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The Best Free & Premium VPNs for China

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Podium Rankings for Best VPN
Simon Migliano
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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. Read full bio

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’ve verified that the VPNs we recommend work reliably in Beijing, Shanghai, and elsewhere in mainland China. They unblock Google, Instagram, Twitter, and many other websites.

Here’s a summary of the best free and premium VPNs for China in 2022:

  1. Astrill VPN – Best VPN for China (100% uptime)
  2. Private Internet Access – Best Cheap VPN for China (97% uptime)
  3. Windscribe Free – Best Free VPN for China (90% uptime)
  4. ExpressVPN – Fastest VPN for China (83% uptime)
  5. VPNArea – Advanced No-Logs VPN for China (83% uptime)

Comparison of the Best VPNs for China

Using the table below, compare the most effective China VPNs for access reliability, obfuscation capabilities, and price:

*This figure shows performance in the past year.

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’ve spent thousands of hours testing and reviewing VPNs for China, using our China-specific VPN testing methodology to recommend the most effective anti-censorship VPNs.

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

VPN Services Tested70
Test Server LocationShanghai
China VPN Access Tests10,000+
Minimum Acceptable Reliability50%
IP & DNS Leak Tests Performed9,500+
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 Reliability 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.

The Best Free & Premium VPNs That Work in China

  1. 1. Astrill VPN: 100% Reliable

    The overall best VPN for China with 100% uptime and effective obfuscation.

    Ranked #1 out of 70 VPNs for China
    Astrill mobile screenshots
     0% 
    No user reviews
    Visit Astrill

    Pros

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

    Cons

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

    Overall Rating for China: 9.8/10

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

    • 9.99.9/10
    • 9.89.8/10
    • 9.49.4/10
    • 8.78.7/10
    • 9.29.2/10

    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 12 Months 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 80Mbps on a local connection, although they are slower than 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 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 and 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. 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 VPN.AC, which has the best Chrome browser extension for China.

    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 most aesthetically pleasing app. It’s certainly not minimalist in its design and features. However, advanced users 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 OpenVPN 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. Private Internet Access: 94% Reliable

    At just $2.19 per month, PIA is the cheapest VPN that works consistently in China.

    Private Internet Access
     86% 
    (29 user reviews)
    Visit PIA VPN

    Pros

    • Affordable subscription plans
    • Servers in 20 countries in Asia
    • Shadowsocks proxy and reliable kill switch bypass the Great Firewall
    • Unblocks US Netflix, BBC iPlayer, HBO Max & more
    • WireGuard, OpenVPN, and AES-256 encryption
    • 24/7 live chat support

    Cons

    • Privacy-unfriendly US jurisdiction
    • 41% of servers are virtual and a majority are rented

    Overall Rating : 9.5/10

    This rating is calculated based on the following subcategory ratings Learn more

    • 9.79.7/10
    • 9.49.4/10
    • 9.99.9/10
    • 9.39.3/10
    • 8.58.5/10

    PIA is the second best VPN for China thanks to 97% pass rate with the Great Firewall in our testing, its huge server coverage in Asia, reliable kill switch, and ability to unblock streaming services.

    Works In ChinaYes
    Data LeaksNo
    Logging PolicyNo Logs
    Cheapest Price$2.19/mo over 26 months See all plans
    JurisdictionUS (Five Eyes Member)
    Compatible with
    1. windowsWindows
    2. macosMac OS
    3. iosiOS
    4. androidAndroid
    5. linuxLinux

    High performance VPN for a low price

    A two-year subscription with PIA is only $2.19 per month. In comparison, Astrill VPN’s best monthly price is $12.50 — almost six times the amount of PIA’s. Despite the difference in price, though, there’s currently only a 3% difference in reliability.

    Our China tests showed that in 2021 PIA succeeded at bypassing the Great Firewall 71% of the time. But since then PIA has massively improved its obfuscation technology — now evident in its 97% reliability. This is largely thanks to its sophisticated implementation of Shadowsocks obfuscation.

    PIA comes with excellent security features, including one of the most reliable VPN kill switches we’ve seen. It has AES-256 encryption, WireGuard and OpenVPN protocols, an ad blocker, and IP leak blocking technology.

    Global server coverage but many are virtual

    PIA is one of the best VPNs for China because it has the largest server network of any VPN we’ve reviewed — including 20 in the Asia-Pacific region.

    Here’s a selection of useful server locations for people in China:

    • Hong Kong, China
    • Indonesia
    • Japan
    • Philippines
    • Singapore
    • Taiwan
    • Vietnam
    • US

    To maintain fast speeds while connected to a VPN it’s important to use a server in your country or neighboring countries. If your server is too far away, you’ll suffer slower speeds when browsing the internet or buffering when streaming video.

    One of PIA’s drawbacks is its use of virtually located servers. A virtual server location assigns you an IP address in your chosen location, but the physical server is based somewhere else.

    PIA's macOS client showing servers in Hong Kong, Japan, Indonesia, and more.

    PIA’s Hong Kong server is virtual and labeled with a globe icon.

    On the other hand, PIA is transparent about which server locations are virtual and clearly labels them with a globe icon. You can also hide these locations by toggling off Include Geo-Located Regions in settings.

    Another drawback is PIA’s reliance on rented VPN servers. While reviewing the VPN server, we contacted PIA’s customer service, who confirmed that a majority of its servers are rented from third-parties. This is common with VPNs, though, and as long as there’s a strict vetting system in place it’s safe.

    Unblocks US Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Disney+ & more

    Private Internet Access is a good VPN for streaming. For UK content, it unblocks All 4, BBC iPlayer, and All 4. For US content, it unblocks Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, HBO Max, and Hulu.

    However, it’s not the best for Netflix as it only unblocks two libraries — US and UK. We wouldn’t worry, though, as Netflix’s US library has a majority of content available on the platform.

    If streaming international content is a priority in your search for a VPN, Windscribe might be a better option.

    How to use PIA in China

    In our China tests, we found that PIA was quick and easy-to-use. The app didn’t have any bugs, and we connected to our chosen server within two minutes. Watch our video below to see PIA unblock Bloomberg and Medium in China.

    PIA has lots of customizable features, including split tunneling, dedicated IP addresses, and multiple protocols.

    Here’s instructions for using PIA in China

    1. Open the PIA app. Click the three dots in the top left and select Settings.
    2. In the left-hand panel, click on Protocols and toggle to OpenVPN.
    3. Click on the Privacy tab and tick the Advanced VPN Kill Switch box.
    4. Click on the Multi-Hop tab. Tick Multi-Hop and Obfuscation, toggle to Shadowsocks, click on EDIT, and select the US or Japan for the best speeds.
    5. Go back to the homepage and select your server. We recommend Hong Kong, Taiwan, or Singapore.

    Overall, PIA is one of the most affordable and reliable VPN services for China. Not only does it consistently bypass the Great Firewall, it unblocks US Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and has 24/7 live chat customer support.

  3. 3. Windscribe Free: 90% Reliable

    The best and most reliable free VPN for China with Stealth and WStunnel protocols.

    Windscribe mobile screenshots
     100% 
    (3 user reviews)
    Visit Windscribe

    Pros

    • No need to give card details
    • Strong logging policy
    • Good for streaming Netflix & BBC iPlayer
    • Multiple obfuscation protocols
    • Trustworthy provider

    Cons

    • 10GB data cap
    • iOS app won't work in China
    • Less consistent than alternatives

    Overall Rating for China: 8.9/10

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

    • 9.49.4/10
    • 8.78.7/10
    • 9.59.5/10
    • 7.87.8/10
    • 7.57.5/10

    Windscribe Free is the only safe free VPN that works in China. It’s also one of the most consistent VPNs for China available – free or paid. Both versions of the app, on Windows and macOS, offer strong security and a trustworthy logging policy.

    Windscribe Free come 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.

    Works In ChinaYes
    Data LeaksNo
    Logging PolicyAnonymous Server Usage 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.

    A safe and 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 month, Windscribe has been 67% successful in bypassing China’s firewall using this server.

    No obfuscation on iOS applications

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

    Just like every VPN app, you need to download Windscribe onto all of your devices before leaving for China, as the website is blocked within the country’s borders.

    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.
  4. 4. ExpressVPN: 83% Reliable

    The fastest VPN for China with inbuilt obfuscation and advanced browser extensions.

    ExpressVPN's new app on mobile devices
     96% 
    (1,792 user reviews)
    Visit ExpressVPN

    Pros

    • Fast VPN servers optimized for China
    • Unblocks most websites in China
    • Obfuscation technology to beat censorship
    • Works with Netflix, Hulu, Disney+ & more
    • No logging & no IP, DNS or WebRTC leaks
    • Full-featured VPN browser extensions

    Cons

    • Expensive on shorter subscription plans
    • Not as consistent as Astrill

    Overall Rating for China: 8.0/10

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

    • 7.47.4/10
    • 9.69.6/10
    • 9.69.6/10
    • 9.29.2/10
    • 9.59.5/10

    ExpressVPN was historically the top VPN for China. Though its ability to bypass China’s censorship has wavered in the past 12 months, recently its performance in our tests has been very strong.

    It offers the best user experience and the fastest speeds when it works, but falls short of some competitors for reliability overcoming censorship.

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

    Seamless obfuscation technology

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

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

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

    Fast international connection speeds

    Our testing methodology doesn’t allow us to record specific comparisons for speed in China. However, based on human experience, ExpressVPN is typically the fastest VPN in China compared to its main rivals.

    Screenshot of ExpressVPN's Windows client, showing server in the Asia Pacific region.

    You can search for servers by region and country in ExpressVPN’s app.

    Its server network is extensive and there are even specific servers recommended for China. Simply get in touch with the 24/7 live chat support to find out which servers it recommends, as they change regularly.

    Simple applications for all major platforms and devices

    Unlike with Astrill, PIA, and Windscribe, with ExpressVPN you don’t have to worry about enabling obfuscation. Instead, ExpressVPN’s obfuscation is inbuilt within the apps and automatically turns on when you connect to a server.

    ExpressVPN has apps for all popular devices including Windows, Mac, iPhone, Android, and Fire TV. These are all very easy to set up and use.

    ExpressVPN also comes with Smart DNS technology called MediaStreamer. This is ideal for Apple TV and your games consoles.

    The VPN doesn’t collect any activity logs, and our testing has never measured a single IP, DNS, or WebRTC leak. This means there is much less risk of ExpressVPN being compromised or identified by Chinese censors.

    Money-back guarantee

    ExpressVPN also comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee. If you’re unhappy with the software, tell the customer support team within the first 30 days and you’ll be refunded, no-questions-asked.

    If you’re in China, or planning on traveling there, ExpressVPN is a good choice. It’s fast, safe, and highly secure, but it won’t work in China as consistently as Astrill VPN.

    How to Use ExpressVPN in China

    ExpressVPN’s apps are very intuitive and easy to use. To get started, simply choose your subscription plan, create an account, and pay. There’s 14 different payment methods to choose from, including Alipay, UnionPay, and PayPal.

    We used ExpressVPN’s inbuilt obfuscation to access Wikipedia in China.

    Here’s how to use ExpressVPN in China:

    1. If you’re travelling to China, download the most recent ExpressVPN application before you leave.
    2. If you’re already in China, download the application from a mirror website. You can find these by contacting ExpressVPN directly.
    3. Make sure the protocol is set to “automatic” before connecting to a VPN server.
    4. Choose a VPN server in a nearby country and select “connect”.
    5. You’ll now have access to international websites and services.
  5. 5. VPNArea: 83% Reliable

    An advanced VPN with Stunnel obfuscated servers and a private logging policy.

    VPNArea mobile screenshot
     100% 
    (1 user reviews)
    Visit VPNArea

    Pros

    • Servers in 130 countries
    • Unblocks US Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Disney+ and more
    • 24/7 live support
    • Unlimited torrenting on all servers
    • Supports TCP Port 443

    Cons

    • 14-day money-back guarantee
    • Unappealing app design

    Overall Rating : 8.5/10

    This rating is calculated based on the following subcategory ratings Learn more

    • 8.38.3/10
    • 9.69.6/10
    • 9.89.8/10
    • 8.28.2/10
    • 9.39.3/10

    VPNArea is a new addition to our best VPNs in China. Last year we recorded a 70% reliability for VPNArea in our Great Firewall tests with our Shanghai server. Since then it’s now improved to 83% reliability.

    It has servers in Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and the US. In comparison to PIA, though, it doesn’t have a server in all 50 US states. But VPNArea does have servers in nine different states, which is enough for the average user.

    Works In ChinaYes
    Data LeaksNo
    Logging PolicyNo Logs
    Cheapest Price$3.21/mo over 24 Months See all plans
    JurisdictionBulgaria (EU Member)
    Compatible with
    1. windowsWindows
    2. macosMac OS
    3. iosiOS
    4. androidAndroid
    5. linuxLinux

    Stunnel servers for effective obfuscation

    To bypass the Great Firewall with VPNArea, simply use any of its X-Stunnel servers with TCP port 443. It’s also got AES-256 encryption, DNS leak blocking, an ad blocker, double VPN, and the option to purchase a dedicated IP address.

    VPNArea's macOS client, showing Stealth servers.

    VPNArea has lots of specialized servers, including stealth and P2P servers.

    Here’s a list of VPNArea’s obfuscated servers:

    • X-Stunnel-Australia
    • X-Stunnel Canada
    • X-Stunnel-Denmark
    • X-Stunnel-Japan-Tokyo
    • X-Stunnel-Netherlands
    • X-Stunnel-Singapore
    • X-Stunnel-SouthAfrica
    • X-Stunnel-Switzerland
    • X-Stunnel-USA-IL

    Not all of these servers will work in China 100% of the time, but there’s more than enough to rotate between them to find a combination of speed and security when bypassing the Great Firewall.

    Safe no-logs policy that protects your privacy

    VPNArea only collects three pieces of data: an email address, login details, and transaction ID for refunds. It does not record any timestamps, IP addresses, usage data, or DNS requests. If VPNArea was ever requested to give up its users’ data it wouldn’t be able to.

    There are a few drawbacks to the service, though. Firstly, VPNArea is based in Bulgaria, so must adhere to EU data laws.

    It has a misleading Privacy Policy that claims all customer data will be processed in Switzerland as that’s where the servers are. But VPNArea has to comply with EU data laws as the company is incorporated in Bulgaria.

    Another drawback is its lack of a third-party security and software audit that would confirm the no-logs policy and business practices.

    Lots of payment options

    VPNArea offers a ton of different payment methods. Your options include Alipay, UnionPay, Amex, Visa, Bitcoin, bank wire, and more.

    For complete anonymity, we recommend paying with decentralized cryptocurrencies and not payment methods linked to Chinese companies, such as Alipay or UnionPay.

    How to use VPNArea in China

    VPNArea’s app is a bit awkward to use. It doesn’t have the most appealing design and the servers feature a few typos. However, once you get used to the design, it functions well and has a lot of customizable features.

    VPNArea’s obfuscated servers are labeled with X-Stunnel.

    Here’s instructions for using VPNArea in China:

    1. Open the VPNArea app and click on the Stealth or Specialty tab.
    2. You’ll see a list of X-Stunnel configured servers. Scroll down the list of all servers available and choose one.
    3. Click on the blue connect button.

    VPNArea is a great service for those traveling to or based in China. It’s more suited to experienced VPN users, as there’s a ton of customizable features and its app interface is not as user-friendly as ExpressVPN.

    At $3.21 per month for a two-year subscription, it’s not the cheapest VPN but it’s still cheaper than Astrill, which is the best VPN for China. In exchange for a cheaper service, though, you do sacrifice 17% reliability if you go for VPNArea.

The Best Free VPNs for China

In our weekly tests with our China server, we can speak from experience that only a handful of free VPNs can bypass the Great Firewall. Furthermore, only a couple of these have trustworthy logging policies.

The absolute best free VPN for bypassing censorship in China is Windscribe Free. But there’s also a couple more free VPNs that consistently work in China.

Bear in mind that the paid counterparts of these VPNs work even better in China; these have a data cap and a restricted amount of servers.

PrivadoVPN Free: 94% Reliable

A no-logs free VPN that works almost 100% of the time in China. Downsides are a 10GB data cap and lack of servers in Asia.

Pros
Cons
  • Consistently unblocks censored websites in China
  • Based in privacy-friendly Switzerland
  • Unblocks US Netflix, Disney+ & HBO Max
  • 10GB data cap
  • Free version has no servers in Asia
  • Delays when connecting to a server
  • Free version has no obfuscation
  • Shadowsocks proxy is paywalled

Based on our tests, PrivadoVPN is the second best Free VPN for China. Since we started testing it in February 2022, it’s successfully evaded the Great Firewall almost every week – it’s only failed once.

PrivadoVPN Free HBO Max Test

In our streaming tests, we found that Privado Free unblocked HBO Max.

It also holds up extremely well against Windscribe VPN, the best overall free VPN. Not only does PrivadoVPN Free currently have a higher success rate in China, it also has three more servers, and unblocks US Netflix, which Windscribe Free now cannot do.

PrivadoVPN Free is also based in a privacy-haven, Switzerland. It’s got AES-256 encryption, a good kill switch, and doesn’t log any sensitive or identifiable usage data. You can also pay with a credit card, PayPal, or cryptocurrencies.

Below is a video showing us testing PrivadoVPN and successfully circumventing the Great Firewall to access YouTube:

The PrivadoVPN app appears in the right corner by default but you can change this in settings.

To use PrivadoVPN Free in China, simply download the free version of the app, enter your email address, and click Get Free VPN. PrivadoVPN Free works best in China with the default protocol and US server.

PrivadoVPN Free has its drawbacks: a 10GB data cap, 10 device limit, and no servers in Asia. Despite this, we experienced fast speeds in China with a US server.

You also can’t access its SOCKS5 proxy without paying for a subscription. For these reasons, Windscribe pulls ahead as the best VPN for China.

Atlas VPN Free: 74% Reliable

The fastest free VPN that works consistently in China, but comes with a 5GB data cap. You can start using the app with just your email address.

Pros
Cons
  • Reliable VPN that works in China
  • Start using with just an email address
  • The fastest free VPN we’ve tested
  • 5GB data cap
  • No obfuscation with free version
  • Based in the US, a Five Eyes member
  • Free version only has three servers and none are in Asia
  • Only streaming service it unblocks is Disney+

AtlasVPN is the last free VPN that we would recommend for China. In our weekly tests, we found that it worked well in China, but not as well as PrivadoVPN Free or Windscribe Free.

Like PrivadoVPN Free, it doesn’t have any advanced obfuscation technology, but it still manages to consistently bypass China’s web censors.

Screenshot of Atlas VPN Free with a 5gb data cap.

AtlasVPN Free labels its premium servers with a yellow crown.

Another great selling point is that AtlasVPN Free the fastest free VPN we’ve ever tested. This is especially good for China as the Great Firewall is often known to throttle your internet.

It’s also got AES-256 encryption to protect your digital privacy and unblocks Disney+. However, it doesn’t unblock any other streaming services.

Here’s a video of our one weekly China tests with Atlas VPN:

Atlas VPN Free gives you restricted access to the paid VPN app.

To use Atlas VPN Free in China, simply download the app from its website, use the default protocol and server settings, and click connect. You don’t have to enter any payment details to start using the app for free.

Unlike PrivadoVPN, which is based in a privacy-haven, AtlasVPN has a privacy-unfriendly US jurisdiction. However, to counteract this AtlasVPN has a private logging policy.

So even if AtlasVPN was required to submit user data to law enforcement, it wouldn’t have any personally identifiable information to give.

Lastly, Atlas VPN Free has some more drawbacks. It has a 5GB data cap, it only has three servers, it doesn’t unblock any streaming services consistently, and the 24/7 live chat customer service is paywalled.

Get Atlas VPN or read our full Atlas VPN review.

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. Reliability in China: 70%

Minimum Requirement: Over 50% reliability in China.
We Recommend: Over 70% reliability 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 reliability 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 uptime 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 or not a VPN works in China, obfuscation technology can also give you some idea of whether or not it is 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. 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. Average 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 our headquarters in the UK, and international download speeds while connected to Australia, Singapore, and the US.

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: 10%

Minimum Requirement: Servers in Asia or the USA’s west coast.
We Recommend: 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.

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. For example, NordVPN stopped working in China on our remote Windows 10 device at the beginning of March 2022 and still hasn’t been fixed.

This happens often as China 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
  • Hotspot Shield
  • IPVanish
  • Mullvad
  • NordVPN (Windows)
  • Surfshark
  • Proton VPN
  • TunnelBear
  • VyprVPN

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.

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. For example, the popular Hola VPN is unsafe to use in China.

Additional research by Alyx Morley

China VPN FAQ

What's the Best Free VPN for China?

The best free VPN that works in China is Windscribe Free. It’s one of the only safe free VPNs that currently works in China. Another is PrivadoVPN.

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 Windscribe 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 Windscribe Free the best option, read the full Windscribe 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.

Hotspot Shield leak test when connected to a Chinese VPN server

You can use Hotspot Shield to connect to a Chinese 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.

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.

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.

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.

About the Author


  • Simon Migliano

    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. Read full bio