Best VPNs for China
Users in China may have to swap VPNs if theirs becomes blocked, but having one is a necessity for anyone wanting unfettered access to foreign websites, from news sites to social media and Google. If you’re on vacation in China you'll need a VPN for posting snaps to Instagram and keeping in touch with friends using Whatsapp. This is because VPNs assign a virtual IP address to obscure your real location from others, enabling you to circumnavigate geo-blocking and censorship measures as if you are based somewhere without them. VPNs also encrypt data, leaving your computer or device to make it impossible for others to see what you’re downloading, which is useful in a country where surveillance is a top priority for the authorities.
The first thing to know about VPNs in China is that it’s easier to install one before you arrive, but how do you choose? Lots of servers (in China if possible), high speeds and extra layers of security are all important things to look for in a VPN offering. Reliable, 24/7 customer service is also an important consideration, because if you experience technical difficulties while you’re there, the fastest service available isn’t much use to you if you can’t troubleshoot.
1. Ivacy VPN - Bypass the Great Firewall of China
Ivacy is a Singaporean-based VPN service that has a strong focus on security and privacy while offering unmatched unblocking and torrenting capabilities. Since the Government of Singapore is quite friendly in terms of internet censorship, the VPN utilizes a strict no LOGS policy.
All user data is safe under the Personal Data Protection Commission, meaning you are completely safe from the prying eyes of governments and local ISPs in other countries.
For connectivity, you have a huge list of 275+ servers extending to 50+ countries and 100+ locations around the world. The application is available on all platforms, including Windows, iOS, Android, Mac, and Linux.
Similar to the aforementioned providers, it was important for us to double-check whether Ivacy does actually work in China. We contacted the support team and got a quick response from them. They claim that their VPN is indeed operating in the country. For users who want to establish a manual OpenVPN configuration, they even provided a dedicated link with all China-supported servers.
2. PureVPN - Best for servers in China and speed
PureVPN operates from Hong Kong and four of its 750+ servers are based in China itself, which is quite rare. This makes for some speedy connections while doing your part to battle the Chinese government. The VPN also offers its users unlimited bandwidth and five simultaneous connections.
There are a whole bunch of security options, including industry standard 256-bit encryption, support for pretty much all protocols, built-in ad and malware blocking, DNS and IPv6 leak protection, and a kill switch. PureVPN has a self-managed network so your data is handled by PureVPN only, without the intervention or interference of any third-parties. There is also the option to use a NAT Firewall add-on, which provides an added layer of security by safeguarding a user’s device from hackers exploiting loopholes. The company claims to have a zero logging policy, although in 2017, a user was arrested partially due to session logs held by the VPN. This practice isn’t unusual, but may put some people off, particularly in a country where there is believed to be a lot of surveillance.
There are lots of extra features with PureVPN, including split tunneling so users can decide which traffic is funneled through their VPN, unlimited server switching and data transfer, plus the ability to create a Wi-Fi VPN hotspot.
When it comes to troubleshooting worries, PureVPN has live chat support for customers open every hour of the day, as well as ticket and email support. As with other offerings, there are apps for Mac OS, Windows, Android, and iOS devices and the company claims its product is easy to set up on gaming consoles and smart TVs too.
3. NordVPN - Best for innovative security
While China tends to focus its crackdowns on VPN providers, security and privacy is important to VPN users too. NordVPN has some neat security features, including shared IP addresses. Its Mac client uses Next Generation Encryption (NGE) IKEv2/IPsec as standard and 256bit-GCM for encryption, which is used by the military. There is also the option to use "Onion over VPN" or Double VPN servers, which means data is passed through two separate VPN servers instead of one. For users in China, this means traffic can be re-routed to Taiwan, then travel through a server in Hong Kong before reaching its destination, which does take a toll on speed.
NordVPN doesn’t keep logs of online activity. This means that your private data, online activity and browsing history can’t be monitored, gathered, exposed, or intercepted by third parties. Users can also select DNS leak protection to protect their IP address and an automatic kill switch, which either kills all programs or chosen programs if the VPN connection drops. This protects a user’s personal data from being temporarily exposed. There’s also ad-blocking functionality and protection against phishing threats.
Users can link up to six devices simultaneously to NordVPN’s servers using apps for Mac OS, Windows, iOS, and Android. The service also boasts unlimited bandwidth for torrenting, decent download speed, and a 24/7 live chat tool for support.
Expats have reported they have successfully used NordVPN to unblock geo-locked services including Netflix US, BBC iPlayer, and Amazon Prime Video, making it a popular choice for travelers wanting to keep up with the latest films and TV shows while in China.
NordVPN may have 3,000 servers around the world, but one downside is that none of them are in China, meaning users in the country face speed penalties as internet traffic has further to travel. Nearby servers are located in Taiwan, South Korea, and Hong Kong.
4. Buffered - Best customer service and refund policy
Lots of VPNs offer live chat support, but Buffered goes a little further. The Hungarian VPN offers round-the-clock technical support as well as a 30-day refund policy, which is a great way for users to check that they are happy with the service and a relatively unusual feature among VPNs.
The VPN claims to offer high-speed connections and has servers in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, as well as China itself. It also offers unlimited bandwidth with no download restrictions, which is ideal for fans of torrenting in China.
Expats have reported the VPN works fine for accessing geo-blocked streaming services as well as popular foreign websites, but some people have found they are unable to access Netflix.
Buffered offers military-grade encryption, a kill switch, and a no logging policy (aside from connections) when it comes to security, but while its plans and security measures are easy to understand, some users may be put off by a lack of apps for their devices.
While the VPN provides detailed set-up instructions and the process is said to be fairly simple, it offers no apps for iOS, unlike most of its competitors.
5. PandaPow - Best easy-to-use China-centric VPN
As its name suggests, Hong Kong-based PandaPow is designed to pack a punch in China, with decent speeds and security. But its biggest selling point is its simplicity.
The self-dubbed "hassle-free VPN service" boasts instant activation with users able to get started in minutes thanks to a one-click set-up. While this may be a bit of an exaggeration, setting up the VPN is reportedly very easy. There is software for Mac, Windows, Android, and iOS accompanied with straightforward set-up guides. PandaPow is perhaps best known for its router/Wi-Fi set up, which is handy for anyone staying in the country for a while.
The company also offers unlimited speeds, bandwidth and speed test usage, and unlimited server switches between 120+ servers in 16 countries. There’s also a filter feature in PandaPow Wi-Fi, which allows you to exclude or include the internet traffic traveling through the VPN connection, a feature typically seen in more expensive VPN offerings.
When it comes to security, PandaPow does not log browser activity and reportedly offers strong encryption, but the details are a little vague. Some users have reported that sometimes when a VPN connection fails, which is common in China, the VPN doesn’t automatically resume, which could pose a security risk.
6. TunnelBear - Best free option
When it comes to free VPNs some experts are skeptical, but for those looking to save money on their travels, there’s TunnelBear. The Canada-based VPN is packed with features and has a sense of humour with a strong bear-theme running through its programs. For example, to connect to the VPN users choose a country and then another to connect to and watch a bear tunnel there when the connection is secure.
There are apps for Mac, Windows, iOS, and Chrome and support for five simultaneous connections for premium accounts. When it comes to security, TunnelBear uses strong AES 256-bit encryption by default, the same level of encryption as many expensive services. There is also a feature called "VigilantBear," a kill switch that blocks all unsecured traffic when you lose your Wi-Fi connection until a device has safely reconnected again.
"GhostBear" or stealth mode is another handy feature — particularly in China — which makes a user’s VPN-encrypted data less detectable to governments, businesses, and ISPs. It disguises OpenVPN traffic to help people get around firewalls by using obfsproxy, but can take a toll on speeds.
The VPN has servers in 20 countries, but one downside is that not all of them are available to non-fee-paying customers, meaning potentially slower speeds. It’s doesn’t allow P2P torrenting, so users of BitTorrent should look elsewhere. Unlike many other VPNs TunnelBear has no logging policy but instead keeps minimal logs for one month in order to comply with Canadian law, which could worry some users.
7. ExpressVPN - Best all-around VPN for China
ExpressVPN has a great mix of security, reliability, speed, and customer service, making it ideal for use in China.
China’s Great Firewall is sophisticated enough to block basic OpenVPN connections, but Express VPN’ can circumnavigate the wall, with users reporting fast speeds, especially if they connect to Hong Kong, Los Angeles, or some other US servers which are said to be optimized for users in China. The service automatically finds the fastest server for you.
Expats say the VPN works well to watch geo-blocked content from Netflix and YouTube, as well as other popular foreign streaming services. Users can enjoy unlimited bandwidth and they can connect to three devices simultaneously if they want.
In a country where there’s censorship, security may seem particularly important. Express VPN boasts strong 256-bit AES encryption and support for lots of VPN protocols. The company offers a strict no logging policy and there’s a handy kill-switch, DNS/IPv6 leak protection, and a split tunneling feature for Mac and Windows, which allows users to protect their torrent client only. There’s also TOR compatibility.
Customer service-wise, ExpressVPN offers 24/7 customer support and a bunch of apps for Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and Linux to make life easier for users. Expats are particularly complimentary.
8. Vypr VPN - good apps with “Chameleon” protocol to hide connections
VyprVPN is one of the few tier-1 VPN networks with support for users in China, meaning it owns all of its own VPN servers and doesn’t rent them. That equates to fast, consistent speeds and excellent uptime. The Pro version includes a proprietary “Chameleon” protocol that masks VPN traffic to make it less susceptible to the Great Firewall’s deep packet inspection technology. It’s on the pricier side, but residents of China will be happy to know the company accepts payments from Alipay, a popular payment gateway in the country similar to PayPal.
VyprVPN offers a decent number of locations. Live chat support is available. Our only complaint is with some of VyprVPN’s less-than-private logging policies, so frequent torrenters and Popcorn Time VPN users might want to look elsewhere.
Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android.
9. Astrill - well known in China with a fast proxy, some issues in the past
When I lived in China, I mostly used Astrill. Individual plans are available if you only use one device, or get a family plan for a few dollars more and connect every laptop and phone in the house. The app is great, allowing users to either connect to a simple HTTP proxy in a couple seconds or opt for a full VPN connection. Download speeds are solid enough to stream video if you pick a server without a heavy load. Subscribers get many locations to choose from. The live phone and chat support teams are experienced dealing with customers in China.
Prices are mid-range with a lot of optional add-ons.
Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, Linux, and certain wifi routers.
10. StrongVPN - Most reliable VPN
StrongVPN is one of the best VPNs for China and one of the more popular options out there. It provides apps for all of the most popular platforms and operating systems out there and provides instructions if you're on a really old or niche system so you can still get up and running. It uses a bespoke system called StrongDNS to protect you against DNS leaks and has loads of server connections so wherever you want to appear to be dialing in from it's not usually a problem. StrongVPN also ticks that box we mentioned above by offering excellent 24/7 customer support which is important if you're stranded in China and not sure how to get online. There's also a money back guarantee so you can try the service for a week and get a refund if you're not happy. We'd probably go with one of the options above but Strong will do the job if you fancy giving it a try!
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