So, you’ve arrived in Beijing, made your way through the city’s mad traffic and checked into your hotel. You sit down with your laptop to get onto Facebook to tell your friends and family you’ve arrived safe and sound, airplane food notwithstanding, and you see a message you haven’t seen much before: “this webpage is not available.” You’ve run into the famous Great Firewall and you’re going to need one of our best VPN for China picks to break through.
We’re probably not spilling any state secrets when we tell you that the People’s Republic of China has a few, ahem, issues with human rights. The most noticeable of these for visitors to the country is the Great Firewall, which keeps out all pernicious internet sites and shows the Chinese people only what the ruling communist party wants them to see.
If you’d like to know more about all that, make sure to read our article on censorship in China. If you just want the tl;dr, here it is: the People’s Republic likes to make sure people don’t get any weird ideas about freedom from the internet, so it employs around two million censors to keep the Chinese web tightly controlled.
It can do this because the web only enters the country through a few specific access points, making it easy to see what’s going on (you couldn’t keep track of all the internet traffic entering Western Europe, for instance). The Chinese people are very much at the mercy of the authorities when it comes to freedom of information.
Of course, anyone in the Middle Kingdom is subject to these restrictions, including foreign visitors. If you’re planning a visit to China, you may want to run all your favorite websites through our Chinese firewall test to see if they’ll work; if not, you’re going to need a VPN to tunnel through the Great Firewall.
Best VPN for China 2019
What Makes a VPN Best for China?
A virtual private network allows you to access the internet anonymously, while also circumventing geoblocks (which the Great Firewall kinda is, except it keeps things in). It does this through what’s called a secure tunnel, an encrypted connection between you, the user, and the VPN service’s server.
Generally speaking, most third parties can’t crack the tunnel, including most countries that censor the internet. China, however, is a different beast entirely and has made it an industry to develop code-cracking equipment for this very purpose. There are even rumors the secret police are able to penetrate most basic tunnels (we’re not exactly sure because, well, dictatorial regimes tend to be kinda secretive about this stuff).
This means that quite a few of the services you can find in our VPN reviews are off the table from the get go, simply because they don’t have the required 256-bit AES encryption. In fact, that level of encryption may not even be enough: there are rumors that the Chinese censor can crack that level of encryption, so 4096 bits are encouraged.
What’s left are the services that are already at the top of our best VPN list; others will let you be detected by Chinese authorities (a very bad thing, since VPNs are technically illegal there), if they get your signal out of the country at all. Thankfully, the following five providers are guaranteed to allow you to surf the internet as if you were sitting in the EU, the U.S. or any other country with freedom of speech.
Other considerations include speed, because you want to make sure that you’re surfing faster than the speed of mud through a funnel, as well as a killswitch. This is a mechanism built into a VPN that “kills” the connection if your VPN server experiences any problems. This is vital if you want to stay ahead of the Chinese censor.
The last, but not least, requirement is that your VPN of choice has a good mobile app: though this may not seem important at first, the world’s number one messaging app, WhatsApp, is blocked in China, meaning you won’t be able to let people about all the weird food you’re eating unless your phone has a VPN app installed.
Best VPN for Hong Kong (& Macau)
A quick note for readers who are visiting Hong Kong or her sister Special Administrative Region, Macau: the Great Firewall is not active in these two not-quite Chinas as well, meaning that to access Facebook, Twitter and all your other favorite sites you don’t need to use a VPN. However, there are some indications that traffic in both SARs may be monitored by the authorities, meaning that if you’re up to something they may not like, you’re best off protecting yourself.
Readers residing in Taiwan are, of course, free to do as they please on the internet: the Republic of China has no restrictions on internet use in place.
Our first pick is Cloudwards.net stalwart ExpressVPN, not just because it has excellent encryption, but also because it’s the fastest VPN around. Most secure providers will cut your speed something awful, but ExpressVPN only sees a drop of 10-20 percent for nearby servers, meaning you can browse from China safely without waiting ages for pages to load.
ExpressVPN has the necessary 4096-bit encryption that is recommended for use in China. You’ll have to configure this manually, however, which isn’t too bad because ExpressVPN is easy to navigate and changing any settings is a breeze.
That also goes for the mobile app: it works like a charm on both Android and iPhone, with full functionality and the required killswitch in place. Navigating to setting up the 4096-bit encryption is a little trickier than on desktop, but nothing too involved, either. If you’d like to know more, check out our best VPN for Android picks; ExpressVPN ranks third, while another service further down this list, AirVPN wins, there.
Other Reasons Why We Like ExpressVPN
Besides being secure and fast, ExpressVPn also offers excellent support and is probably the best VPN out there for people who have no idea how these programs work. As you can read in our ExpressVPN review, it comes packed with all kinds of great features, while also offering great Linux support, earning it our best VPN for Linux title.
Whatever your plans are, from streaming video (it is our best VPN for Netflix for a reason) to browsing safely from China, you can’t go wrong with ExpressVPN. The service offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you have nothing to lose.
- Mobile apps
- Only three connections
- Mobile app is a bit tricky
Perhaps the most secure VPN out there, NordVPN loses points to ExpressVPN because it can be rather slow. That said, for those truly worried about security, there may not be a better pick thanks to the service’s double-hop encryption, meaning it’s encrypted twice over, both times using 256-bit AES encryption.
Now, you may be thinking this is contrary to what we were saying earlier, but NordVPN has an interesting ace up its sleeve when it comes to China. They use special “obfuscated servers” to help keep you hidden from the almighty eyes of the Chinese secret police. How these servers work is, of course, kept secret by NordVPN, but here at Cloudwards.net we do believe that the word of this excellent provider is good enough.
NordVPN’s mobile app is also decent, though less intuitive than that of some other competitors. Again, however, the truly security-conscious will probably consider this only as a minor trade-off, especially as there is no way the censor will be able to look in on your WhatsApp messages.
Other Reasons Why We Like NordVPN
As you can read in our NordVPN review, the service comes packed with features as well as a very easy-to-install client. Add to that a much friendlier price than ExpressVPN offers and we would have a major winner, were it not for the mediocre speeds it offers.
Much like ExpressVPN, it has a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can check it out to your heart’s content without putting serious money on the line (especially since signing up to NordVPN for two years means major savings). You could do a lot worse than NordVPN and its security sets the standard for the industry.
- Highly secure
- Good pricing
- Easy to use
- Mobile app is a bit meh
- Opaque security
VyprVPN is another top service that offers a great combination of speed and security, plus a mobile app that won’t have you sweating every time you send a WhatsApp message. Offering plenty of security as well as great speeds, we feel it falls neatly into the middle ground between ExpressVPN and NordVPN when it comes to accessing the internet from the Middle Kingdom.
Besides offering 256-bit AES encryption, VyprVPN also comes with its Chameleon cloaking technology which should keep you safe from the Chinese authorities. In a nutshell, Chameleon scrambles the traces of your traffic, making it almost impossible to detect it as such. After all, if nobody can tell it’s VPN traffic, there’s no reason for them to try and decrypt it.
The mobile app is definitely on the upper end of the scale compared to most services, with easy navigation and a great built-in killswitch. Speeds are nothing to sneeze at, either, with the tests we made for our VyprVPN review showing only a drop of around 10-20 percent.
Other Reasons Why We Like VyprVPN
Besides being a veritable Great Firewall buster, VyprVPN is also one of our top picks for getting around the Netflix VPN ban as well as other geoblocks. It plays well with others, too, offering clients for a host of OSes both desktop and mobile, as well as several Linux distributions.
One of the main selling points of VyprVPN, however, is that it’s the only top VPN provider that offers a free three-day trial. Though you do need to give your credit card details, you do get to play around with the service and see if it’s a good fit for your needs. Not many services offer this, making VyprVPN a real must-try.
- Good mobile app
- Free trial
- Chameleon cloak
- Trial is short
- Encryption may be weak
Offering an absolutely massive network of servers spread across the globe, TorGuard scores fairly well in most VPN-related articles we’ve written here at Cloudwards.net. What makes it good for China are its dedicated (the service uses the term “Asia optimized”) servers, which allow for extra stealth when tunneling from China.
Besides being hard to detect, the connection itself is protected by any number of VPN protocols, including the highly secure, but slow, UDP and TCP, in conjunction with AES encryption. However, much as with NordVPN this added security comes at the cost of speed.
However, there is a reason TorGuard only comes in fourth: the mobile app is mediocre at best, meaning that while you can use it well enough, setting it up is a pain. It is also one of the slowest VPNs around.
Other Reasons Why We Like TorGuard
As you can read in our TorGuard review, one of its main selling points is the almost ridiculous amount of servers it offers. Currently standing at 1600, there is almost no location you can’t access directly, making it a great way to circumvent any geoblock.
Though it requires a bit more know-how than the other entries on this list, TorGuard is an excellent service that we recommend gladly. If you feel that a highly tweakable service is right up your alley, it offers a seven-day money-back guarantee.
- Massive amount of servers
- Stealth servers
- Short guarantee
- Mobile app is meh
The service with the best mobile app on the market, AirVPN comes in last in our top five simply because, when compared to our other four entries, it’s a bit slow, a little hard to use at times and offers a relatively small amount of servers to connect to. That said, it’s also pretty cheap and comes with excellent security, making it a good match for a certain kind of user.
Along with ExpressVPN, AirVPN is one of the two providers on this list that offers the required 4096-bit RSA encryption you need to stay ahead of the Chinese censor, meaning all you need do after arriving in China is change a single toggle in the settings menu and off you go, browsing to your heart’s content without any interference, though at badly reduced speed.
The biggest benefit, however, is reserved for mobile users who get to use a great app that works a lot smoother than the competition’s. Another major benefit is the price, which is low under any plan, but can be tweaked per day, week, month, year, whatever works best for you.
Other Reasons Why We Like AirVPN
For AirVPN the name of the game is transparency and this is clear right from when you visit the AirVPN website. All the information you need, from what exactly the service offers to the price of plans is all there at a single glance.
On top of that, the service also offers a trial, but only on request. You can find details on this in our AirVPN review, but it boils down to you sending an email to customer support with the why and how long of your trial, and the team following up as soon as possible with details. Though a bit more circuitous than VyprVPN’s method, free trials are rare enough in VPN land that this is a welcome addition.
- 4096-bit encryption
- Trial only on request
- No money-back guarantee
- Few servers
Though in most cases ExpressVPN will do the trick for most people, any of the five providers mentioned above will get your traffic out of China safely and quickly, meaning you can browse the internet from your Beijing hotel room much like you would from your own couch or desk.
That said, always double- or triple-check that you’re connected via your VPN before entering any website while in China, as well as making sure that you don’t advertise your VPN use to anyone you don’t know. The Chinese police still use plenty of old-fashioned methods as well as high-tech ones to ensure everyone follows the rules.
Do you have any experience using a VPN in China? We’d love to hear your input in the comments below. Thank you for reading and stay safe while traveling the Middle Kingdom.