VPNs with a data cap receive a reduction to their overall rating.
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. Success Rate in China: 70%
Minimum Requirement: Over 50% censorship circumvention rate in China.
We Recommend: Over 70% censorship circumvention rate 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 success rate 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 success rate 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 a VPN works in China, obfuscation technology can also give you some idea of if its 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. Privacy & Logging Policy: 5%
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. 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 the US, and international download speeds while connected to Australia, Singapore, and the UK.
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 to China: 10%
Minimum Requirement: Servers in Asia or the US West Coast.
We Recommend: Multiple 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.
Data Cap Penalty: Up to 50% Reduction
Almost all free VPNs come with a data cap. Like with most limitations on free VPNs, this is imposed to encourage users to upgrade to a premium subscription.
If you use up your data cap, the rest of your internet activity will be outside of the VPN tunnel. Consequently, your ISP can monitor the webpages you visit and you won’t be able to access blocked websites in China.
We apply a penalty to the VPN’s final overall rating for China based on its data cap:
- Unlimited bandwidth: No deduction to the overall rating
- 10GB per month: -20% to the overall rating
- 500MB per day: -25% to the overall rating
- 5GB per month: -30% to the overall rating
- 1GB per month: -35% to the overall rating
- 200MB per day: -40% to the overall rating
- 500MB per month: -50% to the overall rating