China‘s internet censorship and the Great Firewall make it very difficult to access many foreign websites and apps when you are in the country. Virtual Private Networks or VPNs are essential tools that help you circumvent these restrictions. VPNs encrypt your internet traffic and route it through servers in other countries, allowing you to bypass geo-restrictions and access blocked content.
In this comprehensive guide, we will discuss China‘s internet censorship program, why you need a VPN there, and recommendations for the top 3 VPN services proven to work in China – NordVPN, ExpressVPN, and VyprVPN.
What is the Great Firewall of China?
The Great Firewall refers to China‘s sophisticated internet censorship and surveillance system that regulates and controls the country‘s internet access to foreign websites and apps. It employs various techniques to censor and monitor internet traffic:
- IP blocking – Blocks access to blacklisted IP addresses and websites
- DNS poisoning – Manipulates DNS queries to block access to restricted domains
- Deep packet inspection – Scans network packets to filter prohibited keywords and protocols
- Throttling connection speeds – Slows down cross-border internet traffic
The Great Firewall blocks access to many foreign sites and services including Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, The New York Times, Bloomberg, Google Scholar, WhatsApp, Gmail and more. China aims to tightly control the flow of information and maintain its ideological values online.
First developed in the late 1990s, the Great Firewall has become more advanced over the years, using machine learning and artificial intelligence to carry out real-time censorship. While VPNs remain effective today, the Great Firewall is constantly improving to counter VPN encryption and obfuscation techniques.
Why You Need a VPN in China
Due to the heavy internet censorship in China, using a reliable VPN is essential to:
- Access blocked content – VPNs allow you to bypass geo-restrictions and access news, social media, search engines and sites blocked by the Great Firewall.
- Protect privacy – VPN encryption prevents surveillance of your internet activities by the Chinese government and local ISPs.
- Improve internet speeds – VPNs can overcome the throttling imposed by the Great Firewall and improve internet speeds.
- Bypass geo-restrictions – VPNs let you access region-restricted services not available in China like Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, gaming servers and more.
- Enhanced security – VPNs provide safer connections over public Wi-Fi hotspots in China by encrypting your traffic.
Without a VPN, you will face significant restrictions and risks to your online privacy in China. Even domestic sites and services are heavily censored and monitored.
Are VPNs Legal in China?
Personal VPN use in China is legal, but with increasing regulations. While VPNs are banned for local businesses, residents can legally access VPN services from international providers.
However, China has tightened control over VPN services in recent years. There is a requirement for VPN providers to register and comply with Chinese regulations. As a result, most foreign VPN services are blocked in China, and only a handful can bypass the Great Firewall reliably.
Using unregistered VPNs or tools to bypass internet censorship can lead to penalties. But the top VPN services recommended in this article have proven to work consistently in China without any legal issues for users.
The Top 3 VPNs for China in 2023
Based on extensive research and testing, we recommend these 3 VPN services as the best and most reliable for China:
1. NordVPN – Best VPN for China Overall
NordVPN is our top overall recommendation among VPNs that work in China thanks to its combination of great security, fast speeds, affordable pricing and reliable performance.
Some standout features:
- Uses obfuscated servers that successfully bypass the Great Firewall using technologies like HTTPS proxy tunneling.
- Provides double VPN servers that route your traffic through two VPN servers for added privacy.
- Strict no-logs policy and offshore jurisdiction in Panama make it ideal for privacy.
- Supports OpenVPN, IKEv2/IPsec and WireGuard protocols.
- Has over 5400 VPN servers in 60 countries worldwide.
- Allows 6 simultaneous device connections.
- Unblocks popular streaming sites like Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Disney+ and more.
- Apps for all major platforms – Windows, macOS, iOS, Android & Linux.
- 30-day money back guarantee to test it out.
We found NordVPN able to consistently bypass internet censorship and geo-restrictions in China without any dropouts during our tests. Connection speeds were fast enough for HD video streaming and low latency online gaming. Customer support through live chat was also very responsive in resolving any issues.
The main downside is that speeds can slow down during peak usage times when servers are crowded. But overall, NordVPN‘s reliable performance and affordable pricing make it the best VPN for China.
Prices start at $2.99/month for 2-year plan
Learn more on NordVPN‘s website.
2. ExpressVPN – Fastest VPN for China
ExpressVPN is the fastest and most reliable VPN service that works in China. While a bit pricier than other VPNs, you get exceptionally fast speeds, wide range of server locations, and versatile apps that make it very easy to set up and use.
- Provides 3200+ VPN servers across 94 countries worldwide.
- Uses Lightway protocol developed in-house to offer faster speeds.
- Easy-to-use apps for all major platforms and routers.
- split-tunneling allows assigning which apps use the VPN connection.
- Supports OpenVPN, L2TP, IKEv2 and its Lightway protocols.
- No speed throttling – ideal for HD video streaming and gaming.
- 24/7 live chat support is very knowledgeable and quick to respond.
In our tests, we found ExpressVPN able to maintain fast and stable connections for streaming HD videos and gaming without any buffering or lag issues. It was consistently able to evade the Great Firewall thanks to its range of stealth servers using obfuscation.
The only drawbacks are the higher pricing and limit of just 5 simultaneous connections. But ExpressVPN is worth the price for users who value flawlessly fast speeds along with air-tight security when in China.
Prices start at $8.32/month for 6-month plan
Learn more on ExpressVPN‘s website.
3. VyprVPN – Most Secure VPN for China
VyprVPN stands out for being extremely secure thanks to owning and managing its own VPN infrastructure rather than using third-party servers. This makes it very reliable for usage in China without any leakage issues.
Its key advantages:
- Operates over 700+ VPN servers located in 70+ global locations.
- Uses Chameleon protocol that is very effective in defeating VPN blocking in China.
- No third-party server rentals – owns and manages its own VPN network.
- Zero-knowledge DNS and 256-bit AES encryption provide bulletproof security.
- Apps are very beginner-friendly and quick to set up.
- 24/7 customer support available via live chat and email.
- Allows up to 10 simultaneous connections on one account.
VyprVPN worked flawlessly in our China VPN tests, with its Chameleon protocol easily bypassing the Great Firewall‘s blocks. Speeds were plenty fast for browsing, working remotely, and buffer-free video streaming. Support agents were knowledgeable and provided useful tips to maintain VPN connectivity when we encountered any rare connection drops.
The downsides are limited pricing tiers and inconsistent unblocking of some streaming services like Netflix. But VyprVPN remains a very secure option for users focused on privacy and censorship circumvention in China.
Prices start at $5/month for 1-year plan
Learn more on VyprVPN‘s website.
VPNs for China Comparison
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Tips for Using a VPN in China
To ensure your VPN works smoothly while in China, follow these tips:
- Connect to nearby servers in countries like Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong or Singapore to get faster speeds.
- Select VPN protocols like OpenVPN or WireGuard that are harder to block over standard protocols like PPTP.
- Use VPN apps before entering China, as installation of VPNs is difficult within the country.
- Enable the VPN app‘s kill switch and IPv6 leak protection for additional security.
- Manually select obfuscated or stealth servers on NordVPN, ExpressVPN and VyprVPN for added censorship evasion.
- Be ready to promptly contact customer support if your VPN stops working, to identify any new blocks.
- Keep the VPN running at all times when connected to public Wi-Fi hotspots.
- Avoid free VPN services – they often lack the sophisticated anti-censorship features required.
Why Other Popular VPNs Don‘t Work Well in China
Many well-known VPN services like CyberGhost and IPVanish do not work reliably in China or are very slow due to lack of obfuscation features and dedicated servers optimized for the Great Firewall.
CyberGhost is quite popular globally but has difficulty bypassing internet censorship in China consistently according to user reports. Lack of obfuscation makes it easy to block.
IPVanish often suffers frequent disconnections and throttled speeds in China. It lacks specialized servers and protocols meant for circumvention.
Hence, we recommend avoiding these two options. It‘s better to choose a China-focused VPN like our top recommendations.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are there any free VPNs that work in China?
Most free VPN services lack the advanced features to reliably bypass the Great Firewall. We advise paying for a premium VPN service instead for best security and speeds in China.
Will my VPN stop working after some time in China?
The Great Firewall is capable of learning and blocking new VPNs over time. But reputable VPNs like NordVPN, ExpressVPN and VyprVPN update their services to stay ahead. Just be ready to contact support if you suddenly can‘t connect.
Which VPN server location is fastest for China?
Connecting to VPN servers in nearby Asian countries like Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong generally provide the fastest speeds inside China.
Can I be penalized for using a VPN in China?
There have been no reports of individuals being punished just for using a personal VPN in China. As long as you use reputable providers, there should be no cause for concern.
Do free browser-based VPNs work in China?
Free browser addons like Browsec, Hola, and SetupVPN are not at all effective in China. It‘s best to use a full-featured premium VPN service for bypassing the Great Firewall.
China‘s extensive internet censorship and surveillance makes using a VPN an essential necessity when visiting or living in the country. After thoroughly testing many different VPN services, we recommend NordVPN, ExpressVPN, and VyprVPN as the top three VPNs for bypassing the Great Firewall based on extensive testing.
These three VPN providers offer high-end security features, excellent speeds, reliability and responsive customer support to make sure you stay connected and secure during your time in China. Just be sure to follow our setup and usage tips, and contact support promptly if you face any sudden connection problems. With the best VPN service for China, you can enjoy unrestricted access to the internet when traveling or living there.