China, the land of unprecedented economic growth. Within no time China has become ééone of the biggest world powers. Unfortunately, China is also a country where free internet is not as obvious as here in America or Europe. Anyone who goes to China will notice that sites like Google, Gmail, Facebook, YouTube and Netflix no longer work. Very unfortunate, because this scares off Western tourists, companies and expats.
Happily, there is a solution to bypass these blockages. This solution is quite simple: use a VPN. A VPN is a program that secures your internet connection and allows you to access the internet through a server in another country. Read here how exactly that works and which VPN’s are best suited for use in China.
The three best VPN’s for China
Not all VPN’s work in China. Fortunately, there are some VPN’s that have special features to bypass the Chinese firewall and not be discovered. Often you can also install these VPN’s on your smartphone or tablet, so you can use them freely in China. Below are the three best VPN providers for China. Looking for another? Then check out our VPN comparison tool.
ExpressVPN for China
ExpressVPN is not the cheapest VPN service, but it is ééone of the best for in China. It uses ‘stealth’servers in Hong Kong, which are specially made to bypass the Chinese firewall. Furthermore, ExpressVPN has many servers near China, including in Japan, Malaysiaië and Thailand. This makes it possible to achieve a fast and censorship-free Internet in China as well.
- ExpressVPN uses a kill switch to improve the privacy of its customers. This stops all internet applications as soon as the connection to the VPN is severed. Thus, no information is exposed through an unsecured connection.
- The VPN service also provides DNS leak protection, WebRTC leak protection and OpenVPN encryption with perfect forward secrecy for encrypting your information and ensuring your privacy. It may sound a bit technical, but the bottom line is that you are safe, anonymous and free online, even in China.
NordVPN for China
NordVPN uses another method to bypass the firewall, namely ‘obfsproxy VPN technology’. This is the same robust technology that Tor uses to evade blockages. So you don’t have to worry about privacy with this service.
- NordVPN also uses a kill switch and provides DNS leak protection. NordVPN also has OpenVPN encryption with perfect forward secrecy. However, you do need to connect through a dedicated NordVPN server, as you need to use obfsproxy.
- Another advantage that NordVPN offers for users in China is the provider’s dedicated IP addresses . These are unique IP addresses that are only assigned to ééone user. This is in contrast to normal VPN IP addresses, which are shared by everyone on the same VPN server. This makes VPN users with dedicated IP addresses much harder to detect and block.
VyprVPN for China
VyprVPN uses port selection and ‘stealth technology under the name ‘Chameleon’. This technology is specially made to bypass the Chinese firewall. It makes your encrypted VPN traffic look like regular Internet traffic. This allows for secure and anonymous Internet access from China with VyprVPN.
- The most notable thing about VyprVPN is that it has its entire infrastructure under its own management. So all the servers are under the management of the provider. There are no third parties, which makes for increased speed and better privacy.
- Happily, this VPN provider does keep connection logs, which means it records when you connect to the VPN. Also, P2P traffic (torrenting) is not allowed with Vypr.
China’s great firewall: why does China block websites?
China’s great firewall, also called the ‘golden shield’, is the largest Internet censorship system in the world. Far from all parts of the Internet that are accessible in our own country can be accessed in China. For example, Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and many other websites are blocked by the country. But why? The Chinese government has several reasons for blocking sites. Sometimes it is to ‘protect’ their citizens, sometimes to stop outside competition and sometimes to enforce or ban a certain ideology.
The Chinese government tries to hide content that is seen as dangerous or inappropriate from citizens
This way, they want to influence the way of thinking of their population. At the same time, this protects Chinese companies from competition from abroad. For example, because only the Chinese version of Facebook (WeChat) is accessible, citizens are, as it were, forced to use it instead of a competitor from outside China. Censorship also makes it easier for the government to control the data of Chinese companies.
How does Chinese government censorship work?
China’s firewall consists of a range of technologiesën. This means, for example, easily blocking IP addresses of websites, as well as filtering domain name systems (DNS), URL’s and packets. China s also actively working to block VPN’s. However, there are VPN’s that have found solutions against this, such as the VPN’s in our top 3 above.
- China is a huge country. As a result, it is impossible for the government to view all the internet activity of all its citizens in detail. This means that the firewall is sometimes very inconsistent: a site that is blocked in one province may be accessible in another.
- So the massive firewall is not perfectly sealed. It’s an ongoing cat-and-mouse game between blocked sites and the Chinese authorities. First someone finds a hole in the wall, then China closes this hole and the circle begins again. Still, it is increasingly difficult for Chinese citizens to reach the free Internet.
Gmail, Facebook and YouTube in China
A VPN is a simple and fairly well-known solution to counter Chinese Internet censorship. With a VPN you easily bypass the blockades, because you connect to the Internet through a server outside China. For example, internet traffic is redirected through your own local national Ip.
- The Chinese firewall does not see that you are connecting to Google, only that you are connecting to a local server. This server is just allowed, so the connection is established. China then does not know that you are on Google through that remote server.
- Without a VPN, the Chinese firewall sees that you are trying to visit a site that they have blocked. As soon as you surf to YouTube’s website, you encounter a notice that the site you’re trying to visit is unavailable.
- With a VPN, your data is encrypted and the Chinese firewall will only see that you want to connect to a server in another country. The Chinese firewall will not recognize this as a blocked website and will allow the connection. From that server, you now go to the YouTube website. Because you are going to this website through a remote server, you will not get a notification this time. The website is now wél available.
Are VPN’s legal in China?
Because China blocks VPN’s, you may be wondering if VPN’s are illegal in China. This is gray area. There is no known case yet where someone got in trouble because of VPN use, but China does try to make it as difficult as possible for you to use a VPN. Sites of VPN’s are blocked and the VPN software for Android and iOS is not in the App Stores. In 2015, the phone connection of all VPN users in Xinjiang was disconnected. This connection was not re-established until the VPN software was removed.
Too, as a foreigner, you will run into few problems when using a VPN in China. Although VPN’s that are not approved by the state have recently been banned, this new law has not yet been enforced in practice. In short, there’s nothing to worry about yet, but it’s good to stay abreast of news regarding VPN use in China.
Installing a VPN for China
To install a VPN, you need almost no technical knowledge. You just need to download a file and run it. It works the same as installing a program like Spotify. Installing a VPN on desktop goes as follows:
- Go to the website of your chosen VPN provider, choose a subscription plan and create an account.
- Download the VPN installation file for your operating system, or first log into the website and download the installation file from your account page.
- Execute the installation file and run through the installation wizard.
- Open the VPN software and log in with the account you created.
- Adjust settings to your liking if necessary and choose a server. Note that many VPN’s have specific ways to get the connection working in China. The steps you need to take for this vary from provider to provider.
- Turn on the VPN. This is usually a clear button or switch in the VPN software. Once the VPN is connected, you will enjoy censorship-free internet in China.
Installing a VPN on Android or iOS works pretty much the same, although the software is often in the App Store or Google Play Store. You don’t need to create a second VPN account for this. You can log in to multiple devices with the same account and subscription with most VPN providers. Importantly: the sites of some VPN providers are blocked in China. This means that you cannot download and install the VPN from China. So always make sure you install the VPN before you go to China. A VPN subscription in China can still be tricky.
Chinese alternatives for popular websites
Maybe you don’t want to use a VPN, or you are curious about the Chinese alternatives for Western sites. In fact, China has its own counterpart for almost every well-known, Western site. They have their own search engines, video websites and social media. It is quite interesting to take a look at these. Maybe by using these sites you can even better connect with the locals.
Conclusion about VPN for China
Internet surfing in China is a different experience than internet surfing in America or Europe. Due to government censorship, many well-known websites, such as Facebook and Google, are blocked. With the right VPN, you can still reach these websites. We recommend ExpressVPN, NordVPN and VyprVPN because these VPN providers go out of their way to offer their Chinese users a free internet as well. China has many local online services and social networks that are worth trying out. WeChat, for example, is widely used. Are you going to China for a longer period of time? Make sure you have a good VPN installed on your devices in advance, but don’t forget to try out the local apps.