Does Google Maps Work in China? Problems & Solutions
Traveling within China is not always straightforward and easy for outsiders to get accumulated to. Being able to find your way around the country is important for tourists. So, does Google maps work in China? The easy answer is no, Google maps will not work in China. The Chinese government blocks access to Google maps. However, there are alternative ways to access maps. More on that below.
Beating Around the Bush – Using Alternatives
Think for a moment about the most basic help you can get on your smartphone in any country. Being able to move around a city and use essential services like public transportation, it’s one the best advantages when we visit a foreign country such as China where language makes things a bit trickier for visitors. Apps like Google Maps and Google translate make our visit easier allow us to move around with a bit more confidence.
The problem has a lot of issues regarding their security. The country is very protective of its internal infrastructure from external agencies. Google is an American corporation, so they are considered a potential risk on every angle you can think of. That’s why they block most of their services as well as many external websites behind the Great Firewall. That means no Gmail, no YouTube, not any Google-related app such as Maps.
Using Google Maps in China – Problems and Solutions
Smartphones are indeed some of the most reliable devices ever created by humans. They offer such a wild array of solutions that it’s hard to ignore the fact how much we need them to do everything. Not being able to use our devices when we travel to a country such as China is a significant handicap that poses two problems. We are about to tell you which are these issues and the solutions we have for them.
The first issue is data Access on your smartphone. You can try to use Google Maps in China using a VPN while connected to a Wi-Fi network, but the minute you get away from it, you will have to rely on a data plan to keep the service running on your phone. Being connected to a VPN while using mobile data usually eats up a lot of GB’s and can become expensive.
The second issue is that you need access to the blocked services of Google. In this case, Maps is the one you need. If you are worried about other social media outlets, you do well in caring. Sites such as Instagram, Facebook, and most communication apps are blocked in China as well. Most people in China use apps like Wechat for all of their social media and even for making payments.
The solutions to these issues are the following:
Regarding data access, the easiest way to solve this issue is to buy an international roaming adjusted to your existing mobile plan. These usually work pretty well, but they are costly. The best course of action is to buy a SIM card in the country run it on your phone. It is way cheaper, but it needs to be set up properly. The final option is to join a global Wi-Fi network to stay connected, but it won’t work if you go too far from it.
Regarding the blockade, you can solve this by installing and activating software that runs a Virtual Private Network on your smart device or a VPN for shorts. You need to do your homework on which ones can bypass the Great Wall and get them installed on your phone before making the trip. Once you switch it on, you will be able to use most Google services in the mainland with no issues.
The Best Google Maps China Alternative
We can’t stress enough how useful it is to install a VPN to be able to do what you usually do in a place such as China. Sadly a lot of people are not tech savvy enough to mess around with network connections and VPNs. A lot of them would rather work with alternatives that work similarly or that allows them to download an unblocked map to study it and move around. The following is a list of Google maps China alternative you can use, but for them to work correctly, you will need to solve the data issue we just analyzed in the previous point.
1st Option – Baidu Maps
Baidu maps are the most popular alternative to Google Maps in China. The app is widely used the Chinese to get some measure of orientation. The app is free, and it’s very accurate since it’s centered only in China. This is probably the best map app in China since it will be much more accurate than others and always working. It includes walking tracks, public transportation routes, and alternate options to get from one place to another. It’s available for iOS and Android, but it has one massive drawback: if you don’t know Mandarin, you will be lost with this app since it doesn’t have an option to other languages.
2nd Option – OsmAnd Maps
OsmAnd maps are a very viable alternative to Google Maps if you are in China, but it has quite a few limitations that you need to know before installing the app on your smartphone. It’s easy to download maps on your cellphone and scroll them while you are off the network. The app also offers access to the data of specific locations by granting direct access to their Wikipedia pages, if they have one in place. The app also has an option to be managed in English. The downside on this one is that downloading the maps costs a small fee and most of them are not updated. Last but not least, this could sound like nitpicking, but the English translation of many maps leaves a lot to be desired.
3rd Option – Explore Metro (City-Specific Apps)
A lot of cities have their own city-specific apps that grant access to subway maps offline. Most of them have an option to be read in English, and they tend to be very detailed. Popular locations such as Guangzhou, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Beijing, and Shenzhen have this option available. Sadly the benefits stop right there. Since most of these apps are aimed at tourists, so they cost a pretty penny, and they charge money even for every download you make. Most of these apps also only offer transportation guides using the subway. Not a single one them explain how to use bus routes or the location of alternative roads.
All for a Good Cause
If you are a first-time traveler to China, we strongly recommend that you set your smart device with the suggestions offered in the opening lines of this guide. You will make your life much easier, especially if you don’t speak any Mandarin. If you know the language, you can try the local options. Otherwise, you will be firing blanks to go from location A to destination B during your stay.
Hopefully now you have a better understanding of does Google maps work in China or not. If you have any questions about anything or need help connecting with any of the maps, please comment below.