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Best VPN for China: Bypass the Chinese firewall

Last edited: October 15, 2020
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Summary: the Best VPN for China

Going online in China is a wholly different experience compared to going online from any other part of the world. The Chinese government has blocked many websites, making it almost impossible for people within the country’s borders to access these sites.

However, some VPNs allow you to get around this Chinese firewall. Here are the three best VPNs you can use in China to get access to YouTube, Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, Discord, and countless other websites and platforms.

  1. ExpressVPN (has special ‘stealth’ servers)
  2. NordVPN (uses obfuscated servers)
  3. VyprVPN (developed Chameleon technology)

Would you like to know more about China, online restrictions, and the many ways in which a VPN can help you? Read our complete article below to find out more.

China is a country of unprecedented economic growth. In next to no time, China has become one of the worlds largest superpowers. Unfortunately, China is also a country where free internet is not as widely available as it is in the West. Anyone who travels to China will notice that sites like Gmail, Facebook and YouTube are unavailable here. It’s a shame because it scares away Western tourists, businesses and expats. Moreover, Chinese citizens don’t have access to all the information that is out there.

Fortunately, there is a way to bypass the Chinese firewall. The solution is quite simple: Using a VPN. A VPN is a piece of software that protects your internet connection and can connect you to the internet via a server in another country. The latter ensures that the Chinese firewall won’t “detect” that you’re trying to access one of these blocked websites from China. Continue reading to find out exactly how this works and which VPNs are the best choice to use in China.

The top three VPNs for China

There are VPNs that have special features which allow them to bypass the Chinese firewall without being detected. You can often install these VPNs on your smartphone or tablet so that you can use them freely in China. Below you will find an overview of the best VPN providers for China. Looking for more? Check out our VPN comparison tool.

ExpressVPN for China

ExpressVPN is not the cheapest VPN service but it is one of the best for China. It uses stealth servers in Hong Kong which are specifically designed to bypass the firewall. ExpressVPN also has a lot of servers near China – for instance in Japan, Malaysia and Thailand – for a fast, censorship-free internet connection.

ExpressVPN uses a kill switch for the privacy of its customers. This stops all internet applications as soon as the VPN is disconnected. This means that no information will be exposed through an unsecured connection.

The VPN service also provides DNS leak protection, WebRTC leak protection and OpenVPN encryption with perfect forward secrecy to encrypt your information and ensure your privacy. It may sound a little technical, but the bottom line is that you remain safe and anonymous, even in China.

ExpressVPN
Our pick
Our pick
Deal:
3 months for free with a one-year subscription
9.5
  • Very easy to use VPN
  • Perfect for anonymous browsing, downloading, and streaming (i.e. Netflix)
  • 3000+ servers in 94 countries
Visit ExpressVPN

NordVPN for China

NordVPN uses another method to bypass the firewall called ‘Obfsproxy VPN technology’. This is the same robust technology that Tor uses to overcome barriers. With this service, you do not need to worry about privacy.

NordVPN also uses a kill switch and provides DNS leak protection. NordVPN has OpenVPN encryption with perfect forward secrecy. You do have to connect via a special NordVPN server because you have to use Obfsproxy.

Another advantage that NordVPN offers to users in China, are its dedicated IP addresses. These are unique IP addresses which are in use by only one person at a time. To the contrary, normal VPN IP addresses are shared by many users at the same time. This means VPN users with dedicated IP addresses are harder to detect and such harder to block by the Chinese government’s VPN blocks.

NordVPN
Deal:
Only $3.71 a month for a 2-year subscription
9.3
  • Excellent protection and a large network of servers
  • Nice and pleasing application
  • No logs
Visit NordVPN

VyprVPN for China

VyprVPN uses port selection and stealth technology called ‘Chameleon’. This technology is specifically designed to bypass the firewall. It makes your encrypted VPN traffic look like regular internet traffic.

The most striking thing about this VPN service is that it has full control of its entire infrastructure. There are no third parties which increases both speed and privacy. Disadvantages are that connection logs are kept (when you connect to the VPN) and that P2P (torrenting) is not allowed.

VyprVPN
8.0
  • Quick servers for a good price
  • Netflix and torrenting possible
  • Special "Chameleon" technology to protect your data
Visit VyprVPN

The Great Firewall of China: Why is China blocking websites?

China with Lock

The Great Firewall of China, also known as the ‘Golden Shield’ is the largest internet censorship system in the world. Not all parts of the internet which you can easily access in the U.S. and other countries are also accessible in China. Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and many other websites are blocked. But why?

The Chinese government has several reasons to block websites. Sometimes these involve “protecting” their citizens, or protecting Chinese companies against foreign competition. Furthermore, censorship is also used to spread or block certain ideologies in China.

By blocking certain websites, the Chinese government is trying to protect its citizens from content that it considers dangerous or inappropriate. Moreover, this means that Chinese companies are also protected against competition from abroad. For example, as citizens are only able to access the Chinese version of Facebook (WeChat), they are forced to use that rather than a competitor from outside China. It also makes it easier for the government to check the data of Chinese companies and citizens.

How does the Chinese censorship apparatus work?

China’s great firewall consists of a variety of technologies. This involves blocking IP addresses of websites, as well as filtering Domain Name Systems (DNS), URLs and packages. China is also actively blocking VPNs. However, certain VPN providers such as the three listed above, have found ways around this.

China is a huge country, so it is impossible for the government to keep an eye on all the internet activity of its citizens in detail. As a result, the firewall can be very inconsistent: A site that is blocked in one province might be accessible in another.

This means that the enormous firewall is not perfectly secured. It is an ongoing game of cat and mouse between blocked sites and the Chinese authorities. First, someone finds a hole in the firewall, then China closes this hole and starts the circle again. Despite this however, it is getting increasingly difficult for Chinese citizens to get free access to the internet.

Which websites are blocked in China?

It’s a nuisance at best for both Chinese citizens and foreign visitors, not having access to a free and complete version of the internet.

The table below contains an overview of popular websites which are blocked in China. We do not mention all the sites that are blocked (that list is simply far too long), but we provide you with some well-known and commonly used blocked sites.

BLOCKED SITE  BLOCKED SINCE 
Chinese Wikipedia (part) May 2015
Discord July 2018
Dropbox June 2014
DuckDuckGo September 2014
Facebook July 2009
Flickr July 2014
Google (Maps, Docs, Gmail etc.) May 2014
HBO June 2018
Instagram September 2014
Microsoft OneDrive July 2014
Netflix Unknown
Pinterest March 2017
Pornhub May 2012
Reddit August 2018
SlideShare Unknown
The Pirate Bay February 2012
Tinder Unknown
Torproject 2008
Twitch.tv September 2018
Twitter June 2009
Vimeo Oktober 2009
WhatsApp September 2017
YouTube March 2009

Gmail, Facebook and YouTube in China

A VPN is a simple and fairly well-known solution to counter Chinese internet censorship. With a VPN, you can easily bypass the barriers as it connects you to the internet via a server located outside of China. Internet traffic can be diverted via Germany, for example.

The Chinese firewall can only see that you are connecting to a German server, and not that you are connecting to Google. This server is permitted, so your connection can be created. China does not know that you are actually using Google via that external server. It can be difficult to understand precisely how a VPN works, but it generally works as follows:

Accessing YouTube from China without a VPN

Youtube in China without a PVN

Without a VPN, the Chinese firewall sees that you are trying to access a site which they have blocked. You will get a message saying that the site you are trying to visit is not accessible.

Accessing YouTube from China with a VPN

Youtube China with a VPN

With a VPN, your data will be encrypted and the Chinese firewall will only see that you want to connect to a server in another country. The Chinese firewall does not recognize this as a blocked website and will allow the connection. The site you are trying to visit will now be accessible.

Because China blocks VPNs, you may wonder whether VPNs are illegal in China. This is a bit of a grey area. As of yet, there have been no reported cases of anyone getting in trouble for using a VPN, but China is trying to make it as difficult as possible to use a VPN. VPN sites are blocked and the VPN software for Android and iOS is not available in the App Stores. In 2015, the phone connections of all VPN users in Xinjiang were disconnected. This connection was not restored until the VPN software was removed. However, this was a one-off.

As a foreigner, you will encounter very few problems if you use a VPN in China. Although VPNs which have not been approved by the state have recently been banned in China, nothing has yet been done about this. In short: There is nothing to worry about yet, but it is a good idea to keep up to date with news about VPN usage in China.

Installing a VPN for China

You need virtually no technical knowledge to install a VPN. You can install a VPN simply by downloading a file and running it. It works the same as installing Spotify, for example. Install a VPN on your desktop using this step-by-step guide:

Installing VPN Step by Step Desktop

  1. Go to the website of your chosen VPN provide, select a subscription and create an account.
  2. Download the VPN installer file for your operating system or log in to the website and download the installation file from your account page.
  3. Run the installation wizard from the downloaded file.
  4. Open the VPN app and login with your account information.
  5. If needed, customize your settings and choose a server. Do note that VPN providers have different ways of ensuring a successful connection in China. You might have to look into the exact steps to be taken.
  6. Turn on the VPN. There is usually an obvious button or switch in the VPN software. Once the VPN is connected, you can enjoy censorship-free internet in China

On Android or iOS this works pretty much the same, but you can just download the software from the App Store or Google Play. It is also useful that you do not need to have a separate account for each device. You can install your VPN on all your devices and you only need one account and subscription to log in.

Please note: Some VPN provider sites are blocked in China. This means that you cannot download and install the VPN while in China. So always make sure to install the VPN before you go to China. It may be difficult to terminate a VPN subscription from China.

Chinese alternatives to Western sites

Maybe you do not want to use a VPN or you are curious about the Chinese alternatives to Western sites. China has its own counterpart for almost every well-known Western site. They have their own search engines, video websites and social media. It’s kind of interesting to see. Perhaps you can even connect better with the locals by using these sites.

WeChat is particularly popular in China. It is used for almost anything and you would really lose out if you are in China for a long time and don’t use it. In any case, the table below shows some common Western sites and services alongside their Chinese counterpart. It is not always just a ban. Sometimes there are other reasons why sites work well in the West but not in China (such as competition, legislation, etc.).

COMMON SITE OR SERVICE  CHINESE ALTERNATIVE 
Facebook WeChat*, QQ
Google Bing, Google.cn (doesn’t always work), Baidu
Google Maps Google.cn, Baidu Maps, Open Street Map, Mapquest
News sites  Quartz, Asia Times, China Daily, The Diplomat, South China Morning Post
Online shopping websites Taobao, Tmall
Pinterest Woxihuan
Resteraunt review sites  Dianping
Tinder Tantan
Twitter Weibo
Uber DiDi, Mobike (for bikes)
YouTube Youko Tudou, Bilibili

*Comparing WeChat (Weixin) to Facebook really doesn’t do it any justice. WeChat is much bigger and is used for many more purposes. It’s a kind of mega platform consisting of Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, Uber, Apple Pay and more. You can ask questions, order a taxi, pay at restaurants, and so on. The Chinese use it for almost anything and it is therefore highly recommended that you have a look at it and use it if you are going to be in China for a long time.

There are also some Chinese sites and services that we actually have no alternative for. One example of this is Douban. Douban is a combination of IMDb, Spotify, SoundCloud and Myspace. It is a meeting place for all kinds of cultural interests such as films and music.

Conclusion

Using the internet in China is a completely different experience from going online in most other countries. Due to government censorship, many popular websites and apps, such as Facebook and Google, are blocked. However, with the right VPN you can get access to these blocked websites. We recommend ExpressVPN, NordVPN and VyprVPN, because these VPN providers are great at ensuring a free internet experience, even in China.

China has a lot of local alternatives to the websites that it blocks, which are definitely worth trying out. WeChat (the most popular social network in China) is very popular for instance. Are you going to China for a significant period? In that case make sure to install a good and reliable VPN on all of your devices, but definitely also make sure to have fun trying some local alternatives to blocked websites!

Best VPN for China: bypass the Chinese firewall - Frequently asked questions

Have you got a question about getting around the Chinese firewall using the right VPN? Have a look at our FAQ below!

Fortunately there’s an easy way to accomplish this: using a VPN. With a VPN you can guide your data traffic out of China and through a server in a foreign country (the US for instance) before connecting to the page you want to visit. As such the Chinese firewall won’t detect that a user located in China wants to visit a blocked website, meaning you get access like you normally would in other countries.

The Chinese government blocks a large number of websites and apps, among which Gmail, Facebook, Whatsapp, Google and the Chinese version of Wikipedia. A much more extensive list of blocked websites and apps you can find here.

There are several reasons for this, but three of these are likely most important: First of, the Chinese government wants to “protect” its citizens against ideas and messages they deem dangerous. Secondly, blocking foreign web shops is an efficient way of protecting Chinese companies from international competitors. Finally, monitoring Chinese websites and apps is a lot easier to do than monitoring foreign websites.

Do you want to know how you can get around the Chinese firewall and get access to blocked services such as Gmail and Facebook? Have a look at this article.

The best VPN for use in China is ExpressVPN. This provider offers fast, stable servers and special technology to get around the Great Chinese Firewall undetected. This way you’ll have a free internet experience without censorship. Learn more about ExpressVPN by reading our extensive review.

Tech journalist
Tove has been working for VPNoverview since 2017 as a journalist covering cybersecurity and privacy developments. Since 2019 she is VPNoverview.com's cybersecurity news coordinator.

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