No matter if you live or plan to head to China soon, in both scenarios we strongly recommend downloading one of the world's best VPNs beforehand. Let's see why.
China is well-known to be the world's country that clamps down the most on what its residents can and cannot access online. Social media platforms, streaming services, news outlets, countless websites: they all are fully or partly censored. Even Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies cannot escape the Great Firewall's muzzle.
All this makes using a VPN for China a real necessity for bypassing these strict geo-restrictions and access all the sites you usually visit. How? That's because it spoofs your real IP location and makes you appear as if you are in an entirely different country in the world in no time.
A China VPN isn't just a circumventing tool, though. It encrypts all the data leaving your device without logging your information. That's really important as Chinese authorities are also infamous for their invasive surveillance practices.
It is worth mentioning that the government is working hard to block the use of such security tools. But, don't worry! Whether you are looking for more internet freedom, better privacy or both, below you can find our recommendations for the best China VPN that still manages to overcome the Great Firewall at ease.
How to choose the best VPN for China
As mentioned before, the Chinese government goes to great lengths to prevent people from bypassing their strict controls. This means that even some of the top VPN providers might struggle to get around the Great Firewall. That's why doing your research early and finding a working VPN for China really pays off.
VPN services with reliable obfuscation technology in place are the best bet you have to escape these blocks. This is indeed a feature that helps to mask the fact you're using a security tool, making your encrypted connection look like normal traffic.
We recommend that you go for a service with a proven reputation and a strict no-logging policy, too. Also look out for a large range of available servers (particularly those in Asia), reliably fast connection speeds, and tight security features.
Finally, 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.
Today's top 3 best China VPNs:
1. ExpressVPN - #1 best China VPN (opens in new tab)
ExpressVPN has servers dotted everywhere, making it a fantastic option for avoiding China's heavy-handed web restrictions. Its connections are really fast as well. It may be a bit more expensive than some of the competition, but it's so easy to set up and use, has helpful live chat help on hand 24/7 and is brilliant at bypassing geo-restrictions, so we think it's well worth the money.
2. NordVPN - a global VPN powerhouse (opens in new tab)
When it comes to brand and server coverage, NordVPN leaves 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 - it's one of the fast services out there, is super strong on security, and you'll be up and running before you know it.
3. Surfshark - affordable and effective (opens in new tab)
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 2023:(opens in new tab)
The best China VPN 2023 - Get 3 months free with an annual plan (opens in new tab)(opens in new tab)
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' wide array of server locations is a big plus, with Hong Kong, Taiwan, Mongolia 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. It has even recently released its very own VPN built-in hardware Aircove for making things even easier. What's more, you will be covered for any trouble that might occur with its speedy 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 China.
ExpressVPN's ability to get around blocked websites is mostly peerless. It can also avoid geo-restrictions that would normally prevent you from watching your preferred Netflix and live sport coverage from home when in China.
Even though its peak speeds dropped a little during our last testing (from 630 to 560Mbps when using its in-house WireGuard-based Lightway), these should be good enough for most users. Plus, you can always try it out yourself with its 30-day money-back guarantee - and, if you decide to commit, the year-long plan provides the best value for money.
Get the best China VPN 2023 with 3 months FREE (opens in new tab)
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 backup when you sign up for a 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.
An exciting new addition is its Meshnet feature. This advanced option allows you to connect yours and other devices via encrypted NordVPN connections so that you can create your own secure network. That's perfect for those working in China that want to protect their workloads across multiple devices.
Nord also boasts a great unblocking record — it unlocked basically every platform last time we checked. This makes it ideal as a reliable streaming VPN, too. What's more, its top speeds experienced a boost this time around, reaching 820Mbps with WireGuard and 470Mbps with OpenVPN.
Live chat support is excellent - handy if you run into 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.
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Largely thanks to its great value price points and user-friendly interface, Surfshark features high 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 3,200, in fact — making it a great choice for a location change to an IP address somewhere else in the world. And if that sounds like something that would be complicated to do, fear not! Surfshark is among the best for keeping things simple and straightforward thanks to its 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, a private DNS and a double VPN hop for additional security. It is worth noting, though, that we found its kill switch leaking under some extreme situations. However, this occurred across its Windows apps only. So, all good if you use it on mobile or as a secure Mac VPN.
It was also the fastest VPN when using its WireGuard protocol this time, with staggering peaks of 950Mbps. Its unblocking power was quite impressive, too. From Netflix and Hulu to iPlayer and Disney+, we managed to access virtually all the streaming platforms on the market.
Despite the low pricing, Surfshark makes its service available to unlimited simultaneously connected devices. Very impressive value. Again, you have 30 days to decide if that's the best service for your needs.
To be frank, we don't tend to recommend Astrill VPN in many of our VPN guides - it's expensive, offers relatively basic mobile VPN apps and doesn't have a good track record when it comes to accessing overseas streaming services.
But if you're just looking for a VPN for China that will let you access the sites you want and protect your online identity from government eyes, then Astrill VPN could be worth splashing out on.
The tool in particular that makes it a good fit for this list is its StealthVPN function, here called Smart Mode. It claims to offer an additional encryption layer on top of OpenVPN that endeavors to make your connections even more secure and hard to identify and block by firewalls. In theory, that should mean you're more likely to take a fully encrypted leap over the Great Firewall of China.
In terms of privacy, Astrill shows a clear commitment to transparency by thoroughly describing its no-logging procedures and what the firm really does to protect your data. The only downside is that it might need to collect your phone number and address, depending on your payment method.
Team that with its multi-hop VPN technology and the ability to configure its Windows VPN client fully to your needs, and you have a service that should serve you very well indeed in countries, like China, that are heavy-handed on their web censorship.
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You won't certainly lack of network coverage as it currently boasts over 10,000 servers across 84 countries. Notably are those located in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Mongolia and Japan. It now even has virtual locations in China, too. So, reliability and speed connections will not be much of a problem here.
In terms of feature, you won't be disappointed, either. PIA offers a good choice of security protocols (including WireGuard), an excellent kill switch, browser extensions with extra privacy perks, open-source apps and a live chat support service. It actually prides itself to be a VPN well-suited for both everyday users and IT experts due to its highly customizable features.
A recently added SmartDNS feature together with an effective implementation of obfuscation technology will allow you to easily bypass online censorship and streaming geo-restrictions, too. During our testing, it successfully unlocked US Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+. Unfortunately, though, it failed to do so with 10Play and some other foreign Netflix catalogs.
Even though it isn't the fastest VPN around, its peaks raised from 450 to 510Mbps with WireGuard last time we checked. The provider has also undergone an independent audit on its no-logging policy, while a full security check is on its way.
VPN for China FAQ
What is today's best working China VPN
The excellent ExpressVPN is our #1 choice (opens in new tab) to use in China. It's reliable, fast, secure and ridiculously easy to set up and operate. Its no logging policy has been audited 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 travelers 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. Your 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, allowing you to watch UK TV abroad, for instance, or unblock YouTube. Pretty clever, eh?