• A VPN (virtual private network) app is a must have for travellers and expats coming to China.
  • China uses special technology to block most VPN apps from working inside the country.
  • We tested the most popular free VPN apps in China to see which ones are the best.
  • Free VPNs in general are not great for China. Consider for a premium VPN if you are coming to China for more than a couple days.

Our Pick



TunnelBear is one of the few free VPNs that can work in China — but speeds and reliability are not great. The free plan offers 500 MB / month of bandwidth and there are easy to use apps available to download. Read on for our full review.

Get TunnelBear

 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. 

Why you need a VPN for China

A VPN (virtual private network) app can be used to unblock websites in China.

The internet in China is censored and most popular websites and apps are unreachable from within the country (Google, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Twitter, Wikipedia, and others). Every traveller and expat coming to China is advised to get a VPN (virtual private network) app to unblock these apps and websites.


Free VPNs vs Paid VPNs

Most VPN apps require a monthly subscription. A small number of VPNs offer a “freemium” plan which will allow you to use their VPN service with some restrictions such as:

  • monthly bandwidth limits (usually 500 MB)
  • restrictions on server locations

There are a couple VPN services that are completely free, without any restrictions but they tend to get blocked quickly by the Chinese internet filter.


Beware of mysterious Free VPN apps

If you search for “Free VPN” on your smartphone’s app store you are likely to find a number of small VPN companies offering a free service. I would recommend you stay away from these unknown VPN companies.

Stick to reputable VPN companies to be safe.

A VPN works by routing your internet traffic through their own servers. Shady VPN companies have be caught in the past abusing their users data or running botnet software through devices.


After testing virtually all the free VPNs available, these are our top 3 picks for the Best Free VPN for China in 2019:

1. TunnelBear – Trustworthy company, but sometimes blocked in China.

TunnelBear is well known and offers a free VPN that

Pros

  • Works in China (but not always)
  • Apps for mobile and desktop
  • Free plan (500 MB / month data cap)
  • Trustworthy company
  • Can connect 5 devices at the same time
  • Decent amount of server locations

Cons

  • Not always reliable in China

Tunnelbear is a well-known Canadian VPN company (recently bought by McAfee) that offers both a free and premium plan. The free plan has a 500 MB / month data cap, which might be enough for a short stay in China. For longer stays (3+ days), you should probably look into buying a premium VPN subscription.

Overall, the Tunnelbear apps for desktop and mobile (Android and iOS) are simple and easy to install and use. You can select from

The main problem with TunnelBear is it doesn’t work 100% of the time in China. Sometimes the Tunnelbear servers are blocked or very slow. I would only recommend using TunnelBear for very light browsing and email. For streaming and image heavy browsing, get a premium VPN.

2. Lantern – a fast, free, reliable, proxy

Lantern is a proxy that works through your web browser.

Pros

  • Reliable and fast in China
  • Free plan includes 500 MB / month
  • No need to setup an account

Cons

  • Only works for web browsing (it is a proxy, not a VPN)
  • Access to only one server location
  • Works only on Windows, Mac, and Android. No iOS support.

Lantern is a free proxy app that works reliably and with quick speeds in China. However, because it is a proxy app (and not a VPN), it only works to tunnel web browser traffic. This means Lantern cannot unblock apps, only websites. To unblock all internet traffic (including apps) you will need a VPN.

The free plan Lantern offers gives you 500 MB / month and access to a single server location. There is no need to setup an account.

3. ProtonVPN – free and private

ProtonVPN comes from the makers of ProtonMail, a popular encrypted email service.

Pros

  • Free unlimited data plan
  • Connect 1 device
  • Trustworthy company with dedication to privacy
  • Apps for Windows, macOS, Android, iOS and Linux
  • Dedicated China connection method

Cons

  • Access to only 7 server locations

ProtonVPN is one of the few free and unlimited bandwidth VPNs out there. The VPN app comes from the makers of ProtonMail, which is a well-known free encrypted email service — so it seems the company is somewhat trustworthy and dedicated to privacy.

Unfortunately, the ProtonVPN normal servers often get blocked by China’s “Great Firewall”. The good news is you can contact the ProtonVPN support team to get access to a “secret” connection method specifically for China users.

ProtonVPN only allows you to connect one device at the same time on the free plan and access seven server locations. It has custom apps on all major mobile and desktop platforms, even Linux.

ProtonVPN is one of the only free, unlimited bandwidth, and trustworthy VPNs that will work in China, so it never hurts to download it before you arrive.


Lifehack: Free VPN Trials

Want a fast premium VPN service but don’t want to pay? Some premium VPN companies offer free VPN trials or 30-day money back guarantees. If you are staying in China for a short period of time, you can sign up and request a refund if before the trial period if you don’t find it useful anymore.

These VPNs work great in China and also offer free trials or money back guarantees:

  1. ExpressVPN: Our #1 Pick, very popular in China with fast and reliable speeds. Offers a 30-day money back guarantee.
  2. Astrill VPN: Good speeds, works in China. Has a 7-day free trial.
  3. VypyVPN: Chameleon protocol mode works in China. Has a 30-day cancellation period..
  4. NordVPN: Has obfuscated servers that can mask VPN connections from getting blocked in China. Offers a 30-day money back guarantee.

Check out our Best VPNs for China Guide for more in-depth reviews.

Top Premium VPNs for China (paid)



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 5 Devices
  • Protocols: PPTP, OpenVPN, L2TP, IPsec
  • Supports Mac Os / iOs/ Windows / Android / Linux
  • 1500 servers in 94 countries (Choose Los Angeles 2 or4 , HK 4, 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

Conclusion: Free can’t hurt, but consider a premium VPN for China

There’s no perfect free VPN for China. Free VPNs are frequently targeted by the Great Firewall of China and either blocked or speed-throttled. Bandwidth caps on free plans make them useless for trips to China lasting more than a couple days.

For those more serious about staying connected to the uncensored web while in China. We highly recommend getting a premium VPN that has the technology and support to consistently bypass the censorship in China — with fast speeds.

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