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The Best VPN for China in 2021

Podium Rankings for Best VPN
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. Only the very best VPNs for China unblock Google, Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp and more from Beijing, Shanghai, and elsewhere in mainland China.

Using a VPN that works in China gives you unrestricted access to the internet. However, China’s internet censorship uses the most advanced firewall system in the world, and most VPNs can’t circumvent it.

China’s Firewall can detect VPN traffic rather easily, unless the VPN uses advanced obfuscation technology to disguise its traffic.

Finding the best VPN for China therefore requires in-depth testing. To do this, we developed a China-specific methodology to confirm the VPNs below still work.

The best VPNs that still work in China are:

  1. Astrill: The most consistent VPN that unblocks websites in China. Read Summary
  2. ExpressVPN: A very fast VPN for China that works most of the time. Read Summary
  3. VPN.ac: A good alternative 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 works in China, but is slower than other options. Read Summary

Astrill is the best VPN for China that we’ve tested. It’s by far the most reliable option, and it survives even the most aggressive internet shutdowns in the country.

We’ve built our own testing apparatus to test the most popular VPNs in China. Each week we connect to our server near Shanghai to verify which VPNs still work, and which don’t.

Here are May’s latest China test results.

All five VPNs above will beat the Chinese VPN ban and bypass the Great Firewall of China.

EXPERT TIP: It’s important you download your VPN before traveling to China. Most VPN websites are blocked in China, and safe-to-use VPN apps are banned from the app stores.

5 Best VPNs for China (Tested May 2021)

  1. 1. Astrill: Best for China

    The overall best VPN for China with 100% uptime.

    Ranked #1 out of 69 VPNs for China
    Astrill mobile screenshots
    No user reviews
    Visit Astrill
    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

    In our experience Astrill is absolutely the most consistent VPN for China. It’s one of very few services we’ve never seen fail to get past the Great Firewall. It offers two stealth protocols, servers in neighbouring countries like Hong Kong and Japan, and strong security.

    Special ‘SuperCharged’ servers are available to get the best speeds possible in certain countries, and its logging policy – while not the best – is good enough to maintain your privacy.

    Cheapest Price$10.00/mo over 12 Months See all plans
    Compatible with
    1. windowsWindows
    2. macosMacOS
    3. iosiOS
    4. androidAndroid
    5. linuxLinux
    Works in ChinaYes
    JurisdictionSeychelles (Privacy Haven)
    Data LeaksNo
    Logging PolicySome User Logs

    The most reliable VPN for China

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

    As a result of this, Astrill consistently outperforms all the other VPNs we test on our Shanghai server. Every time we’ve tried, Astrill has been able to break through the Great Firewall. We can’t say this for other VPNs.

    Fast and secure servers in Hong Kong, Japan & more

    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.

    According to GreatFire.org the stability is very good, too:

    A stability graph for using Astrill in China

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

    Mixed logging policy and lacking customer support

    Astrill does collect some logs:

    • 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.

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

    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.
    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.
    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.
  2. 2. ExpressVPN: Fastest in China

    The fastest VPN in China that works most of the time.

    ExpressVPN's new app on mobile devices
    (1,760 user reviews)
    Visit ExpressVPN
    1. Fast VPN servers optimized for China
    2. Unblocks most websites in China
    3. Obfuscation technology to beat censorship
    4. Works with 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
    2. Not as consistent as Astrill

    ExpressVPN has historically been the very best VPN for China. Despite some dips in effictiveness over the past year, it has returned to being one of the very best VPNs for China. It offers the best VPN experience and some of the fastest speeds when it works, but won’t bypass the Great Firewall as consistently as Astrill.

    Cheapest Price$6.67/mo over 15 Months See all plans
    Compatible with
    1. windowsWindows
    2. macosMacOS
    3. iosiOS
    4. androidAndroid
    5. linuxLinux
    Works in ChinaYes
    JurisdictionBritish Virgin Islands (Privacy Haven)
    Data LeaksNo
    Logging PolicyAnonymous Server Usage Data

    Seamless obfuscation

    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.

    Just be sure to set the VPN protocol to ‘Automatic’ before you connect.

    ExpressVPN generally connects from China without any fuss, and you can connect to the global internet with a single click.

    A stability graph for using ExpressVPN in China

    When it connects ExpressVPN is also exceptionally stable. Greatfire.org has found its stability to be consistently between 92-100%. (This data doesn’t capture when the service cannot connect at all, though).

    Fast connection speeds

    Our testing set-up doesn’t allow us to record scientific comparisons for speed in China. We can however say that in our experience ExpressVPN is generally 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 it recommends, as they change regularly.

    Simple, intuitive apps

    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.

    Money-back guarantee

    ExpressVPN also 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 still a good choice. It’s fast, safe, and highly secure, but it might not bypass China’s Great Firewall as consistently as Astrill.

    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. We’ve found ExpressVPN only works in China with the most up to date version of the app.

    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.

  3. 3. VPN.ac: Most User-Friendly

    Very easy to use with China-optimized servers in North America.

    VPN.ac screenshots
    (3 user reviews)
    Visit VPN.ac
    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

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

    Cheapest Price$3.75 over 24 months See all plans
    Compatible with
    1. windowsWindows
    2. macosMacOS
    3. iosiOS
    4. androidAndroid
    5. linuxLinux
    Works in ChinaYes
    Data LeaksNo
    Logging PolicyNo Logs

    China optimized servers

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

    • Canada
    • 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 specialized obfuscation technology.

    Internet access from China to US servers

    VPN.ac 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 – one which VPN.ac has managed to stay consistently ahead of.

    When testing on our Shanghai server, we’ve always been able to successfully break through China’s firewall. In particular, we’ve found west coast US connections stable and reliable.

    This is great news for business travellers or tourists from the USA.

    China-oriented customer support

    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.

    Good, but not perfect, privacy policy

    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 the price 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.
    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.
  4. 4. PrivateVPN: Best Cheap VPN

    The best value for money VPN for China.

    Image of PrivateVPN's app on mobile
    (1,736 user reviews)
    Visit PrivateVPN
    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

    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.

    Cheapest Price$1.98/mo over 24 months See all plans
    Compatible with
    1. windowsWindows
    2. macosMacOS
    3. iosiOS
    4. androidAndroid
    5. linuxLinux
    Works in ChinaYes
    JurisdictionSweden (14-Eyes Member)
    Data LeaksNo
    Logging PolicyNo Logs

    StealthVPN obfuscation

    PrivateVPN’s stealth VPN protocol, ‘Stealth VPN’, consistently works 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.
    In our testing we’ve found this obfuscation works in China every time (although you may sometimes need to try a few different servers).

    No-logs VPN provider

    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 authoritarian governments like China.

    Great, user-friendly interface

    PrivateVPN’s 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.

    Connecting in China is really easy, too. We have more detailed instructions below, but most of the time you only need to press the connect button and the app will work itself out.

    Excellent value for China

    PrivateVPN has recently reintroduced a seven-day free trial alongside the 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’.
    2. Then, need to select the ‘Stealth VPN’ tab.
    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.

  5. 5. Windscribe: Best Free VPN

    A safe and reliable free VPN that works in China.

    Windscribe mobile screenshots
    (2 user reviews)
    Visit Windscribe
    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

    Windscribe’s free VPN is one of very few we’ve seen work in China. Not only that, but it’s one of the most consistent VPNs we’ve used for China full-stop.

    It 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. Overall, these features make it stand out as the best free VPN for China.

    Cheapest PriceFree
    Compatible with
    1. windowsWindows
    2. macosMacOS
    3. iosiOS
    4. androidAndroid
    5. linuxLinux
    Works in ChinaUnreliable
    JurisdictionCanada (Five-Eyes Member)
    Data LeaksNo
    Logging PolicyAnonymous Server Usage Data

    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. Both of these features help VPN traffic blend in seamlessly with the ordinary noise of internet communication.

    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.

    Trustworthy and free China VPN

    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.

    Currently, the best Windscribe server in China is the Hong Kong, Victoria server. This is available on both the free and premium version of the app.

    We’ve been successful in bypassing China’s firewall every time we’ve tried during the last month using this server.

    No obfuscation on iOS

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

    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’.
    2. Then under the ‘Connection’ tab set 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.

China VPN Test Results

We test VPN access in China on a weekly basis. Very few VPNs work 100% percent of the time, but more work some of the time.

We’ve calculated a % reliability for each VPN over the past quarter (three months) and year. This number tells you how often the VPN works in China. We update the data weekly.

Use the table below (updated May 2021) to find which VPNs currently work in China, and which ones don’t:

VPN Service % Reliability Past Year % Reliability Past Quarter Tips
Astrill 100% 100% Select StealthVPN in the top right hand corner of the app
ExpressVPN 60.71% 58.33% Make sure you use the latest version of the app
Hide.me 14.29% 8.33%
HideMyAss 0% 0%
Hotspot Shield 42.86% 41.67%
IPVanish 0% 0%
NordVPN 60.71% 8.33% Use special app version
Private Internet Access 75% 91.67% Select OpenVPN > Shadowsocks for protocol
PrivateVPN 82.14% 75.00% Turn on Stealth Mode
ProtonVPN 0% 0%
Surfshark 35.71% 0% Turn on Settings > Advanced > No Borders
VPN.ac 89.29% 75%
VPNArea 67.86% 33.33% Try Japan server location
VyprVPN 14.29% 0% Try South Korea server location
Windscribe 89.29 83.33% Connect to Hong Kong > Victoria

How We Test VPNs in China

As with all our VPN research, we apply a fair and consistent methodology to find the best VPN for China. The process is neutral and we treat all VPNs as equal.

In order to determine whether or not VPNs work in China we operate a server near Shanghai. We have a virtual Windows 10 PC installed on this server, which we can connect to remotely from the UK.

This allows us to test VPNs from the ground in China. Our infrastructure allows us to carry out regular, routine tests, regardless of VPN popularity. This means that we have one of the most precise data sets on VPN performance in China over time.

However, because we connect remotely from outside of China, connection speeds are throttled. This means that we cannot accurately record other types of performance data, such as upload and download speeds or ping.

Before saying a VPN isn’t working, we attempt every available protocol on a variety of servers, and follow any additional instructions from the provider, including downloading special versions of apps.

Currently we carry out these tests manually once a week for 15 popular VPN services.

When we test a VPN for China we look for:

  • Ability to bypass the Great Firewall from our Shanghai server
  • 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 haven’t worked in China. This includes some of the biggest VPNs – even many we recommend highly for use elsewhere.

Here are some popular VPN which do not work in China:

  • CyberGhost
  • Hide.me
  • HideMyAss
  • Hotspot Shield
  • IPVanish
  • ProtonVPN
  • TunnelBear

For a VPN to work in China it needs obfuscation tools or stealth protocols as a minimum. Because China actively tries to identify and prevent unofficial VPN connections, though, most VPNs that work in China put a significant amount of ongoing work into beating the censors.

The Great Firewall of China

Illustration of 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.

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.

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

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.


What's the Best Free VPN for China?

The best free VPN that works in China is Windscribe Free. In fact, it’s the only free (and safe) VPN we’ve been able to get working in China.

Generally, we don’t recommend using free VPNs in China. They are unlikely to work, and free VPNs usually come with considerable risks. That said, the free version of Windscribe is easily the best free VPN on the market and works well in China.

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.

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

VPNs generally slow down your internet speeds even more 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.

Just be sure not to use an unsafe service, like Hola Free VPN, as these are likely to leave your activity exposed.

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.

    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