Is Android blocked in China?

Android is China’s most popular mobile operating system, but, paradoxically, smartphones sold in China cannot have Google services pre-installed. That means stock Android and any other western versions of Android that come preloaded with apps like Gmail, Drive, Translate, and Google Play are not allowed to be sold in the country.

Tip: To access blocked sites and services you will need a VPN, however only a small number work. See our list of the best VPNs for China.

Instead, phone manufacturers use Android as a foundation and strip it of all those Google services, creating their own China-only forks of Android in the process. Chinese phone makers even include restrictions in their devices that prevent the user from installing Google services after purchase. This makes it impossible to install any Google apps on the device without rooting it and completely replacing the operating system.

Android.com is blocked in China, including the Android Device Manager tool that allows users to remotely locate and wipe their phones if lost or stolen.

How to unblock Android in China

If you buy an Android phone or tablet outside of China and bring it into the country, all of your apps and Google services will still be accessible if you use a VPN. Short for virtual private network, a VPN encrypts all of your device’s internet traffic and routes it through a server in a remote location of your choosing. To use blocked Android apps, one simply needs to connect to a server in a country where those apps are not restricted.

Most VPNs are subscription services that require monthly or yearly payments. Criteria for a good VPN include strong security, fast speeds, and a wide range of servers to choose from around the globe.

Make sure the VPN provider you decide on makes an app for Android. Our top recommendation is ExpressVPN, which makes easy-to-use apps for Android as well as Windows, Mac OS, iOS, and Linux (command line).

Once you’ve signed up for a VPN account, just install the app, select a server in whatever location you wish outside of China, and connect. Once the connection is established, all of those blocked Google apps should be accessible and functioning normally. Censored websites, including Android.com, will also be unblocked.

Note that even with the VPN enabled, some apps just don’t work well in China because Google has no official presence there. Wave and Maps, for instance, aren’t as robust as they are in other countries.

If you buy an Android phone from inside China, there is no way to install Google apps on it without replacing the operating system. You will need to root the device and use a third-party OS such as CyanogenMod. Use caution, as this method carries a risk of permanently bricking the phone.