If you're planning a visit to China in 2021 (or living there), then you've inevitably heard that downloading a VPN before you go is a very good idea.
That's because the internet censorship in the country - or the 'Great Firewall of China' as it has become known - is among the most restrictive of anywhere in the world. From simply being able to access your favorite sites, services and apps while you're there, to buying Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency, you won't get very far without a working China VPN.
Visitors and residents alike use VPNs in China (and now more and more so in Hong Kong) and they have become invaluable tools to obtain access to restricted online content. And we're not talking about some obscure sites that you wouldn't use anyway - the country has blocked powerhouses like Facebook, YouTube, Google, Twitter and many, many more.
Of course it isn't just about site unblocking. The way that VPNs encrypt all of your internet traffic (and keep no logs of your activity) is a great comfort when you consider how... hands on the Chinese government is. In this article, we’ve picked out five top-notch working China VPNs for your use.
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 from our recommended choices of the best VPN for China.
It really does need to tick all the right boxes. For starters, high quality customer support is a must with China VPNs - it's not uncommon that you'll need some help on hand to direct you to the best servers to use. So make sure your choice has 24/7 live chat service. Also look out for a large range of available servers (particularly those in Asia), reliably fast connection speeds, and tight security and privacy.
Today's top 3 best China VPNs:
1. ExpressVPN - #1 best China VPN
ExpressVPN seems to have servers dotted everywhere, making it a fantastic option for avoiding China's heavy-handed web restrictions. Its connections are really fast as well. It's extremely easy to set up and use, has helpful live chat help on hand 24/7 if required and - simply put - is our favorite VPN of them all.
2. NordVPN - a global VPN powerhouse
When it comes to brand and server coverage, NordVPN leaves most of the competition in its wake. You've probably seen it advertising its high-quality service on TV, podcasts and YouTube, and it has put together a network of over 5,000 servers. Luckily, it has the goods to back that all up, too.
3. Surfshark - a more affordable option
Don't like the idea of shelling out too much on your new China VPN? Then you'll welcome Surfshark's inclusion in our countdown - it really undercuts the rest thanks to pricing as low as $2.50 USD per month. But that doesn't mean you have to compromise on quality.
The 5 best working VPNs for China 2021:
The best China VPN 2021 - Get 3 months free with an annual plan
ExpressVPN is one of the most popular VPNs to use in China, and it’s a go-to provider for many because it deftly navigates around the Great Firewall. Express'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.
ExpressVPN's ability to get around blocked websites is pretty much peerless, and it can also get you around geo-restrictions that would normally prevent you from watching your preferred Netflix and live sport coverage from home when in China.
The 30-day money-back guarantee at least gives you some fall-back, and the year-long plan provides the best value for money.
Get the best China VPN 2021: get 3 months FREE
You probably get the idea by now...if you need a VPN for your time in China, then ExpressVPN is the best option. It gets even more attractive when you consider that 30-day money-back guarantee and the fact that TechRadar readers can get an extra three months and a free year of secure cloud storage when you sign up for a great value one year subscription.
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 is excellent - 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 30-day money-back guarantee.
Check out NordVPN's pricing and plans
Generally speaking NordVPN has some pretty great pricing and frequently does special offers, too. Like Express, there's a 30-day money back guarantee if you just want to give it a try before you commit to a multi-year subscription.
Largely thanks to its great value price points and user-friendly interface, British Virgin Islands-based Surfshark features high up in many of our VPN buying guides. And it has certainly improved its Firewall of China fighting credentials, too.
Like any good VPN these days, Surfshark has plenty of servers - over 3,000, in fact - making it a great choice for making a location change to an IP address somewhere else on the world. And if that sounds like something that would be complicated to do, fear not...Surfshark is among the best around for keeping things simple and straightforward, with easy-to-follow buttons and instructions like its 'Quick connect' function.
If privacy and security while in China are your major concerns, then Surfshark lives up to that requirement, too. It includes AES-256 encryption and a kill switch in place in case your connection fails, as well as a private DNS and a double VPN hop for additional security.
Perhaps the additional feature that most makes it stand out is when it comes to the provider's protocols. On top of the now standard OpenVPN UDP and TCP, IKEv2 speedier WireGuard options, you can also choose to use the specialist Shadowsocks protocol on Windows and Android that has been designed specifically with China and its restrictions in mind.
Despite the low pricing, Surfshark makes its service available to unlimited simultaneously connected devices. Very impressive value.
High quality VPN with affordable plans
Surfshark might not quite outrank ExpressVPN on sheer quality, but it's still an excellent service and surprisingly affordable too - click through and you'll see that the starting effective monthly price comes in at around $2.50 USD!
In VPN circles, Hotspot Shield is probably best known for its market-leading free version. But it's clearly been putting in the hard yards to improve its premium version, too, and it has managed to get around all the blocking attempts in China.
It may sound like something out of an 80s action film, but Hotspot's 'Catapult Hydra' protocol is one of its MVP features and helps the service perform at an extraordinary speed - even when we tested some of the farthest out server locations. Handy if you're in China but are looking to connect back to the US, UK or pretty much anywhere else it has a server location.
But Hotspot isn't just about speed. It's also gives some of the nicest user experience that we've enjoyed from any China VPN. Whether on desktop or mobile, set up and operation is a breeze, even for VPN newcomers. Although the use of that proprietary protocol does mean that you can't use it on games consoles or certain smart TVs - not that we can imagine you lugging those all the way to China, of course!
As a perk over the above names on this list, Hotspot offers a generous 45-day money back guarantee. Or give that aforementioned free version a go, albeit with far fewer options, data restrictions and only one server to use.
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 owns all of its servers - that's really reassuring as it has full control and doesn't have to pander to the requirements of a third-party owner. There are enough of them to ensure decent, if unspectacular, performance (it has 14 Asia server locations), along with solid support for mobile operating systems and 24/7 live chat for troubleshooting.
VyprVPN has some of the best prices of all the premium VPN services on the market - and they only get better still around key sales seasons. And there's a 30-day money back guarantee to try it out with, as well.
VPN for China FAQ
What is today's best working China VPN
The excellent ExpressVPN is our #1 choice to use in China. It's reliable, fast, secure and ridiculously easy to set up and operate. Its no logging policy was audited in 2020 by PricewaterhouseCoopers, so you can be confident that your identity when surfing the web and streaming in China will be well protected. And no other China VPN matches it for its sheer ability to unlock and get around banned websites and services.
Are VPNs legal in China?
This isn't straightforwardly answered. The very short answer is: no, VPNs are not illegal in China. And that's because business VPNs are an integral part of doing business online these days and so VPN use can't be flatly prohibited.
That said, China talks a big game in terms of banning the use of VPNs for other uses - and you can bet that unblocking the websites listed above would be included. But there have never been any reports of travellers to China being arrested for VPN use while in the country. So unless the government finds a reason to crack down harder on VPN use, it seems that using them there is relatively risk-free right now.
Can you get in trouble for using a VPN in China?
Of course the country isn't happy about the use of VPN software getting around access restrictions to websites and services it has deliberately sought to block.
Although China has enacted a ban against VPNs however, it remains unclear how (or even whether) users will be punished for using the‘unauthorized’ software. And many VPN providers are continuing to sell to people within China regardless.
What sites are blocked in China?
The list of sites and services blocked in China is a veritable who's who of all the internet's biggest names. We've mentioned a few above, but here's a more comprehensive (although far from exhaustive) list:
- Facebook (and Messenger)
- Google Apps (e.g. Calendar, Docs, Hangouts, Maps, etc)
- New York Times
- Wall Street Journal
How to unblock Google, YouTube and more in China
Thankfully, it's really straightforward to use a VPN to unblock websites when you're in China.
If possible, we'd suggest that you get your VPN for China chosen, downloaded and installed before you go there. That way you won't run into any difficulties accessing the websites of the providers themselves. Then get the app or client for the platform you'll be using it on - for example, mobile, desktop, TV streaming device, etc.
After that, it really is easy. Get the VPN client/app open, choose a suitable server location (outside China, of course), and then turn the VPN on. You device will then believe it's in the country that you set for the server, and so your chosen service will no longer be blocked. Pretty clever, eh?