China has the most heavily censored internet in the world. You really need a VPN if you live there or are just visiting, otherwise you won’t be able to access Google, Twitter, WhatsApp and many more websites/apps.
We tested 99 VPN services and the five VPNs below will beat the Chinese VPN ban and bypass the Great Firewall of China.
These VPNs will unblock your favorite websites & apps, and they will also hide your web activity from the Chinese government.
Remember: you must download and install your VPN before you travel, as most VPN websites are blocked and most VPN apps have been removed from app stores in China.
The Most Important Factors When We Review a VPN for China
- Bypasses Chinese censorship blocks
- Has servers in nearby countries
- Fast & reliable speeds
- Robust privacy features
- Transparent, fair & privacy-focused logging policies
- Well-designed & easy to use apps
Wondering why you should trust our reviews? Take a look at How We Test VPNs
Read More Information on Our Top 5 Best VPN Services for China
Do I Really Need a VPN in China?
Yes, you definitely need a VPN if you want to get online when in China. Most popular (western) websites and apps are banned by the Chinese government, which has even started restricting VPN providers themselves.
The constant intrusive monitoring of web users in China is also a problem. If you don’t want the Chinese government to see and record what you’re doing online, then using a VPN is vital.
To use a VPN in China it’s best to download the app and set it up before you travel there, as many VPN websites are now blocked. Most VPN apps have now also been removed from Apple’s App Store.
You should also ask your VPN provider’s customer support which servers they recommend to connect to from China.
What is the Great Firewall of China (GFW)?
The ‘Great Firewall of China’ (or GFW) is the nickname given to China’s internet censorship system, through legislation and filtering technologies.
It gives Chinese authorities the power to monitor and restrict internet access to anyone based in mainland China (Hong Kong and Macau are exempt).
The GFW uses a combination of methods to block websites and apps:
1. IP blocking – blocking IP addresses that resolve to 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 & 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
What Websites & Apps Are Blocked in China?
Many of the most popular websites and apps in the world are blocked in China, for example:
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)
Are VPNs Illegal in China?
VPNs are not illegal in China, but only government approved VPNs are allowed. VPN providers have to gain strict approval from the Chinese Communist Party before they can operate.
This often involves agreeing to conditions that undermine the purpose of a VPN such as logging and sharing data with local authorities, rendering it pointless when it comes to privacy.
Using a VPN “without authorization” can result in fines of up to 15,000 yuan (approximately $2,200), although so far it seems to affect Chinese nationals rather than foreigners.
Can I Use a Free VPN in China?
Some free VPN mobile apps may work, like Turbo VPN and VPN Proxy Master, but they will be slow and your online activity will most likely be monitored and stored by the Chinese authorities. In fact, we investigated some of the most popular free VPNs on the market and discovered that many have very questionable links to China.
If you want to use the Internet reliably from mainland China then you have no option but to use a paid VPN service, that has invested in obfuscation technology to beat the Great Firewall, like ExpressVPN or VyprVPN.
VPN Not Working in China?
Sometimes even the VPNs with the most stealth technology stop working in China, depending on how aggressive the Chinese censors are at that moment in time.
When this happens, there are a few things you can try to get back online:
1. Try connecting to a different server
2. Change the VPN protocol
3. Forward the VPN traffic (known as port forwarding) to port 433
By directing your VPN traffic through port 433, which is typically used for encrypted communications, you may be able to get your VPN connection back up, but it’s not guaranteed.
If none of the above suggestions work, you will have to get in touch with your provider’s customer support, which will be tricky to do as your VPN won’t be working!
Can I VPN into China?
These 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.
By connecting into China, you will be able to access popular Chinese streaming websites such as Youku.com, Tudou.com and tv.Sohu.com.
How to Choose a VPN for China: 5 Tips
A VPN can be working one day and blocked the next, only to return later as VPN providers constantly try to outwit Chinese government censorship.
It goes without saying, but dependable access within China is the first and most important thing to look out for.
This page is regularly updated to make sure you can count on our recommendations.
With so many VPNs banned in China it’s critical that your choice offers some kind of stealth protocol. These are additional layers of obfuscation that help hide the VPN traffic from the censors.
This kind of information can be buried on the provider websites or lost in the marketing speak, so look to our picks on this page to highlight them.
Ordinarily you’d want to be connecting to servers within the same country as you, but that’s not an option when you’re trying to bypass government censorship.
To get around China’s Great Firewall while maintaining browsing speeds, look for VPNs with servers in neighboring nations like Japan, Vietnam, South Korea and India.
Mobile signal dropouts can be frequent in China. To avoid having to constantly switch between apps, look for a VPN that automatically reconnects for you.
Even the most expensive VPN plans can be made affordable by taking out a longer subscription.
Don’t bother with a one-month plan – 12-month plans typically offer the best value and you can reduce the risk of buyer’s remorse by choosing one with a long refund period.
We’d advise a 30-day no-questions-asked guarantee – they essentially act as a free trial period.
Make the right choice, though, and you hopefully won’t be thinking about a refund at all.