Disclosure: We review VPNs independently, however we may earn commissions if you buy a VPN via links on our site.

The Best Free & Premium VPNs for China

Podium Rankings for Best VPN
Simon Migliano

Simon Migliano is a recognized world expert in VPNs. He's tested hundreds of VPN services and his research has featured on the BBC, The New York Times and more.

Fact-checked by JP JonesAdditional Testing by Alyx Morley

The Great Firewall of China (GFW) blocks roughly 300,000 web domains. It also blocks most VPN traffic, unless a VPN uses cutting-edge obfuscation technology to disguise its traffic.

We tested 55 VPN services to identify the best VPNs that work reliably in Beijing, Shanghai, and elsewhere in mainland China. They successfully unblock Google, Instagram, Twitter, and many other popular websites in China.

What Is the Overall Best VPN for China in 2023?

Based on our latest tests, the best free and premium VPNs for China in 2023 are:

  1. Astrill VPN: Best VPN for China (100% success rate)
  2. StrongVPN: Reliable Alternative for China (89% success rate)
  3. Hide.me : Fastest VPN for China (84% success rate)
  4. PrivateVPN: Best Cheap VPN for China (82% success rate)
  5. Windscribe Free: Best Free VPN for China (85% success rate)

Overall, the best VPN for China is Astrill VPN. Over the past 12 months of testing, it has never failed to bypass the Great Firewall and unblock international websites from Shanghai. It includes supercharged servers for users in China, VPN servers in neighboring countries, two obfuscation protocols, and secure AES-256 encryption.

Comparison of the 5 Best VPNs for China

Using the table below you can compare the most effective China VPNs based on how reliably they work, their obfuscation capabilities, price, and more:

*This figure shows performance in the past year.

The recommendations in this list are the result of years of testing VPN services for use in China. They’re the most reliable options available, and they consistently work to unblock websites from China safely, securely, and with fast speeds.

Remember to download your VPN before traveling to China. Most VPN websites are blocked in China, and safe-to-use VPN apps are banned from Chinese app stores.

Why Trust Top10VPN.com?

We’re completely independent and focused on VPN software. We’ve spent thousands of hours testing and reviewing VPNs for China, using our China VPN testing process.

Here is an overview of our key China VPN testing data:

VPN Services Tested55
Test Server LocationShanghai
China VPN Access Tests10,000+
Minimum Acceptable Success Rate50%
IP & DNS Leak Tests Performed 9,500+
How Much We've Spent On Testing$25,000

Top China VPNs: Summary Test Ratings

The table below summarizes how the best VPNs for China perform in our key testing categories:

Full China VPN Censorship Circumvention Test Results

We constantly collect data by testing VPNs through our test server in Shanghai. The table below shows the effectiveness of popular VPNs at accessing blocked websites from mainland China.

Our years of testing have found that you often have to follow very specific instructions and enable specific features to bypass the Great Firewall, even with an effective VPN.

See the table above for the best tips and tricks we’ve collected over the years for using VPNs in China.

In the chart below, you can also see a summary of 15 popular VPNs and how they’ve performed in China over the past 12 months:

Click to view an enlarged version of our bar chart.

The Best Free & Premium VPNs That Work in China

  1. 1. Astrill VPN: 100% Success Rate in China

    The overall best VPN for China with 100% censorship circumvention rate and effective obfuscation.

    Ranked #1 out of 55 VPNs for China
    Astrill mobile screenshots
     Rated 0 out of 5 
    No user reviews
    Visit Astrill

    • Stealth VPN protocol to beat censors
    • VPN servers optimized for China
    • Nearby VPN servers in Asia with good speeds
    • Kill switch & no IP, DNS or WebRTC leaks
    • Accepts anonymous Monero payments
    • Easy to set up and use

    • Free trial unavailable to China users
    • No refund policy
    • Live chat doesn't always work
    • More expensive than its competitors
    • No VPN browser extensions

    Overall Rating for China: 9.7/10

    This overall rating is calculated based on the following category ratings. To learn more, read our China VPN testing methodology.

    • 1010/10
    • 9.89.8/10
    • 8.98.9/10
    • 7.87.8/10
    • 9.69.6/10

    Astrill VPN is absolutely the best VPN for China. During our testing over the past 12 months, it has never failed to bypass the Great Firewall and unblock international websites. It offers two stealth protocols, VPN servers in neighboring countries like Hong Kong and Japan, and AES-256 encryption.

    Special ‘SuperCharged’ servers are available to get the best speeds possible, and its logging policy is good enough to maintain your privacy. Overall, Astrill is the most consistent and reliable VPN that works in China.

    Works In ChinaYes
    Data LeaksNo
    Logging PolicySome User Logs
    Cheapest Price$12.50/mo over two years See all plans
    JurisdictionSeychelles (Privacy Haven)
    Compatible with
    1. windowsWindows
    2. macosMac OS
    3. iosiOS
    4. androidAndroid
    5. linuxLinux

    The most reliable VPN for China

    Astrill operates two stealth protocols that are both effective at circumventing Chinese web blocks. One of these obfuscation methods is a VPN protocol, the other is a proxy.

    As a result of this, Astrill consistently outperforms all the other VPNs tested on our Shanghai server. Astrill has worked in China 100% of the times we’ve tested in the past 12 months — more than any other VPN.

    Fast and secure servers in Hong Kong, Japan & more

    Astrill also offers nearby servers in Asia, including Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea. There are nearby servers on the US West Coast too, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Jose.

    Astrill's macOS client, searching for Hong Kong and China optimized servers.

    Astrill offers five city-level servers in Hong Kong and multiple ‘China Optimized’ US servers.

    Its speeds are good, averaging around 92Mbps on a local connection, although they are slower than other competitors like Windscribe and StrongVPN. Speed does improve in China when you connect to servers labeled ‘SuperCharged’.

    Astrill owns all its DNS servers, meaning there is no chance your traffic will be routed via less secure third-party servers. All connections are secured with AES-256 encryption.

    If the VPN itself fails (which is unlikely to happen), Astrill offers a simple proxy which can get around the censors as a last resort.

    Mixed logging policy & lacking customer support

    Astrill does collect some logs including connection time, IP address, device type, and VPN app version.

    These are kept for the duration of your VPN session, similar to Hide.me. Once the session is over, the connection logs are deleted.

    You can use Astrill VPN on Microsoft Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android, but the mobile apps lack many of the advanced security features of the computer software.

    It doesn’t offer any browser extensions, either. If you regularly use browser extensions, we recommend checking out Windscribe.

    It’s more expensive than most competing VPNs and live chat doesn’t always work. You can’t access the Astrill free trial from China and there’s no refund policy — make sure you want to commit to Astrill before buying.

    Astrill comes with some drawbacks as a general VPN service, but it is unbeaten for reliable use in China.

    How to use Astrill VPN in China

    Astrill VPN is not the prettiest app. However, if you’re an advanced user you might appreciate the ability to customize the experience.

    In our tests, Astrill unblocked Netflix and Instagram in China.

    Here’s how to use Astrill VPN in China:

    1. Select StealthVPN from the drop-down settings menu before connecting.
    2. Now select a server labeled Supercharged for the best speeds in China.
    3. If that doesn’t work, try using the OpenWeb protocol and Kansas China Optimized server.
    4. Your final option is to select Proxy Settings and try to connect using an HTTP proxy. This is not fully encrypted so should only be used as a last resort.

    Astrill VPN is the best VPN overall for China. Whenever we update VPN apps on our Shanghai remote desktop, we use Astrill to download the new versions. It’s fast, secure, and advanced enough to install software without hassle.

    AstrillVPN’s main drawback, though, is its price. It’s one of the most expensive VPNs. However, we believe it’s worth it for peace of mind when in China.

  2. 2. StrongVPN: 89% Success Rate in China

    A reliable alternative VPN for China. It owns all of its servers, supports OpenVPN scramble, and unblocks streaming services — but it doesn’t support obfuscation on iOS.

    StrongVPN mobile screenshots
     Rated 4.9 out of 5 
    34 user reviews
    Visit StrongVPN

    • Strict no-logs policy
    • First-party server network
    • Supports OpenVPN TCP & scramble obfuscation
    • No IP, DNS, or WebRTC leaks

    • Hasn’t been independently audited
    • No obfuscation on iOS
    • Kill switch not reliable on macOS
    • US jurisdiction (Five-Eyes Nation)
    • Doesn’t accept anonymous payments

    Overall Rating for China: 8.8/10

    This overall rating is calculated based on the following category ratings. To learn more, read our China VPN testing methodology.

    • 8.98.9/10
    • 8.78.7/10
    • 6.66.6/10
    • 9.69.6/10
    • 8.38.3/10

    StrongVPN is the second best VPN for China, and a great alternative to Astrill VPN. It’s consistently performed well in the past year (89% censorship circumvention rate) on our Windows device in Shanghai.

    On a 12-month plan, StrongVPN is only $3.66 per month — more affordable than Astrill VPN, though not as cheap as Private VPN. For that price, you also get great speed performance.

    StrongVPN is one of the fastest VPNs on international connections, averaging just 8% speed loss on international servers in our recent tests.

    StrongVPN's Preferences show OpenVPN have a Scramble feature for bypassing firewalls.

    OpenVPN Scramble is available on macOS and Windows.

    The VPN service has servers in Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, and Malaysia. In our experience, we found its South Korea server is the most reliable in China.

    Works In ChinaYes
    Data LeaksNo
    Logging PolicyNo Logs
    Cheapest Price$3.66/mo over 12 Months See all plans
    JurisdictionUS (Five-Eyes Member)
    Compatible with
    1. windowsWindows
    2. macosMac OS
    3. iosiOS
    4. androidAndroid
    5. linuxLinux

    Private logging policy & self-owned server network

    StrongVPN’s 950 bare-metal servers are all owned and managed in-house, the gold-standard for server security. This makes it easier for StrongVPN to implement its private logging policy.

    Self-owned servers eliminate the risks that come with rented servers, such as technical vulnerabilities in third-party servers or untrusted employees that have access to servers.

    This is a major selling point for StrongVPN as only a few mid-tier VPNs, like VyprVPN, can afford to operate their own server network.

    However, StrongVPN does have some flaws when it comes to privacy that prevent it from being a top-tier VPN.

    It doesn’t have an independent audit that can verify its no-logs policy or a warrant canary to warn users about data requests. It’s also based in the US, which is part of a data sharing alliance with other countries.

    Suited to Windows & Android users

    StrongVPN is missing some key features on Apple products. Crucially, its OpenVPN protocol and scramble feature aren’t available on iPhone or iPad, and its kill switch is missing on macOS.

    However, this is common for VPN services. For example, Astrill VPN doesn’t offer its signature StealthVPN protocol on iPhone or iPad due to “limitations from Apple.”

    How to use StrongVPN in China

    StrongVPN has a simple interface with obfuscation that’s easy to turn on and off.

    In our tests, StrongVPN unblocked Medium and Bloomberg in China while connected to a server in Mexico.

    Here’s how to use StrongVPN in China:

    1. Open the StrongVPN app. Click on the settings icon on Windows or Preferences on Mac.
    2. Click on the Advanced tab and click OpenVPN.
    3. Click on TCP and 443 from the drop-down menus and tick Scramble.
    4. Now select your server and click Connect.
  3. 3. Hide.me: 84% Success Rate in China

    Fastest VPN for China with custom servers and multihop for bypassing the Great Firewall.

    Hide.me mobile screenshots
     Rated 5 out of 5 
    1 user reviews
    Visit Hide.me

    • Custom servers and multihop for bypass the Great Firewall
    • Effective kill switch that works on every device
    • Accepts anonymous Monero & other cryptocurrency payments
    • Knowledgeable and fast customer service

    • Complicated setup
    • Random app crashes
    • Free version doesn’t work as well as paid version in China

    Overall Rating for China: 8.6/10

    This overall rating is calculated based on the following category ratings. To learn more, read our China VPN testing methodology.

    • 8.48.4/10
    • 9.59.5/10
    • 8.98.9/10
    • 9.89.8/10
    • 8.28.2/10

    Hide.me is a private VPN with an impressive 84% censorship circumvention rate in the past year in China. It’s one of the fastest VPNs we’ve ever tested, even on long-distance connections.

    Hide.me’s obfuscation is very effective at circumventing the Great Firewall, but it’s more suited to advanced users because of its complicated manual setup.

    It also has the best VPN kill switch out of the top five VPNs for China, working to block your internet connection if you disconnect from a server or switch server on all popular devices.

    Additionally, it doesn’t cooperate with official requests for user data. To prove this, it publishes annual transparency reports, detailing how many law enforcement and police requests for user data have been received, and how it isn’t able to respond because it doesn’t keep identifiable information.

    Works In ChinaYes
    Data LeaksNo
    Logging PolicyNo Identifying Data
    Cheapest Price$3.45/mo over 26 months See all plans
    JurisdictionMalaysia (Privacy Haven)
    Compatible with
    1. windowsWindows
    2. macosMac OS
    3. iosiOS
    4. androidAndroid
    5. linuxLinux

    Advanced technical features & lots of protocols

    Hide.me offers AES-256 encryption and a secure kill switch, which prevents your IP address from leaking on all devices. Hide.me’s kill switch is one of the best we’ve tested, though it’s not as good as PIA’s, it will still keep your IP address hidden in China

    Hide.me also offers a wide range of protocols, including OpenVPN, WireGuard, IKEv2, SoftEther, and SSTP. Even better, all of these protocols are available on desktop and mobile apps.

    Hide.me’s range of protocols is much better than PrivateVPN, which only offers OpenVPN and IKEv2. If you’re based in China, it’s important to have at least two protocol options to find one that circumvents the firewall.

    Multihop tab in Hide.me shows custom servers.

    We used Hide.me’s multihop feature to bypass the Great Firewall in our tests.

    By far the most useful feature for people in China is Hide.me’s multihop tool. You can use it to establish a double VPN connection with entry and exit servers of your choice.

    This is much better than other VPNs which give you preset double VPN servers and don’t let you customize your connection to this degree.

    Minimal logs & based in a privacy haven

    Hide.me keeps minimal connection data logs for troubleshooting purposes, including your account information, internally assigned (non-public) IP address, and the amount of data used during a VPN session (aggregated).

    However, this information is erased every few hours and is unlikely to be used to track an individual’s browsing activity. Hide.me doesn’t log which websites you visit, your real IP address or your geographical location.

    Hide.me even accepts Monero and Bitcoin payments to reduce traceability of your transactions and purchase of the VPN subscription.

    The VPN service also has a privacy-friendly jurisdiction, Malaysia. The law in Malaysia doesn’t require VPN companies to keep logs of customer connections or network activity.

    How to use Hide.me in China

    Hide.me’s app is simple to use, but we encountered quite a few bugs and crashes while testing it out.

    Hide.me is most reliable in China when you set up two custom servers for multihop.

    Here’s how to use Hide.me in China:

    1. Open Hide.me and click on the Locations tab.
    2. Click on Add Custom Location. Enter your display name.
    3. Copy and paste ep-de.hideservers.net and click Add Location.
    4. Set up another custom location with ep-uk.hideservers.net. You can now view your custom servers in the server list.
    5. Click on the Multihop tab and click +Add Multihop.
    6. Select one of your custom servers as the entry server and choose your exit server. We recommend choosing Japan or Taiwan. These server combinations are automatically saved in the Multihop tab.
  4. 4. PrivateVPN: 82% Success Rate in China

    At just $3.21 per month, PrivateVPN is the cheapest VPN that works consistently in China.

    Image of PrivateVPN's app on mobile
     Rated 4.9 out of 5 
    1,735 user reviews
    Visit PrivateVPN

    • Stealth mode beats web censors
    • AES-256 encryption and strict no-logs policy
    • Kill switch prevents IP leaks on Windows and macOS
    • Intuitive and easy-to-use apps

    • Delays in connecting to server
    • No WireGuard protocol
    • Lacks multihop, diskless servers & other technical features
    • Leaks IPv6 address on Linux

    Overall Rating for China: 8.4/10

    This overall rating is calculated based on the following category ratings. To learn more, read our China VPN testing methodology.

    • 8.28.2/10
    • 9.19.1/10
    • 9.39.3/10
    • 9.19.1/10
    • 8.58.5/10

    PrivateVPN is a very safe VPN that’s consistently one of the most reliable VPNs in China.

    At $2.00 per month for a three-year subscription, it’s not the cheapest VPN, but it’s still much cheaper than Astrill, which is the best VPN for China. In exchange for a cheaper service, though, you do sacrifice 18% reliability with PrivateVPN.

    PrivateVPN has city-level servers in Hong Kong, Taipei, Tokyo, Seoul, and New York. In comparison to Hide.me, though, it doesn’t have custom servers built for bypassing the Great Firewall.

    PrivateVPN unblocks an article on Medium published on April 18th 2023 in China.

    Tests with our Shanghai server in 2023 prove that PrivateVPN unblocks Medium in China.

    The VPN service owns some of its own servers, labeled Dedicated IP, which prevents third-parties interfering with its server security. It also uses secure AES-256 encryption, the OpenVPN protocol, and robust IPv4, and DNS leak protection.

    Works In ChinaYes
    Data LeaksNo
    Logging PolicyNo Logs
    Cheapest Price$2.00/mo over 3 years See all plans
    JurisdictionSweden (14-Eyes Member)
    Compatible with
    1. windowsWindows
    2. macosMac OS
    3. iosiOS
    4. androidAndroid
    5. linuxLinux

    PrivateVPN is excellent value for money

    A three-year subscription with PrivateVPN is only $2.00 per month. In comparison, Astrill VPN’s best monthly price is $12.50 — over six times the amount of PrivateVPN.

    Our China tests showed that in 2021 PrivateVPN succeeded at bypassing the Great Firewall 79% of the time. But now in 2023, PrivateVPN is still consistently working well — now evident in its 82% success rate in China. This is largely thanks to its sophisticated implementation of Shadowsocks obfuscation.

    Verified no-logs policy & accepts Bitcoin payments

    PrivateVPN only collects your email address, which is used for logging in. This information is not linked to your activity in any way, and is standard practice for almost all VPNs.

    It doesn’t collect any user-identifying information, such as your real IP address, browsing activity, bandwidth usage, or timestamps.

    You can even decrease transaction traceability by paying with decentralized Bitcoin — but it doesn’t offer Monero like Astrill VPN or Hide.me does.

    Finally, PrivateVPN is one of the few VPNs that’s had its no-logs policy verified in a real-world case. We have seen documents that prove PrivateVPN has been unable to comply with law enforcement requests for user data.

    How to Use PrivateVPN in China

    PrivateVPN’s apps are easy-to-use and ideal for beginners. You might have to be patient with the app — we experienced a five-minute wait-time to be connected in our most recent China test.

    We used PrivateVPN’s stealth mode to bypass the Great Firewall.

    Here’s how to use PrivateVPN in China:

    1. Open the PrivateVPN app and click Advanced View.
    2. In the left-hand tabs, click on Stealth VPN.
    3. Toggle on Stealth VPN and select Port 443 from the down-down menu.
    4. Go back to the Dashboard and change your Connection Type to OpenVPN+TCP+443 > AES-256-CBC encryption.
    5. Choose your server. We recommend servers in Japan, Taiwan, Belgium, or the dedicated server in Tokyo.
  5. 5. Windscribe Free: 85% Success Rate in China

    The best free VPN for China with Stealth and WStunnel protocols. Also, the best VPN to offer obfuscation on iPhone and iPad.

    Windscribe mobile screenshots
     Rated 5 out of 5 
    3 user reviews
    Visit Windscribe

    • No need to give card details & private logging policy
    • Multiple obfuscation protocols on all apps
    • Reliable kill switch
    • Trustworthy VPN provider

    • 10GB data cap
    • No independent no-logs audit
    • Based in Canada (Five-Eyes nation)

    Overall Rating for China: 6.9/10

    This overall rating is calculated based on the following category ratings. To learn more, read our China VPN testing methodology.

    • 8.58.5/10
    • 9.49.4/10
    • 8.78.7/10
    • 8.88.8/10
    • 9.49.4/10

    Windscribe Free is the best free VPN that works in China. It’s also one of the most consistent VPNs for China available – free or paid. All versions of the app (on Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS) offer obfuscation protocols, strong security, and a trustworthy logging policy.

    Windscribe Free comes with a 10GB monthly data cap and restricted server choice, so you will have to limit your use of the VPN. Despite these limitations, its reliability makes it stand out as the best free VPN for China.

    Windscribe Free’s censorship circumvention is only 4% lower than StrongVPN in the past year, making it a reliable VPN in China.

    Works In ChinaYes
    Data LeaksNo
    Logging PolicyNo Identifying Data
    Cheapest PriceFree
    JurisdictionCanada (Five Eyes Member)
    Compatible with
    1. windowsWindows
    2. macosMac OS
    3. iosiOS
    4. androidAndroid
    5. linuxLinux

    Choice of obfuscation technology

    Windscribe has two obfuscation protocols available: Stunnel (called “Stealth” in the app) and Wstunnel. Stunnel wraps OpenVPN traffic in TLS, whereas WStunnel wraps it in WebSocket.

    Screenshot of Windscribe's Connection settings, showing Connection Mode in Manual, and protocol options, including Stealth and WStunnel.

    Windscribe Free gives you access to both obfuscation protocols on Windows and macOS.

    Both of these features make sure your VPN traffic blends in seamlessly with ordinary internet traffic.

    Windscribe is the only free VPN we’ve seen that can offer consistent access to both UK Netflix and BBC iPlayer. This makes it a good option for streaming blocked TV shows and movies while you’re in China.

    Its ability to unblock international streaming services from anywhere is also a reason why Windscribe premium is the best VPN for Singapore.

    A safe & trustworthy free VPN for China

    Finding a trustworthy free VPN that works in China is difficult. Our tests have found several unreliable or dangerous VPNs that work temporarily in China, but these VPNs are often incapable of actually protecting your data.

    Based on our most recent tests, the best Windscribe server for China is the Hong Kong, Victoria server. This is available on both the free and premium version of the app.

    During the last three months, Windscribe Free has been 86% successful in bypassing China’s firewall using this server.

    How to use Windscribe in China

    Windscribe’s desktop apps have a user-friendly interface. You can enable features and switch between protocols in seconds.

    We used Windscribe Free to access Facebook and Medium in China.

    Here’s how to use Windscribe in China:

    1. Open the Windscribe application. From the menu on the left, select Preferences.
    2. Under the Connection tab, set the Connection Mode to Manual.
    3. From the drop-down menu, select either Stealth or WStunnel.
    4. If your connection doesn’t work, change to the other protocol.

The Best Free VPNs for China

Previously, we recommended PrivadoVPN Free and Atlas VPN Free as secure free VPNs that work in China.

But things have changed since September 2022 for PrivadoVPN. Now, the process for refreshing free data must be done manually, which creates a problem because it opens a window that is blocked by the Great Firewall.

Likewise, Atlas VPN Free has been unable to automatically refresh free data since November 2022 and can no longer be used in China.

We will continue to test free VPN services — including PrivadoVPN Free and Atlas VPN Free — to identify any services that are safe and begin working again in China.

Most free VPNs simply do not work in China because it’s too difficult and expensive to develop obfuscation technology without a paid subscription model. It’s become especially difficult since the Great Firewall update in late 2022.

As of June 2023, Windscribe Free is the only safe free VPN that works in China. It works 85% of the time in our testing, and has a reliable WStunnel protocol and effective kill switch.

Windscribe unblocks YouTube in China on 19th April 2023.

Windscribe Free is still the best free VPN for China.

We recommend being careful with free VPNs in China.

NOTE: Our investigations have found that many popular free VPNs are secretly owned by Chinese companies, which presents a risk to your privacy. In one study, we revealed that half of the top-ranked VPN apps in Taiwan’s Apple App Store have ownership links to mainland China.

Other VPNs We’ve Tested for China

We’ve tested 55 VPN services in China, and the majority are simply not able to circumvent the Great Firewall.

Below, we’ve listed some popular VPNs that we no longer recommend for China after the Great Firewall updated in November 2022.

Private Internet Access

What we don’t like: PIA used to be the best affordable VPN for China, but was hit by the Great Firewall update at the end of 2022. In the past three months, it’s dropped from 100% to 57% pass rate in China.


What we don’t like: ExpressVPN used to be one of the best VPNs for China because of its inbuilt obfuscation. However, it was severely hit by the Great Firewall update at the end of 2022 and hasn’t recovered to previous levels of performance.


What we don’t like: NordVPN no longer works in China on Windows. It has a special version of the app which used to work, but NordVPN’s success rate in China on our Windows laptop is now less than 10% in the past year.

The VPN service has a manual connection workaround for China on Android, iOS, and macOS, but this has also recently been blocked. It’s a somewhat complicated manual configuration and uses IKEv2, which isn’t the safest protocol.

AtlasVPN Free

What we don’t like: After the Great Firewall update in November 2022, AtlasVPN’s 5GB free data hasn’t refreshed, meaning we aren’t able to connect to a server and use AtlasVPN in China.

VPNs That Don’t Work in China

The majority of VPN apps do not work in China. This includes some of the best and most popular VPNs.

This often happens as the Chinese government actively tries to identify and block unofficial VPN connections. For a VPN to work in China, it often needs to have obfuscation tools or stealth protocols as a minimum.

Most of the VPNs that do work in China put a significant amount of work and investment into beating the censors.

Here are some popular VPNs that do not work in China:

  • CyberGhost
  • HideMyAss
  • IPVanish
  • Mullvad
  • Surfshark
  • Proton VPN
  • TunnelBear
  • VyprVPN

How We Test VPNs for China

We test for a number of key decision-making factors when testing the safest and most reliable VPNs for China.

For China specifically, we test for:

  • The ability to bypass the Great Firewall from a server in Shanghai.
  • AES-256 encryption, OpenVPN, and other safe connection protocols.
  • Effective traffic obfuscation technology.
  • Fast international speeds from China.
  • VPN servers in mainland China or nearby countries.
  • Specialized servers for bypassing Chinese censorship.
  • China-specific support (such as additional app download links).
  • No ties to the Chinese government or companies.

Here’s a breakdown of exactly what we test for when recommending VPNs for China, along with how much of the overall rating each category makes up:

1. Success Rate in China: 70%

Minimum Requirement: Over 50% censorship circumvention rate in China.
We Recommend: Over 70% censorship circumvention rate in China.

The most important test for a VPN in China is whether it can bypass the Great Firewall, a name given to China’s web censorship infrastructure.

We operate a virtual Windows 10 PC installed on a server near Shanghai to determine whether or not a VPN actually works in China.

Our experts use this server to manually test 19 popular VPN services every week and use it to track the percentage success rate over the last three and 12 months. This way, we can record improvements and declines in a VPN’s ability to circumvent state censorship in China.

When testing a VPN, we attempt to connect to a server outside of mainland China using every available protocol on a variety of servers.

As part of this process, we also follow any additional instructions from the VPN itself, including downloading special versions of its apps. These are often obtained through a VPN’s website or through interacting with customer service via live chat or email.

We believe this is the most accurate way to predict the long-term performance of a VPN in China from outside the country.

The percentage success rate of each VPN over the last 12 months is what determines its rating in this category. For example, if it has worked 82% of the time, it will get a rating of 8.2/10.

2. Obfuscation Technology: 5%

Minimum Requirement: Includes an option for active obfuscation.
We Recommend: OpenVPN XOR or Stunnel functionality.

While test results are the absolute indicator of whether a VPN works in China, obfuscation technology can also give you some idea of if its likely to work.

Obfuscation technology will disguise your VPN traffic as normal traffic and help you to get past firewalls and VPN bans. It comes in many forms, such as stealth protocols, obfuscated servers, and proxy options.

OpenVPN Stunnel, XOR Scramble and Shadowsocks proxies are among the most effective obfuscation techniques. Some VPN services, such as Astrill and NordVPN, also offer their own proprietary obfuscation protocols.

Obfuscation technology is a must if you’re permanently based in a country with online censorship, so we factor it into our rankings for Russia and Turkey as well.

3. Privacy & Logging Policy: 5%

Minimum Requirement: A clear privacy policy with only anonymised logs.
We Recommend: A strict zero-logs policy.

You shouldn’t use a VPN that records your timestamps, IP address, or any other information that could identify you and your internet activity.

This is especially important if you’re traveling to or living in China because unauthorized VPNs are completely banned by the Chinese government.

VPNs are in a prime position to record all of your sensitive information and online activity, which could lead to your arrest if you’re found to be breaking the law in China.

Crucially, in no circumstances should you ever use a VPN that’s based in China, or even has ties to Chinese businesses or the government. In our research, we found that 10 of the most popular free mobile VPN apps in the US are Chinese-owned, and an additional four had links to China.

When searching for the best VPN for China, we closely analyzed the privacy policies and ownership structures of the VPNs with the best performance in China. We made sure to disqualify any VPNs with links to mainland Chinese businesses and government.

4. Speed: 10%

Minimum Requirement: Download speeds over 60Mbps on connections to nearby countries.
We Recommend: 70Mbps or faster on long-distance connections.

The Great Firewall regularly uses bandwidth throttling to censor web pages originating from outside of China. If this happens, you’ll find an error message that reads your server took too long to respond.

We regularly test for local speeds from the US, and international download speeds while connected to Australia, Singapore, and the UK.

After recording speeds connected to a VPN, we compare them to speeds without using a VPN to figure out the percentage drop.

The best VPNs only have minimal speed loss when connected to servers in the same continent. It’s likely that the further away the server you connect to, the slower your internet speeds will be.

5. Nearby Servers to China: 10%

Minimum Requirement: Servers in Asia or the US West Coast.
We Recommend: Multiple obfuscated servers in both Asia and the USA’s west coast.

VPNs that make an effort to circumvent the Great Firewall have to offer servers in nearby countries in order to deliver high speeds.

Servers in nearby Asian countries, especially in Hong Kong, are generally the best choice for speed. We also test servers in Singapore, Japan, Thailand, Korea, Vietnam, and more.

Servers on the US West Coast can also deliver good speeds from China. They’re also ideal for accessing US streaming services, such as Netflix and Hulu.

Data Cap Penalty: Up to 50% Reduction

Almost all free VPNs come with a data cap. Like with most limitations on free VPNs, this is imposed to encourage users to upgrade to a premium subscription.

If you use up your data cap, the rest of your internet activity will be outside of the VPN tunnel. Consequently, your ISP can monitor the webpages you visit and you won’t be able to access blocked websites in China.

We apply a penalty to the VPN’s final overall rating for China based on its data cap:

  • 10GB per month: -20% to the overall rating
  • 500MB per day: -25% to the overall rating
  • 5GB per month: -30% to the overall rating
  • 1GB per month: -35% to the overall rating
  • 500MB per month: -50% to the overall rating

The Great Firewall of China

The great firewall of China

The Great Firewall of China (GFW) is a nickname given to China’s internet censorship system, which functions through legislation and internet filtering technologies.

Since 2003, the GFW has given Chinese authorities the power to monitor and restrict internet access in mainland China (Hong Kong and Macau are exempt).

The Great Firewall regulates and censors the internet by limiting, slowing, or completely blocking access to specific websites, applications and web services.

You can use our Great Firewall of China tool to test which websites are blocked in China in real-time.

How Does the Great Firewall Work?

Unlike the online censorship in some other countries, China’s Great Firewall has been around since the origins of the internet. As a result, it is built into the basic internet infrastructure of the country.

The Great Firewall uses a combination of five methods to block websites and apps:

  1. IP blocking: blocking IP addresses that resolve to specific URLs (websites).
  2. DNS spoofing: diverting traffic from one website to another, which practically blocks you from accessing a desired website or app.
  3. Keyword and URL filtering: scanning websites and URLs for specific terms.
  4. Deep packet inspection (DPI): inspecting the headers in data packets to detect the destination IP address (website).
  5. Manual actions: Chinese authorities employ thousands of workers to censor forbidden content.

The GFW doesn’t operate in a single or straightforward way, and the Chinese Communist Party (China’s ruling political party) maintains a high degree of secrecy about how its censorship functions.

From the outside looking in, these are some of the common methods used by the Great Firewall to block websites and services.

By combining these technologies and constantly upgrading its methods and infrastructure, China has managed to build the most effective and dynamic system of online censorship in the world.

Here’s a more detailed explanation the five methods used to block or censor content in China:

1. IP Blocking

China builds a blacklist of IP addresses which correspond to banned websites. If it sees you are trying to connect to these IP addresses, your traffic will simply be blocked.

If an IP address associated with a non-approved VPN are discovered, it is blocked too.

2. DNS Spoofing

When you connect to a website, the Domain Name System (DNS) is used to establish a connection between your device and the website’s IP address.

China can set DNS servers up to give faulty information for some DNS requests, which will prevent you from establishing a connection with the website.

3. URL Filtering

As well as blocking specific IP addresses, the GFW scans URLs for sensitive keywords. This means you may be able to access one part of a website, but not the pages that refer to content that the government would rather keep you from seeing.

4. Deep Packet Inspection & Injection

The Great Firewall can look through blocks of unencrypted data to identify flagged keywords using a process known as ‘deep packet inspection’. It can then stop any unwanted packets from being transmitted.

After identifying an unwanted connection, China can inject reset packets, to break the connection between you and the website you are visiting for a period of time.

5. Manual Actions

Much of the censorship carried out as part of the Great Firewall isn’t automated. The government hires staff specifically to scan the internet for content to add to its blacklist.

Does the Great Firewall Block Every VPN?

China’s Great Firewall actively blocks VPN connections, but it cannot block every VPN.

The Chinese government has been blocking VPNs to some degree since 2011, but this process has intensified since 2017 and early 2018.

During that time, the Chinese government ordered the Apple App Store to remove all VPN applications and threatened to block all VPN services that were not government-approved.

While it wasn’t successful in blocking all VPN services, many popular services are now unusable.

Even the VPNs with the most effective obfuscation tools occasionally fall victim to the Great Firewall’s censorship.

During times of political unrest, or on significant anniversaries such as June 4, the Chinese government cracks down on VPNs more intensely. Connecting to a VPN server will be harder, but the best VPNs usually find a solution reasonably quickly.

How Do the Top VPNs Beat the Great Firewall?

VPN services encrypt your internet traffic so the Great Firewall can’t see what you’re trying to access online.

The encrypted traffic is routed to a VPN server in another country before going to the website or service that you want to access. This hides the destination of the internet traffic from the Great Firewall, too.

The Chinese censors have learnt to identify some VPN connections.

Using Deep Packet Inspection, the censors can see certain indicators of VPN traffic, such as characteristics of particular VPN protocols.

As a result, the most reliable VPNs for China now use obfuscation technology to scramble VPN traffic and make it look like normal HTTPS internet traffic. This helps the data to go undetected.

PrivateVPN working in China

PrivateVPN uses obfuscation to unblock YouTube in China.

Even with obfuscation, the Great Firewall still successfully blocks some VPN servers by blacklisting associated IP address ranges.

This means that one day a VPN server might work, and the next day it won’t. Some trial and error might be required when this happens.

What Is VPN Obfuscation?

VPN Obfuscation technology disguises your VPN traffic so it blends in with other forms of online traffic. Normal VPN encryption stops observers from reading your traffic, but obfuscation stops them from knowing it is VPN traffic at all.

A VPN that offers obfuscation technology will allow you to select an obfuscation protocol from the settings menu.

Without obfuscation, the Chinese Firewall will detect VPN traffic (through deep packet inspection) and block it.

deep packet inspection searching for a VPN connection. The VPN has obfuscation and therefore cannot be detected by the censors.

VPN services use protocol obfuscation methods to scramble VPN data and mask it as regular HTTPS web traffic.

The two most common ways to obfuscate VPN traffic are:

  1. XOR: Also referred to as OpenVPN Scramble, XOR is an encryption algorithm often used to mask OpenVPN traffic.
  2. Obfsproxy: Developed by the Tor network, Obfsproxy works by adding a further layer of encryption to OpenVPN traffic using the “obfs4” wrapper.

Sometimes obfuscation protocols are also called ‘stealth’ or ‘camouflage’ protocols. All of the recommended VPNs above use obfuscation protocols.

Can You Beat the Great Firewall without a VPN?

There are other circumvention tools that can unblock websites and apps in China, but they’re usually not as effective as VPNs.

Most VPN alternatives don’t protect your privacy and aren’t guaranteed to work.

Here’s a list of five circumvention tools that can work in China:

  1. Proxies (Shadowsocks): One option is to use a proxy server, which spoofs your IP address but doesn’t encrypt your internet traffic.This means that your ISP – or the Chinese government – will be able to see what you’re doing online.The most effective proxy for China is called Shadowsocks, which uses the SOCKS5 internet protocol. Many VPNs actually incorporate Shadowsocks into their obfuscation protocols.
  2. Lantern: Lantern is a type of open-source peer-to-peer (P2P) software specifically built to circumvent web filters, and funded by the US government.It uses volunteers located in countries with a more open internet to share their bandwidth with users in high-censorship nations.Lantern is not an anonymity tool, so remember that your web activity is still visible to others.
  3. Mirror Websites: Some websites release copies or “mirrors” of their website if the original has been blocked by the Great Firewall. As long as the mirror site remains unblocked, users in China can still access it.
  4. TOR: The Onion Router (Tor) is a free web browser that anonymizes your internet activity by routing your web traffic through a network of random servers.While Tor is a safer option than using proxy servers or mirror websites, it comes with some major disadvantages.Firstly, Tor is much slower than most VPNs. It is very anonymous, but it isn’t very secure – which means you’ll need to do your research to use it safely.China also actively blocks access to Tor, which means you have to configure the browser’s advanced settings and use bridges to unblock websites. There is a good chance that you simply won’t be able to get it working, though.
  5. FreeBrowser: FreeBrowser is a free web browser for Android devices with built-in circumvention technology. It’s used by over 100,000 Android users, but user reviews are very mixed.It’s only a web browser, too – so your internet traffic outside of it will be blocked (or heavily restricted) in China.

Which Websites are Blocked in China?

Many popular websites and apps in the world are blocked in China. However, this censorship varies from day to day and region to region.

The Google Play Store isn’t available at all in China, and Apple’s App Store complies with Chinese laws. This means it’s highly restricted and does not offer VPN applications.

You can use greatfire.org and GFWatch to check if specific websites are blocked.

Some of the most popular websites and services unavailable in China include:

  • Google (blocked since 2014)
  • YouTube (blocked since 2011)
  • Facebook (blocked since 2009)
  • Twitter (blocked since 2009)
  • Instagram (blocked since 2014)
  • WhatsApp (blocked since 2017)
  • Skype (blocked since 2017)
  • Pinterest (blocked since 2017)

Many VPN websites and applications are also blocked in China, which is why it’s important to set up your VPN apps before you travel.

If you’re using an Android device, you can download APK files directly from some VPN websites – although they too may be blocked.

ExpressVPN APK download page

ExpressVPN offers an APK file for direct installation.

Be wary of downloading this type of file from third-party websites, though, as they can be infected with malware.

The Great Firewall can also block access to anything that requires access to the internet. This includes email (if you use Gmail) and blacklisted mobile apps.

If your mobile app needs to connect to a blocked site or service to operate, it won’t work in China.

Are VPNs Legal in China?

Only government-approved VPNs are legal in China. All VPN services must be officially sanctioned by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) before being given permission to operate.

To receive this permission, VPN services must agree to conditions such as data logging and sharing data with local authorities, making the VPN useless from a privacy perspective.

Using an unauthorized VPN can technically result in fines of up to 15,000 yuan (approximately $2,200). However, there are very few instances of VPN users actually being charged or fined –particularly foreigners.

If you choose a legitimate, secure, and safe VPN for China it’s highly unlikely that authorities will be able to identify your VPN traffic. If they do, it’s very unlikely you’ll get into trouble for using it.

It’s important not to use an unsafe VPN with poor encryption and weak security. These VPNs are likely to leave your activity exposed.


What's the Best Free VPN for China?

The best free VPN that works in China is Proton VPN Free. It’s one of the few safe free VPNs that currently works in China.

Generally, it’s not recommended to use free VPNs in China. They are unlikely to work, and free VPNs usually come with considerable risks to your privacy and security.

The free version of Proton VPN is easily the best free VPN available, and has worked 89.29% of the time over the past 12 months.

To learn more about what makes Proton VPN Free the best option, read the full Proton VPN review.

How Do I Get a Chinese IP Address?

If you want to use a VPN to access Chinese websites and services, there are a few VPN services with virtual server locations that will give you a Chinese IP address. These include PureVPN, Ivacy, HideMyAss, and Hotspot Shield.

These VPN servers are not physically located in China, but they will assign you a Chinese IP address. This will make it seem as if you’re located in mainland China.

To get a Chinese IP address using a VPN, simply select the ‘China’ server and click connect.

You can check that you have a Chinese IP address using our IPv4/IPv6 address info tool.

By using a VPN to connect into China, you will be able to access popular Chinese streaming websites such as Youku, Tudou, and Sohu Video.

Why Is My VPN Slow in China?

Unlike the internet in other countries, there are very few exit or entry points to the Chinese internet. This means local connections are much faster than international ones.

If you’re in China and you’re connecting to websites or services outside of China, your internet speeds are likely to be much slower.

Most VPN services slow your internet speeds to some degree due to the data cost of encryption and how traffic is relayed via the VPN server. However, the fastest VPNs will only impact your speeds by about 5-10% if you connect to a nearby server.

The obfuscation technology necessary for VPNs to work in China will also slow your speeds slightly, making Chinese VPN connections a little slower than regular VPN connections outside of China.

You can get the best possible speeds by connecting to the closest possible VPN server. These are usually found in Hong Kong or Singapore. This isn’t always the case, though – you may need to experiment to find the fastest server for you.

Is Social Media Blocked in China?

Many of the sites blocked in China are social media websites. This means you also won’t be able to access these services from mobile apps without a VPN.

Blocked social media sites include:

  • WhatsApp
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Instagram

Some social media sites aren’t blocked in China, though. You can still access:

  • LinkedIn
  • Weibo
  • Renren
  • YouKu

Github is also available in China, and has previously been used as a platform for dissent and sending messages to the wider internet.