There's a good reason why China's vast system of online censorship has been branded the ‘Great Firewall’. With online scrutiny from the Chinese authorities seemingly becoming tighter all the time, it's understandable that residents and visitors are looking for other ways to access restricted online content. Almost every major internet service provider is controlled by Chinese authorities.
VPNs - or Virtual Private Networks - have become a commonly used method for the likes of expatriates 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 - or even a free World Cup stream - then downloading a VPN in China is a solid solution.
Although the country routinely campaigns against VPNs, and most recently enacted a ban against VPN services not approved by the government, although it’s not yet clear exactly how this will play out, certainly in terms of whether users will be punished for using an ‘unauthorized’ service. And some VPN providers are continuing to offer the service to people within China.
We’ve picked out five top-notch efforts for your use.
Best all-round VPN for China
Number of servers: 1500+ | Server locations: 148 | IP addresses: 30,000 | Maximum devices supported: 3
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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. The service’s 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 of the service 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:
- Exclusive deal [$6.67 a month], save 49%, 15-months - $99.95
- [$9.99 a month] 6-months - $59.95
- [$12.95 a month] 1-month - $12.95
Best balance of speed and security
Number of servers: 700+ | Server locations: 70+ | IP addresses: 200,000+ | Maximum devices supported: 3-5
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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. However, note that there is some logging with regards to connection times and IP addresses.
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, the service is expensive, but does boast a 30-day refund period and 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:
- [$5 a month] Basic plan, 1-year - $60
- [$9.95 a month] Basic plan, 1-month - $9.95
- [$6.67 a month] Premium plan, 1-year - $80.04
- [$12.95 a month] Premium plan, 1-month - $12.95
Best VPN for streaming services
Number of servers: N/A | Server locations: 42 | IP addresses: N/A | Maximum devices supported: 5
This Hungarian VPN offers a rather enjoyable experience that’s easy to set up. Surprisingly, there is no native mobile support which is a shame, considering you can connect up to five devices simultaneously. Instead, the company offers detailed guides for configuring mobiles manually – although that won’t be ideal for beginners.
There are several servers in Asia which make for reliable and speedy performance, and you get round-the-clock technical support. One of the more interesting features is the refund policy, which is valid for up to 10 hours, 100 sessions or 10GB of bandwidth.
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, with the 12-month plan providing the best value. The packages available are:
Best balance of performance and price
Number of servers: 220 | Server locations: 20 | IP addresses: N/A | Maximum devices supported: 3
AirVPN is a very upfront service with an engaging forum community. That’s not surprising when you find out that it’s operated by ‘activists and hacktivists’ in defence of net neutrality and other online freedoms; laudable causes indeed.
The website lists all the available servers and their current load. The number of server locations is low, admittedly, although seven are located in Asia. Nevertheless, the provider has no problems manoeuvring around geolocation restrictions and China is no exception. The service offers solid and reliable performance, even if signing up and getting going is a bit of a hassle.
AirVPN has reasonably priced plans – five of them, to be exact. A 3-day plan offers a convenient way to try the service out, while the 12-month plan boasts the best value for money. The packages available are:
- [$1.10] 3-days
- [$7.65 a month] 1-month
- [$5.45 a month] 3-months - $16.35
- [$5.45 a month] 6-months - $32.65
- [$4.90 a month] 12-months - $58.80
Most reliable VPN
Number of servers: 682 | Server locations: 46 | IP addresses: N/A | Maximum devices supported: 5
StrongVPN is one of the favourites among visitors and expats in China. It supports the most popular platforms with detailed manual setup instructions for others. This VPN features a decent number of server locations, and has no problems navigating around the Great Firewall, with connections proving reliable and pretty fast to boot.
And if you want security, there’s wide protocol support, up to 2048-bit encryption, along with StrongDNS, the company’s own concoction to protect against DNS leaks. However, there is a limit of two simultaneous device connections which spoils the fun just a little.
StrongVPN offer 24/7 live support which is a nice touch. The plan selection consists of three options to pick from. All come with a 7-day money-back guarantee, with the annual plan clearly offering the best value for money. The packages available are:
How to choose the best VPN service 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 service 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, but at the time of writing, we haven’t received notice from any VPN providers acknowledging that their services will be affected.
- We’ve rounded up the best free VPN services of 2018