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Best VPN for China in 2020

Illustration of the flag of China
Simon Migliano Head of Research at Top10VPN

Simon 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, CNet and more. Read full bio

China blocks over 10,000 web domains including 135 of the world’s top 1,000 websites. If you’re in Beijing, Shanghai, or anywhere else in mainland China without a VPN, you won’t be able to access Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, and more.

Using a reliable VPN in China will unblock these websites and applications and give you unrestricted access to the global internet. However, China’s internet censorship uses the most advanced firewall system in the world, and many popular VPNs simply aren’t equipped to overcome it. In fact, China can actually identify VPN traffic if you don’t use obfuscation technology to disguise it.  

This means finding the best VPN for China can take a lot of investigation and involve some risk. We’ve developed a strict methodology to find VPN services that actually work in China and pose no risk to you, the user.

Since 2016 we’ve spent over 30,000 hours testing 70 VPN services, and the VPN providers we recommend will give you unrestricted internet access in China.

Following our latest tests, these are the five best VPNs that still work in China in September 2020:

  1. ExpressVPN: The best and fastest VPN that works consistently in China. Read Summary
  2. Astrill: A reliable alternative that works in China thanks to its obfuscation technology. Read Summary
  3. VPN.ac: A strong VPN choice for China with US-optimized connections. Read Summary
  4. PrivateVPN: Unblocks websites and apps in China via its stealth VPN protocol. Read Summary
  5. Windscribe: A free VPN that can work in China, but is slower than other options. Read Summary

Compare these VPNs side-by-side with our tool
The five VPNs above will beat the Chinese VPN ban and bypass the Great Firewall of China

Overall, ExpressVPN is the best VPN for China that we’ve tested – it provides fast and reliable access to blocked websites and survives even the most aggressive internet lockdowns in the region. 

We try to keep our recommendations as up to date as possible, so if you’ve had a positive or negative experience of any VPN in China, please leave a comment.

EXPERT TIP: Set up your VPN before you travel to China or you’ll struggle to download and install a VPN there. Most VPN websites are blocked in China, and safe-to-use VPN apps are banned from the app stores.

Coronavirus update

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic we’ve noticed VPNs have become harder to access in China, especially in the Hubei province. We’re monitoring the situation daily, and will keep this page updated as and when changes occur.

Wondering why you should trust our reviews?
See How We Review VPNs.

5 Best VPNs That Still Work in China (Tested September)

1. ExpressVPN

The best VPN for China

  1. Consistently unblocks websites in China
  2. Fast VPN servers optimized for China
  3. Obfuscation technology to beat censorship
  4. Unlocks Netflix, Hulu, Disney+ & more
  5. No logging & no IP, DNS or WebRTC leaks
  6. Full-featured VPN browser extensions
  1. Expensive on shorter subscription plans
  • Best Price

    $6.67/mo over 15 Months

    See all plans

  • Top Speedi

    85Mbps same city speed

    Based on a 100Mbps test connection

  • Servers

    94 countries, 3,000+ servers

  • Compatible with

    • Windows logoWindows
    • Mac logoMac
    • iOS logoiOS
    • Android logoAndroid
    • Linux logoLinux

The Bottom Line

ExpressVPN is the fastest and most reliable VPN for China, even in times of heightened online censorship. It claims 99.9% uptime in China, and our tests have found that to be true. It consistently beats the Great Firewall of China.

It uses advanced obfuscation technology to create one of the most seamless experiences we’ve seen from a VPN in China. Because of this, using ExpressVPN in China is very similar to using it anywhere else in the world, with the same extensive suite of features. 

A stability graph for using ExpressVPN in China

ExpressVPN’s stability has consistently been between 99-100% according to greatfire.org

We recorded exceptional VPN speeds when using ExpressVPN,especially connecting to nearby servers. It is by far the fastest VPN in China compared to its main rivals.

ExpressVPN’s server network is extensive and there are even specific servers recommended for China. Simply get in touch with its 24/7 live chat support to find out which servers they recommend, as they change regularly.

Its proprietary obfuscation tools allow ExpressVPN to work even in the most censored of countries, and that’s why ExpressVPN is the best VPN for China. Just be sure to set the VPN protocol to ‘Automatic’ before you connect.

There are VPN apps for all popular devices – PC, Mac, iPhone, Android, and Fire TV – which are all very easy to set up and use. ExpressVPN also comes with SmartDNS technology thanks to its MediaStreamer tool. This is ideal for Apple TV and games console users.

Furthermore, ExpressVPN doesn’t collect any activity logs, and we have never experienced a single IP, DNS, or WebRTC leak in our extensive tests. This means there is much less risk of China compromising its service.

Remember, ExpressVPN comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee. If you’re unhappy with the software, let the customer support team know within the first 30 days and you’ll be refunded, no-questions-asked. We’re fairly confident you won’t need to use it, though.

If you’re in China, or planning on going there soon, ExpressVPN is our number one recommended VPN.

How to Use ExpressVPN in China

When using ExpressVPN in a highly censored region like China you don’t need to select any special settings. Just make sure the protocol is set to “automatic” before connecting.

Before you use the VPN, though, you need to download it. If you plan on travelling to China, we strongly recommend downloading the VPN before you leave, as you won’t be able to access ExpressVPN’s website from China.

If you are currently in China, there are mirror sites from which the app can be downloaded from. You can get in contact with ExpressVPN directly for help finding these – just make sure you have an alternative email service to Gmail, which is blocked by the censors.

For a more in-depth look, read our full ExpressVPN review.

2. Astrill

Reliable but expensive VPN for China

  1. Stealth VPN protocol to beat censors
  2. VPN servers optimized for China
  3. Nearby VPN servers in Asia with good speeds
  4. Works with US Netflix
  5. Kill switch & no IP,DNS and WebRTC leaks
  6. Easy to set up and use
  1. Live chat doesn’t always work
  2. Free trial unavailable to China users
  3. No refund policy
  4. More expensive than its competitors
  5. No VPN browser extensions
  • Best Price

    $10.00/mo over 12 Months

    See all plans

  • Top Speedi

    72Mbps same city speed

    Based on a 100Mbps test connection

  • Servers

    62 countries

  • Compatible with

    • Windows logoWindows
    • Mac logoMac
    • iOS logoiOS
    • Android logoAndroid
    • Linux logoLinux

The Bottom Line

In the past, Astrill made its name as the best VPN for China – it’s currently a close second to ExpressVPN for stability, though. It maintains servers in nearby countries like Hong Kong and Japan, and uses special ‘SuperCharged’ servers to get the best speeds possible in Japan. It has a good logging policy, but not the best.

A stability graph for using Astrill in China

Astrill is one of the most stable VPNs in China, according to greatfire.org

It has two stealth protocols (one is a VPN protocol, the other a proxy) which are both often effective at bypassing Chinese web blocks.

It also offers nearby servers in Asia (Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea) and on the US west coast (Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Jose). Speeds are reasonably good, although they can’t compete with those of ExpressVPN. 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 all this fails (which is unlikely to happen) it also offers a simple proxy which can get around the censors as an option of last resort.

It does collect some logs, though:

  • Connection time
  • IP address
  • Device type
  • VPN app version

These are kept for the duration of your VPN session. Once the session is over, the connection logs are wiped.

While you can use Astrill VPN on Microsoft Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android, the mobile apps lack many of the advanced security features of the computer software. Also, Astrill doesn’t have any VPN browser extensions.

In addition, live chat doesn’t always work and you can’t access the free trial from China. There’s no refund policy, either, so make sure you want to commit to Astrill before buying.

Overall, Astrill is a good VPN for China that will give you access to your favorite websites and apps. It falls shy of what ExpressVPN can offer, though, and it’s one of the most expensive VPNs we’ve seen.

How to Use Astrill VPN in China

If you want to use Astrill in China you have a few options:

  1. The most simple option is to select ‘StealthVPN’ from the dropdown menu in the top right of the window before connecting.
    The Astrill app home screen
  2. If that doesn’t work, you can click the menu in the top left and select ‘StealthVPN options’, then try changing to ‘Reliable (TCP)’ mode.
    Screenshot of the Astrill app
  3. Your final option is to Select ‘Proxy Settings’ instead and try to connect using an HTTP proxy. This is not fully encrypted so should only be used as a last resort.
    The astrill app StealthVPN page

For a more in-depth look, read our full Astrill VPN review.

3. VPN.ac

China-optimized servers in Europe and North America

  1. China optomised servers in both Europe and the US
  2. Specialized XOR obfuscation
  3. Regularly updated China status pages
  4. Very easy to use in China
  1. Some minimal logs which are wiped daily
  2. Less consistent than ExpressVPN or Astrill
  • Best Price

    $3.75 over 24 months

    See all plans

  • Top Speedi

    84Mbps same city speed

    Based on a 100Mbps test connection

  • Servers

    21 countries, 117 servers

  • Compatible with

    • Windows logoWindows
    • Mac logoMac
    • iOS logoiOS
    • Android logoAndroid
    • Linux logoLinux

The Bottom Line

VPN.ac is a smaller VPN provider than others on this list, but it’s proven itself to be a particularly good choice when connecting from China. It’s dedicated China servers allow it to present a strong alternative to the big name VPNs. 

VPN.ac uses ‘China Optimized’ servers, which offer a strong connection between China and North America, Europe, and Asia. Specialized servers are available in:

  • Canda
  • France
  • Germany
  • Hong Kong
  • Japan
  • Singapore
  • Taiwan
  • UK
  • US

These will be the best servers to connect to from China, as they automatically apply VPN.ac’s specialised obfuscation technology.

It uses the OpenVPN XOR protocol with a TCP port 443 tunnel (the same port used by HTTPS traffic) to sneak traffic past China’s extensive censorship apparatus. Beating the censors in China is a constant game of cat and mouse, and one which VPN.ac has managed to stay consistently ahead of.

Giving customers access to the wider internet from China is clearly a key part of VPN.ac’s offering. The status of its service in China is monitored on a ‘China Status’ webpage, and it also offers its own detailed instructions for using the VPN in China.

VPN.ac does log a small amount of information, however this information is wiped daily. The following data is temporarily logged on the VPN server:

  • Originating IP address
  • Start and end time of VPN connection
  • Total amount of data transferred

On longer subscription plans VPN.ac represents good value, but it can’t match the likes of PrivateVPN for a short, one month commitment. Still, VPN.ac is one the best VPNs we’ve seen for connecting in China.

How to Use VPN.ac in China

You need to enable the China specific features of VPN.ac before you can use them:

  1. Select ‘Advanced’ at the bottom of the app.
  2. Toggle ‘I am in China or another censored country’ on.Screenshot of the VPN.ac app
  3. When you return to the server select page, you will see a new tab for ‘China Optimized’ servers.
  4. Choose any of these to connect to.Screenshot of the VPN.ac China servers

For a more in-depth look, read our full VPN.ac review.

4. PrivateVPN

The best value working VPN for China

  1. Stealth VPN protocol works in China
  2. Fast VPN servers in nearby Asian cities
  3. Also works with TCP Port 443 & Tor
  4. No-logs policy & no IP, DNS or WebRTC leaks
  5. Unblocks US Netflix & BBC iPlayer
  1. Small VPN server network (only 150 servers)
  2. No VPN browser extensions
  3. Live chat not always available
  • Best Price

    $1.89/mo over 24 months

    See all plans

  • Top Speedi

    86Mbps same city speed

    Based on a 100Mbps test connection

  • Servers

    60 countries, 150+ servers

  • Compatible with

    • Windows logoWindows
    • Mac logoMac
    • iOS logoiOS
    • Android logoAndroid
    • Linux logoLinux

The Bottom Line

PrivateVPN is a cheap VPN that still works in China. It doesn’t have a big server network but you can connect to fast VPN servers in Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea. These will give you reliable connection speeds out of China.

PrivateVPN’s stealth VPN protocol, “Stealth VPN”, is a major advantage to bypass Chinese web censors. It also has security features like a VPN kill switch, AES-256 encryption, and we didn’t detect any IP or DNS leaks in our tests.

A strict no-logs policy means that PrivateVPN doesn’t track or collect any of your internet data. This is good anywhere, but particularly good when accessing the internet from regions with antagonistic governments like China.

The app has had an overhaul recently too, making it really intuitive to get the stealth VPN up and running. There isn’t any manual setup or fiddling involved.

PrivateVPN used to offer a seven-day free trial, but has replaced that with a 31-day refund period, meaning you can try it out for a whole month and get your money back if the VPN doesn’t work.

With the exception of Windscribe Free, PrivateVPN is the cheapest VPN on this list, and it’s even good value on short one-month subscriptions. This makes it perfect if you only intend to be in China for a short time and don’t want to commit to a much longer subscription.

How to Use PrivateVPN in China

  1. First, select ‘Advanced View’. PrivateVPN advanced view
  2. Then, need to select the ‘Stealth VPN’ tab.PrivateVPN StealthVPN menu
  3. Toggle Stealth VPN on to enable obfuscation, then return to simple view to connect.

You also have the option of choosing between Port 22 and Port 443 for your data, changing between these options may help unblock content.

For a more in-depth look, read our full PrivateVPN review.

5. Windscribe Free

A trustworthy free VPN that works in China

  1. No need to give card details
  2. Strong logging policy
  3. Good for streaming Netflix & BBC iPlayer
  4. Multiple obfuscation protocols
  5. Trustworthy provider
  1. 10GB data cap
  2. iOS app won't work in China
  3. Less consistent than alternatives
  • Top Speedi

    54Mbps same city speed

    Based on a 100Mbps test connection

  • Servers

    10 countries

  • Compatible with

    • Windows logoWindows
    • Mac logoMac
    • iOS logoiOS
    • Android logoAndroid
    • Linux logoLinux

The Bottom Line

Windscribe’s free VPN is one of very few we’ve seen work in China that also has airtight security and a trustworthy logging policy. It does come with a 10GB per month data cap, though, so you will have to limit your use of the VPN.

It has both the Stunnel (called “Stealth” in the app) and Wstunnel obfuscation protocols available. Stunnel wraps OpenVPN traffic in TLS, whereas Wstunnel wraps it in WebSocket. Both help VPN traffic blend in seamlessly with the ordinary noise of internet communication.

These stealth protocols aren’t available on iOS, though, so Windscribe Free is only a good option for Android, PC, and Mac users in China.

Windscribe is the only free VPN we’ve seen that can offer consistent access to both US Netflix and BBC iPlayer, which means it is a good choice if you’re looking to stream blocked TV shows and movies while you’re in China.

Finding a trustworthy free VPN which works in China is difficult. We’ve seen quite a few unreliable or dangerous VPNs work temporarily in China, but these providers often fall short when it comes to protecting your data.

There are differing claims about which of Windscribe’s servers work best in China. Most likely you will have to experiment with a few different locations to establish a good connection. It’s worth switching between Stunnel and Wstunnel too if you struggle to connect.

Like all these apps, you need to download Windscribe onto all your devices before leaving for China.

How to Use Windscribe in China

  1. From the hamburger menu in the top left, select ‘Preferences’. Windscribe home screen
  2. Then under the ‘Connection’ tab set Connection Mode to ‘Manual’. Windscribe advanced settings
  3. From the drop down menu select either ‘Stealth’ or ‘WStunnel’. Windscribe with stealth (Stunnel) turned on
  4. If your connection doesn’t work, change to the other protocol.

For a more in-depth look, read our full Windscribe VPN review.

China VPN Comparison Table

From the table below, see which VPNs currently work in China, and which ones don’t:

VPN Service Astrill Avast SecureLine CyberGhost ExpressVPN Hide.me (Paid Version) HideMyAss Hotspot Shield (Paid Version) IPVanish Mullvad NordVPN Private Internet Access PrivateVPN ProtonVPN (Paid Version) StrongVPN Surfshark TorGuard TunnelBear (Paid Version) VPN.ac VyprVPN Windscribe (Paid Version) ZenMate (Paid Version)
Status Working Not Working Not Working Working Not Working Not Working Not Working Not Working Not Working Working Not Working Working Working Working Working Working Not Working Working Working Working Not Working
Logging Policy Some User Logs Some User Logs No Logs Anonymous Usage Data Anonymous Usage Data Some User Logs Some User Logs No Logs Anonymous Usage Data No Logs No Logs No Logs Anonymous Usage Data No Logs No Logs No Logs Anonymous Usage Data No Logs Anonymous Usage Data Anonymous Usage Data No Logs
Jurisdiction Seychelles Czech Republic (EU Member) Romania British Virgin Islands Malaysia UK (Five-Eyes Member) US (Five-Eyes Member) US (Five-Eyes Member) Sweden (14-Eyes Member) Panama US (Five-Eyes Member) Sweden (14-Eyes Member) Switzerland US (Five-Eyes Member) British Virgin Islands US (Five-Eyes Member) Canada (Five-Eyes Member) Romania Switzerland Canada (Five-Eyes Member) Germany (14-Eyes Member)

Research Methodology: How We Test VPNs for China

As with all our VPN research, we apply a fair and unbiased methodology to finding the best VPN in China. The process is neutral and we treat all VPNs as equal. We rigorously search user feedback on sites like Reddit, Quora, Tripadvisor, and more to find the VPNs that work for real users in China.

Testing VPNs in China is not a straightforward process, and our readers are one of our key resources. If you have feedback on how our recommendations, as well as other VPNs, are currently working in China, leave us a comment below.

We do not rely soley on word of mouth for our China VPN recommendations. We have developed a new VPN testing infrastructure specifically for monitoring the performance of popular VPNs in China from a server in Schenzhen.

This testing apparatus allows us to use VPNs as though we are on the ground in China, and track the performance of data over time. We are currently building a larger dataset, allowing us to offer unique insight into what VPNs do and don’t work in China.

When we test a VPN for China we look for:

  • Ability to bypass the Great Firewall
  • Strong encryption without IP or DNS leaks
  • Effective obfuscation technology
  • Good speeds from China
  • Servers in nearby countries or specialised servers
  • China specific support (such as additional download links)
  • Not run by the Chinese government or companies

VPNs That Don’t Work in China

Since China started cracking-down on VPN services, the majority of VPN apps don’t work in China.

Even some of the most popular VPN services don’t come with the tools necessary for beating the Great Chinese Firewall’s censors.

Here are some popular VPN services that don’t work well in China:

  • CyberGhost
  • HideMyAss
  • Hotspot Shield
  • IPVanish
  • Private Internet Access
  • TunnelBear

Basically, if a VPN doesn’t come with obfuscation tools or stealth protocols, it’s unlikely to get past the Chinese VPN blocks.

The Great Firewall of China

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

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

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 cache poisoning, or DNS spoofing – to divert traffic from one website to another, which practically blocks you from accessing your desired website or app.
  3. Keyword and URL filtering – scanning websites and URLs for specific terms.
  4. Deep packet inspection (DPI) – the inspection of headers in data packets to detect the destination IP address (website).
  5. Manual actions – Chinese authorities employ thousands of workers to censor forbidden content.

How Does the Great Firewall Work?

Unlike the online censorship of some other countries, China’s Great Firewall has been around since the origins of the internet, and as such is built into the basic internet infrastructure of the country.

It doesn’t operate in a single or straightforward way, and the CCP (China’s ruling political party) maintains a high degree of secrecy about how its censorship functions, but from the outside looking in we can observe some common methods used by the Great Firewall:

  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 IPs, your traffic will simply be blocked. If IP addresses associated with a non-state approved VPN are discovered, they are blocked too.

  2. DNS Poisoning

    When you connect to a website something called DNS is used to establish a connection between your computer or phone 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 IPs, China scans URLs for sensitive keywords. This means you might be able to access part of a website, but not pages which refer to content China would rather keep you from seeing.

  4. Deep Packet Inspection & Injection

    In certain cases, the Firewall will look through blocks of unencrypted data to look for flagged keywords using a process known as ‘deep packet inspection’. It can 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.

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.

Even with obfuscation technology in place many VPNs simply are not up to the task of overcoming it.

Does the Great Firewall Block Every VPN?

China actively blocks VPN connections, but currently it cannot block every VPN. China has been blocking VPNs to some degree since 2011 but in late 2017 to early 2018 the Chinese government’s VPN clampdowns intensified.

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

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

Even the best VPNs with the most effective obfuscation tools fall victim to the Great Firewall’s crackdowns from time to time.

During times of political unrest, or on significant anniversaries such as June 4 (1989 Tiananmen Square protests), the Chinese government tends to crack down on VPNs more intensely. While you may find it harder to connect to a VPN server, the best VPN services usually find a solution reasonably quickly.

How Do VPNs Beat the Great Firewall?

Some VPNs evade the Great Firewall of China using encryption and obfuscation tools.

VPNs encrypt internet traffic so that the Great Firewall can’t see what you’re trying to access online.

The encrypted traffic is routed to your VPN service’s private servers before going to the website or service that you want to access, hiding the destination of the internet traffic from the Great Firewall too.

Illustration of a VPN circumventing the Great Firewall of China

However, 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.

The best VPNs for China now employ obfuscation tools which scramble VPN data to look like normal HTTPS internet traffic, helping the data to go undetected.

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

This means that one day a server might work but the next it wont. Some trial and error might be required when this happens.

What Is VPN Obfuscation?

VPN obfuscation disguises VPN traffic to make it blend in with other forms of online traffic. Think of it like camouflage; normal VPN encryption stops observers from reading your traffic, but obfuscation stops them from knowing it is even there.

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

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

The two most used ways to obfuscate VPN traffic involve using:

  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 our recommended VPNs above use obfuscation protocols.

Which Websites Does the Great Firewall Block?

Many of the most popular websites and apps in the world are blocked in China, including:

  • Google (Gmail, Google Maps & all other Google services – 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)

The Google Play Store isn’t available at all in China, and Apple’s App Store complies with Chinese laws, so it’s highly restricted, meaning that you can’t find VPN apps on there.

You can use the greatfire.org analyzer tool to check if specific websites are blocked.

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

You can download APK files directly from some VPN websites – although they too may be blocked – for your Android device.

Screenshot of ExpressVPN APK download page

Be wary of downloading those types of files from third-party websites, though, as they can be infected with malware.

Here is a more comprehensive list of websites blocked in mainland China. You can also use this checker to find out if a website is available or not. Censorship varies from day to day and region to region.

During times of political unrest censorship can be heightened, and some areas of China can be affected more than others.

Does the Great Firewall Block Mobile Apps?

The great firewall can block access to anything which 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.

The app store itself is also much more limited in China. On iOS you can still access the Apple App Store, but it won’t contain all the apps you can find elsewhere. On Android there are several app stores available, including the Tencent, Oppo, Huawei, Xiaomi, and Baidu stores.

For this reason it is important you download every app you need – particularly your VPN app – before arriving in China.

FAQ

What Is the Best Free VPN for China?

We can’t recommend a best VPN for China, because we have yet to see one which both works consistently and is safe to use.

At any given time, a few different free VPNs may work to bypass Chinese censorship, but many free VPNs are not equipped with the technology to bypass aggressive online censors. We’ve also found that popular free VPN apps like TunnelBear and Hotspot Shield won’t work reliably.

Some free VPN mobile apps may work, like Turbo VPN and VPN Proxy Master, but they are slow and your web activity will most likely be recorded by the Chinese authorities.

In fact, we investigated some of the most popular free VPNs and discovered that many have very questionable links to China.

If you want to use the internet reliably from mainland China, a free VPN is definitely not a good choice.

You’re best paying a small monthly fee for a VPN that has obfuscation technology, like ExpressVPN or Astrill.

Why Is My VPN Slow in China?

You’ll find that internet speeds are typically slower than you’d expect when connecting to sites outside of China due to the Great Firewall and local infrastructure.

VPNs generally slow down your internet speeds because of encryption and how traffic is relayed via the VPN server, but the best VPNs only impact speeds by about 5-10% if you connect to a server nearby.

The obfuscation tools necessary for VPNs to work in the country additionally impact speeds slightly, making them a little slower than regular VPN connections made outside of China.

Generally, you can ensure the best speeds by connecting to the closest possible VPN server such as Hong Kong or Singapore. Sometimes, though, slightly longer connections will give you better results. You may need to experiment to find the best server for you.

Are VPNs Legal in China?

VPNs are not illegal in China, but only government approved VPNs are allowed.

VPN services have to gain strict approval from the Chinese Communist Party before they can operate. They often have to agree to logging and sharing user data with local authorities, making using the VPN for privacy pointless.

Using a VPN “without authorization” can result in fines of up to 15,000 yuan (approximately $2,200). There is fairly little precedent of people actually being charged for it though, particularly foreigners.

If you choose a legitimate, trusted, and safe VPN for China – like ExpressVPN – it’s highly unlikely that you’ll get into trouble for using it.

Can I Beat the Great Firewall Without a VPN?

Besides VPNs, there are other circumvention tools that may be able to unblock websites and apps in China, but they’re often not as effective.

Essentially, most alternatives to VPNs don’t protect your privacy and aren’t guaranteed to work.

Here’s a list of five circumvention tools that may (or may not) beat the Great Firewall:

  1. Proxies (Shadowsocks)

    One option is to use a proxy server, which spoofs your IP address but doesn’t encrypt 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 Shadowsocks, which uses the SOCKS5 internet protocol. Many VPNs actually incorporate Shadowsocks into their obfuscation protocols.

  2. Lantern

    Lantern is open-source peer-to-peer (P2P) software specifically built to circumvent web filters, and funded by the US government.
    It relies on volunteer users, located in countries with more open internet access, 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 Sites

    Some websites release mirrors of their websites that have been blocked by the Great Firewall so that those in China can still access their content.

    However, these mirror sites are usually blocked soon after too, making it a very unreliable option.

  4. TOR

    The Onion Router (Tor), a free anonymous web browser, anonymizes your internet surfing by randomly routing your web traffic through a network of servers.

    While Tor is a safer option than using proxy servers or mirror websites, it comes with some major disadvantages.

    First: Tor is very slow – much slower than a good VPN.
    Second: Tor is very anonymous but it isn’t secure, so – much more than with a VPN – you need to know what you’re getting into before using Tor. You can weigh up the risks with our Tor vs. VPN comparison.

    Third: China actively blocks access to Tor, so to unblock websites you’ll have to tinker with Tor’s advanced settings and make use of bridges. There is a good chance that you just 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.

    Also, remember it’s a web browser so your internet traffic outside of it will be blocked (or heavily restricted) in China.

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 access:

  • LinkedIn
  • Weibo
  • Renren
  • YouKu

While not a social media website, Github is also available in China and has been used as a platform for dissent and sending messages into the wider internet.

How Do I Get a Chinese IP Address?

If you want to use a VPN to connect into China, there are a few VPN providers with virtual server locations that will give you a Chinese IP address: PureVPN, Ivacy, HideMyAss, and Hotspot Shield.

These VPN servers are not physically located in China but do assign you a Chinese IP, which will make it seem as if you’re located in mainland China. These are known as Virtual Server Locations.

To change your IP to a Chinese one, simply select the ‘China’ server and click connect.

You can check that you have a Chinese IP address by running a leak test on browserleaks.com:

Screenshot of Hotspot Shield leak test on browserleaks.com connected to a China VPN server

Leak test results for Hotspot Shield connected to the China VPN server.

Screenshot of Hotspot Shield leak test on browserleaks.com connected to a China VPN server

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.

About the Author


  • Simon Migliano Head of Research at Top10VPN

    Simon Migliano

    Simon 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, CNet and more. Read full bio