How to use ExpressVPN in China

China's flag overlays laptop screen
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China's ever-growing internet restrictions, called the Great Firewall of China, have paralyzed life on the internet for those in the country, including expats and tourists. With tons of social media platforms banned for good, the need for a China VPN has never been higher.

However, to maintain control and monitor the online activities of its citizens, only government-approved VPNs are accepted in China and these services aren't up to scratch as they'll log your activities and submit them to Chinese authorities. So, in order to access a free and unfettered internet, you'll need the help of a high-quality VPN that doesn't bow down to China's excessive control – and ExpressVPN is one of the best VPNs available.

ExpressVPN has automatic obfuscation across its server network that conceals the fact that you're using a VPN, solid AES-256 encryption that helps you discreetly visit blocked sites, and plenty of servers near China that'll keep your browsing sessions nice and speedy. Here's how to get started.

How to use ExpressVPN in China

TechRadar VPN's editor-in-chief, Andreas Theodorou, recently visited the ExpressVPN office in Singapore to talk to the team about how the service works in China and the challenges posed by the country's notorious censorship.

We were happy to learn that a lot of ExpressVPN engineers work and live in China, and have their finger on the pulse when it comes to new restrictions, blackouts, and censorship spikes. The ExpressVPN team recommends tweaking your VPN settings to use the automated VPN protocol. This will ensure that ExpressVPN automatically connects you to a server whenever your device is on and, luckily, it's easy to do. Just open the Options menu, select Protocol, and then Automatic.

One of the most important things to keep in mind when it comes to using ExpressVPN in China is that the ExpressVPN website is blocked in the country. It's unlikely you'll find the app on any app store, either. So, if you're heading to China for one reason or another, you'll need to sign up before you step on the plane.

That's probably the only quibble to take note of. Once you've set up ExpressVPN on your devices (up to 8 simultaneous connections allowed), there's no complicated process or fiddling around. All you have to do is connect to a server and go about your online activities as you normally would.

Why choose ExpressVPN?

ExpressVPN is a incredibly well-rounded service that excels in all sorts of areas, including:

  • Servers: ExpressVPN has servers in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Mongolia, and Japan, so folks in China have plenty of choice when it comes to picking a nearby server. There are no ExpressVPN servers in China, however, and while this may sound like a negative, it's actually the opposite, as it allows the VPN to avoid China's mandate, which requires all VPN companies to track and store their users' online movements.
  • Security: ExpressVPN's advanced obfuscation conceals the fact that you're using a VPN by disguising your encrypted data as normal traffic. It does this automatically, letting you use the VPN on restrictive networks, meaning Chinese authorities can't stop you from accessing banned content. Plus, its kill switch and leak protection further ensure that your online activities stay anonymous.
  • Speed: although our recent test results suggest that ExpressVPN's performance has dipped, 410 Mbps is still fast enough to keep up with HD streaming, torrenting, and online gaming.
  • Unblocking power: with servers in a whopping 105 countries, ExpressVPN boasts one of the largest networks, allowing you access to streaming content from all over the world. This includes geo-restricted libraries on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus, BBC iPlayer, 9Now, 10 Play, and loads more.
  • Apps/ease of use: ExpressVPN has beginner-friendly apps for a wide variety of platforms. The VPN handles setup configurations for you, so all you have to do to secure your online presence in China is click the big on/off button on the VPN app's home screen.


What restrictions are in place in China?

The Chinese government enforces a deliberately vague mandate prohibiting access to "divisive" or "corrupting" content, which basically means that they get to pick and choose what people can do online and silence political dissenters.

Which sites are blocked in China?

China has one of the strictest online internet censorship systems in the world, covering a wide range of websites and apps. These include social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, and YouTube and streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Amazon, Twitch, and Spotify. Moreover, search engines (Google and Bing, for example) and messaging services (WhatsApp, Skype, Slack) are heavily restricted, too.

Is it legal to use a VPN in China?

It's not illegal to use a VPN in China, but the Chinese government has strict rules in place for VPN usage. Only VPNs that follow China's internet censorship and regulation system "The Great Firewall of China" and have been approved by the Chinese authorities are officially available for use.

However, "government-approved" VPNs are mostly unreliable because they can be ordered by the authorities to store and produce user data. ExpressVPN prioritizes real privacy and security and has therefore not been approved by China.

It's also worth noting that while a 1,000 Yuan (approximately $140) fine was issued to an individual in 2019 for using a VPN, instances of punishment for being caught using an unapproved VPN in China are very rare.

Krishi covers buying guides and how-to's related to software, online tools, and tech products here at TechRadar. Over at Tom's Guide, he writes exclusively on VPN services. You can also find his work on Techopedia and The Tech Report. As a tech fanatic, Krishi also loves writing about the latest happenings in the world of cybersecurity, AI, and software.