Google Play is something many smartphone users take for granted. With its massive app library and growing entertainment features, it’s a real bonus for all Android users. However, that doesn’t apply to people in China, where Google Play is blocked
Why is Google blocked in China? It’s a long story. But it’s not really a problem for visitors or residents of the country. With a VPN on your phone, you can beat the ban, and access apps and music whenever you wish. But before we turn to solutions, let’s look a bit more about how the Google Play ban came about.
What is the situation regarding Google Play in China?
If you find your Google Play store not working on the Chinese mainland, that’s far from unusual. In fact, the country has effectively imposed a comprehensive ban on all Google applications, in an attempt to prevent Chinese internet users from downloading anything from Google Play.
But why is Google blocked in China? Well, the story stretches back to 2010, when Google wasn’t quite the global giant that it is today (and it certainly didn’t anticipate making billions from app downloads).
In 2010, Google made a shock announcement, telling local internet users that it would pull out of the Chinese market. The search engine explained its decision, reporting that its servers had been subjected to officially endorsed cyber attacks. It also noted that Gmail accounts belonging to Chinese human rights activists had been hacked. So, in accordance with the “Don’t Be Evil” mantra, the company pulled the plug on Google services in China.
After that, the tech giant tried numerous times to re-enter the Chinese market. But Beijing had learned its lesson and has continuously made life difficult for Google’s services.
Since 2016, Google has upped the ante a little, creating a version of its search engine called Dragonfly, which satisfies the wishes of Beijing’s censors. This still hasn’t been implemented, though, and there’s no legal way to access Google Play in China.
Why is not being able to access Google Play in China a big deal
The absence of Google Play from the Chinese internet landscape is a massive deal for anyone who owns an Android phone. The Play repository is the single most reliable place to download apps for Android devices, with over 2.5 million tools available as of mid-2018.
Google Play also enables Google customers to access huge libraries of movies and music, TV shows, e-books and other digital products. So you can imagine how annoying it is to arrive in Shanghai with your smartphone, only to find that the world’s biggest Android database is off limits.
A variety of Chinese Android stores have emerged in the absence of Google Play, such as Tencent App Gem, Baidu, the Huawei App Store, Xiaoimi App Store, and HiMarket. These sites can be a good stopgap, but they don’t have the same security and quality guarantee offered by Google.
One of the strengths of Play is that developers need to stick to certain guidelines. In theory, if they breach those rules, they can be barred from the marketplace.
Alternatives to Google services in China aren’t bound by those restrictions. So there’s a slightly elevated risk of acquiring a nasty malware infection, along with spyware or adware – not to mention cryptocurrency miners. It all means that when you find the Google Store not working, it’s time to find a workaround. So let’s do that now.
How to access Google Play in China: A step by step guide
If you’d like to access Google Play on the Chinese mainland, it is technically possible. After all, the internet is a global network of computers, and anyone can establish a connection with Google Play servers on the other side of the world.
The problem is that China’s Great Firewall makes sure that users inside the country can’t get close to those servers.
But wait. There are simple ways to leap over the Great Firewall without being detected. To do so, we’ll need two things: data encryption and a form of anonymisation. That way, we can effectively transplant our internet connection to a server elsewhere on the planet, and download apps to our phone without Beijing having any idea of our activity.
Accessing Google Play in China with a VPN
The key tool to use here is a Virtual Private Network (VPN). These commonly available tools create encrypted connections between your smartphone and servers in other parts of the world. And they also assign users anonymous IP addresses, so onlookers can’t detect their real location or identity.
Here’s a basic guide to getting it done:
- Consult a guide to the best VPNs to use in China, or choose one from the list below. Don’t opt for a free VPN or inferior providers. Beating China’s internet censors requires some serious technical knowledge, and only the best VPNs can supply this.
- Purchase a subscription – The best VPNs are paid-for services which tend to charge monthly, bi-annual, or annual subscription fees. If you can find one which allows payments in cryptocurrency, you can buy a subscription totally anonymously. If not, try to buy a subscription before you touch down in China, as government snoopers can eavesdrop the purchasing process.
- Download the VPN and log on.
That’s the VPN taken care of. But there may be another stage to go through.
Some users may need to download Google Services. Android phones sold in China won’t have Google’s software installed, and without it, you can’t access Google Play.
Remember to engage your VPN before starting this process, as the download is officially blocked in China.
- Use your phone to download the Google Services Framework from a site like APKMirror (a reliable Android repository).
- Install the Framework as directed and agree to install all of the Google Apps when asked. You’ll need to grant a few permissions here.
- When that’s done, you should find the Google Play icon on your home screen.
Pick the right VPN for accessing Google Play in China
As we noted above, not all VPNs are equal when it comes to beating the Great Firewall of China. The Chinese government operate a pretty tight ban of VPNs which use the L2TP and PPTP protocols, but it does much less well with OpenVPN and IKEv2. VPNs using these protocols are the way to go, and here are a few suggestions:
- NordVPN – Elite VPN, NordVPN very rarely fails when breaking geo-blocks and censorship. Google Play in China is no different.
- VyprVPN – Scores really highly on security, but less so on speed. But what you need to access Google Play is all here.
- ExpressVPN – Generally thought of as the fastest and most reliable VPN for Chinese users, you can’t go wrong with ExpressVPN.
Visit our Best VPN for China list to find more VPN providers that work in China
Enjoy Google Services wherever you go
Google Play is a vital source of smartphone apps and digital media, so why be without it during your stay in China? If you notice your Google Play store not working in China, don’t worry. With a high-quality VPN on your phone, you can populate your phone with all the apps you desire.