Before getting started
This article is a complete guide that is updated monthly on how to easily access Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, Youtube and other websites that are blocked in China, using a VPN.
The first part of this article explains what a VPN is, the simplest and most effective way to access the Internet without restrictions.
The second part is a comparative review of ExpressVPN, VyprVPN, NordVPN and VPN Area, in our opinion one of the best VPN providers for China. We compare the prices, functionality and performance of the four VPN.
We also give a short review of the most popular VPN in China and show the results of the survey of VPNs that our readers in China use. On top of that, you will find multiple sections to help you evaluate and optimize your VPN and in general which types of websites are blocked in China.
Important: Many of the VPN services mentioned in the article have offered us exclusive deals for our readers. To get the discount, all you have to do is access the VPN service’s website via one of the links that you’ll find in this article.
comparison of the best VPN for China!
What VPN do we recommend for China?
- ExpressVPN: A VPN that’s easy to use, fast and which has proven to be one of the most reliable VPNs for China over the past years.
- VyprVPN: A VPN with an excellent quality to price ratio, good performance in China and numerous options for a secure connection.
- NordVPN: A VPN that is very complete and easy to use. It has a good performance in China if you choose the right server.
- VPNArea: A VPN that’s less popular in China and a bit difficult to use, but which has one of the best performances on the market at a very low price.
Important: Due to the increased restrictions to VPN which came into effect in October 2017, you should always keep your VPN updated in order to make sure it works at its best.
What is a VPN and why do I need one in China?
As you probably already know, the internet doesn’t work like we would like it to 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, WhatsApp, YouTube, Twitter and Google+.
There are many other blocked websites, and depending on what you do, it may be virtually impossible for you to work in China without a VPN (Virtual Private Network). The most striking case is probably that of Google.com, which often returns an error message when used from within the Middle Kingdom.
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. However, you need to choose wisely: even though there are dozens of VPN services available, only a few work well in China. We have tested several of them for years and today we’re going to review the four we like the most.
Essential tips for using a VPN in China
Update the VPN app or software: It’s essential for you to always have the latest version of the VPN program or app. The Great Firewall of China is constantly being modified to limit VPN use in the country. The majority of the software updates offered by the main VPN providers have the purpose of ensuring that their VPN continues to be accessible in China.
Install the VPN before traveling to China: If you wait until you’re in China to install (and purchase) the VPN, it can be quite difficult due to the following reasons:
- Google Play is blocked in China.
- The Apple AppStore (and other app markets) don’t let you download VPN apps
- Many VPN provider websites are blocked in China.
Note: Some VPNs offer alternative websites that are accessible in China. We try to make it so that the links that you find in this article are also accessible from China, but this isn’t always possible.
OpenVPN UDP tends to be the best protocol for China: In China, the best encryption protocol for getting around restrictions is usually OpenVPN UDP (or versions of it, such as Chameleon). Make sure that the VPN that you are purchasing has this encryption protocol.
The closest servers are usually the fastest: A VPN’s speed often depends on the distance between your connection and the server. Servers in countries surrounding China, such as Korea, Japan and Hong Kong, tend to be the fastest. However, sometimes servers in the United States are faster because they have less users connected to them.
We recommend having a backup VPN: No VPN is infallible, and even less so in China. If you are going to spend a long time in China and having unrestricted access to the Internet is essential for you, you should consider getting a backup VPN.
Pressure on VPNs has greatly intensified over the past years, and all VPN have undergone breakdowns in service at some time. Even though good VPN tend to recover in a few hours or days, having a second VPN can be very useful if needed.
How to choose a VPN for China
- Does it work in China? The large majority of VPNs don’t work well in China. The VPNs that we recommend in this article work in China and we use them on a regular basis, so if they stop working, we will know.
- Is it fast? Although there are VPNs that work in China, their speed leaves a lot lacking. After trying many VPNs, we can say that ExpressVPN, VyprVPN, VPN Area and NordVPN are among the fastest that we have used. In any event, a VPN isn’t a magical solution, so don’t expect to have the same speeds as when you’re in your country.
- Is it stable? Another common problem is that the connection is unstable (it gets constantly disconnected). The VPNs that we have chosen rarely lose their connection once they are connected.
- Does it offer good technical support? It’s essential for a VPN to have 24-hour technical support that can solve your problems in a few minutes if you have any questions or problems with your connection. In addition, the technical support should be capable of quickly solving the problems that may come up during each update to the Great Firewall.
- Do 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.
The best VPN for China
[Limited-Time Discount Offer] We are now offering an exclusive discount for ExpressVPN: if you buy ExpressVPN’s yearly package, you’ll get 3 months for free and only pay 6.67 USD per month. This offer is limited, so you had better take advantage of it right now by clicking on this link and then clicking on the “Get ExpressVPN” button!
- Main Advantage
- Money Back Guarantee
- Monthly Plan
- Yearly Plan
- Server Count
- Countries with Servers
- Payment Methods
- Desktop Apps
- Browser Extension
- Mobile Apps
- Encryption Protocols
- VPN Location’s
- Fastest and Easiest to Use
- 30 days
- 12.95 USD
- 6.67 USD/month
3 months free)
(Best service in our
- Credit Card, Paypal,
Bitcoin, Alipay, Union
Pay and others
- Windows, Mac, Linux
- Chrome, Firefox, Safari
- Android, iOS, Windows
- Yes (until 3)
- OpenVPN, L2TP-IPsec,
- Try ExpressVPN
- Most Secure (Premium version)
- 30 days
- 12.95 USD
- 5 USD/month
- Credit Card, Paypal
- Windows, Mac
- Android, iOS, Windows
- Yes (until 5)
- PPTP, OpenVPN™,
- Try VyprVPN
- Dedicated IPs
- 30 days
- 11.95 USD
- 6.99 USD/month
- Credit Card, Paypal,
- Windows, Mac
- Android, iOS, Windows
- Yes (until 6)
- OpenVPN, IKEv2/IPsec
- Try NordVPN
- Cheapest (among the best)
- 7 days
- 9.90 USD
- 4.92 USD/month
- Credit Card, Paypal,
- Windows, Mac
- Chrome, Firefox
- Android, iOS,
- Yes (until 6)
- OpenVPN, IKEv2/IPsec
- Try VPNArea
Money Back Guarantee: This is an important feature when choosing a VPN, most of all in China. Even though the four VPN 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. Apart from VPNArea, all the VPN we recommend offer 30 days of money back guarantee.
Monthly Plan: If you are traveling to China for tourism or temporarily, a VPN for only one month is the best for you. In this case, since the prices are quite similar, we recommend ExpressVPN.
Annual Plan: Annual prices for different plans may vary greatly, but if we compare the prices of plans with similar performances between the four providers (ExpressVPN, VyprVPN Premium, NordVPN and VPN Area), their price are 6.67 (with our exclusive discount), 5, 5.75 and 4.92 USD per month, respectively. Thus, VPN Area is the cheapest.
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 sense, ExpressVPN is the VPN with the most countries with servers and the most servers nearby China.
Browser extension: Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Safari, the two most widely used browsers, allow the possibility of adding small programs (or extensions), which provide new useful tools when browsing the web. Some VPN offer extensions for these browsers that are used to be able to control a VPN and see the state of the connection easily from your browser while surfing the web. Although this isn’t an essential option, it makes it a lot easier to use the VPN and you don’t have to open and close the browser every time that you change server. In this sense ExpressVPN is the one that offers more possibilities.
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. All the VPN we recommend offer at least 3 simultaneous connections, which shall be more than enough.
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 Premium 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 differences within the VPN featured in this review.
What VPN should I choose for China?
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). It has also been the VPN that in our experience has best withstood the constant updates to the Great Firewall.
- 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 four VPN to use.
- If you need a secure connection for transmitting sensitive data, then you should go for VyprVPN Premium, 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 VPNArea is cheapest option.
- If you need a VPN that can connect to servers from many different countries, ExpressVPN is the one that offers the most possibilities.
Still not sure what VPN should you choose?
What is the most popular VPN in China (our survey)
Your opinion is important for us, click here and tell us what’s your favorite VPN for China!
Here to Try NordVPN and Here to Try VPNArea
Most popular VPN for China
Below you’ll find a short review of some of the most popular VPN in China. These reviews are based on our experience using these VPN in China, so the are based on subjective criteria.
Speed, reliability, ease-of-use, stability in China, number of servers and technical service
Price and simultaneous connections
ExpressVPN is without a doubt, as of today, the most popular VPN in China and the one that we usually recommend for the majority of users. It’s a VPN that’s very easy to use and offers a service that rarely has problems, even with the poorest Internet connections and during periods of severe Internet use restrictions. The few times that problems come up with the connection, its excellent technical service tends to resolve them quickly and efficiently. Without a doubt, it’s a VPN for people that don’t want complications.
Speed, security, its own servers and the Chameleon protocol
VyprVPN is definitely one of the best VPNs for China, especially if you’re interested in having the most secure connection possible, as it offers its own servers, its own encryption protocol (Chameleon™) and an additional security layer with Firewall NAT. However, it is not as reliable as ExpressVPN, especially on poor quality connections. Over the past years, it has had problems with the Great Firewall on a few occasions, but they have resolved this quickly.
Simultaneous connections, ease-of-use, security and dedicated IP addresses
Price and stability
NordVPN is one of the VPNs that offers the best services in China, and is very complete, fast and easy to use. However, in China, it occasionally has problems with stability, and some servers don’t work very well. During times when restrictions are increased, it holds out quite well, although it has had problems at times. While the price is a bit high, its extra security and anonymity options are worth it. Undoubtedly, it’s a VPN to keep in mind, especially if you’re looking for the possibility of having a dedicated IP address.
Speed, stability, price, dedicated IP addresses, simultaneous connections and extra options
Ease-of-use and website
VPN Area is definitely a very high-quality VPN (stable, very fast and reliable) at a very reasonable price. In addition, it tends to be less well-known than the previous VPNs, which makes it less likely to be targeted by the Great Firewall. However, it’s quite difficult to configure it to get it to work properly in China without the help of its technical service, and its website is not very up-to-date. VPN Area is not recommendable for “beginners,” but it’s a VPN to keep in mind if you’re looking for an efficient alternative to the main VPN providers.
Speed, private IP addresses, and StealthVPN protocol
Technical service and assistance, reliability, number of servers and price
Astrill is without a doubt one of the most popular VPNs in China. In the past, its excellent services and low price made it an extremely popular VPN among foreigners in China. However, its recent increase in prices (it has turned into one of the most expensive VPNs) and the constant attacks from the Great Firewall (it has stopped working on multiple occasions) combined with its terrible after-sales service have made many people stop using it.
Price, ease of use and number of countries with servers
Software, technical service, add-on prices and reliability
PureVPN is a very complete VPN at a very competitive price. However, its low price is apparent in its inefficient technical service, lack of reliability in China when restrictions are intensified or in its software (or app), which at times have errors. It’s a good VPN if you’re not worried about losing reliability and speed in exchange for a low price.
Reliability, dynamic IP addresses and technical service
Encryption protocols and extra options
StrongVPN was one of the first companies to offer a VPN with quality services, and for many years, it was one of the most reliable VPNs and a sure asset for China. However, over time, it has been overtaken by the new VPNs that have appeared on the market, such as ExpressVPN, VyprVPN or NordVPN. Recently, it has greatly improved its services, but it’s still quite a basic VPN.
Stability, number of servers, free trial and dedicated IPs
Performance in China
TorGuard is one of the most complete VPNs on the market, among the ones that offer a competitive price. It provides many options such as proxies for shadowsocks, dedicated IPs, DDOS protected IPs, Stealth VPN, and other. However, in periods of restrictions, its performance in China is not optimal.
Security, free plan
Performance in China, number of servers
TunnelBear is the best and safest free VPN that exists in the market. It is ideal for those who only need a limited use of the Internet in China (for example send text messages with WhatsApp). Its performance is a bit poor in China, especially for iOS devices.
Hide My Ass
Easy to use, number of countries with servers
Performance in China, streaming, software security
Hide My Ass is one of the VPNs with the largest number of countries with servers, and is very easy to use. However, it has relatively poor performance in China or doesn’t work in the country. Despite being a popular VPN in the past, using it in China is not recommendable.
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 four VPN that we recommend. To do so, we have calculated the ping, download speed and upload speed while connected to different servers of these VPN 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 four VPN 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 and VPN Area have 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 VPN. 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 performance of your VPN, in this article you can test your connection speed and also explain how to interpret the results obtained.
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 specially 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.
- WireGuard This is a new open protocol with much potential, and which you should keep in mind in the future. While no VPN providers are yet offering it, it may soon be available. It is a very fast and secure protocol, as it works directly on the level of the operating system kernel. The protocol still needs a bit of development, as right now, it doesn’t do a good job of protecting anonymity (which is essential for getting around restrictions in China), and its security must be analyzed thoroughly before it can be commercialized.
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 VPN 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 VPN in China.
VPN 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 VPN to connect, and also makes connections less stable. There are even VPN 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 VPN 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 VPN from working properly.
Different VPN don’t always behave the same: It’s common that depending on the place you’re connecting from, some VPN 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.
With regards to NordVPN, although we have only been testing it for a short time when connections are poor, it has some problems upon connecting, but with good connections its performance is quite acceptable.
Last of all, based on the short time that we have been using VPN Area, it seems to have very good and stable performance on the majority of connections, but configuring it properly and getting it to work can be tedious.
What to do if your VPN isn’t working in China
China is constantly updating the Great Firewall to make VPN connections harder, and even the best VPNs can fail or have difficulties connecting.
Below I list some of the things that you can do if your VPN isn’t working:
- Update its software: It’s important to always be running the latest version of the software, as many of the updates are done to prevent the VPN from being blocked by the Great Firewall.
- Change server: Even though many VPNs have an option to automatically connect to the server with the best performance, sometimes it’s useful to test which server works the best with your connection.
- Change encryption protocol: In our experience, currently, the only protocol that works well in China is OpenVPN (or versions of it, such as Chameleon). However, if you experience difficulties, you can always try with other protocols, which sometimes work as well. In order, I would try the following protocols: OpenVPN UDP, OpenVPN TCP, IKEv2, L2TP/IPSec and SSTP. Don’t bother trying PPTP, as it has never worked in China.
- Contact the technical service: If none of the above has worked for you, you can contact your VPN’s technical department to find out what is happening (it might be temporarily out of service in China) and get a recommended configuration for getting around the Great Firewall. This is why we place a lot of importance on the quality of the VPN’s technical service. Good VPNs respond efficiently, and are capable of quickly reacting when the Great Firewall blocks their service.
- Port forward to port 433: This is a more technical solution and isn’t usually necessary. We don’t recommend it for the majority of users.
What is IP leaking and how can it affect me?
When you use a VPN, in theory, your IP address is masked and external observers and the websites you visit can’t determine your real IP address.
To put it simply, IP leaking is when your real IP address is discovered by the webpage you are visiting (normally through the execution of a script) despite you using a VPN. This causes you to lose your anonymity and your geolocation may be detected.
In addition to the anonymity problems that this may pose, IP leaking can make a VPN useless for accessing geographically restricted websites.
While there are many ways of avoiding IP leaking, some of them are quite complicated for people who aren’t experts on the subject. Even so, there are simple measures that can substantially reduce the likelihood of this happening.
Obviously, the better your VPN, the lower the likelihood of IP leaking.
The other precaution has to do with choosing your browser. Studies carried out on multiple browsers show that without a doubt, Microsoft Edge is the worst of them all and in this sense, Safari is the most secure. Opera and Google Chrome are similar and despite being better than Edge, are quite insecure. Mozilla Firefox is quite secure without reaching the same level as Safari.
Tips to optimize your VPN
Important: Sometimes, VPN can be detected as malware for your operating system (especially VyprVPN). If you want to use the VPN, you need to give it permission so that your firewall doesn’t block it.
Before giving this permission to the VPN, it’s important that you make sure that the VPN is from a trustworthy company (such as the ones that we recommend in this article, as some VPN can be dangerous for your laptop or smartphone.
What package should I buy?
If you are going to be in China for a long time, I recommend that you choose annual packages, as they tend to be a lot cheaper, and with the guaranteed money-back offered by these 4 VPN, if they don’t work well, you can always switch to another VPN.
How to avoid unwanted recurring payments
It’s a common practice among VPN providers to renew your subscription automatically (included the four VPN we recommend). This means that after one month (or one year), they will charge you for another month (or another year, according to the subscription 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.
NordVPN: To opt out of recurring payments, go to “My Account” and click on “Payments,” where at the end you will see the “Cancel Subscription” option. Select the reason for your cancellation and click the “Continue” button. Then, click “Continue” once again, finishing by clicking on “Cancel My Subscription” to verify the cancellation of recurring charges.
VPN Area: For the time being, VPN Area does not have automated recurring payments, so when your subscription (for 1, 6 or 12 months) is about to expire, you will receive an email notice, and if you don’t renew it, the VPN will stop working.
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 and NordVVPN doesn’t specify if you can get a refund.
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!
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).
To make the most of NordVPN in China, when opening the application, go to Settings– -> Show advanced settings. Click I know what I’m doing and scroll through the options until you find see Obfuscated servers and activate it. By doing this, to the map will show obfuscated servers. According to the people at NordVPN, the server with the best performance is Japan 20-22, but in our experience, the one that has given the best results is the Singapore obfuscated server
VPN Area works quite well but it is usually a bit difficult to optimize for China. Although it is possible that sometimes you need to use the obfuscated servers (read this article), you can usually connect simply by doing the following:
Open the VPN Area application -> Show Dashboard -> Servers / Speed → Select a server → Switch to TCP in Protocol and 53 in Port.
It may also be necessary to activate the “Anti-DNS Leak” and the “Extra DNS protection”.
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 illegal. Even so, there are a lot of contradictory rumors and news on the subject, which means that currently, it’s difficult to say which VPN can be used legally and which can’t. Even if it’s true that VPN get often blocked, in another hand VPN are a necessary tool to improve security at companies, and because of this, it would make little sense to declare all VPN to be illegal.
However, in January 2017 the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology declared that the VPN services in China will now need to obtain a government approval.
The new regulation seems to only refer to VPN providers that operate from within China. It’s not clear yet how (and if) this will also affects VPN providers that operate from outside China (like the ones we recommend).
As of July 2017, the apps of the main VPN have been removed from Apple’s App Store in China. While this doesn’t stop you from using them (you can download them outside of China or configure the VPN manually), this indicates that multinational corporations are taking what’s happening seriously and are trying to adapt.
In any event, you should keep in mind that when using a VPN, it doesn’t necessarily have to be illegal: it depends on the situation, and what you do with the VPN can be illegal or not.. 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.
For more information on the subject, I recommend reading this article
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), messaging applications (WhatsApp, Line) 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!
Evolution of the different VPNs in China
At SDC, we have been using VPNs in China since 2010, and during this time, the situation has changed greatly. The constant updates to the Great Firewall mean that we update this article monthly.
Over several years, we have tested out many different VPN providers, such as Witopia (which was really good back in 2010), Astrill (probably the most popular in 2011/2012), Webmaster, Hide My Ass and many more.
Regardless of what the online reviews say, many of these VPNs don’t work anymore. A lot of the articles that you will find online are totally obsolete or are written by people that have never been to China. Because of this, you should check the publication date and whether the website is specialized in China before choosing a VPN.
Since 2012 and up until recently, we were using StrongVPN, and it normally didn’t give us problems. However, over these years, many better options have appeared.
In January 2014, we also started to use VyprVPN, and we rediscovered the pleasure of using the Internet on our cell phones.
Since January 2015, due to the attack that certain VPN provider experienced, we also started to use ExpressVPN to have an alternative with services similar to VyprVPN, and which has turned out to be the fastest and most reliable VPN.
In October 2015, we also started to use PureVPN, which worked really well until 2017.
Starting in August 2017 and especially in October, many VPNs started to have problems (such as PureVPN), and because of this, we started to test out NordVPN, which was one of the VPNs that withstood the best, and which still offers good services.
With the intensification of the blockage that started in 2018, some of the most reliable and popular VPN providers were the subject of attacks, partially affecting their services for short periods of time. Because of this, we decided to test out less popular VPNs that could also offer good performance in China. Without a doubt, VPN Area is the one that offered the best services.
March 2018 marked the end of a 14-month process that consisted of closing all Internet access services, including VPNs, that had not been previously authorized. Almost all VPNs with headquarters in China were closed, including GreenVPN, a VPN that was quite popular in China.
As the majority of VPN services are located outside of China, for the time being, there is no reason to think that they will have problems in the near future.
Current situation of the different VPN
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 VPN hold up better than others.
Currently we can say that in general, ExpressVPN tends to offer the best services in terms of speed, stability and the best resistance to times of restriction.
Recently, VyprVPN has been blocked on various occasions. However, in the majority of cases, they have managed to reestablish the service quickly. Sometimes some servers don’t work (especially those closest to China), but if you choose an automatic connection and play around a bit with the protocols and servers, you can normally find a configuration that offers good performance (the best servers are usually located in South Korea, Canada and the United States).
Currently, only the Chameleon protocol tends to work in China. Despite all of this, if you have a good connection, its speed is usually excellent, and even better than ExpressVPN at times.
As for NordVPN, we have less experience using it, but it looks like during times when restrictions are intensified, it holds out better than other VPN with similar prices. However, its performance is irregular at times and there may be days when it is difficult to connect or alternatively, when speeds are very good. Normally, NordVPN takes a long time to connect, but it tends to be quite stable once connected. In our experience, the Japan and Singapore obfuscated servers tend to give the best results.
VPN Area is a much less popular VPN and therefore less likely to suffer attacks. For now its performance is excellent despite its reduced cost. However, it is a bit difficult to configure. The servers in Taiwan and South Korea tend to give the best results.
TorGuard VPN is quite a cheap VPN with relatively good performance in China, although not quite as good as the previous four. Its main advantage is that if you manage to get it to connect, it tends to be quite stable. In our experience, the server that works the best is Los Angeles (Asia Optimized) with the Stealth protocol.
In the past, we also recommended PureVPN it is a very inexpensive VPN, but currently tends to have connectivity problems in China.
Another VPN that is quite popular in China, Astrill, has been a target of several attacks over the past years, and because of this, it often stops working. This is one of the reasons why we no longer recommend it.
Free VPNs for China
We NEVER recommend using a free VPN. They are generally a huge risk to your security and privacy.
Maintaining a VPN that works in China implies a significant financial expense, and therefore you should ask where the VPN is getting this money from.
My recommendation is that you should carefully examine any VPN of this type before installing it, as in many cases, it will install other things, such as programs that display ads while you are browsing, programs that store your browsing data to sell it to third parties or programs that use your computer as a server (your laptop and your Internet connection will work much more slowly). Plus, in the worst case, they are simply viruses or malware.
Given that they only cost a couple of euros a month, there is no doubt that the best option is to buy a decent VPN.
If I haven’t convinced you, I recommend that you read this article first.
Here to Try NordVPN and Here to Try VPNArea