The 'Great Firewall of China'. That's what the aggressive state blocking of certain websites by the China government has become known as. And if you've had to travel to the country in the last few years - either for work or leisure - you'll be well aware of how tight the state keeps its internet.
In fact, online scrutiny seems to be getting tighter and tighter every week. That's why getting the best VPN has become invaluable for residents and visitors to obtain access to restricted online content.
The use of a VPN - or Virtual Private Network - has become a more and more commonly used method for expats and those in academic circles in China to get around the state's very strict policies regarding online content. So if you're looking to access a restricted website then downloading a VPN in China is a solid solution.
Of course the country isn't happy about the use of VPN software, enacting a ban last year - although it remains unclear how (or indeed, whether) users will be punished for using an ‘unauthorized’ software. But many VPN providers are continuing to sell to people within China and we’ve picked out five top-notch efforts for your use.
Best all-round VPN for China
Number of servers: 3000+ | Server locations: 160 | IP addresses: 30,000 | Maximum devices supported: 3
Best China VPN 2019 - Get 3 months free with an annual plan
ExpressVPN is one of the most popular VPNs in China, and it’s a go-to provider for many because it deftly navigates around the Great Firewall. Express' wide array of server locations is a big plus, with Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan-based servers being especially relevant in this case.
ExpressVPN offers consistent and reliable performance, with smart dedicated apps for most devices including routers. For any trouble that might occur, there’s round-the-clock live chat and email support available from China (the website is not blocked).
This provider actively monitors its network for China accessibility and ensures that its software stays ahead of the censors’ efforts to block connections. Under the hood, ExpressVPN uses obfuscation protocols and advanced technology to provide the best possible experience for users in China.
There’s no free trial and the pricing isn’t cheap. Still, the 30-day money-back guarantee at least gives you some fall-back, and the year-long plan provides the best value for money. The packages available are:
Get the best China VPN 2019: $6.67 per month (with 3 months FREE)
You can tell that we really rate Express - it's the VPN we'd choose if we were getting one! And the good news is that TechRadar readers can get a little perk, too. ExpressVPN has agreed to give readers three months extra free when you sign up. Here are its plans and prices in full:
- [$6.67 a month], save 49%, 12-months (plus 3 free) - $99.95
- [$9.99 a month] 6-month - $59.95
- [$12.95 a month] 1-month - $12.95
Dedicated to bypassing the Great Firewall
Number of servers: 5300+ | Server locations: 62 | IP addresses: N/A | Maximum devices supported: 6
NordVPN has dedicated an entire team to the pursuit of getting around website blocking in countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran and, yes, China. It actively monitors connectivity and then works to carry out any necessary actions to bypass any new blocks.
It's that kind of commitment to bypassing the Great Firewall that makes Nord such an attractive option. It has obfuscated servers in nearby territories such as Japan and Hong Kong, with its Double VPN feature for further anonymity still available in Taiwan. Those local servers should mean more stability and speed when you're logging in from China.
Live chat support isn't as available as with some other VPNs, but query submissions online are answered pretty quickly. Handy if you run in to any problems. And if you're still a bit unsure about whether NordVPN is right for you, there's a free 7-day trial in addition to a 30-day money-back guarantee. The packages available are:
Great balance of speed and security
Number of servers: 700+ | Server locations: 70+ | IP addresses: 200,000+ | Maximum devices supported: 5
One of the main advantages of VyprVPN is its proprietary Chameleon security protocol which can help bypass VPN blocking, scrambling OpenVPN packet metadata to ensure it’s safe from the tendrils of deep packet inspection.
VyprVPN is a tier-1 VPN network, which means the outfit owns all of its servers. There are enough of them to ensure good performance (14 are located in Asia), along with solid support for mobile operating systems, and 24/7 live chat for troubleshooting.
The much-praised Chameleon protocol is excluded from the basic plan, which offers three simultaneous connections. On top of that, it is expensive, and there is no refund, but you do have a three-day trial. Despite the cost, what’s on offer here could well be worth paying for – your best bet is the annual Premium plan to make sure you get the benefit from Chameleon, and save the most money. The packages available are:
- Basic: $9.95 monthly or $3.75 per month billed annually
- Premium: $12.95 monthly or $5.00 per month billed annually
Optimised for China
Number of servers: 2,000+ | Server locations: 180+ | IP addresses: 300,000+ | Maximum devices supported: 5
PureVPN is a relatively old head in the VPN game, and so it's no surprise to see that it's ahead of the game when it comes to China. It's built up an alarming number of servers over the years (there are 120 servers in Asia, four of them in China), that you can use across five of your or your family's chosen devices.
PureVPN takes the 'VPN for dummies' approach to its user interface, and we're not complaining. Choosing a Purpose option displays a list of tasks you might want to carry out – among them being optimized for China. It takes the pain out of trying to work out how to get connected. It's well worth experimenting with before you set off on your Asian excursion.
And the support options are similarly focused. Pure has a dedicated 'For Users in China' section on its support pages, with reams of tricks, tips and information for getting the best of the VPN while you're there. That said, good supported is essential with Pure - one of its only downsides is the number of user issues we see reported across the web. At the moment, there is a limited 5-year plan which gives you the absolute best savings. The packages available are:
5. Buffered VPN
Ideal for streaming video and games
Number of servers: N/A | Server locations: 37 | IP addresses: N/A | Maximum devices supported: 5
The Hungarian VPN Buffered offers a rather enjoyable experience that’s easy to set up. The provider has a special version of the application that allows the use in China, but it's only available on desktop clients. While there are dedicated clients for mobile devices, they are missing the above mentioned feature, so there might be issues when trying to use the service in China.
There are several servers in Asia which make for reliable and speedy performance, and you get round-the-clock technical support.
Also handy is the Test Firewall element found in the Windows client. This function allows running a port discovery, which will show all of the available ports on the network a user is connecting through. That certainly helps with getting past the pesky Great Firewall.
Buffered VPN is somewhat expensive, but you do get the 30-day money back guarantee, and the 2-year plan provides the best value. The packages available are:
How to choose the best VPN for China
Dealing with this level of censorship of the net is far from easy, but some VPNs are willing to tackle the problem, having proven methods of maintaining uptime in a difficult online climate. Obviously you need to look for a capable provider in this respect, and pick out a reliable VPN, too.
Choosing one with high quality customer support is also important, for when downtime does rear its ugly head. And obviously the number and range of available servers (particularly those in Asia) will help you obtain a better, faster connection. Tight security and privacy is, as ever, a primary consideration as well.
Note: China’s official ban on VPNs came into effect on March 31 2018, but at the time of writing, we haven’t received notice from any VPN providers acknowledging that their offerings will be affected.
- Want something without paying? These are the best free VPNs (although they may not work in China)