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For those living in or traveling to China, the Great Firewall is a real bugbear. China has one of the most restrictive policies in regards to internet usage in the world, and many websites are completely blocked in the country, preventing them from being accessed at all. The Chinese government tends to block websites that it disagrees with, preferring to keep a tight grip on what citizens are and are not allowed to see.
As of 2019, over 60 online restrictions have been created and imposed by the Government of China and the censorship at play there is said to be the most seriously extensive in the world. Not only does the Chinese Government block access to some content, but individuals’ internet usage gets monitored. Whether you’re an academic living in China who needs access to restricted websites for research purposes, or simply a tourist visiting the country who wishes to visit websites from home that are blocked by the aggressive state firewall, there is a solution for you.
The solution to get around restricted content on the internet is to install a VPN on your computer or mobile device. China banned the use of VPNs in 2018 and the restrictions upon internet usage are getting tighter each week with the Chinese government ensuring it has an iron fist like grip on the world wide web. However, it isn’t exactly clear how the government would know someone is using a VPN or how they would be punished if caught. It isn’t even clear if people would be punished for using a VPN to bypass the ‘Great Firewall of China’ as it has become known around the world. Because of the uncertainty, VPNs are still commonly used in the country and providers are still selling packages to Chinese residents, enabling unrestricted and unfiltered access to one of the greatest inventions mankind has ever produced.
You’re likely wondering what a VPN actually is and how they work. Well before we get into the nitty gritty of what VPNs still work the best in China, let’s go through what they are and how it is that they actually function.
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a connection method to the internet that is most commonly used to add security and privacy to both private and public networks alike. The use of a VPN keeps your data more secure and less vulnerable to misuse. A VPN works by changing your connection location to that of the VPN server you choose and reassigning your IP address to one from that server, hiding where you actually are from others. VPN services also encrypt all of your web traffic and typically have strong security protocols such as OpenVPN (which is the most commonly used due to its open sourced nature and strong security).
If you are using a VPN for increased security you may be accessing the internet from California but use a VPN to display your IP address as being in Florida. Or if you’re using a VPN to access restricted content in China you may connect to a server in a country that has fewer restrictions upon the internet such as America or somewhere in Europe. The best VPN providers will have servers in the most countries, allowing you to access the entirety of the internet. VPNs are also commonly used to access the streaming catalogs of sites such as Netflix that are restricted based on your location.
Surveillance is a top priority for Chinese authorities, which means having a VPN could be pretty important so that your data is all encrypted and hidden away – meaning the authorities in China wouldn’t be able to see what you’re downloading or what websites you’re visiting. This can also be a particularly useful tool for tourists who may wish to continue using popular western apps such as Instagram and WhatsApp whilst they are travelling in China. China blocks many foreign websites and slows down foreign websites that aren’t blocked – meaning a VPN is definitely a must have for any visitor to China who definitely won’t be used to such a high level of censorship. Even Google is blocked in China.
Across most of the world the use of a VPN is perfectly legal, it’s what you do on the internet that may or may not be legal. However, China has now banned the use of VPNs and it is a legal grey area as to how their usage will be monitored and how or if people will actually be punished for using a VPN. In general, it’s safe to use a VPN in China and the software providers are still selling their VPN software to residents in the country. As a general rule you shouldn’t use a VPN to access content that is definitely illegal or to partake in dodgy and illegal activity such as committing fraud or accessing child pornography, and the VPN providers have very clear policies about such activity too.
This is a question that isn’t necessarily answered easily, as everyone has different needs. Importantly you’ll want to look for a VPN that won’t significantly slow down your internet speeds. Whilst most providers will boast of having the fastest speeds, it’s worth taking advantage of user reviews to determine which is truly fastest for your needs; with free trials and money back guarantees being a further way of trying out the claims. You’ll also want to look for a VPN that is secure, with high levels of encryption and strong security protocols such as the likes of OpenVPN which is famed for its security. Cost also comes into things – and everyone will have a different budget. More expensive doesn’t necessarily mean the service is better, so shop around and don’t let slightly higher prices fool you into thinking it’s definitely going to be a better service.
Now let’s take a look at 5 of the best VPNs, that actually work, for China and will allow Chinese users to access the internet in its entirety.
Deftly navigating the Great Firewall of China, ExpressVPN is one of the most popular VPN services in the country and has become quite the go-to. ExpressVPN has a wide range of VPN servers available with servers in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan being particularly relevant for Chinese users. Offering a consistent and very reliable service, ExpressVPN has apps available for most devices such as mobile phones, desktops and even routers. If anyone runs into any issues then China based customer support is available around the clock, and surprisingly the website hasn’t been blocked by the Chinese government meaning users can always get assistance if the service stops working for them.
ExpressVPN is known to actively monitor its service in China and to ensure it always remains able to defy the firewall imposed by the state, which constantly tries to block connections. The service uses obfuscation protocols and the most advanced technology available in order to provide the greatest service for users in China. As you may have guessed, the 24 hour support and extra efforts to keep the system working in China mean this service isn’t exactly the cheapest, but it’s worth paying for when you consider everything that goes into this service and the way it allows you to always defy the censorship in China. No free trial is offered but ExpressVPN does provide a 30 day money back guarantee, which offers some form of a fallback should the service not live up to your needs in the first month of use. If you purchase a year-long package then you’ll benefit from better value pricing and deals are even available across the internet to take advantage of 3 months free if you take out a year long package.
Next up we have NordVPN, an excellent contender for the best VPN provider that operates in China. The service has dedicated an entire team to getting around content censorship in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and even China. When new blocks appear this team will find ways of getting around them – ensuring a consistent and stable service that unblocks the internet for its users. It’s this dedication to getting around the censorship firewall in China that makes NordVPN such an attractive option for Chinese users, however if you choose to pay monthly it isn’t the cheapest by any means and gets cheaper the longer the plan you purchase. If you choose to pay monthly you’ll be set back around £9 per month.
Unlike the previously mentioned ExpressVPN, NordVPN offers a 7 day free trial on top of its 30 day money back guarantee. This allows you to try the service for free for a week and if you don’t like it up to a month after paying for the service then you can claim your money back – particularly useful when it isn’t the cheapest service and doesn’t offer live chat customer support. However, NordVPN does allow users to submit queries online and they answer these pretty quickly, so live chat isn’t a particularly bad loss when the query system works well.
Nord has obfuscated servers in 62 locations with over 5300 servers overall. The service has servers in Japan and Hong Kong which is ideal for Chinese users and if you connect to a server in Taiwan it has a double VPN feature which will ensure even more anonymity and security whilst you’re exploring the now unrestricted internet. Servers being available locally to China means more stability and speed can be ensured when connecting and browsing the web.
Utilising around 700 servers in over 70 locations, VyprVPN offers a fantastic balance of both speed and security. The service uses a nifty Chameleon security protocol which is perfect for Chinese users as it allows the service to bypass VPN blocks that are in place. It also scrambles data to help ensure users privacy is respected and prevented from being viewed by deep packet inspection technologies. VyprVPN owns all of its servers, with many being located in Asia, and has good support across both mobile and desktop with 24/7 live chat being available to assist when any problems may arise.
You do need to consider however that VyprVPN is expensive, and the Chameleon security is excluded from the basic plan with only three simultaneous connections being permitted with the basic plan. The cost is similar to that of NordVPN, however here you do get 24/7 live chat and you get the brilliant security and speed that VyprVPN has become known for, particularly in China. As you’ve probably come to expect from most subscription services, paying each month is more expensive than paying for a year at once. If you opt for the year long premium service from VyprVPN you’ll get the security of Chameleon included as well as more simultaneous connections and a better all-round performance, for a lower price than paying monthly. A free trial isn’t offered and their is a no-refund policy. However VyprVPN does offer a 30 day money back guarantee so if you’re not satisfied in that first month then you are able to claim all of your money back.
With this service provider you get a VPN that has been specifically optimized for use in China. PureVPN has 120 servers across Asia alone and comes with support pages especially for users in China, offering tips and advice on how to get the most out of a VPN in that country. The service provider has opted for a basic design that is easy to understand, showing a list of tasks you may wish to carry out. These tasks shown are catered to those in China, again making it a great choice if you’re living in or travelling to the restrictive country.
Across the internet there are many reports of usability issues however, so you may wish to research this provider before you decide to purchase PureVPN which again isn’t the cheapest when it comes to VPN services. As you’d expect, paying for longer upfront will earn you the most savings when it comes to PureVPN so you may wish to consider buying a year long plan or even the exclusive 5 year plan which will save you the most in the longer term.
Buffered VPN is the best VPN provider for users in China when it comes to streaming videos and games. It has a good overall performance and provides some good user support to keep you up and running at all times. However, on mobile devices this VPN isn’t the most reliable and is better suited to desktops. It’s also quite expensive. Buffered VPN is easy to set up and on the whole provides a pretty enjoyable experience to its users. A special version of the VPN application is available for China, however this can only be used on desktops. Buffered VPN is based in Hungary and provides access to several servers in Asia, meaning a good performance is possible for Chinese residents and tourists to the country. As with some other providers mentioned, you get access to round the clock customer care with Buffered VPN which is a real selling point as it ensures you’re always able to resolve any issues quickly and whenever they occur.
A handy feature is a test firewall which can be found in the Windows application – showing you the available amount of ports on the network you’re connecting through and making it easier for you to get through the Great Firewall of China.
As mentioned above, Buffered VPN is a little on the pricey side but if you buy a 2 year plan you’ll make a lot of savings compared to paying monthly. They also provide a 30 day money back guarantee so it’s somewhat like a trial period for the service – if you don’t like it you can claim your money back with no hassle.
Well, it would be quite the understatement to say the dealing with the level of censorship at play in China is easy. It’s no easy task to get around the firewall the Chinese Government has in place, but it’s not impossible when you have a good VPN to use that’s more than up to the job. The VPNs mentioned above are all willing to tackle the problem of the firewall and censorship, with some tackling it better than others. You need to choose a provider that’s capable of getting you past the censorship and opening up the whole internet to you, and also a provider who’s VPN is speedy and reliable. Nobody likes a slow and glitchy internet connection, so find the best VPN for your needs.
You also need to be on the look out for a high level of customer support. When your VPN does ever go down, you need to know that your service provider will be there to help you get it back up and running and to get you browsing the internet once more. You should also be looking for a provider with a high number of servers, with many servers in Asia specifically, to ensure you have a reliable and fast connection at all times. The local servers in Asia will work faster and be better suited to users accessing them from China. As well as speed and reliability, you too need to ensure the provider you go for has security as a top priority. The primary purpose of a VPN is to provide additional security to users and to maintain their online privacy, keeping their data away from dodgy eyes. If a service provider doesn’t have the best security and you see complaints in regards to it in reviews then it’s best to stay away from them and find someone else with a better offering.
The Chinese authorities often try to bring VPNs down and prevent their use, meaning users in China may need to swap their provider sometimes if their existing service becomes blocked or goes down for a prolonged period. However, this can be avoided by choosing a VPN service provider that is dedicated to getting around the blocks. For instance, NordVPN has an entire team dedicated to getting around the blocks and firewalls in highly censored countries such as China – making it a pretty wise choice when you need a VPN that isn’t likely to go down for too long a period.
If you’re travelling to China as opposed to being habitually residing there, it’s recommended you install a VPN to your device before travelling to the country as this will be much easier than doing it whilst there. Choose your provider in advanced and get it all set up so that you’re good to go straight away and won’t need to try and get around censorship just to install the VPN. If you’re visiting China you should also bear in mind that speaking out against the Government, even online, can be cause for your arrest so be careful with what you say and publish, but a VPN could open up the chance to speak out.
China has the highest number of imprisoned journalists and “cyber-dissidents” in the world, according to Amnesty International, meaning a VPN could help ensure your security in China and thus you should have a highly secure service to ensure you remain safe if you plan to sign petitions or speak to groups abroad – the most common offences that have seen people locked up in China for cyber-dissidence.
If you’re not prepared to pay for a VPN to access the open internet in China then their are some free options out there. One of these free options is TunnelBear. Some experts are a little sceptical about free VPN providers, but this Canada based free VPN service provider has plenty of features and even has a bear theme running throughout. An example of the bear theme is that when you connect to one server in a different country you’ll see the bear tunnelling there from your country when the connection is secure.
TunnelBear provides native apps for Mac, Windows, iOS and Chrome and with a premium account you can have five simultaneous connections. Security wise this service uses the same security protocols and level of encryption as many of the expensive providers, meaning your security won’t necessarily be lessened through using this service. A great feature of TunnelBear for use in China is the “VigilantBear” feature which will block all unsecured traffic should you lose your internet connection. Their is also the “GhostBear” feature which makes the users data even less detectable to Government’s and Businesses, which is great for those in China who do not want the authorities to see what they’re accessing on the internet.
TunnelBear has VPN servers in 20 countries, so not as many as the paid options and one downside is that free users don’t have access to all of the servers that’re available which could mean slower speeds to free users. If you’re wanting to use BitTorrent then you’ll need to look elsewhere as TunnelBear doesn’t allow P2P Torrenting. Unlike most providers, TunnelBear doesn’t have a “no logs” policy – but only keeps minimal data for a maximum of 1 month in order to comply with the laws in place in Canada. This may be of concern to some users who prefer to not have their data stored.
Their are different price points with TunnelBear, with the free basic option only giving you 500mb of data per month or the giant package, costing $9.99 a month, giving you unlimited data each month.
To conclude this piece, if you’re looking for a VPN service in China that meets your needs then their are plenty of options out there for you. Getting around the Great Firewall of China isn’t easy, but providers of VPNs can help you to navigate your way around it and to see the internet in its full glory. When you’re looking for a VPN provider you need to look out for things such as how fast and reliable it will be, which can often be determined by the number of servers they have locally to China in other parts of Asia. You also need to consider your security when looking for a VPN provider, with higher levels of encryption and stronger security protocols being what you need to look out for. A handy feature to look for in a VPN is a kill switch, which the free option of TunnelBear has, and also a no logs policy so that your data won’t be stored anywhere and your privacy is more greatly preserved. China not only restricts access to certain content on the internet but also monitors the internet usage of citizens – meaning that a strong VPN with high security will always be recommended if you don’t want the Chinese authorities to be monitoring what you are accessing and downloading whilst scrolling through the internet – a VPN will also allow you to access everything that the internet has to offer without the restrictions of the firewall.