VPNs are an incredibly effective way to upgrade your online security, and some of the best VPN services only cost a few dollars per month. It’s especially important to invest in a reliable VPN if you’re planning to travel to China or any other country with significant censorship and other Internet restrictions.
In this article, we’ll take you through each step involved in downloading a China VPN and setting it up in preparation for your trip. It can be surprisingly difficult to get a new VPN once you arrive in the country, so it’s critical to go through this process in advance to make sure that you’re protected throughout your stay.
These steps are also similar if you're looking to download a UAE VPN, Turkey VPN, or even a Cuba VPN, so although this quick guide is aimed at those heading to China, it may also be useful if you're heading to another country with strict Internet laws.
1. Find a VPN and start a subscription
First, you’ll need to find a VPN that meets your needs and either open a new subscription or start with a free trial. We’ll be using ExpressVPN throughout this article, but the process should be similar regardless of the VPN that you’re using. ExpressVPN doesn’t offer a free trial, but you can get your money back within 30 days of subscribing.
Different VPNs come with different pros and cons relating to speed, privacy, reliability, customer support, pricing, and access to streaming services. So, it’s worth taking the time to compare options to see what’s best for you. While ExpressVPN is our top overall VPN recommendation – and our top pick for use in China, too – it may not necessarily be the right choice for every user.
2. Download the client
Once you sign up for ExpressVPN (opens in new tab) or your preferred provider, you’ll be able to download the app on your computer or mobile device. Any VPN worth its salt will have clients for different devices and operating systems, and ExpressVPN supports desktops and mobile devices, as well as routers, game consoles, and browsers. Other providers, however, may not work with such a wide range of platforms.
If you subscribed to a mobile VPN, you should be able to find the app in either the App Store or Google Play, depending on your operating system. Desktop apps are typically available for download on the VPN’s website. Your provider should also provide more detailed instructions for downloading and installing the VPN on any other platforms.
3. Install and set up your new VPN
As mentioned, you should download and install your VPN before traveling abroad, especially since China and some other countries strictly regulate the Internet. After downloading the app on your smartphone or desktop, you can sign into your new account and start using your new VPN.
Mobile app marketplaces like Google Play and the App Store typically install apps automatically, so you’ll be able to open them shortly after downloading, but we recommend being directed to the product on the app store from the provider’s site rather than searching yourself. Desktop apps, on the other hand, usually have a manual installation process. You should find the installer package in your Downloads folder.
If you’re using ExpressVPN, you’ll need to sign in and connect the device to your account by inputting an activation code from the website. Other VPNs may have other methods of verifying your device, so make sure to check your inbox and spam folder for information on setting up your account.
After installing, you can connect to your VPN and start securing your Internet activity. Don’t forget to test the VPN before leaving so you can identify and fix any technical issues. You don’t want to find yourself without a VPN after arriving in China.
And, finally, once you arrive it’s worth making sure that your VPN functions as expected. If it doesn’t, make full use of the money-back guarantee almost all top providers offer – there’s no use paying for something that doesn’t do the job you need it to do.
A note on downloading VPNs
As a note on Android VPN services especially, we’ll reiterate that we recommend heading to the provider’s website and signing up there directly. You’ll then be directed to the correct product on the app store to start the setup process. We recommend this because it avoids you downloading potentially malicious copycat apps that use a similar logo or name to the product you intend to use.
Many providers offer direct, legitimate .APK downloads outside of any app store, but never download software from third-party sites, no matter what operating system you use – these are known to come bundled with malware and pose a significant threat. Stick to the provider’s website for absolute safety.
Which VPN do we recommend for users in China?
ExpressVPN stands out from the competition in terms of price, features, and value. With servers in nearly 100 countries, excellent censor-evading power, blazing connection speeds, and reliable access to multiple streaming services, ExpressVPN has everything that one would need from a VPN.
While some users may prefer certain features of other top VPNs, it’s the best overall option for most users – and now Tom’s Guide readers can claim three months absolutely free (opens in new tab).