The first part of this article explains what a VPN is and how it can be used to access Facebook, YouTube and the other websites that are currently blocked in China.
The second part is a comparative review of ExpressVPN, VyprVPN and PureVPN, which are in our opinion the three top VPN services for China. We’ll compare prices, functionality and the performance of the three VPNs.
Finally, we discuss what kind of websites are generally blocked in China.
What is a VPN and why do I need it in China?
As you probably already know, the internet doesn’t work like we wish it did in China and a large number of websites are blocked by the “Great Firewall”. Among the websites that you can’t access there are Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Google+.
There are many other blocked websites, and depending on what you do, it will be virtually impossible for you to work in China without a VPN (Virtual Private Network) from China. The most striking case is probably given by Google.com, which often returns an error message when used from within the Middle Kingdom.
But there is still hope…
In order to solve this problem, you can install a VPN, which masks your I.P. address so that your laptop appears to be connected from the U.S. or Japan even if you are in China.
A VPN will allow you to bypass the firewall and access any website you want. But you need to choose wisely: even if there are tens of VPN services available, only a few works well in China. We have tested several of them for years and today we’re going to review the three we like the most.
When shall I install the VPN?
We recommend to install your VPN before you travel to China as, if you wait till you arrive in China, installing the VPN app in your smartphone will be more difficult as Google Play is blocked too!
What are the best VPN for China and which should I choose?
In a nutshell, if you are looking for a VPN that has good performance, it’s easy to set up and has servers in many countries, we recommend you use ExpressVPN.
VyprVPN has similar performances, however has less servers.
The third option is PureVPN, which we started to test recently and seems to be a reliable and cheap alternative to ExpressVPN and VyprVPN
Even though there are several free options such as Freegate (which is actually a proxy, not a VPN), they aren’t at all reliable and are extremely slow. The practical result is that by resorting to a free option, you won’t be able to do anything other than check your Facebook or Twitter feeds. Even posting a comment on Facebook will become an impossible mission. Forget about watching a YouTube video.
Recently, several free VPNs have been released that might offer decent performances. Our suggestion is to consider your decision carefully before installing one of them on your laptop or smartphone as, in many cases, they’ll install other applications, such as programs that cause popup ads when you are surfing the internet, programs that store your browsing data to sell it to third parties or, in the worst cases, programs that use your computer as a server (with the result that both your laptop and internet connection will work much more slowly).
Since they only cost 7-10 USD per month, the best option is, without a doubt, to get a decent VPN service.
Nowadays, there is a large number of VPN services on the market. During the years we’ve spent in China, we tested many of them such as Witopia (which was really good back in 2010), Astrill (probably the most popular in 2011/2012), Webmaster and others.
Regardless of what the reviews that you find on the web say, many of them aren’t working anymore because the Great Firewall is being constantly updated and it’s becoming more difficult to bypass it every day. Many reviews you find are outdated or written by people that never went to China; therefore, check the publication date and if the website specializes on China, before you believe to the review!
Since 2013 until recently, we’ve been using StrongVPN and we must say that so far, we have never had many problems. However, during the last years many better VPNs appeared, when it comes down to use them from China.
As of January 2014, we started to also use VyprVPN, and rediscovered the pleasure of having internet on our cellphone. Since January 2015, due to the attack that multiple VPN providers suffered, we also began to use ExpressVPN as an alternative with features similar to those of VyprVPN. And also in this case, we’re very satisfied with the performances of the VPN. In October 2015 we started to use also PureVPN and so far it’s going well.
Why are ExpressVPN, VyprVPN and PureVPN the best VPNs for China?
- First of all, they work: as we’ve already stated, we test the three of them often, so if one of them stops working in China, we’ll update this article.
- They are fast: We tested many VPNs and we have to say that ExpressVPN, VyprVPN and PureVPN are the fastest ones that we’ve used.
- They are stable: Once you’re connected, it’s very rare to lose the connection (this is a major issue with most VPNs out there).
- They offer excellent post-sale service: If you have any doubt or problem with your connection, you can chat with a technician at any moment. Just head to the website of the VPN that you bought and send an inquiry. Usually the support team will find a solution within hours (it can also be within 30 minutes, if the problem has an easy solution).
- They offer a large number of protocols and servers: It’s an important detail because the Great Firewall is being constantly updated. Therefore, even if your VPN works today, nobody can assure you that it will work tomorrow. Having the possibility to choose from different protocols and servers provides you with much more flexibility. Therefore, it’s more likely that your VPN will make it through the next firewall update.
ExpressVPN vs VyprVPN vs PureVPN
|Features||What’s the Best?|
|Main Advantage||Fastest and Easiest to use||Most Secure||Cheapest (among the best)||It depends on your needs!|
|Money Back Guarantee||30 days||30 days||7 days|
|Monthly Plan||12.95 USD||From 9.99 to 19.99 USD||9.99 USD|
|Yearly Plan||8.32 USD/month||8.33 USD/month||4.99 USD/month|
|Support||24/7/365 (Best service in our experience)||24/7/365||24/7/365|
|Countries with Servers||87||60||141|
|Payment Methods||Credit Card, Paypal, Bitcoin, Alipay, Union Pay and others||Credit Card, Paypal and Alipay||Credit Card, Paypal, Bitcoin, Alipay, Union Pay and others|
|Desktop Apps||Windows, Mac||Windows, Mac||Windows, Mac|
|Mobile Apps||Android, iOS||Android, iOS||Android, iOS|
|Simultaneous Connections||Yes (until 3)||Yes (until 5)||Yes (until 5)|
|Encryption Protocols||OpenVPN, L2TP-IPsec, SSTP, PPTP||PPTP, OpenVPN™, L2TP/Ipsec, Chameleon™||PPTP, L2TP, SSTP, IKE, OpenVPN|
|VPN Location’s Switchings||Unlimited||Unlimited||Unlimited|
Money Back Guarantee: This is an important feature when choosing a VPN, most of all in China. Even though the three VPNs generally work well in China, every place is different. One VPN can work better than another in Shanghai but worse in Changsha, so it is important to have the opportunity to test the VPN before making a year commitment. With its 30 days of money back guarantee, ExpressVPN and VyprVPN offer the best guarantee.
Monthly Plan: If you are traveling to China for tourism or temporarily, a VPN for only one month is the best for you. While VyprVPN basic is the cheapest option, it does not work in China (you need the Pro version at least). In this case, the cheapest option is to go with PureVPN (even if the prices of the three VPN are quite similar and you would only save a couple of Dollars).
Annual Plan: Annual prices for different plans may vary greatly, but if we compare the prices of plans with similar performances between the three providers (ExpressVPN, VyprVPN Pro and PureVPN), their price are 8.32, 8.33 and 4.99 USD per month, respectively. Thus, PureVPN is by far the cheapest in this case.
Support: When it comes down to use a VPN in China, it’s extremely important to have access to a support team that can help you when your configuration, for any reason, doesn’t work anymore. According to our personal experience, the experience of our writers based in China and the feedback of our readers (both the ones that let comments at the end of our articles and the ones that contact us by email), so far ExpressVPN is the company that is providing the best, fastest support.
Server Count: This is a very important feature, as the more servers there are, the less likely it is that your connection will be slow or get cut out due to too many users using the same server. In this aspect, ExpressVPN is the one that offers the most guarantees.
Countries With Servers: This is a basic function, especially if you want to access content restricted to a specific country. In addition, it is also necessary to obtain a good browsing speed, as the closer you are to the server, the better the potential speed will be. Therefore, having a large number of servers in countries around China increases the possibility of finding one with good services. In this aspect, in appareance PureVPN beats the competition. However, if you care more about speed, then you shall consider the fact that ExpressVPN has much more servers in countries close to China.
Simultaneous Connections: Today, being able to have simultaneous connections is a basic feature of a VPN, as having a reliable and free connection to the internet is not just necessary for your laptop but also for your cell phone, tablet or other devices. Having simultaneous connections saves you from the problem of having to connect the VPN depending on which device you want to use to access the internet. With this, for example, you can check Google Maps on your cell phone while you check your Gmail on your computer. In this aspect, PureVPN and VypVPN definitely offer the most possibilities.
Encryption Protocols: Encryption protocols are important to avoid censorship and to improve security. Having various possibilities will ensure that you have more weapons to avoid the Great Firewall, as some encryption protocols don’t work at times. While in China, OpenVPN tends to work the best. VyprVPN also offers a protocol exclusively designed to avoid blocking, called Chamaleon.
VPN Location’s Switchings: This aspect is very important in China, as not all servers work well all the time, and changing servers is basic. In this aspect, there are no difference within the VPNs featured in this review.
But what VPN should I choose…
We know this is a lot of info to digest and if you aren’t a tech expert, you might be a bit lost. In order to help you make the right choice, we suggest that you choose the best VPN depending on your priorities (speed, price, mobile devices performance, user-friendliness and security).
- If you’re looking for a fast VPN, then ExpressVPN is, in our experience, the fastest VPN from China at the moment. Also, it offers you the highest number of servers close to China (the closer the server, the fastest your connection will be, on principle).
- If having internet on your smartphone or tablet is a key feature for you, then you should go for Express VPN or VyprVPN.
- If you’re looking for a user-friendly VPN then, once more, ExpressVPN is the easiest of the three VPNs to use.
- If you need a secure connection for transmitting sensitive data, then you should go for VyprVPN, which offers more protocols including Chameleon, which is especially designed for China, and Nat Firewall, for an extra layer of security.
- If you all you care about is the price, then PureVPN is cheapest option.
- If you need a VPN that can connect to servers from many different countries, PureVPN is the one that offers the most possibilities (but ExpressVPN has more servers near China).
Still not sure what VPN should you choose?
Here to Try VyprVPN and Here to Try PureVPN
Which is the fastest VPN in China?
Determining which VPN is the fastest is quite a complicated question, as it depends on a lot of factors (encryption protocol, Chinese city from which you are connecting, the website you want to visit, and the VPN server you connect to, among many other factors).
To respond to this question, over the past months, we have been testing from within China the connection speed of the three VPNs that we recommend. To do so, we have calculated the ping, download speed and upload speed (see below for a description of these parameters) while connected to different servers of these VPNs when accessing websites located in the USA, Europe and Hong Kong. While the results obtained are complicated to interpret due to the high number of parameters involved, we have been able to come to some conclusions:
- The three VPNs offer good connection speeds: In general, tests show a ping of less than 250 ms and upload and download speeds which in the majority of cases are better than speeds without a VPN.
- ExpressVPN seems to be the fastest VPN: In the different tests that we carried out, in the majority of cases, ExpressVPN is the VPN that offers the best results for the three indicators (ping, download speed and upload speed), while in some cases VyprVPN has similar or even better results for download speed.
- The values of the tests vary greatly: In China, the connection speed varies greatly depending on the day and time, and this affects the performance of the VPNs. In addition, speeds can vary also depending on the server you are connected to and where the website or data source you are accessing is located.
While ExpressVPN seems to be the fastest, this may depend on the place in China from which you are connecting. If you want to verify the services of your VPN, below I give details on how to test it and interpret the results.
Which parameters are important:
- Ping (or connection latency): This is the response time; that is, the necessary time between when you request data and when you obtain the response. It is calculated in milliseconds (ms) and is important to be able to browse quickly, as well as is very important for online games. Ideally, it will have values of around 50 ms, although for normal browsing, a ping of less than 250 ms is more than sufficient. If the ping is between 500 and 1000 ms, it is possible that browsing may become somewhat frustrating.
- Download Speed: This is the speed at which you download data from the internet. It is calculated in megabits per second (Mbps). Ideally, and in particular for streaming, the values will be more than 5 Mbps, although in China, it can be hard to reach these speeds at times. To get an idea, Netflix needs a minimum of 0.5 Mbps and recommends that you have a minimum of 1.5 Mbps available.
- Upload Speed This is the speed at which you send data to the internet. It is also calculated in megabits per second (Mbps). In general, this parameter is important for video conferences or to upload files to the internet. In principle, values near 5 Mbps are more than enough, although the majority of people don’t need more than 0.5 Mbps (what Skype recommends for high-quality video conferences).
To calculate these values, you can go to webpages such as bandwidthplace.com, select one of the servers that is located near the websites that you normally visit (normally the United States) and calculate these values with and without the VPN activated.
With these results, you will be able to know if your VPN works well (the values will be similar to or even better than without the VPN). You will as well find out the quality of your connection in China (the values you obtain without a VPN).
Description of the main encryption protocols
Encryption protocols are an essential feature when it comes to choosing a VPN, as they determine its level of security and its ability to overcome the internet blocking in China and other countries. Below you can find the main encryption protocols:
- PTTP: PTTP, with 128 bits, is the weakest encryption protocol, and because of this, is faster than the other protocols. In addition to its speed, it has the advantage of being supported by the majority of devices.
- L2TP/IPSec: L2TP/IPsec is a 256-bit encryption protocol that is very robust but quite slow. Its main advantage is that this protocol can be used on the majority of mobile devices.
- OpenVPN: OpenVPN can be either 160 or 256 bits, and is a protocol which offers a very high level of security combined with a more than respectable speed. The main problem it has is that it is often not supported by many mobile devices, in particular, iOS systems.
- Chameleon: Chameleon is a protocol very similar to OpenVPN 256 bits, offering a good speed with very robust encryption. It has the feature that it is especially designed so that the connection cannot be identified as a VPN, therefore avoiding it being blocked.
- SSTP: This is one of the fastest protocols, and can even be faster than PTTP. In addition, it offers encryption which is almost as robust as LTP2/IPSec. However, this protocol is difficult to implement on the majority of systems, and is normally only compatible with Windows.
Regarding China, currently, PTTP and SSTP don’t tend to work, and the protocol which tends to be most effective when it comes to getting around the firewall is OpenVPN.
Performance of VPNs in China
Before starting this section, we would like to inform you that these conclusions are not based on objective data; rather, they are based on our personal experience using VPNs in China.
VPNs work better outside of large cities: Despite not being able to find technical data to confirm our observations, it appears that the Great Firewall is much more effective in large cities such as Beijing or Shanghai. This makes it a lot more difficult for VPNs to connect, and also makes connections less stable. There are even VPNs that don’t work in these two cities, but which do work in second or third-tier cities.
Poor internet connections limit VPN performance: While this point is obvious, we wanted to highlight it, because it seems to be typical to blame things on the quality of the VPN when it doesn’t connect. Often, the problem is due to the fact that the connection quality is so bad that it prevents all VPNs from working normally. This situation is common on hotel WIFI networks (normally at hostels) or in cafés. The same goes for mobile data connections, as in large cities, they tend to be so saturated that they prevent VPNs from working properly.
Different VPNs don’t always behave the same: It’s common that depending on the place you’re connecting from, some VPNs work better than others. For example ExpressVPN might work better from your workplace internet connection, whereas VyprVPN might work better from home. Nonetheless, as a general rule, ExpressVPN tends to have the least problems connecting, even on low-quality connections. As for VyprVPN, even though it tends to run into quite a few problems when on low-quality networks, if you have a relatively good connection and use the “connect to the fastest server” option, its services are normally very good, and at times even better than those of ExpressVPN. As for PureVPN, it doesn’t usually work on low-quality connections.
Some tips to optimize your VPN
What package should I buy?
We recommend you choose between ExpressVPN Annual Package, VyprVPN Pro and PureVPN Annual Package as, in our opinion, these are the packages that offer the best quality to price ratio.
How to avoid unwanted recurring payments
It’s a common practice among VPN providers to renew your subscription automatically (included the three VPNs we recommend). This means that after one month (or one year), they will charge you for another month (or another year, according to the subscribtion you purchased).
How to avoid that?
ExpressVPN: ExpressVPN allows you to turn off the auto-renewal by logging in to your account.
VyprVPN: To avoid the recurring payment with VyprVPN you should cancel the subscription by accessing to the Control Panel. You should do it before the actual billing period ends.
PureVPN: The only way to avoid the auto-renewal with PureVPN is to sign in to your account and send a ticket asking to cancel it.
Note that if you subscribe using Paypal you can also disallow recurring payments directly from your Paypal account.
In the case you forgot to deactivate the auto renewal and the company already charged you for the next billing period, in many cases you can still ask the money back. ExpressVPN gives you 30 days to ask for a refund (however it’s not clear if it also applies to the auto-renewal), VyprVPN doesn’t specify if you can get a refund and PureVPN gives you 7 days to cancel the payment.
How do I optimize my connection?
Open ExpressVPN software and click on Run a Speed Test. Then, click Run Tests (the blue button on the top right-hand side) and wait until the test finishes (about 5 minutes). At this point, select the server that appears first in the list (the fastest). It’s as simple as that!
Setting your ExpressVPN connection
Open VyprVPN software and click on the Location icon. Then click on Show servers –> Chronometer –> Ping test. At this point you should select the server that shows the smallest number (this represents the time necessary for the info to travel from your laptop to the server).
Setting your VyprVPN connection
Open PureVPN software (don’t use the beta version as in our experience it doesn’t work properly) and insert your user name and password. Then go to the Settings tab and, in the Security section, select VPN Mode: Best of Both Worlds Mode and activate the IPv6 leak Protection.
At this point, go back to the Dashboard, select Protocol: Automatic –> Purpose Country: Optimum Anonymity/Security, then click on Quick Connect, choose a country in the map (only if needed) and, finally, click on Connect Now.
If there is any problem connecting the VPN, go back to the Dashboard and try one by one the different protocols (normally the OpenVPN should work). If it still doesn’t work, go back to the Settings tab and select VPN Mode: High Security Mode.
Setting your PureVPN connection
Is it illegal to use a VPN in China?
We aren’t lawyers and we are certainly not qualified to provide any legal advice. So what follows is just our personal opinion:
As far as we know, using a VPN in China isn’t strictly illegal. Even if it’s true that VPN get often blocked, in another hand VPNs are a necessary tool to improve security at companies, and because of this, it would make little sense to declare them illegal.
Even so, you should keep in mind that while using a VPN, what you are doing can be legal as well as illegal. For example, if someone uses a VPN (to avoid being identified) to scam people, it’s obvious that this activity is illegal and will therefore be prosecuted.
One last warning: When you use a VPN, it’s as if you were connecting from the country where the server is located (normally the United States). Because of that, intellectual property laws can be a lot stricter than what you’re used to in China, where regulations are much more lax in this sense. Therefore, do so at your own risk.
Here to Try VyprVPN and Here to Try PureVPN
What websites are blocked in China?
The list of websites blocked in China is long and changes every day. Generally speaking, the most popular social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, etc), blogging platforms (WordPress.com, Blogspot, etc), Google services (Google.com, Gmail, Google+, Google Hangouts Google Docs, etc) and media websites that may be or have been critical towards China (The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and LeMonde, just to provide some examples) are blocked.
Then, there are websites or softwares that aren’t blocked but are so slow that they become practically useless. The most common example is probably Skype, which works on and off (for calls, messages usually work fine).
Generally speaking, most of the websites that aren’t hosted in a Chinese server will be slow, when you try to connect from within China. This is especially true after 8 PM (Chinese time), as this corresponds to both American and European working times. This implies that the traffic in and out the Chinese network will be larger, and tends to saturate fairly often.
The best way to overcome this problem is, of course, to choose a VPN that is working well in China!
Current state of the different VPNs
As we’ve mentioned before, evaluating which VPN is the best for China is complicated because it depends on many factors. A good VPN in one city or for a particular connection may have worse performance than in other circumstances. During times when internet restrictions are intensified (for example, party meetings, or at the beginning of Chinese New Year), some VPNs hold up better than others.
Thanks to our personal experience and the many comments from our readers, currently, we can say that normally ExpressVPN tends to be the one that offers the best speeds and which best holds up during times of restrictions.
As for VyprVPN, in the past, its website was blocked a few times, and some servers don’t work at times (most of all, those closest to China). However, if you play with the protocols and servers a bit, normally, you can find a configuration that offers good services.
As for PureVPN, we have a lot less experience using it and while during normal times, its services are good, during times when restrictions are intensified, it seems like it has the most problems.
Another VPN that is quite popular in China, Astrill, has been a target of the Great Firewall over the past years, and because of this, it often stops working. This is one of the reasons why we no longer recommend it.
With the increasingly widespread use of VPNs in the past years, VPN service providers are constantly innovating to improve their services. One of the most recent services that all VPN service providers are incorporating are VPN routers.
What are VPN Routers?
To put it simply, we can say that a VPN router is like connecting your VPN directly from the router in your house or office, and not from your computer or mobile device. This has a huge advantage, as you extend the VPN over the whole network and not just from specific devices, thus improving security and permitting all devices on the network to use the VPN (regardless of the number of simultaneous connections).
Types of VPN Routers
Depending on how the VPN on the router is configured, VPN routers are divided into three types.
- Physical: There currently exist various VPN providers who offer routers with the VPN already installed on them, making it extremely simple to configure the VPN Router. Some of the most famous VPN brands which offer this type of device are ExpressVPN and PureVPN. You can click here to see other VPNs offering this type of device.
- Application: Other VPNs offer downloadable software that you later install on your router, making you able to control the VPN from your laptop. This is similar to the last type of VPN router, and the only difference between them is that instead of buying a router with pre-installed software, you install the software yourself on the router you already have. This is obviously a little bit more complicated than the last option, but is within the ability of everyone. The main problem with this type is that not all routers are compatible with this type of software.
- Manual: Some routers allow you to configure a VPN manually. You will have to log in to the router and change its configuration so that it channels your internet connection over your VPN. However, this is not the ideal option, as although VPN providers provide step-by-step guides for each router model, it can be difficult for people who are not experts, and it is somewhat difficult to change the VPN configuration.
VPN Router on ExpressVPN
Currently, ExpressVPN is offering the possibility of purchasing a physical VPN router (that is a router with a pre-installed VPN). You can also choose to configure your router manually. The routers compatible with ExpressVPN are the following: Asus, DD-WRT, D-Link, FlashRouters, Linksys, Netduma, Netgear, Sabai, Tomato, TP-LINK
VPN Router on VyprVPN
Although VyprVPN does not offer routers with pre-installed software, it does offer an application so that you can install it on your router. To do you, before anything else, you are going to have to install the Tomato firmware on your router ( You can click here to see the list of compatible routers) and then the VyprVPN app.
VPN Router on PureVPN
Just like ExpressVPN, PureVPN also offers routers with pre-installed software which can also be configured manually. The compatible routers are the following: DDWRT, Netgear Genie, Asus, Belkin, Tomato, Linksys, TP-link, D-link, MikroTik, Sitecom Gigabit, Saba, TRENDnet
VPNs in China FAQ
What is a VPN in China?
In China, a large number of websites are blocked, including Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Gmail, among others. Currently, VPNs (virtual private networks) are the most effective way to get around the blocking and to be able to browse the Internet without restrictions.
What VPNs should I use in China?
While VPNs are the most effective way of getting around restrictions on Internet use in China, currently, many of them don’t work at all or work poorly. Many VPNs that offered good services in the past currently don’t work, which means that it is important to have updated, first-hand information on which VPN service is currently offering the best services.
Is Snapchat allowed in China?
Just like other social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or Instagram, Snapchat is blocked in China. Therefore, if you want to use Snapchat during your stay in China, you will have to have a VPN service to be able to use it.
Does Whatsapp work in China?
Currently, Whatsapp works without problems in China. However, if you want to download the app in China, you will have problems downloading it if you don’t have a VPN. Google Play and the iTunes Store tend to have quite a few problems.
Does Instagram work in China?
The majority of Western social networks such as Instagram are blocked in China, which means that if you want to continue to post your photos on Instagram or see the updates of the people you are following, your only option is to use a VPN or similar service.
Does Viber work in China?
Since 2014, Viber, like many other similar services, is blocked in China. Therefore, your only option to access the services of Viber without restrictions during your stay in China is to acquire a service that allows you to get around blocking, such as the VPNs that we suggest in this article.
Is Skype blocked in China?
Currently, Skype continues to work in China, although often the quality of voice and video calls is quite poor, and these calls may be monitored by third parties. A VPN can help you to improve the quality of Skype’s services and avoid being spied on.
Are iTunes and the App Store blocked in China?
Although iTunes and the App Store are not blocked in China, a large amount of their content is filtered and therefore not available. In addition, every once in a while, they stop working for a indefinite period of time, which is very annoying if you don’t have a system to get around blocking.
Here to Try VyprVPN and Here to Try PureVPN