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It did not occur to me before leaving for China how much of my getting around relies on Google. I am looking for solutions that can be implemented from within China (since I didn't prepare sufficiently in advance).

The two big things are maps, and e-mail. (I've been using Bing as a second-rate substitute for search that is reasonably navigable in English—I had a hard time figuring out the Baidu interface—but I would be interested in other suggestions.)

For maps, I know I could have downloaded an offline map before leaving, so I didn't. I can use OpenStreetMap on my computer, but I'd like something I can use on my Android phone for turn-by-turn navigation. I know I could have downloaded offline maps in advance, but I didn't, so I'm looking for a solution that can be implemented from within China.

For e-mail, … well, I guess mostly I just have to do without, but all flight-related communications from my airline (Delta) go through my GMail address. Is there any way to have access to them so that I don't miss important information? (Probably the answer to this one is just 'no'. I see after posting that this part of the question is a duplicate.)

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    I was surprised when I was in China that Apple Maps is actually helpful and not blocked there—although it is impossible to search for something outside of China from within China using Apple Maps without a VPN. However, since you are an Android user, I strongly suspect Apple Maps is not an option … – Jan Dec 18 '18 at 10:20
  • @Jan, technically it's an option since I've got an iPad Pro with me, but carrying that is a lot less convenient than carrying my phone …. – LSpice Dec 18 '18 at 12:22
  • Regarding maps, there are two similar questions. For flight-related communications, I recommend you access your booking regularly pre-flight on your airline's website. Potentially you can also modify your communication details/preferences thereon. Or have a friend/relative call them on your behalf and add a secondary email that reaches you also in China. – mts Dec 29 '18 at 16:22
  • @mts, thanks, and I will do so in the future; but my question was explicitly about what to do once already in China. – LSpice Jan 3 at 19:52
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The easy way around the Great Firewall is to use a VPN, which tunnels your traffic out of the country and thus lets you use Western services normally. The only catch is that you have to install the software before you get there!

Personally I like ExpressVPN, but the options change constantly and there's a good, regularly updated review of the major options here: https://startuplivingchina.com/best-vpn-for-china/

  • A good suggestion if I'd thought to ask in advance, but now I'm here …. – LSpice Dec 18 '18 at 12:21
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    Can you find anybody/any place with a VPN already installed? Most travellers to China and high-end hotels often have them. – jpatokal Dec 18 '18 at 20:05
  • Hmm, that may be worth a try. I'm not in a high-end hotel, but I am at a conference, and there are plenty of other foreign participants. – LSpice Dec 18 '18 at 21:06
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    @LSpice You can install VPN apps and use it, even in mainland China. At least if you use iDevice and non-China App Stores. For Android IIRC Google Store is blocked in mainland and they rely on their own market to install apps, so it may be impossible to install. But anyway, many Chinese users use VPN, so there should be a way. Not sure if it is navigable using English, though. – Blaszard Dec 19 '18 at 0:10
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    @LSpice It's a cat and mouse game, whenever China banhammers a particular VPN another pops up. – jpatokal Dec 19 '18 at 1:25
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Is Here WeGo an option? (Previously Nokia Here). I'd link to an off-Google Play Store download link but the one site I know is safe, apkmirror, doesn't carry it

  • Here Maps is available in the Android App store. It does allow you to download the maps for the countries you are interested in. However, it seems that you can't download maps for China. – CSM Dec 18 '18 at 11:10
  • Hmm, it didn't occur to me that the Google Play store would also be blocked …. – LSpice Dec 18 '18 at 12:22
  • I just tried accessing the web version of Here WeGo, and it seems to be blocked. I don't know about the app. – LSpice Dec 21 '18 at 1:09
  • Might be best to find a VPN then access Play Store then 😐 – michel-slm Dec 22 '18 at 18:12
  • Also there are alternatives here venturebeat.com/2017/08/06/… – michel-slm Dec 22 '18 at 18:14
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If you are wealthy enough to roam on your home carrier, you will be able to access Google with no problems. When you are roaming, the traffic goes back to the home carrier then to wherever you are trying to access.

But since that probably isn't an option, you will have to use a VPN, which redirects your traffic to their servers and then re-route it to your destination. Great ones include ExpressVPN and VyprVPN. Although the Chinese government is cracking down on VPN services, some of them (including the two I mentioned) are still usable and remain a great way to access banned Internet services. It is illegal, but, no, you won't be arrested. If you are in China, however, that may be very hard to set up. What I suggest you can do is roam with your home carrier, get it set up, then switch back to a local SIM or Wi-Fi. It may cost you, but just once.

Although when it comes to maps, Google Map is very useless in China. Because Google left China a while ago, much information about China on Google Map is outdated. If you can read Chinese at all, use Amap (高德地图) or Baidu Map. Those are the ones that the natives use. If you don't, use Apple Maps, which uses data from Amap, and has English labels with public transit and turn-by-turn navigation. Since you are an Android user, if you require a English service, then only Bing Map will do. It's not nearly the best, but at least Microsoft is still in China and they still update it.

Even with access to western services through a VPN, certain things you want to do simply can't be done with western services. Like we don't Uber here, we use Didi; we don't Postmates or Grubhub here, we use Meituan; we don't use Yelp here, we use Dianping... I don't know how long you are staying here, but there are a lot of "Chinese alternatives" that are the only options in this country that are only available in Chinese. However, if you are just here for a quick business trip, a VPN will do. You will be able to use YouTube, Facebook, GMail, and all the other things on the Internet that you are used to. :)

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