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5 Best VPNs for China (August 2016)

China is an amazing country, but the attitude of its government to censorship and freedom of expression on the internet is not so amazing. The title of “Communist Party” looks ever more cynical, for what is reality an oligarchic and reactionary elite. Indeed, it is precisely because of this precarious moral and philosophical position that the Chinese government is so keen to limit its citizen’s exposure to the wider world.  Fortunately, the best VPNs for China allow residents and visitors to access the internet unimpeded.

In order to censor the internet, China has built what it refers to as the Golden Shield project, but he rest of the world knows it better as the Great Firewall of China (GFW)  in reference to the Bamboo Wall of the Cold War.

Although formidable, however, the GFW is far from insurmountable. Using VPNs for China is a very effective way to defeat the Great Firewall, but please note the Considerations listed later in this article.

5 Best VPNs for China Summary

Disclosure: We are a professional review site that receives compensation from some of the companies whose products we review. We test each product thoroughly and give high marks to only the very best. We are independently owned and the opinions expressed here are our own.
Rank Company Score Price Link

1

ExpressVPN LogoExpressVPN
10/10
Read Review
$8.32 / monthVisit Site

2

VyprVPN LogoVyprVPN
8.8/10
Read Review
$7.99 / monthVisit Site

3

AirVPN LogoAirVPN
8.4/10
Read Review
$5.08 / monthVisit Site

4

AstrillVPN LogoAstrillVPN
8/10
Read Review
$5.83 / monthVisit Site

5

BolehVPN LogoBolehVPN
7.4/10
Read Review
$6.67 / monthVisit Site
Editor's Choice Award

Winner

ExpressVPN

5/5

翻墙VPN推荐

  • ProsPROS
  • 30-day money back guarantee
  • No usage logs
  • Servers in 87 countries
  • “Stealth” servers in Hong Kong
  • ConsCONS
  • Connection (metadata) logs

ExpressVPN is a fantastic VPN provider for anyone looking for a friendly and highly competent VPN service that is aimed squarely at the mainstream user. It offers around-the-clock customer support, together with easy-to use but highly functional apps for Windows, Mac OSX, Android, and iOS. Perhaps best of all, when ExpressVPN says that its very generous 30-day guarantee is “no-quibble”, it means it!

When you also consider that ExpressVPN offers servers in 87 countries worldwide, and that it throws in a fully fledged Smart DNS service for free, it is quite understandable why ExpressVPN is so popular. China VPN users have even more reason to be pleased, because the “stealth servers” that ExpressVPN runs out of Hong Kong are reportedly very effective at evading the Great Firewall.

Additional features: 3 simultaneous connections, excellent customer service, free SmartDNS.

Get the Best VPN for China!

Visit ExpressVPN »

30-day money back guarantee

2nd place

VyprVPN

4.4/5

VyprVPN

  • ProsPROS
  • Very fast due to own infrastructure
  • 36 countries
  • Accepts Alipay
  • Port Selection
  • “Chameleon” stealth servers
  • ConsCONS
  • Connection (metadata) logs
  • Under US jurisdiction
  • P2P: no

VyprVPN offers “Chameleon” stealth technology  specifically designed to help defeat the GFW, and the fact it has complete control over its own network means that VyprVPN is great for security. Its servers located in Hong Kong, South Korea, and Japan are also conveniently located for anyone in mainland China. VyprVPN’s desktop client for Windows and MacOSX is nifty, and features firewall-based DNS leak protection and kill switch. As with ExpressVPN, VyprVPN adds value to its package by throwing in a free Smart DNS service.

Additional features: no usage logs, free SmartDNS, DNS leak protection, kill switch.

Visit VyprVPN »


3rd place

AirVPN

4.2/5

AirVPN

  • ProsPROS
  • No logs at all
  • VPN through Tor
  • SSL & SSH tunneling
  • Accepts Bitcoin
  • P2P: yes
  • ConsCONS
  • Very Techy
  • Customer support could be better

Although it has only a single server located in Hong Kong, AirVPN is great for VPN access in mainland China thanks to its support for routing OpenVPN connections through an SSL or SSH tunnel. This is a fantastic way to hide your VPN use from the GFW. You can also connect to AirVPN servers via the Tor network. Many of our readers find AirVPN to be over-techy in focus, but this same focus does mean that its open source software for Windows, Mac OSX and Linux features firewall based DNS leak protection and kill switch, and port selection (which is great for choosing TCP port 443).

Additional features: real-time user and server statistics, perfect forward secrecy, open source client with internet kill switch and DNS leak protection, 3-day free trial, dynamic port forwarding, three simultaneous connections, server in Kong Kong.

Visit AirVPN »


4th place

Astrill

4/5

Astrill

  • ProsPROS
  • Apparently works great in China!
  • No logs at all
  • 7-day free trial
  • Two simultaneous devices*
  • Lots of servers in the Far East
  • ConsCONS
  • Encryption seems basic
  • *Only 1 laptop/desktop + 1 mobile device

The inclusion of Astrill on this list has  proven to be somewhat controversial. It is included because my research shows that Astrill is a very popular VPN choice for users in China, and it is widely recommended for use in China. Some readers strongly disagree, based on their experiences, which I think proves how patchy and unpredictable the GFW can be. Fortunately, Astrill offers a 7-day free trial (available on request) and a 7-day refund, which will hopefully give you the opportunity test the service for yourself.

Astrill claims to  keeps no logs at all, and runs servers in 54 countries, including locations all over East Asia. Little detail is provided about the encryption Astrill uses, so I will leave it to you to draw your own conclusions about this. In theory, Astrill permits 2 simultaneous connections, but this is limited to 1 laptop/desktop plus 1 mobile device, which is somewhat disappointing.

Visit Astrill »


5th place

BolehVPN

3.7/5

BolehVPN

  • ProsPROS
  • No logs at all
  • “xCloak” stealth servers
  • Client with VPN kills switch and DNS leak protection
  • VPN over Tor
  • SmartDNS included
  • ConsCONS
  • Somewhat techy and bare-bones

This Malaysia-based VPN provider is one of the most popular in Asia, and for good reason. It operates “xCloak” servers designed bypass the Great Firewall of China, and its servers located in Hong Kong and West Coast USA are also handy for users in China. It’s Windows and Mac OSX client features a VPN kill switch and DNS leak protection, and VPN through Tor permits true anonymity while using the service. Much like AirVPN, however, BolehVPN prioritizes technical ow-how over customer relation skills.

Additional features: P2P: yes, 2 simultaneous connections, free Smart DNS service, accepts Bitcoins.

Visit BolehVPN »


VPNs for China Considerations

So what is the Great Firewall?

The Great Firewall of China is a response to China opening up economically to the West since the late 1990s. The Communist Party is keen to benefit from the financial advantages this has brought, but it is threatened by the idea that foreign cultural and ideological values may destabilize its grip on power.

Its response has been to build the Great Firewall of China, which is the most far-reaching and sophisticated system of mass internet censorship yet devised. The first phase was completed in 2006, but it remains an ongoing project that restricts internet access to China to just three access points. It employs up to fifty-thousand cyber-intelligence specialists, who employ tactics such IP blocking, DNS filtering, URL filtering, and packet filtering, to police the internet.

Internal political dissent is not usually censored as such, but is monitored, and dissenters are increasingly finding themselves behind bars. Foreign websites and services, however, are often censored by the GFW. These include all Google services, Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, and BestVPN!

The GFW also blocks VPNs for China and other anti-censorship technologies designed to bypass these blocks, and uses sophisticated Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) techniques are used to detect their use. Or at least that is the theory….

A messy reality

The GFW may be most sophisticated internet censorship system in the world, but in practice it is far from perfect. China has a population of some 1.3 billion people, and policing what they all do online is all but impossible. The reality is that implementation of internet censorship is at best extremely patchy and inconsistent. As a result, many websites that are blocked in one province or jurisdiction often are accessible from one next door.

The GFW often blocks totally innocuous websites, while sometimes even widely blocked websites are available. For example, the Big Bang Theory TV show, which would appear devoid of political or otherwise objectionable content, is routinely blocked in China, while at the same time services such as Google+ are in practice available!

Google searches in China

Despite the Great Firewall, Google still sees plenty of traffic from China

If you plan to visit China in the near future, then it may be worth looking here and here. These websites contain tools that check to see if specified websites are banned in China.

How VPNs for China VPNs defeat the GFW

Unfortunately, the Chinese government is well aware that VPNs for China are a great way to defeat its censorship measures. As a consequence, it goes to great lengths to both block access to VPN websites, and also to block VPN traffic itself. And for all its flaws, the GFW is often quite effective, so accessing the internet using VPNs for China is always something of a hit and miss affair.

You can nevertheless do quite a few things to improve your chances of successfully accessing the uncensored internet using a VPN…

Sign up to a VPN service before visiting China (if this is possible, of course)!

And also download its software. China blocks access to many VPN websites, but if you already have an account and the software, it is often possible to connect to a VPN service anyway. This is especially true if you…

Use a VPN service with some kind of stealth technology that hides VPN use

VyprVPN offers “Chameleon” technology, for example, which is specifically designed to defeat the kind of censorship used by China, while ExpressVPN  and BolehVPN offer “stealth” servers located in Hong Kong.

AirVPN SSH SSL tunels

AirVPN allows you to hide OpenVPN traffic inside SSH and SSL tunnels

Use OpenVPN TCP port 443

This is the same port used by regular HTTPS traffic, the encryption standard used by the whole internet to make websites and web services secure.
Using TCP port 443 makes OpenVPN traffic look just like regular HTTPS traffic, which both hides it, and makes it tough to block, as doing so effectively breaks the internet! Unfortunately, this fact does not stop China from trying!

Some custom VPN clients allow you to quickly select TCP port 443. Even if this is not the case with your provider, however, it is worth contacting them about the issue, as TCP port 443 is often supported at the server level, and if so, can be easily enabled with a quick edit to your OpenVPN config (.ovpn) file.

Change VPN protocol

If one VPN protocol does not work, try using another! So if OpenVPN does not work, try using L2TP/IPSec or PPTP. SSTP, in particular, often works, because it also uses TCP port 443.

ExpressVPN-Client-Protocols

ExpressVPN’s client lets you choose from a wide selection of VPN protocols

Use a different anti-censorship technology

VPN technology is great for defeating the GFW, but if you cannot get it work, other options exist. At the very least, these can be used to access VPNs for China websites in order to signup to their service and download their software. Alternatively, you may find these sufficient on their own to meet your needs. Check out the Tor network (using an obfsproxy bridge if necessary), Lahana and Psiphon.

I am not persoanlly familiar with it, but “Shadowsocks (Chinese: 影梭) is an open-source proxy application, widely used in mainland China to circumvent Internet censorship.” It is an open source anti-GFW tool/protocol/server created by a Chinese developer, and apparently works very well. Basically its a SOCKS5 proxy that is available for most major platforms. Surge is a similar tool, but is only available for iOS (as far as I can tell).

VPNs for China with servers in China

Yes, really! Despite the fact that VPNs are banned in China, the following VPN providers run servers from inside the country. How? Don’t ask me, but they do! This is great news for Chinese expats, and gamers who want to access Chinese game servers.

Access BestVPN from inside China

Blocked in China not

We are quite proud of the fact that BestVPN is blocked in China, but is does mean that readers there may find it difficult to access our amazing reviews, 5 Best lists, and how-to guides. Never fear, though, as we have a special China URL that is not blocked by the GFW! Just visit bestvpn-china.com instead!

 Best VPNs for China Summary

Disclosure: We are a professional review site that receives compensation from some of the companies whose products we review. We test each product thoroughly and give high marks to only the very best. We are independently owned and the opinions expressed here are our own.
Rank Company Score Price Link

1

ExpressVPN LogoExpressVPN
10/10
Read Review
$8.32 / monthVisit Site

2

VyprVPN LogoVyprVPN
8.8/10
Read Review
$7.99 / monthVisit Site

3

AirVPN LogoAirVPN
8.4/10
Read Review
$5.08 / monthVisit Site

4

AstrillVPN LogoAstrillVPN
8/10
Read Review
$5.83 / monthVisit Site

5

BolehVPN LogoBolehVPN
7.4/10
Read Review
$6.67 / monthVisit Site

Published 2016-08-06
Douglas Crawford Written by Douglas Crawford

I am a freelance writer, technology enthusiast, and lover of life who enjoys spinning words and sharing knowledge for a living. Find me on Google+

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36 responses to “5 Best VPNs for China (August 2016)

  1. I don’t know why Vypr VPN is listed as a good one.

    I started using Vypr a few months ago, and I can not say it’s a good VPN. It often can not connect, sometimes even if it’s connected, all traffic is not working. Connections tend to drop often as well. All in all, besides it’s nice and polished app, I didn’t experience a good VPN service in China (but also in Hong Kong and Vietnam when I was using it there).

    All in all, either Vypr improves their service or please move it from the place it doesn’t deserve. At the moment, I just think that Vypr offers an excellent affiliate package, and this is why reviewers rank it high.

    I had to get another VPN in order to have a VPN solution, so I must combine Vypr with another service.

    1. Hi Nick,

      Please note that none of the BestVPN team is based anywhere near China, so we must rely on readers’ reports and research when making these recommendations. From what we have been able to gather, VyprVPN’s “chameleon” stealth technology is quite effective in China, but we are unable to test this ourselves. It is also worth remembering that the GFW is very patchy and inconsistent, so experiences can vary considerably (and sometimes it actually does its job quite well!).

  2. ASTRILL : don’t use it !!!!! Dear all. Sorry but Astrill was not working / blocked by China firewall during 8 months this year from Jan to July. And it is still not working on PC. No apologize from them, no rebate, no answer to my emails. An many expats / friends had same issue so I strongly suspect the “positive” constribution

    1. Hi Vincent,

      I have recommended Astrill on the basis of readers’ recommendations. Thanks for the input. I am monitoring feedback, and may well change my recommendations if I receive more comments like yours.

  3. “– But surely use of TCP/IP for tests reflects real-world usage?”

    Not exactly. Network traffic operates as burst of packets and not as a steady stream. That is why when network drivers transmit data, they transmit it in size <=MTU (maximum transfer unit). Typically this MTU is 1500 bytes or less depending on how you connect to Internet. TCP/IP treats data as a virtual stream and the programmer has no control over how the packets are transmitted or retried. Furthermore network conditions, loading and routing are all dynamic. They keep changing and are not constant.

    Video streaming is a real life application. As long as your burst speed is high enough you are able to watch smooth video. Your sustained speed can be variable and may even be subjected to ISP throttling. A constant high sustained speed is not necessary for smooth streaming, high burst speed is all what you need.

    1. Hi expat,

      But that is what buffering is for – to “store” any excess packets you receive in order to deliver a smooth streaming experience.

  4. TCP/IP is not the best way to test network speed. TCP/IP is sensitive to packet loss and will slowdown if there is any packet loss. TCP/IP is a slow starter and if it backs off due to packet loss, regaining speed is slow too. Averaging such results is not accurate. SO in summary TCP/IP based test are OK if there are no packet losses, otherwise not.

    1. Hi expat,

      But TCP/IP is slower than UDP because it performs error correction for lost packets – it waits for confirmation that the packet has arrived before re-sending the packet (if no confirmation is received), or sending the next packet (if confirmation is received). UDP does not bother to do this, and so is faster but less reliable. Personally, I would say that TCP/IP tests, which average the time to receive to receive all packets, are preferable to UDP tests where there is net packet loss.

  5. Hello man, thanks for the publication. I have a question if you access to chinese browsers such as Baidu, you first need to turn off your VPN server to avoid any kind of issues?

    1. Hi Fong,

      I can’t read Mandarin, but I did just access the Baidu website when connected to my VPN (AirVPN), and it appears to work without any issues.

  6. HI guys,

    Moving to China (Shanghai) in November 2016, so really appreciate this post!
    Just one question : will these VPN tools allow us to use videostreaming as Netflix and AmazonPrime, or is the speed not sufficient ?
    I only ask this because i’ve noticed in the past (even in Europe)streaming might suffer a lot from using a vpn tool.

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Bjorn,

      Using a VPN will slow down your internet connection, and the further away the resource you connect to, the slower your internet will be (the quality of the VPN service is also a factor). Here in the UK with a 50 MB/s internet connection I can stream HD Netflix content from the US using a VPN without any buffering issues. The speed of your internet connection in Shanghai will therefore be the determining factor in how well you can watch video streaming services (although it should go without saying that connecting to West Coast US servers and US services will be faster than to ones in Europe).

      1. What Doug is saying is correct, but not in China. China is the bizarro world where even a 200 Mbps Internet will be slowed down to a crawling 200 Kbps as soon as you leave its Internet boundaries. I have seen it with my own eyes. You will believe it when you see it 🙂 Have a safe trip.

  7. VPN is not really illegal in China. Its used by many offices in China locally and globally for secure data exchange. Its never the intent of Chinese ISPs to completely block the VPN. If they wanted too its not that hard to accomplish. Chinese ISPs throttle international traffic, but there are ways around it. The International data throttling of GFW has flaws because of its complexity. A VPN can never work consistently all over China unless it can tackle the throttling. if a ground is littered with shattered glass would you be able to run bare footed? Obviously not. Similarly without dealing with the throttling a VPN can never attain high speed and sustain it. That is why Anti-Throttling technology combined with VPN is good news for many expats who otherwise were unable to watch even a 360p video without stop starting.

    1. Hi expat,

      Thanks for that explanation. With reference to VPN Turbo boost that you recommend – how does this service work? Does it, for example, hide VPN traffic inside an SSH tunnel?

      1. Anti-Throttling technology is the new game changer in China and perhaps other such countries using similar throttling technology as China. Its got nothing to do with SSH tunnels which is a known technology and is susceptible to ISP throttling like any other network traffic. I am sure every VPN company on the planet wants to get their hands on this technology. Unfortunately its not something that is available by googling and the inventing company is not going to give out the technical details for obvious reasons. Since no other VPN company offers Anti-Throttling except one it won’t be long before Chinese VPN user interested in sustainable VPN speed will migrate to the company that offers this technology.

  8. My daughter lives in china
    Looking for a vpn for iphone 5 which i can install in india and send the phone to her.
    She is student so would like to know about a free vpn!

    1. Hi Rajeev,

      Please also check out 5 Best VPNs for iOS. I would suggest ExpressVPN (connecting to its Hong Kong “stealth” servers) as a good paid-for option. For a free option that reportedly works well, then Shadowsocks may be be your best route. I hope to review this in the near future.

  9. A good thorough review of a few VPNs.

    I would like to add my experience with one of the listed VPNs i.e. Astrill.
    I have been using it since 2012 and I found it pretty much good rather than other VPNs like Express or VyprVPN.
    When Chinese government cracks down against VPNs then all of them get down for some time or some days but they, again, get in working after taking some maintenance time.

    I won’t ask anyone to buy Astrill straight away. I must recommend all to use their trial first and decide on your own!
    For me Astrill is best!

    1. Hi Sadaf,

      Thanks for the input. It is precisely because our readers have recommended Astril so often for China that we now include it on this list.

    1. Hi expat,

      Well, for a start, speedtest.net does not produce reliable results when using OpenVPN. This is because the Flash based speedtest.net tool does not account for LZO compression, which is built into the OpenVPN protocol. For a discussion on this, please see /blog/10562/testing-vpn-speeds-an-overview/. Inconsistent results is also a big issue, which is why BestVPN has changed the way in which we publish out test results. Please see Why we’re changing our VPN Review speed tests for more details.

        1. Hi Expat,

          Hmm. Interesting. As far as I know, however, VPNs are banned, not throttled, in mainland China. This technology seems aimed at circumventing throttling by ISPs, so I am unclear how this works with regards to VPNs…

          1. Hello Douglas,

            VPN is part of network traffic and is subjected to throttling like any other network traffic.

            Have you experienced the peak hour VPN slowdown? China Telecom is especially famous for this. It’s throttling. VPN or no VPN, as soon as you go International you will be throttled by China Telecom and other ISPs.

            If you really want to see throttling in action then download a large file like 1 GB from US/UK etc. using China Telecom and your favorite VPN. The speed will take off initially then it will go down after 5 or 10 seconds. They never let you sustain high speed for long duration to any international IP.

            Here is the download link to 1GB file from the video. Try it yourself.

            http://download.thinkbroadband.com/1GB.zip

            I think the download link doesn’t even work without a VPN.

          2. Hi expat,

            Sure – I know that ISPs can throttle VPN traffic. Given that use of VPNs are banned in China, however, it just seems a little odd to me that Chinese ISPs would throttle traffic they detect as being VPN traffic, rather than blocking it. I can’t do the test myself, as I am not based in China, but I do believe you (the GFW is very wiggy). As I say, it just seems rather odd.

        1. Hi expat,

          True, and if LZO compression is turned off then speedtest.net results will be more accurate (if still Flash-based). Testmy.net uses pre-compressed test files, which will give more accurate results for most users (and is HTML5 based).

          1. Sure. However tesmy.net has many problems too.

            1. Lack of servers. This is especially troublesome when you are trying to test a VPN in CA and testmy.net is located in Dallas. The accuracy of such a test is questionable too.

            2. Use of TCP/IP. At the end all websites use TCP/IP as their transport and its not the best way to test network speed especially for lossy lines with high ping. The accuracy of the test becomes questionable.

            3. Chinese ISP throttle and they throttle a lot when it comes to international traffic. Because of this throttling its near impossible to maintain a steady stream. Most of these website are not designed to take throttling into account. A large transfer of data/file will take longer time. The longer the duration the higher the chances of getting throttled.

          2. Hi expat.

            – Nothing is perfect, and there are always many variables in play. This is why we perform multiple speed tests when assessing VPN services’ performance. As far as I am aware, though, Testmy.net produces among the most accurate results available.
            – But surely use of TCP/IP for tests reflects real-world usage?

            – I do not doubt that that Chinese ISPs throttle international traffic.

  10. I just came back from a 3 week business trip in China. I have been using Astrill for a while, but I will let my subscription expire because the service was very poor in China. It only worked about 50% of the time. I was very disappointed.

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