China has long attempted to control their citizens’ access to the outside world via the internet.
The Chinese government actively works to block websites and online services located outside of its borders. Sites and services blocked include Skype, Google, Gmail, Facebook, Netflix, Twitter, YouTube and many others.
The government accomplishes this by using a combination of technology and legislative actions that have become known as the “Great Firewall of China.” Chinese officials use the Great Firewall to regulate and limit access to online services that they consider improper for their citizens (or visitors to China, for that matter).
Luckily, if you reside in or are visiting China, you can put a tool in your online arsenal that protects your online activities from observation by the Chinese government. You can use it simultaneously to tunnel under the Great Firewall of China to gain access to websites, content and services from the outside world.
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) provides encryption for your internet connection, keeping your online activities undercover, safe from the prying eyes of government agents, advertisers and the unsavory guy at the next table down at a cafe.
A VPN can also make it appear as if you’re connecting to the internet from another geographical location, allowing you to access blocked content housed in other parts of the world that might not normally be available to you, including streaming services and gaming servers. (Pro tip: All of this works in other parts of the world, too.)
In this article, I’ll share with you the 5 best VPNs for use inside China. We’ll also be taking a look at the most important factors to keep in mind when searching for the right VPN service.
How to Use Your VPN in China
Please keep in mind that China blocks access to the websites of many popular VPN providers. This blockade makes it nearly impossible to subscribe to a VPN from inside Chinese borders.
That’s why I strongly recommend that you download your preferred VPN provider’s software before entering China.
To protect your online activities with a VPN while inside Chinese borders, do the following:
- Subscribe to the VPN that is best for your needs.
- Install the provider’s app(s) on your device(s).
- Log into the VPN.
- Select a VPN server located outside of China and connect to it.
- Enjoy your online anonymity and freedom.
Best VPNs for China
I ran my top VPN providers through rounds of rigorous testing and came up with a list of the 5 best VPNs for use in China. If you’re short on time, here’s a brief summary:
- ExpressVPN: Works well in China and offers excellent security and privacy protections. The provider’s excellent global server coverage ensures top-notch content-unblocking power.
- NordVPN: This provider’s obfuscated servers do a good job of allowing escape from China’s virtual roadblocks. Its well-protected connections deliver plenty of speed, and all for a reasonable price.
- Surfshark: Works in China and provides excellent unblocking power for blocked services like Netflix and others.
- VyprVPN: This provider’s Chameleon encryption protocol continues to offer a reliable way to bust through China’s “Great Firewall.”
- PrivateVPN: This provider continues to work well from inside of China thanks to its “Stealth” mode, which adds a layer of obfuscation to users’ connections.
Important Note: For definitions of security features, such as IPv6 protection or connection obfuscation, reference the “Glossary of VPN Security Terms” toward the bottom of the article.
I evaluated and ranked the top VPNs for China using the following criteria:
- Not based in China
- Security and privacy protections
- Fast connections with unlimited bandwidth and no data caps
- Global network server numbers
- Customer support
- Native app support
Here are my top 5 picks for the best VPNs to use from inside of China.
ExpressVPN is your best bet for reliable VPN protection when connecting inside Chinese borders.
This British Virgin Islands-based VPN provider keeps no logs of any kind related to their users’ online activities. By using a disposable email address and paying with Bitcoin, you can effectively keep your subscription payment info incognito.
The company coats its users’ connections in a layer of military-grade encryption, and protects it further with kill switch and IPv6 leak protection.
Fast connections are the name of the game with ExpressVPN, and data caps and bandwidth limitations are nowhere to be found.
Express has over 3,000 servers stationed in 94 countries, offering plenty of content-unblocking power. Those servers use shared IP addresses, which increase your anonymity.
A recently-added “TrustedServer” feature keeps all sensitive information in RAM, never to be written to a server’s hard drive. This guarantees that all of the information on a server is wiped away whenever the server is rebooted.
This provider’s customer support offerings are some of the best in the business, with 24/7 support chat, email support, a trouble ticket tracking system and a searchable knowledge base.
ExpressVPN offers apps for the Android, Windows, macOS, iOS, Linux, BlackBerry, Amazon Fire and Chromebook platforms. Browser protection is offered for the Chrome, Safari and Firefox platforms.
Users with non-compatible devices, or those who require more than 5 concurrent connections on a single login, can use the service’s comprehensive router capabilities to protect every connected device via a single point of access.
- Outstanding privacy and security protections
- Fast connections, with no data caps
- Comprehensive app and router support
- Superb customer support
- Exceptional global server coverage
- More expensive than many other providers
BEST VPN FOR CHINA:ExpressVPN is the best option for protecting your online activities from prying eyes while in China. The provider also offers excellent content-unblocking power thanks to its wide-ranging global server coverage. 30-day money-back guarantee.
Read our full review of ExpressVPN.
This Panamanian VPN service keeps no logs, meaning that even if the Chinese government petitioned to see records of your online travels, there wouldn’t be anything to turn over. A Bitcoin payment option ensures the privacy of your payment information.
Military-grade encryption, kill switch protection, Double VPN and obfuscated servers help hide your VPN usage. The provider also offers options to block ads and malware.
NordVPN’s HD streaming-capable connections are never restricted by data caps or bandwidth limitations.
With over 5,200 servers stationed in 60 countries, NordVPN delivers plenty of content-unblocking power, no matter where your object of desire is located. The provider uses shared IPs for its customers’ connections, adding to the provider’s anonymity offerings.
Customer support is king at NordVPN, as the service offers a searchable knowledge base, email support and live chat support.
With apps for Android, iOS, macOS, Windows, Android TV, Linux and Amazon Fire devices, NordVPN has you covered. Browser extensions are available for the Firefox and Chrome platforms.
If you use devices not on the above list, or you require more than 6 simultaneous connections, you can make use of the provider’s top-notch router compatibility.
- Based outside of China
- Over 5,200 servers in 60 countries
- Obfuscated servers available
- Excellent multi-platform support
- Low price
- iOS app has issues with “Great Firewall”
BUDGET-FRIENDLY VPN FOR CHINA:NordVPN offers excellent VPN protection at a price that’s usually one of the lowest around. With a low price, but a high level of service, the provider delivers an excellent return on investment. 30-day money-back guarantee.
Read our full review of NordVPN.
Surfshark offers reliable security while in China, and it can deliver protection to as many devices as you wish, no matter how many you have access to.
Operating in the British Virgin Islands, Surfshark keeps no records of their users’ online antics. A Bitcoin payment option provides protection for your subscription payment info.
Surfshark also does a great job of protecting their users’ connections from observation by the Chinese government, as they offer military-level encryption, as well as kill switch, DNS leak and ad-blocking protection.
This provider does an excellent job of unblocking streaming services, and their fast connection speeds can easily handle the HD streams that those services offer. A lack of data caps and bandwidth restrictions keep your favorite entertainment coming.
While Surfshark’s global server coverage (over 500 servers located in 50+ countries) is merely average, the provider offers decent enough access to content outside of Chinese borders.
If you have issues, 24/7 live support chat is only a click away. A searchable support FAQ/library section and a support ticket submission form are also available.
The provider delivers native app support for the iOS, Android, Linux, Windows, macOS, and Amazon Fire TV and Fire tablet platforms. Firefox and Chrome browser extensions are also available.
You can connect all the devices you wish at any time thanks to Surfshark’s generous unlimited simultaneous connections policy.
- Offers access to numerous streaming services
- Unlimited simultaneous connections
- Excellent privacy and security protection
- Global server coverage is merely average
- Live support chat feature not always available
PERFECT FOR LARGE GROUPS:If you belong to a large family, own a small business, or even share an apartment with 10 other online users, Surfshark is an excellent VPN option thanks to its unlimited user policy. A 30-day money-back guarantee makes trying the provider a no-risk proposition.
Read our full review of Surfshark.
VyprVPN has plenty of self-owned and -operated servers strewn around the globe, which provide fast connections and reliable access to the world on the other side of the Great Firewall.
This Swiss VPN provider follows a strict no-logs policy. However, they do not offer a cryptocurrency payment option, which could someday put your payment information at risk.
VyprVPNs delivers on its connection security claims, providing top-notch encryption, as well as kill switch, auto-reconnect and DNS leak protection. A “Chameleon” OpenVPN option protects your VPN activity from being detected by the Great Firewall’s deep-packet inspection ability.
VyprVPN has over 700 self-owned and -operated servers in 70 countries around the globe. By owning and operating all of its servers, VyprVPN keeps nosy third parties away from your info.
VyprVPN offers around-the-clock support for its users, with 24/7 live support chat, email support and a searchable support document library.
Android, Amazon Fire, iOS, macOS and Windows devices enjoy native app support from VyprVPN. Sadly, no browser extension love is forthcoming from the provider.
If you need protection for other types of devices, or if VyprVPN’s 3 concurrent connection limit isn’t enough, you can take advantage of the service’s excellent router compatibility.
- Reliable, “Chameleon”-protected connections
- Strict no-logs policy
- Owns and operates all 700+ servers
- Priced higher than most other VPNs
- No cryptocurrency payment option
ADDED SECURITY:VyprVPN’s self-owned and -operated server farms and its Chameleon OpenVPN connection obfuscation feature offer added protection for you and your precious data. A 30-day money-back guarantee is available.
Read our full review of VyprVPN.
Reliable, well-protected connections are the hallmark of PrivateVPN.
Sweden-based PrivateVPN keeps your internet antics on the down-low by following a strict no-logs policy. They also keep your payment info anonymous by accepting Bitcoin.
PrivateVPN’s speedy connections can deliver your favorite content, and no data caps or bandwidth restrictions will ever hamper your activities.
Military-grade encryption keeps your activity undercover. IPv6 and DNS leak protection, as well as a handy auto-reconnect feature keep you safe online. The provider’s “Stealth VPN” feature disguises your VPN traffic as normal HTTPS traffic to hide your VPN use.
This provider has a good record of unblocking content from Netflix, Hulu and other streaming services, and their fast connection speeds mean the show will begin on time.
Sure, 150+ servers isn’t nearly the server count that other providers offer, but they are well located, spread out among 60+ countries around the globe. Shared IP addresses help protect the anonymity of users.
PrivateVPN offers live support chat, but unfortunately it isn’t available around the clock. A “Contact Us” form is available when the live help is off the clock, and an FAQ section provides some useful information. If you have trouble getting set up or need aid, a unique remote help feature is available.
Native app support is also a bit limited, but PrivateVPN has the big 4 (iOS, Android, macOS and Windows) covered, and their router support can protect the rest. Up to 6 devices at once can be connected to the service on a single login.
- Fast, well-protected connections
- Up to 6 simultaneous connections
- Remote help available
- Small server count
- Multi-platform support needs improvement
STREAMING FANS WELCOME:PrivateVPN provides fast, well-protected connections that are perfect for streaming. They really need more servers, but the servers they do have are strategically located. A 30-day money-back guarantee is available.
Read our full review of PrivateVPN.
Glossary of VPN Security Terms
Here are some simple explanations for different security features that VPNs offer.
Auto-Reconnect: Auto-reconnect is a VPN feature that automatically reconnects your device to a VPN server if the connection has been prematurely lost.
Connection Obfuscation: A process that uses special OpenVPN connections designed to hide the fact that you’re using a VPN, making it easier to bypass internet restrictions.
DNS Leak Protection: When you enter a website address (let’s pick one out of thin air, www.pixelprivacy.com) in your browser’s address bar, the address is sent to a DNS server. The server then finds the IP address for that website’s domain name. The request is then routed to the proper server address, and the website loads in your browser.
If your DNS request is handled by your ISP’s DNS server instead of your VPN’s DNS server, this is considered a “leak” and your online activities can be monitored. Learn more about DNS leaks.
Double VPN: A feature that encrypts your data twice to better protect it. Your data is encrypted in a VPN server, then routed through a second VPN server for a second round of encryption, before finally being routed to your destination.
IPv6 Leak Protection: IP addresses are a series of numbers that identifies your device and its location to other devices on the internet. As the number of devices connecting to the internet increases daily, the current range of IPv4 addresses is quickly depleting. IPv6 addresses, which allow a wider range of addresses, are the solution to the problem.
Since IPv6 addresses are a recent development, there can be compatibility issues, sometimes causing IPv6 addresses to leak. This makes it important for a VPN provider to protect against IPv6 address leaking outside of the VPN tunnel.
Kill Switch Protection: If your connection to a VPN server prematurely drops, your location and your online activities can be exposed to outside observers. A kill switch automatically disconnects your device from the internet, preventing your activities and location from being exposed.
Is a Free VPN a Good Option for Use in China?
While I can’t think of any usage case where I would recommend a “free” VPN, I would be remiss if I didn’t stress how dangerous it could be to try using a gratis VPN provider in a heavily restricted environment like that found in China.
A free VPN has very little chance of outwitting the Great Firewall of China. Even if a no-charge VPN had a chance at doing that, they simply don’t offer the security a paid service does.
You’ll find that quite a few “free” VPNs make their money by tracking their users’ online travels, saving that information and then making it available for sale to advertisers, marketers and others.
Now, if a VPN provider is willing to sell your information to the highest bidder, they likely won’t resist too hard if the Chinese government presses them for access.
While we’re on the subject, it should also be noted that many free VPN providers also inject tracking cookies and advertisements into their customers’ web browsing sessions.
Free VPNs can also be a bit of an inconvenience, as you may be forced to sit in a queue with other users until you’re allowed to connect to a server. Once you’re allowed to connect, you’ll likely find that your server selection is limited, if you’re even given a choice.
The restrictions don’t end there. Freebie providers may also throttle your connection, impose bandwidth restrictions and even place monthly data caps on your VPN usage!
Why Do You Need a VPN in China?
Freedom House gives China an aggregate 2018 Internet Freedom Score of 88/100 (0 = Most Free, 100 = Least Free), one point worse than the year before. This ranks as “Not Free” on the Freedom Score scale.
It was the 4th year in a row that China was the world’s worst abuser of internet freedom in the Freedom on the Net rankings.
The Chinese government routinely blocks access to apps, websites and services located outside of Chinese borders. They also block local websites and services if they don’t follow the rules laid down by the government.
In June 2017, a new cybersecurity law came into effect in China. The new law increased censorship requirements, mandated data localization and obliged internet companies to assist government agencies with investigations.
The level of internet freedom declined in the country thanks to the new law, which increased repressive restrictions on online activities and placed heavy financial burdens on media, tech firms and bloggers.
In mid-2017 the government took new measures to restrict access to tools that allow users to bypass filtering and blocking of content. The government ordered Apple to remove all Virtual Private Networking apps from the Chinese version of its App Store. (However, users could still access VPN apps by changing their region in the App Store settings.)
During 2017, authorities arrested activists and journalists and held them for long periods of time for operating websites related to civil society and human rights issues. At least one person was prosecuted and sent to prison.
A VPN allows users to keep their online activities safely undercover by encasing their connection in a tunnel of encryption, ensuring that governments and other interested parties can’t detect what the user is doing while online. This is especially handy in an overly restrictive country like China, where a social network post can lead to imprisonment.
Websites and services located outside of China are also blocked or have their content severely filtered. A VPN allows users to avoid the roadblocks set up by the Great Firewall, allowing them to access news from the free world.
How Does China Censor the Internet?
The Chinese government uses what is widely recognized as the most sophisticated internet censorship tool available today, The Great Firewall of China (GFW).
The Great Firewall is a combination of technology and laws that the Chinese government uses to regulate domestic access to the internet.
A 2017 government document indicates that more than 13,000 websites were blocked between 2015 and 2017. The most censored topics were breaking news related to health and safety, media censorship, government officials’ wrongdoing, foreign affairs, civil society activism and the reputation of the Communist party or officials.
Many services that Google offers are also blocked. These include Google Maps, Translate, Calendar, Analytics and more. Netflix is also blocked, though there is a way to access American Netflix in China.
How to Maximize Your Online Privacy in China
I can’t stress enough that you need to install a VPN app before visiting China. The Chinese government has blocked most VPN providers’ websites and removed VPN apps from most App Stores.
Also, if possible, I strongly recommend subscribing to and installing multiple VPNs.
While the VPNs in this top 5 list all work from inside of China at the time of this article, there is a constant back-and-forth battle going on between VPN services and the Chinese government. Every VPN provider has been faced with the periodic inability to work from inside the country.
In addition, once you’re in Chinese airspace, do the following before connecting to your favorite VPN.
Turn on every security feature your VPN provider’s app offers. Turn on kill switch protection, auto-reconnect, obfuscation features, “scrambling” features and any other feature that will help ensure your online travels go unobserved and hide the fact that you’re using a VPN.
A Note About Using VPN Browser Extensions
When using a browser extension, keep in mind that while an extension efficiently protects your browser activity, all other apps and services running on your device that use the internet are left open to monitoring. This includes apps for streaming, P2P file sharing, messaging and any other app that connects to the internet.
If you’re just using your browser to quickly check your credit card or banking info, or are quickly purchasing something on Amazon, by all means make use of your VPN’s browser extension.
However, if you plan on using your device and multiple internet-connected apps, always use the VPN’s native app to protect ALL of your online antics.
Are VPNs Legal in China?
While Pixel Privacy strongly recommends the use of a VPN to protect your internet connection no matter where you are, we also advise you to take care when using a VPN in highly restrictive countries like China.
China’s government recently began fining individuals caught using a VPN.
Chinese citizen Zhu Yunfeng was fined Rmb1,000 ($145) for using an unlicensed VPN app. Zhu was prosecuted under a 1997 law that forbids access to the “foreign internet” without permission. The government is also cracking down on VPN providers that attempt to operate a VPN service without official approval.
Keep this in mind before using a VPN in China.
What Else Can I Use a VPN For?
We’ve covered how a VPN is the best way to protect your online activities from observation and open access to content that might not normally be available while inside China. But the tool also offers other worthwhile benefits.
A VPN can also help prevent connection throttling by your ISP (or the government), whether in China or elsewhere, just because you’re attempting to access non-approved websites and services.
A VPN also comes in handy to keep your online activities – such as paying bills, banking, shopping, and their associated personal and financial information – safe from bad guys, like hackers.
Never again fear that guy down at the coffee shop who always seems to be using the free but unprotected Wi-Fi, and who slams his laptop shut whenever anyone walks behind him.
Internet users that either live in or will be visiting Mainland China are strongly advised to use a Virtual Private Network to protect and enhance their online activities while in the country.
A VPN – like my #1 choice, ExpressVPN – does an excellent job of keeping your online activities incognito in China. It not only protects your browsing sessions, but also your other online activities, such as file sharing, streaming and more.
For more information or to purchase a subscription, visit the ExpressVPN website.