Key Takeaways: What Is the Best VPN for China?
- Surfshark — Best VPN for China
- Astrill VPN — Most reliable China VPN
- CyberGhost — Largest global server network
- Proton VPN — Extra user privacy with Secure Core servers
- Windscribe — Fastest VPN for China
- Mullvad — Bypasses VPN restrictions with double obfuscation
- NordVPN — Robust security with double VPN
Facts & Expert Analysis From the Article:
- Preferred VPN Choice: The general consensus among VPN users in China is that Astrill VPN is the most reliable option. However, it’s an incredibly expensive VPN, so it’s worth trying other cheaper options first. Surfshark is our top choice for best VPN for China as it has a solid reputation for working in the country while also offering affordable plans.
- Alternative VPN Options: Other good options for China include CyberGhost, Proton VPN, Widscribe and Mullvad. NordVPN is also an option, but it’s not as reliable in China as the other six, so we only recommend it if you already have an account.
- Censorship Evasion Strategy: Since VPNs are in a running battle with censorship, we recommend subscribing to multiple VPNs to ensure you have coverage at all times. No matter which VPNs you use, make sure you download them before going to China, as the download pages are often blocked.
China is among the countries with the heaviest internet censorship. As much as 95% of the country uses one of four state-owned internet service providers, like China Unicom, with few options for independent ISPs.1 The government decides which sites people can visit and can see what they’re up to. It goes without saying that using the best VPN for China is a basic necessity if you value your privacy.
Another major problem with the internet in China is speed bottlenecks due to poor network infrastructure. The government doesn’t allow independent ISPs to operate, and licensed ISPs like China Telecom and China Mobile can’t efficiently handle the needs of more than one billion subscribers. Additionally, due to the Great Firewall, you may also experience slow speeds when you open non-Chinese websites.
Though the virtual private networks listed below are reliable in different capacities, they are not always guaranteed to work due to the intense nature of VPN censorship in China. The Chinese government bans VPNs that don’t meet its unreasonable requirements, like the insane demand to provide the government with backdoor access so it can snoop on users.2
Any VPN provider faces a constant battle with bypassing the Great Firewall. Our official recommendation is that visitors use at least three VPNs. Don’t worry, though; there are workarounds you can use whenever you hit a brick wall while living in or visiting China. We’ll go over those tricks to help you evade China’s internet censorship.
Cloudwards has updated the post to include Surfshark — a relatively new yet reliable VPN for China — and VyprVPN, which used to be an honorable mention.
We’ve reduced the list of VPNs to five candidates, added two honorable mentions, and provided reasons to use a China VPN for expats.
02/16/2024 Facts checked
Rewrote to ensure that each VPN actually works in China.
Cloudwards Editor’s Choice: Surfshark VPN
On top of ranking highly on our fastest VPN list, Surfshark has one important feature for visitors who need a VPN while in China: obfuscation. It works automatically on the OpenVPN protocol, making your VPN tunnel look like a regular internet connection to anyone investigating. This makes it much less likely (though not impossible) that China will block your traffic.
Surfshark has more than 3,200 servers in 100 countries, including the U.S., the U.K., Australia, South Africa and Brazil. You’re virtually guaranteed to be able to unblock geo-restricted sites like Netflix, Hulu or the BBC from most parts of China.
Of greater interest — and a big reason why Surfshark tops this list — is the server in Macau SAR China that can work for Chinese citizens abroad. The only other VPN software that comes close to this is CyberGhost.
NoBorders mode is another vital security feature that automatically detects network restrictions to provide you with a list of servers that are best suited to circumventing the VPN blocks. Add on the RAM-only servers and the strict no-logs policy and you can start to see why Surfshark is our editor’s choice. We’ll share more on what it can and can’t do later on.
How to Choose the Best China VPN
The list of VPN providers that work in China is very limited. We considered the following factors when making our selection.
- Obfuscation: This was the most important factor we considered. VPN use is monitored in China in multiple ways, and the best way to avoid trouble is to use a VPN with obfuscation to make your VPN traffic look like regular traffic.
- User security: Standard encryption like AES-256 or an equivalent is the first defense against any type of surveillance in China. Security features like a kill switch (for IP leak protection) and split tunneling (for encrypting specific traffic) are equally important.
- Unblocking capability: China has blocked practically every website from Western countries. This includes social media sites, streaming services and major websites like CNN. You can only access these sites by using VPNs with a large server network in locations outside China. The more VPNs at your service, the better.
- Connection speeds: Since many people use VPN services to watch their favorite shows and movies, reliable and stable connection speeds are important. VPN apps should be able to handle at the very least SD streaming without buffering.
- Device compatibility: The VPN should be compatible with devices that people use every day, like Android, iOS, macOS, Windows and Linux. The number of simultaneous device connections allowed is also important — you want to be able to immediately switch between devices.
- Price: Finally, since we suggest having an arsenal of VPNs for China, we wanted to make sure most options were affordable. Though Astrill did make the list due to its reliability in China, the price is way too high for many people.
The 7 Best VPNs for China
For each VPN, we will look at the security features that make it work in China and whether the server networks can access blocked content. We will also conduct hands-on testing to see what makes each provider tick. Read on to find out more.
1. Surfshark — Best VPN for China
- Has a server in Macau, China
- Unblocks content worldwide
- Offers obfuscation
- Obfuscation can slow down speeds
Surfshark is equipped with more than 3,200 VPN servers in 100 countries. Though it doesn’t have a server in mainland China, you can connect to servers in Macau SAR China (virtual), Taiwan or Hong Kong. These are the three closest servers you can use to unblock streaming sites like Netflix.
Surfshark also provides users with MultiHop servers for double encryption. One of these servers routes your traffic through Hong Kong and Singapore, making it twice as hard for Chinese authorities to track you.
You don’t have to worry about your VPN use being flagged either. Surfshark has a reliable obfuscation feature called “camouflage mode” that makes your connection look like regular internet traffic. The feature runs automatically across all devices when you switch to an OpenVPN protocol (UDP or TCP) and is necessary to bypass the Great Firewall.
All Surfshark servers are RAM only, so your browsing history will never see the light of day since it is wiped clean at certain intervals. NoBorders mode automatically shows you the best servers to use when you’re on a heavily government-restricted network. Surfshark’s speeds are also among the best; you can read how it achieves those in our Surfshark review.
Surfshark Hands-On Testing
Navigating the Surfshark app is easy even for first-time users. All the servers are displayed alphabetically with clear labels that separate virtual servers from physical ones.
You can activate the kill switch and NoBorders mode in the app settings with a single tap and easily change to any protocol you want. Additionally, Surfshark allows unlimited simultaneous connections. We explain the advantages of that in our best VPN for multiple devices article.
Downloading Surfshark in China will be hard unless you’re in Macau — like many VPN websites, its homepage is blocked within the country. The best option would be to download it before you visit or to get a link from someone outside China through email. The Surfshark mirror site shark-china.com may also work.
Surfshark Pricing & Value
Surfshark occupies another unique spot as one of the most affordable VPNs on our list. The cheapest option is the 24-month Surfshark Starter plan, which costs $2.29 per month and comes with an extra four months.
Next is the 12-month plan, which goes for $3.49 per month and comes with an extra month, and finally, the monthly plan for $10.99. All plans are fully refundable within 30 days of subscription.
- Unlimited GB bandwidth, Unlimited devices, Secure VPN, Ad blocker, Cookie pop-up blocker.
- Unlimited GB
- Everything in Starter, plus Antivirus protection, Identity protection, Email Breach and Credit Card Alerts, Online Alias
- Unlimited GB
- Everything in One, plus Data removal
- Unlimited GB
2. Astrill — Most Reliable China VPN
- Most reliable VPN in China
- Solid streaming performance
- Obfuscated servers
- Very expensive
Astrill offers VPN servers in 58 countries around the world, most of them physical and connected to fast network nodes that provide users with amazing speeds. You can connect to servers in the United States, Japan or Australia to easily access different streaming platforms and social media sites.
One factor that makes Astrill VPN perfect for China is the StealthVPN protocol, which makes obfuscated servers available. Once you switch to this protocol, your VPN traffic is disguised as regular internet traffic, making it difficult for Chinese authorities to detect that you are using a VPN.
Like any other VPN that offers the same feature, these obfuscated servers cannot guarantee a 100% success rate. China’s government doesn’t play around, which explains why you won’t see major names like ExpressVPN on this list. However, Astrill is the most reliable China VPN we’ve seen so far, with a higher success rate with its obfuscation than any other service.
Other security and privacy features include a kill switch to prevent IP leaks when the VPN disconnects and multi-hop servers that route your traffic through two IP addresses for double the encryption. You’re probably wondering why, despite all these amazing features, Astrill VPN isn’t at the top. The proof is in the pricing, as we cover in our Astrill review.
Astrill Hands-On Testing
Astrill’s interface is easy to use and is compatible with Android, iOS, macOS, Windows and more. You can also connect up to five devices at once, which is limited compared to Surfshark but enough to comfortably cover a single user. The VPN app has a smooth user interface with easily navigable app settings and server lists. The speeds are also among the best.
Astrill Pricing & Value
Astrill is one of the most expensive VPNs on this list, which is why we’ve dropped it below Surfshark despite its higher success rate in China. The cheapest pricing is the 24-month option at $12.50 per month. The 12-month plan costs $15 per month, and the monthly plan goes for $30. There are no money-back guarantees and no refunds.
3. CyberGhost — Largest Server Network
- Largest server network
- Offers a Chinese IP address
- Fast speeds for streaming
- No obfuscation
CyberGhost doesn’t have obfuscation, but it is the only VPN service on our list with servers in mainland China. That’s convenient for anybody who wants to access Chinese sites that are restricted outside the country.
In addition, its more than 9,000 servers in more than 90 countries give you access to social media sites, streaming services and news blogs from around the globe that are blocked in China.
The lack of obfuscation shouldn’t worry you too much because CyberGhost often manages to get around the Great Firewall anyway. Thanks to reliable encryption, you can safely contact loved ones outside China through apps like Viber or WhatsApp without anyone listening in. We demonstrate how the encryption works with tests in our CyberGhost review.
All CyberGhost servers are RAM only, so all your browsing data is wiped clean every hour. The kill switch, available on Android, iOS, macOS, Windows and more, helps you avoid attracting unnecessary attention from government VPN surveillance.
CyberGhost isn’t as fast as Mullvad, Surfshark or Windscribe, but it still offers VPN users sufficient speeds for streaming or gaming through its specialty servers. These occasionally outperformed the regular servers in our speed tests.
CyberGhost Hands-On Testing
The CyberGhost app is compatible with Android, iOS, Windows and macOS. macOS users can see how busy different servers are so they can choose less crowded ones.
The Windows version displays the distance from a user’s location so they can avoid more distant servers that tend to be slower. These simple functionalities make CyberGhost one of our picks for the best VPN for beginners.
You can connect up to seven devices simultaneously, which is enough to connect essential devices or share with your colleagues in China. Despite CyberGhost having servers in China, you still may not be able to download CyberGhost apps since the service’s homepage is blocked in China.
We recommend you install the VPN on your devices before jetting into China. If that isn’t possible, contact support so they can email you the download link.
CyberGhost Pricing & Value
CyberGhost is a cheap VPN with three plans. You’ll get the best value from the two-year option, which costs $2.37 per month. The six-month plan costs $6.99 per month. Both of these come with a 45-day money-back guarantee. The monthly plan costs $12.99 and has a shorter 14-day money-back guarantee.
4. Proton VPN — Reliable and Secure Core Servers
- Free version
- VPN accelerator
- Secure Core servers
- Random server selection on free plan
Proton VPN can help you unblock restricted streaming sites like Disney+ or BBC iPlayer from within China. It has more than 3,000 servers in more than 70 countries but none in China. The closest servers you can connect to are in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Proton VPN has a strict no-logs policy that ensures your online movements are off limits to everyone.
The Secure Core servers improve your privacy and data security by routing traffic through countries with better privacy laws like Sweden, Iceland or Switzerland. We highly recommend using Secure Core servers in China, as they’re best suited for countries with restrictive internet regulations. Proton VPN offers obfuscation when you switch to the StealthVPN protocol on Android, iOS or macOS.
Speed isn’t ProtonVPN’s strongest suit, as we illustrate in our Proton VPN review. However, it still posted decent speeds for buffer-free streaming and lag-free gaming. The VPN has a unique feature called the “VPN accelerator” that’s available across all apps. It boosts your speeds by splitting the path between the VPN server and the destination into shorter paths and running them in parallel.
Proton VPN Hands-On Testing
Proton VPN is compatible with Windows, iOS, macOS and Android. The servers are arranged alphabetically in every app, and you can use the search function to locate the server you need. Additionally, you can connect up to 10 devices simultaneously — more than NordVPN or CyberGhost.
Proton VPN Pricing & Value
On top of offering a free version, Proton VPN has three premium plans. The two-year plan provides the best value at $4.99 per month, followed by the one-year plan for $5.99 per month and the monthly plan for $9.99. A 30-day money-back guarantee covers all three.
- Unlimited GB
- Unlimited GB
5. Windscribe — Fastest VPN for China
- Opens blocked China content
- Offers reliable obfuscation
- Pretty fast VPN
- Free version lacks obfuscation
Windscribe succeeds in China thanks to the Stealth and WStunnel protocols, which are suited to highly restricted networks. The Stealth protocol is based on OpenVPN and disguises your encrypted connection by using an open-source library called Stunnel to enclose your regular VPN connection within a layer of SSL encryption.
WStunnel, which is similar, masks the OpenVPN protocol by passing it through a websocket to bypass any VPN detection efforts in China. However, this secure VPN protocol is only available on macOS and Windows. Additionally, Windscribe offers double hop, which masks your internet connection twice. This is useful if you’re doing something that you really can’t afford to leak.
For unblocking restricted online resources like streaming platforms or news sites, Windscribe is equipped with servers in more than 60 countries. There are none in China, but you can connect to Taiwan or Hong Kong to access the outside web. Fortunately for avid gamers and streamers, Windscribe was the fastest VPN in our speed tests, only registering a 4% speed drop.
Windscribe Hands-On Testing
Windscribe has feature-rich apps that can be a little daunting to new users. The VPN is compatible with Windows, macOS, Android and iOS devices. You can easily activate the kill switch, turn on split tunneling and tweak proxy settings from within the app settings.
Windscribe is the only VPN besides Surfshark that supports simultaneous connections on unlimited devices. We discuss that and more in our Windscribe review.
Windscribe Pricing & Value
Like Proton VPN, Windscribe has a free version. If you want to unlock more, you can subscribe to the 12-month plan, which offers the best value at $5.75 per month.
There’s also a monthly plan that costs $9 per month and a build-a-plan option that lets you choose a location you want to use repeatedly for $1 per location per month. However, Windscribe has the shortest money-back guarantee — only three days.
- Up to 15 GB free with email confirmation and Tweet
- Unlimited GB
6. Mullvad — Double Obfuscation for Bypassing VPN Blocks
- Fast streaming & gaming
- Unblocks content worldwide
- Offers 2 types of obfuscation
- Only 5 device connections
- Long-term plans are costly
Mullvad has more than 600 servers in 40 countries, including Hong Kong. Simply connect any server to access blocked sites like Netflix. This is the smallest server network on the list, and it combines both rented and Mullvad-owned servers. We explain in more detail how you can get the most out of it in our Mullvad review.
Mullvad offers obfuscation when you use the WireGuard protocol on Windows, macOS, Linux, Android or iOS. You can also activate obfuscation by connecting Shadowsocks with a feature called v2ray. Setting it up is a little complicated, but you can find detailed guides here. In addition, multi-hop encrypts your traffic twice through the WireGuard protocol for extra protection.
Another handy feature you can use to maintain your anonymity is lockdown mode. This advanced kill switch blocks you from accessing the internet unless you first connect to a Mullvad server. This is important for people who frequently forget to turn on the VPN when switching between devices.
Our speed tests showed that Mullvad was as fast as NordVPN, so you don’t have to worry about buffering or lags when streaming or gaming.
Mullvad Hands-On Testing
Mullvad can be installed on Windows, macOS, iOS or Android. You can only connect a maximum of five devices. This is the lowest number on our list but is enough for a single person with only a few devices. You’ll find it easy to enable the kill switch, turn on lockdown mode and change protocols depending on your needs.
Mullvad Pricing & Value
Mullvad has a flat rate of about $5 per month for all its plans, and they all come with a 30-day money-back guarantee. Though this makes it cheaper than most of our picks for the best cheap VPN based on monthly prices, the long-term cost is higher.
7. NordVPN — Reliable User Security
- More than 6,000 VPN servers
- Reliable obfuscated servers
- Fast speeds for streaming
- No servers in China
- Obfuscated servers are slow
NordVPN doesn’t have servers in China, but while in the country you can use more than 6,000 RAM servers in 61 countries to access blocked sites like Twitter or Hulu. On any other list, NordVPN would be near the top, but the truth is that it is becoming increasingly hard to use in China. Check out our NordVPN in China test that dives deeper into the reasons why.
You can connect to any of the 105 obfuscated servers by switching to the OpenVPN protocol to prevent your VPN connection from being detected and blocked. However, expect slower speeds — OpenVPN isn’t as fast as NordLynx.
Another security option you can use to protect your online activities is double VPN, which routes your traffic through two servers instead of one. Getting past a single layer of encryption is hard enough as is; adding another layer makes surveillance twice as hard. NordVPN has more than 80 double VPN servers. Read more about it in our double VPN analysis.
NordVPN’s connection speeds are among the best. You should be able to stream even 4K content without experiencing buffering or ISP speed throttling. However, the best speeds may come with a risk of VPN detection since you’ll have to switch to the NordLynx protocol, which doesn’t have obfuscation.
NordVPN Hands-On Testing
NordVPN’s user interface is straightforward. All the server locations are listed in the left panel, and you can use the search function to find a server. The VPN is compatible with Android, iOS, macOS and Windows, and you can connect a maximum of six devices simultaneously.
You can activate the kill switch in the app settings with a single tap to maintain your anonymity in case your VPN connection is interrupted. You can download NordVPN in China through mirror sites like nord-help.net, cn.accelerator.site or cn-nord.info. Alternatively, you can get a download link from an acquaintance outside the country through an email channel you trust.
NordVPN Pricing & Value
NordVPN Standard is the cheapest option, with the two-year plan offering the best value at $3.99 per month with an extra three months. The next best option is the 12-month plan, which will set you back $4.49 per month. The monthly plan is the costliest at $12.99. A 30-day money-back guarantee covers all plans.
- Unlimited GB
- Unlimited GB
- Unlimited GB
Can You Use a Free VPN for China?
You can use a free VPN for China, but finding a free option that reliably works there is extremely difficult. Free VPNs rarely have vital features like obfuscation, which are necessary to bypass VPN blocks, so the Chinese government will immediately detect and block your VPN. Some also sell user data to third parties, which puts you at a huge risk.
The Best Free VPN for China: Proton VPN
Proton VPN is one of our top picks for the best free VPN and may work for you in China. Though it has no server in China, it randomly connects you to a free server in Japan, the Netherlands, the United States, Poland or Romania. You don’t have the power to choose a specific server, but they can all help you access blocked content in China.
Why You Need a VPN for China
You need a VPN in China because the government controls all internet service providers in the country, which means they can snoop on what you’re doing online. China has also banned all Western sites like Netflix, Google and Facebook; you can only access them by using a VPN with locations outside China.
Furthermore, China has only four internet service providers serving the needs of more than one billion people. The chances of experiencing speed bottlenecks are very high, especially during peak hours due to ISP speed throttling. Using a VPN is the most effective way of maintaining your speeds without ISPs knowing what you’re doing.
Are VPNs Legal In China?
VPNs are legal in China on certain government-approved conditions. To be approved, a VPN has to grant the government backdoor access.
Can You Get in Trouble for Using a VPN in China?
Chinese citizens can get in trouble for using a VPN in China. The law prohibits them from using VPNs, and they can be fined and jailed for up to five years. For instance, a Chinese programmer was fined $150,000 for using a VPN in 2023. However, there haven’t been any cases where foreigners were subjected to fines or jail terms; the worst that can happen is that the government will block you from accessing the internet.
Which Websites Does China Block?
Some of the major websites that China has banned include the following:
- X (formerly Twitter)
Note that this isn’t an exhaustive list, but rather a selection of some of the most popular blocked sites.
Using a VPN in China is always hit or miss due to circumstances that are beyond the VPN’s control or yours. The Chinese government has perfected censorship to levels only rivaled by North Korea and Turkmenistan.
Still, Surfshark is the best VPN for China. It offers the all-important obfuscation and affordable plans, is fast and has servers worldwide for accessing blocked websites in China. However, you’ll still have to switch servers if your IP address is blocked.
Have you been to China and tried to access streaming or social media sites? Did you manage to unblock them with a VPN? Let us know your views on this subject, and we will happily answer all your questions. We appreciate your continued readership.
FAQ: Best China VPN
Surfshark is the best VPN for China. It has more than 3,200 servers worldwide, offers obfuscation and is fast enough for streaming and gaming.
Using a VPN is legal in China for companies and corporations provided the VPN meets the government’s requirements. Individual use of VPNs is illegal and punishable with fines and a jail term of five years or longer.
Most free VPNs don’t work in China, as they lack obfuscation to stop the government from blocking them.
- Why Your Website is Slow in China — mlytics.com
- VPN for China — NordVPN