Are you currently living in China or planning on going there for work/travel? If so, you need a VPN!
|Speed: Excellent||Speed: Excellent||Speed: Very Good|
|Reliability: Excellent||Reliability: Very Good||Reliability: Very Good|
|Unlimited Bandwidth||Unlimited Bandwidth||Unlimited Bandwidth|
|Connects 6 Devices||Connects 3 Devices||Connects 3 Devices|
|Protocols: OpenVPN (TCP/UDP), PPTP, L2TP/IPsec||Protocols: OpenVPN (TCP/UDP), PPTP, L2TP/IPsec||Protocols: OpenVPN (TCP/UDP)|
|Servers in 21+ Countries||Servers in 87+ Countries||Servers in 10+ Countries|
|Customer Support: Email, Skype - 1 on 1s With Engineers||Customer Support: Instant Response Live Chat, Email||Customer Support: Live Chat, Email|
|7-Day Free Trial||30-Day Money Back Guarantee||7-Day Money Back Guarantee|
|Supports Mac Os / iOs / Windows / Android / Linux||Supports Mac Os / iOs / Windows / Android / Linux||Supports Mac Os / iOs / Windows / Android / Linux|
What is a VPN and what does it do?
A VPN is a virtual private network that acts as a middleman creating a “tunnel” between you and the Internet. VPNS are absolutely crucial in China as they allow you to bypass the Great Firewall (GFW) and access blocked sites like Facebook, YouTube, and Google. You can also torrent safely, stream shows on Netflix, and even play online poker if you’re into that. It essentially removes all the restrictions of the GFW. Plus, by using a VPN you protect yourself from prying eyes and hackers, which are unfortunately becoming more common in China.
Why does China have restrictions on Internet use?
The Chinese government believes that wide-scale censorship of the Internet is necessary in order to protect its citizens from outside opinions & values, and prevent the undermining of Chinese culture and government. The Great Firewall tends to block social networks, news agencies, blogs, and any other website that may contain thoughts and ideas that may be critical of the country.
As such, the GFW is the most far-reaching and sophisticated Internet censorship and surveillance mechanism today. The government monitors any type of content that gets posted, and can take measures to censor you if they deem your work to be politically controversial.
VPNs are the solution to bypass the Great Firewall. While the government attempts to block VPN access through periodical crackdowns, there are simply too many VPN servers out there and they can be updated to stay one step ahead of the GFW.
Why do you recommend the VPNs below (VPN.ac, ExpressVPN, PandaPow)?
I do a fair bit of traveling to and from China, and because I work a lot on the Internet I rely heavily on VPNs when I’m there. I’ve tried over a dozen different providers over the years because services often get blocked and speeds can be quite variable depending on your location and the traffic that day. Despite the numerous providers I’ve used, though, I find myself going back to the same few over and over again.
When deciding what the best VPN to use in China is, take into consideration the following points:
- Look for a provider that offers a free trial period or money back guarantee. While reading reviews is useful to help you make a decision, the only real way for you to determine if you like a VPN is by trying it yourself. The last thing you want is to pay for a VPN, find out it doesn’t work, and then realize they won’t refund you.
- I suggest purchasing monthly plans for VPN service instead of longer subscriptions, regardless of the provider. I say this because the Chinese policies and Great Firewall are constantly evolving, so it’s plausible that a service that was working suddenly stops.
- Choose a provider that allows SSTP protocol. While OpenVPN is the go-to protocol, SSTP can actually be the best option if you’re in a country with lots of traffic filtering like China.
- Make sure the VPN has top-notch customer service. You want them to actually care about your needs and help you setup/optimize your VPN connection even if it seems impossible.
Why are there mixed reviews of certain VPNs on the Internet?
It’s inevitable that different people will have different VPN experiences in China. This is because every so often the Great Firewall attempts to crackdown on VPNs, and in turn VPN companies need to bypass these filters again. As a user, you should also be changing your ports and protocols once in a while for best performance. Some people aren’t aware of this and get confused when the VPN they were using stops working all of a sudden, blaming the provider. Location within the country can also be a factor.
This is also why I’ve recommended three VPNs below. If you ask enough people you’ll find at least one person who has had a poor experience with every VPN service. Your best bet is to read through the suggestions and try them out for yourself. Most VPNs have a free trial or money back guarantee period so take advantage of that.
When should I install a VPN?
If you know you’re going to visit China, it’s highly recommended that you install VPN service before you go to ensure that it’s up and running when you get there. It’s more difficult to setup a VPN when you’re in China because many VPN sites are blocked.
Top 3 VPNs to Use in China
VPN.ac is a small company headquartered in Romania that I’ve quickly become a huge fan of. You can tell they’re a small team dedicated to true security and are constantly innovating, which is really attractive to someone as privacy-focused as me.
In my several years of using them, I have nearly nothing bad to say about my experience. They’ve been consistently reliable every time I’m in China, offer great speeds, and do not track any of your data.
They also have a great browser extension called SecureProxy that works on Chrome/Firefox/Opera, and is essentially a special VPN just for your browser. This is particularly great in China, because you won’t trigger any alerts that traditional VPN software might. There’s absolutely no technical knowledge or advanced configuration needed, so you just have to install the extension and select which server you want to connect to.
- Seems to be flying under the radar as a VPN option, thus less likely to be targeted by the Great Firewall any time soon.
- 70+ servers in 20+ countries, including Hong Kong, Singapore, and US West with peering in China Telecom and China Unicom.
- Very fast speeds. Barely noticeable speed loss from torrenting, streaming, or gaming.
- Easy, intuitive setup process.
- Very skilled support staff. You can talk to one of the engineers directly instead of a customer service rep. They can even hand-hold you through technical processes like flashing your router to DD-WRT or Tomato.
- Great for torrenting. Almost no speed loss as mentioned, and I’ve never received a DMCA complaint from them, whereas I have with other providers.
- Wide array of payment options: PayPal, Bitcoin, CashU, PaysafeCard, UKash, and Chinese-friendly methods such as Alipay and Unionpay.
- Special optimizations for China (see below).
- Do not offer iOS support.
- Software isn’t open source yet, but they do plan on releasing it.
- Would like to see servers in more countries, but this is expected to grow as the company grows.
One of VPN.ac’s special optimizations for China includes Obfuscation for OpenVPN:
Obfuscating the OpenVPN protocol makes it look like regular SSL traffic — making it harder to be blocked by Firewalls with DPI capabilities relying on protocol signatures to identify known VPN protocols. This is the case in China, where default OpenVPN implementations are blocked almost immediately. While our AES 256-bit implementation is still stealthy and working in China, we added one more protocol-type to bypass the GFW. It runs on several ports including TCP port 443 (HTTPS), replacing an instance of OpenVPN Blowfish 128-bit we used with port TCP/443. With this method, the handshake packets are obfuscated so it’s not possible to identify the traffic as being part of an OpenVPN tunnel. Encryption relies on RSA 4096-bit + ECDHE for key-exchange, AES 128-bit for data channel.
In short, they make it harder for you to get blocked. They’re always coming out with improvements like this, which personally makes me feel extra safe – as if I have someone looking out for my privacy.
All in all, I don’t have enough good things to say about VPN.ac. I’ve also never heard a complaint about them from anyone who’s used them. Here’s a reader email I received the other day in response to this article:
I’m in Beijing since July, using vpn.ac as per your recommendation. Never had any problem and support was very helpful. Speed can be slower during night, but that’s the way it goes with the shitty ISP here. Everything is so slow in peak hours. Their browser extension works very well, pretty much all day long. They have lots of servers in Japan and West Coast. Past 1 or 2AM I reach speeds of over 50 mb/s to US either with their extension or software. That’s like 10 times better than what I’ve got with Astrill and some other services.
2. Express VPN ($12.95/month or $99.95/year)
ExpressVPN is the overall best VPN to use in China. It’s very easy to set up, has great customer support, and has fast connection speeds. They have a 30-day no quibble money back guarantee, so you can essentially try it out for free before committing. They’re slightly more expensive than other VPN providers at $12.95/month, but like most things you’re paying more for better quality and reliability.
When I made my first trip to China over a decade ago and had no clue what a VPN was, a friend recommended I use ExpressVPN. It’s been a staple of my VPN rotation ever since. There have been times during crackdowns when service was shaky, but nothing a quick server change couldn’t fix.
- One of the most used and trusted VPN providers in the world.
- Connects up to 3 devices.
- Unlimited bandwidth.
- Supports Windows/Mac OS/iOS/Android/Linux.
- Fast connections. Choose from 100+ servers across the world (I suggest US Los Angeles while in China).
- Instant customer service support. If you’re experiencing any issues you can connect to someone instantly and they’ll work with you to fix it.
- Reliable no-hassle 30-day money back guarantee lets you essentially try it for free.
- Allows local payments from Unionpay, Alipay, CashU, Webmoney if you don’t want to use credit card or PayPal.
- Pricier than other VPNs.
- No phone support (only email and live chat).
- Easy target for crackdowns because of ExpressVPN’s popularity and name.
PandaPow is a fairly new VPN provider headquartered in Hong Kong with servers all over the world. I’ve actually found myself using their services more and more, especially for my mobile devices, because they’ve been consistently reliable and decently quick. If you ask most Chinese locals what VPN they prefer you’ll hear PandaPow a lot (this is how I was introduced to it).
They offer a setup guide for iOS devices that require some additional steps here.
- Friendly software, easy to install and use.
- Simple sign-up process with minimal personal information required.
- Unlimited bandwidth. Allows for 3 simultaneous connections!
- Great mobile experience. I’ve never had any issues with speed or connection when connecting my phones and tablets.
- Supports multiple platforms: Android, iOS, Mac OS, Windows.
- Good customer support response times.
- 7-day money back guarantee.
- Not the most P2P friendly – can slow down while torrenting.
- Does not accept bitcoin as payment option.
- Some of their servers are VPS/cloud servers, and it’s common for these servers to have worse performance than dedicated hardware servers.
If you do choose to use PandaPow, I’ve found that the TCP connection is the most reliable, but the UDP connection is the fastest at up to 6 MBps download speed.
PandaPow also offers a VPN-enabled wifi router which is perfect if you’re living in a large home or have a family that requires many connected devices. If you purchase the router, it comes with 3 months of free VPN service.
VPNs Not Included
The VPNs below didn’t make the cut for one reason or another. They’re not necessarily bad, in fact some of them are quite good and very usable. But seeing how this is article is to discuss the best VPNs in China, it wouldn’t feel right to include them.
Some people will disagree with me on this one. Astrill is fairly popular in China and I definitely know people who currently use it. However, I found that it was slower than other VPNs, required me to change servers frequently, and had mediocre customer service.
A friend who used Vypr while living in Wuhan said it completely stopped working after a couple months, even if he changed servers. I personally wouldn’t use it just for the fact that they keep logs of user activity, as they’re US-based. I’ve also heard Vypr is no good for torrenting as you’ll receive DMCA complaints from them.
StrongVPN is decent outside of China, but they have limited server switches per month which is a deal-killer in China.
PureVPN has always given me slow speeds in China. It’s fast elsewhere but for some reason the Asia servers just never worked well for me.
Slow speeds. I couldn’t stream YouTube without it buffering every so often.
Private Internet Access (PIA)
My understanding is that PIA hasn’t worked in China for quite a while. It could have changed now, but a few years ago that was the case. Let me know in the comments if you’ve found otherwise.
I have not tried AirVPN or NordVPN in China, so I can’t comment on those two.
Is it illegal to use a VPN in China?
No, it is completely legal to use a VPN in China. It may be frowned upon by the Chinese government, but millions of people and even companies use them to unblock necessary websites. It is only illegal to operate a VPN company inside China.
Can a VPN unblock Facebook, YouTube, Hulu, Twitter, Google, etc. in China?
Yes, you’ll be able to browse the Internet without restriction once you’ve setup the VPN.
Can I just use a proxy instead of a VPN?
A proxy only encrypts data from your web browser, while a VPN encrypts all network data on your device, including Spotify, torrents, mobile use, etc. VPNs are more secure because they do a better job of protecting your data.
Which VPN is hands-down easiest to use?
I’d say ExpressVPN, but all three mentioned above have great user interfaces.
What is the best VPN in China for torrenting?
VPN.ac is great for torrenting in China. They do not issue any DMCA complaints or keep logs of your info.
I can’t visit the VPN websites because they’re blocked, what do I do?
Use one of the non-primary website domains. Most “.com” domains are blocked in China so try .co or another smartlink variation. Ex. expressvpn.ws, pandapow.co.
All of the links in this post should be accessible (if they’re not, email me at admin [at] thesecurityhq.com)
Should I use a free VPN provider?
No. There are no good free VPNs out there, period. It costs a lot of money to build and maintain the infrastructure necessary to support a virtual private network. If someone is offering you access for free, it means they’re profiting off you by selling your data or showing ads based on your history.
Will a VPN slow down my Internet speed?
Because a VPN encrypts and decrypts your traffic, it will take longer for your data to process. However, any slowdown in speed is usually barely noticeable with the three VPN providers listed above. You should be able to torrent, stream, and browse the Internet with no issues.
What type of VPN protocol should I use in China?
VPN Protocols are basically the language in which your data is transferred by the VPN server. The 3 most popular protocols are:
You don’t have to know all of the technical details behind these, but just know that you want to look for a VPN provider that supports multiple protocols. That’s because the Great Firewall is constantly being updated to target certain protocols, so you want to be able to easily switch if one is down.
I’d advise not to use PPTP or L2TP because they’re blocked too easily though. This is because the ports they use are limited to ports that aren’t important for anything other than using a VPN. They also tend to be slow.
I recommend using OpenVPN connections whenever you can. It offers both speed and security and is compatible with many devices & operating systems.
In addition to OpenVPN, you want the following services as well. All three of the recommended VPNs provide these.
What if my VPN provider stops working?
First, try connecting to a different server(s). This will usually fix whatever issue you’re having, at least temporarily. If that doesn’t work, contact your service’s customer support desk and they’ll try to resolve the problem.
However, if you’re like me and can’t go a day without certain Internet sites, I suggest ponying up the extra $5 – $10 and subscribing to at least two VPN providers. This way if a service’s speed fluctuates from day to day (which happens in China) then you always have a backup option. Personally, I’m subscribed to ExpressVPN, PandaPow, and VPN.ac, which is why I recommended them all.