If you’re looking for a VPN for some specific purpose (e.g. streaming Hulu or using torrents) simply picking from the VPNpro.com “Best of” list is a good idea. Yet there are certain cases when universally acclaimed tools might not be the best for the job, especially if the job is climbing over the Great Firewall of China. In this article, we’ll try to answer whether using ExpressVPN for China is a good idea.
As per the Freedom House report, the most populous country in the world is also the world’s biggest abuser of internet freedom. And the worst part is that China has been wearing this crown of ‘Emperor Censor’ for the third consecutive year. So while privacy and anonymity remain an issue, none of the VPN providers can say with full confidence that their service will work next month or even next week.
In August 2018, the BBC switched to the HTTPS protocol and got banned by the Chinese government. As most of the websites are switching from HTTP to the more secure protocol, one does not need the powers of a fortune teller to predict that more bans are coming. So if even the BBC are recommending to use a VPN in China, who are we to disagree? The only remaining question is should you choose to spend your money on ExpressVPN for China?
One thing to do before you travel to China
Speaking of spending money, no matter which VPN you choose, it’s better to buy it before traveling to China. Upon arriving, you will learn that most VPN provider websites are blocked, some, like NordVPN, don’t offer a free trial in China, and paying can also become an issue.
In the case of ExpressVPN, you should check it out and configure before entering the other side of the Great Firewall. Paying anonymously for ExpressVPN while in China will not be an issue, therefore, you don’t have to subscribe for a long time in advance out of fear of not being able to stream Netflix for the upcoming months. As for the free trial, ExpressVPN doesn’t offer one at all. But what it does offer is a 30-day money-back guarantee, which should be more than enough to make up your mind.
Choosing a VPN for China: 4 key points to consider
You need a good VPN for China, which could bypass the Great Firewall as well as protect your privacy. But even the most secure service is rendered impotent if the connection speed is pedestrian or the client software throws around errors and crashes more often than Windows 98. And nobody wants to pay more than it’s worth, so if the price of a VPN is well above the industry average of $10.6/month, it’d better offer something special.
But there are also some specific points you should consider before choosing a VPN for China because a service failing to deliver in these areas will probably give you mild to severe headaches that even Chinese medicine will be unable to cure:
- The number of servers in Asia
- The number of servers on the US West Coast
- The protocols available for each platform (particularly whether the VPN offers a “stealth protocol”)
- The quality of customer support
How does ExpressVPN fare in China according to these 4 criteria?
ExpressVPN has more than 2000 servers in 94 countries, the latter number being one of the biggest amongst competitors. While ExpressVPN doesn’t state the actual number of servers they have, but they cover 38 locations in 24 countries in Asia, meaning your connection speed shouldn’t be a problem due to your VPN server being located on the other side of the globe.
We cannot say if ExpessVPN has a strong focus on users in China or Asia in general. From their whole list of 148 regions, at least 33 or 22% of them are located on this continent, but that says little about the actual number of servers. This number is important for those who consider using ExpressVPN for China due to IP address blocking. China is constantly blocking servers, therefore, the more servers (and different IPs) there are, the less likely it is that the Chinese government will block all of them. In general, ExpressVPN has a reputation for stable connections in China.
What we can do is check the connection speeds while connected to Asian servers and compare them with what we get without a VPN. We performed this little test from Europe. We connected to servers in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea (due to their relative closeness to China and the fact that ExpressVPN has more than one region in these countries). So here are the results.
How fast can ExpressVPN servers in Asia be?
The original download speed we used as the reference is 47.6 Mbps. The upload speed is 34 Mbps.
ExpressVPN Taiwan-1, Taiwan Mobile
30 Mbps download and an abysmal 1 Mbps upload. We hope the former is permanent and the later is temporary.
ExpressVPN Hong Kong-4, NCIC Telcom
36 Mbps download and 6 Mbps upload. 76% of the original download speed is very good, considering that we are connected to a server on the other side of Eurasia. The Upload is a bit shabby but should be enough for most things.
ExpressVPN South Korea-2, KGEX ISP
25 Mbps download is the lowest of all three but still good, while the 3 Mbps upload is not great, but also enough for most uses.
The results of ExpressVPN speed test with Asian servers
First of all, it must be noted that our speeds suffer due to the distance between Europe and the Far East. The speeds would certainly be better when connecting from China.
After doing these tests, we can see that the average download speed is 30 Mbps or 65% of the original speed. That should be fast enough for most tasks, including streaming, gaming, and video-calling. Again we’d like to point that you should have the percentage value in mind, as the real speed cannot be determined precisely without taking your laptop, flying to Beijing, and running the test multiple times from the hotel you will be staying at.
Does ExpressVPN have any servers on the US West Coast?
We can also add 10 locations in the West Coast to the overall server list, should there be any issues with the ones around China. Yet none of them seem to be optimized for traffic from China, although an ExpressVPN.com Troubleshooting page states that there are 2 servers in the US that are to be used when experiencing difficulties in China. According to some reviewers, US Los Angeles-3 should be the fastest server ExpressVPN has to offer for Chinese users.
Is ExpressVPN fast enough for China?
In general, we can conclude that ExpressVPN in China is a fast enough service for everyday activities. It might not be that fast in comparison to AstrillVPN, which is known for its strong presence in Asia, but it is certainly fast enough for you not to ditch this option, especially if you have already tried it and liked it.
Users in China will be happy about ExpressVPN’s Split Tunneling feature, which lets you choose the apps that must connect via the VPN and those that don’t. This way you can use your full connection speed for locally-approved software, such as WeChat, Baidu Cloud, or Aliwangwang.
Finally, to get the fastest and most reliable connection, you might consider purchasing not one but two VPNs. This way if one slows down or gets totally blocked, chances are you will be able to use the other one to access crucial data online, such as checking the number of likes the selfie of you eating scorpions on a stick has garnered since you last checked it an hour ago.
Minding the Protocol in China
Speaking of protocols that are available for ExpressVPN users, the selection should please even the pickiest protocol connoisseur.
Naturally, it supports OpenVPN (both UDP and TCP), but you might not be using it because China’s Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) tends to block OpenVPN traffic (as some sources report). Instead, ExpressVPN offers a modified version of OpenVPN under the title “stealth servers.” This will disguise your VPN traffic as regular SSL/TLS traffic. In addition, ExpressVPN users also have access to SSTP, PPTP, L2TP/IPsec, as well as IPsec, and IKEv2 for iOS devices.
Anonymity when paying and signing up
Anonymity is crucial if you have to make transactions for VPN services while in China. Entering personal details is not something you want to do when you’re being watched by the government (that includes credit card details).
Luckily for you, ExpressVPN offers a bouquet of payment options. It starts with PayPal, continues with Alipay and UnionPay (which is convenient for local customers), and ends with BitCoin. Also, you can use Tor to get to ExpressVPN’s hidden .onion site, which you may have to do if you find the .com version blocked in China, or just for security.
Client support for VPN users is essential in China. No country is this capable of restricting its citizens’ online freedom and privacy. This means there’s a greater chance of running into problems you might be unable to solve on your own.
But fear not. Even if we put ExpressVPN’s great 24/7 live service to the side, one can find many solutions in their comprehensive Troubleshooting guide. Alternatively, you can write an email or open a support ticket and realistically expect a quick answer. Their Internet Privacy How-to guide page can also be a valuable resource. We recommend checking it out, especially when you find yourself in a country that is more than willing to check you out.
Should you choose ExpressVPN for China?
Getting anything better for China than ExpressVPN is hard. With this VPN you’re getting very good speed and security, along with helpful 24/7 customer support. Yes, ExpressVPN is one of the priciest VPNs. But, at the same time, it’s at least two times better than your average VPN, which is clearly not suited for hard labor in China.
More great VPNs for China.