Tested and reviewed in China
Last Published on February 11, 2019
The "2 sessions" government meetings have started in Beijing on March 5, 2019. This is causing major instability with VPN connections right now.
Check the 2019 VPN in China blog page for the latest performance testing of VPNs in China if you plan to use a VPN in China during this time.
At Tips for China, you will always find the most genuine and up-to-date info on which VPNs really work best in China (and which ones to avoid). You will also find best VPN discounts, coupon codes, and free trials here.
I have a very strict policy of only recommending VPNs that actually work good in China. That's why you won't find as many VPN services listed here compared to typical "VPN review" websites. I would rather recommend 3 services that are reliable and work well rather than make a "top 10" list.
I live in China and use these VPN services daily. It's not enough for a VPN to simply "work in China". It also has to be fast and reliable on the 3 main ISPs here.
Here are my top 3 recommendations as of February 2019 (read the full page a few more that work in China, but not as well).
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.
#1 Top Recommendation
#2 Top Recommendation
#3 Top Recommendation
| Monthly Price|
| Monthly Price|
| Tips for China|
|+3 Months FREE|| 25% OFF|
3 Year Special -
|Recommended for Privacy|
(P2P, Torrenting, etc)
USA, Canada, UK, Hong Kong, and Taiwan
|China Telecom High Performance Servers||Hong Kong 3|
Hong Kong 1
Hong Kong 4
Hong Kong 5
| Hong Kong Kowloon|
|Dedicated Apps |
(Working in China)
|Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Linux, Router App||Windows, Mac, Android, iOS||Windows, Mac, Android, iOS|
|# of Devices|
|Money Back Guarantee|
30 day no-hassle money back guarantee
No questions asked
7 day money back guarantee
(must provide a valid reason)
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.
How to flash the ExpressVPN router app (tutorial here).
Subscribe to the Tips for China YouTube channel for more videos.
What's REALLY the best VPN to use in China in 2019?
The same one that was the best in 2016, 2017, and 2018.
Some VPN services will work well for a period of time, but none have worked as consistently well over the years as ExpressVPN.
I have always been able to connect to at least 1 working server, even during the most severe government crackdowns on VPN services. These crackdowns usually happen a few times per year during sensitive political meetings or anniversaries.
Which VPN services should be avoided if you are in China?
Astrill, PureVPN, PIA, TorGuard, StrongVPN for sure. Maybe others too, depending on whether you just need to hop the wall, or if you also value your privacy and anonymity online. Keep reading this page for a detailed analysis of each recommended VPN service.
Why do 99% of VPN servers have terrible performance in China? And what can be done about it?
I'm going to tell you the truth about the internet in China. Most people think that VPNs don't work well because the The Great Firewall interferes with them. While this is true, it's not the main factor. The real explanation is not very interesting or mysterious.
Basically, China does not have enough international bandwidth for the amount of internet users here. There are simply not enough under-sea cables connecting China with the outside world. This will most likely not improve for several years, when more cables are put in place.
It's not only VPN connections that can be slow. Any website that is hosted outside of China will generally not perform well.
So what can be done to get blazing fast VPN connections all day and all night?
China Telecom, the biggest ISP in China, has something called the Next Generation Carrier Network, commonly referred to as "CN2". Basically, if you are a data center outside of China and you are willing to pay more, then your data will get through faster. There is no such thing as "net neutrality" in China. Quite the opposite actually. Bandwidth in China is for sale to the highest bidder.
The problem with these China Telecom CN2 servers is that they are very expensive. Most VPN companies do not want spend this kind of money. In fact, a good CN2 server will cost around 50 times more than the average global bandwidth cost.
But if you want fast and reliable VPN performance, then you need to find good quality CN2 servers. The best ones available are ExpressVPN Hong Kong 3 and ExpressVPN Hong Kong 1. The best CN2 servers with the most bandwidth available are Asian CN2 servers. The USA-China CN2 network, although better than non-CN2, has become over-sold and is now suffering from the same congestion as the regular networks.
Regular (non-CN2) servers can sometimes work well but it's very inconsistent. If you want high speed all the time, including the peak bandwidth hours at night (9pm to 11pm is generally the most congested time) then you need a good Asian CN2 server.
For more answers to common questions about the VPN situation in China, check the VPN in China FAQ.
Not only does ExpressVPN work in China, it's the best China VPN available. Their service is the fastest and most reliable option that I have ever used in my many years in China.
The FAST Hong Kong servers. Hong Kong 1, Hong Kong 3, Hong Kong 4, and Hong Kong 5 all have premium routing to mainland China ISPs. These are the servers that you can rely on to stream high definition video, any time of the day (even during peak bandwidth hours at night).
The best one is Hong Kong 3. No other VPN server offered by any VPN company comes close to matching the speed, latency, and reliability of ExpressVPN Hong Kong 3. Not only does Hong Kong 3 have direct China Telecom CN2 peering, it also have direct peering with China Unicom and China Mobile networks.
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 iOS dedicated app that I have ever seen 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 this day, 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 computers.
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 (whatever that happens to be at the time). You can sign up, as well as download and use all the apps from China, without any problems.
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, located at the bottom right hand corner of their website.
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.
Server Configurations. While ExpressVPN work great in China if you are using the ExpressVPN apps, many of the best servers for China (Hong Kong 3, for example) are not available for manual OpenVPN connections with third party clients.
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.
This is fine as long as you can use those apps. However, if you plan on running a VPN on a router with dd-wrt, Tomato, or OpenWRT firmware in China, then you might be disappointed with selection of servers.
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.
The price. Compared to the competition, ExpressVPN is priced a little bit higher. For me personally, having access to Hong Kong 3 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 budger, then ExpressVPN might be overpriced for your needs.
Device limit. The limit of 3 devices connected at the same time is a little low. 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 (router flashing tutorial). Then you can connect as many devices as you want to the VPN router, and it only counts as one connection.
The simultaneous connections. VPN.ac allows up to 6 simultaneous connections.
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 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. I can connect to Hong Kong 1, for example, 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. Everything (except Netflix) just works all the time.
For Netflix in China, check the Netflix in China page.
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 logs of their VPN users. The answer is that the EU Data Retention Directive was declared unconstitutional by the Romanian Constitutional Court in July, 2014.
The support. Although the support is not available 24/7, the quality of support is very good. With VPN.ac, you talk directly the the people who built the VPN network when you submit a support ticket. No copy and paste answers. You may not get a fast answer, but you will get a good answer.
The 25% lifetime recurring discount. Unlike most of the special offers on this website, the 25% discount for VPN.ac is available for the life of your account. You will keep getting the discount on each renewal.
Split Tunneling. You can select certain apps to bypass the VPN completely. For example, you can set Wechat, Alipay, A Maps, Chinese banking apps, etc to bypass the VPN, while all your other apps will use the VPN. No need to keep switching the VPN on and off all day!
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.
If you want to use VPN.ac PPTP or L2TP on Windows, I suggest setting it up manually through the Windows settings instead of using the VPN.ac Windows app. Otherwise, just exit the app and restart it to try again after a failed connection attempt.
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. As you can see in the below screenshot, it looks like VPN is connected but in fact it is still in the authentication phase. Sometimes the connection might fail but the app still shows that the VPN is connected.
I should mention that the Android app is not all bad. It does have 1 very useful feature for users in China.
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. As mentioned above, VPN.ac 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. All of my support tickets have always been answered within 24 hours and I have always been completely satisfied with the answers.
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. For Asian VPN servers with premium China Telecom CN2 routing, the best options are the ExpressVPN Hong Kong 1 and Hong Kong 3 servers.
NordVPN has made some big improvements since first introducing support for users in China with "obfuscated" servers last year.
At that time, I couldn't find any server with high performance and there was no support for iOS users in China.
For me, NordVPN works best using the standard OpenVPN config files. For Windows, I am currently using the USA #2506 manual openvpn config file with the open source OpenVPN GUI client. For Android and iOS, I have tested it using the NordVPN apps, which is also working.
February 2019 Update - Currently I am not able to find any working servers using standard OpenVPN. I will update here when there is any change. Right now I think the only way to connect with NordVPN in China is using the obfuscated option in the NordVPN apps. However, this is not available on the iOS app.
Although the performance is not great in China, it's one of the best choices for privacy. I certainly wouldn't recommend it as your only VPN in China, but it's a good choice as a secondary VPN.
The special offers. NordVPN is usually offering some kind of deal for a 2 year or 3 year plan.
NordVPN Winter Deal - 3 Years for $107.55 ($2.99/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 a great method for blocking ads on a non-rooted Android phone. Actually, it's the only way to block ads and use a VPN at the same time on a non-rooted Android. Considering that almost every app shows annoying ads, I find this feature to be very useful.
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.
The Windows App. The Windows app is not good for me. It messes up my computer every time I use it. It could be caused by a conflict with another VPN app or my firewall, but it's not a problem that I have experienced with other VPN apps. I usually have to reboot my computer after using the NordVPN app in order to get my network and/or firewall to work again.
Luckily, I found a good server that works with standard OpenVPN so I don't have to use the Windows app with the obfuscated setting.
I'm now using the NordVPN USA #2506 manual OpenVPN config file via the open source OpenVPN app for Windows.
The NordVPN Android and iOS apps are working good for me (USA #2506 server), but I prefer the manual OpenVPN method on Windows.
Server performance. Compared to the performance of ExpressVPN and VPN.ac, NordVPN servers are not as fast or reliable. Although I can usually find a few servers that work in China, they are not very fast.
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.
Currently, you can get the 3 year deal for $2.99/month.
Other VPN Options
The above 3 are my personal top recommendations. What I consider to be the best may not be the same for you. Here are some more options to consider that can also beat the great firewall.
#4 Recommendation - 12VPN
Although not my personal favorite, 12VPN does have some nice features.
What I like about 12VPN
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.
Shadowsocks. A SOCKS5 proxy protocol that works extremely well in China. In fact, it's much faster and more stable than most VPN connections (but is less secure than a VPN because it does not tunnel all of your traffic).
Personally, I have set up my own shadowsocks servers and made a tutorial on how to do it. However, if you're not very technical, 12VPN is an easy way to use shadowsocks without setting up your own server.
Good support. Based in Hong Kong, 12VPN knows the China market very well. They seem to have support staff located in mainland China, so they know very well what protocols and configurations work well in China.
Their customer service is pretty good too, I usually get my emails answered within 1 hour.
What I don't like about 12VPN
The lack of VPN connection options. The service offered by 12VPN is more geared towards proxy instead of VPN connections. Every connection option available in their dedicated software 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 some 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. I will quote directly from their website:
"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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.com."
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).
12VPN offers 3 billing plans.
1 months - $10.99
6 months - $53.95
12 months - $71.88
Use the Tips for China promo code and save 25% from your first billing cycle.
VyprVPN is having major problems in China users recently. It was never one of my strong recommendations, but I don't think I should even be recommending it at all right now.
I will leave this section up for now and remove it completely next month if they don't get their act together soon.
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 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. Unlike the session logs of ExpressVPN and VPN.ac, which cannot be used to identify you or your online activities, the session logs kept by VyprVPN are done in such a way that does not protect your privacy and anonymity.
"What Data Golden Frog Retains From VyprVPN Sessions:
Each time a user connects to VyprVPN, we retain the following data for 30 days: the user's source IP address, the VyprVPN IP address used by the user, connection start and stop time and total number of bytes used.
Why Golden Frog Retains VyprVPN Session Data:
We retain VyprVPN session data for 30 days to use with billing issues, troubleshooting, service offering evaluation, TOS issues, AUP issues, and for handling crimes performed over the service."
From reading this, it's difficult to understand where the problem lies.
Normally, it wouldn't matter if your source IP address and the VPN IP address you used are logged because most VPN providers are using shared IP addresses that are common to all users connected to that server. Therefore, your online activities are still anonymous (assuming that the VPN doesn't keep activity logs, which VyprVPN doesn't).
If there was a complaint (lets say a DCMA violation, for example) related to that IP address of the VPN server, the VPN providers normally cannot do anything about it. Because there are hundreds of users using that same IP address simultaneously, there is no way of knowing which user the complaint is related to. VPN companies engineer their services like this on purpose, to protect the anonymity of their users.
When you connect to VyprVPN, the IP address assigned to you is not shared with anyone else during the time you are connected. If VyprVPN receives a complaint (from law enforcement agencies or whatever), they will know who was using that IP address at the time of the complaint.
In fact, one of the biggest complaints about VyprVPN is that they will ban your account for torrenting if they receive a DCMA notice. This has happened to several people who I know personally.
If the purpose of using a VPN is only for bypassing the internet restrictions in China, and you don't download illegal files, or value your anonymity online, then this won't concern you.
However, if you do download such files, or you want to use a VPN that protects your anonymity, then VyprVPN is not for you.
If you want to try VyprVPN for yourself, I have 2 promos available. Both of these promos come with a 3 day free trial.
You will not be billed anything if you cancel within the first 3 days.
Monthly Promo - Save 50% off your first month + 3 day FREE TRIAL
Annual Promo - Save 25% off your first year + 3 day FREE TRIAL
I don't recommend Astrill because of their poor customer service and unstable VPN service. For their customers outside of China, they offer a free 7 day trial. For their customers in China, they offer neither a free trial nor a money back guarantee. Any time there is a sensitive political event in China, they are the first to be blocked.
You have been warned. Just search for the word Astrill on Twitter, Reddit, etc and you will find hundreds of unresolved customer complaints (as well as some obvious shill postings from Astill themselves pretending to be happy customers). Don't come back here crying if Astrill doesn't work very well and you can't get your money back.
StrongVPN used to be rated #3 on this page. Although their apps and server switching process is among the worst I have ever seen, they did have 2 servers in Hong Kong with good peering to China Telecom. They were not CN2, but it was a direct connection on the PCCW network, and performed quite well.
Recently, these servers disappeared and then were later replaced with inferior servers with poor routing to China Telecom. Now, there is nothing good about StrongVPN for users in China.
This is probably the worst VPN that I have ever tested. It's so bad that I don't even want to include a link to their website.
Terrible software, bad support, and extremely slow and unstable server performance. Seriously, this VPN makes VyprVPN on China Telecom look fast.
And many people have complained that getting a refund is difficult or impossible. 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 in Shenzhen, where he shot the video.
When I tested PIA (extensively), I was unable to get even a single working connection despite trying every protocol available and sending a support ticket for further troubleshooting steps. I even got all of their server IPs by entering their hostnames into the OpenDNS CacheCheck and then batch pinged all of them using a special software I have. Every single one of their servers is IP blocked in China, not even one single server IP will respond to a ping.
My only conclusion from this is that Linus Tech Tips is a liar. He was likely roaming with a foreign SIM card during his time in China.
Don't get me wrong, PIA seems like a great VPN service. It's just not one that works in China.
Although I used to recommend it, VyprVPN has been having major problems in China recently. Despite the claims that their proprietary Chameleon protocol is useful for countries like China, their service is completely not working most of the time lately.
It's illegal to operate a VPN service in China and these are the ones that will be targeted by the government. For example, a Chinese service called GreenVPN recently got shut down.
When choosing a VPN, always choose one whose legal jurisdiction is outside of China.
Due to the way that international data-roaming works, you can bypass the Great Firewall (GFW) by roaming on a foreign SIM card while in China. If you don't have a mobile phone carrier outside of China, I recommend using a pre-paid SIM card from China Unicom Hong Kong. They offer very reasonable rates for data-roaming in mainland China. It's also good to use a SIM card from Hong Kong because it's located near mainland China (when roaming, your data is sent back to your home carrier first, before going out to the internet). You can find these SIM cards at most convenience stores in Hong Kong, such as 711. They are not for sale in mainland China, you will need to go to Hong Kong to get one.
Unfortunately, this also works the other way around. If you use your China SIM card for data-roaming while overseas, you will still need to use a VPN to access Gmail, Google Maps, etc.
Shadowsocks is a light weight SOCKS5 proxy, designed specifically for the Great Firewall of China. Compared to a VPN, it can offer much faster speeds (if it's properly configured and optimized for speed).
When it comes to Shadowsocks, you basically have 2 options.
1. Use 12VPN. They offer the Shadowsocks protocol, with 2 servers hosted on China Telecom CN2 servers that perform very well (China Optimized 2 and China Optimized 4).
2019 Update - I recently tested a new Shadowsocks service called WannaFlix, which I found to be much better than 12VPN. Unlike the restrictive money back guarantee of 12VPN, they are offering a full 30 day no questions asked money back guarantee. Wannaflix is also offering a very generous 30% off recurring discount for Tips for China visitors.
2. Make your own Shadowsocks server. If you are comfortable working on a linux virtual machine, you can find my tutorial below.
If you want to combine the privacy and anonymity of a VPN service with the speed of a Shadowsocks server, you will want to see this tutorial (confirmed working with Wannaflix and ExpressVPN).