Having the best China VPN is incredibly important for both those visiting and those who live in the world's most populous country. It's no secret that China imposes strict internet restrictions, and its Great Firewall is unscrupulous and affects anyone who steps within its boundaries.
Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Netflix, Instagram, Wikipedia, WhatsApp, Slack... We could probably fill up this article's word-count by listing sites that are blocked in China, but instead we're going to show you the most reliable way of accessing them when on Chinese soil – whether you're a resident, a holiday-maker or just there for a business trip.
There are countless VPNs on the market, but not all of them are made equal – especially in terms of freeing up your internet access in China. The Great Firewall isn't easily sidestepped, and only the best China VPNs are able to get around its ever-evolving VPN-blocking tech.
It's also worth thinking about what you'll be using your China VPN for – do you just want to watch Netflix, or are you on a business trip and need full access to global news and research tools to do you job? There are tons of variables, and many VPN specialise in what they do best.
What makes the best China VPN?
First things first, your VPN for China should be able to get you access to the basics – social media, messaging platforms, your emails and search engines. Access to those sites should be able to get you by if you're stopping over for a day or so, or just on holiday.
Chinese residents – or those on longer work trips – should also be concerned with connection speed and reliability. If you're using your VPN day in, day out, you'll want it to function just like your regular internet connection would. Quality 24/7 support is also a must in case your connection does fail.
A key factor to remember is that China is aware of the power of VPNs and works tirelessly to detect and block their connections, and as such, no VPN can guarantee that its service will work 100% of the time. However, for the best chance of success, you should choose a service that has a strong track record of being reliable in China – and a money-back guarantee is always good reassurance.
Ticking all these boxes is ExpressVPN, 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 more options that all perform well in China and will get you access to the sites you need.
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-bit 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 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 49% off plus 3 free months with the best China VPN
Tom's Guide readers can claim three 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 unique double encryption – 2048-bit encryption that's above military grade – which should give you peace of mind when you're behind the Great Firewall.
Nord also boasts powerful DNS leak protection and two kill switches, and provides excellent connection speeds. 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 China VPN 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.
Sign up now on the NordVPN website.
British Virgin Islands-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 are incredibly easy to use and deliver excellent performance.
That doesn't mean that they lack 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 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 for China. 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.
While not quite as well known as our previous three entries, VyprVPN is a great China VPN option, especially for those who prioritise the security of their data. As one of the few verified zero-logging VPNs on the market, you can be sure that absolutely no one will be able to snoop on your activity.
However, all that security doesn't get in the way of everyday performance, and while there isn't the selection of servers available here compared to the big hitters, the ones we tested performed admirably. There are also a good number of servers near China, so you should get decent performance – plus Vypr works well as a Netflix VPN in China and elsewhere.
While VyprVPN keeps up with the best China VPNs in terms of security and performance, one downside is the slightly clunky Windows client. Where other VPN services sport clean, modern interfaces that rarely have issues, in our testing we experienced occasional problems on our Windows test machine.
However, if you stick to the recommended settings you're unlikely to encounter any problems, and what issues we did have were fairly easily remedied.
For those looking for a verified zero-logging China VPN that performs well for a good price, VyprVPN is certainly worth a look.
Sign up now on the VyprVPN website.
Not only a great-performing VPN in countries without internet restrictions, Hotspot Shield acts a reliable and quick China VPN. Boasting plenty of features, excellent speeds and the ability to unblock some streaming services, it's one worth considering.
Hotspot Shield's main selling point is its capability to deliver extremely fast connections. Also featuring on our best US VPN list, its servers can provide up to double the speed of the competition – and the fact Hotspot Shield has servers in China should ensure it delivers excellent speeds there, too.
If all you're after is sheer speed, Hotspot Shield could be the right China VPN for you. However, in terms of usability it lags behind the rest, with limited device support – only Windows, macOS, iOS, Android and Linux. While that's probably OK for most, you won't be able to install it on your smart TV or games console.
If you can't afford to set up a plan, you can get a very limited version of this China VPN free, and if you're not sure, Hotspot Shield also offers a class-leading 45-day money-back guarantee – 50% longer than the rest on this list. If you don't enjoy the service or don't need it for any longer, you know what to do.
While it has its drawbacks, Hotspot Shield is a quality China VPN, and is well worth your time.
Sign up now on the Hotspot Shield website.
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.
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, killing VPNs entirely 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.
Can I get a free China VPN?
There are free VPNs 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 a month, there's little reason to hold yourself back with a free version.