You don’t have to look far to know that Chinese internet is one of the most restrictive in the world.
With popular social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and others blocked throughout the country and messaging services Whatsapp, Line and more blocked, it’s a hard life being a Chinese internet user.
Unblocking Chinese internet access is where a VPN comes into play.
However, the difficulties don’t stop there because over the past few years the Chinese regime has gotten smart and they now actively block many VPN services.
They also continue to play cat and mouse preventing those VPNs for China that are actively working around the blockades from offering an unrestricted connection.
In this guide we’ll be exploring the top 5 VPN services that work in China this year and rounding them up with on the ground knowledge concerning their accessibility.
How to choose a China VPN
Selecting a VPN for China is like selecting a VPN for no other purpose. All the regular requirements such as speed go right out the window.
Finding a VPN that even works in China is a bonus so most features that you would usually look for no longer apply or seem relevant. To help you choose a working China VPN we’ve listed a few things you should consider before searching and definitely before signing up.
- Works in China – OK, this one seems obvious and should go without saying. But if you’re a visitor to China, you might not realise that most VPN services are blocked. It’s essential to pick one that’s confirmed as working… and not confirmed in 2016 either, one that’s confirmed working this year. Things change fast.
- Unique connection modes – The Chinese internet service is one of the best in the world in actively monitoring for VPN connections. Look for VPN services that work to evade the blocks and have unique connection modes just for internet users in China.
- Money back guarantee – A lot of times a VPN can be working and then all of sudden stop. Choose a VPN that offers a longer guarantee period, if you sign up and it doesn’t work for you, just get your money back.
- Local payment options – If you’re a Chinese resident or there for an extended period paying via a local payment method such as Alipay may be beneficial. However, how well these payment services are connected to the ‘regime’ is up for debate. You might want to weigh up the pros and cons of using local payment methods.
- Less popular services – Less popular VPN services usually manage to fly under the radar for longer than the popular ones. If everyone is talking about a specific VPN service that works then you can put money on it being blocked and fast.
- Avoid local VPN services – Chinese based VPN services need to be avoided at all costs. Not only could they be a honeypot but officially registered services are monitored which defeats the object. Those that are unregistered put the owners at risk and it isn’t unusual to see local VPN sellers fined or even jailed. Stay well clear.
Most reliable Chinese VPN 2019
With both on the ground reports from China and individual service testing, we found the following five services to work the best in China.
Below you can read detailed descriptions of the benefits and negatives of each service.
1) ExpressVPN – #1 Recommended China VPN
ExpressVPN is our Editor’s Choice VPN for 2019 and it’s not without good reason. They are also our top choice for bypassing the great firewall and come highly recommended by users in China.
Server locations are available in some 94 countries including nearby Hong Kong and Taiwan. Tests throughout 2019 have shown them to offer some of the fastest download speeds, they’ve also been one of the most reliable.
There’s also a vast range of apps for mobile devices and traditional desktop and laptops. A standout feature is their kill switch to keep your connection secure should the VPN drop unexpectedly.
In September they continue to show strong download and upload speeds.
If you’re travelling to China ensure you install apps before you go as you could face difficulties downloading ExpressVPN in China itself. You can have up to five simultaneous connections keeping you safe.
ExpressVPN offers one of the most extensive range of payment methods available including all the regular payment methods such as Credit / Debit Card and Paypal plus Bitcoin, AliPay, Union Pay, WebMoney and a whole host more.
Our #1 Recommended VPN for China
30-day money back guarantee
VPN.ac has been our go-to VPN service for some years and quite simply because they work and continue to work in China.
This Romanian-based VPN service is lesser known across the VPN-sphere and in China itself. We’re a little apprehensive about letting this little-known secret out of the bag.
One of the best features of the service is they have a dedicated “China Optimized” section. These are specific servers that work well in China. While they span the globe our tests show their Hong Kong and Taiwan servers work the best for download and upload speeds.
There are a couple of other locations such as the UK, USA, France, Canada, Japan and Germany but your mileage may vary when using these distance servers.
You can pay for the service using Bitcoin which if you’re in China is probably the best option.
However local payment options such as AliPay and UnionPay are available. If you’re travelling to China then it’s best to sign up before you go and can use any of their payment methods including Paypal and Credit Card.
VPN.ac recommend you stick with their shorter deals due to the uncertainty around VPN connections in China. However, if you have problems contacting their helpful customer service usually gets them resolved.
You won’t see 12VPN recommended on many VPN comparison websites and for the simple reason, most Chinese related VPN guides haven’t done any extensive on the ground testing.
Our reports show that 12VPN is one of the best choices with a range of China specific security features. This Hong Kong-based service is active in unblocking access across China and works to ensure their service is continually accessible across the country.
Speed tests carried out show extremely favourable speeds. However, the best results are using Shadowsocks, so there’s a lack of privacy for the speed advantages. OpenVPN speeds are generally good but slower than ExpressVPN.
Payments are accepted using a variety of international payment methods and local payments such as Alipay and UnionPay. The service also allows Bitcoin payments which is excellent if you’re wary about signing up to a VPN in China or for use there.
We found a really good resource over at TipsForChina where you can check out their results for 12VPN, Wireguard tests and other China related VPN information.
Unfortunately, there’s no dedicated Android app so you will need to contend with installing various OpenVPN profiles if you wish to use their service on your phone.
The service offers a range of VPN protocols including WireGuard plus a SmartDNS and an auto-proxy.
Last month we introduced PrivateVPN who replaces Astrill as one of our recommended services for use in China.
Speeds certainly aren’t the fastest on this long-established VPN service but they’re definitely usable. What stands out is their very respectable ping when used from inside China.
Apps are available for all major devices to keep your real IP address hidden and there’s even a Linux app which is a nice addition.
PrivateVPN offers server locations in over 60 countries but recommends using the L2TP protocol for users inside China.
They also offer a lengthy 30-day money back guarantee so you can try without risk.
VyprVPN has been playing cat and mouse with the Chinese authorities for many years but their service continues to work well although for the past few months speeds have been relatively poor.
Periodically the service gets blocked and you may need to wait a few hours (or days at the most) for it to resume.
VyprVPN have been one of the most vocal in this regard and most active. If you’re looking for a service that actively works to keep their service functioning, then you’re in the right place.
The unique Chameleon mode is especially useful in China. It’s a dedicated version of OpenVPN with modified headers that lets your connection fly under the radar helping you avoid deep packet inspection.
Our tests suggest that the service is not suitable for use with China Telecom but when using China Mobile it is much more reliable and a good option.
The Chameleon mode is useful in attempting to thwart live blocks of VPN services and while it’s not a perfect solution, reports show it works well. Speeds may not be the best but it’s a good VPN and one worth considering.
VyprVPN accepts payment via Credit / Debit Card, Paypal and AliPay. They’ve now finished their 3-day free trial but you can get your money back within 30-days if it’s not for you.
Which VPN should you choose for China?
Choosing a VPN for China needs to be critically thought about. Unfortunately due to the ‘Great Firewall of China’ accessing most commonly recognised sites is impossible.
That’s where a VPN comes into play. While ExpressVPN has proven itself to be the fastest and best for China you may find that your specific needs call for a different VPN service.
Below we’ve listed some of the most common usage scenarios in China to help you choose the best VPN for your needs for accessing a free and open internet.
If you want the overall best VPN, choose ExpressVPN. With a range of nearby servers and local payment options, ExpressVPN is unrivalled. They’ve also got some of the fastest confirmed speeds in our recent tests.
If you want unique modes for China, choose VyprVPN. Their Chameleon protocol is excellent at busting through the Chinese firewall. They’ve also got the bonus that they actively work to keep their service unblocked across the country.
If you a service with local knowledge, opt for 12VPN. They’re lesser known in the western world and as they’re based in Hong Kong they have a greater insight into what works in China and what doesn’t. They’ve also got a range of modes suitable for access in China.
Get stuck? their customer support will help you out.
If you want a lesser-known service, get VPN.ac. They’re a popular service that is lesser known across the industry. Coupled with their China-specific modes they’re able to fly under the radar while other services feel the blocking heat.
Why VPN port selection matters in China
No matter which virtual private network you use in China it’s always going to be a hit and miss affair.
A lot depends on the VPN server you select but sometimes there are options that you can change that both increase the reliability of your connection and the speed.
One of the best to consider is the ‘Port’ your VPN connection is using. Most VPN apps allow you to change the port of the VPN connection and by testing various ports you may gain obvious speed advantages.
Most VPN apps will allow you to change their port in the settings area.
Is there a free VPN for China?
Free VPNs, in general, are a terrible idea due to their insecurity and I wouldn’t recommend them for use outside China.
Inside China, they come even less recommended. Free VPNs don’t have the investment to put effort into keeping their service working in China.
There’s also the more pressing issue that shady companies in China itself operate many free VPN services. What they are doing with your data is unknown and you could end up being monitored when using them.
For the sake of a few dollars, it’s not worth the risk.
What’s the best to use for Facebook, YouTube, Whatsapp etc
There’s no one single ‘best’ service to use specifically for any social media website or chat app.
All five recommended above disguise what you’re doing on the internet. So as long as you can connect a connection their suitable for accessing all types of websites and apps.
This includes social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram but also extends to any chat apps like Whatsapp, Messenger or Telegram.
You will also be able to unblock video streaming sites like Youtube, Netflix and BBC iPlayer. However, you’ll need to have fast enough speeds to stream in decent quality.
What websites and apps are blocked in China?
China blocks so many websites and apps there are too many to list here.
Some of the most popular that are blocked that you will need a VPN to access include:
In Summary: Best China VPN
Through our extensive testing and research, we found ExpressVPN to be the most reliable VPN for China, regarding speed and stability keeping you safe from the prying eyes of the Chinese government.
However, the other 4 VPN services listed in this guide also work well. You may need to try a few to get the best both for your location and types of usage.
Remember, gaining any access to the outside internet in China should be considered a bonus as many VPN services are blocked in China. While some VPN services do offer good enough speeds to stream video, it’s often the case that whatever you receive is as good as it gets.