What is a VPN?
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. It's a secure, encrypted connection between your computer and a computer server overseas.
When you use the internet, all of your internet traffic is routed through this VPN server.
To the websites you visit, it looks like you are located in the country of the VPN server.
To the government censors in China, they can only see that you are connected the VPN server, they can't tell what websites you are visiting or what files you are downloading (unless they can crack the encryption).
This allows you to access blocked websites such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc from China.
Think of this real world example. Lets say you want to buy a product that is not available in China, so you ask your friend overseas to buy it on your behalf and send it to you. In the case of a VPN you want to access a website or server that is blocked in China so you ask the VPN to connect to the server on your behalf and send the information to you.
VPN is your friend - your good friend.
Is it illegal to Use a VPN in China to access blocked websites?
No, not at all. Although it is illegal to operate un-registered VPN business in China, there is no 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.
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 gray 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 of these services with Alipay, so they don't seem to be trying too hard to stop it. They do block servers sometimes, but if you use one of my top recommended VPN services for China, then you can always get connected 100% of the time.
In Janurary, 2017 the government has announced a crackdown against Chinese Telecom companies offering unlicensed VPN services. It has nothing to do with using a personal VPN service that operates outside of China, which is still not illegal. This announcement has been widely misinterpreted by the mainstream media and there are many misleading headlines declaring that VPNs are now illegal in China.
If VPNs are not illegal why does the government block them?
China could very easily completely block all VPN traffic if they wanted to. The level of tolerance for VPNs from the government, at any given time, is a balance between controlling the flow of information and being friendly to foreign investors and companies.
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 a certain amount of VPN traffic to allow foreign invested business and multi-national companies to access their corporate networks. Besides commercial VPN services, some companies use their own VPNs to securely connect the networks of their offices around the world.
A certain amount of commercial VPN traffic is allowed as well, because the government knows that many foreign visitors and investors need to access blocked websites and blocking VPNs completely would be very bad for the economy and foreign investment. During sensitive political meetings or other sensitive times, VPNs will be partially blocked or speed-throttled, but they will never be completely blocked.
You will notice that during these times of political meetings or events that the companies which have Chinese language websites and market their products to Chinese people will be hit the hardest by the blocking.
The VPN providers that don't target Chinese customers are left alone to a certain extent. It's not a matter of these VPN companies outsmarting the government censors, but rather the government censors carefully controlling the level of blocking. They could completely block any single VPN provider tomorrow if they really wanted to.
Instead, they usually just block the main sites and then don't bother blocking the alternative backup sites.
Don't be fooled, it's all very carefully controlled. You will notice that the more expensive providers such as ExpressVPN, whose customer base includes a higher proportion of foreign business people, with no Chinese language support, almost never gets blocked.
Astrill, on the other hand, markets their service to the Chinese masses, including Chinese language support, and selling their subscriptions on Taobao, is not tolerated so much.
Free VPN services are tolerated even less.
Are you starting to understand how it works now?
Is it possible to watch Netflix in China with a VPN?
Apple has removed all of the VPN apps from the China App Store. How can I download them from China?
It's pretty simple. You just need to create another iTunes account using a USA address. The apps are not blocked from being downloaded in China, only restricted based on the country of your iTunes account.
I'm using Astrill but it doesn't work on iOS. What can I do?
The best solution is to not use Astrill.
ExpressVPN has an excellent iOS app that works very well in China and is extremely easy to set-up and supports 3 different protocols. You can use OpenVPN (UDP and TCP), IPSec, and IKEv2 with the ExpressVPN iOS app. This is, by far, the absolute best VPN app for iOS that I have seen anywhere.
Due to limitations in iOS, third party custom VPN protocols are not supported. That means you can't use Astrill StealthVPN, VyprVPN Chameleon, or other custom protocols. Only L2TP, OpenVPN, and Cisco IPSec will work on iOS.
Which VPN is the best one to use in China?
If you don't understand what a VPN is or how to use one, then ExpressVPN is the best choice. Everything is very easy to install and setup.
Additional recommendations and updated information can be found on the Best VPN for China page.
What are the best discount offers available from this website?
The ones shown on the sidebar near the top of the page are the best ones. Additional special offers can be found here.
Should I buy a VPN and download the apps before I come to China?
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 it's a China related problem or not.
2. Although the alternate websites are usually accessible from China, there is no guarantee that will be the case when you are here.
Should I buy more than 1 VPN service?
If you really need fast and reliable internet, then yes, you should. In fact, I regularly use 3 VPN services in addition to the ones I test for this website.
Can I pay for a VPN with a Chinese bank card / Union Pay / Alipay?
ExpressVPN - Yes
NordVPN - Yes
VyprVPN - Not directly but maybe through Paypal
StrongVPN - Not directly but maybe through Paypal
*Note - Alipay payments that are processed by merchants outside of China are only available for Chinese citizens with a Chinese ID card. As a foreigner, you can only use Union Pay (Chinese bank card). I found this out when I made this YouTube video on how to sign up for ExpressVPN from China.
I have more questions. How can I find answers?
Write your question in the comment box below, and I will try to answer it. Or send me an email if you want to ask me a question privately.
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