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Why do you need a VPN in China?

Why do you need a VPN in China?
(Image credit: VectoPicta/Shutterstock)

Using a VPN (virtual private network) has a lot of benefits no matter where you are in the world. The best VPN can help you protect your privacy while surfing the web, keep your browsing secure, and unlock geofenced websites. If you’re planning on visiting China, though, using a China VPN is more of a necessity than an option.

China has placed a number of restrictions on internet access from inside the country that can prevent you from accessing your email, social media, and more. In addition, the country is notorious for its online surveillance practices, which could impact your privacy.

As a quick caveat, it’s worth noting that travelers to China should sign up to a VPN before entering the country – it’s almost impossible to download one once you’re there. So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at five reasons to use a VPN in China.

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1. Unblock common websites

In most of the world, you don’t need a VPN to access Gmail, Google Drive, or Google Maps. But in China, you do. China has completely blocked Google across the country’s internet servers, which means the only way to access Google products is with a VPN on your phone or laptop. Since a VPN routes your internet connection through servers in another country, you’re able to avoid China’s geofence on Google sites and browse as though you’re in that country instead.

This is important to note before you go—particularly if you use Gmail as your primary email provider and have your travel itinerary saved in your inbox. Moreover, Google isn’t the only Western tech company that’s blocked inside China. Facebook, along with subsidiaries Instagram and WhatsApp, is blocked as well. You’ll also need a VPN to access Snapchat, Twitter, Wikipedia, Western news, and a huge amount of other sites.

2. Avoid government surveillance

China has established one of the most far-reaching digital surveillance systems in the world. The Chinese internet is closely monitored by government censors, and if you’re accessing the internet without a VPN, it’s fair to assume that your browsing activity is being monitored.

One of the benefits to using a VPN in China is that you can avoid having your every movement online tracked by the Chinese government. Even if you’re not doing anything illicit, knowing that your activity and messages are potentially visible to a government doesn’t feel great to anyone who cares about privacy.

3. Protect your accounts

China has established one of the most far-reaching digital surveillance systems in the world. The Chinese internet is closely monitored by government censors, and if you’re accessing the internet without a VPN, it’s fair to assume that your browsing activity is being monitored.

One of the benefits to using a VPN in China is that you can avoid having your every movement online tracked by the Chinese government. Even if you’re not doing anything illicit, knowing that your activity and messages are potentially visible to a government doesn’t feel great to anyone who cares about privacy.

4. Use VoIP for calls

Once you arrive in China, you’re likely to pay outrageous international calling fees if you try to use your cellphone. Although you can buy a cheap Chinese SIM card and mobile minutes, that’s easier said than done if you don’t speak Mandarin.

If you use a VPN, though, you can make low-cost calls, whether within China or to friends and family back home. Just turn on your VPN and use a free or inexpensive voice over IP (VoIP) service like WhatsApp, Skype, Facebook Messenger, or Google Voice.

5. Stream Netflix

Although having access to Netflix isn’t a necessity for your trip to China, the allure of Netflix can be strong even when you’re on an international vacation. However, Netflix isn’t available in China, so the only way to stream your favorite shows is with a VPN. 

Once you have your VPN turned on, you can switch between servers in different countries to get around the streaming service’s geofences for access to some popular shows and movies.

What's the best VPN to use in China?

ExpressVPN is the best all-round VPN service for anyone traveling to China, and can take care of all the issues outline above and more.

Not only is ExpressVPN incredibly effective, but it’s easy to use too. Regardless of your experience using and operating VPN technology, with ExpressVPN you’ll be able to benefit from the best service available.

With servers in nearly 100 countries, blazing connection speeds, and reliable access to multiple streaming services, ExpressVPN has everything that one would need from a VPN – and now Tom’s Guide readers can claim three months absolutely free.View Deal

Michael Graw is a freelance journalist and photographer based in Bellingham, Washington. His interests span a wide range from business technology to finance to creative media, with a focus on new technology and emerging trends. Michael's work has been published in TechRadar, Tom's Guide, Business Insider, Fast Company, Salon, and Harvard Business Review.