Best VPN Services of 2019 for China
Accessing a virtual private network (VPN) in Mainland China can be a very challenging thing to do. With the country’s strict regulations, decades-long crackdown on internet freedom, and their VPN ban, finding a service provider that still works can be a long and demanding task.
With a large population from neighboring countries living there, and the number of expats from Europe and North America continually on the rise, it’s safe to say that not everyone is in good terms with the cybersecurity protocols in China.
As some of the most used apps and websites around the world are blocked on this China, internet users are looking for ways to free themselves of the from the "protection" of the Great Firewall.
Right now, the best way access services like Netflix and the BBC, or even Facebook and Google is a VPN. But not just any kind of VPN. You will need a top-notch service provider that can bypass the fierce Chinese Great Firewall and protect you from the extensive government surveillance.
To help you in your search for the best VPNs that still work in China, we’ve made a list of service providers that will tell you which VPN to get while living in or temporarily visiting Mainland China.
What to Look For In A VPN for China
Unfortunately, there isn't as wide of a choice of VPNs for China as there are elsewhere, but there are still some good providers left on the market that can overcome the Great Firewall of China.
Clearly, most of the basic and free VPN providers don’t have what it takes to participate in the fight for internet freedom and privacy.
But even a few of the most popular providers in the industry have failed to deliver results in China, and they eventually excluded this country from their area of work.
That eliminates a large number of options and leaves us only with some of the best ones on the market.
Right now, what you need is three key things in a VPN: security, privacy, and reliability.
Users that value their privacy will find Chinese cybersecurity regulations to be quite intrusive. That is why it’s necessary for a VPN to offer advanced security protocols and use strong encryption.
Currently, the industry’s top choice is the OpenVPN protocol, which is a very safe option, with the 256-bit encryption. There are other alternatives as well, but we usually recommend this one.
The idea is to stay anonymous over the internet, and this is one of the best ways to keep it that way.
The previous two attributes are not difficult to find in many of the VPNs on the market. But to find a provider that will be reliable enough to get you through the Chinese Firewall will be a difficult task. The reliability of a VPN lies in many things, including how many servers it has available, and level of encryption and the type of protocol.
To save you time and energy we listed the top three providers on the market that combine the main key features mentioned above.
Top 3 Recommended VPNs for China
As time passes by, the Chinese VPN ban grows bigger and bigger, and only a handful of providers on the market can avoid detection to bypass the Chinese Firewall, and deliver the censored and blocked content to internet users in China.
Note that the mentioned providers are still working in 2019, but with the severity of the crackdown it is also possible for users to experience connectivity issues occasionally. We advise you to install them prior to entering Mainland China if possible.
Ever since the VPN ban in China, ExpressVPN has been trying to find the best way to bring their service to all internet users in the country. Although their website is blacklisted, as the leading service provider ExpressVPN manages to remain active and is one of the few that are still working there.
ExpressVPN has excellent features combined into one strong internet freedom tool. With ExpressVPN you will be able to access blocked websites and apps and keep yourself shielded.
Most of its servers work on the territory of China, and it even has operating servers nearby, in places such as Hong Kong or Nepal. In other words, you won’t have to sacrifice your internet speed all that much.
Pros of ExpressVPN: excellent security and privacy features; servers in 94 countries; zero logs
Cons of ExpressVPN: expensive price plans; no free plan
In attempts to fight censorship in China, NordVPN has implemented new and advanced technology that allow users to access blocked websites in China. With its double security, NordVPN also stands as one of the best VPN options for China.
In most cases, it is going to be easy to access and download the VPN client in China, but in some instances, you might need additional help.
That’s where NordVPN’s obfuscated servers come into action. They were specifically designed for using their services in places with heavy restrictions and advanced firewalls. NordVPN’s customer service is quite helpful, so if you are experiencing any trouble, they will guide you through the whole process.
Pros of NordVPN: affordable price; free trial; double security; obfuscated servers
Cons of NordVPN: some servers are slow
Thanks to its distinct technology and privately owned servers, VyprVPN can not only circumvent the Great Chinese Firewall, but it can do so without significant a reduction in the speed of your internet connection.
Their Chameleon protocol utilizes the open source OpenVPN protocol with a strong encryption. It helps disguise your traffic and avoid being detected by the Chinese Firewall.
Pros of VyprVPN: proprietary Chameleon protocol; fast servers; free trial
Cons of VyprVPN: less server locations;
Chinese Censorship and Surveillance
When it comes to abusing internet freedom, unfortunately, China can be found on top of the lists. The government in China has been actively censoring the internet and conducting surveillance over their citizens for decades.
This puts China in first place as the biggest abuser of internet freedom in the world, according to Freedom House. The internet watchdog also warns that the country is trying to spread its control globally.
To conduct massive surveillance on over 750 million internet users, and blacklist thousands of websites, China used its sophisticated Great Firewall and an army of human enforcers.
The government started by obstructing the free flow of information in the country by blocking Western websites and popular apps, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, Wikipedia, and even Google. Chinese netizens cannot access things like Google Maps, or log in to a Gmail account. Instead, over time, these major websites and apps got replaced with alternative Chinese versions of them.
Censorship aside, the mass surveillance that the Chinese government conducts in the country is commonly done through the internet.
What hundreds of millions of internet users in China can or cannot do is tightly controlled by the government. The “internet police” control messaging apps and conversations between people, they monitor the distribution of online news and even decide what can be posted on the internet.
A huge factor in this situation is the fact that all internet service providers (ISP) in China are tightly controlled by the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.
For a long time, it was easy to bypass the internet crackdown with a VPN. That was until 2017, when the Chinese government removed over 60 VPN apps from the China App Store and banned most VPNs.
The Great Firewall of China
“If you open the window for fresh air, some flies will be blown in.”
That's a well-known saying linked to Deng Xiaoping, Chinese supreme leader in the 80s that in a certain way describes the concept behind the Great Firewall of China. What this means is that if you open up to change, as Xiaoping did with his economic reforms, it’s inevitable to bring unwanted things such as “corrupted” Western ideologies.
China has a centuries-long history with censorship. However, since the rise of the internet, many things have changed all around the world.
The Great Firewall of China is the name used and recognized by the world to describe the advanced technology that China has been using for over two decades in attempts to block the spread of Western influence.
Initially, the project was called Golden Shield and was launched in 1998. It included several distinct projects, including security management information system, a criminal system, and of course, the now famous Great Firewall.
Although the original idea was to increase cybersecurity, ultimately it resulted in what we have today - a powerful tool for controlling the internet usage in the country.
Over time, the program endured changes that resulted in something much more complex and advanced than the public expected.
For some time, basic VPN providers were the main tool for circumventing these restrictions, but after the reinforcement with artificial intelligence (AI) technology, most of these alternatives failed. Now, only the best VPN service providers in the industry can fight the war against the Chinese Firewall.
Consequently, the problems with internet censorship and online surveillance keep growing bigger and bigger.
How the Great Firewall of China Works
The Great Firewall is a sophisticated tool that utilizes several approaches in order to keep tight control over the internet users in the country.
For starters, it uses URL filtering. There is a database of blacklisted websites that are banned in China, that the Firewall uses to filter requests. If someone tries to, for example, access Facebook’s website at www.facebook.com, they will be denied access. Certain keywords are also blocked too.
Moreover, there is a thing called DNS poisoning. Each user has a unique IP address assigned by the ISP. An ISP's DNS server that keeps a database of these IP addresses , including the one you are using, and public ones for websites like Google.
When you make a request to visit a website, it goes through the DNS server and because of DNS poisoning the Firewall messes with the response you get, and makes the website you were trying to visit inaccessible.
For a more significant impact, the Great Firewall utilizes manual enforcement. Millions of people work to implement the censorship and surveillance by filtering what is deemed to be harmful content and violations on the internet.
The Recent VPN Ban
The Chinese government has banned virtual private networks in Mainland China which makes accessing them much more difficult now than it was before.
It would be very difficult for China to block all VPNs in the country and completely prevent their users from accessing these providers. Unfortunately, for the time being, they seem to be doing a great job.
The government has been cracking down hard on VPNs and users are experiencing major connection problems all the time.
Only a few VPNs remain active in the country, while others mostly gave up the fight or surrendered to the government’s influence. Those that do work are often blocked by the Great Firewall that identifies VPN-looking traffic and blocks the connection.
Some are still successfully avoiding it, like those above, and these VPNs could be of immense help to internet freedom fighters in the country, as well as an invaluable addition for travelers visiting Mainland China.
Benefits of Using a VPN
Our end goal is to equip you with the best VPN providers that still work in China by providing a better and easier understanding of the situation in the country.
However, it’s also important to understand that apart from keeping you private and bypassing censorship in China, a VPN offers many other benefits.
Firstly, you will be able to change your IP address, which not only helps hide your online identity, but it also grants you access to global entertainment content.
Moreover, the fact that a VPN encrypts your online traffic means you will be able to avoid surveillance from your government, have an extra layer of protection from cyber attacks, and keep your internet data safe even if you are using a public Wi-Fi.
Finally, you can use it to improve your internet connection and avoid throttling, to stream and torrent, or even to enjoy in a better gaming experience.
Overall, using a VPN is a necessity as much as using an antivirus or an ad blocker on your device. And obviously, for users in China it's one of the most helpful tools when it comes to internet freedom.
Having a VPN is a necessity for citizens that want uninterrupted access to foreign websites and Western social media platforms and apps. For visitors, it would also be a good idea to use a VPN if they want to keep communicating with their friends and family through WhatsApp, post pictures on Instagram, or access and read through their work emails on Gmail.
As long as there are VPNs that can bypass the Great Firewall of China, there is also hope for internet freedom in the country. Hopefully, in the future, things will change for the better.
In the meantime, if you’ve had a positive or a negative experience with a VPN above, you can help us and other readers by leaving a comment below or writing a review.