Best VPN for China

tl;dr

Inside you’ll discover the ultimate guide to conquering China’s Great Firewall! Uncover top VPNs with impressive speed test results, master tips and tricks for seamless connectivity, and explore additional features tailored for the Chinese digital landscape. You’ll be able to unlock a world of unrestricted browsing across China!

Imagine for a minute you could access whatever apps and websites you want in China.

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp and more would all be a click away.

Posting the latest photos or chatting with friends would be easy.

But the reality is, accessing these types of apps is hard, right?

  • You can’t post easily on social media.
  • Chatting with friends overseas is almost impossible.
  • You can’t even binge-watch movies on Netflix.

You’ll be pleased to know, it doesn’t have to be this way.

The secret of unblocking any app you want in China is just a few seconds away below in this article.

You likely already know that unblocking Chinese internet access is where a VPN comes into play.

Below you’ll learn which Virtual Private Networks are suitable to use, which don’t work and even those you should avoid entirely.

I’ll show you exactly which VPN to use and provide speed test results, so you know you’ll be getting the best possible download speed.

August 2023 Updates Roundup

July and August have been challenging months for the VPN space in China. Multiple first-hand reports show that access has been difficult across the range of major VPN providers and even those that traditionally fly under the radar have seen slower speeds.

Surfshark which has been working extremely well in recent times has been hit hard with a fix not yet provided.

In a five part tweet, Surfshark addressed the issue and at the time of writing it has still not been resolved to a satisfactory standard.

Surfshark China tweet

Our recommendation this month is VPN.ac (use this link if you’re in China) as it seems to be suffering the least amount of issues currently. Here’s hoping for a more positive update in September.

How to choose a VPN for China

Are you struggling to find a reliable and more importantly working VPN for use in China?

Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

Finding the best VPNs for China is like searching for one for no other purpose. The Chinese government has worked hard to ensure most are blocked.

Below I’ve rounded up the six most reliable services, but more on that later.

First I want to help you choose a working China VPN so I’ve listed a few things you should consider before searching and definitely consider before signing up.

  • Works in China – OK, this one seems obvious and should go without saying. But expats or visitors to China might not realise that most VPN services aren’t working in China with their VPN servers blocked. It’s essential to pick one that’s confirmed as working… and not confirmed in 2016 either, one that’s confirmed working in 2024. Things change fast.
  • Unique connection modes – The Chinese internet service is one of the best in the world in actively monitoring for VPNs 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 a 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 VPNs – Less popular VPNs usually manage to fly under the radar for longer than the popular ones. If everyone is talking about a specific VPN that works, then you can put money on it being blocked and fast.
  • Avoid local VPNs services – You should avoid Chinese based services 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 VPN for use in China

With both on the ground reports from China and our extensive individual service testing, we found the following six top-notch VPNs for China.

  1. Surfshark – Our recommended choice!
  2. 12VPN
  3. ExpressVPN
  4. Astrill
  5. VPN.ac
  6. Atlas VPN

Below you can read detailed descriptions of the benefits and negatives of each service.

1. Surfshark

Surfshark Website screengrab

From our first-hand experience in China, we found Surfshark to be the top-performing VPN, truly exceeding our expectations over the past few months. We’ve tested it extensively on multiple devices and in various locations, and we’re thrilled to share our insights with you.

Initially, Surfshark started strong, but then its performance dwindled, making it difficult to access blocked websites and services in China.

However, we’re excited to report that it has bounced back impressively, and we’ve been enjoying its seamless performance for months now.

In our opinion, Surfshark’s remarkable speed and improved upload capabilities set it apart from other VPNs we’ve tried. With a range of connection options within China, we’ve never felt more connected and secure online.

July showed favourable speeds at the start of the month but sadly these eased off towards the end and in August the service is pretty much unusable.

246Mbps download speeds from Surfshark in China

We love the budget-friendly pricing and Surfshark’s ability to unblock popular streaming services like Netflix and YouTube. Based on our experience, we advise activating the kill switch for added security and making the most of the unlimited simultaneous connections feature.

While it might be tempting to opt for a longer package, we recommend choosing monthly payments. We’ve found things can change fast in China and a provider that works one month doesn’t always perform the next.

This way, you’ll have the flexibility to switch if needed. And if you ever encounter any issues, their live chat support is always there to guide you through the best settings.

Our #1 Recommended VPN for China

30-day money back guarantee

2. 12VPN

12VPN Website header snapshot

While 12VPN may not appear on many VPN comparison sites, our comprehensive on-the-ground testing in China has led us to believe it’s an excellent choice for use in the country.

We’ve put it through its paces across multiple devices and locations, and our personal experience has been nothing short of impressive.

12VPN stands out with its China-specific security features, and as a Hong Kong-based provider, it actively works to unblock access across China, ensuring consistent service throughout the country.

Our speed tests yielded extremely favourable results. However, the highest speeds come from using Shadowsocks, which sacrifices privacy for speed. While OpenVPN speeds are generally good, they’re slower compared to Surfshark.

340Mbps download speeds from 12VPN in China

Over the past year, 12VPN has maintained consistent speeds, with recent improvements in July and August. Keep in mind that these connections are not encrypted.

When it comes to payments, 12VPN accepts various international and local methods like Alipay, UnionPay, and even Bitcoin, a fantastic option for those concerned about privacy when signing up for a VPN in China.

One downside is the lack of a dedicated Android app, requiring users to manually install OpenVPN profiles on their phones. The service does offer various VPN protocols, including WireGuard, a SmartDNS, and an auto-proxy.

Although live customer support isn’t available, you can reach out to them via email. Based on our experience, we genuinely believe that 12VPN is one of the best VPNs for China.

3. ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN apps on multiple types of devices

As our Editor’s Choice VPN for 2024, ExpressVPN has consistently ranked as one of the top choices for bypassing China’s firewall.

With server locations in 94 countries, including nearby Hong Kong and Taiwan, our extensive testing across multiple devices and locations throughout 2024 showed impressive download speeds and reliability.

However, in recent months, ExpressVPN’s performance has declined, becoming nearly unusable or extremely slow for the past six months. They have recovered slightly, but their previous excellence has yet to be fully restored.

Historically, ExpressVPN has offered the most reliable connections overall, despite occasional long connection times or inconsistent performance with the Lightway protocol on certain networks.

Their comprehensive app offerings and standout features like the kill switch and proven no-logs policy further bolster their reputation.

83.9Mpbs download speed from ExpressVPN in China

Our tests on China Telecom and other networks demonstrated that ExpressVPN previously delivered the fastest and most reliable speeds, although some others report the iOS app can lose connection occasionally.

Quote

Lucas Peterson of the New York Times confirmed our assessment of ExpressVPN’s reliability, stating that his connection success rate was around 90% [1].

With a broad range of payment methods, including Credit/Debit Card, PayPal, Bitcoin, AliPay, Union Pay, and WebMoney, ExpressVPN caters to various user preferences.

For expats, residents, and travellers seeking a VPN for China, it remains a top choice to bypass the Great Firewall. However, be aware that their website is blocked in China, so sign up before your visit.

Their excellent customer support is always ready to assist if you encounter any issues.

30-day money back guarantee

4. Astrill

Astrill Website

After months of subpar speeds, we’re pleased to welcome Astrill VPN back into the list as a viable option for VPN users in China. We’ve tested Astrill extensively and our experience has been mostly positive.

With connection points in 61 countries and over 113 cities, Astrill offers versatile access. Apps are available for all popular devices, ensuring seamless connections in China, and live chat support is there to assist.

China Astrill speeds

May 2023 download speed results.

We’ve seen Astrill’s speeds return to their previously impressive levels, and their upload speeds have significantly improved after a recent dip. This highlights the importance of staying updated on VPN performance in China and avoiding long-term commitments.

However, there’s a concern regarding the retention of Apple users’ phone numbers, which may be a privacy issue for some.

Astrill’s pricing is a major drawback, with the monthly package costing a staggering $30, now a whopping $10 more than the already expensive price.

While a yearly package reduces the cost, the fluctuating performance in previous months makes long-term commitment risky for users in China.

Given the high price, live customer support is expected—and fortunately, it’s available to address any concerns or questions. Despite the ridiculously high cost, Astrill VPN remains a viable option for those seeking a reliable VPN service in China.

5. VPN.ac

VPN.ac Website header snapshot

Over the years, VPN.ac has been our go-to VPN company in China, largely because of its consistent performance and ability to operate within the country. As a lesser-known, Romanian-based VPN, we’re somewhat reluctant to share this hidden gem with the world.

A standout feature of VPN.ac is the dedicated “China Optimized” section, offering a select number of servers with 256-bit encryption designed to work well in China.

Our continued tests across multiple locations reveal that their Hong Kong and Taiwan server locations provide the best download and upload speeds.

144Mbps download speed VPN.ac in China

Month after month, VPN.ac has proven itself to be extremely reliable, particularly when using nearby servers. While other locations like the UK, USA, France, Canada, Japan, and Germany are available, performance may vary with these more distant servers.

For users in China, Bitcoin payments are a great option, and features like the kill switch add an extra layer of security. While there’s no free trial, a short test for $2 is available. Local payment options, such as AliPay and UnionPay, are also offered.

If you’re travelling to China, it’s best to sign up beforehand and utilise any of their payment methods, including PayPal and Credit Card.

Due to the uncertainties surrounding VPN connections in China, VPN.ac recommends sticking with shorter deals. If you face any connection issues, their helpful customer service team is ready to assist, though they lack 24/7 live chat support.

6. Atlas VPN

Atlas VPN website

Atlas VPN makes a return to our comparison this month, and our testing has yielded some interesting results.

The provider offers both paid and free services, and we found that both the premium subscription and the free service deliver suitable connections for use in China. However, it was surprising to discover that Atlas VPN’s free service outperformed the paid service in terms of speed.

China AtlasVPN September 2022

May 2023 speeds.

After experiencing a couple of lackluster months last year, AtlasVPN has made a strong comeback.

Our tests in April demonstrated decent speeds on their free service, and this trend has continued into May with equally good results. Based on our hands-on experience, Atlas VPN remains a decent option for users in China, especially those looking for a free VPN service.

Which VPN should you choose for China?

Using a VPN for China needs to be critically thought about.

Unfortunately due to the ‘Great Firewall of China’, accessing most commonly recognised sites from outside of China is impossible. Thankfully there are some VPNs that still available in China.

This is where you need a VPN. While ExpressVPN has proven itself to be continually the fastest, won’t share your data with third parties and best for China, you may find that your specific needs call for different VPN companies.

It’s also worth remembering that having a backup VPN is recommended as even the best VPN services can fall victim to blocks.

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 in China.

If you want the overall best VPN, choose ExpressVPN. With a range of nearby VPN servers and local payment options, ExpressVPN is unrivalled. They’ve also got fast speeds as confirmed in our recent tests.

If you want unique modes for China, choose 12VPN. 12VPN uses Shadowsocks which although doesn’t encrypt your connection will allow you to beat the great firewall blocks.

If you want a provider 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 service support and FAQs section will help you to keep the service working in China.

If you want a lesser-known service, get VPN.ac. They’re a popular service outside of China that is lesser known across the industry. Coupled with their China-specific modes, they’re able to fly under the radar and work in China while other services feel the blocking heat.

If you want a risk-free test, choose ExpressVPN. They’re the best VPN for China and offer a 30-day money back guarantee to give you plenty of time to test it in China. There is no VPN provider that is easy to use and reliable which offers a free trial.

What’s the best 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 meaning they’re unable to bypass the great firewall of China.

There’s also the more pressing issue that shady companies in China itself operate many free VPNs. What they are doing with your data is unknown and you could end up being monitored when using them.

Quote

Hayden Field of Entrepreneur said [2] that free VPNs can be used for “identity theft purposes” with troves available to purchase on the dark web for just a few dollars.

If you want to use a VPN on multiple devices then free VPNs also don’t usually allow simultaneous connections which isn’t much use if you’ve got more than one device.

The number of servers offered by free VPN providers is usually on the low side and the server locations are often far from China which will result in slow speeds.

For the sake of a few dollars, free VPNs are not worth the risk.

Services that don’t work in China

While many VPNs work in China, there are plenty that are blocked in China and the Chinese government invests great resources to make this happen.

You’ll find poor recommendations all over the internet for VPN providers with little to no testing and no server locations that work well in China.

Here are some very well respected VPN providers for other purposes and countries that don’t work in Chinese jurisdictions:

  • NordVPN
  • PrivateInternetAccess
  • HideMyAss
  • IPVanish
  • CyberGhost
  • VPNCity

Using a VPN in China is recommended to skip the great firewall, just these above aren’t as they’re blocked in China and their IP addresses are known.

VyprVPN is a VPN service that works in China but their reliability has waned somewhat over the past year. While you can use VyprVPN, speeds are slow and unreliable.

It’s one reason why we’ve stopped recommending VyprVPN in our selection of China VPNs.

Are VPNs legal in China?

There’s a lot of discussion about the legality of VPNs in China.

While many still provide services in China, that’s more down to the providers themselves keeping VPN servers accessible.

China hasn’t officially banned VPNs but there are multiple reports of individuals being fined and worse for selling them.

As a foreigner you’re unlikely to run into an trouble using a VPN in China, but it’s advisable to keep this to yourself and know there are some minor risks if you’re caught using one.

China does allow some VPNs to operate, but they’re not the ones you’re used to. Only government approved VPNs that will be monitored and block access to sites disallowed by the great firewall can officially be used.

So, if you need to use a VPN in China to avoid internet censorship and access the sites and apps you want, you now know they’re not technically illegal.

What’s the best to use for Facebook, YouTube, Whatsapp etc

There’s no one single ‘best’ VPN in China to use specifically for any social media website or chat app.

All six services recommended above disguise what you’re doing on the internet and offer simultaneous connections allowing you to hide your IP Address and make sure you can get around any internet censorship.

So as long as you can connect to a VPN server then they are suitable for accessing the types of apps you want to use.

This includes social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram but also extends to any chat apps like Whatsapp, Messenger or Telegram. Basically anything you can find on the Google Play Store, Apple App Store or elsewhere.

Banned website with chain

You will also be able to unblock video streaming sites like Youtube, Netflix and BBC iPlayer. However, you’ll need to have fast speeds and a reliable VPN to stream Netflix and YouTube in decent quality.

Why VPN port selection matters in China

Even if you use the best VPN for China, it’s always going to be a hit and miss affair for getting around the great firewall.

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.

Using obfuscated servers where possible disguises your VPN traffic and many of our recommended VPNs offer this option.

It’s also important to play around with the VPN protocol too to avoid VPN blocking and where possible make use of obfuscated servers.

One of the best to consider is the ‘Port’ your VPN connection is using. Most virtual private network apps allow you to change the port of the VPN connection and by testing various ports you may gain distinct speed advantages.

Changing VPN port in app

Most VPN apps will allow you to change their port in the settings area.

What websites and apps are blocked in China?

China blocks so many websites and apps there are too many to list here.

Apple mobile devices are some of the worst affected with the app store being heavily restricted.

Some of the most popular that are blocked that you will need a VPN to access include:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • YouTube
  • Tinder
  • Grindr
  • Snapchat
  • Whatsapp
  • Messenger
  • Viber
  • Skype
  • Telegram
  • Line

All the VPN providers listed above will free your internet connection and allow you to access any of the above apps and more on iOS, Android and other devices.

In Summary

Using a VPN in China is essential but many are blocked in China. Thankfully, there are some that still work well in China.

Through our test results and research, we found Surfshark to be the best VPN for China, regarding speed and stability keeping you safe from the prying eyes of the Chinese government.

However, if you’re looking for an alternative VPN provider the other five VPN services listed in this guide also work well. You may need to try a few to get the best both for your location, internet provider 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. Much depends on the provider you choose but also the VPN server you connect to.

While some VPN services do offer good enough speeds to stream video services like Netflix and YouTube. VPN blocking is common and it’s often the case that whatever you achieve is as good as it gets.

Remember, using a VPN is recommend to bypass the great firewall but many you’ll need to download outside of China as the VPN websites are blocked inside.

 

Ready to bypass the great firewall? Try our recommended VPN!

  • Top choice for China
  • Excellent speeds
  • Plenty of payment options

References

  1. The New York Times | How to Travel to (and Around) China, From VPNs to T.P.
  2. Entrepreneur | Hundreds of Millions Have Downloaded Suspicious VPN Apps

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Author: Christopher Seward

Having used the internet since 1994, Christopher launched one of the very first VPN comparison websites in 2013. An expert in the field his reviews, testing and knowledge have helped thousands of users get the correct VPN for their needs.

Comments

  1. Delighted to see that Surfshark has been functioning again the last few days and at excellent speeds. Hope it continues. ExpressVPN continues to be a complete disaster here in China

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