China has the most heavily censored internet in the world. You really need a VPN if you live there or are just visiting, otherwise you won’t be able to use Google, Twitter, WhatsApp, and many more websites and apps.
You will also need to use a VPN if you want to keep your online activity private and hidden from Chinese state surveillance.
These VPN providers will unblock your favorite websites and apps, and they will also hide your web activity from the Chinese government.
Remember to set up your VPN before you travel. You likely won’t be able to download and install a VPN while in China as most VPN websites are blocked and VPN apps have been removed from the country’s app stores.
Here a quick sneak peek of our top three VPN choices for China before we go into more detail:
The Most Important Factors When We Review a VPN for China
- Does it actually work in China
- VPN servers in nearby countries
- Fast download (and upload speeds)
- Strong privacy & security features
- No logs & no IP, DNS & WebRTC leaks
- Ease-of-use & customer support
Wondering why you should trust our reviews? Take a look at How We Test VPNs
See More Information on the Top 5 Best VPN Services for China
Do I Really Need a VPN in China?
Yes, you definitely need a VPN if you want to get online when in China. Why? Because most popular (Western) websites and apps are banned and blocked by the Chinese government, which has even started restricting VPN providers themselves.
The constant intrusive monitoring of web users in China is also a problem. If you don’t want the Chinese government to see and record what you’re doing online, then using a VPN is vital.
To use a VPN in China, it’s best to download the VPN app and set it up before you travel there, as many VPN websites are now blocked. Most VPN apps have now also been removed from the iOS App Store, and the Google Play Store is not available in China either.
You should also ask your VPN provider’s customer support (before you travel) which VPN servers they recommend connecting to from China.
What is the Great Firewall of China (GFW)?
The ‘Great Firewall of China’ (or GFW) is the nickname given to China’s internet censorship system, through legislation and filtering technologies.
It gives Chinese authorities the power to monitor and restrict internet access to anyone based in mainland China (Hong Kong and Macau are exempt).
The GFW uses a combination of methods to block websites and apps:
1. IP blocking – blocking IP addresses that resolve to URLs (websites)
2. DNS cache poisoning, or DNS spoofing – to divert traffic from one website to another, which practically blocks you from accessing your desired website or app.
3. Keyword & URL filtering – scanning websites and URLs for specific terms
4. Deep packet inspection (DPI) – the inspection of headers in data packets to detect the destination IP address (website)
5. Manual actions – Chinese authorities employ thousands of workers to censor forbidden content
What Websites & Apps Are Blocked in China?
Many of the most popular websites and apps in the world are blocked in China, for example:
Google (Gmail, Google Maps & all other Google services – blocked since 2014)
YouTube (blocked since 2011)
Facebook (blocked since 2009)
Twitter (blocked since 2009)
Instagram (blocked since 2014)
WhatsApp (blocked since 2017)
Skype (blocked since 2017)
Pinterest (blocked since 2017)
Are VPNs Legal in China?
VPNs are not illegal in China, but only government approved VPNs are allowed. VPN services have to gain strict approval from the Chinese Communist Party before they can operate.
This often involves agreeing to conditions that undermine the purpose of a VPN such as logging and sharing user data with local authorities, rendering the VPN pointless when it comes to privacy.
Using a VPN “without authorization” can result in fines of up to 15,000 yuan (approximately $2,200), although so far it seems to affect Chinese nationals rather than foreigners.
If you choose a legitimate, trusted, and safe VPN for China – like ExpressVPN – it’s highly unlikely that you’ll get into trouble for using it.
Can I Use a Free VPN in China?
In fact, we investigated some of the most popular free VPNs on the market and discovered that many have very questionable links to China.
If you want to use the Internet reliably from mainland China, a free VPN is definitely not a good choice. You’re best paying a small monthly fee for a reliable VPN service, one that has obfuscation technology to beat the Great Firewall, like ExpressVPN or Astrill.
How to Install and Set up a VPN for China
It’s very important to install a VPN before you arrive in China. Most VPN apps aren’t available from Chinese app stores, and VPN websites are blocked.
In order to install your VPN, you will need to sign up to a subscription and create an account. Make sure that the VPN is known to work in China before buying it – our VPN recommendations above are a good place to start.
Before you get started setting up the VPN, ask customer support if the custom apps work in China
or if you need to manually configure the VPN on each of your devices instead.
If manual configuration is needed, follow the VPN service’s instructions carefully as it will differ from provider to provider.
If the VPN apps work in China with no manual configuration, simply download the relevant software for your device from the ‘Downloads’ page on the VPN provider’s website. The best VPNs for China will have custom VPN apps for at least Windows, MacOS, Android, and iOS.
Once you’ve downloaded the software, follow the installation instructions and log into the app with your login details.
Once you’re in China, we recommend you connect to nearby servers – Hong Kong and Japan are popular VPN server locations – as these will provide the fastest speeds. Once you’ve selected your chosen server, click/tap connect.
What to Do If Your VPN Is Not Working in China
Sometimes even the best VPNs with the most effective stealth technology stop working in China, depending on how aggressive the Chinese censors are at that moment in time.
Your VPN may stop working after a recent crackdown by the Chinese government.
When this happens, there are a few things you can try to get back online:
1. Try connecting to a different VPN server
2. Change the VPN protocol
By directing your VPN traffic through port 433, which is typically used for encrypted communications, you may be able to get your VPN connection back up, but it’s not guaranteed.
If none of the above suggestions work, you will have to get in touch with your provider’s customer support, which will be tricky to do as many VPN websites are inaccessible in China without a working VPN.
It’s a good idea to have a back-up VPN that comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee so that you will never be without a safe, secure, and reliable VPN connection.
Which VPNs Don't Work in China?
Since China started cracking down on VPN services, the majority of VPN apps don’t work in China. Even some of the top-rated VPN services don’t come with the tools necessary for beating the Great Chinese Firewall’s censors.
Here are some VPN services that don’t work well in China:
If a VPN service doesn’t come with obfuscation tools or stealth protocols, it’s unlikely to get past the Chinese censors.
How Can I Get a Chinese IP Address?
If you are looking to use a VPN to connect into China there are a handful of VPN providers with virtual servers that will give you a Chinese IP address: PureVPN, Ivacy, HideMyAss!, and Hotspot Shield.
These VPN servers are not physically located in China but do assign you a Chinese IP, which will make it seem as if you’re located in mainland China.
To change your IP to a Chinese one, simple select the ‘China’ server and click connect.
By using a VPN to connect into China, you will be able to access popular Chinese streaming websites such as Youku.com, Tudou.com and tv.Sohu.com.
Can I Access Blocked Websites in China Without a VPN?
Yes, but not reliably (or safely).
There are some ways that you may be able to access blocked websites and apps in China without a VPN, we wouldn’t recommend them. Most alternatives do not protect your privacy, and they aren’t guaranteed to work.
One option is to use a proxy server, which is used to spoof your IP address but doesn’t encrypt internet traffic. This means that your ISP – or the Chinese government – will be able to log what you’re doing online.
Some websites release mirrors of their sites that have been blocked by the Great Firewall so that those in China can still access their content. However, these mirror sites tend to get blocked soon after too, making it a very unreliable option for those in China.
The third option is to use Tor, a free software that anonymizes your browsing by randomly routing your internet traffic through a network of servers.
While Tor is a safer option than using proxy servers or mirror websites, it comes with some major disadvantages. Firstly, accessing the web through Tor is very slow – much slower than a good VPN. Secondly, China actively blocks access to Tor, so it might not always work to access blocked websites.
Does Tor Work in China?
The Great Firewall of China actively blocks access to Tor, and many users report that it rarely works in the country.
You need to use a reliable VPN service to bypass censorship in China instead – our above VPN recommendations are a good place to start.
Can I Make My Own VPN for China?
It’s possible to set up your own VPN server outside of China – in your home, for example – and use it to access blocked websites while in China.
Connecting to a home VPN server will assign you your home IP, which may unlock banned content such as Google and YouTube.
However, building your own server comes with security risks if you fail to set it up correctly. It’s for those with plenty of tech know-how, and beginners should steer clear.
Connecting to a self-built VPN server might not work to unblock content in China if the VPN server doesn’t use any obfuscation tool. OpenVPN traffic is often blocked by the Chinese censors.
If you are traveling to China, the safest option is to use a trusted third-party (commercial) VPN that comes with the necessary obfuscation tools to get around the Great Firewall.
Do I Need a VPN in Taiwan?
While China still controls Taiwan, internet censorship there is nowhere near as rife. You can access popular sites like YouTube, Facebook, and Google in Taiwan without a VPN.
However, no matter where you are in the world you should still use a VPN.
Using a VPN in Taiwan will help to protect you against hackers stealing your personal information while you connect to public WiFi. It’ll also prevent any third parties from snooping on your online activities.