Can You Use a VPN in China in 2024 (Full Guide)

 

I travel to China really often, and I always use a VPN when I’m there. That’s because a VPN helps access tons of web services that are blocked in China, many of which I use to stay in touch with friends and for work. Also, with a VPN, I don’t have to worry about the government compromising my privacy. 

But using a VPN in China isn’t as easy as it seems. While you can use a VPN there, that doesn’t mean the government will let you do it. VPN users in China face many obstacles when it comes to signing up for or connecting to a VPN. 

So I put together this guide on using VPNs in China. I’ve been using them there for the past 10+ years, so I relied on my past (and current) experiences when talking about whether or not you can use a VPN in China, if it’s legal to do so, and what measures VPNs actually take to work in China. Also, I mentioned a few top providers that have always worked well for me in China.

DISCLAIMER: Sometimes there are clampdowns in China and I highly recommend using a backup VPN. Checkout my full article on the best VPNs for China.

Can You Use a VPN in China?

Yes, but doing this might be difficult. That’s because the Chinese government is extremely aggressive when it comes to detecting and blocking non-government-approved VPN providers. So, it can be really tough to connect to a VPN in China — not to mention signing up for a VPN service, as the government uses the Great Firewall to block VPN websites too. 

Only a few VPN providers are able to circumvent VPN usage blocks in China. And even the VPN providers that do work in China, don’t always offer 24/7 uptime since the Great Firewall might sometimes block their servers for short periods of time. I’ve been using VPNs for the past 10+ years during my trips to China, and I can honestly say that I’ve only been able to use very few VPNs without encountering any issues in China — I’ve written about all of them here.

Why Do You Need to Use a VPN in China?

These are the main reasons I recommend using a VPN in China: 

  • To get around the Great Firewall — A VPN allows you to circumvent the Great Firewall by letting you communicate with the internet through a new IP address (which belongs to the VPN server you connect to). As long as that VPN IP address doesn’t have any Great Firewall restrictions linked to it, you can use it to access blocked sites.
  • To protect your privacy — The Chinese government regularly spies on the web traffic of its internet users. Well, if you use a VPN, it encrypts your web traffic, which basically means it makes it 100% unreadable. If Chinese authorities try to monitor your web connections, they’ll only see gibberish. For example, instead of seeing that you’re accessing www.youtube.com, they’ll only see random strings of letters, numbers, and characters, such as HfsuhJR412j4FMufhe3.

This just isn’t a yes or no question. The legality of VPN usage varies from province to province in China, so there’s just no way I can say for a fact that using a VPN is 100% legal or illegal in mainland China. 

Still, I have never heard of people being arrested for using VPNs in China. This mostly applies to tourists, but I haven’t heard of Chinese citizens facing legal repercussions for using VPNs. And while researching this topic, I haven’t found any credible online sources that confirm that using a VPN is illegal in China. At most, I have heard about how Chinese authorities make it very inconvenient to use a VPN — in some provinces, they might shut down your cellular service, have you report to a police station to reinstate it, take your phone and delete all VPN apps, and then give your phone back and reinstate your cellular service.

I’ve read about instances of VPN-related arrests, but they were not linked to VPN usage. What actually happened was that some Chinese citizens were arrested because they were caught selling non-government-approved VPNs. Basically, they were running an illegal business, at least according to Chinese law. 

Also, you shouldn’t recommend non-government-approved VPNs online, especially on social media. I have actually heard of instances where both Chinese citizens and tourists got in legal trouble for recommending “illegal” VPNs (like ExpressVPN, for example) on Chinese social media platforms. 

What About Government-Approved VPNs?

I’ve heard about such VPN providers, but I don’t recommend using them. They’re government-approved because they comply with the government’s data retention laws — so, if you use a government-approved VPN, it will very likely log your data and share it with the Chinese government. 

How Does China Block VPNs? 

  • IP Blocks — This is the most common way the Chinese government detects and blocks VPNs. Basically, it uses automated systems that flag popular VPN IP addresses (or IP addresses ranges), which the Great Firewall then blocks. Once that happens, nobody in China can connect to said IP addresses.
  • Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) — This is a type of network traffic analysis that Chinese internet service providers (ISPs) use to detect VPN traffic. Once an ISP detects a VPN connection, it drops it, disconnecting the user from the VPN server. 
  • Port Blocking — Many VPN protocols use predefined ports (numbers that are used by network protocols for online communication). For example, OpenVPN uses UDP and TCP ports 1194 by default, whereas IKEv2/IPSec uses UDP port 4500. If an ISP blocks a port that is used by a VPN protocol, the VPN protocol can’t be used to establish a VPN connection anymore. 

How Do VPNs Get Around the Great Firewall?

  • They refresh their server IPs really fast — VPN providers try to refresh their server IP addresses very often, so that the Chinese government has a hard time detecting and blocking them. 
  • They provide access to obfuscation — This is a security feature that masks VPN traffic, essentially making it look like regular internet traffic. This way, Chinese ISPs can’t detect and drop VPN connections. 
  • They use TCP port 443 — Some VPN protocols (mostly OpenVPN) can be configured to use TCP port 443. If this happens, Chinese ISPs can’t use port blocking to stop the protocols from working. That’s because it’s pretty much impossible to block TCP port 443. It’s the same port used by HTTPS traffic, so blocking it would mean dropping HTTPS traffic (which is used by around over 80% of websites) all over the country.

How to Choose the Best VPN to Use in China in 2024

  • Get a VPN that works well in China — The Great Firewall is able to detect and block tons of VPNs (including many popular VPN providers). For the best results, you need to get a VPN that refreshes its server IPs very fast, and also comes with obfuscation. All the VPN services I recommend below have worked without issues in China whenever I used them.
  • Pick a VPN that’s very secure — Stopping the Chinese government from spying on your data is extremely important. That’s why you should only get a VPN that has all essential VPN security features, including a no-logs policy, DNS leak protection, a kill switch (to protect against traffic leaks), and military-grade encryption.
  • Opt for a VPN with fast speeds — When you access the web with a VPN, your original internet speeds will always take a hit. That’s mostly due to the added layer of encryption, and also due to the distance between you and the VPN server. Luckily, if you use a top provider, the slowdowns will be really minimal.
  • Pick a VPN with a large server network — The VPN should have servers in at least 50+ countries, and it should also have many locations near China. This way, you can connect to nearby servers to get the fastest speeds. My #1 pick, ExpressVPN, has servers in 100+ countries (including locations near China, like Japan and Hong Kong).
  • Get a provider with intuitive VPN apps — The VPN’s apps should be simple to install and feature a user-friendly design. Basically, you shouldn’t have to use lengthy support articles to learn how to connect to a server or enable certain settings. 
  • Choose a VPN that provides great value — I recommend getting a VPN that comes with additional features (like split-tunneling or an ad blocker), has great streaming support, or is good for torrenting. Also, bonus points if the VPN is affordable and has a generous money-back guarantee.

Quick Look at the Best VPNs to Use in China in 2024:

  1. ExpressVPNBest overall VPN to use in China in 2024.
  2. PureVPN — Good, Security-Focused China VPN.
  3. PrivateVPNGood China VPN for beginners.
  4. Comparison of the Best VPNs to Use in China in 2024.

1. ExpressVPN — Best VPN to Use in China in 2024 ExpressVPN

Try ExpressVPN risk-free!

ExpressVPN is my top VPN for China, even though it's not fully free, you can treat it as such as it backs a 30 day refund guarantee, so if your trip to China is less than 30 days, you try it out and if you're not satisfied, you can get a no-questions-asked refund.

score

4.9
/ 5

ExpressVPN is definitely the best VPN to use in China right now. I use it very often when traveling through China, and it always works without any problems. Plus, the provider has the fastest speeds on the market, it comes with very strong security and privacy features, and it’s super easy to use

ExpressVPN changes its server IPs very often, which is why it’s able to circumvent detection by the Chinese government so well. I actually tested how often it changes its IPs by running 10 leak tests while connected to one server in the span of 5 minutes — and the results always displayed a different IP address. 

Plus, the VPN provider also uses obfuscation, which is a security tool that makes VPN traffic look like regular internet traffic. Obfuscation is useful for users in China, as it helps them get around deep packet inspection (DPI) blocks — DPI is basically a type of network traffic analysis that detects VPN traffic. Also, I really like how ExpressVPN supports obfuscation on all of its servers and protocols. 

And I really like how ExpressVPN uses mirrored links — these are exact copies of its site that are hosted on different web addresses. This way, it’s much harder for the Chinese government to stop Chinese internet users from accessing ExpressVPN’s website. To get access to the provider’s mirrored links in China, you just need to use its email support (ExpressVPN’s email support reps usually reply in less than 24 hours). 

What’s more, this VPN provider has excellent security and privacy. It has an audited no-logs policy, and it comes with advanced features, such as full leak protection, perfect forward secrecy (provides a different encryption key for each VPN connection), and RAM-only servers that ensure each reboot wipes all server data. 

Also, I’m very happy that ExpressVPN has servers in 100+ countries — especially since it has VPN servers in many countries near China, including Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, and Malaysia. This makes it very easy to connect to nearby servers to get the fastest VPN connection speeds. 

In addition, this is the fastest VPN out there — I’ve been using ExpressVPN while traveling through China over the past 10+ years, and it always provided me with blazing-fast VPN connection speeds (websites, HD videos, and 4K videos always load instantly, even on distant servers). 

ExpressVPN’s pricing starts at $6.67/month. I know it’s a bit steep, but keep in mind this VPN provider offers the best value on the market. Plus, its longest plan often comes with extra months of service for free — and all of its plans are also backed with a no-questions-asked 30-day money-back guarantee.

Bottom Line: ExpressVPN is the best VPN to use in China in 2024. It works in China without any issues (since it refreshes its server IPs very fast, and it also has obfuscation), it protects your internet traffic with industry-leading security and privacy features, it has a very large server network, and it’s the fastest VPN on the market. Plus, it backs all purchases with a risk-free 30-day money-back guarantee. 

2. PureVPN — Great Security-Focused China VPN PureVPN

Try PureVPN risk-free!

PureVPN provides access to high-end security and privacy features, including an always-on audit structure, Quantum-Resistant servers, PFS, and RAM-only servers. It also has a larger server network, good streaming support, fast speeds, and user-friendly apps. It backs all plans with a 31-day money-back guarantee.

score

4.4
/ 5

PureVPN comes with high-end security features, making it a good pick for VPN users in China who are mainly focused on security. The provider has an audited no-logs policy, and it comes with advanced features, including RAM-only servers, perfect forward secrecy, and full leak protection (I actually ran 15 leak tests while connected to PureVPN, and I never experienced any leaks). 

One of its main highlights are its Quantum-Resistant servers. These VPN servers are configured to future-proof your data against potential quantum threats in the future (basically, when quantum computing is likely to become the norm).

PureVPN changes its VPN server IPs very fast, and also has obfuscation. Plus, I really like how it supports obfuscation on all of its servers, and that it allows it via both OpenVPN and WireGuard. Many VPNs only provide obfuscation via OpenVPN, so it’s really nice to see a provider that offers it via WireGuard too — WireGuard is just as secure as OpenVPN, but much faster. 

Also, this VPN service has a pretty large server network, numbering 6000+ servers in 65+ countries. Its network also includes VPN server locations in places near China, such as Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines. I think its server network is big enough for most VPN users — still, if you’d like to have access to more locations, consider getting ExpressVPN (it has servers in 100+ countries).

Plus, PureVPN also has really good VPN connection speeds. I ran some speed tests during my last trip to China, and I always enjoyed very fast browsing and streaming speeds. Also, the VPN has split-tunneling, a tool that lets you choose which apps use your VPN connection, and which apps use your local internet connection — by only sending app from a specific web app through the VPN, you’re likely to boost your speeds (because the VPN has less data to route and encrypt-decrypt).

PureVPN comes with tier-based subscriptions, but you only need the Standard subscription since it comes with all of the VPN’s features. Also, its subscriptions have plans that start at $1.96/month, and also each plan comes with a 31-day money-back guarantee.

Bottom Line: PureVPN provides great security for accessing the web in China. It protects your data with advanced security tools, including full leak protection and RAM-only servers. Plus, it also provides access to a large server network, and it has really good connection speeds. And it backs all of its paid plans with a 31-day money-back guarantee.

3. PrivateVPN — Good Pick for Beginners PrivateVPN

Try PrivateVPN risk-free!

PrivateVPN is a super-affordable VPN that’s great for beginners and people who download torrents very often. It also comes with great streaming support, it’s really good for security and privacy, and it works in restrictive countries. Plus, it backs all purchases with a risk-free 30-day refund.

score

4.4
/ 5

I think PrivateVPN is a great China VPN for people new to VPNs. That’s because all of its apps have a very minimalist design — basically, the apps don’t have many features or settings to enable/disable, which makes the VPN less overwhelming for beginners. Plus, I also like how the few settings and features that are available all come with quick, helpful explanations (so you never feel lost while using the VPN). 

I can personally confirm that PrivateVPN gets around the Great Firewall with zero issues. This is very likely because the provider refreshes its VPN server IP address very fast. Plus, it also supports obfuscation via the Stealth VPN feature — and I like how you can also configure the obfuscated connection to use TCP port 443 (the government can’t block this port with the Great Firewall, as it would shut down HTTPS traffic all over the country).

And I also like how secure this VPN is. It provides strong leak protection, and it also secures your data with perfect forward secrecy. Plus, it has Application Guard, an app-based kill switch that shuts down selected apps when you disconnect from the VPN — I tested this feature with my P2P client, and it always successfully closed it when I terminated my VPN connection.

And PrivateVPN also has a pretty big server network, numbering 200+ servers in 60+ countries (including locations near China, such as Japan and Malaysia. But if you think the number of countries is too small, just get ExpressVPN instead since it has servers in 100+ countries. 

PrivateVPN is super affordable, with plans starting as low as $2.00/month.Plus, the provider also comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Bottom Line: PrivateVPN has really beginner-friendly VPN apps. Its apps feature a minimalist design, and they also make it very simple to find and connect to servers. Plus, PrivateVPN is really secure, it has a large server network, and it provides good speeds. Also, it backs its very affordable plans with a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Comparison of the Best VPNs to Use in China in 2024

Starting PriceObfuscationNo-Logs PolicyServer
Network
Number
of
Devices
Money-Back Guarantee
1. ExpressVPN$6.67/month
(independently audited)
Servers in
100+
countries
Up top 830 days
2. PureVPN$1.96/month
(independently audited)
6000+
servers
in 65+
countries
1031 days
3. PrivateVPN$2.00/month200+
servers
in 60+
countries
1030 days

Troubleshooting Tips for Using a VPN in China

  • Reconnect to the server — There’s a chance the Great Firewall just blocked the VPN IP address you were using. With most VPN providers, just connecting to the same server you were using will get you a new IP address (one that’s hopefully not blocked yet).
  • Use the recommended servers — Some VPN services have a list of specific server locations they recommend to use in China. More likely than not, those servers are configured to refresh their IP addresses much faster than the other servers. For example, ExpressVPN recommends trying the following locations if you’re in China: UK-Wembley, France – Alsace, Singapore – Marina Bay, and USA – Los Angeles – 5. 
  • Use the recommended protocol — Some VPN providers recommend using certain protocols to get the best results. This would usually be an automatic protocol selector option, or the provider’s proprietary protocol. 
  • Enable the VPN’s obfuscation feature — Doing this will help you avoid DPI blocks. Some providers enable obfuscation automatically, while others require you to enable it in the app’s connection settings. If you’re not sure how to do it, check the provider’s support guides (if you can access its site), or contact its support team.
  • Use TCP port 443 — Using this port protects you from port blocking, as Chinese authorities simply can’t block it without shutting down HTTPS traffic country-wide. Most VPNs let you use this port with the OpenVPN protocol (some even use it by default on OpenVPN).
  • Contact customer support — If none of the tips mentioned above worked for you, I recommend getting in touch with the provider’s support team. The only way to do this in China is via email, so make sure to pick a VPN whose email support is really responsive (the VPNs I recommend all provide replies to email messages in less than 24 hours).

Can I Get Around the Great Firewall Without Using a VPN?

There are some alternatives, but they’re not that great. Instead of a VPN, you can also try using the Tor network, a proxy server, or Shadowsocks. However, I have tried all of them, and they’re definitely not better than using a VPN. 

Let’s start with the Tor network. It’s a free privacy network that hides your IP address and encrypts your traffic (just like a VPN) — Tor actually adds multiple layers of encryption, which means you get added security. However, Tor barely works well in China, as the Great Firewall has an easy time detecting and blocking its servers. 

Proxy servers also aren’t ideal. They change your IP address just like a VPN, but they don’t provide encryption. So while some proxies might actually work in China, they won’t be able to provide any security. Due to this, the government will be able to monitor your internet traffic. 

And finally there’s Shadowsocks. This is a free encrypted proxy that’s designed specifically for people who want to bypass the Great Firewall. I can confirm it works well in China, but using it is a bit inconvenient — that’s because you need access to your own Shadowsocks server, which means renting a virtual server outside of China and manually deploying Shadowsocks on it (which is time-consuming and difficult). 

Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, but I don’t really recommend it. Most free VPNs don’t work in China at all, as they can’t afford to refresh their server IPs very fast or provide access to obfuscation. What’s more, out of the few free VPNs that do work in China, many put your data at risk and have very slow speeds and restrictive data caps. Still, there are some decent options out there if you insist on using a free VPN.

I personally recommend just using a paid premium VPN instead. Not all paid VPNs work well in China, though — but I’ve never experienced any issues while using ExpressVPN, which also provides high-end security, ultra-fast speeds, and really intuitive apps.

The main reason is to bypass the Great Firewall, so that you can access the free web. With a VPN, you can use tons of web services that are blocked in China, like YouTube, Google, Gmail, Instagram, and more. Also, using a VPN stops the government from monitoring your web usage. 

The best VPN to use in China right now is ExpressVPN. The provider changes its server IPs extremely fast (so it easily avoids IP blocks), and it also supports obfuscation on all servers and via all protocols (to get around VPN connection blocks). In addition to that, it has super-fast speeds, very intuitive apps, and high-end security and privacy features. 

It might work, but I can’t guarantee this. The provider itself doesn’t guarantee 24/7 uptime in China, and I have also only had success sometimes when using it in China — other times, it just couldn’t bypass the Great Firewall at all. 

Luckily, there are other better alternatives on the market. My favorite one is ExpressVPN since it works in China without any issues (it refreshes its server IPs super fast, and it has obfuscation), it has the fastest speeds on the market and servers in 100+ countries, and it comes with industry-leading security features.

There are plenty of good options, but my favorite one is ExpressVPN — it works with zero issues in China since it refreshes its server IPs super fast and it has obfuscation, and it protects your data with industry-leading security and privacy features. Plus, it has the fastest speeds out there, its apps are super intuitive, and all of its plans come with a risk-free 30-day money-back guarantee.

Best VPNs to Use in China in 2024 — Final Thoughts: 

ExpressVPN

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