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.
According to 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 websites are switching from HTTP to the more secure protocol, you probably don’t need a fortune teller to predict that more bans are coming. So if even the BBC is recommending using 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, and 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 set it up before entering China. 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 a 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 that can bypass the Great Firewall and protect your privacy. But even the most secure service is rendered useless if the connection speed is slow 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 $10.60/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 a lot of headaches:
- 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 2,000 servers in 94 countries, the latter being one of the biggest among competitors. While ExpressVPN doesn’t state the actual number of servers they have, they do cover 38 locations in 24 countries in Asia, meaning your connection speed shouldn’t be a problem because your VPN server is 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 locations (about 22%) are in Asia, 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, and 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 the speeds we get without a VPN. We performed the following test from Europe.
We connected to servers in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea (due to their proximity to China and the fact that ExpressVPN has more than one server option in these countries). So here are the results.
How fast can ExpressVPN servers in Asia be?
Europe, no VPN
The original download speed we used as the reference is 47.6 Mbps. The upload speed is 34 Mbps.
ExpressVPN Taiwan-1, Taiwan Mobile
The results revealed a 30 Mbps download speed and an abysmal 1 Mbps upload speed. We hope the upload speed is only temporary.
ExpressVPN Hong Kong-4, NCIC Telcom
Here we get a 36 Mbps download speed and 6 Mbps for the upload. Since this amounts to 76% of the original download speed, it’s very good, considering that we are connected to a server on the other side of Eurasia.
The upload speed is a bit shabby but should be enough for most things.
ExpressVPN South Korea-2, KGEX ISP
The 25 Mbps download speed is the lowest of all three, but it’s still good, while the 3 Mbps upload is not great, although probably enough for most uses.
The results of the ExpressVPN speed test for 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 (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 with AstrillVPN, which is known for its strong presence in Asia, but it certainly is fast enough for you to not 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 have to. 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 you got for your selfie of you eating scorpions on a stick.
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 (which 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?
So, for the question: does ExpressVPN work in China? The answer is a definite yes. But is ExpressVPN the best option for users in China?
Simply put, 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.