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Accessing WhatsApp Abroad : How to Circumvent the Restrictions

Last edited: October 1, 2020
Reading time: 6 minutes, 45 seconds
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How to get around WhatsApp restrictions: a short summary

In certain countries, VoIP services such as WhatsApp are blocked. What is the best way to get around those restrictions during your holiday or stay abroad? The best way to circumvent VoIP restrictions is by using  a VPN. VPN software allows you to redirect your Internet traffic via a VPN server in another country. This is how you do it:

  1. Subscribe to a good VPN and create an account.
  2. Download the VPN software onto your device.
  3. Log in to the VPN software.
  4. Choose a VPN server in a country where Whatsapp isn’t blocked.
  5. You are now able to chat on WhatsApp. In addition to WhatsApp, you can also access other services that may be blocked by your country of residence, such as Skype.

Do you want to start using a VPN for overcoming WhatsApp restrictions? We recommend ExpressVPN. This VPN has a lot of options, offers fast and secure service and has a large number of servers worldwide.

For more information on why WhatsApp is blocked, how a VPN works and tips on how to get around WhatsApp restrictions, read our full article below.

The popular messaging service WhatsApp allows users to securely exchange text messages, videos calls, and files with one another. In a time when data breaches are common, WhatsApp appeals to many people. Unfortunately, WhatsApp is banned in China and the United Arab Emirates and is restricted in multiple other countries. However, it is possible for WhatsApp users to access the service in these countries. Here is an overview of WhatsApp restrictions abroad and how to get around them.

Which Countries Limit WhatsApp and Why?

China has largely banned WhatsApp in recent years. In July 2017, the Chinese government began blocking many WhatsApp functions. These included file sharing, video, and voice chats. China lifted the block a few weeks later. But in September 2017, the government blocked all features of the app. The ban currently remains in place, despite concerns that it disrupts Chinese businesses.

While China’s ban on WhatsApp is well-known, other countries also restrict the app. Qatar and the United Arab Emirates ban WhatsApp, as well as Snapchat and FaceTime. Saudi Arabia limited some features of WhatsApp in the past, especially voice calls, but lifted the ban in 2016. Other countries that temporarily shut down WhatsApp include Brazil, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Egypt and Morocco.

Why Do They Ban WhatsApp?

Whatsapp LogoIt’s worth exploring why some countries temporarily banned or shut down WhatsApp. Brazil’s citizens used to have more online freedom. The country even adopted an internet constitution supporting net neutrality in 2014. But in 2015 and 2016, the government blocked WhatsApp twice. This was because the government had a dispute with WhatsApp’s owner Facebook on handing over data to investigate cybercrimes. The Brazilian government has since passed more laws that combat cybercrime. But these laws also limit the internet freedom of many Brazilians.

Turkey blocked WhatsApp in November 2016 after the arrest of members of the Kurdish-backed People’s Democracy Party (PDP). The Turkish government has increasingly resorted to internet censorship. This is mostly to prevent media coverage of certain political events. They claim these actions are to prevent civil unrest. However, they greatly restrict the internet freedom of Turkish citizens.

Saudi Arabia banned voice calls on WhatsApp, Skype and other VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) services prior to 2017. This made it more difficult for Saudi residents to communicate with the outside world. The aim was to restrict the flow of foreign ideas and information into the country. The kingdom lifted that ban in 2017 to promote business and economic growth. The idea that services like WhatsApp and Skype should be restricted to defend against negative influences is shared by China.

In some countries VoIP service blocks and restrictions are implemented as a form of protectionism by telecommunications companies. Whatsapp’s ability to offer free, worldwide voice and video calling has a potentially negative impact on the revenue generated by a telecoms company’s own services. For this reason they block the use of WhatsApp and similar platforms.

WhatsApp Restrictions and the Great Firewall of China

China’s WhatsApp ban is related to the country’s attempts to censor free and open communication. China’s internet censorship program, known as the Great Firewall of China, is one of the most restrictive in the world. The government designed the Firewall to block information that threatens its Communist principles. It also functions to limit the spread of foreign and Western ideas within the country.

WhatsApp is of particular concern to the Chinese government because it has advanced encryption features. The encryption technology prevents third parties from seeing conversations and messages sent over WhatsApp. As a result, the government fears that Chinese citizens will exchange anti-Communist content over WhatsApp. This is why the app is restricted along with many other websites.

China has other messaging services such as WeChat, which is similar to WhatsApp but without the encryption features. Unsurprisingly, services like WeChat are frequently monitored by the government. In addition, WeChat provides information to the Chinese government on request. This practice demonstrates that the government is deeply suspicious of private communication. As a result, China heavily censors its citizens.

How To Get Around These Restrictions

It’s important to understand how governments limit WhatsApp in order to get around these restrictions. When a government decides to block WhatsApp, they notify all the internet service providers (ISPs) in the country. The ISPs are required to block their users’ connections to the app so they can no longer access it. Since all ISPs must comply, the app is blocked on every internet connection in the country.

Despite these bans on WhatsApp, you can access the service using a virtual private network (VPN). You can use VPNs to access banned web content as well. The VPN encrypts your data and transmits it through a proxy server, which assigns you a different IP address. This hides your actual IP address and location and sends your data through another country. In this way, someone in China can get around the WhatsApp block.

Suitable VPN Options to Unblock WhatsApp

To access WhatsApp in countries that limit its use, you need to connect to a VPN service first. Then you can get around the restrictions and use all the app’s features. At the same time, not all VPNs are reliable. You need to find a VPN service with advanced security features, a large network of servers, and fast connection speeds. Here are some VPN options that are well suited to unblocking WhatsApp.

Access WhatsApp with ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN is rated as the best overall VPN service of this moment in terms of speed, reliability and security. It lets you connect to a network of over 3000 servers in more than 90 countries. This means you can get around WhatsApp blocks in many countries, including China. In fact, ExpressVPN is one of the best VPNs you can use when visiting China.

There are many different security features on ExpressVPN to keep you safe as you use WhatsApp. The features include 256-bit encryption to protect your data, DNS leak protection, and a kill switch to stop data from being transmitted over an unprotected connection. Additional features include an IP checker and a no-logs policy to further protect your private data.

This service is also notable for its high speeds, which allow you to send texts, messages and voice calls through WhatsApp without delays. It’s also fairly easy to navigate and install, which makes it a good choice for VPN novices as well as more experienced users.

ExpressVPN
Our pick
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Deal:
3 months for free with a one-year subscription
9.5
  • Very easy to use VPN
  • Perfect for anonymous browsing, downloading, and streaming (i.e. Netflix)
  • 3000+ servers in 94 countries
Visit ExpressVPN

Access WhatsApp with NordVPN

NordVPN is very safe and fast. Their no-logs policy and their wide selection of servers make it a very attractive VPN for a more than reasonable price. Moreover, the VPN is perfect to stay completely anonymous online. NordVPN has lots of extra options to improve your online safety which definitely makes them the safest premium VPN provider.

NordVPN
Deal:
Only $3.71 a month for a 2-year subscription
9.3
  • Excellent protection and a large network of servers
  • Nice and pleasing application
  • No logs
Visit NordVPN

Using VPNs in China

Regardless of which option you select, if you are traveling to China there are additional considerations. If you’re planning on using a VPN in China, remember to choose your provider carefully and download the VPN before you leave home. This is because China also bans VPN services. By following these steps, you should have no problem using WhatsApp in China.

Final Thoughts

Many countries restrict services like WhatsApp for a variety of reasons. Some nations like China worry about people sending anti-government messages. Or they are concerned with keeping unwanted influences away from their citizens. Temporary WhatsApp bans often happen during periods of civil unrest or anti-government protests. Many times countries resort to censorship to reduce unrest or riots. In any case, a government’s willingness to restrict its citizens’ freedom is a very controversial practice.

The good news is that despite government restrictions, citizens and visitors alike can still access WhatsApp. If you purchase a VPN from a reputable provider, you have all you need to use WhatsApp abroad. This also goes for other apps, like TikTok and Facebook. As long as you set up the VPN before you leave home, it’s possible to get around restrictions in any country.

How to get around WhatsApp restrictions: Frequently Asked Questions

Would you like to know more on how to circumvent WhatsApp restrictions while traveling? Below we have made a list with Frequently Asked Questions. Please click on a question to see the answer!

In some countries VoIP services are blocked as a form of protectionism by telecommunications companies. Whatsapp’s ability to offer free, worldwide voice calling has a potentially negative impact on the revenue generated by a telecoms company’s own services. For this reason they block the use of WhatsApp and similar platforms. Another reason for blocking WhatsApp is government censorship.

You can use a VPN connection to get WhatsApp working again. Once you are connected to a server in another country, you also gain the freedom of that country. You will receive a corresponding IP address and from that moment on you are digitally located in that other country. If you are connected to a server in a country where it is permitted to use WhatsApp, you also have access to this service.

ExpressVPN is rated as the best overall VPN service of this moment in terms of speed, reliability and security. It lets you connect to a network of over 3000 servers in more than 90 countries. You can get around WhatsApp blocks in many countries. There are different security features on ExpressVPN to keep you safe as you use WhatsApp.

Tech journalist
Tove has been working for VPNoverview since 2017 as a journalist covering cybersecurity and privacy developments. Since 2019 she is VPNoverview.com's cybersecurity news coordinator.

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  1. Hello, I have a friend who reside in UAE. Your article has not mentioned whether local authorities have a way to see if someone is using WhatsApp or not? He is concerned that if the local authorities found out that he is using WhatsApp he could be faced with severe penalties, perhaps even jail time!

    • If they have your friend’s phone number they could potentially see that your friend is using WhatsApp by using it themselves and adding him or her. They could also find out if they confiscate your friend’s phone. We currently do not know of any other ways they might be able to see if someone’s using a banned app, but that doens’t mean there aren’t any.

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