Getting access to websites and apps blocked in China has become increasingly difficult in recent years as the Great Firewall has strengthened. However, using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) remains one of the best options for bypassing internet censorship and restrictions when living or traveling in China.
But with hundreds of VPN services out there, how do you pick the right one? In this comprehensive guide, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know to choose the best VPN service for China.
Table of Contents
What is a VPN and How Can It Help in China?
A VPN allows you to route your internet traffic through an encrypted tunnel to a server located outside of China. This masks your IP address, hides your online activities, and allows you to bypass the Great Firewall to access blocked content.
The main benefits of using a VPN in China include:
- Accessing blocked websites and apps like Google, YouTube, Facebook, WhatsApp, and thousands more. A VPN is the only reliable way to use these services in China.
- Encrypting your internet connection to protect your online privacy and data security. This prevents snooping by hackers or authorities.
- Bypassing geo-restrictions to view content only available in other countries, like Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, etc.
- Improving internet speeds when your connection is being throttled by the Great Firewall.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a VPN for China
With so many VPNs out there, how do you decide which one is right for you? Here are the key factors to evaluate:
1. Connection Reliability in China
This is by far the most important consideration. Even the best VPNs struggle to maintain consistent connections inside China due to sophisticated blocking and interference from the Great Firewall.
You want a VPN that offers very fast and stable connections with proven success in China. Read reviews and speed tests focused specifically on performance in China rather than generic VPN reviews.
2. Number of Server Locations
More server locations will generally provide better speeds and reliability. Look for VPNs with servers across Asia, Europe and North America to allow switching locations when speeds slow down.
3. Encryption & Security Protocols
Your VPN use should be protected by top-tier encryption like AES-256 bit or above, as well as secure protocols like OpenVPN, WireGuard or IKEv2/IPSec. These will make your traffic virtually impossible to identify and block.
4. Apps and Platform Support
Make sure your VPN has native apps for all your devices like Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android. This ensures smooth connections without any complicated manual setup.
5. Unlimited Bandwidth
VPN data limits can sneak up on you quickly with HD video and streaming. Look for unlimited data bandwidth so you don’t have to worry about overage charges.
6. No Session Limits
VPNs may restrict how many times you can switch server locations or devices. For China, your VPN should allow unlimited sessions and device connections.
7. No Usage Logs Kept
To protect your privacy, choose a VPN with a strict no logging policy for online activities and usage data.
8. Reliable Customer Support
Find a VPN with 24/7 live chat and email support in case you need troubleshooting help in China.
9. Value for Money
While free VPNs seem appealing, pay services are vastly more reliable. Aim for reasonable pricing for a 1-year plan to maximize savings.
10. Refund Period
In case the VPN doesn’t live up to expectations in China, look for a 30-day money back guarantee refund period.
The Best VPNs for China
Based on extensive testing and reviews, these best VPN services for China consistently provide the best performance and reliability for bypassing the Great Firewall:
ExpressVPN tops most lists as the best VPN for China due to its blistering connection speeds, media unblocking abilities, and reliability in China.
With 3,000+ servers in 94 countries, ultra-fast speeds, unlimited bandwidth, top-grade AES-256 encryption, no activity logs, and native apps for all devices, ExpressVPN has all the right features. It unblocks virtually any website or streaming content.
The network has been specially optimized to counter Great Firewall blocking and maintains high speeds when switching server locations on the fly. Customer support is available 24/7 via live chat.
Downsides are higher prices than competitors and no free trial. However, there is a 30-day money back guarantee. Overall, ExpressVPN provides exceptional ability to bypass internet restrictions in China.
NordVPN is another highly regarded premium VPN that works well in China. It offers over 5,200 servers in 60 countries, fast speeds, unlimited data bandwidth, 6 simultaneous connections, and easy-to-use apps.
Privacy is protected by no-logs policy, 2048-bit encryption, and other security features. Unblocking abilities are strong, allowing access to blocked websites and streaming platforms.
While not as fast as ExpressVPN in China, NordVPN maintains reliable connections. Drawbacks include occasional server congestion and poor customer support response times. Pricing is cheaper than ExpressVPN.
With 646 servers in 46 countries, StrongVPN is a good lower-cost option that performs reliably in China including BBC iPlayer access. It offers capable apps, unlimited data and built-in Internet kill switch.
Negatives are slower speeds than top VPNs and limited configuration options. But StrongVPN delivers rock-solid essentials for bypassing the Great Firewall without breaking the bank. Customer support is quite responsive as well.
VyprVPN is another good budget VPN for China usage. It owns all 700+ global servers for faster speeds and reliability. Connections are secured by Chameleon protocol and scrambles metadata to avoid VPN blocking.
Streaming site unblocking is decent but not flawless. Apps are straightforward to use across devices. While speeds are ok, they can’t match the top services. But for basic China VPN usage on a budget, VyprVPN fits the bill.
Getting a VPN Before Arriving in China
Don’t wait until you land in China to try and sign up for a VPN. The best move is getting your VPN service set up before departure.
VPN apps are blocked in China, so you can’t download them once there. Any VPN you want to use in China needs to be purchased, installed, and tested beforehand. To find reliable VPNs for China, you can read online reviews and even try searching reviews written in Chinese by using phrases such as VPN推荐 (VPN recommendations).
Run speed tests from your location to China server locations to identify the fastest options. Check that streaming sites and apps are accessible through the VPN. Confirm all your devices are configured.
This prevents any nasty surprises of struggling to access your VPN or realizing it doesn’t work well once you’re already in China. Take time to get it sorted out in advance.
Some VPN services like ExpressVPN also offer assistance ensuring your VPN is set up properly before traveling to China. Take advantage of these services so your VPN is primed and minimizes connection issues.
Frequently Asked Questions
Will a free browser-based VPN work in China?
Free browser VPN add-ons like Hola VPN or SetupVPN are highly ineffective in China and should be avoided. Paid VPN subscriptions are strongly recommended.
Can I be arrested or punished in China for using a VPN?
Legally, VPN usage in China is a gray area, neither authorized nor banned outright. Millions of locals and foreigners use them. However, laws can be arbitrarily enforced. Most consequences are restricted services rather than legal punishment.
Will connecting to a VPN slow down my internet?
Generally VPNs add a bit of overhead that can slightly reduce your connection speeds. However, without a VPN, China’s internet censorship also significantly slows traffic crossing the Great Firewall. A good VPN service will still provide faster overall speeds in most cases.
Should I get a dedicated IP address for my VPN?
Dedicated IP addresses allow access to more sites and provide more reliable connectivity. But they are also much easier to be discovered and blocked. Shared IP addresses are harder to single out and often work well in China.
Can I get cheap monthly VPN rates?
Monthly VPN plans typically cost 2-3x more than annual plans or bundles. For extended China usage, one year subscriptions offer vastly better value and are recommended over monthly options.
Will my VPN stop working if China blocks it?
The best VPNs have teams constantly monitoring server networks from within China and rapidly deploy new servers and protocols to stay one step ahead of blocks. Choose well-established VPNs with proven track records of staying online.
Unblocking the internet in China through a VPN requires choosing the right provider for the job. Not all VPN services can reliably cope with the sophisticated censorship system.
I recommend picking from renowned top choices like ExpressVPN, NordVPN or StrongVPN to get a VPN that can consistently bypass blocks and provide stable connections.
Signing up for a suitable VPN before entering China is strongly advised to avoid any access issues. With the best VPN service in place accessing sites and content restricted in China becomes simple.
Stay tuned for more tips and advice on bypassing China’s internet censorship!