Last Updated on October 16, 2019
What is the best VPN to use in China? As someone who has lived in China since 2005 and uses VPNs every day, this is a question that I am qualified to answer. I have personally tested and verified these VPNs. I can assure you that they are working well in October 2019.
China's VPN crackdown has caused most VPNs to stop working recently. Most websites have out of date information. Don't trust VPN recommendations from people who don't live in China, because the situation is always changing.
If you would like to see hard evidence to back up my claims, check the 2019 China VPN speed testing performance blog for actual VPN speed test results performed in China.
Every VPN service shown here is available with either a free trial or a money back guarantee, so you can try all of them risk-free. You will also find the best available discount offers for new customers here.
#1 Top Recommendation
#2 Top Recommendation
#3 Top Recommendation
| Monthly Price|
| Monthly Price|
| Tips for China|
|+3 Months FREE||$1.99/mo|
2 Year Special
|30% off any plan|
|Recommended for Privacy|
(P2P, Torrenting, etc)
|Netflix Supported|| |
|High Performance Servers||Hong Kong 3/4/5|
Los Angeles 4/5
|Dedicated Apps |
(Working in China)
|Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Linux, Router App||Windows, Mac, Android, iOS||N/A (using third party apps only)|
|# of Devices|
|Money Back Guarantee|
30 day no-hassle money back guarantee
No questions asked
30 day money back guarantee
30 day money back guarantee
** Note about simultaneous connections. You can install the VPN apps on as many devices as you want. The simultaneous connection limit only applies to how many devices you can connect at the same time.
The FAST Hong Kong servers. ExpressVPN always has at least one premium server in Hong Kong with direct routing to China Telecom. Right now that servers are Hong Kong 3 and Hong Kong 5. It might take a while to make the initial connection, but be patient. You can rely on these servers to stream high definition video, any time of the day (even during peak bandwidth hours at night).
The Apps. ExpressVPN is the absolute leader in the industry when it comes to VPN app development. Dedicated apps are available for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, and Routers. All the apps I have used personally (Windows, Android, iOS, and Router) are extremely good and updated often.
The ExpressVPN iOS app is the only dedicated app produced by a VPN provider that supports the OpenVPN protocol. Previously, it was believed that OpenVPN connections were only possible on iOS by using the OpenVPN Connect app. However, ExpressVPN has managed to get approval from Apple to use OpenVPN in their app. This is something that, to the best of my knowledge, no other VPN company has ever been able to do.
Actually, the ExpressVPN iOS app supports 3 different VPN protocols: OpenVPN (both UDP and TCP), IPsec, and IKEv2. Most other iOS VPN apps only support 1 protocol (usually IKEv2).
If you need to use a VPN on your iPhone or iPad in China, then ExpressVPN is significantly better than anything else available.
ExpressVPN is also the only VPN company (that I know of) that has a dedicated app for Linux.
The ease of use. ExpressVPN is what I like to call an idiot-proof VPN. If you are an idiot when it comes to technology, then ExpressVPN is the VPN for you. It's the only VPN that I would recommend to people who have never used a VPN and are not good with technology.
Everything, from signing up, to downloading and using the apps, is extremely easy. The ExpressVPN links on the Tips for China website are smart-links that will automatically direct you to a website domain that is accessible from China. Although these links work 99% of the time, it's still a good idea to sign up and download the apps before you come to China just in case.
After making your payment, you will immediately see a setup page as shown below. No need to sit around like an idiot waiting for a confirmation email! Make your payment and then get connected right away!
Here is a video I made recently showing you exactly how the signup process for ExpressVPN works from within China.
Downloading and setting up a VPN doesn't get any easier than this!
The MediaStreamer DNS. You can watch USA Netflix on your PS4, Apple TV, etc in China without using a VPN. Here is a video I made showing how to do this on a PS4.
The Router App. ExpressVPN has a very nice Router App available the following routers.
Linksys EA6200 (tutorial)
Linksys WRT1900AC V1
Linksys WRT1900AC V2
Netgear Nighthawk R7000
I highly recommend the Linksys WRT1900ACS (an expensive router but well worth the cost).
I also tested a cheaper model Linksys router recently, which performs quite well for the price.
The Netflix support. ExpressVPN is one of the few VPNs that is still working with Netflix in 2019. Not only US Netflix, but also Canada, UK, Hong Kong, and Taiwan (possibly other regions as well). You will never run out of movies and TV shows to watch with ExpressVPN and a Netflix subscription.
The Support. Online chat is available 24/7. No need to wait for an email or start a support ticket, their knowledgeable staff can help you immediately. Even if you are not a customer, you can still visit the ExpressVPN website and use the online chat to ask them any questions you have before signing up. Just click the icon shown below.
Split tunneling on Android (new). The ExpressVPN Android app (version 7.3) now supports split tunneling! That means you can set a list of apps to bypass the VPN. This is very useful for Chinese apps that don't work well with VPNs.
Split tunneling has already been available on the ExpressVPN desktop apps for some time now, but I think this function is much more useful on mobile.
The logging and torrenting policies. No activity logging, torrents allowed on all servers, and shared IP addresses make ExpressVPN a great choice for downloading torrents or other activities that demand a high level of privacy and anonymity.
Unlike some VPN providers, who have complicated terms and conditions, you can always get a 100% refund for ExpressVPN within the first 30 days no matter how many connections you have made, how much bandwidth you have used, or what payment method you used to pay.
Learn more about the ExpressVPN Risk-Free 30 Day Money Back Policy.
Server Configurations. While ExpressVPN works great in China if you are using the ExpressVPN apps, support is very limited for connections with third party apps.
You will also find many server locations missing when changing the protocol to PPTP, L2TP, or SSTP within the ExpressVPN app. Most of the good servers for China are only available when using the OpenVPN protocol from within the ExpressVPN apps.
Lack of advanced options. Unlike other VPN providers, ExpressVPN doesn't have many advanced options in their apps. For example, there is no option to change the port or specify custom DNS servers. They probably do this to improve the user experience and avoid confusing people with options they don't need, but some advanced users (like myself) would prefer to see a few more options and configurations available.
No support for WireGuard. Some VPN providers are now supporting the WireGuard protocol. I recently tested WireGuard in China with VPN.ac, 12VPN, and TorGuard and found that this protocol works quite well. It would be nice if ExpressVPN supported WireGuard as well.
The price. Compared to the competition, ExpressVPN is priced a little bit higher. For me personally, having access to the premium Hong Kong servers is enough to justify the price, and I would even be willing to pay more if the price was higher.
If you demand the best high speed servers, low latency, and the best apps, then you will not consider ExpressVPN to be expensive.
However, if you only need a VPN for simple web browsing, or don't care too much about high speed connections, or you are on a tight budget, then ExpressVPN might be overpriced for your needs.
Device limit. The limit of
3 devices connected at the same time is a little low compared to other VPN providers. Most VPN providers these days are offering 5-6 devices connected at the same time. You have more than 3 devices that you need to connect at the same time, I suggest using an ExpressVPN router. Then you can connect as many devices as you want to the VPN router, and it only counts as one connection.
June 2019 Update - ExpressVPN is now offering 5 simultaneous connections.
Surfshark is a fairly new service that I just started using recently. So far, I am very impressed with what I have seen. While it's not nearly as fast as ExpressVPN, they have very good apps, good support, and the best deal for a 2 year subscription that you will find anywhere.
The price. Surfshark is currently offering an amazing deal for a 2 year subscription. It almost seems to good to be true.
That comes out to $1.99/month.
One of their marketing slogans is "eating other VPN deals alive". I couldn't agree more. They really are.
So far I have used the Surfshark apps for Windows, Android, and iOS. The screenshot shown above is from the Windows app.
I did have a few problems with the Windows and iOS apps (see below section of what I don't like for details). But overall, very nice apps.
The simultaneous connection limit. These days many VPN providers are allowing more and more simultaneous connections. Surfshark has taken it a step further and is offering UNLIMITED simultaneous connections.
Yes, you read that correctly. Unlimited simultaneous connections. You could literally connect 20 different devices at the same time if you wanted to (but please note that sharing your account with others is against the TOS).
The ad-blocker. Surfshark has an option called "Safeweb" that you can enable in the apps. This will automatically block advertisements, trackers, malware, and phishing attempts.
This is a very nice feature, especially for non-rooted Android devices. That is because it's not possible to use ad-blocking apps and a VPN at the same time.
The split-tunneling options. Surfshark calls this option the "Whitelister". Not only can you white list selected apps to bypass the VPN, you can also white list specific websites as well.
The IKEv2 protocol. IKEv2 works quite well in China, but most VPN providers only offer this protocol in their iOS apps.
Surfshark is using IKEv2 as the default protocol on all of their apps (at least the ones I have tried, not sure about the Mac app). The connection time is very fast with IKEv2 compared to OpenVPN. When I press the connect button, I am connected within 1-2 seconds.
The Shadowsocks protocol. Surfshark is the latest VPN company to jump on the Shadowsocks bandwagon. It is currently in beta, offered on the Windows and Android apps (I think Mac too, but I'm not 100% sure).
The selection of servers. Although there are many servers that work in China, none of them are high performance. The best one is Taiwan, but it can slow down to around 1-2 Mbps during peak bandwidth hours at night with China Telecom.
There are only 4 server locations in the USA, and all of them are on the East Coast. East Coast servers don't perform as well as servers on the West Coast, which is where the undersea cables from Asia come into the US.
If getting the best speed is important to you, then you will be much better off using the ExpressVPN, which offers servers with better performance.
A bug in the Windows app. There is a very annoying problem with the Windows app. It gets stuck on the loading screen when launching the app. It sometimes stays like this for up to 5 minutes.
After analyzing the network activity with Wireshark when starting the Surfshark app, I found that this problem is caused by DNS poisoning. The Surfshark app makes a request to an API server using a hostname, but my ISP (China Telecom) DNS servers return the wrong IP address for this API server.
I was able to solve this problem by installing Simple DNSCrypt, which prevents DNS poisoning in China.
Limited server selection in the iOS app. The Surfshark iOS app is missing around half of the server locations, including the Taiwan server. I had to use the manual OpenVPN config files with the third party OpenVPN Connect app to connect to the Taiwan server.
OpenVPN config files in .zip format. When downloading the OpenVPN config files from the Surfshark website, I found that the .ovpn files can only be downloaded in a .zip archive. You can either download a single location with the TCP and UDP files in the zip archive, or all locations in a zip archive.
This made it very difficult and frustrating to import these config files into the OpenVPN Connect app. With other VPN providers, you can just download the .ovpn file using Safari and open it with the OpenVPN Connect app to import the profile. With the zip file, this is not possible.
To import the Surfshark manual OpenVPN config files on iOS, you need to download the files on a computer, unzip them, then Email them to yourself. Very inconvenient.
This whole process wouldn't even be necessary if they just offered the complete server list in their own iOS app.
Overall, I'm not very impressed with Surfshark on iOS.
The Paypal limitation. Surfshark does not offer PayPal as a payment option if visit thier website with a Chinese IP address. If you are in China and want to pay for your subscription using PayPal, you need to use another VPN to sign up.
The speed. It's not really fair to compare the speed of Shadowsocks to a VPN. That is like bringing a gun to a knife fight. Shadowsocks is much faster.
But using Shadowsocks instead of VPN protocols is only part of the equation. Wannaflix is also hosting their Shadowsocks servers in premium data centers with the best peering to China. These servers are much faster than making your own Shadowsocks server on a normal VPS provider such as Vultr, Digital Ocean, etc.
The Netflix support. It's very difficult to find hosting providers with IP addresses that are not blacklisted by Netflix. Somehow, WannaFlix managed to find quite a few of them. They have servers for Netflix in USA, Canada, UK, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong.
VPN into China. WannaFlix is offering a server in mainland China that enables access to Chinese geo-restricted services such as QQ Music, iQiYi, etc from outside of China. This is a very rare feature among VPN providers these days.
The deceptive marketing. WannaFlix markets itself as a VPN service, which it is not. You wouldn't know from reading their website that the service is exclusively Shadowsocks. There is nothing wrong with offering a Shadowsocks service, but it should be advertised for what it is.
The apps. WannaFlix doesn't have any of their own apps. Rather, they offering various third party Shadowsocks apps for different platforms. These apps don't have very good user interfaces and some of them have bugs.
Privacy and security. Part of the problem is that Shadowsocks can get bypassed and leak your real IP address under various circumstances. The other part of the problem is that the WannaFlix servers are hosted on VPS providers rather than dedicated servers. The risk is that the data on the server could fall into the wrong hands.
If your only worried about speed, then this probably isn't much to worry about it. But if you value privacy and security, you may want to use a real VPN. Or, you can tunnel a VPN connection over Shadowsocks using the WannaFlix service combined with any VPN service that offers OpenVPN TCP.
Limited payment options. WannaFlix doesn't accept credit card payments. Nor do they accept PayPal payments from Chinese PayPal accounts. They do offer Alipay, but that only works for Chinese citizens with a China ID card. If you are a non-Chinese citizen with a Chinese PayPal account, then your payment options are limited. You should be able to use Union pay in this case if you have a Chinese bank account.
The above 3 are my personal top recommendations and the ones that I use on a day to day basis. What I consider to be the best may not be the same for you. Here are some more China VPN options to consider.
The Secure.Proxy browser add-on. VPN.ac also offers a proxy service in addition to the VPN for no extra cost. You can think of this as a "VPN within your browser". The browser add-on is available for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera.
The best thing about the browser proxy is that most of the server network is hosted on different networks than the VPN servers. There have been a few times over the years when all of the VPN servers were completely blocked in China for a short period of time, but the browser proxy servers were still working. Although I don't normally use this browser proxy, it's good to have it as a backup.
The video streaming. Another great feature of VPN.ac is an unofficial and unadvertised feature that I stumbled upon. I don't know how it works exactly, but I can watch any geo-restricted content (except for Netflix) no matter which server location I connected to.
For example, I can connect to a server in Hong Kong and still watch BBC iPlayer (UK), Channel 4 (UK), Hulu (US), etc. There is no need to change servers to match the country of the service you want to watch. Most streaming servers just seem to work, as if by magic.
Privacy, security, and torrenting. If you are concerned about security and privacy, then VPN.ac is a very good choice. Their DNS servers are private and secure, all DNS queries are sent to their private revolvers and encrypted with AES 128-bit encryption. They don't keep any traffic logs, and they allow torrents on all servers. They even have some special servers optimized for P2P.
VPN.ac is offered by a company called Netsec Interactive Solutions based in Romania. This company has been in the business of online security and privacy since 2009. You may wonder how a company based in the EU can get away with not keeping activity logs of their VPN users. The answer is that the EU Data Retention Directive was declared unconstitutional by the Romanian Constitutional Court.
The apps. The Windows and Android apps have a few bugs and are not updated as often as the apps of ExpressVPN.
The main complaint I have with the Windows app is that sometimes the "China Users" server list fails to load (VPN.ac has special servers labelled as "China Users" that you need to use when connecting in China). I have experienced this behavior on all of the apps I have used (Android, iOS, and Windows).
You can set the option "I am in China" in the advanced settings to force the "China Users" servers to load, but many of the servers are missing from the list when loaded that way. The only way to get the full China Users server list is by exiting the app and re-starting it (sometimes several times).
Another bug in the Windows app happens when connecting by PPTP or L2TP. If the connection fails the first time, then each subsequent connection attempt will fail with a weird error message, as shown below.
You will need to exit the app and restart it after the first failed connection to PPTP or L2TP. Otherwise, each subsequent attempt to connect with PPTP or L2TP will keep giving you the "RasDial" error.
The android app can be buggy as well. Sometimes certain servers (even though selected from the China list) will will revert to the normal server instead of the "China Users" server and fail to connect (connecting to the same server on the Windows pp works fine).
Another bug in the Android app is that it shows the connection as successful before the connection is actually made. You need to pull down the status bar to see the actual status.
One more drawback of the VPN.ac apps is that they don't have any way to check the server latency or speed. It can take a long time trying to find the good servers if you don't know which ones to use.
ExpressVPN, on the other hand, has an in-app speed test that not only tests the latency of each server, but also the download speed!
The speed of support. VPN.ac doesn't offer live chat support, and the regular support is not available 24/7. The support staff is based in Romania so you will likely not get an answer until the early afternoon if you submit a support ticket in the morning in China.
No China Telecom CN2 servers in Asia. Although VPN.ac does offer some servers with China Telecom CN2 peering, they are located in Germany and USA. For the best VPN performance in China, you need to be using a CN2 server hosted in Hong Kong or other region near China.
NordVPN has made some big improvements since first introducing support for users in China with "obfuscated" servers last year. At that time, making a successful connection was inconsistent and the peformance was never very good.
Although the performance has improved greatly, it's still not on the same level as ExpressVPN and my other top 3 recommended services. I certainly wouldn't recommend it as your only VPN in China, but it's a good choice as a secondary/backup VPN.
Although the performance is not great in China, it's one of the best VPN choices for privacy.
Current NordVPN Deal - 3 Years for $125.64 ($3.49/mo).
The CyberSec option. Enabling the CyberSec option in the NordVPN apps will not only block unwanted advertisements, but also protect you from malware and DDos attacks while connected to the VPN. This is similar to the SafeWeb option offered by Surfshark.
The Jurisdiction and logging policies. NordVPN is based in Panama, which is completely outside of the "fourteen eyes" countries. They also don't keep any kind of logs, not even connection/session logs.
While most VPN providers don't keep activity logs, most of them (including ExpressVPN and VPN.ac) do keep some non-identifying (anonymized) session logs. Session logs usually include what server location you connected to, when you connected to it, and how much data was transferred. For example, you can find the detailed logging policies of ExpressVPN on this page.
For most average users, these non-identifying session logs are nothing to worry about. However, if you are under a high level of threat (privacy activist, high level target of a government entity, or journalist in certain countries, etc) or suffer from a high degree of paranoia, then you might want to consider a truly log-free VPN such as NordVPN.
The 30 day money back guarantee. You can try it risk-free for 30 days, but according to some reports, the money back guarantee is not hassle-free like ExpressVPN's hassle-free money back guarantee. You will likely be asked to provide a reason for cancelling, and they may try to encourage you to try some troubleshooting steps first before cancelling.
But if you are persistent then you should still be able to get your money back.
Server performance. Compared to the performance of the top 3 recommendations, NordVPN servers are not as fast or reliable.
Then again, you get what you pay for. Given the low price of some of their deals, it can be good to keep as a back up VPN if you get one of their good deals. It's always best to have more than 1 VPN these days anyway.
Although not my personal favorite, 12VPN does have some nice features.
The premium add-on servers. In addition to the standard servers, you can assign an additional 5 premium servers to your account. These servers have limited capacity and the choices may depend on availability.
The best premium server is CN Optimized 2 (HK). I highly recommend this server.
Shadowsocks. Yet another option for Shadowsocks.
Other alternative protocols. In addition to Shadowsocks, 12VPN also offers all the latest protocols that work good in China such as Outline, WireGuard, v2Ray, and Openconnect.
Good support. Based in Hong Kong, 12VPN knows the China market very well. They seem to have some staff located in mainland China, so they know very well what protocols and configurations work well in China.
Their customer support is pretty good too, I usually get my emails answered within 1 hour during day time hours in China.
The lack of VPN connection options. The service offered by 12VPN is more geared towards proxy instead of VPN connections. Most of the connection options available in their dedicated app is a type of proxy, not a single VPN connection option.
This is ironic, because the name of their software is called "VPNGUI". I think the should change the name to "ProxyGUI" or something similar to more accurately reflect the type of service offered.
They do offer VPN connections through some third party apps such as Cisco Anyconnect (Mac and iOS) and SoftEther (Windows). However, support for these protocols is limited and the premium servers are restricted from using these protocols.
The logging policy (or lack thereof). I have searched all over the 12VPN website but I cannot find anything about their logging policy. Nothing in the FAQ or TOS pages. In this case, I have to assume the worst case.
12VPN is definitely not a privacy-focused VPN service. Instead, they are targeting the market of users in China who only use a VPN for accessing blocked websites.
The restrictive money back guarantee. The money back guarantee comes with quite a few strings attached.
"You are entitled to a full refund if all of the following apply:
* You claim your refund within 14 days of your order date.
* It is the first order made on your account (e.g. renewals do not qualify).
* You have fully complied with our Acceptable Use Policy and our Terms of Service.
* You send an e-mail to email@example.com or use the Support section on our website to request your cancelation.
* You have used less than 5GB of bandwidth.
* You have not previously claimed a refund from us under this policy (e.g. for another account).
* Apply for the refund by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org."
The condition that I highlighted above is the one that concerns me. 5GB is a very small amount of data. I assume they mean 5GB of data, as "5GB of bandwidth" doesn't make any sense. Bandwidth is a measurement of speed (data transfer over time, usually quoted in Mbps or MB/s).
Anyway, you will need to be very careful not to use 12VPN too much when testing it. Otherwise, you will not be eligible for the money back guarantee.
The BitTorrent policy. I will quote from their website (FAQ section):
"Do you allow Bittorrent?
Unfortunately we do not allow Bittorrent. Allowing bittorrent would dramatically reduce the number of data centres willing to host our servers."
I find this explanation highly questionable, seeing how other VPN providers don't have this problem. For example, VPN.ac and ExpressVPN both have more server locations than 12VPN and they allow BitTorrent on every one of their servers. They don't seem to have any problem finding data centers willing to host their servers.
Why would 12VPN have such problems?
Despite this policy, I have noticed that 2 of their servers are now labelled as "Bittorrent: allowed" so it seems they are finally starting to change this policy (FAQ needs to be updated I guess).
Use the Tips for China promo code and save 25% from your first billing cycle.
VyprVPN had major problems in China last month. Although it's working again now, their service was completely down for China users for almost a full month. Although this can happen to any VPN provider, the better ones like ExpressVPN get their service restored much faster (usually within hours, not days or weeks).
The apps. Not quite as nice as the apps from ExpressVPN, but still pretty good. I like how it shows the latency (ping time) of each server in the server list. This is the one feature that I like better than the ExpressVPN apps. With ExpressVPN, you need to do a complete server speed test (which takes 30 minutes or more) just to see the latency (although it also tests the download speed for each server in addition to the latency).
There is also a nice speed graph shown in the Windows app that shows you the speed in real time.
The Hong Kong server with China Mobile. Although VyprVPN doesn't have any good servers for China Telecom or China Unicom, the Hong Kong server has direct peering with China Mobile, and it works quite well (only with China Mobile ISP).
The 3 day free trial. VyprVPN is one of the few providers that offers a free trial instead of a money back guarantee. The advantage here is that you can try it first without paying anything rather than having to pay first and get your money back later if you cancel it.
The lack of good servers for China Telecom. Not a single China Telecom CN2 server, or even a single server in Asia with direct peering to China Telecom. All of their Asian servers are routed through the USA or other countries to China Telecom, resulting in high latency and low speed (especially noticeable at night).
If your ISP is China Telecom or China Unicom and you like fast internet, then don't bother with VyprVPN.
The logging policy.
Update - VyprVPN has recently changed their policy and is no longer keeping these kinds of logs. Good move, it's about time they did this.
However, the fact that they used to keep logs is very concerning.
If you want to try VyprVPN for yourself, I have 2 discount offers available. Both of these offers come with a 3 day free trial.
You will need to enter your credit card number when you sign up, but you will not be billed anything as long as you cancel within the first 3 days.
Note - The 3 day trial is not available if you pay by Alipay
Offer #1 (monthly billing) - Save 50% off your first month + 3 day FREE TRIAL
Offer #2 (annual billing) - Save 25% off your first year + 3 day FREE TRIAL
There are various free VPNs that might work in China from time to time, but I do not recommend using any of them. The main problem with free China VPNs is that they get blocked much easier than paid VPNs. They will always stop working after a while (if they even work in the first place).
The other problem with free VPNs is that they are terrible for privacy. It costs money to run a VPN service, so why would any company offer this for free? The answer is that they usually make money by selling your browsing data to third parties, or worse. There is a famous saying "if you don't pay for the product then you are the product".
If the cost is a concern for you, you can alwasy cycle through the free trials and money back guarantees of paid VPNs (just remember to cancel before the free trial or money back guarantee period ends).
If you insist on using a free China VPN, here are some options that you can look into, which may or may not work.
I don't recommend Astrill because of their poor customer service, unstable VPN service, and discriminatory policies towards customers in China.
If you sign up outside of China (without using another VPN), then Astrill offers a 7 day free trial.
However, Astrill does not offer the free trial if you sign up in China (they don't offer a money back guarantee either).
Full Disclosure - Astrill deleted my affiliate account after I published the blog post about not offering the free trial to customers in China. That was in 2016 and I haven't used Astrill since then. So I honestly couldn't tell you how it's working today. Given the history of the way the treat their customers, I don't plan to ever try it again.
However, those Hong Kong servers disappeared one day, later they were replaced with inferior servers with poor routing to China Telecom. Now, there is no reason to use StrongVPN in China.
This is probably the worst VPN that I have ever tested in the history of this website. Terrible apps, even worse support, and extremely unstable performance. They also handed over log files to the FBI to assist in an investigation.
Even if you are not using a VPN in China, stay away from PureVPN.
I tested PIA after seeing this YouTube video from Linus Tech Tips. At the end of the video, he recommended using PIA in China, and claimed to be using it himself in Shenzhen, where he shot the video.
When I tested PIA (extensively) around the time that this video was released, I was unable to get even a single working connection. I tried every protocol available and sent a support ticket for further troubleshooting steps.
Determined to get a connection, I took things 1 step further. I got all of their server IPs by entering the hostnames into the OpenDNS CacheCheck website, and then batch pinged every single IP using a special software I have. Every one of their server IPs was blocked in China.
My only conclusion from this is that Linus Tech Tips is a liar. He was likely roaming with a foreign SIM card when he connected to PIA for his video.
Don't get me wrong, PIA seems like a great VPN service. It's just not one that works in China.
It's illegal to operate a VPN service in China and these are the ones that will be targeted by the government the most.
When choosing a VPN, always choose one that is incorporated outside of China.
The ones shown on the sidebar are the best ones. The sidebar is on the left side of the page if you are using a desktop browser, or on the bottom of the page if you are using a mobile device or tablet.
Additional special offers can be found on the VPN discounts and coupon codes page.
If you have the choice, then I always recommend that you buy a VPN service and download the apps on all your devices before coming to China.
There are 2 reasons for this.
1. You want to make sure that everything is working properly outside of China. Otherwise, if you have problems connecting in China, you won't know if the problem is related to being in China or not.
2. Although the China VPN mirror websites are usually accessible from China, they do go down from time to time. There is no guarantee that will be working when you are here. Better to be safe than sorry.
If you really need fast and reliable internet, then yes, you should. In fact, I regularly use 3 different VPN services in addition to the ones I test for this website. No VPN service is guaranteed to work 100% of time in China. You should always have at least 1 backup.
This is a controversial question. Although it is illegal to operate an un-registered VPN business in China, there is no specific law against individuals using an overseas-based VPN.
What you do after you connect to the VPN is another matter. If you are using a VPN to spread political messages or cause trouble for the government, then you may be breaking other laws. But connecting to a VPN, in and of itself, is not illegal.
Recently, there have been a few cases of individual users given fines or warnings for using a VPN. However, I think there is more to these cases than is being reported. These few individuals likely did something to catch the attention of the authorities. Such as posting negative news about the government on Twitter or something like this.
So far there have only been a handful of cases of individual users punished for using a VPN in China. None of these cases involved foreigners, and the most serious punishment was a 1,000 CNY ($150 USD) fine. So I wouldn't worry about it at all.
If you are just using a VPN to watch YouTube or Netflix, or browse Facebook, then you have nothing to worry about, you are not doing anything illegal.
As for the legality of overseas-based VPNs offering their services to Chinese customers, that is more of a grey area. Technically, these companies cannot legally sell their services in China. But then again, they do not have operations, servers, or staff in China. Therefore, they are under no obligation to comply with Chinese laws. The Chinese government can try stop people from buying and using these services, but that's about all they can do.
As of now, it's still possible to buy most VPN services using Alipay, WeChat Pay, or Union pay. If the government really wanted to put an end to overseas VPN companies sellilng their services in users in China, then it wouldn't be possible to pay for these services using Chinese payment processors.
China could very easily completely block all VPN traffic if they really wanted to. The level of tolerance for VPNs from the government, at any given time, is a balance between controlling the flow of information, being friendly to foreign investors and companies, and collateral damage (increased filtering of traffic makes normal foreign websites slower in China).
On one hand, the government does not want their own citizens to have free access to the internet for obvious reasons that I won't go into here.
On the other hand, they must allow some VPN traffic so foreign companies to access their corporate networks. Besides commercial VPN services, some companies use corporate VPNs to securely connect the networks of their offices around the world.
They also don't want to slow down normal foreign websites too much (the ones that are not blocked). Foreign websites are already painfully slow in China when accessed without a VPN.
Although the government will block VPN servers more aggressively during sensitive political meetings or anniversaries, they will never completely block all VPNs.
China is one of the few places on earth where Netflix is not available. However, it is possible to watch Netflix in China with a VPN.
It's pretty simple. You just need to create another iTunes account using a USA address. The apps are not actually blocked from being downloaded in China, they are only restricted based on the country of your iTunes account (a type of self-censorship by Apple).
Some VPN providers rely on custom protocols to make their VPNs work in China. For example:
NordVPN Obfuscated OpenVPN
Due to limitations set by Apple, these third party custom protocols are not allowed to be used in iOS apps.
It is best to avoid these VPNs in China if you are an iOS user.
ExpressVPN has an excellent iOS app that works very well in China and is extremely easy to set-up. The app supports 3 different protocols (OpenVPN, IPSec, and IKEv2). If you are look for a cheaper alternative, Surfshark also has an iOS app that works in China using the IKEv2 protocol.
Shadowsocks is good alternative to a full VPN. It is a SOCKS5 web web proxy that offers very fast connections, but does have some limitations compared to a VPN.
When it comes to Shadowsocks, you have 2 options.
If you are technically inclined, you can set up your own Shadowsocks server on a VPS.
Or you can subscribe to a paid Shadowsocks service, which is much easier to use and offers more servers to connect to.
My top recommended paid Shadowsocks service is WannaFlix. They offer many fast servers that work well in China and support Netflix on many of theirs servers as well. WannaFlix is currently offering a very generous 30% discount for Tips for China readers.
Another VPN alternative is to use data roaming if you have a mobile phone plan from outside of mainland China. When you use data roaming, your data is sent back to your home country first before going out to the internet, so this is another way to bypass the Great Firewall of China.
If you have a US mailing address to receive the SIM card, Google Fi is a great option. What I like about Fi is that there is no extra charge for data roaming, you can get up to 10 extra data only SIM cards for free, and you can pause the service any time you aren't using it.
If you want to try it, use my Google Fi referral link and we will both get a $20 billing credit.
Personally, I am mostly using my Fi service in the US and Canada (the data is actually cheaper than Canadian prepaid SIM cards). Although I have tested it out in China, I leave the service paused most of the time because my VPNs work fine and data is much cheaper with a local SIM. But it's good to know I can pop the SIM card in my phone and resume the service any time that I might need it.
Tip for Fi users in China - You can roam with both China Mobile and China Unicom. Unicom works better, but China Mobile is usually selected by default. You can manually select China Unicom in your network settings for better performance.
If you have additional questions about using a VPN in China, leave a comment below. Or if you are on Reddit you can ask your question on r/VPNChina.