Best VPN for China

Having lived in China for five years, I have needed a VPN to keep in contact with people via social media, read the news back home and do research for this blog.

I have used many different VPNs over the years and have finally settled on one which suits my needs. The right VPN for you may not be the right one for me though, so let’s take a look at the options and find the best VPN for China.

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AstrillVPN

ExpressVPN
NordVPN


What is a VPN?

A VPN is a Virtual Private Network, which allows you to mask your IP address by linking to different proxy servers around the world in order to access websites banned in certain countries. HowtoGeek explain in more detail in their article “What is a VPN and Why Would I Need One?”


Why do I need a VPN?

If you are travelling to China or any other country where the internet is tightly controlled (like Iran or Saudi Arabia), you will require a VPN to access sites such as Google, Facebook, Wikipedia, news sites and more. For example, if you have a Gmail account and need to access your mail while travelling, you will need a VPN.

If you can live without the blocked sites then great, however be aware that the list of banned sites is ever changing (BBC news and Wikipedia were banned since I came to China for example) so while you may be able to access your favourite website one day, you may not be able to the next.

Finally, a VPN is useful in and of itself for privacy and security. If you access things like personal banking online, then it gives you a better layer of protection as it makes it harder for hackers to access your information.


How does a VPN work?

A VPN works by allowing you access to servers around the world. If you are in China and can’t access Google, you can fool the “great firewall” by linking to a server in the USA or elsewhere so you can then access the site. All reputable VPN providers have a large list of servers to connect to, so if you have problems with one, you can switch to another.


Are VPNs illegal in China?

Good question, and this is something of a grey area. No one has ever been prosecuted for using a VPN and the Chinese authorities tend to turn a blind eye to their use. Why? Because China realizes that international companies need a VPN to operate (Gmail being a prime example). If China shut down VPNs then it would lose a lot of business.


Can I stream/download with a VPN?

Yes, streaming, downloading and even gaming online are all possible through a VPN. You will need to find a location with the right bandwidth for optimum performance.


Are VPNs free?

It’s possible to find free VPNs (such as Lantern) but from past experience these don’t work very well and severely limit bandwidth. The best VPNs cost a small fee usually between $10 and $20 per month, reducing if you take out a subscription for 6 months or one year.


Important Note

It is much easier to sign up and download the VPN before you arrive in China. Once you are here it becomes more difficult as the sites are blocked. Make sure you sign up before you set off on your trip!


What are some of the best VPNs for China?

Some of the best and most popular VPNs for China include Astrill, ExpressVPN and NordVPN. We will investigate each one in more detail below.


Astrill (for me, the best VPN for China)

Monthly Cost6 Months CostAnnual CostSimultaneous DevicesReliability
$20$90$120510/10

Summary: I have been using Atrill since the start of 2020 and have found their service to be the best. When colleagues are experiencing interruptions with Express, Astrill works fine. It’s more expensive than Express, but it allows me to work uninterrupted, and that’s why it’s definitely one of the best VPNs for China.

Pros: Uninterrupted service.

Cons: The priciest subscription.

Purchase Astrill


ExpressVPN

Monthly Cost6 Months CostAnnual CostSimultaneous DevicesReliability
$12.95$59.95$99.9537/10

Summary: ExpressVPN is undoubtedly the most popular VPN in China and the one you will see advertised the most. It’s reasonably priced, the setup is straightforward and the App is very easy to use. Express has a high number of servers, but it does suffer outages, usually during important or controversial events happening in China.

Pros: Cheap. 3,000 servers to choose from. Very easy to use.

Cons: Occasional connection problems

Purchase ExpressVPN


Lantern

Monthly Cost6 Months CostAnnual CostSimultaneous DevicesReliability
FreeFreeFreeN/A5/10

Summary: Lantern offer a free opensource VPN but the service is a bit hit and miss. It’s slow, with a very low bandwidth and the mobile version is pretty unreliable. There is a paid version available, but I haven’t tried this as I dislike paying for something if the free version is buggy. If I’m going to pay, then I’ll go with a service that I know works.

Pros: Free (limited) version for computer and mobile

Cons: Difficult and sometimes impossible to connect

Download Lantern


NordVPN

Monthly CostAnnual Cost3 Year CostSimultaneous DevicesReliability
$11.95$83.88$125.6469/10

Summary: I recently purchased a NordVPN subscription to see how it fares against Express an Astrill. The signup process was very quick and easy, however the setup was more complicated due to being in China. The App download doesn’t work so you must follow these steps to download the server list that works here. No problems with getting connected.

Pros: Cheapest price for subscription, good speeds

Cons: If you are in China you must follow extra steps for the setup

Purchase NordVPN


There are some Chinese VPN services such as Sky999 which I occasionally use, but you need to be able to read Chinese (or know someone who does and can set it up for you). The cost is very cheap (around $3 per month), but there are concerns around privacy.

AstrillVPN Best VPN for China

ExpressVPN

NordVPN

Looking for more useful tips on a trip to China? Check out my guide to train travel in China for information on buying tickets and using the railway network here, or check out my China Page to discover some of the best sights in the Middle Kingdom!

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