As you are likely aware, the Chinese government exerts strong control over their citizens’ access to the internet. This strict control denies Chinese users free access to online resources in the outside world. Unfortunately, it also restricts access for travelers visiting the country.
The government accomplishes their strict control of internet access using a combination of legislative actions and technology, which combine to create what has become known as the “Great Firewall of China.”
The “Great Firewall” helps Chinese officials to block access to numerous websites and services that are widely used outside China’s borders, including but not limited to Skype, Google, Facebook, Gmail, Twitter and YouTube.
Happily, there’s a way to break through the Great Firewall of China, providing you with protection from the prying eyes of the Chinese government, and unfettered access to content and services from around the free world.
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) encrypts your internet connection, keeping your online activities safe from detection and monitoring.
It also opens up access to the rest of the world by routing your internet traffic through servers located in other countries, making it appear as if you are located there, opening access to content around the globe.
Does ExpressVPN Still Work From Inside China?
While it’s true that most VPNs no longer work from inside China, there’s one that still offers reliable access from behind the Great Firewall: ExpressVPN.
ExpressVPN has an excellent track record of working from China, and still does today. The provider isn’t based in China, and doesn’t have any VPN servers located inside the country, meaning it isn’t subject to the country’s data-retention or sharing laws.
Why Use ExpressVPN While Inside China?
ExpressVPN is my VPN of choice for using from inside China thanks to its optimal online security and privacy protections, as well as its access to reliable servers around the globe.
The provider offers excellent multi-platform app support, and you can also use it to protect all of your connected devices thanks to its extensive router compatibility.
The VPN service takes your online security seriously, using bank-grade 256-bit AES encryption and offering DNS leak, IPv6 leak and WebRTC leak protection.
Privacy is also a high priority at ExpressVPN, as they never log your online activities when you’re connected to their servers, and they also keep your payment information totally private by offering a Bitcoin subscription payment option.
How to Use ExpressVPN From Inside China
While ExpressVPN works well from inside Chinese borders, you do need to make some preparations before entering Chinese airspace.
The Chinese government blocks access to the ExpressVPN website (and the websites of most popular VPN providers). For that reason, I strongly suggest that you subscribe to ExpressVPN and download and install their app before visiting the country.
If you are unable to install the app before entering China, you might try accessing ExpressVPN’s .onion website, which is accessible using the Tor Browser. You can download the required software from that site.
Once you have the VPN software installed, you’ll want to make a few adjustments to the app’s settings. These settings are available on the desktop versions of the app, and may not be available on mobile versions.
We need to adjust the settings due to how closely China monitors and controls their citizens’ internet access. By making the following settings changes, we’ll be ensuring that you’ll always be protected when connecting to the internet, and that your connection won’t inadvertently be exposed to Chinese government-types.
First, we’ll make sure that your ExpressVPN protection automatically enables on your Mac or Windows machine whenever the VPN app is loaded. (Some of these options are also available on mobile versions of the app, but not all.)
After loading the app, click the “Hamburger Menu.” (That’s the three stacked horizontal lines in the upper left-hand corner of the app window.) On the Mac app, click “Preferences…” and on the Windows app, click “Options” from the menu that appears.
When the Preferences or Options window appears, click the “General” tab. Click the first two checkboxes on that tab, “Launch ExpressVPN on startup” and “Connect to last used location when ExpressVPN is launched.”
By enabling these two options, you’ll be sure you won’t be connecting to the internet without your ExpressVPN protection enabled.
While you’re here, also make sure the checkbox in the next section down is clicked (“Stop all internet traffic if the VPN disconnects unexpectedly”). This activates the app’s kill switch protection and will make sure all internet activity is shut down if you lose contact to ExpressVPN servers.
Next, click the “Advanced” tab and make sure the “Prevent IPv6 address detection while connected” and “Only use ExpressVPN DNS servers while connected” boxes are both checked. This ensures that the IPv6 leak protection and DNS leak protection are both turned on. You can now close the Preferences window.
Before writing this article, I contacted ExpressVPN’s customer support department for any tips on ensuring proper VPN operation from inside China. The agent told me to connect to one of the following servers:
- Hong Kong – 4
- Singapore – Marina Bay
- Japan – Tokyo – 3
- USA – Los Angeles – 5
Once you’ve connected to any of the above servers for the first time, having the “Connect to last used location when ExpressVPN is launched” box checked will ensure that you automatically connect to the selected server.
Why Do You Need a VPN in China?
Freedom House gave China a 2018 Internet Freedom Score of 88/100 (0 = Most Free, 100 = Least Free). It was the 4th year in a row that China was the world’s worst abuser of internet freedom in the organization’s Freedom on the Net rankings.
The Chinese government blocks access to websites, services and apps located outside of Chinese borders and Chinese control. Even local sites and services can be blocked if they don’t follow the rules laid down by the government.
Blocked sites, services and apps include, but are not limited to:
- Cloud storage (Google Drive, Dropbox)
- Information websites (Wikipedia, Quora)
- Messaging services (WhatsApp, Slack, Telegram)
- News sites (BBC, NYTimes)
- Search engines (Google, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo)
- Social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter)
- Streaming services (YouTube, Netflix, Spotify)
- VPN and proxy-related sites (including tutorials and configuration guides)
Internet censorship in the communist country continues to grow more restrictive, as a 2017 cybersecurity law increased censorship requirements, mandated data localization and obliged internet companies to assist government agencies with investigations.
Is It Legal to Use a VPN in China?
While I strongly recommend the use of a VPN to protect your online activities no matter where you’re at, I also strongly recommend that you take extreme care when using a VPN in a country like China.
While the Chinese government hasn’t imprisoned anyone for using a VPN (as far as I can tell), it did recently begin fining individuals caught using a VPN. Chinese citizen Zhu Yunfeng was fined Rmb1,000 ($145) for using an unlicensed VPN app.
So, be careful out there.
Internet users who are living in or visiting Mainland China are advised to use a Virtual Private Network to both enhance and protect their online activities.
A VPN, like ExpressVPN, is the optimal tool for keeping your online activities undercover while in China. That same tool also opens access to the world of content in the free world.
For more information or to purchase a subscription, visit the ExpressVPN website.