Everyone must have heard of the extensive internet regulation and censorship in China and first-time travellers to this country do not always know what to do in order to get around the notorious Great Firewall of China. As I will be traveling to Beijing pretty soon, I have put together a short guide on getting around this regulation and also a number of things to take note of when you travel to China. The first thing any tech-savvy traveller would ask is about the availability of 4G SIM Cards in China. While it is definitely possible to pick one up at the airport (information seems to be rather limited on the internet) or in the city, it may save you a little hassle by settling this in Singapore before you go. Here are three alternatives to buying a SIM Card in China:
Alternatives to Getting a 4G SIM Card from China
Option 1: Changi Recommends - Overseas Wi-Fi Rental with ChangiWiFi
ChangiWiFi is basically a travel router that you can rent from Changi Recommends that will provide you with 3G or 4G connection (depending on the country) for up to 6 devices. You will be charged a daily rental fee which is dependent on your intended country of travel but this could potentially save you some money if you do intend to share it with a few friends. At the time of writing, ChangiWiFi is priced at S$8 per day (calculated based on a 24-hour basis) and if you are traveling for 5 days, this is approximately S$40. The battery for this device generally lasts up to 6 hours so make sure you bring along a portable battery pack to recharge it on the go.
More information: ChangiWiFi
Option 2: Activate Roaming on Your Singapore Mobile Plans
Depending on where you are traveling to, Singtel offers data roaming plans from just S$12 for 1GB (30 days validity). In the case of China, you are looking at S$20 for 1GB (30 days) validity and the Expanded ReadyRoam package covers over 16 destinations - you can not limited to just one location within the validity period.
More information: ReadyRoam on Singtel
M1 allows you to use your local data bundle that comes with your postpaid plan in anyone of the listed destinations with Data Passport - all you have to do is to pay a monthly fee (one month is the minimum). This fee is priced at S$25 and upon paying this (as well as a $2 activation fee), M1 postpaid users will be able to utilise his or her local data bundle in China for a month. There is also the option of unlimited data roaming in China for S$15 per day which in my opinion is ridiculously expensive.
StarHub offers a DataTravel 30-day subscription at S$15 and S$20 for 2GB and 3GB of data respectively and this covers China amongst other countries in Asia and Oceania. There is also the option of DataTravel Unlimited which allows a user to enjoy unlimited connectivity and usage at S$25 a day for China. There are also RoamEasy daily and monthly plans which may be useful for the frequent traveller.
Option 3: Happy Roam on StarHub Mobile Prepaid
Priced from just S$5 for 1GB (3-day validity), Happy Roam on StarHub Mobile Prepaid is probably one of the best value alternatives out there. All you have to do is to buy a Happy Prepaid SIM for S$15 and then sign-up for one of the Happy Roam Data Plans and you will get to enjoy 4G connectivity across various destinations at a comparatively low price. If you are looking at a 5-day trip, you could essentially pay just S$7 for 1GB of data (as opposed to S$20 on Singtel) in China. For maximum value, consider buying one of the special S$32 and S$50 Happy Prepaid SIMs online and picking up from Changi Airport to benefit from even more perks like complimentary Happy Roam and Local Data!
Getting Over the Great Firewall of China with VPNs
I have previously written about how the use of VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) can help you to not only safeguard your privacy but also to potentially unlock better room rates on OTAs. Since access to popular websites and platforms like Google, Facebook and Instagram and typically limited in China (even if you are roaming!), VPNs are able to spoof your access location to make it seem like you are accessing the site from another city to bypass these restrictions. There are countless VPN applications and softwares in the market and this is by no means an extensive list that you should consider but if you do not know where to start here are a number of options:
Option 1: VPN Unlimited (Paid)
Every VPN application and software has its own pros and cons which are measured primarily by reliability and speed. I have personally gotten a lot of success with VPN Unlimited (which you can get for 7-days at just US$1.99) and have therefore opted for a lifetime license with them - you will be able to use up to 5 devices with this license and if you do intend to access an untethered internet over your mobile phone(s) and laptop(s), this could potentially save you a lot of money in the long run.
Option 2: Betternet Unlimited Free VPN Proxy (Freemium)
A lot of travellers have also recommended the Betternet Unlimited Free VPN Proxy application widely. This is a free app and you do not have to pay in order to use it - some of the common limitations with free apps include a comparatively slower speed and less reliability but this seems to be working rather well for most people. I highly recommend for you to download, set-up and try out these applications prior to departing from Singapore as it may be difficult for you to download them once you have gotten to China.
Option 3: Hexatech VPN Proxy (Freemium)
This relatively new option apparently delivers superior speed and connectivity but I will definitely have to try it out for myself when I get there.