

Many premium (paid) VPN apps will allow you to

  • test out their app for free for a limited period time
  • or cancel your VPN app subscription with a full refund before some deadline (usually 30 days).

Remember that not all VPN apps work in China. Most are blocked due to VPN crackdowns in China. Check out our guide for a complete list of the Best VPNs for China.

Pros

  • Unblock websites and apps with fast performance
  • No data caps! Unlimited bandwidth
  • More trustworthy than free apps.
  • Will work on the majority of devices.

Cons

  • Need to charge to your credit card first before you cancel
  • If you forget to cancel you will charged for the subscription.

Here’s how to use Instagram in China (with a free VPN trial):

  1. Sign up for an ExpressVPN account. ExpressVPN is one of the best and most popular premium VPN apps used in China to bypass blocked apps. They offer a 30-day money-back guarantee, so as long as you cancel before the 30-day period you can get a full refund. Good VPNs that work in China and also offer either a trial / refund period include: ExpressVPN, VyprVPN, and Astrill. 
  2. Install ExpressVPN. Either download the desktop app for your computer (Windows, Mac, Linux, or Chrome Extension) or download the mobile app from the Google Play store or Apple App store.
  3. Launch the app and login. ExpressVPN uses a activation key which can be found in your account area on their website when you login
  4. Select your server location. For ExpressVPN users in China, the best servers for speed are Los Angeles 2, 4, 5 and Hong Kong 4, 5.
  5. Turn on your VPN and browse the web unblocked! Test that your VPN works by trying to use Google, Gmail, Facebook, Youtube, or any other blocked website / app.

Remember to cancel your VPN subscription before your trial or refund period ends if you don’t want to keep it.

Aside from unblocking Instagram in China, VPN apps are actually very useful for things like internet privacy, security, and accessing other geo-restricted content (Netflix libraries from other countries, BBC player, World Cup of Soccer 2018 live streams, Comedy Central, etc)

How to access Instagram in China (with a Hong Kong SIM card)

Tourists passing through Hong Kong before going to China can unblock mobile apps in China by getting a Hong Kong SIM card. Just make sure you buy a Hong Kong SIM card with China data roaming. China Mobile is one of the providers in Hong Kong that offers SIM cards for travellers that include China data.

This SIM card trick works because data roaming routes your internet traffic through your SIM card’s home carrier (in this case the Hong Kong carrier). Since the internet is not blocked in Hong Kong, you can sue the web freely.

Pros

  • Unblock websites and apps with good performance
  • No need for other apps

Cons

  • Data roaming is more expensive than using a local China SIM card.
  • Only works for mobile devices that use a SIM card. Probably too expensive to tether a laptop.
  • Must go to Hong Kong to get the SIM card

The same SIM card trick can be used with Google’s Project Fi. At this time Project Fi is only available to US residents.

How to use a DIY VPN on your own server

Outline by Jigsaw let's you easily setup your own VPN

If you are more technically savvy, you can try deploying your own VPN on a VPS server using Google’s Outline open source software. It basically uses the Shadowsocks SOCKS5 protocol to encrypt and route traffic. It is pretty effective against detection from the Great Firewall. For more information, check out our Outline VPN guide.

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