- Why You Need a VPN in China
- Best VPN for China 2021
- Choosing the Best VPN for China
- 1. Best VPN for China: ExpressVPN
- Other Reasons We Like ExpressVPN
With an ever-growing list of VPN reviews, we decided it was a good idea to update our list of VPNs for China. Because it’s one of the countries in which using a VPN is essential, it’s important to keep up with new options that break through the Great Firewall and old favorites that have lost their luster.
In this guide to the best VPN for China, we’re going to give you five picks and one honorable mention that will bypass the blocks the Chinese government has put in place. Before digging into that, we’re going to explain why you need a VPN for China and how we made our selections.
It should come as little surprise that our picks line up with our best VPN guide. Security is the main concern when using a VPN in general, but it’s especially important when under the five stars. Stick with our picks, though, and you’ll be safe.
Why You Need a VPN in China
Mainland China is notorious for its stranglehold on the internet. Around 2 million people search through internet traffic exiting the country, and that’s based on a report back in 2013. Given the time difference, it’s safe to assume that even more people monitor it now.
The monitoring is for the sake of censorship. China blocks just about all forms of traditional media. In addition to CNN, the BBC and more being blocked, Chinese authorities also briefly shut down Bloomberg when it ran a story about a wealthy Chinese citizen. Apparently, the editor killed some stories to regain access.
Getting past censorship is where a virtual private network comes in. A VPN will connect you to another server before sending you to the open internet, replacing your IP address with a new one and hiding your requests. Instead of it looking like you’re accessing a website from China, it’ll look like you’re somewhere else in the world.
For Chinese natives, the use case is clear. Knowledge is power, as they say, and the ability to access world news shouldn’t be discredited.
That said, the more likely scenario considering you’re reading our article is that you’re traveling to China and want to access websites you know and love, such as Netflix or BBC iPlayer.
Best VPN for China 2021
- : PayPal, Credit card, Bitcoin, regional payment systems, WebMoney
- : 5
- : Credit card, Google Pay, AmazonPay, ACH Transfer, UnionPay, Crypto Currencies, PayPal (via Paddle)
- : 6
- : PayPal, Credit card
- : 8
- : PayPal, Credit card
- : 5
- : PayPal, Credit card, bitcoin, Paymentwall
- : Unlimited
Choosing the Best VPN for China
When it comes to choosing the best VPN for China, it’s all about security. Though we’re fans of CyberGhost, its default IKEv2 protocol wouldn’t do well in China (read our CyberGhost review). Resilient security is our focus here, so even good providers that have a few missteps won’t be included.
Our VPN security guide goes in-depth about what we look for, but, in short, it’s a combination of protocol and encryption. As we explain in our VPN protocol breakdown, OpenVPN is the best option because it uses the best in encryption on a standard network connection, making it appear as if nothing is out of the ordinary.
Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as using OpenVPN and calling it a day when tunneling out of China. Because of deep packet inspection, which inspects every detail of a packet as it’s being sent, it’s easy for the Chinese government to detect and block VPN connections. In some cases, you won’t even know you’re being monitored.
Because of that, it’s important that you can choose your transport protocol and even more so that you can choose the port you want to tunnel through. Using TCP, which has packet verification, will usually enable you to bypass firewalls that would otherwise be unbreakable. Plus, because your packets are verified, you’ll know if your connection is being monitored.
Packet obfuscation is another solution. Essentially, it adds variables to the packets you’re sending to make it more difficult to decipher by deep packet inspection. Though OpenVPN doesn’t obfuscate your packets on its own, the open source nature of the protocol allows others to add such a feature to it.
Finally, you’ll need a kill switch. Though we always look for a kill switch, it’s not a nice-to-have feature for China. A kill switch will block your internet connection if the VPN fails, protecting your identity from anyone monitoring your connection. We know the Chinese government is monitoring your connection, so one slip of the VPN could have serious consequences.
Other factors, such as ease of use, support and speed, are important, but not at the cost of security. Though we tried to include providers that have quick speeds and easy-to-use interfaces, those were secondary concerns. Security is the king in this guide.
1. Best VPN for China: ExpressVPN
As mentioned, security was our primary concern when making our selections, even if the provider sacrificed ease of use or speed to bolster it. ExpressVPN proves that you can have it all, though. While being highly secure, it’s also streamlined, easy to use and the fastest VPN we’ve tested.
Though most VPNs struggle to keep up with China’s VPN ban, ExpressVPN stays resilient. It has a history of updating the service to continue to bypass the evolving bans from China. It doesn’t have locations in China, either, meaning it doesn’t need to abide by Chinese data regulation laws.
It’s a game of cat and mouse between China and VPN services, but even when a few of ExpressVPN’s servers get blocked, it usually restores them within a few days. ExpressVPN is committed to China, so even though it still sometimes falls victim to China’s detection schemes, it’s quick to recover.
The security of the service is excellent, too. ExpressVPN uses OpenVPN with AES 256-bit encryption, allowing you to choose which transport protocol to use. It also includes a kill switch, DNS leak protection and IPv6 protection, which is important to have, as you can see in our IPv4 vs. IPv6 guide.
Other Reasons We Like ExpressVPN
Though ExpressVPN’s security is top notch, its combination of ease of use, speed and privacy is what sets it apart. Even when using high-level encryption, it stays quick and does so over long distances. No matter where you’re tunneling, it keeps most of your speed intact.
That’s why it ranked first in our best VPN for streaming and best VPN for Netflix guides. People tunneling out of China are usually trying to access blocked websites, such as Netflix, which can be problematic. Streaming platforms have their own VPN blocks, meaning you’ll have to break through two layers to binge House of Cards.
ExpressVPN is up for the task, though. It makes it simple to do, too, and you can use our guide on how to use ExpressVPN in China. It does everything we want a VPN to do with honors, combining uncompromising security with an easy-to-use interface and excellent speed. You can learn more in our ExpressVPN review or try it yourself with its 30-day money-back guarantee.
- Resilient in China
- Top-notch security
Like ExpressVPN, NordVPN has consistently worked in China, though it takes second place because of issues with speed. Even so, it’s a robust service that provides many more features than ExpressVPN for a lower price. If you’re willing to trade consistency for more knobs and buttons, NordVPN can satisfy.
NordVPN also uses OpenVPN with AES 256-bit encryption for your connection, but it has the added benefit of specialty servers, many of which are perfect for China. The most applicable option is the obfuscated servers, which, as mentioned, scramble your OpenVPN packets to bypass deep packet inspection.
NordVPN also includes Tor over VPN servers, which you can learn about in our VPN vs. proxy vs. Tor guide, and Double VPN servers, which bounce your connection off two servers before sending it to the internet. That method of connection was introduced by Windscribe but popularized by NordVPN.
Though NordVPN’s server network is anything but consistent, the size alone means you’ll find a server that works. With over 5,000 options to choose from, it’s difficult for the Chinese government to block them all, and with NordVPN’s constant restoration of blocked servers, that means a consistent tunnel to the outside world.
Other Reasons We like NordVPN
Features are what sell NordVPN. In addition to the specialty servers, NordVPN includes CyberSec. It’s a free malware and ad blocking tool that works surprisingly well, especially considering bundled ad blockers usually don’t do much.
Though the obfuscated, Double VPN and Tor over VPN servers are applicable to China, you can also take advantage of NordVPN’s torrenting servers. They don’t do anything special. Rather, they’re set aside for peer-to-peer connections that require a lot of data transfer. For those servers alone, NordVPN took first place in our best VPN for torrenting guide.
We gave NordVPN near perfect marks in every category but speed, meaning it could surpass ExpressVPN if it fixes the inconsistent results across its network. That issue is easily dealt with, though, making NordVPN one of the best VPNs for China and overall. You can learn more in our NordVPN review or try it yourself with its NordVPN.
- Excellent security features
- Obfuscated servers
- Easy-to-use interface
- Inconsistent speeds
TorGuard isn’t for everyone, but it remains a favorite here at Cloudwards.net. Its interface is bland, dated and not very accessible, but the ugly face is made up for by an impressive range of security features. TorGuard doesn’t stick with the pack. Instead, it offers features unique to it, all while maintaining a solid network of servers.
By default, you’ll use OpenVPN with AES 256-bit encryption, but TorGuard gives you a lot of control over your protocol and encryption. You can choose the cipher, key size and data authentication method you want to use, along with the transport protocol. No matter what settings you choose, TorGuard will automatically arm the kill switch after your first connection.
There are features for China in particular. The first is a stealth proxy setting, which masks the network handshake that happens as a result of encrypting your connection. By doing so, it makes it difficult for the Chinese authorities to detect that you’re using a VPN because the key piece of evidence suggesting you are is concealed.
You can also use Cisco AnyConnect, which TorGuard recommends if you’re tunneling out of China. Cisco AnyConnect is an SSL/TLS-based VPN that’s marketed toward businesses, but it’s particularly useful for tunneling in China. Not only is TorGuard one of the few VPNs that support it, but it also includes support resources for getting set up.
Other Reasons We Like TorGuard
TorGuard offers a lot of customization when it comes to security, but the settings don’t stop there. It’s probably the most configurable VPN, providing you a VPN framework that enables you to set it how you want. Despite the dated and ugly interface, TorGuard makes many advanced features feel accessible, too.
For example, TorGuard supports custom scripts. You can make them run before connection, after connection or after disconnection. If any of those events trigger, TorGuard will call on the script and do what it needs to. The possibilities with that are endless. You could tell TorGuard to launch a specific application after connection or even tie shutdown settings to the VPN.
If you aren’t afraid to get your hands dirty, TorGuard will reward you. It isn’t pretty, but TorGuard offers a flexibility that’s been lost as providers try to make applications more accessible. You can read more in our TorGuard review or see how you like it with its free seven-day trial.
- Highly configurable
- Support for Cisco AnyConnect
- Multiple security options
- Difficult to use
Like TorGuard, AirVPN sports a dated application that’s ugly and difficult to navigate. As the trend seems to go, though, it offers excellent security, with a community of techies around it that makes complex configurations easy to find. It’s not a VPN for newbies, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad.
It’s quite good, in fact. The VPN is built around OpenVPN, using AES 256-bit with a 4096-bit RSA key for the handshake. You can also tunnel over SSL or SSH, which should help you bypass the VPN blocks put in place by Chinese authorities.
As AirVPN recommends, the best way to bypass blocks is to avoid using UDP. The recommended setup is OpenVPN over SSL to port 443 or OpenVPN to tls-crypt in TCP. That’s a lot of technobabble, so we forgive you if you don’t understand. AirVPN allows those advanced configurations to happen, but they require that you know what you’re doing.
Unlike TorGuard, AirVPN doesn’t make configurability accessible. Instead, the recommendations for what you should do are buried in forums with little to no context. That’s how some prefer to work, so if you fancy yourself a tinkerer, you’ll be fine. If you don’t, though, it’s best to stick with our other options.
Other Reasons We Like AirVPN
Along the same line as configuring the VPN manually, AirVPN includes useful security features, but they may not be as exciting as, say, NordVPN’s specialty servers. For example, it supports double-hop connections like NordVPN, but not in the same way. Rather, you’ll have to use two of your simultaneous connections through virtual mac OShines.
That means you can have up to five hops, but at a significant cost. Not only will you need the knowledge and patience to set up four virtual mac OShines, you’ll also need to share resources across them. The setup shows what AirVPN is all about, though. You can do some interesting things with it, but, unlike most VPNs, it won’t hold your hand in the process.
If you want control over your connection while tunneling in China, AirVPN is a safe bet. That said, TorGuard and our other options get most of the way there while still being accessible. You can learn more in our AirVPN review or purchase a three-day pass to try it yourself.
- Great security
- Excellent platform support
- Difficult to use
Windscribe is easily the best free VPN on the market, and it just so happens to also be a powerhouse in China. Thanks to its two encapsulated protocols, you can tunnel out of China without any risk of being caught by censors. Plus, it’s dead simple to use, so anyone can keep their connection protected.
Out of the box, Windscribe supports OpenVPN and IKEv2, as well as two encapsulated OpenVPN connections. “Stealth” and “wstunnel,” as they’re called in the application, essentially put your VPN tunnel inside another tunnel. The former uses Stunnel to get the job done, while the latter uses WebSocket.
By encapsulating your OpenVPN connection, you make it much more difficult for a censor to detect that you’re using a VPN. These encapsulated protocols appear as standard traffic, and because of that, they’re unlikely to be detected.
Furthermore, Windscribe supports multi-hop connections like NordVPN. With Windscribe, you can control the local application and browser extension separately. That means you can connect to a server locally and in the extension, adding two layers of encryption to your connection.
Other Reasons We Like Windscribe
Windscribe is excellent when it comes to security, features and ease of use, but truly shines when it comes to price. For free, Windscribe offers 10GB of data each month. You can get 5GB more by simply tweeting about the service. With the free version, you have access to a limited list of servers, though you don’t have to worry about Windscribe selling your data (read our Avast SecureLine VPN review to see that in action).
If you find the $9 per month price tag too steep, you can build your own plan. Windscribe offers individual locations for $1 each per month. Each location adds 10GB to monthly bandwidth limitation. If you need more, you can also purchase unlimited data, which only costs $1 per month.
Travelers who need a VPN for a few months can get by with Windscribe for only a few dollars. Although cheap, Windscribe isn’t the best when it comes to speed, as you can see in our Windscribe review. Still, you should consider it, especially with how inexpensive it is.
- Excellent free plan
- Easy to use
- No split tunneling support
Honorable Mention: VyprVPN
VyprVPN seems a natural fit with its proprietary Chameleon protocol. In short, Chameleon is a spin on OpenVPN that obfuscates your packets, similar to Astrill’s and NordVPN’s. That said, it’s an honorable mention here because of inconsistent access.
It doesn’t always perform in China, which is a fact that’s worsened by the small network VyprVPN sports. Chameleon is built for bypassing restrictions in China, though, and when it works, it works well.
The security package VyprVPN includes is excellent, too. All traffic is directed through VyprVPN’s DNS servers, meaning at no point in the network chain is your traffic monitored or logged. VyprVPN also includes a NAT firewall, which works like any other firewall, except it blocks network-based threats before they can even reach your router.
As an inexpensive option with unique features, VyprVPN works well, but its inconsistent access to China is something you should consider. You can learn more in our VyprVPN review or take advantage of its 30-day money-back guarantee.
Finding a VPN for China is serious business, and the providers above don’t take chances with your security. ExpressVPN is still the top dog, but the unusual features of NordVPN and configurability of TorGuard may sway you toward another option. Astrill and AirVPN are good, too, but you’ll need a solid reason to choose one of them over our top three.
Be warned, though, that just because a provider is ranked highly that doesn’t mean it won’t be blocked in China.
Which VPN are you using in China? Let us know in the comments below. Browse through our other VPN articles while you’re here. As always, thanks for reading.