The Best VPN for China - Comparing 22 Providers
In the 21st century, China has become famous (or infamous) for a second "Great Wall", this time in the digital domain. The so-called "Great Firewall" prevents dissidents from voicing their opposition, and the country's citizenry from being exposed to Western influence, but it also blocks numerous websites that are part of most people's everyday life (outside of China, of course). To find out whether one of your favorite sites is blocked, you can consult our Internet censorship checker. Should you want to access any of these websites while visiting or living in China, you'll need a VPN.
VPNs aren't only good for concealing your data traffic and helping you to surf the Internet anonymously, they also make it possible to circumvent restrictions in countries that limit Internet access, such as China. Unfortunately, not every VPN provider has what it takes to bypass the "Great Firewall", so, we've compiled a list of all providers from our sample to let you know which are useful for your next trip to China, and which are better left at home.
Wikipedia is blocked in China because it contains information that casts the ruling Chinese Communist Party in an unfavorable light.
Which VPNs Work in China?
To find out which VPNs are capable of surmounting the "Great Firewall", we used computers based in China. From the 22 providers in our sample, only 6 were able to make a VPN tunnel, however, this should not be taken as conclusive since VPNs are in a constant cat and mouse game with Chinese authorities.
With that said, the providers below demonstrated their ability to help users access websites otherwise blocked and unavailable in China when we tested them:
NordVPN took top spot in our evaluation, combining ease of use with excellent performance and high security. The provider's server network is considerable and all important features, including split tunneling, are offered.
The service is also recommended for your next trip to China, however, you will have to pay attention to a few settings. To create a connection, you'll need to select NordVPN's NordLynx protocol from Settings.
Thankfully, despite being one of the best VPN providers on the market, its prices remain reasonable and fair, with its 2-year subscription, in particular, being a real bargain.
EXPERTE.com's winner, providing an excellent package of features and functionality
Fastest VPN in our speed test
Offers plenty of features, including split tunneling
Has limited protocol options
In our comprehensive VPN evaluation, ExpressVPN came in just behind NordVPN, owing to its high speeds, intuitive user interface, and far-reaching server network of 3,000 servers across 94 countries. In comparison to NordVPN (and most VPNs from our sample). For most areas, NordVPN was slightly better than ExpressVPN or even equal, except in terms of price, where ExpressVPN is considerably more expensive.
Still, ExpressVPN offers what, in our opinion, are the best browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox, since they not only create a proxy connection (like most VPN browser extensions) but also serve as remote controls for the service's desktop client. This guarantees secure, protocol-based connections.
To create a connection from China, you'll need to use ExpressVPN's Lightway protocol. During testing, we were able to connect to VPNs in Singapore and Hong Kong from China, and from there, to the US and Germany. Although far from ideal, we were able to bypass the "Great Firewall's" restrictions.
Has a large server network
Offers an intuitive app
Surfshark, our price-performance winner, might be relatively new to the VPN market, but don't let that fool you. Thanks to its feature-laden applications and low price, the provider has already made quite a name for itself, which will only improve as it continues to expand its already respectable server network. In terms of speed, Surfshark came in second place, directly behind NordVPN.
Although it sounds odd, bringing along the shark on your next trip to China makes sense. The provider even offers a feature for facilitating this called "NoBorders", which makes it possible to circumvent Internet restrictions in general, not only in China. In addition, make sure to activate the Shadowsocks protocol, since many servers won't work with automatic protocol selection enabled.
Offers many features, including split tunneling
Has excellent speeds
Its 2-year subscription is a real bargain
Has not submitted to an independent security audit since 2018
Its server network is still growing
Private Internet Access
Private Internet Access impressed us with its sleek and intuitive VPN client which offers plenty of features and customizable settings. In particular, we really liked the ability to personalize the app by adding or removing modules, a feature unique among the providers in our sample.
We were a bit less thrilled with how the provider performed, posting speeds only good enough for 16th place, near the bottom of our sample. In addition, there are some issues with PIA's parent company, which in the past was caught out for infecting its users with malware and adware.
With that said, we have no doubts when it comes to PIA's suitability for deployment in China: To connect to a foreign server from China, all you'll have to do is select the WireGuard protocol.
Has module-based, customizable apps
Is user-friendly and offers a variety of features
Possesses a massive server network (34,000+ servers)
Performed disappointingly during speed testing
Has a dubious parent company
So far as free VPNs are concerned, Windscribe was one of our favorites, in large part owing to its provision of 10 GB of data per month. The software's paid version wasn't all that shabby either, offering up a solid app that puts some interesting features at its users' fingertips, such as "Double Hop" (simultaneously activates two VPN connections) or "Split Personality" (minimizes the risk of browser-fingerprinting).
We were disappointed in how the service performed though, with Windscribe taking a place near the bottom of our speed ranking. Its lack of external audits also wasn't all too well-received, since it means we have to take the service at its word not to collect logs, and we don't like doing that.
Should you want to use Windscribe in China though, you're in luck! Just remember to download and install its client before departure, since you won't be able to download it once in China (that is to say, without a VPN). When connecting, make sure to select the Stealth protocol.
Has an intuitive app offering plenty of features like split tunneling and double hop
Offers affordable subscriptions at flexible prices
Provides a free version with a monthly data limit of 10 GB
Posted comparably slow speeds
Has not submitted to an external audit
Like Windscribe, Hotspot Shield also made it onto our list of the best free VPNs, offering even more data than its counterpart: Free users receive 500 MB every 24 hours, equating to 15 1/2 GB per month.
Alongside unremarkable speeds and performance, we also took issue with the provider for its overly invasive data collection practices and lack of an external security audit.
Beyond that, Hotspot Shield cut a good figure: Its server network is decent, it offers important features like split tunneling, and we didn't have issues streaming content from abroad when using the service. Connecting from China also worked without issue, even with automatic protocol selection.
Offers user-friendly applications
Provides split tunneling functionality
Has privacy and data collection issues
Has not submitted to any external security audits
How We Tested
To test each service, we purchased a subscription from each provider in our sample, thoroughly evaluating their clients and apps. Each review is divided into six main areas, five of which are scored:
Installation and Features
Here, we looked at the availability and user-friendliness of each VPN, whether for desktops or mobile devices. We also paid attention to how many features are offered and what settings can be configured or modified. A good VPN client or app should be intuitive to use and offer users access to plenty of features.
When it comes to networks, two numbers are important: The number of servers, and the number of locations these are based in. For both, the more, the better.
When examining performance, we took a few different aspects into consideration: In our speed test, we measured each provider over an extended period of time. Beyond that, we also looked at how each performed on a day-to-day basis, for surfing, video streaming, and whether they were able to circumvent the "Great Firewall".
Security and Privacy
In terms of support, we looked for good direct support options (ideally, a live chat) and an equally informative help center containing FAQs, guides, and if possible, video tutorials. For email or ticket support, response times of less than 24 hours translate into good scores.
Should you want to be able to access Google, Netflix, or Facebook during your next trip to China, there's just no getting around a VPN. Unfortunately, not every VPN provider is able to overcome the "Great Firewall", and even some of those that claim to be able to, weren't up to the task when we evaluated them.
As of the time of testing, we enjoyed success with the above six providers, however, this can periodically change as Chinese authorities and censors don't take their jobs lightly. We recommend checking shortly before your trip whether the VPN service you're using is effective in China or not, for example, by checking their user forum or customer reviews.
Which VPNs work in China?
When we evaluated the services from our sample, a total of six were capable of establishing connections from China, namely, NordVPN, ExpressVPN, Surfshark, Private Internet Access, Windscribe, and Hotspot Shield. For most of these, it's necessary to select a specific VPN protocol in order to create a connection and to download and install the provider's client prior to departure.
What is the best VPN to use in China?
NordVPN offers excellent performance, solid apps, and a high degree of security, all of which helped it to achieve first place in our comprehensive evaluation. The service is also highly affordable, offering excellent performance at a low price. Since NordVPN can also bypass the "Great Firewall", in our opinion, it is the best VPN for usage in China.
Why should I use a VPN in China?
The Chinese government has blocked large numbers of online services and websites commonly used by those elsewhere in the world, such as Facebook, Wikipedia, and even Google. To access these sites while in China, you'll need a VPN.
Is it legal to use a VPN in China?
The Chinese government prohibits the use of non-approved VPN services. For that reason, providing a clear legal answer, either way, is difficult. With that said, using a VPN is likely semi-legal. Since we're not aware of any cases of visitors to China being punished, fined, or jailed for using VPNs, given their commonality in the country, it seems that their usage is not prosecuted.
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