Getting online in China is easy. In fact, despite common misconceptions, getting online is sometimes easier in China than in the Western world because of the large number of internet cafes that dot the country.
In order to use a computer at an internet cafe you need to register at the front desk with your passport. Not all internet cafes (called Wang-Ba) allow foreigners. They will wave you away if they cannot accept foreigners in the cafe. If they can, the registration process takes about three minutes.
If you have your own laptop or mobile device it’s fairly easy to find wi-fi in major cities. In Beijing, Starbucks has free wi-fi and there is a Starbucks at every major mall, intersection and sometimes just out in the middle of nowhere. Other cafes have followed suit in the capital to the point where free wi-fi is literally everywhere. In Sanlitun Village, for example, you’ll find several connection options from every major area in the village. On Nanluoguxiang, the converted hutong area north of the Forbidden City, every tiny bar and cafe has wi-fi available. Even if they don’t advertise, it’s worth asking for the passwords.
One thing to keep in mind is the level of access you’ll get on the internet. Some of your favorite sites may be blocked, including the popular social networking sites Facebook and My Space, among others. This can be annoying, but luckily a quick search for a proxy or VPN will yield enough access for you to do your internet basics. Even if you’re basically web illiterate, finding a proxy is easy and if you’ll be in China for a while, necessary. You should not have trouble getting into your email or basic websites as long as they are not news or social networking related.