Smartphone with WhatsApp

Accessing WhatsApp Abroad : How to Circumvent the Restrictions

Last edited: December 9, 2019
Reading time: 6 minutes, 45 seconds

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.

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.

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Access WhatsApp with CyberGhost

CyberGhost is one of the simplest VPN options available, which makes it ideal for new VPN users. You don’t need to be high-tech or have previous experience with VPNs to figure out CyberGhost.

The process for unblocking WhatsApp is straightforward. All you need to do is open up the CyberGhost software and select the option Unblock Basic Websites. From there you can unblock WhatsApp with just a click. The program will also configure all the setting for you automatically.

In addition to ease of use, CyberGhost has many other important features. Its network consists of thousands of servers in 60+ different countries. Like ExpressVPN, it offers 256-bit encryption, has a no logs policy, and boasts fast speeds. This makes it easy to securely use all WhatsApp features.

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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. As long as you set up the VPN before you leave home, it’s possible to get around WhatsApp restrictions in any country.

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

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