Whether you're on a flying visit to China or you're planning on spending a good chunk of time in the country, one of the first things on your shopping list should be a China VPN.
While it's a good idea to have the best VPN installed on your devices in just about any situation, those in China will have a demonstrably worse time without one. Fancy posting holiday pics to Instagram? You'll need a VPN to access it. Need to WhatsApp your family? You'll find it's blocked. Even watching Netflix or checking in on Slack will be impossible without an effective China VPN.
However, picking the right VPN for China can be tricky, since the Great Firewall is very effective at blocking access – here we've rounded up the best 5 that really do work, and can get you connected without hassle.
What makes the best China VPN?
Since many VPNs won't work in China, simply being able to work as a China VPN is a useful first step.
Then, we'd highly recommend seeking a service with 24/7 live-chat support. If you run into any issues with your China VPN, you'll be able to contact your provider and they should be able to remedy your problem. A money-back guarantee is also well worth finding, since no VPN can guarantee a 100% success rate in the country. If it fails, at least you'll get your money back.
In our ExpressVPN review, the provider ticked all these boxes, which is why it tops our list as the best China VPN. Also, it's not only a great VPN for China, but it's a fantastic all-round package that will keep you protected wherever you are. However, below are a few more options that all perform well in China and should get you access to the sites you need.
NB: We highly recommend signing up to and installing VPN before you step on the plane to China. Once you're there, you may find your provider's website is blocked and that the app has disappeared from your app store.
1. ExpressVPN – the best China VPN
Whether you're on business, an expat in China, or just visiting on holiday, you'll need a China VPN to access what you want – and ExpressVPN is the best way to do that. It simply works, and is the most reliable option for avoiding the Great Firewall. Plus, you can now get 3 months free on a 12-month plan.
2. NordVPN – big name works great in China
NordVPN is hot on ExpressVPN's heels. It's a great choice for sidestepping the Chinese government's draconian measures, it's very fast, great for streaming, and it's incredibly secure as well. You'll also have an excellent support team backing you up, alongside a 30-day money-back guarantee.
3. Astrill VPN – seriously specialized China VPN
While Astrill isn't quite as good an all-rounder as ExpressVPN or NordVPN, if you want maximum peace of mind when it comes to unblocking the web in China it's a great shout. At $12.50 a month it's pricy, but it's worth the cost.
Our top five China VPN picks
ExpressVPN is the best China VPN on the market – and it doesn't make any sacrifices in usability to achieve that status. While it works perfectly in Beijing and Shenzhen, it'll also keep you covered in London, Seoul or rural Mississippi.
Security is excellent, with AES-256 encryption and a selection of protocols, plus a kill switch, Perfect Forward Secrecy and split tunnelling – which will let you route certain apps through the VPN while leaving others untouched.
Connection speeds are rapid and reliable, and with servers in India, Hong Kong, Mongolia, South Korea and Laos, wherever you are in China there's a server nearby (relatively speaking). That also means you'll have a good selection to choose from in the very unlikely event that the server you're using fails.
The fact that no servers are run by ExpressVPN in mainland China means the service isn't subject to the data-handling laws domestic companies are, and as such it can also guarantee that it stores no information that can identify you – excellent if you want to be sure your activity is kept totally private.
There's a reason why ExpressVPN is trusted by so many people as the best China VPN, and that's because it just simply works. There's not a service available today that combines such stringent security measures with slick apps and excellent speeds – let alone one that does all that behind the Great Firewall.
If it doesn't work how you want it to, you'll be covered by a 30-day money-back guarantee for peace of mind. However, we're convinced there's not a better service out there.
Get 3 months FREE with the best China VPN
Tom's Guide readers can claim 3 free months of ExpressVPN on its year-long plan, meaning you'll get 15 months for the price of 12. And again, if you're not happy with the service, you've got 30 days to make up your mind for a full refund.
NordVPN is one of the most secure China VPNs available thanks to its excellent encryption and obfuscated servers, which ensure your VPN use isn't detected by the Great Firewall.
We raved about plenty of features in our NordVPN review, with the service boasting powerful DNS leak protection, two kill switches, and incredible connection speeds via the secure NordLynx protocol. However, it's worth noting that split tunnelling is only available through browser extensions – otherwise it's all or nothing.
You'll be able to watch the full gamut of streaming media, and the vast number of servers will ensure you'll be able to connect to one that's fairly close to wherever you are in China.
While Nord offers a great selection of mobile apps, they can be a little awkward to use – they retain the map-based server picking tool from the desktop versions, and while there's a regular list available, we'd like to see this immediately. However, this is a small complaint as in practice you'll connect and forget.
If you're after a VPN for China with tons of additional features for a reasonable price, NordVPN is worth considering – and as we'd expect, there's a 30-day guarantee in case you're not a fan.
Astrill VPN is a bit of a weird one, and if we're honest it doesn't often come up in our buying guides. However, if you're looking to evade regional firewalls like those imposed in China, it's one of the few VPN providers that's dedicated itself to the job.
Most interesting is Astrill VPN's Stealth VPN feature, which is in essence a modified version of the OpenVPN protocol that's designed to evade VPN detection. That means that in countries like China that actively block VPN traffic you should still be able to use Astrill, because the VPN is 'invisible'.
Astrill is also pretty configurable, with the apps offering tons of in-depth features like assigning different ports and changing MTU values, adjusting the level of encryption, full leak protection and more, all alongside the classics like a kill switch and split tunneling.
There are a few downsides. First of all, Astrill VPN is poor for streaming – in our testing we could only get access to US Netflix, and services like BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime and Disney+ were totally blocked.
Astrill's biggest downfall, however, is its price. Starting at an eye-watering $20 on a monthly plan, dropping to a still pricy $10 a month on the 1-year plan, it's even more than ExpressVPN – and considering you only get about 300 servers worldwide and very little streaming support, it's hard to justify the extra outlay.
But, for those who will be relying on their China VPN, it's definitely worth considering, and is widely recommended on forums and Reddit, which can only be a good thing. Just make sure you can afford it.
Netherlands-based Surfshark is a newcomer making serious waves, and its reputation as a great China VPN is only improving. With charmingly simple interfaces, its desktop clients and mobile apps ranked highly in our Surfshark review, are incredibly easy to use and deliver excellent performance.
That doesn't mean that it lacks power, though. While not quite as configurable as ExpressVPN, Surfshark offers great security through strong encryption, a number of different protocols, a useful kill switch and split tunnelling. There's also double-hop, and the NoBorders feature combined with Camouflage Mode is what allows the VPN to work flawlessly within China.
Surfshark offers great connection speeds too, and with its unlimited simultaneous connections policy you can cover absolutely every device you own – whether you've taken a dozen phones on holiday to China or you want to cover every device in your household behind the Great Firewall. Plenty for your money, then.
And that's biggest draw of Surfshark – not only does it offer top-tier security and performance, but it does so at a fraction of the price of other good VPNs. Yes, you'll have to pay the full amount in one go if you want to get the unbeatable two-year deal, but even then it offers excellent value for money.
If you're looking for a smooth, swift China VPN you can rely but won't break the bank, Surfshark is a seriously tempting proposition.
Sign up now on the Surfshark website.
Much like Astrill, TorGuard is a VPN we don't often feature in our guides thanks to the fact there are a number of popular VPN uses it can't provide for. However, when it comes to acting as a China VPN, the TorGuard is an excellent choice.
To combat China's deep packet inspection, TorGuard implements its own Stealth VPN servers, which 'assist you in disguising VPN traffic as regular web traffic'. It appears that the provider also frequently updates its apps to keep China VPN support – and this can only be a good thing.
For day-to-day usage, TorGuard's pretty good too. In our TorGuard review it actually delivered the very fastest connection speeds of any VPN, at 950Mbps when using WireGuard. However, if you're looking for a streaming VPN TorGuard is very much not the right choice – we couldn't access any premium streaming site when connected.
Overall though, TorGuard is a very usable VPN that's dedicated to unblocking the web in China. Its 7-day money-back guarantee isn't as generous as others, but at least you'll still be able to test it out before you commit.
Best China VPN FAQ
Do China VPNs still work?
The short answer is yes.
The slightly longer answer is usually. Most locations will work most of the time, but there are some which the Chinese government detect and block. While one location connection might not work, or may not allow you Netflix access specifically, another location may do.
This is a case of trial and error unless you're using a service like ExpressVPN where the experienced, up-to-date 24/7 customer support staff should be able to point you to the right server for your need immediately.
Can I get a free China VPN?
There are free VPN services on the market – like Hotspot Shield – but while they are great for infrequent, casual use, all of them have some restrictions.
Nearly all have a daily or monthly data limit, which will cut your connection when you've run out. Some throttle speeds, while others inject adverts and perhaps even sell you data – contradicting the main reason why people get VPNs in the first place.
If you're going to be relying on your VPN for more than a few minutes a day, we'd strongly recommend you go for a paid version. When you can get unlimited service from a provider like Surfshark for less than $2.50 a month, there's little reason to hold yourself back with a free version.
Are VPNs legal in China?
China has banned VPNs, having already removed all VPN apps from China's Apple Store – yet it still needs them. For businesses to share information securely outside of China, VPNs are commonly used, and since China doesn't want to stunt international business and growth, making VPNs entirely illegal wouldn't make sense.
Instead, the country has said telecom and internet companies must get government approval before using VPNs for cross-border approval.
A private VPN user was fined 1,000 yuan ($145) in January 2019. While this certainly sets an example, it can't realistically work nationwide, so use a China VPN at your own discretion as there's a minimal but real risk involved.
What popular sites are banned in China?
If you're not from China, there are more than a few sites that you probably use daily that are blocked.
The list of banned sites is incredibly long, and includes: Google, YouTube, Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, Instagram, Gmail, Twitch, BBC, NY Times, Dropbox, Slack, Etsy, and Steam. Plus, just about any adult site you can think of is blocked, too.