Since China’s government is very careful about what information the citizens can access, internet usage is censored and monitored. Sometimes, this is jokingly referred to as “the Great Firewall of China”. Many sites and apps that we take for granted here in the United States are either severely limited or completely blocked. I will list some of the main ones but realize that this information can and does change at the whim of the Chinese government.
Blocked Access: Facebook, Google, Gmail, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but these are the sites and apps that I use consistently that are not normally accessible while in China. Since you are not a Chinese citizen, you are not subject to the censorship completely. You can access these sites if you have VPN that shows your location as somewhere outside of the Firewall (many people choose Singapore as it is less busy than US servers, but I used US servers most of the time and had no issue). So what is a VPN? A VPN is an app that you download onto your phone and it makes your phone appear to be in a different location. This is great for privacy and security even if you aren’t traveling in China. IMPORTANT NOTE: You MUST download the VPN before you leave the United States. You will not be able to download it once you are in China. I also suggest that you download a couple of different VPNs as they fluctuate between which ones are best. I used Express VPN which you can easily find on the app store.
As for your cellular service, you should have good reception in most of the cities. However, you should contact your provider and find out what International options they have available. You will be paying extra to use your cell phone in China, but if you do your homework before you leave it will be not too expensive. Be sure to know what your data limits are. There is Wifi available almost everywhere, but remember you will not be able to access certain sites. So if you plan on using Facebook or even Google, you will be using your data. It is very easy to go over the data overage (at least in my case) as many of the sites I use regularly need the VPN. I did not realize that uploading photos to Facebook would use as much data, so I used my limit quickly and had to pay an overage. It wasn’t horribly expensive, but just be aware…anything you use on the VPN will be using your data.
These are the options I used to keep in contact with home. There are many other options, but this was the quickest, easiest, and most reasonable for me. If you have any further question, please feel free to comment or contact me.