Thanks to its strict regime of internet censorship, China is one of the biggest markets for the best VPN, and if you're travelling to the country, you might want to invest in a great China VPN to help smoothen your journey.
'Do I really need one, though?', you might be asking. Well, if you think you can do without Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube, Instagram, WhatsApp, Gmail, Wikipedia, Pinterest, Pornhub, The New York Times, BBC, Slack, Dropbox, and quite literally thousands of other sites and services we take for granted, you'll be fine. If you want to access them, though, then the answer is quite likely to be 'yes'.
In March 2020, China cracked down on VPNs, making them much harder to access within the so-called Great Firewall of China. They're all gone from app stores, and provider websites are blocked. But, if you jump the gun and set yourself up with a China VPN before you board the plane, you'll still be able to evade the world's strictest Internet censorship with the touch of a button.
How to use a VPN in China:
For regular folk visiting China on holiday or going there to live, mass censorship is a major pain in the butt. You won't be able to use WhatsApp to message and call loved ones back home. You won't be able to post pictures of the Great Wall on your Instagram. And you won't be able to look up the definition of totalitarianism on Wikipedia.
So, you really need to get that butt of yours in gear and sign up for a China VPN before you fly – but how do you choose the ideal VPN to use in China?
Well, you should certainly prioritise services with excellent customer support. Sure, you could opt for one of the dirt-cheap options, but that won't do you much good when your VPN is experiencing downtime and you're not sure how to get up and running.
Choosing one of the big boys will not only ensure your uptime in China is maximised, but will also ensure you have 24/7 customer support to help you when things aren't working.
We've chosen a small selection of the very best VPNs that we recommend for use in China - and remember, sign up and install before you go!
2. NordVPN – the biggest name is still one of the best
While its support isn't quite as comprehensive, NordVPN also offers an excellent China VPN solution. You'll get plenty of obfuscated servers that deliver great speeds, and at $3.71 a month, it's great value.
3. Surfshark – the cheapest China VPN worth having
If you're travelling China on a shoestring budget, Surfshark could be your best option. At just $2.49 a month, it's the cheapest China VPN, but it performs better than many services twice as expensive. You can also test the waters with a 30-day guarantee.
ExpressVPN is our top-rated VPN overall, and that's partly thanks to its excellent performance in countries like China where Internet censorship is a huge problem.
To get started when using ExpressVPN as a China VPN, it's worth heading over to the support section on the site. There, you'll see that Express has outlined exactly how to set up your app, and which servers are likely to get the best performance. (Spoiler alert: they're Hong Kong - 4; Japan - Yokohama; Singapore - Marina Bay; and USA - Los Angeles - 5.)
While that might sound pretty complicated, ExpressVPN also makes it super simple to get going. At its most basic, all you need to do is press the big on/off button and you'll be protected. There are plenty of configurable tools like protocols, a kill switch, split tunnelling and a DNS leak tester of you fancy having a bit of a dig, though.
Importantly for a China VPN, ExpressVPN delivers excellent 24/7 live chat support, which is hugely useful if you come across problems on you travels.
As a service to get you online in China with a minimum of intrusion and a maximum of usability, no other VPN comes close to Express.
NordVPN is another excellent choice for a China VPN, and as a company it's quite committed to bypassing the Great Firewall and allowing Internet freedom in the East Asian state.
In fact, it's got a whole team dedicated to getting sidestepping website blocking countries, the likes of which include China, Iran and even Saudi Arabia – but while it's not mentioned on-site, we're pretty sure Express does too, as evidenced by its performance.
When working, Nord's excellent in China, but unfortunately its guides are a little thin on the ground. That shouldn't be too much of a problem though, as you'll also have 24/7 live chat to support you should anything go down the pan.
If you want to use the biggest name in the industry and save a few pennies compared to ExpressVPN, Nord is certainly a good option when it comes to a China VPN.
Surfshark is one of the best cheap VPN services on the market, but don't let that fool you into thinking it's a second-rate contender. In fact, in our testing, it proved itself as one of the very best, beating out a number of more expensive rivals – and the same goes for its China VPN performance.
Surfshark calls its obfuscated servers 'Camouflage Mode', which is essence means they can't be detected as coming from a VPN. This is useful, as connections detected as VPN-like are blocked in China. That's the main reason why other providers struggle.
Alongside being able to unblock the web in China, Surfshark is also great for streaming, which means you'll be able to watch your favourite Netflix shows when on your Beijing jaunt.
If we were to find a downside, it'd be the fact that Surfshark doesn't have as many servers overall as ExpressVPN or NordVPN, and in a worst-case scenario, that could mean slower connections or no coverage at all. Thankfully, you'll be covered by a 30-day guarantee, and we've never actually heard of this being a problem in the past.
VyprVPN is well-known as a great VPN for avoiding government censorship, and it's build quite a name for itself in recent years around this security-first attitude.
It boasts a proprietary protocol called Chameleon which, much like Surfshark's Camouflage, is able to sidestep China's VPN detection and avoid Deep Packet Inspection (DPI).
With plenty of server locations in East Asia, you'll have a fine selection to choose from, but it only has access to around 700 individual servers. Again, while we've pretty much only heard good things from plenty of sources that VyprVPN works well as a China VPN, that lack of servers could become a problem is the Chameleon tech is detected.
However, for the price, Vypr is an excellent option, and definitely one to investigate if you're especially hot on security and privacy.
Hotspot Shield might be best known for its free VPN, but if you go the whole hog and splash out for a paid plan, you'll get a pretty serviceable China VPN, too.
The only VPN on this list to actually have a server located within China, Hotspot's a great option for Chinese nationals leaving the country, but still wanting to watch all the Chinese media not available elsewhere. Also, though, travellers to China will be able to select a server outside the country and access an unrestricted Internet.
However, Hotspot Shield does log a little more user info than we'd like, including time connected, domains visited, your IP address and more. For the privacy conscious, that's going to be a red flag.
For those who want to be able to appear both in and out of China while protected by a VPN, though, Hotspot Shield is likely your best option.
How to use WhatsApp, Facebook, Wikepedia and other internet services in China:
As mentioned above, most global platforms, services, and social networks are blocked in China. In practice this means that if you try to access them you will be denied access.
A VPN is the answer to this problem. By logging into your chosen VPN service, all your internet traffic is automatically encrypted which means the Chinese censors have no way to tell what you are or are not looking at.
This means using a VPN on your phone you'll be able to use WhatsApp or Facebook - if you're also looking (or specifically looking) for a VPN for streaming, make sure you check out our best Netflix VPN and best Fire Stick VPN guides.