Last update: 02.06.2019

China is a massive VPN market. Firstly, because China is huge, secondly, because VPN services are so necessary in this country. The Asian powerhouse is notorious for its sophisticated instruments of online surveillance, control, and censorship. Virtual Private Networks are a great tool against all of that, however, buying the first one Google throws in your direction may result in disappointment.

Why use a VPN and how we rank them

A good VPN for China will prevent your ISP and government agencies from knowing what you are doing online. Just as importantly, it will let you bypass the Great Firewall to access YouTube, Facebook, Google, and other blocked sites. Powerful encryption can keep even the most sensitive user groups, such as journalists or political activists, out of impromptu tea parties and out of harm’s way.

But there’s more to it than that – VPN services are great for entertainment as well. As many of you know, much of the content on the net is now subject to geo-blocking. Services, such as Netflix, Hulu, various marketplaces, and so on use users’ IP addresses to deny them certain content or offer different prices. Well, a VPN can help bypass this issue as well as allow us to securely download torrents.

If you’re going to China for business or travel, make sure you download the VPN client before your trip. Otherwise, you’ll find most VPN sites blocked, while app marketplaces mostly offer harmful VPN apps and ban good ones.

If you’re going to China for business or travel, make sure you download the VPN client before your trip. Otherwise, you’ll find most VPN sites blocked, while app marketplaces mostly offer harmful VPN apps and ban good ones.

Before going into the actual top 5, it makes sense to mention our criteria. Here’s what we looked at:

  • VPN security
  • Performance
  • Entertainment (effectiveness against geo-blocking, torrenting capabilities)
  • Reliability against firewalls and censorship
  • Ease of use and customer support
  • Price

And now, without further ado, here are the choices.

Astrill VPN8.338.9

1. NordVPN

NordVPN service logo

The most secure VPN on the market

  • Pros: super-secure, has Obfuscated Servers feature, quite cheap
  • Cons: not the fastest VPN, no router app
  • Price: starts at $3.49
  • VPNpro rating: 9.5

NordVPN has an abundance of great security features, starting with military-grade encryption (AES-256), two types of kill switch to protect against dropped connections, Double VPN, Onion over VPN, leak protection, and more. It is also the largest VPN network, containing 5,200+ servers in 60 countries, including quite a few in Asia. NordVPN is quite cheap, starting at $3.49 a month billed every 3 years.

This VPN service is a master of all trades: not only is it secure and privacy-friendly, but it will also unblock Google, YouTube, Facebook, and other censored sites, as well as help you bypass the geo-blocking of Netflix, Hulu, and most other streaming platforms. NordVPN has specialized servers for torrenting and offers a free SOCKS5 proxy, making it a prime choice for use with various P2P apps.

NordVPN is an awesome VPN service for China because of its capabilities in the face of the Great Firewall. The Obfuscated Servers feature allows users to slip through the gates of Deep Packet Inspection, the ever-growing server list makes IP blocking difficult, while Double VPN and Onion over VPN makes it unlikely you’ll get caught red-handed.

There are no real weaknesses to this service, and the only thing we could possibly mention is that there are faster VPNs out there, including on this list. With that said, NordVPN is cheap and also has a 30-day money-back guarantee to test if it works for you.

To download the NordVPN client in China, you’ll have to find a mirror site or an alternative file location because the regular website is blocked.

2. ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN service logo

The consensus best VPN overall is a decent choice for China

  • Pros: secure, fast, versatile, always has working servers for users in China
  • Cons: expensive, has no stealth protocol
  • Price: starts at $8.32
  • VPNpro rating: 9.6

ExpressVPN is one of the most important products in the VPN market. It has a huge network of 3,000+ servers spread out over 90+ countries, including many server locations around Mainland China. Although it doesn’t have the flashy security features of NordVPN, the kill switch, the encryption, and the leak protection offered by ExpressVPN are practically bullet-proof. Subscriptions start at $8.32, which is a bit steep, but entirely worth it.

This VPN gained a lot of credibility in 2017 when Turkish authorities seized an ExpressVPN server and unintentionally proved the service doesn’t log user data. Such integrity when it comes to privacy is crucial when climbing the Great Firewall, particularly for sensitive users, such as journalists or political activists.

In order for this level of privacy to be possible, ExpressVPN operates out of the British Virgin Islands – privacy-friendly location outside the grasp of China and other world powers.
It seems paradoxical, but ExpressVPN has managed to avoid downtime in heavily censored countries without offering any sort of stealth protocol. However, their history of success notwithstanding, we think not having a stealth protocol makes it both less reliable and less secure in China – not a deal breaker, but something to be considered.

ExpressVPN is a solid choice for those only using a VPN for entertainment purposes. It consistently unblocks Netflix, not only using servers in the US but elsewhere as well. The same goes for most other popular content streaming platforms, such as Hulu, Amazon Prime, or the BBC iPlayer. Also, unlike many other VPNs, ExpressVPN allows torrenting on all servers and is otherwise a good choice for this activity due to the speeds.

There are good customer support options on the ExpressVPN website, including a 24/7 live chat and many detailed guides. This, however, will rarely be necessary because the service has apps for most popular device types and the interface is universally easy to use.

3. VyprVPN

VyprVPN service logo

One of the deadliest weapons against censorship

  • Pros: secure, fast, owns all servers in the network, capable against firewalls
  • Cons: unfavorable attitude towards torrents
  • Price: starts at $5.00/month per month but users in China want the Premium version (starts at $6.67/month)
  • VPNpro rating: 8.3

Golden Frog is an American company based in privacy-friendly Switzerland. Their principal product, VyprVPN, is a secure VPN solution aimed at use in censorious countries, such as China. With 700+ company-owned servers in 70+ countries, this VPN is able to deliver consistent speeds across a wide geography. In addition to solid performance, VyprVPN has solid security features – AES-256 encryption, a kill switch, leak protection – and an independently audited no logs policy. The price starts at $5.00, but users in China will want the premium version which starts at $6.67.

What makes VyprVPN an excellent choice for China is the proprietary Chameleon protocol, which scrambles VPN traffic in a way that confuses Deep Packet Inspection – the Great Firewall’s way of distinguishing VPN traffic. As a result of this protocol, the downtime suffered by users of Vypr in this country is so rare that minutes of it warranted a separate blog post at one point in 2018.

The premium subscription offers another useful feature for users beyond the “Golden Shield” – the VyprVPN cloud. This is your own dedicated cloud VPN server, which should be nigh on impossible to block.

As a bonus, VyprVPN is known to be capable at bypassing geo-blocking measures, such as those of Netflix and other streaming platforms, as well as unblocking Google, Facebook, and any other sites blocked in China. However, Golden Frog has an unfavorable stance towards copyright violations, which means torrenters risk losing their subscription.

The service has some of the most straightforward, easy to install VPN clients and great customer support, making it a great choice even for new users.

4. Astrill VPN

Astrill VPN service logo

The fastest VPN in Asia

  • Pros: lightning fast, big protocol variety, solid security features
  • Cons: expensive, could have a better privacy policy
  • Price: starts at $8.33
  • VPNpro rating: 9.3

Astrill VPN was developed with Asia in mind and a large portion of its 300+ server list (65 countries) is located on this continent. This VPN client has all the security features expected of a top-notch service: unbreakable AES-256 encryption, a kill switch, leak protection, lots of protocols, et cetera. Unfortunately, Astrill is not for everyone – the prices start at $8.33 per month. Those not afraid of the steep costs can get it together with a VPN router.

This is a high-security VPN solution that boasts hands-down the best connection speeds in Asian countries. It is also quite a strong choice for all kind of entertainment – streaming geo-blocked content on platforms like Netflix, safely downloading torrents, gaming, and anything else that might benefit from a VPN service.

Most importantly for users in China, Astrill VPN has a selection of so-called “stealth protocols,” which will help to avoid the various sophisticated censorship tools of the Great Firewall. Astrill is not a bad choice for sensitive activities, but only if you’re not worried about issues with the privacy policy. Despite being based in the privacy-friendly Seychelles jurisdiction, Astrill VPN chooses to log quite a bit of user data.

Although the customization opportunities using Astrill are significant, it should be noted that it’s not the most user-friendly VPN app. However, those who have questions can contact the 24/7 live support or call a customer service center in Hong Kong. Astrill is available on Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, and more.

As is the case with virtually all great VPN services, you’ll need to install, or at least download, the client before your trip to China because the website is blocked. If you’re already in the country, search for a mirror site.

5. TorGuard

TorGuard service logo

Despite the name, this VPN is great for more than just torrenting

  • Pros: fast, secure, and highly customizable
  • Cons: not great for bypassing geo-blocking, US-based (some privacy concerns)
  • Price: starts at $4.99
  • VPNpro rating: 9.2

TorGuard is one of the most complete VPN services on the market. It has a network of 3,000+ servers in 50+ countries and offers very good speeds. This comes with a strong suite of security features, including a wide selection of tunneling protocols, customizable levels of encryption, a kill switch, leak protection, and more. The price starts at $5.00 and there are many subscription plans to choose from. There’s also a free trial for those who have a VPN subscription and want to switch.

This VPN service is based in the US, which is always worrisome due to the various privacy risks service providers face in this country. It’s safe to say this is less of a concern for users in China because the two countries are not partners in the intelligence sphere.

TorGuard is a solid choice for China: it has a stealth protocol and an additional stealth proxy feature, the combination of which makes detection almost impossible. As such, users will be able to unblock YouTube, Google, and other censored websites safely and with ease.

The connection speeds are good – more than sufficient for various entertainment purposes. As the name suggests, TorGuard is a great choice for torrenting or Kodi, but it can also be used for gaming or streaming. With that said, it is worse at unblocking Netflix than all other VPN services on this list and the same goes for other content streaming platforms.

Another common gripe with TorGuard is that it’s not very user-friendly. The user interface is outdated and complex, offering an abundance of choices that can be overwhelming for newer users. On the flip side, power users are likely to appreciate the freedom they get with this client, which is available on Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, and more.

Is it safe to use a VPN in China?

The answer is ambiguous and depends on context. The Chinese government does not appreciate citizens using VPNs to hide political activities, but everyday use is generally ignored. Whether using a VPN in China will get you in trouble or not also depends on who you are – the standard is not the same for Uighur Muslims as it is for Western businessmen. Furthermore, the level of surveillance in the country means that the authorities know a great deal about citizens. This information can be used at any time, so it’s smart to circumvent the Great Firewall with care.

VPNs blocked in China

The government’s decision to ban VPN services has been widely reported and even more widely misreported. While the country has cracked down on locally-run VPNs that have declined to follow a set of requirements (even sending people to prison in some cases), this does not mean services have stopped functioning. Many top-rated VPNs still work and can be used to defeat blocks on Western websites. However, users should beware of services operating out of China because they are likely doing so with the consent of the government.

Blocked apps, websites in China

Chinese ISPs have blocked many websites, apps, and online services that we take for granted in the West. The basic reasons for these blocks are twofold:

  • China wants to limit the information available to citizens
  • China wants to limit the influence of Western tech companies in the country

Among the blocked sites and apps are search engines like Google and Bing, social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, streaming platforms like YouTube and Twitch, app marketplaces like Google Play, mail services like Gmail, messaging apps like Whatsapp, and various other services, like Dropbox.

Free VPN for China

Many of the free apps users will find in Chinese app stores shouldn’t be trusted – they are allowed to function for a reason. The risk of using a free VPN client is significant even outside of China. These services are usually funded by selling user data, displaying targeted ads, mining crypto, and other shady means.

With that said, it is not impossible to find a good free VPN for China. Several such services are ProtonVPN, Windscribe, and TunnelBear, albeit the latter two have limits on how much data users can transfer per month. Practically all VPN services that have free plans next to paid plans will also limit the availability of firewall-beating features (such as the stealth protocols).

It is also very unlikely that you will find a VPN that’s both safe and fast.

Recommended read:

Best Free VPN for China

Are VPNs legal in my country?