A number of reports surfaced in early 2017 regarding a vague statement issued by Chinese internet regulators instructing internet service providers to crackdown on illegal VPN services by April 1st, 2018.

We reported on the “China VPN ban” rumor when the story broke and predicted that VPNs would still work after the deadline. After all, routine VPN service interruptions during annual political meetings in March and October demonstrate that the Chinese government can already easily block VPNs if they wish. The collateral damage of a total VPN ban, completely cutting off individuals, businesses, and researchers from the ex-China internet would be too great.

So a year later, how did our prediction fair? Do VPNs still work in China despite the VPN ban in 2018?

In short, yes! VPNs that worked before the ban deadline still work in China today. We use VPNs in China everyday to unblock websites and apps like Twitter, Facebook, and Google. The “China VPN ban” turned out to be just an empty scare — this time.

A bad year for internet freedom in China

The year did not pass without some VPN casualties, though. In July, 2017, Apple was forced to remove all VPN apps from the Chinese Apple app store, making it very difficult for Chinese residents to circumvent the internet censorship.

In December 2017, a man in China was sentenced to 5 years in jail and fined 500,000 RMB (approximately 75,000 USD) for selling VPN services.

While VPNs use is still tacitly permitted in China, the general trend has been towards more restrictive censorship rather than relaxation.

Which VPNs still work in China in 2018?

The list of VPNs that work in China is small compared to the number of VPNs on the market today. This is because most basic VPNs using standard OpenVPN protocols cannot circumvent the Great Firewall. Special technologies such as “stealth”, SSL tunneling, or obfuscation are needed.

The best VPNs for China will also offer many China optimized servers. These servers are typically based in Hong Kong, Japan, and the West Coast United States and are more closely connected to Chinese ISP servers in China.

Here are some of the VPNs that still work in China after the VPN ban (as of July 2018):

  1. Express VPN
  2. VyprVPN
  3. Astrill

Here is a table comparing the best VPNs for China and their features:



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

If you are planning to come to China, you should remember to signup, download, install, and test your VPN on all your devicesĀ before you arrive. Most VPN websites and the Google Play App store are blocked in China and you will not be able to access them if you arrive without a VPN.

Do free VPNs still work in China?

Most free VPN solutions are blocked in China. While China tacitly permits the use of VPNs, the regulators prefer to discourage the average curious netizen from using VPN services. Blocking free VPNs and forcing users to pay for premium VPN services is a way to prevent mass VPN usage.

Tunnelbear offers a free tier VPN service (limited to 500 MB per month) that can be used in China with varying success.

Beware of downloading random free VPN services. Some free VPNs have been caught abusing user information or exposing users to malware or hacking.

The future of VPNs in China and the decentralized web

Internet censorship seems like it will be with us in China for the foreseeable future and recent developments suggests restrictions will only get worse. However, there are individuals and organizations that are developing solutions that may be able to help more easily circumvent internet censorship.

In March 2018, a Google affiliate, Jigsaw, released an open source software called Outline that allows users to create their own VPNs on a Digital Ocean cloud server in a couple clicks. We tested it and found it easy to setup and delivered decent performance in China.

Several decentralized cryptocurrency projects are also in development that have the potential to disrupt internet censorship:

  • Substratum – a decentralized internet
  • IPFS – a decentralized file storage protocol
  • Brave – a web browser with its own crypto-token has announced that it plans to natively include TOR
  • Mysterium – a decentralized VPN has recently opened up its macOS client software for testing

We will be watching these developments closely. Follow us for more updates!

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