China has the most heavily censored internet in the world. Around 10,000 domain names are blocked, including 135 of the world’s top 1,000 websites.
Whether you’re in Beijing, Shanghai, or outside of the main cities, you won’t be able to use Google, Twitter, WhatsApp, and many more websites and apps.
You’ll also need a VPN to keep your Web activity hidden from Chinese state surveillance.
The problem is most VPNs don’t work in China as they’re unable to beat the Chinese VPN ban and bypass the Great Firewall of China.
Want to know which VPN services still work?
We tested 99 VPNs and the ones below will give you unrestricted internet access.
Remember to set up your VPN before you travel – you’ll struggle to download and install a VPN while in China as most VPN websites are blocked and VPN apps have been removed from popular app stores.
Before we go into more detail below, here’s a sneak peek of the top three VPN choices for China:
The Most Important Factors When We Review a VPN for China
- Does it reliably & consistently work in China?
- Obfuscation tools & stealth VPN protocols
- No logs & no IP, DNS & WebRTC leaks
- Fast download & upload speeds
- VPN servers in nearby Asian countries
- Strong privacy & security features
Wondering why you should trust our reviews? Take a look at How We Test VPNs
See More Information on the 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 in China.
Because most popular (Western) websites and apps are banned and blocked 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 VPN 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 the iOS App Store, and the Google Play Store is not available in China either.
You should also ask your VPN provider’s customer support (before you travel) which VPN servers they recommend connecting 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:
- IP blocking – blocking IP addresses that resolve to URLs (websites)
- 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.
- Keyword & URL filtering – scanning websites and URLs for specific terms
- Deep packet inspection (DPI) – the inspection of headers in data packets to detect the destination IP address (website)
- 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)
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.
That’s 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.
Be wary of downloading those types of files from third-party websites, though, as they can be infected with malware.
It’s also important to note that 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.
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.
This often involves agreeing to conditions that undermine the purpose of a VPN such as logging and sharing user data with local authorities, rendering the VPN 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.
If you choose a legitimate, trusted, and safe VPN for China – like ExpressVPN – it’s highly unlikely that you’ll get into trouble for using it.
Can I Use a Free VPN in China?
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, a free VPN is definitely not a good choice.
You’re best paying a small monthly fee for a reliable VPN service, one that has obfuscation technology to beat the Great Firewall, like ExpressVPN or Astrill.
Does China Block VPN Services?
Yes, China does actively block VPN connections.
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 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.
During these times, you might find it harder to connect to a VPN server, but VPN services usually come up with a solution soon after their servers are blocked.
How to Install and Set up a VPN for China
It’s very important to install a VPN before you arrive in China. Most VPN apps aren’t available from Chinese app stores, and VPN websites are blocked.
In order to install your VPN, you will need to sign up to a subscription (some VPNs accept AliPay as a payment method) and create an account.
Make sure that the VPN is known to work in China before buying it – our VPN recommendations above are a good place to start.
Before you get started setting up the VPN, ask customer support if the custom apps work in China or if you need to manually configure the VPN on each of your devices instead.
If manual configuration is needed, follow the VPN service’s instructions carefully as it will differ from provider to provider.
If the VPN apps work in China with no manual configuration, simply download the relevant software for your device from the ‘Downloads’ page on the VPN provider’s website.
The best VPNs for China will have custom VPN apps for at least Windows, MacOS, Android, and iOS.
Once you’ve downloaded the software, follow the installation instructions and log into the app with your login details.
Once you’re in China, we recommend you connect to nearby servers – Hong Kong and Japan are popular VPN server locations – as these will provide the fastest speeds.
Once you’ve selected your chosen server, click/tap connect.
What to Do If Your VPN Is Not Working in China
Sometimes even the best VPNs with the most effective stealth technology stop working in China, depending on how aggressive the Chinese censors are at that moment in time.
Your VPN may stop working after a recent crackdown by the Chinese government.
When this happens, there are a few things you can try to get back online:
- Try connecting to a different VPN server
- Change the VPN protocol
- 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 many VPN websites are inaccessible in China without a working VPN.
It’s a good idea to have a back-up VPN that comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee so that you will never be without a safe, secure, and reliable VPN connection.
Which VPNs Don't Work in China?
Since China started cracking down on VPN services, the majority of VPN apps don’t work in China.
Even some of the top-rated VPN services don’t come with the tools necessary for beating the Great Chinese Firewall’s censors.
Here are some VPN services that don’t work well in China:
If a VPN service doesn’t come with obfuscation tools or stealth protocols, it’s unlikely to get past the Chinese censors.
How Do VPNs Evade the Great Firewall?
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 become wise to 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.
Yet 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 Obfuscation?
In order to bypass the Great Firewall, VPN services usually have to provide obfuscation tools. These tools scramble VPN data to mask it as regular HTTPS web traffic.
Obfuscation is necessary because the Chinese Firewall can detect VPN traffic through deep packet inspection and subsequently block it.
Sometimes obfuscation tools are called stealth protocols. All of our recommended VPNs above use obfuscation tools.
Are VPNs Slow in China?
You’ll find that internet speeds are typically slower than you’d expect when connecting to sites outside of China due to the Great Firewall and local infrastructure.
VPNs generally slow down your internet speeds because of the overhead of encryption, but the best VPNs only impact speeds by about 5-10% if you connect to a nearby sever.
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.
However, you can ensure the best speeds by connecting to the closest possible VPN server such as Hong Kong or Singapore.
Can I Access Blocked Websites in China Without a VPN?
Yes, but not reliably (or safely).
There are some ways that you may be able to access blocked websites and apps in China without a VPN, we wouldn’t recommend them.
Most alternatives to VPNs do not protect your privacy, and they aren’t guaranteed to work.
One option is to use a proxy server, which is used to spoof your IP address but doesn’t encrypt internet traffic.
This means that your ISP – or the Chinese government – will be able to log what you’re doing online.
Some websites release mirrors of their sites that have been blocked by the Great Firewall so that those in China can still access their content.
However, these mirror sites tend to get blocked soon after too, making it a very unreliable option for those in China.
The third option is to use Tor, a free software that anonymizes your browsing by randomly routing your internet 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.
Firstly, accessing the web through Tor is very slow – much slower than a good VPN. Secondly, China actively blocks access to Tor, so it might not always work to access blocked websites.
Does Tor Work in China?
The Great Firewall of China actively blocks access to Tor, and many users report that it rarely works in the country.
You need to use a reliable VPN service to bypass censorship in China instead – our above VPN recommendations are a good place to start.
Can you stream Netflix in China?
Netflix isn’t currently available in China but it’s possible to watch content from the US and other Netflix libraries by using a VPN.
Some VPNs come with special streaming servers designed to work with Netflix, allowing you to stream all your favorite content from around the globe.
Even with a VPN, watching Netflix in China can still be tricky, though.
Due to government crackdowns on VPNs, many services only work in the country using specific VPN servers, and these servers might not be optimized to work with Netflix.
It’s worth getting in touch with customer support before you travel to China to find out if the VPN works with Netflix or other streaming services within China.
What’s the Best VPN for Torrenting in China?
You should definitely use a VPN if you are going to torrent in China. Some major torrenting sites are blocked by the Great Firewall, and your ISP will monitor everything you do online.
However, as with streaming, not all VPNs that work in China are good for torrenting in China.
For example, NordVPN is a good VPN for China due to its obfuscated servers, but the obfuscated servers do not permit P2P activity, making it a bad choice for torrenting in China.
Our top recommendation for China – ExpressVPN – is also the best VPN service for torrenting in China.
ExpressVPN permits P2P activity on all VPN servers, but it recommends that you get in touch with customer support to find out which VPN servers work best for torrenting within China.
Can I Make My Own VPN for China?
It’s possible to set up your own VPN server outside of China – in your home, for example – and use it to access blocked websites while in China.
Connecting to a home VPN server will assign you your home IP, which may unlock banned content such as Google and YouTube.
However, building your own server comes with security risks if you fail to set it up correctly. It’s for those with plenty of tech know-how, and beginners should steer clear.
Connecting to a self-built VPN server might not work to unblock content in China if the VPN server doesn’t use any obfuscation tool. OpenVPN traffic is often blocked by the Chinese censors.
If you are traveling to China, the safest option is to use a trusted third-party (commercial) VPN that comes with the necessary obfuscation tools to get around the Great Firewall.
How Can I Get a Chinese IP Address?
If you are looking to use a VPN to connect into China there are a handful of VPN providers with virtual servers 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.
To change your IP to a Chinese one, simple 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:
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.
Do I Need a VPN in Taiwan?
While China still controls Taiwan, internet censorship there is nowhere near as rife. You can access popular sites like YouTube, Facebook, and Google in Taiwan without a VPN.
The same goes for Macau – the internet is largely free and uncensored there too.
However, no matter where you are in the world you should still use a VPN.
Using a VPN in Taiwan (and another other country) will help to protect you against hackers stealing your personal information while you connect to public WiFi.
VPNs also prevent any third parties from snooping on your online activities.
Until fairly recently, those living in Hong Kong could use VPNs freely without any issues, but recent reports suggest that some VPN connections were temporarily blocked during the second week of September 2019. This came during pro-democracy protests that started over plans to allow extradition from Hong Kong to mainland China.
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