best VPN for China, China VPN apps compared

  • 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 to the “Great Firewall”)
  • As techies based in China, 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 in order to find out which VPN you should use in China based on our daily experience living behind the Great Firewall.

Here are our top picks for the best VPN for China:

  1. ExpressVPN: very popular in China to unblock websites with fast speeds and excellent apps.
  2. VyprVPN: good apps with “Chameleon” protocol to hide connections.
  3. Astrill: well known in China with a fast proxy, some issues in the past.
  4. NordVPN: has a large selection of servers and has obfuscation mode.
  5. Buffered: good custom apps and 24/7 customer service.
  6. Torguard: VPN apps with an extra proxy layer to bypass the Great Firewall.
  7. PandaPow: a smaller China VPN provider with basic apps.
  8. Tunnelbear: is the best free VPN to use in China. 500 MB bandwidth limit.
 Important! Remember to setup your VPN before you arrive in China. Most VPN company websites and the Google Play store (Android) are blocked in China. 

Contents

Top 3 China VPN Apps 2018:  Quick Comparison

This mega-review examines the best VPN apps for China –expat tested inside China. If you are too lazy to read the entire post, here are our Top 3 Recommendations on a comparison table with their most important features.

Read on for individual in-depth China VPN reviews. To go to a VPN provider’s website for more information, click on the button in the table below.



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
  • works with Netflix

#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
  • 1500 servers in 94 countries (Choose US Los Angeles 3 for fastest speeds)
  • Instant Response Live Chat Customer Support, Email
  • 30-Day Money Back Trial
  • works with Netflix


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
  • works with Netflix

Verdict: ExpressVPN is our top choice for users looking to stay connected the web while in China. The desktop and mobile apps are the fastest we’ve seen, reliable, with plenty of server choices. It is not the cheapest VPN app, but ExpressVPN’s stellar customer support for China users and 30-day trial period makes it more than worth it.  Highly recommended. Read the full ExpressVPN review below.

Download Speed Tests

ExpressVPN ranks first in our in-China download speed tests compared with other VPNs. Many VPNs that work outside China are very slow when used inside China because the Great Firewall can detect and throttle OpenVPN connections.

Speed tests were conducted in Guangzhou, China on China Telecom and China Unicom networks. These are my download speed test 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).

Why you need a good VPN for China

What’s a VPN and why do you need one for China? This video explains how VPNs work and best practices for choosing a VPN in China.

So, you are coming to China — awesome!

What’s not so awesome is the internet situation in the country. The “Great Firewall”, a government enforced internet filter, blocks apps and websites such as Google, Facebook, Youtube, Whatsapp, Instagram, Twitter, and many many others. Like most expats in China, I use a VPN (virtual private network) to bypass this internet censorship everyday. I literally could not survive without my VPN.

A VPN app basically takes your internet traffic, encrypts it, and sends it to a VPN server, which then passes that traffic to the intended destination (Facebook, Google, etc). The Great Firewall is fooled since it thinks you are only accessing the VPN server, when in actuality the VPN server is just acting as the middleman. Sneaky!

Fast forward to 2018, only a handful of VPNs work in China now.

When I first came to China in 2014, any old VPN could unblock the web. But by the end of 2014, the Great Firewall had grown in sophistication and could detect VPN connections and block or throttle them. There would be periods of time (during Chinese New Year, political meeting, etc) when almost all VPNs would face crackdowns and simply would not work.

Fast forward to 2018, only a handful of VPNs work in China now. The ones that do work employ special technologies to mask the VPN connection so the Great Firewall cannot detect it. The best VPNs for China are fast, reliable, and work seamlessly. Bad VPNs will make your internet slow or unusable.

I’ve tried countless VPNs in China so trust me when I say: Don’t skimp on your VPN. You need a good VPN for China.

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).

We ranked these VPNs based on:

  • download speeds – Faster = better. This is very important! Slow internet sucks.
  • reliability – Can you connect when you need it? How stable is the connection?
  • ease of use – Apps should be easy to install and use.
  • security – Can you trust your VPN provider?
  • customer service – If you have problems how fast can customer support fix it?

Here are our picks for the Best VPN for China:

1. ExpressVPN – The Fastest and Most Reliable VPN for China to access blocked websites and apps (Google, Youtube, Facebook, etc)

expressvpn-on-devices-1b88fb9ecb4a449c634aa304dbfd373b

(5/5)

ExpressVPN is an easy to use VPN app that reliably unblocks websites for users based in China. Speeds are fast and there are ExpressVPN apps for mobile, desktop, router and more. 

ExpressVPN Overview

Pros

  • Very fast speeds in China, reliable, strong encryption
  • Unlimited Bandwidth
  • Connect up to 3 devices simultaneously
  • 1500+ servers in more than 95 countries
  • Very smooth dedicated apps for Mac / Windows / iOs / Android
  • Mobile apps reconnect automatically
  • Works well with Netflix
  • 30-day money back guarantee

Cons

  • Starting a connection can be a little slow

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

Best Server: Use a server in Hong Kong or Los Angeles, US for best performance in China.

Best Protocol: Automatic Mode or OpenVPN UDP

ReliabilityExcellent, rarely ever encounter connection drop outs.

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! Our readers also get an extra 3 months FREE when you sign up for ExpressVPN for one year.

Get ExpressVPN

Deal:3 Months FREE!

User Experience

ExpressVPN works — plain and simple. 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. I particularly like the clean and simple dedicated desktop and mobile apps they offer.

The apps 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. Streaming Youtube is usually no problem at normal definition (480p) and ExpressVPN even works with Netflix, which is great as some VPNs are blocked by Netflix.

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.

best vpn for china: 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. ExpressVPN is our #1 pick for the Best VPN for China.

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. In my experience using ExpressVPN in China, the best servers with fastest performance are Los Angeles 3 and Hong Kong 1.

ExpressVPN offers native apps for all the major platforms you would expect (Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS, Linux, routers, etc). 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.

ExpressVPN also has apps for internet routers so you can bypass the Great Firewall on all devices using your home wifi. ExpressVPN also boasts an impressive 1500+ VPN servers in over 94 countries, which is more than you will ever possibly need.

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!

Security and Privacy

A VPN can do more than just unblock websites and apps in China. VPNs can also protect your internet traffic from hackers, spying Internet Service Providers, or other prying agencies.

However to maintain your privacy and security while using a VPN, you need to make sure your VPN provider is trustworthy and maintains no logs of user internet traffic. ExpressVPN’s company policy states it keeps no logs whatsoever. This was demonstrated to be true when Turkish authorities recently seized an ExpressVPN server , only to be unable to find any useful information due to the fact no logs were kept on the server. ExpressVPN really does protect user privacy.

Conclusion

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.

Right now, ExpressVPN is holding a special deal that gives you 3 months free VPN service if you purchase a one-year subscription. Even if you aren’t planning on staying in China for more than a year, it’s probably a good idea to get a VPN anyway for the security and privacy benefits — especially if you ever use public wifi. (There’s also the benefit of being able to browse different Netflix country libraries by using a VPN, too!)

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!

BONUS: Our readers also get a special extra 3 months FREE if you sign up for a one year plan. Just click on any of the ExpressVPN links in this article (affiliate links). 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.

Get ExpressVPN

Deal:3 Months FREE!

2. VyprVPN – features Good apps and Chameleon Protocol to circumvent the Great Firewall

device_family

(4/5)

VyprVPN (by Goldenfrog) is a Swiss-based VPN company that places a big emphasis on internet privacy. VyprVPN is also one of the few VPN companies that is actively supporting their service in China — unlike some of the bigger or older names in the space which are now effectively blocked by the Great Firewall.

VyprVPN Overview

  • 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

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

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 rarely experienced 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.

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!

User Experience

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 designed to allow you to stealthily slip by the Great Firewall. I have tested all of the protocols and have found PPTP 128-bit to be the fastest. However, according to more diehard cybersecurity enthusiasts, 128-bit PPTP has a higher risk of being broken. For this reason it is probably best to stick to the Chameleon (OpenVPN + obfuscation).

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).

Privacy and Security

Golenfrog, VyprVPN’s parent company, is a big proponent of internet privacy and freedom. So much so, that they own all of their own VPN servers instead of going through 3rd party cloud providers. VyprVPN has a fairly minimal logging policy:

Each time a user connects to VyprVPN, we retain the following data for 30 days: the user’s source IP address, the VyprVPN IP address used by the user, connection start and stop time and total number of bytes used.

While not as ironclad as other VPN services’ “no logs” policies, a 30-day retaining period for some limited data might be understandable.

Conclusion

VyprVPN is one of the few reliable VPN services that work in China, offers great apps, and seems trustworthy enough for your privacy. 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!)

3. Astrill – well known in China , intermittent issues in the past

(4/5)

Astrill is a well known VPN app for China, but it can be a huge hit or miss in terms of performance. A few years ago Astrill was working great but now it is somewhat of a mixed bag in terms of reliability

Astrill Overview

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

Speed: 4 – 6 mbps (of 10 mbps max on China Telecom, Guangzhou), 9 mbps browser (OpenWeb) surfing only

Fastest Servers: US China Optimized 1 – 4

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

User Experience

Astrill is a well known VPN app for China, but it can be a huge hit or miss in terms of performance. A few years ago Astrill was working great but now it is somewhat of a mixed bag in terms of reliability. It appears that the Firewall is targeting Astrill, rendering the OpenVPN protocol totally useless. Other users have been complaining about the slow VPN service (or sometimes even totally unavailable) in the past 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 software 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 add-on, 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 add-on 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. 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.

Conclusion

Astrill is good if you only plan on doing surfing on your computer’s web browser (Chrome, IE, Safari, Firefox). The mobile experience was poor in the past but is decent now. 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/

4. NordVPN – Advanced Features and obfuscation

(4/5)

NordVPN is one of the few VPN services that works well in China thanks to its purpose-built obfuscation technology that masks VPN connections from the prying of the Great Firewall.

NordVPN Overview

Pros

  • Obfuscation servers are excellent for unblocking the web in China
  • Custom apps for mobile, PC / macOS, router
  • Extra advanced privacy features such as Onion, double-layer VPN encryption
  • Allows 6 simultaneous connections

Cons

  • Obfuscation only offered on select server locations

Speed: ~ 4.0 Mbps

Best servers: United States (Los Angeles)

Pro Tips: Make sure you use the obfuscated server mode for best performance

Deal AlertCurrently offering 52% off a yearly plan.

NordVPN is one of the few VPN services that works well in China thanks to its purpose-built obfuscation technology that masks VPN connections from the prying of the Great Firewall. The custom apps have great clean user interfaces that allow you to connect on all the major computing platforms. NordVPN also stands out from the typical VPN services in the market by offering an advanced suite of privacy features that will please the most hardcore cyber-privacy adherents. Overall, NordVPN is a solid choice

User Experience

Setting yourself up with the NordVPN app is a breeze. Simply signup for an account (you can pay using PayPal, credit card, Bitcoin, Alipay, and more) and download the software from their website or from your app store (Google Play / Apple). Their website has tutorials to help you setup NordVPN on Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, Linux, router and much more.

After following installation instructions you can launch the VPN app. For users in China, it is highly recommended to turn on the “Obfuscated Servers” mode in the “Advanced Settings” area. This obfuscation masks your VPN traffic so it cannot be detected by the internet censorship technology used in China and other countries like Iran. Without this obfuscation mode turned on the app will be very slow or totally unreliable in China.

NordVPN boasts over 1000 servers in countries all over the world . The app has a server list which lets you see the current server load on all of the different servers which helps you choose a less busy server to connect. Note: If you enable the Obfuscated Servers mode, only a select few server locations can be chosen.

Download speeds with the NordVPN app were quick and the connection was stable thanks to the advanced obfuscation mode. Currently, NordVPN allows six simultaneous connections with a single account, which is great for those with many connected devices at home.

Remember to turn on obfuscated servers in the advanced settings for best performance in China.

Privacy Features

NordVPN is one of the most privacy-centric VPNs on the market. They offer a suite of advanced features such as:

  • Double-encryption – wrapping an encrypted VPN connection inside another VPN connection to ensure extra protection
  • Onion-over-VPN – this technique is useful for those using TOR for extra privacy and security
  • DNS kill-switch (with selective option)
  • CyberSec – an option to block malicious ads and malware

NordVPN also has many privacy-oriented company policies such as zero logs and a warrant canary.

Customer Service

If you have a problem with your app you can easily contact NordVPN customer support through their live chat system. Alternatively, you can send them an email or message through a contact form with a 48 hour response time. NordVPN currently offers a 30-day money back guarantee.

Note: As always, we recommend our readers to sign up, install, and test their VPN a few days before they arrive in China. Official VPN company websites routinely get blocked in China and the Google Play store is completely blocked too.

Conclusion

 NordVPN is a great VPN choice for those coming to China for work or travel. The app features highly effective masking technology that evades the Great Firewall and in addition has a ton of extra features that protect your privacy — which is becoming more and more important these days.

5. Buffered VPN – 24/7 Customer Support + Unlimited Bandwidth

Buffered is a VPN company based in Hungary that offers a clean VPN user experience with all the features you would expect from a top-notch VPN service.

Speeds: ~3 mbps

Fastest Servers: US West Coast, Hong Kong

Best Protocol: Default App (OpenVPN)

Buffered is a VPN company based in Hungary that offers a clean VPN user experience with all the features you would expect from a top-notch VPN service. They offer custom native apps for all the major platforms (iOS, Android, macOS, Windows, Linux and even DD-WRT and Tomato routers) which are easy to install and use.

Quick Features

  • Custom native apps for iOS, Android, macOS, Windows, Linux, router
  • 5 simultaneous connections
  • 43 server countries
  • 30-day money back guarantee

Buffered currently offers VPN server locations (IP addresses) in 43 different countries. In our usage tests in China, we found the speeds for the US West Coast server to be quite decent as well as speeds from the Hong Kong locations. Sometimes initial connections to VPN servers can timeout so you have hunt for another server location that connects quickly.

Currently, Buffered offers a 30-day money back guarantee so long as you don’t exceed 100 sessions, 10 GB, or 10 hours of usage. This limit should be more than enough to try out the service to see if it works for you.

6. TorGuard- Stealth Proxy layer for VPN masking

torguard stealth proxy

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 for users in China.

Speed: ~4.0 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.

7. PandaPow – a smaller VPN from Hong Kong China

pandapowlogo

PandaPow is a decent VPN service based in Hong Kong with a focus on helping users in China break past the firewall.

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 decent 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.

8. VPNinja – a small VPN vendor based in Hong Kong

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.

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.  

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!

9. Private Internet Access (PIA)- well known but poor performance in China


Private Internet Access used to be our first choice VPN for China until the PIA servers started to get blocked by the Great Firewall of China.

Speed:  PIA is hit or miss. Desktop connection very slow or completely blocked. We currently do not recommend PIA.

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.

Private Internet Access used to be our first choice VPN for China 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.

Some other VPN 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.

12VPN– According to some China blogs, it is one of the best VPN services for China because they are one of the few VPNs made specifically for China users. We’ve tried it out, and though it is basic, it can get the job done. What’s missing is native apps, but you can still use 12VPN on Android / iOS through the phone settings or 3rd party apps like OpenConnect or VPN ON.

Best free VPN to Use in China

  1. Tunnelbear – Offers a totally free 500 MB per month bandwidth plan. Custom mobile apps for iOS and Android. Speed is not great however.
  2. Lantern – Also offers a 500 MB / month free version with an option to upgrade to Lantern Pro (paid). Custom mobile apps included.
  3. ProtonVPN – The free version of this app lacks many features and also has throttled speeds. No custom apps for mobile or macOS.
  4. Psiphon – a free VPN / proxy software only for Windows, Android and iOS. No macOS app . Bandwidth is limited.
  5. ExpressVPN – Use the 30-day, no-hassle, money back guarantee to use this premium VPN app for free for a month.
  6. VyprVPN – Also has a money back guarantee that will let you use the VPN service for free for 30 days.

If you are only planning to use a VPN for a short period of time (less than a month), then we recommend you try ExpressVPN or VyprVPN and take advantage of their money-back guarantees.

For longer term use, Tunnelbear might be okay if all you do is email and light messaging on your phone. But if you plan on any real web usage (streaming, Youtube, Netflix, web browsing, audio) then you should really consider paying for a premium VPN service. Free VPNs are free for a reason — they generally are not very good! You get what you pay for.

Best VPN for China Summary

best VPN for China, China VPN apps compared

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. All of the VPNs in the list are paid services, for free solutions check out our Free Best VPN for China Facebook un-blocking guide.

The table below compares the features of the best VPNs for China:

VPN Service VPN Rating Description Mobile Download Speed (mbps) Simultaneous Connections Encryption Protocols Subscription Price ($USD/month)
ExpressVPN 4.7 / 5 excellent mobile and desktop apps, fast and reliable connections 4.29 3 OpenVPN UDP TCP, IPsec, L2TP 8.32
VyprVPN 4.5 / 5 Chameleon protocol, good apps 3.33 3 PPTP, OpenVPN, Chameleon, and L2TP/IPSec 8.33
Astrill 4.5 / 5 fast proxy, stealth VPN, basic apps 2.53 5 OpenWeb, OpenVPN, Stealth, L2TP / IPsec 10.83
12VPN 4 / 5 stealth VPN, China optimized servers, poor mobile apps 3.48 5 OpenVPN, Stealth, OpenWEB, IPsec, SSTP 8.25
AirVPN 3.5 / 5 advanced VPN over SSL and SSH, decent speeds N/A 3 OpenVPN + SSH/SSL 7.94
Torguard 4 / 5 stealth proxy VPN, mediocre speeds 2.11 5 OpenVPN/SSTP/L2TP/Ipsec 9.99
PandaPow 3.5 / 5 very basic apps, mediocre connection speeds 1.43 3 UDP and TCP 7
VPNinja 3 / 5 basic VPN apps, mediocre speeds 1.1 2 PPTP, L2TP and OpenVPNinja (OpenVPN) 6
IPVanish 2 / 5 poor performance in China 0.49 2 OpenVPN, PPTP and L2TP/IPsec VPN protocols 10
Private Internet Access 1 / 5 unstable performance in China unstable 5 OpenVPN/IPsec/PPTP/L2TP/SOCKS5 6.95

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. ExpressVPN is currently our recommended best VPN for China.

Important update July 2017

News and Updates on VPNs and Censorship in China

  • August 30, 2018: Yahoo search is blocked in China.
  • August 10, 2018: Popular website, Reddit, is blocked in China.
  • April 1, 2018: The “China VPN Ban” deadline has passed and the main VPNs are still working in China.
  • February 1, 2018: There have been many recent news articles claiming that the Chinese government has ordered ISPs to block all unlicensed VPN operators in China by the end of March this year. 
  • October 2, 2017: Apple has started to remove VPN apps from the Chinese Apple store at the request of the Chinese government. Users with non-China Apple accounts can still download VPN apps from the app store.
  • July 22,2017: Internet users in China are reporting that Whatsapp is now facing blockage and censorship

How to prepare for a potential VPN ban

Reports of the Chinese government banning VPNs in the country have surfaced from time to time in the past. It is highly unlikely that a China VPN ban will ever materialize.

From a technological standpoint, such a ban on VPNs is certainly possible. Most OpenVPN connections are already automatically blocked in China via the Great Firewall Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) and VPN providers currently have been forced to use special “stealth” technologies (obfsproxy, SSL tunnels) to mask VPN traffic.

Despite these technologies, popular VPNs have still been known to suffer from complete shutdowns during Chinese New Year and the major political meetings in March. Chinese ISPs could also simply block the IP addresses of major VPN servers.

It is important to have backup internet solutions in case of a total VPN shutdown in China. Here are some steps you can take to reduce interruptions in your daily cyber activities in the event of a VPN shutdown.

  1. Make sure you have an alternative email provider other than Gmail. If VPNs are blocked, you will not be able to access your Gmail. We suggest opening up a Microsoft web email account as it is not blocked in China. Make sure to have copies of your incoming email at your Gmail account forwarded to your Microsoft account. (See our guide: How to Access Gmail in China)
  2. Make sure you have access to your cloud backups. Dropbox and Google Drive will be inaccessible in the event of a VPN ban. Backup your important files on a physical hard drive or another provider that is not blocked (Skydrive).
  3. Consider using a Hong Kong SIM card with roaming. You can access the unblocked web on your smartphone without a VPN in China by purchasing a China Mobile SIM card in Hong Kong and using data roaming. This unfortunately will be much more expensive than China data rates. 1GB of data will cost you around $180 USD.
  4. Deploy your own VPN. If the VPN ban is only implemented via IP address blocking of major VPN services (and not blocking VPN protocols) it may be possible to run your own VPN through a VPS or Cloud server service (Amazon, Digital Ocean, etc).
  5. Get used to Bing. Not as good as Google but better than nothing.
  6. Follow us for updates. As tech addicts, you can be sure that we will be monitoring the VPN situation in China very closely. Follow us for updates on what VPNs are working, and what’s not.

Internet situation in China

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. Click here for a full list of websites blocked in China.

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 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.

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 locations

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. 256-bit is typically the considered the standard in most VPNs.

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.

Which VPN Protocols are best for China?

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

SSTP is also found on many VPN apps, but it only works on Windows.

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

FAQ- Frequently Asked Questions

Is using a VPN in China illegal?

No. VPNs are not illegal in China. 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.

During certain days of the year almost all VPNs will be slow or even blocked in China. These times include:

  • Chinese political meetings in March and October
  • Military parades
  • Sometimes Chinese New Year

Which VPN server / country IP should I use when in China?

The best server / country location will vary from different VPN service provider, but there are generally two metrics to consider for best server performance:

  1. Download / Upload speeds (Mbps)
  2. Latency (ms)

Download and uploads speeds are usually faster with servers that are closely connected to the same internet backbone as the major Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in China: China Unicom, China Telecom, and China Mobile. Some VPN providers specifically offer China Optimized servers that make use of such close connection (peering). In general, major internet hubs located geographically close to China (Japan, Hong Kong, West Coast USA) should have better bandwidth connections.

Latency refers to the delay time when sending data from the VPN server to your device. This is usually dependent on distance. Lower latency and shorter distance to servers are usually preferred. Having low latency is important for those who want smooth video chatting, Skype, or gaming.

Does TunnelBear work in China?

In short, yes — but not well. Tunnelbear offers a free VPN plan that limits you to 500 MB per month of transfer, which is definitely not much unless you just plan to do emails. On top of that, the service is not very fast and is not optimized to handle the Great Firewall in China.

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 which can be used to unblock Youku from abroad.

What is Shadowsocks and does it work in China?

Shadowsocks is an open source SOCKS5 proxy that allows you do many of the same things that a VPN does. It encrypts and tunnels the internet traffic from your device, allows you to mask your IP, and access blocked websites.

Because Shadowsocks masks its traffic patterns, it is not as easy to detect as other VPN protocols such as OpenVPN. This makes it great for circumventing internet censorship. However, because it operates as a proxy, not all apps or internet traffic coming out of your device will be compatible with Shadowsocks — though most programs will work perfectly fine.

As of 2018, Shadowsocks seems to be working well in China and has not been blocked like OpenVPN. You can even download tools that will let you easily setup your own shadowsocks server to use as your own personal VPN.

How to trade cryptocurrency on Huobi, Binance, OKex in China?

Many of the biggest global cryptocurrency exchange website were blocked in China starting in 2017 (check out our list of blocked cryptocurrency exchanges in China). In order to trade bitcoin, ethereum, and other cryptocurrencies in China, you will either need to

  • use a VPN to access exchange websites,
  • use a decentralized exchange (such as Radar relay),
  • or use a local over the counter solution such as Local Bitcoins.

Does Opera VPN work in China?

Not anymore.

In 2016, the Opera web browser company released a free VPN proxy integrated in the browser as well as free mobile VPN apps for Android and iOS. They were both quickly blocked in China and now the mobile apps have been shutdown by Opera since April 30th, 2018.

Is Reddit Banned in China?

Netizens in China reported August 10th, 2018, that the popular social media website Reddit was censored in mainland China. The censorship of Reddit, the world’s 18th most trafficked website according to Alexa, comes just merely weeks after the BBC also became blocked in China by the so called “Great Firewall”.

Reddit is an anonymous forum posting website and often hosts content or links to content that Chinese censors would find objectionable (political, pornography). However, Reddit curiously remained accessible in China when other websites such as Youtube, Instagram, and Facebook were blocked.

In mid-July 2018, Reddit began rolling out new chatroom features that allowed users to chat in a manner similar to Discord chat or Telegram within individual subreddits. It is likely this new communication feature is what ultimately led to the censorship of the website only weeks later. Most foreign messaging and chat apps such as Whatsapp, Facebook messenger, LINE, and others are blocked in China.

Residents in China wishing to access Reddit and other blocked websites and apps must use VPNs.

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

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

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.

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