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Are VPNs legal in China?

Are VPNs legal in China?
(Image credit: Unsplash)

VPN technology is becoming increasingly popular thanks to its ability to enable anonymous browsing and enhanced privacy. The best VPN providers also enable users to circumnavigate geographical restrictions and access content that’s usually prohibited—like a version of Netflix only available in certain jurisdictions.

One of the biggest markets for VPN technology is in China. The country has some of the strictest internet laws in the world, but a good China VPN will help you get around them. Yet, many people are unsure whether the technology is even legal in the country. In this article, we investigate the current rules and regulations. 

Unfortunately, the legality of VPNs in China is far from clear. What we know for certain is that the technology itself is not illegal. VPNs are commonly used by corporations and the state to access international websites for enterprise and political purposes. Yet to use the technology you technically need an official license.

Using a VPN to circumnavigate China's internet restrictions and accessing banned websites without a license is illegal. The offense is punishable with a fine, but to date, no foreign visitors have received one. What's more, VPN use in China is prevalent, with more than 30% of internet users in China connecting to a VPN.

That said, there is a potential risk, and it’s one that you must be aware of before deciding on using a VPN in the country. Breaking the law in any country is never advisable, so in addition to reading this article, we’d suggest doing some further research too, in case anything has changed.

One thing is certain, though: the protection of a VPN does not give you license to commit illegal acts, so be sure to use your discretion while browsing.

Buy before you fly

If you do want to use a VPN in China, then be aware you probably won’t be able to download the software once you’re in the country. Today, when you browse an app store from China, you’re unlikely to find a VPN service, and accessing a VPN provider’s website will also be impossible.

For this reason you’ll need to sign up and download your VPN before you visit the country. Remember, you’ll need to install it on all the devices you want to use, so if you intend on browsing restricted content on the move, don’t forget to install both a mobile and desktop version of your chosen VPN.

Why would someone in China want a VPN?

China has some of the strictest internet censorship laws in the world. Known as the Great Firewall, their protocols make accessing common websites like Facebook, Google, YouTube, and many more impossible.

This mass censorship makes it difficult to access the information you want from the internet. This could be news from home, access to your favorite streaming site, downloading a useful app not available through a regular internet connection, or simply looking something up on Google.

Another factor that might influence your decision to get a VPN before visiting China is the added security and privacy. Internet activity is closely observed in China, so if you want to retain your privacy, a VPN will help you to do so. 

If streaming is a key concern for you, then make sure you choose a streaming VPN suited to the job, as many VPN providers claim to enable you to access sites like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+, but fail to deliver. Other users might want to torrent, and in this case you’ll probably want to use the best torrenting VPN you can find.

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 and good performance in China, blazing connection speeds, and reliable access to multiple streaming services, ExpressVPN has everything that you 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.View Deal

Kieron Allen

Kieron is a freelance science and technology journalist with more than a decade of experience writing for magazines in print and online. Today, his focus is on cybersecurity, blockchain, and emerging tech.