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.
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 2021. 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.
Below you can read detailed descriptions of the benefits and negatives of each service.
ExpressVPN is our Editor's Choice VPN for 2021 and it's not without good reason. They are also our top choice for bypassing the firewall and without question the best VPN for China.
Server locations are available in some 94 countries and they have a number of servers in nearby Hong Kong and Taiwan. Our on the ground tests throughout 2021 have shown them to offer some of the fastest download speeds, they've also been one of the most reliable.
ExpressVPN has been working extremely well for months and while July was extremely fast, there was somewhat of a drop-off in August. September shows similar speeds. They are still very decent download speeds.
ExpressVPN continues to offer the most reliable connections overall. Some have noted long connection times depending on the network you're using and the Lightway protocol can be hit and miss with it working well on some networks and not at all on others.
There's also a vast range of apps for mobile devices and traditional desktop computers and laptops. A standout feature is their kill switch to keep your connection secure should the VPN drop unexpectedly and their proven no logs policy.
In testing on China Telecom and other networks, ExpressVPN offered the fastest and most reliable speeds. However reports suggest the iOS app can drop connection.
ExpressVPN offers one of the most extensive ranges 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.
Expats, residents and travellers looking for a VPN for China, it's certainly the top choice for breaking through the great firewall of China. The website is blocked in China so you'll need to sign up before you visit but they've got excellent customer support if you get stuck.
Our #1 Recommended VPN for China
30-day money back guarantee
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.
However, it's an excellent VPN for China.
Our tests show that 12VPN is one of the best choices with a range of China specific security features which works well in China.
This Hong Kong-based provider is active in unblocking access across China and works to ensure their service is continually accessible across the country.
Speed tests carried out showed extremely favourable results. However, the best rates are using Shadowsocks, so there's a lack of privacy for the speed advantages. OpenVPN speeds are generally good but slower than ExpressVPN.
12VPN's has had a consistent speed from May through to September with little change. They're usable but these aren't encrypted connections.
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 an excellent 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.
If you're struggling there is no live customer support but you can contact them via email. They're certainly one of the best VPNs for China.
A couple of months ago we welcomed Astrill VPN back after many months of offering poor speeds and if you're after a VPN for China, they're worth considering.
Astrill offers connection points in 61 different countries in over 113 cities. Apps, like most other providers are available for all the most popular devices so it won't matter what you're using in China, connection will be effortless and they have live chat support.
Astrill showed significant improvements in speed from August to September.
It simply goes to show that VPN providers can change month-by-month in China so it pays to keep updated with the latest results and not sign up for long periods.
Astrill's prices are horrendous though with the monthly package setting you back $20…. yes, TWENTY DOLLARS! This can be brought down with a yearly package but with hit-and-miss results in prior months we think this is too risky for long term use in China.
For the price you're paying you would expect live customer support, thankfully that is the case if you have any questions.
We welcome back Surfshark who dropped out of the list a few months back due to poor speeds.
Initially Surfshark worked well in China and then dropped off, especially for accessing websites and services blocked in China.
For the past few months we've been happy to report that results are again favourable with multiple locations available for connection from within China.
Surfshark's speeds recovered somewhat this month after poor speeds in August. Manual set-up is needed for best speeds using IKEv2 and iOS performs better than Android.
A standout feature is the cheap pricing and ability to unblock most major streaming services including popular services like Netflix, YouTube but we recommend using their kill switch. They're the best VPN for simultaneous connections allowing an unlimited number.
We would recommend only signing up for monthly payments even though they're much more expensive than taking a longer package.
Although Surfshark often works in China, due to the unreliability of Surfshark in China it's the safest method for not being stuck with a non-working service in future.
Live chat support is available which is a useful addition if you need pointing in the right direction.
30-day money back guarantee
VPN.ac has been our go-to VPN company for some years and quite simply because they work and continue to operate in China.
This Romanian-based VPN 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 VPN.ac is they have a dedicated “China Optimized” section. There are specific number of servers that work well in China and have their 256-bit encryption as standard.
While they span the globe, our tests show their Hong Kong and Taiwan server locations work the best for download and upload speeds.
The last six months have shown decent speeds from VPN.ac and they've continued to be consistent.
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 using Bitcoin which if you're in China is probably the best option. Features like their kill switch are much appreciated and while there is no free trial you can get a short test for $2.
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 connecting, then their helpful customer service usually gets them resolved. Unfortunately there is no 24-7 live chat here.
PrivadoVPN worked well in China for a few months from introduction, however we weren't sure if this was ‘beginner's luck' or actual positive results.
Surprisingly they worked well in China on some networks. However, reports have been mixed and while they worked well for some users, others couldn't connect at all.
They're not our first choice but they're worth trying if you've exhausted all other options.
PrivadoVPN continues to offer awful speeds to the point it has become unusable. If there is no improvement in the coming months we will be removing them from recommendation.
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 Surfshark. Surfshark 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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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 ExpressVPN 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.
- The New York Times | How to Travel to (and Around) China, From VPNs to T.P.
- Entrepreneur | Hundreds of Millions Have Downloaded Suspicious VPN Apps