Who is this VPN guide for?

If you…..

  1. Are coming to China for work or travel or living here AND
  2. Use the internet

Then this guide is for you!

  • Everyone coming to China needs a VPN to access Google, Facebook, Youtube, and many other blocked apps and websites.
  • Many VPNs don’t work in China or they are just plain slow (thanks Great Firewall!)
  • As techies, we wanted to find the best VPNs for China to keep our internet connections fast, reliable, and unblocked. We’ve tested a lot of VPN apps and we share our user experiences in this guide.

Best VPNs for China 2017:  Feature Comparison

This mega-review includes some of the best VPN apps for China, expat tested inside China. Here are our Top 3 Recommendations on a comparison table with their most important features. Read on for individual in-depth China VPN reviews.



3rd

  • Astrill
  • Speed: Good
  • Reliability: Fair
  • Unlimited Bandwidth
  • Connect 1 Device
  • Protocols: OpenWeb, OpenVPN, Stealth (extra fee), L2TP
  • Supports Mac Os / iOs / Windows / Android / Linux
  • 150+ servers in 50 countries (Choose US West for Fastest Speeds)
  • Wiki, Support Ticket, Live Chat, and Remote Desktop Assistance
  • 7-day Free Trial


#1 Editor’s Choice

  • ExpressVPN
  • Speed: Very Good
  • Reliability: Excellent
  • Unlimited Bandwidth
  • Connect 3 Devices
  • Protocols: PPTP, OpenVPN, L2TP, IPsec
  • Supports Mac Os / iOs/ Windows / Android / Linux
  • 100+ servers in 78 countries (Choose US Los Angeles 2 for fastest speeds)
  • Instant Response Live Chat Customer Support, Email
  • 30-Day Money Back Trial


2nd

  • VyprVPN
  • Speed: Good
  • Reliability: Good
  • Unlimited Bandwidth
  • Connect 3 Devices
  • Protocols: PPTP, OpenVPN, Chameleon, L2TP
  • Supports Mac OS / iOs / Windows / Android / Linux
  • 700 + servers in 49 countries (Choose West Coast US for Fastest Speed)
  • 24x7x365 Support
    Live Chat also available
  • 30-day refund period

Verdict: ExpressVPN is our top choice for users looking to stay connected the web while in China.It is a bit pricey compared to some other VPN apps, but ExpressVPN’s stellar customer support and 30-day trial period makes it more than worth it. The desktop and mobile apps are the fastest we’ve seen, reliable, with plenty of server choices. Highly recommended. Read the full ExpressVPN review here.

(The reviews below are from the personal experience and opinion of our writing team here in China. Some of the services we personally use and confidently recommend to our readers employ affiliate links, which help our blog to continue to publish awesome content.)

VPN China Reviews

Over the past few months we have been personally testing many different VPN services on our computers and smartphones from inside China (Guangzhou). Here are our top China VPN reviews. DisclaimerOther areas in China / other internet service providers may result in different levels of VPN performance.

Here are my internet benchmarks (using speedtest.net):

Broadband Internet Speed (without VPN): 11 mbps (China Telecom, Guangzhou)

Mobile Phone Internet Speed (without VPN): 12.8 mbps (China Unicom, 4G).

ExpressVPN – The Fastest and Most Reliable VPN for China

expressvpn-on-devices-1b88fb9ecb4a449c634aa304dbfd373b

Pro Tip: ExpressVPN offers a 30-day Money Back guarantee so you can use it for a month and if you don’t like it or don’t need it anymore (i.e leaving China after travel) you can get all your money back! ExpressVPN is also currently running a 35% off deal so make sure you get it before it’s gone!

Speeds: 6 – 7 mbps ( of 10 mbps Max on China Telecom)

Best Server: (**UPDATE** Use LA 2.) Use a server in Hong Kong of Los Angeles, US for best performance in China.

ReliabilityExcellent, rarely ever encounter connection drop outs.

Express VPN Overview

Pros

  • Very fast speeds, reliable, strong encryption
  • Unlimited Bandwidth
  • Connect up to 3 devices simultaneously
  • Very smooth dedicated apps for Mac / Windows / iOs / Android
  • Mobile apps reconnect automatically
  • Site is not blocked in China (easier access and customer support)

Cons

  • OpenVPN initial loading can be a little slow
  • A little pricey

There’s a lot of cheap VPN apps out on the market today. Unfortunately, many of these VPNs are not designed for China’s internet filter. These cheap VPNs are hastily put together apps with only a basic OpenVPN type connection and limited server choices and bandwidth. This is a problem since the Great Firewall internet filter in China is sophisticated enough to block basic OpenVPN connections, and regional Internet Service Provider variations require careful selection of  VPN server locations.

I’ve used ExpressVPN quite extensively in China, and it is my go to VPN service that I recommend to my friends. We particularly like the clean and simple dedicated desktop and mobile apps they offer. They work well and I can usually get a decently fast connection (7 mbps on desktop from 10 mbps max) if I connect to the US Los Angeles or Hong Kong servers, which are specifically optimized for China users. Connection drop-outs are rare unlike many of the other VPN apps I have tested. Encryption is a pretty standard 128-bit or 256-bit OpenVPN with an unspecified kind of stealth layer.

china vpn speed tests expressVPN

These are my server speed tests (in-app utility) results when using ExpressVPN in China. Hong Kong and LA are my top choices. In speedtest.net tests I am able to get around 7 mbps / 10 mbps

The layout of the server list in the apps make it very easy to choose and select your favorite go-to server. ExpressVPN also has a really useful automatic speed test feature that systematically goes through each of its servers to find the one with the most optimal performance for your specific location.

The mobile iOS app is particularly great. It only connects on demand (when you need it), so it saves battery by not always running in the background. Furthermore, the ExpressVPN app will also automatically reconnect if you lose your connection. This really helps in China, where the cellular data networks can be pretty spotty. Other VPN mobile apps I have used require you to manually reconnect every time you lose your signal — a major annoyance.

ExpressVPN now allows up to 3 connected devices (at the same time) per account. This is a great feature for those who want to use their VPN account on their phone, tablet, computer, or other devices without needing sign out and sign back in.

Express VPN Setup 

Setup is a breeze and will take you only a couple minutes to get everything running on desktop / mobile.

  1. Sign up for ExpressVPN (you automatically get a 30-day money back trial)
  2. They will send you an email with a link to a setup page. This page will have an activation code which you will copy.
  3. Download the ExpressVPN app for your device / computer.
  4. Open the app – follow install instructions. Start the app.
  5. Paste the activation code when prompted. Done!

ExpressVPN is one of the more pricier options for a VPN, but I think the money is well worth it. The service is reliable and their quick customer support is adept at resolving issues specific to China VPN users.

Can you imagine being cut off from Gmail, Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, and pretty much all your favorite sites/ apps for even one day? For just a little more money you can have the peace of mind that you will be able connect to the things that matter most, when you need it. Don’t take chances with your internet sanity!

Overall, ExpressVPN is our top choice for those living in China or travelling to China. Reminder: Make sure you sign up for the 30 day money back trial before you enter China! As of this writing, their website is not blocked, however this can change at any time! It’s a good idea to get your VPN all set up and tested before you get to China.

Vypr VPN – Good apps + Chameleon Protocol

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EXCLUSIVE OFFER: VyprVPN is what I have personally used in China. When searching around, I found a sneaky deal on VyprVPN that gives you 25% off  a yearly account! You can also cancel anytime during the 30 day money back refund period, so if you don’t like it you have nothing to lose! Free yourself from the Firewall today!

Speed:  4 – 5 mbps (of 10 mbps max with China Telecom)

Fastest servers: Hong Kong (mobile) or US Los Angeles, Japan is also good.

Best Protocol: Chameleon and PPTP 128-bit encryption

VyprVPN (by Goldenfrog) is a smaller company but by far the one of the most reliable and fastest VPNs. Forget the big names like Astrill and Private Internet Access. They used to be fast maybe two years ago, but because so many people use them the servers get targeted by the Chinese censorship. As a result speeds have been throttled and many users (including myself) have noticed the slowdown — particularly in the past few months. Smaller VPN companies can fly under the radar and do not incur the mighty wrath of the Great Firewall!

Some quick features:

  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • Dedicated smartphone apps for iOs and Android
  • 700 servers is 49 in countries
  • 3 devices simultaneously
  • All 3 main protocols +  Chameleon protocol
  • 15 min response Customer Service + Live Chat
  • Now accepts Alipay

TIP- I can usually get 4 mbps through the Japan servers. It is fairly reliable, but at peak hours it can be a bit slower. I never experienced any random disconnections. US West Coast is also a good choice (Usually 5 mbps). For mobile, I like to use the Hong Kong servers, as they seem to be the most stable.

I particularly like the VyprVPN User Interface for your computer. It is clean, quick, and very easy to change servers (no need to type in each address!), protocol type, or view all the ping times from all the many different servers around the world. Account management and customer service has worked very well for me. You can even pay with Alipay (zhifubao) now.

VyprVPN has the three main VPN protocols (OpenVPN, LT2P, and PPTP) as well as their own proprietary “Chameleon” 256-bit protocol which is supposed to allow you to stealthily slip by the firewall. I have tested all of the protocols and have found PPTP 128-bit to be the fastest.

Bandwidth is unlimited and you can use 2 devices simultaneously with one account (Vypr Pro account). The service works well on my Android smartphone and Iphone. Speeds are about 5 mbps (of a 10 mbps max on China Unicom 4G network in Guangzhou).

They offer a 30 day refund period, so check it out! (Update: They are also running a special 40% discount off yearly accounts right now. No idea when this special will stop so get it before it’s gone!)

Astrill – a mixed bag

astrill-vpn-china

Speed: 1 – 4 mbps ( of 10 mbps max on China Telecom, Guangzhou), 9 mbps browser (OpenWeb) surfing only

Fastest Servers: US

Best Protocol: IPsec or OpenWeb (OpenWeb is a proxy — only works for web browser) or Stealth Mode (paid upgrade)

Astrill is a big name in the VPN market, but for China it can be a huge hit or miss. A few years ago Astrill was working great but now it is somewhat of a mixed bag. It appears that the Firewall is targeting Astrill, rendering the OpenVPN protocol totally useless. Other users have been complaining about the slow VPN service these past few months in various forums like reddit.com/r/china.

That being said, if all you care about is surfing the web on your computer, then Astrill might still be a good choice. The OpenWeb mode in the Astrill App is actually quite fast! But if you use any other web related apps on your computer (torrents, twitter, insta etc) these will not be supported by Astrill’s OpenWeb.

If you need to be able to send all web traffic (not just web browser) over the Astrill VPN you will need to use Stealth Mode, which unfortunately you need to pay for as an upgrade. Stealth Mode is effective at disguising your VPN connection in order to bypass the GFW, but it is pricey.

If you REALLY need the fastest possible speeds, you can try Astrill’s VIP addon, which connects you directly to special servers in China. This results in lower latency (for online gaming, video and voice chat) and faster download and upload speeds. While the boost in speeds can be pretty decent, it comes at a cost — an extra 10$ per month! If speed is crucial, this is probably the fastest option for VPN users in China. You can try it out by paying for 3 months of the addon if you don’t want to commit to a full year of VIP servers.

Mobile: Astrill has had big issues in the past trying to maintain service for mobile devices. This is in part due to the fact that iOs devices don’t have a lot of different protocol options. The official Astrill app is minimalist but can get the job done.  It uses the IPsec protocol on iOS devices. The Astrill iPhone app has been updated alongside iOS and I find the new app to be much more stable and rarely disconnects. However, when switching from wifi to 4G (and vice versa) you will usually need to turn the VPN on and off.

Pros

  • OpenWeb (proxy) mode is fast and fairly stable if you only need to browse the web on your computer
  • Dedicated Apps
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • Super fast VIP addon (but pricey!)

Cons

  • Allows only one simultaneous connection (can’t use your smartphone and computer and the same time)
  • OpenVPN does not work in China, need to pay for StealthVPN upgrade
  • Default OpenWeb mode will not hide your IP for torrents, or other web related apps on your computer
  • Mobile app needs to be reset when switching from WIFI to 4G

BOTTOMLINE: Astrill is good if you only plan on doing surfing on your computer’s web browser (Chrome, IE, Safari, Firefox). The mobile experience is not very good at all. Since you can only use one connection at a time under the standard package you might need to upgrade or get a second VPN.

If you are already in China you may find that you cannot access the Astrill website. No fear! Here are some other links to get you to Astrill:

Buy Astrill using Taobao: http://www.astrill-china.com/

Astrill Mirror (copy) Site: https://getastrill.com/

Other VPNS

#4 TorGuard- VPN + NEW Stealth Proxy

torguard stealth proxy

Speed: 4.5 mbps

Fastest Servers: Japan (stealth proxy) + US Asia optimized (VPN)

Best Protocol: Stealth VPN + Stealth Proxy Setting

TorGuard is well known for their work in protecting users who like to use P2P file sharing and torrenting services, however they are also making headways in fighting internet censorship. TorGuard recently (October 2015) released an update to their VPN app that specifically addresses the Great Firewall issues that users encounter in China. Most plain VPNs use a basic OpenVPN connection that is easily detected and throttled.

By using an extra “stealth proxy” layer on top of their Stealth VPN, TorGuard’s VPN connection is extra undetectable by the Chinese DPI (deep packet inspection) filter. While this adds a small slowdown, the proxy is layer is usually faster than other heavy duty double-layer encryption methods (SSL or SSH). The upside is that the connection tends to be more stable and unaffected by the firewall.

TorGuard has apps that run on all the major mobile and desktop platforms (iOs, Mac, Windows, Android) and also allows a whopping 5 simultaneous connections, which is great if you want to share your subscription with your family or friend. It also also good if you have a lot of devices (Xbox, media center, tablet, phone, PC, notebook etc)

Quick Features

  • Unlimited Bandwidth
  • OpenVPN + stealth proxy protocol, PPTP, L2TP, IPsec, SSTP
  • Supports OS X / Windows / Android / Iphone
  • 1200+ servers in 42+ countries

How to use TorGuard in China:

  1. Sign up for the TorGuard’s VPN Pro package, the stealth proxy option is automatically included.
  2. Launch the Torguard app and select a VPN server, this will determine your IP location (i.e use US for Netflix etc)
  3. Click on “Settings” a click on Stealth Proxy. You can now choose a Japan or US server for the proxy layer. In my tests, the Japan servers work best.
  4. Press connect.

I have been using the Torguard VPN + Stealth proxy setting for the past few days and I can tell already it is a huge improvement over the last version. Most other VPN service OpenVPN connections are slow to initialize, which makes switching servers a major pain. The use of the Stealth Proxy makes TorGuard’s initial server load time noticeably faster than other OpenVPN-based services I have tried.

Torguard is definitely worth checking out. They also have a Socks5 proxy that I am in the process of testing here in China. Their innovative VPN-Proxy technology is certainly great progress in the fight against internet censorship, and I look forward to further updates to their app in the future.

#5. PandaPow – from China, for China

pandapowlogo

Speed: 4 – 6 mbps

Fastest Servers: California (US west), Singapore or Japan

Best Protocol: PPTP works well for both desktop and mobile

PandaPow is a VPN service based in Hong Kong with a focus on helping users in China break past the firewall. They offer a “classic” VPN software service for desktop and mobile but also a VPN enabled wifi router, which is perfect for families or people with a large number of connected devices. The PandaPow wifi router also comes with 3 months of the VPN service for free!

I have used PandaPow pretty extensively in China, but primarily for my Iphone. The PPTP connection is usually fast, but sometimes I can experience periods of slowness, though that could just be from normal network congestion here in the land of 600 million smartphone users!

Here’s some quick stats about PandaPow:

  • Unlimited Bandwidth
  • Apps for Android, iOS, Windows, and Mac Os
  • 3 simultaneous connections (awesome!)
  • 7 -day money back guarantee

I highly encourage you to check out PandaPow since they are dedicated to supporting China customers. The 7-day money back trial period is perfect for people who want to try it out before committing to a subscription.

#6 VPNinja

vpninja_square (1)

Speed: 2 – 4 mbps ( of 10 mbps max with China Telecom)

Fastest Servers: US, sometimes Japan.

Best Protocol: Go with PPTP. I have had nothing but extremely slow service with their OpenVPN and “Stealth” protocol.  

VPNinja is a pretty good service. It is generally reliable once connected to a server, however finding a good server that works can take a couple tries. The speeds are not so great compared to VyprVPN. I maybe have seen a max of 5 mbps.

Here’s some other stats

  • Allows 2 connections simultaneously
  • Supports PPTP, LT2P, and it’s own OpenVPNinja Stealth protocol
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • Free trial

VPNinja used to be superfast in my old apartment and old Internet Service, but it definitely is not as fast on China Telecom in Guangzhou!

#7 Private Internet Access (PIA)

PIA

Speed:  3 mbps on mobile ONLY. Desktop connection very slow or completely blocked.

Fastest Servers: us-california.privateinternetaccess.com (but use the IP address!)

Protocol: Use PPTP. The PIA application you download uses OpenVPN which can be very slow nowadays.

This used to be our first choice VPN until the PIA servers started to get blocked by the Great Firewall of China. This blocking seems to depend heavily on your ISP and also your region. Now the only thing that works is the mobile app and even then it won’t work on my wifi (China Telecom), only on 4G (China Unicom)!

TIP- When setting up a PPTP connection, use the server IP addresses (169.51. etc etc) instead of the names (us-east.privateinternetaccess.com) as the names are blocked in China. You can do this easily by opening Terminal or Command Prompt and typing: nslookup us-east.privateinternetaccess.com. You can do this for any server address to get the IP.

Quick Features:

  • Allows up to 5 connections on a single account, so you can connect all of your devices (phone, tablet, computer, xbox, etc) and maybe share your account with a friend too! Most others VPNs only allow 2 connections.
  • PIA VPN has unlimited bandwidth,
  • Supports all the major VPN protocols
  • Has easy to use Iphone and Android apps so you can
  • Has major gigabit servers in nearby Hong Kong and the US.

If privacy is important to you, you will be happy to know that they record no logs and you can even pay for your service using any major gift card, thus keeping your details confidential!

I really like the 5 device connection ability, low price, and privacy, but the deterioration of the server speeds and targeting by the censorship makes it a no-no at the present. Hopefully PIA can make a comeback in the future.

Private Internet Access (PIA), $39.95 / year

Some other services you may want to checkout:

AirVPN – In the process of reviewing this service, and will report back later!

PureVPN – I have heard good things about this VPN, but had trouble setting it up myself.

China VPN Reviews Summary

There are a lot of VPN providers and we have tested a large number of them here in China. This list will continually be updated as we test more VPNs.

Best VPN for China Feature Comparison Overview

VPN Service VPN Rating Mobile Download Speed (mbps) Simultaneous Connections Encryption Protocols Subscription Price ($USD/month)
ExpressVPN 4.7 / 5 4.29 2 OpenVPN, Ipsec, L2TP 8.32
VyprVPN 4.5 / 5 3.97 3 PPTP, OpenVPN™, Chameleon, and L2TP/IPSec 8.33
Astrill 4.5 / 5 2.53 5 OpenWeb, OpenVPN, PPTP, L2TP/IPSec, Cisco IPSec, SSTP, IKEv2 10.83
PandaPow 3.5 / 5 1.68 3 UDP and TCP 7
Torguard 4 / 5 2.11 5 OpenVPN/SSTP/L2TP/Ipsec 9.99
IPVanish 2 / 5 0.49 2 OpenVPN, PPTP and L2TP/IPsec VPN protocols 10
12VPN 4 / 5 2.67 5 Chrome, OpenVPN, Stealth, OpenWEB, IPsec, SSTP 8.25
Private Internet Access 3 / 5 2.23 5 OpenVPN/IPsec/PPTP/L2TP/SOCKS5 6.95
VPNinja 3 / 5 1.1 2 PPTP, L2TP and OpenVPNinja (OpenVPN) 6
AirVPN 3.5 / 5 N/A 3 OpenVPN + SSH/SSL 7.94

The table above is a feature comparison of the most popular VPNs used in China. All of the VPNs listed in the table have unlimited bandwidth and unlimited server location switching, as this is becoming the norm for all VPN apps in the market today. Trials include free trials and money-back guarantees. The VPN speeds were tested using iOS on a China Unicom 4G network in Guangzhou with a max non-VPN speed of about 11 mbps.

What’s a VPN? And why do I need one for China?

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If you have never been to mainland China before (i.e not Hong Kong or Macau) you may be surprised when you get there and find out that you cannot access most of the sites that you love and use on a daily basis. This is because of the so-called “Great Firewall” of China —  a countrywide imposed internet filter that restricts the access of certain websites when you are in China. More than 2600 major websites are blocked in China. Some of these blocked sites include:

  • Google.com
  • Gmail.com
  • Facebook.com
  • Youtube.com
  • Yahoo.com
  • Twitter.com
  • Vimeo.com
  • Soundcloud.com
  • WordPress.com
  • Blogspot.com
  • Wikileaks.com
  • List of other sites 

Just recently the UK’s most read online newspaper, The Guardian, was also added to the block list.

Obviously, being unable to use the above sites represents a huge barrier.

Most of us rely on these websites for our social interaction, management of tasks, work, and communication. Maybe you can survive a couple days without using these websites, but for those of us who intend on staying in China for an extended period of time, we need a solution to this problem– our livelihood, relationships, and sanity depend on it!

How to unblock / access Facebook in China?

Easy. Use a Virtual Private Network or VPN.

Say you want to connect to Facebook (or any other blocked site) while you are travelling or living in China. Instead of starting up your web browser and connecting to Facebook’s servers directly, whose IP is blocked in China, you can connect to a VPN server, which then connects you to Facebook. You can think of a VPN as a trusted and secure middle-man who acts as a mediator as you exchange information with a blocked website when you connect to the web through a VPN. (More about VPNs)

If you want to use a VPN, you are going to need to pay for a service– but trust me it is well-worth it. Note: you will want to sort out your purchase of a VPN service before you come to China, because often many of the websites selling these VPN services are themselves blocked within China.

How much does a Chinese VPN service cost?

While there are some free VPNs you can use, they are highly questionable and potentially dangerous or not secure. I would highly recommend paying for a service.

A paid VPN will usually cost you between 5$-15$ USD / month. Most companies offer a discount on yearly plans, generally 65-100$ USD / year. This is really quite affordable. Additionally, you can usually split the cost among a couple friends, as most VPNs allow sharing on one account.

Even if you decide to leave China, your VPN is still useful. A VPN helps keep your information secure when you are using public wifi networks at hotels, cafes, and airports. You can also use a VPN to change your apparent IP location, allowing you to access streaming sites that might be only accessible by certain locations (such as Comedy Central, iBBC etc). Furthermore, a VPN can allow you to torrent or download stuff anonymously.

What to look for in a VPN service plan for China

Here a couple important factors to consider when choosing a VPN for your stay in China:

# of Simultaneous Users / Sharing

Can a single VPN account be used by multiple devices like your computer, phone, and tablet? Simultaneously? How about sharing among your friends? Sharing a single VPN account among your friends or flatmates can also help save on costs.

Speed

Broadband speeds in China aren’t really the best, so you want to cutdown on bottlenecks by having a fast VPN. If any of your work relies heavily on the internet — i.e building websites, SEO, blogging, E-commerce, or online media, then you will want to get the fastest VPN you can afford.

Bandwidth

This refers to how much data (in GB) you are allowed to download (this includes streaming!) and upload, each month. If you are sharing an account you will be sharing bandwidth as well. Make sure you buy more than you think you will need so you don’t get stuck without internet. Ideally try and get a VPN plan that offers unlimited bandwidth. Dedicated bandwidth usually means faster speeds, but at the cost of an allowance of a fixed number of gigabytes each month.

Reliability

How consistent is the service? Some VPNs are flakey and require you to constantly re-connect to different servers. This can be extremely frustrating. Pay a little extra for the best and you can maintain some semblance of sanity!

Ease of Setup

Different VPNs have different procedures to connect your devices to the uncensored internet. Sometimes this can take a while to setup, or can be very confusing for those who are not tech-savvy. Make sure you can setup the VPN to be used on all your devices easily.

Dedicated APPs for Mobile

Some smaller VPN companies don’t offer their own APP for mobile devices (Android, Iphone, Ipad etc). Instead you need to manually enter in profiles, download 3rd party apps, or download server profiles one-by-one. This is a huge hassle. It’s much better to choose a VPN service that has their own dedicated Apps.

Customer Service

This is extremely important. If you have problems using your VPN, you will want to be able to sort out the issue right away. Some VPN companies have live chats or phone lines you can reach them at. Make sure that the method of contacting customer service is available without a VPN otherwise you might not be able to receive help behind the Great Firewall of China.

Server location

Most VPNs have servers all over the world. Having a server closer to your location will ensure speedier connections. Look for a service that will have a server located in a country close by– such as Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, or the West Coast of the United States. Having a VPN with multiple servers and IPs is also important in case the Great Firewall blocks one of the VPN IP addresses.

Device Compatibility

Is the VPN compatible with Windows? Mac OS? Linux? iOs? Android? What about your tablet? You should make sure you can connect all your devices  to your VPN before you buy, otherwise this can cause a huge headache. Some VPN services have free trials, which is a great way to test if all your devices can connect before you buy.

Encryption

Look for a VPN that uses a protocol that has at least 128-bit encryption. Higher encryption strength is nice, but results in slower performance.

Cost

There are many different plans from different companies. Choose the one that fits your budget but do not skimp on security features or speed / reliability. Often you get what you pay for in life, and if you end up
Free Trial / Money-back Guarantee: Does the company offer a free trial? A free trial is a great way to test out the speed, reliability, and compatibility of your VPN service before you commit to buying.

Secure encryption is a very important factor while using a VPN service. You don’t want anyone snooping on your emails, sites, or online banking information, while you are browsing the web through an intermediary. Do not try and save money by going with the cheapest or free VPN if you are going to compromise security.

VPN Protocols: Why you should get a VPN that supports multiple protocols

Most VPN services will have different options for your VPN protocol (basically the “language” or method in which your internet data is transferred by the VPN server). The 3 most popular protocols you will encounter are:

  • OpenVPN,
  • PPTP
  • IPSEC/L2TP

It is highly advantageous to have a VPN service that supports multiple VPN protocols. The Chinese authorities are fully aware of VPNs and the Firewall is constantly being updated to close down connections to them. Sometimes a certain protocol will be targeted and can result in slow speeds or the inability to connect to your VPN. If your VPN supports multiple VPN protocols, then you can just simply switch to re-connect to the web.

OpenVPN tends to be the favoured VPN protocol because it balances between speed and security. Also, it is more compatible with a variety of devices / operating systems. Unfortunately, the Great Firewall is now capable of detecting basic OpenVPN connections and will either block or throttle them. Thankfully, many VPN service providers offer additional layers of security on top of OpenVPN to specifically get around the Firewall. Look for VPNs that offer things like:

  • obfuscation
  • obfsproxy
  • SSL
  • Stunnel
  • SSH
  • Proxy

You should

FAQ- Frequently Asked Questions

Are VPNs illegal in China?

No. VPNs are not illegal. In fact, they are often used in businesses and enterprises and are essential to more than just people looking to access Facebook or Google. That being said, it is illegal to operate a VPN company inside China without the proper registration. All of the VPN apps used to jump around the Great Firewall are based outside China.

What is the best VPN protocol to use in China?

Mobile iOS: IPsec

Mobile Android: OpenVPN

Desktop: OpenVPN + some extra layer (SSL, Obfsproxy, etc) or if you only use the browser you could use a proxy.

PPTP should always be your last choice if possible, since it is known to have security issues.

What’s the difference between a proxy and a VPN?

A proxy is a network encryption method that usually only works on your browser (Chrome, IE, Safari, etc). A VPN encrypts all the network traffic on your device. Proxies are usually faster but won’t cover you for any web apps outside the browser such as torrents, Spotify, etc.

My VPN isn’t working? My VPN is slow! Why?

If your VPN doesn’t work, you should contact the support team of your VPN provider. Most of the more established VPN companies have 24 hr support.

If you have some generic VPN downloaded on your device, chances are it won’t work in China because of the extra sophistication of the internet filter here. If your VPN is slow you should try connecting to another server first to see if that changes anything.

What if I want to watch Youku from outside China? Are there any VPNs servers in China?

Yes! Many Chinese content (video / music) websites won’t function properly if you access them from outside China. In this case you will need a VPN to tunnel your connection back inside China. Astrill is one VPN service that has servers inside China.

Last Words

A VPN is a super useful tool that will allow you to access to the uncensored Internet while you are living in China. Make sure you sort out the purchase of your VPN, and set it up / test it, before you arrive to China. Many of the websites of the VPN companies are blocked or could become blocked at any time. It helps to have your VPNs customer support email saved somewhere on your computer.

If you have any VPN suggestions or questions we would love to hear them — just drop us a line in the comments section!

Send us your speeds

It would be nice if you could tell us how fast your VPN is going so we can aggregate this information for all our readers. Please leave a comment in the comments section below with the following:

  1. Internet speed without VPN (use speedtest.net)
  2. Internet speed with VPN
  3. Your City
  4. Your Internet Service Provider (China telecom, China unicom etc)

THANKS!

Useful Links

Great Firewall of China  — Type in a website and it will tell you if it is blocked in China.

CNET Asia’s review of 5 VPNs for China — A review of some VPNs for China.

Lifehacker’s Info on VPN services — Pretty informative stuff if you want to learn more about VPNs

chinaSMACK’s Best VPN for China Guide – More information and reviews of VPNs in China.

The reviews above are from the personal experience and opinion of our writing team here in China. Some of the services we personally use and confidently recommend to our readers employ affiliate links, which help our blog to continue to publish awesome content.

Comments
  • Harvey Specter
    Posted at 3:34 pm June 23, 2014
    tonyluce
    Reply
    Author
  • Harvey Specter
    Posted at 2:47 pm July 16, 2014
    mark
    Reply
    Author

    I did some research and did some testing myself. After comparing several vpns this is my conclusion: Astrill VPN is very popular in China as it is also the most reliable and speeds are quite good. PIA good speeds and affordable but some problems with their services occasionally getting blocked. VPNinja works well, I tried their service and it was good but speed could be better. I tried 12VPN and initially had some problems connecting but after connecting the speed was amazing and haven’t had problems since, their apps for connecting to the vpn are very easy to use. For now, I will recommend 12VPN or Astrill if you are willing to spend more money. I didn’t get to test PandPow but heard it is pretty good.

  • Harvey Specter
    Posted at 9:49 am August 26, 2014
    anonymity
    Reply
    Author

    If you want a VPN that is guaranteed to work in China, set up one yourself. It’s really not that difficult to do: http://www.vpntips.com/how-to-setup-a-vpn-server/

  • Harvey Specter
    Posted at 9:12 am January 3, 2015
    Pat
    Reply
    Author

    What do you think of ExpressVPN? I heard this firm is pretty good.

  • Harvey Specter
    Posted at 8:18 pm January 21, 2015
    Feruss
    Reply
    Author

    Where is PureVPN ?
    My friend is using it in Shenzen and he says that it works perfect in China, he mostly uses it for unblock social media sites and streaming videos.

  • Harvey Specter
    Posted at 9:29 am January 25, 2015
    Nick
    Reply
    Author

    From Shanghai, with 20Mbps china unicom, strongvpn is solid but slow, HideMyAss is clearly the best with no reduced speed, MoleVPN is also pretty good, PureVPN is to avoid with very low speed (Japan, HK, Taiwan, West US) and they refused to refund, even partially because I registered 3 days + a few hours, whereas they could clearly see that I did not use their services much with the logs. I will try ExpressVPN also.

  • Harvey Specter
    Posted at 12:25 pm February 24, 2015
    Astrill Sucks
    Reply
    Author

    Asrtill sucks beyond measure. It is less than useless in China right now – althought the claim the opposite in order not to refund money. The support team sucks even more and just copies and pasts the same text over and over again. Go and get another VPN – cannot be worse than Astrill. I use now Express VPN and I am more than happy with that!

  • Harvey Specter
    Posted at 7:02 pm February 26, 2015
    Devini
    Reply
    Author

    There are only few providers allow you to access all geo restricted content in China.. Few of them are listed above and some other cheap but good secure vpn services are listed here http://www.mostsecurevpn.com/best-vpn-services-for-china/

  • Harvey Specter
    Posted at 6:33 pm March 3, 2015
    Awais
    Reply
    Author

    If you wish a VPN that’s absolute to add China, got wind of one yourself. It’s very not that tough to try and do

  • Harvey Specter
    Posted at 1:44 am April 24, 2015
    Danny Gnat
    Reply
    Author

    I have a 100/20Mb/s contract with my provider. Bandwidth capacity usually isn’t the issue. On a daily basis, I switch between two VPN services depending on how much they act up.

    1. Internet speed without VPN: usually, 80-99Mb/s down, 18-20Mb/s up.

    2. Speeds are generally the faster servers from my location.

    Astrill VPN StealthVpn: 200kb/s-8Mb/s
    ExpressVPN: 2-4Mb/s

    3. Connecting out of Pudong New District, Shanghai

    4. Using China Unicom for the provider.

    Comparison wise, between the two services, Astrill’s speeds are much faster when they’re working. But the reliability isn’t there. Having to check server speeds and changing them often. ExpressVPN, has connection issues every once in the while also, but usually the speed is consistent when connected.

  • Harvey Specter
    Posted at 4:01 am August 18, 2015
    Tony
    Reply
    Author

    Very helpful discussion.
    Thanks

  • Harvey Specter
    Posted at 12:36 am September 16, 2015
    Mathew
    Reply
    Author

    Been using this VPN for some time https://www.ffvpn.com/.
    It is quite slow but for 20rmb a month they are alright.

  • Harvey Specter
    Posted at 9:58 pm October 14, 2015
    Brian
    Reply
    Author

    Currently in China as a student and I didn’t have the knowledge about VPN and the “The Great Firewall” so I’m having trouble to connect to many sites.Could you please help me get the best VPN app for Windows Phone W8.1

  • Harvey Specter
    Posted at 10:58 am November 26, 2015
    john
    Reply
    Author

    SwitchVpn is the worst VPN service I used in China, bad speed and bad connection. They just charge you money do nothing. Stay away from it.

  • Harvey Specter
    Posted at 1:38 am November 27, 2015
    Daniel Olivan
    Reply
    Author

    My trip to China will be first two weeks in December. How safe will these recommendations be by then? I do need a reliable VPN for business correspondences. Thanks in advance!

  • Harvey Specter
    Posted at 12:16 am December 9, 2015
    VPN 服務
    Reply
    Author

    Very good post. I am facing many of these issues as well..

  • Harvey Specter
    Posted at 1:30 pm December 11, 2015
    Bahramych
    Reply
    Author

    I’ve used Express VPN in China,VyprVPN,12vpn,VPNac, and Astrill. Worth mentioning that Express is pretty good and reliable,though as noted somewhat pricey. A complete contrast was 12vpn and VPNac,the first one is not cheap as VPNac and has the same sort of issues like disconnecting and all such,whereas VPNac is fast as well but still has disconnecting problems. Considering its service fee,the second option is certainly the best one.
    Now,ASTRILL has been working just fine,anytime when you have connectivity problems you can switch between OpenWeb ( works flawlessly by the way in China) or OpenVPN menu.In case if the secondly mentioned is slow or not connecting,try StealthVPN mode and it surely will get you online.
    Vypr…rhhgg…I was somewhat upset with their service,good response when you have inquires to make though. Its speed only works well if you’re using US west coast based servers,and chameleon cost an extra fee but does the work as StealthVPN of Astrill.
    Conclusion,ASTRILL! It gives you a stealth mode for free if you buy their two-year package,I had my stealth mode for free when I paid for a year service.

  • Harvey Specter
    Posted at 7:24 am December 23, 2015
    bob mason
    Reply
    Author

    please add http://51chinavpn.com to your list.
    i can get 20M speed anytime of the day.

    hope it helps.

  • Harvey Specter
    Posted at 12:24 pm January 27, 2016
    Jake F
    Reply
    Author

    Unlike a hosted VPN service I use PrivatePackets.io. PrivatePackets.io allows users to automatically provision and configure a dedicated VPN server in their choice of 7 locations around the world. Allowing you to simply bypass location restriction and encrypt all traffic. You keep the server; It’s yours forever.

  • Harvey Specter
    Posted at 12:01 am January 31, 2016
    Amber
    Reply
    Author

    Have been using HideMyAss (https://www.hidemyass.com/vpn/r20533/) in China for the few years. Others in the past eventually got blocked, but HideMyAss never did and they said they would refund me if it ever did. Worth paying for it, the cheap or free ones never last long

  • Harvey Specter
    Posted at 7:11 am February 6, 2016
    BT
    Reply
    Author

    There are tense of Chinese VPN proxy vendors out there that are a whole lot cheaper, but as reliable. But they are not so conscious abt promoting their products. I recently moved back to China and I read Chinese. Email me ([email protected]) if u need help to get one

  • Harvey Specter
    Posted at 2:24 pm May 8, 2016
    John
    Reply
    Author

    Astrill is the absolutely WORST VPN service option if you are in China. Their customer service IS TERRIBLE. I have been waiting online for over 30 hours for support. They said they would promptly log on remotely to help, but I have been waiting over 5 hours after connecting to TeamViewer and sending them the connection code. RUN AWAY from Astrill.

  • Harvey Specter
    Posted at 6:58 am May 20, 2016
    Ben
    Reply
    Author

    Has anyone tested Opera VPN? This is a new free VPN service from the Opera browser. It will be included in Opera version 38 (version 37 is the current release) and is already available for free as an iOS app. Does it work well in China?

  • Harvey Specter
    Posted at 4:04 pm June 17, 2016
    asdf
    Reply
    Author

    If anyone has a Mac, VPN Unlimited is very nice. A long, free trial, and speeds up to 14 mgbs (download) and 8 mgbs (upload). I live in Sichuan, and I tested it on Los Angeles servers. However, it goes down a bit when traffic gets a bit too thick. It also might be a bit slow when one connects.

  • Harvey Specter
    Posted at 10:05 pm June 19, 2016
    Wai
    Reply
    Author

    We use Express VPN here in Guangzhou. At times the connection is quite slow, but it does the job.

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