Throw in the problem of not being able to access half your favorite websites due to China’s infamous “Great Firewall,” and life can be really frustrating!
And if you do want to access those websites, you have to sift through the multitude of VPNs that all claim to be the best VPN for China.
Not all VPNs are created equal. Certain ones are better for specific countries than others.
So I’ve comprised a list of the best VPNs for China—tried, tested and reliable!
What’s a VPN?
The first thing you should understand before downloading a VPN is what exactly a VPN is and what it does.
VPN is short for virtual private network. It creates a secure, private connection with a server in the country of your choice, either in the country you’re currently in or the country you want to pretend to be in. Think of a VPN as a virtual cable between a computer and a server.
VPNs are mainly used for privacy, viewing content only available in other countries (such as checking out what’s available on Japanese Netflix) and accessing websites that aren’t available in the country you’re in.
That third function is the main reason people buy VPNs when they go to China.
A VPN also gives the user the freedom to browse the internet because they know the connection is stable and private.
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Why you need a VPN for China
Due to the Great Firewall of China blocking many favorite websites, expats coming to live in China or tourists coming to visit will need to download a VPN to access everything from WhatsApp to Google. Other popular blocked sites include YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and the recent edition of BBC.
Have a further read on this comprehensive list of sites that are blocked in China to see if you think it’s necessary to get a VPN.
The Great Firewall of China shows no mercy, and I can almost guarantee that you’ll regret not buying a VPN before you go.
In fact, I’m using a VPN right now to write this blog post.
So China blocks a lot of its websites because it doesn’t want you to access them. Does that mean using a VPN in China is illegal? Well… yes and no. It’s a very gray area, but you shouldn’t be worried about using one as a foreigner. It’s a bigger problem for Chinese citizens to own one.
As an expat in China, you’ll hear the same news once every few months about how the government is cracking down on limiting VPNs and that they’re really serious about it this time! But this threat has yet to come to fruition. I’m dreading the day when it will, though. New Zealand’s Netflix just introduced Harry Potter to the collection and I haven’t even started!
What if I’m already in China?
Maybe you missed the memo on having to download a VPN to access anything in China. Or you thought you could slide by without one. (Seriously. Try using the internet without Google for more than five minutes. Yikes!) But don’t fret. There are a few strategies to get a VPN when you’re already in China.
Here are the main ways:
- Head to a foreigner-friendly, high-end hotel where they have a VPN built into the Wi-Fi.
- Ask a friend to send you the VPN file.
- Download an APK (Android Package Kit), a type of file used by Android to open and read apps (using Yahoo or Bing to do the search).
- Use the data from your home country’s SIM. If you’re roaming, you shouldn’t have a problem accessing anything.
- If you live near one of the borders, head to Macau or Hong Kong! The Great Firewall of China doesn’t extend to these territories.
Beat the Great Firewall with These 10 Best VPNs for China
Should I use a free or paid VPN for China?
Okay, let’s get down to business. It’s time to choose your ideal VPN for China.
The first question you have to ask yourself is whether you’re happy to pay or want to be frugal and compromise on service.
If you’re only in China for a few days, then a free VPN or a VPN free trial may be perfect for you.
However, if you’re in China long term, a paid VPN is much more reliable and a worthy investment. The main difference between a free and paid VPN is the security.
Free VPNs will often sell on your data to third parties. (They have to make money some way, I guess!) If this doesn’t bother you, go for it. However, paid VPNs also offer higher-quality services, such as online support, multiple server use and the ability to use multiple devices.
Multiple device support and multiple servers are the two main things that will affect your VPN experience. Will you only be using your cell phone, or do you also use a laptop, tablet and other devices to connect?
Multiple servers are useful for two reasons. First, you can pick which country you’d like to appear to be in and therefore access certain content. Maybe you’re a Brit living in China craving BBC iPlayer. Or prehaps you’re a fan of anime and want to browse Netflix Japan.
The second reason is that some servers may be down or have low connection speeds. It’s convenient to have multiple options in case one server is acting up.
With these factors in mind, let’s take a look at your 10 best options for a VPN in China!
The Best Free VPNs for China
The Betternet free VPN service sounds like a dream come true. There’s no limit for how much you can browse, even though it’s free. So stream music and watch Netflix to your heart’s content!
Yes, you have unlimited usage and can use Betternet on multiple devices.
The downside? You can only choose servers based in the United States unless you upgrade to the paid version.
As far as free VPNs go, hide.me is more reliable than most. It includes a fairly large data allowance of 2GB per month, meaning you can check your emails and WhatsApp regularly and watch the occasional YouTube video on your commute to work.
The one drawback is that there are only three server locations you can choose from, which doesn’t give you much freedom.
Windscribe offers a huge data allowance of 10GB per month, with the liberty to choose from multiple servers around the world. And on multiple devices!
10GB data per month? You must be joking. Plus unlimited device usage? There must be some catch…
But you won’t be compromising on service here. It’s perfect for all of those Netflix and chill nights in China.
This VPN is a great option for those who prioritize speed. However, you have to take the limited daily allowance into account. You only have 750MB per day to play with.
This is perfect for those who just want a quick Facebook fix or need to check important emails while on their Chinese holiday.
The free version of this Switzerland-based VPN won’t restrict you much! You have unlimited searching and can choose between multiple servers. Plus, you won’t have to put up with ads when you’re trying to connect to this free VPN.
The main thing you compromise on is speed. Upgrade to the paid version and you’ll have speedy internet!
The Best Paid VPNs for China
ExpressVPN is known throughout expat circles as the best VPN for China.
It’s one of the most expensive options at $8.32 per month if you subscribe to the yearly plan. It has its own spells of not working, but it’s trusted by thousands and works pretty darn well. You can also be sure to get 24-hour responsive support should you need assistance.
TunnelBear actually has great free and paid options. The main con to choosing the free service is that you’re limited to 500MB of data per month.
Sign up for the full service at only $5.00 per month if you buy the yearly plan. You’ll have a user-friendly interface that’s super reliable. And you can test out the free service first to see if this VPN service suits you!
NordVPN is simple but user-friendly, and it provides quality support for first-time VPN users who need a little guidance. It’s perfect for those worried about privacy because it doesn’t keep data logs.
The cost is affordable at $6.99 per month for a yearly plan.
This VPN consistently works reliably and quickly, and it has servers based all over the world.
Aside from its great name, the app itself functions pretty well. You can easily scroll through servers and choose one on this user-friendly, fool-proof app interface. For the yearly plan, you can expect to pay $6.99 per month.
Astrill is probably the second most popular VPN for expats living in China. It costs about the same as ExpressVPN at $8.33 per month for the yearly plan.
Astrill is one of the fastest VPN options out there, so if you think you’ll be using your VPN every day, this could be the best choice for you. Trust me, working with slow internet in China gets really old after a while!
The downside? It has a habit of blocking Chinese websites, which can be a pain if you’re using WeChat and Facebook simultaneously a lot.
You’ve done your research, decided whether you want to pay or go for a free VPN and have hopefully found the best VPN that will suit your needs in China. There’s no wrong choice! The only indisputable fact is that whether you’re working or traveling in China, using a VPN is a must.
Which VPN did you go for?
Zoe Stephens lives in Beijing, where she works in Chinese social media and as a freelance tour guide for North Korea. She began freelance writing when she moved to China over a year ago. Driven by her love for traveling and learning about new cultures, she’s tackling her fourth language: Chinese.
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