Despite its famous system of state censorship, the internet is usually fully accessible from within China through the use of VPNs. Many such services are blocked, however. In this article, we will discuss the problems you might face when looking for a VPN for China 2016 and select what we understand to be the best VPNs for China. We will also provide solutions that often work even when such services are otherwise blocked.
The Great Firewall of China (GFW) is the ruling Communist Party’s response to the perceived social and political threats the internet poses to China’s cultural values and ideology. It is a far-ranging and increasing sophisticated system of internet censorship.
Sophisticated as it might be, however, the GFW is far from perfect. Implementation is patchy and inconsistent, and VPNs (among other censorship-busting technologies) can be very effective at breaching it.
5 Best VPNs for China Summary
|1||ExpressVPN review||$6.67 / month||Visit Site|
|2||VyprVPN review||$4.17 / month||Visit Site|
|3||AirVPN review||$4.82 / month||Visit Site|
|4||review||$ / month||Visit Site|
|5||BolehVPN review||$6.67 / month||Visit Site|
- 30-day money back guarantee
- No usage logs
- Servers in 78 countries
- “Stealth” servers in Hong Kong
- P2P: yes
- Connection (metadata) logs
- Under US jurisdiction
- P2P: no
With a balanced range of services designed to meet all the needs of mainstream VPN users, ExpressVPN is an excellent service for users in China. ExpressVPN prides itself on its superb customer service and generous 30-day no quibble money back guarantee. In line with its customer-focused philosophy, Express offers highly functional but good looking and easy-to-use desktop clients for Windows and OSX. The same is true of its mobile apps for Android and iOS.
Users in China will be pleased to note ExpressVPN’s Hong Kong-based “stealth” servers. These reportedly work well at evading the GFW. ExpressVPN also runs servers in a whopping 28 countries. This includes Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan and West Coast US. It should mean that you can get great speeds, wherever you are in China!
Additional features: no usage logs, excellent customer service.
- Very fast due to own infrastructure
- 36 countries
- Accepts Alipay
- Port Selection
- “Chameleon” stealth servers
- Connection (metadata) logs
- Under US jurisdiction
- P2P: no
VyprVPN is notable for being one of the very few (in fact the only one I know of) VPN services to own and control its entire network infrastructure. The result is fantastically fast connection speeds around the world. I recommend avoiding its PPPT-only basic plan, but VyprVPN otherwise offers a great selection of features. This includes servers in Hong Kong, South Korea, and Japan. It also includes a free SmartDNS service and robust customer support.
Although it advertised as being based in Switzerland, you should be aware that VyprVPN’s parent company (Golden Frog) is based at least partially in the US. This should not concern most users in China, however. These instead benefit from VyprVPN’s special “Chameleon” stealth technology, and its use of UDP ports in its apps to defeat port blocking and throttling issues.
Additional features: no usage logs, uses UDP ports.
- No logs at all
- VPN through Tor
- SSL & SSH tunneling
- Accepts Bitcoin
- P2P: yes
- Very Techy
- Customer support could be better
AirVPN has a reputation for technical excellence and dedication to privacy. It also has a reputation for being overly “techy”, which puts many users off. Users in China benefit from extremely strong encryption, the ability to run VPN through Tor, and the option to hide OpenVPN connections inside an SSL or SSH tunnel (which is great for evading the GFW). To this end, AirVPN’s server located in Hong Kong is very useful.
Additional features: real-time user and server statistics, perfect forward secrecy, open source client with internet kill switch and DNS leak protection, 3-day free trial, dynamic port forwarding, three simultaneous connections.
- Apparently works great in China!
- No logs at all
- 7-day free trial
- Two simultaneous devices*
- Lots of servers in the Far East
- Encryption seems basic
- *Only 1 laptop/desktop + 1 mobile device
Astrill is on this list due to popular acclaim. Thanks to input from our readers (plus other sources) we gather that this provider usually works very well in China. Although (as with all such things in China problems can and do occur. Astrill runs servers in 54 countries. This includes locations all over East Asia. It also offers a 7-day free trial (available on request) and a 7-day refund. Astrill says that it keeps no logs (at all).
Astrill allows you to connect two devices at once. Unfortunately, however, this limited to one laptop/desktop plus one mobile device. Little detail is provided about the encryption Astrill uses, so we can assume that it is not very impressive. The important thing, however, is that by many accounts Astrill works well in China!
- No logs at all
- “xCloak” stealth servers
- Client with VPN kills switch and DNS leak protection
- VPN over Tor
- SmartDNS included
- Somewhat techy and bare-bones
BolehVPN is somewhat reminiscent of AirVPN, except that it is based somewhere off the Malaysian coast. It has a great regard for privacy and is excellent on a technical level. Unfortunately it loses points when it comes to customer services, presentation, and general user-friendliness. It has a great Windows and Mac OSX client. This features a VPN kill switch, and DNS leak protection. It also offers “xCloak” servers designed bypass the Great Firewall of China. Its servers in Hong Kong and West Coast USA are also usefully located for users in China.
Additional features: P2P: yes, 2 simultaneous connections, free Smart DNS service, accepts Bitcoins.
Considerations for VPNs for China
The first thing to point out here is that BestVPN is not based in China. We strive very hard to be accurate, but must of necessity rely on reports from our readers. And on often incomplete and inconsistent reports on the internet, to form a picture of which services are and are not banned there.
This is an issue further complicated by the vagaries of the Great Firewall itself. If your experiences differ from what is presented here, we welcome your input. This will help to improve our coverage of the issue.
The Great Firewall of China
The GWF uses a range of technologies to “protect” Chinese citizens from content the Party deems inappropriate or dangerous for them to see. These technologies include simple IP blocks on website addresses. DNS filtering, URL filtering, packet filtering, and more, are also used.
In addition to these, Deep Packet Inspection techniques are used to foil attempts to bypass these blocks. If you are interested in learning about the censorship methods used by the GFW, an excellent discussion on the subject is available here.
The first phase of the GFW was completed in 2006, but it has since grown in complexity and scope. It now restricts internet access into and out of mainland China to only three access points. It also employs up to fifty thousand cyber-intelligence specialists to police the data-waves.
One of the most visible aspects of the Great Firewall is the blocking of websites and services that are household names throughout the rest of the world. These include all Google services, Facebook, Twitter, and Wikipedia.
The thing with the Great Firewall is that it is deployed very unevenly. A website can be blocked in one province, but be available in the next. Some websites that you might think would be immediately banned are freely accessible, while at the same time completely innocent websites are comprehensively blocked.
Notable for being blocked in China are Google services such as Gmail and YouTube. This follows a dispute between Google and the Chinese government in 2009. It involved accusations from Google that the Chinese government was complicit in cyber-attacks on Google websites. The Chinese government, for its part, was annoyed by Google’s refusal to remove videos on YouTube that showed police beating protesters during riots in Tibet.
Perhaps the most interesting thing, however, is that despite the high profile nature of this spat, Google Services are clearly still being accessed from within mainland China.
Using a VPN to breach the Great Firewall
Unsurprisingly, the use of VPNs to bypass the GFW is popular in China. Unfortunately the Chinese government is well aware this, and has taken steps to crack down on its use. The important thing for anyone visiting China to note is that it is much easier to use a VPN service if you signup and download its software before setting foot in China.
Simply being prepared in advance is often enough, but if you find that you cannot connect to your VPN service then there a number of tricks that you can try.
An important thing to note is that while the Chinese government goes to great lengths to ban access to VPN services, it does not prosecute those who try to circumvent this ban. There is, therefore, no harm in trying the tactics listed below. The worst that can happen is simply that you fail to access the internet uncensored.
A number of VPN providers offer special “stealth” servers designed to help get around the Great Firewall. These are typically located in Hong Kong (which is not subject to GFW censorship). They work using technologies such as obfsproxy (a technology used to hide Tor nodes), or hide VPN connections inside an SSL or SSH tunnel. See the VPN provider summaries above for more information on which providers offer such technologies.
VyprVPN offers “Chameleon” stealth technology
Use OpenVPN TCP port 443
HTTPS is the standard encryption protocol used to secure the internet. It is used by any website that needs to secure users’ communications. It is the fundamental backbone of all security on the internet. To block HTTPS is to effectively break the internet.
By running OpenVPN on TCP port 443 you can make OpenVPN traffic look just like regular HTTPS traffic. Many VPN providers allow you to do this using a setting in their custom software.
Even if yours does not, TCP port 443 is often supported at the server level. If this is the case then it can be easily enabled with a quick edit to your OpenVPN config (.ovpn) file. It is therefore well worth contacting your provider about the issue.
In addition to allowing you to change to OpenVPN TCP port 443, the AirVPN client allows you to hide your OpenVPN traffic inside an SSL or SSH tunnel
Switch VPN protocol
Switching VPN protocols is also worth a try. SSTP in particular often works, because it also uses TCP port 443. Please see PPTP vs L2TP vs OpenVPN vs SSTP vs IKEv2 for more information on the different VPN protocols that are available.
The ExpressVPN client offers a wide range of VPN protocols to choose from (including SSTP)
How to access the best VPN reviews on the internet!
Here at BestVPN we have slightly mixed views about being banned in China. On the one hand we consider it a badge of honor in the fight for an uncensored internet. On the other, it means that some people who have a strong need for our advice may find us difficult to find.
The good news is that we have a special URL – bestvpn-china.com that is not blocked by the GFW!
VPNs with servers inside China
Given that VPNs are banned, I was more than a little surprised to discover (thanks to reader Guy Haiar) that some VPN providers run servers from inside mainland China. These include:
This is great for Chinese expats looking to access Chinese websites or who wish to participate in Chinese games!
Best VPN for China Conclusion
There is no denying that the Great Firewall in China can be a real pain in the butt! VPNs can be a very effective tool for overcoming it, but you should prepare yourself for a slightly rocky ride. After all, one of the mightiest nations on the planet is ploughing considerable resources into preventing you from evading its censorship measures. You should not be surprised, therefore, when it sometimes succeeds!
That said, with a little patience and determination, you should be able to use a VPN to access the uncensored internet most of the time…