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5 Best VPNs for China (September 2016)

China is booming economically, but its ruling Communist Party remains keen on suppressing its citizens’ access to outside ideas and influences. In line with this attitude, the Chinese government is keen on embracing the economic and social power of the internet, but at the same time keen on censoring access to much of it. Fortunately, the best VPNs for China provide a way to evade this pervasive government censorship.

The formal name for China’s vast and highly sophisticated systems of censorship is the Golden Shield project.  This is much better known as the Great Firewall of China (GFW) in reference to the Bamboo Wall of the Cold War. Despite being the most ambitious, well-funded and sophisticated internet censorship system in the world, the GFW can often be avoided using VPNs for China and other anti-censorship technologies.

But it is worth reiterating the point – the GFW is the most ambitious, well-funded and sophisticated internet censorship system in the world. It actively tries to block access to VPNs for China websites, looks for and blocks VPN connections, blocks Tor nodes, and generally tries to prevent people from evading its censorship systems.

You should therefore not be surprised when the GFW is effective at doing what it is designed to do. This means that through no fault of their own, any VPN service or other anti-censorship technology that works one day may suddenly not work for you the next.

Bypassing the GFW is a cat and mouse game, and sometimes the cat wins. Such is the nature of internet access in China.

Best VPNs for China Summary

Disclosure: compensated affiliate: click here for more information

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

Best VPN for China

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

ExpressVPN has built a great reputation based on its customer-orientated VPN service. In addition to excellent and easy-to-use apps for Windows, Mac OSX, iOS, and Android, ExpressVPN provides 24/7 customer support, and offers a very generous no quibble 30-day money back guarantee that it honors.

With regards to China, ExpressVPN operates “stealth” servers based in Hong Kong, which are specifically designed to help bypass the GFW. The fact that ExpessVPN operates servers in 28 countries including Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan and West Coast US, should also prove handy for users in China.

Additional features: no usage logs, excellent customer service.

Choose the best VPN for China today!

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

This international (but US-based from a legal perspective) VPN provider owns and controls all of its server infrastructure. One effect of this is excellent speed performance wherever you are in the world. VyprVPN really shouldn’t offer a basic PPTP-only plan, but its service is otherwise very solid. Perhaps most importantly, its “Chameleon” stealth technology reportedly works well in China. Users in China may also benefit from its use of UDP ports in its apps to defeat port blocking and throttling issues.

VyprVPN runs servers in 36 different countries, including Hong Kong, South Korea, and Japan. Customer support is also great, and the free Smart DNS service is a welcome bonus.

Additional features: no usage logs, uses UDP ports.

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

AirVPN has reputation for being over-techy and not very user-friendly. This is a shame, because it on a technical level it provides what is almost certainly the best VPN service out there. It also genuinely cares about its users privacy. Its open source “Eddie” client provides a firewall-based kill switch and DNS leak protection, port selection, and VPN through Tor (for true anonymity while using the service).

When it comes to China, AirVPN’s ability to hide VPN connections inside SSL and SSH tunnels is arguably the most effective VPN stealth technology  for defeating the GFW available. And its Hong Kong server is very useful in this regard.

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.

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

I must admit that I am not, in general, a big fan of Astrill. According to many accounts, however, it works well in China. Astrill runs servers in 54 countries. This includes locations all over East Asia. It also offers a 7-day free trial (available on request) and a 7-day refund. Apparently free trials are not available to users in China! In addition to this, Astrill says that it keeps no logs (at all).

On the downside, Astrill only allows you to connect two devices at once, and this is limited to one laptop/desktop plus one mobile device. It is also very cagey about providing details on the encryption it uses.

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

BolehVPN is now incorporated in the Seychelles, but in practice remains based in Malaysia. It keeps no logs at all, and much like AirVPN, it provides a service that emphasizes privacy and technical know-how over customer care. Its Windows and OSX software is excellent, and features a VPN kill switch and DNS leak protection. It also offers VPN through Tor for true anonymity.

Users in China are well served by BolehVPN’s Hong Kong-based “xCloak” servers, which are designed to bypass the Great Firewall of China. BolehVPN also runs servers from the west Coast US.

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

Visit BolehVPN »


VPN for China Considerations

翻墙VPN推荐

The Great Firewall

The GWF uses a range of technologies to “protect” Chinese citizens from content the Party deems inappropriate or dangerous for them to see. These technologies include simple IP blocks on website addresses. DNS filtering, URL filtering, packet filtering, and more, are also used.

In addition to these, Deep Packet Inspection techniques are used to foil attempts to bypass these blocks. If you are interested in learning about the censorship methods used by the GFW, an excellent discussion on the subject is available here.

Interestingly, the Chinese government seems much less concerned with censoring domestic political debate (even when it is critical of the regime) than with blocking access to “corrupting” international influences. This means that all Google services, Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, and BestVPN are censored.

The GFW in practice

Or at least that is the theory. The reality is much messier! China is a huge country with a population of some 1.3 billion people. Policing what everyone does on the internet is therefore a momentous task, and is inevitably imperfect.

Websites that are blocked in one province or jurisdiction often are accessible from the next province over. And many totally innocuous websites that are apparently devoid of political or otherwise objectionable content are themselves blocked. Or in other words, GFW censorship is at best patchy and inconsistent.

A good example of this is the Big Bang Theory TV show. You or I might consider this popular show about science geeks entirely innocuous. The Chinese authorities, however, have deemed it objectionable, and have blocked it. Google, on the other hand, despite being pretty much at the top of the banned list, is clearly still available to some users in China!

Google Traffic from China

The good news is that you won’t get into trouble for trying to evade the GFW. China employs a cyber-army of surveillance specialists monitor what its citizens do and say on the internet, but it has never punished people simply for trying to bypass its censorship blocks.

VPNs for China to the rescue!

Using a VPN is one of the most effective ways to defeat the GFW. Unfortunately the Chinese government knows this, and takes steps to censor VPN websites and block VPN traffic.

There are a number of steps you can take, however, to help defeat the Great Firewall’s attempts to defeat VPNs for China (remember – it’s a cat and mouse game!)

Sign-up before visiting China

It is much easier to signup for a VPN service and download its software before setting foot on mainland China. Although many VPN providers’ websites are blocked in China, their actual VPN service works just fine if you have arrived prepared.

If you are reading this too late, and are already in China and finding your access to VPN websites blocked, then never fear. Alternative anti-censorship technologies such as those listed below can be used to access VPN websites, subscribe, and download their software.

Use a VPN that offers “stealth technology”

A number of VPNs (and all the ones listed above) offer technologies designed to defeat government censorship. In fact, many of these are specifically tailored for users in China. AirVPN, for example, allows you to hide VPN connections inside SSH or SSL tunnels. Others use bridging technologies related to obfsproxy to conceal the use of VPNs.

VyprVPN Chameleon

VyprVPN’s “Chameleon” is specifically designed to defeat the kind of censorship used by China

Switch to TCP port 443

TCP port 443 is the port used by HTTPS, the backbone of all internet security. Using a VPN on TCP port 443 makes traffic look identical to regular HTTPS traffic. Blocking HTTPS traffic would effectively “break” the internet. China is not necessarily above doing this anyway, but generally doesn’t.

One of OpenVPN’s many advantages is that it can be set to run on TCP port 443. Many custom VPN clients have a setting that makes this simple. Even if yours does not, many VPN providers actually support TCP port 443 at the server level, and you can switch to it with a simple edit to your OpenVPN configuration (.ovpn) file. It is therefore worth asking your VPN provider about this.

The SSTP VPN protocol uses TCP port 443 by default, and can therefore be very effective in China.

ExpressVPN - VPN Protocols for China

The ExpressVPN client lets you choose from a wide selection of VPN protocols, including SSTP

Alternative anti-censorship technologies

As the old (non-Chinese) proverb goes: there are more than one way to skin a cat. VPNs for China are arguably the best way to defeat the Great Firewall, but other ways exist. At the very least, these tactics can allow you access a VPN provider’s website.

  • Tor network (access to known exit nodes is often blocked, but patience and trial and error should pay off). Using an obfsproxy bridge can help considerably.
  • Psiphon
  • Lahana
  • 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 it’s 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).

BestVPN is banned in China!

Yup! Your favorite VPN comparison website is blocked by the GFW! In many ways this rather annoying, but we are also rather proud of it. The good news, however, is that we have a special URL that is not banned in China.

Websites Blocked by Great Firewall of China

Just visit bestvpn-china.com for best VPN reviews, VPN comparisons, general security news and how-to guides!

VPNs with Chinese servers

This article is primarily concerned with accessing international VPN servers from inside China in order to bypass the GFW. But what if you are a Chinese expat or avid online gamer who wants to access VPN servers located inside China?

Amazingly, given that VPNs are banned in China, such things exist! And they are offered by the following providers:

Best Chinese VPN Conclusion

When using (or trying to use) VPNs for China it is always worth remembering that you are playing a game with the most sophisticated national censorship system on the planet. This should help relieve any frustrations you might feel. People in China successfully use VPNs all the time to defeat the GFW, but setbacks are to be expected.

That said, VPNs are a very effective way to defeat the GFW, and should be your first port of call.

VPN Services for China Summary

Disclosure: compensated affiliate: click here for more information

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 2016-09-04
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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54 responses to “5 Best VPNs for China (September 2016)

  1. Please stay away from ASTRILL. They only care about customers who sign up or those thinking of renewing. From experience, they basically stole from their customers by providing little or no service. Instead of being apologetic or compensating for the loss of service, they blamed their valued customers for spreading news about ASTRILL through social media. The next day they apologized for their tactless comments due to a huge backlash from customers (you can confirm this with other subscribers from Oct 2015 – July 2016). I was a subscriber of ASTRILL for two years in China.

  2. It’s a little disappointing to see that Astrill is included in your top 5 VPNs in China list. I have been using this VPN for the last year but in February it went downhill in a big way. Due to political meetings it was shut down for over month, during which time Astrill shut off live chat for support. Eventually, StealthVPN (which you must pay for) came back online but Astrill didn’t offer apology of discount for it’s substandard service. Maybe OpenVPN (the free protocol) is back online, but if so it took them much longer to get up and running.

    Additionally, their support department is curt and unhelpful. Once I asked if there was a newsletter or something to subscribe to check about service outages. They told me to check Facebook. I reminded them I was in China. They did not answer. The service is slow and the answers copied and pasted.

    Thirdly, to add insult to injury, the majority of their servers have been blacklisted by Netflix :'(

    So, please consider taking Astrill off your top 5 list. It no longer deserves the spot. There are very few things to recommend it.

    1. Hi Sara,

      As I clearly state in this article, I am not a big fan of Astrill in general. I have included it on this list, however, thanks to numerous reports that in works well in China. I am monitoring the situation, and if I receive more negative feedback will remove it from this list. If any other readers out there would like to share their experiences with the company (or any other VPN service, for that matter), that would be helpful.

  3. I have tried Express VPN for almost a year on the 1-year subscription. The experience had been very smooth until they took the Hong Kong 3 away. At first, I was wondering what’s going on, as every Express VPN user knows that Hong Kong 3 is the best and the fastest location to connect. So I went to talk to the customer support and he somehow tried to beat around the bush, saying that the team has no control over this matter.

    Luckily, I still have my company’s corporate account to try on. I logged in using one of my corporate accounts and found out that the Hong Kong 3 is still there! So I went back to him and asked what really happened. Surprisingly, he still keeps saying the same thing. I was kinda upset so I told him about how I would let my subscription end (which is about next month) without extending it because there’s no point to continue using it when I can’t use it like the way I used to.

    Maybe it’s because 1 month that I have left came from recommending my company – for free. So they don’t think I deserve to use the best? Who knows. Anyone experience the same situation, please let me know and for those who are considering about buying this VPN to use in China, please take my comment into your consideration too.

  4. I am living in china and had use expressvpn before. I stop my subscribtion once the 6 months period was up. With the expensive price, the quality, speed and connection provided was very poor. Its a waste of money and time. Please be aware that once u signed up, your account is automatically renew once your subscription expired. You have to manually set your account to “off automatic renewal” if not expressvpn will keep charging u. This is somewhat like a scam. Considering others much cheaper vpn available in the market with much better performance, especially those VPN that had been established for many years i.e. Witopia and etc, do not even consider expressvpn. In addition, expressvpn spend lots of money on advertising in the internet to get more new customers but neglect their service. Dont believe what u read in the internet as many webpage, bloggers are paid by some vpn companies like advertisement to write good review.

    1. Hi Derrick,

      Thank you for the feedback. I’ll just note that BestVPN receives affiliate payments for referrals, but as we have an affiliate relationship with just about every VPN provider out there, this does not influence our recommendations.

  5. Astrill does NOT have a free 7 day trial if you are in China.

    Amy 15:26:54
    Hello, hope you are fine.
    We do not offer free trials in China

    This is exact words from Tech support

  6. 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!).

      1. Dear authors, are you getting paid by Goldenfrog to promote their offensively horrible so-called “service” VyprVPN? Constant issues and troubles, the Chameleon technology is obviously a scam, a dial-up speed trash. I cannot even connect on my phone, and on PC it takes forever to connect and disconnect. Avoid like plague and do your research elsewhere, do not trust these assessments.

        1. Hi John,

          BestVPN receives affiliate payments from VPN companies that we recommend, but as just about every VPN company runs an affiliate program, it doesn’t really matter to us which one readers choose (or affect our recommendations). It is also worth noting that even when VPN companies do not offer affiliate programs (such as AirVPN), we recommend them anyway, based on their merits. BestVPN is not based in China, so we cannot test performance there ourselves. We therefore rely on feedback from our readers. I have used VyprVPN from the UK, however, and found it a fast and polished service (although I am none too keen on its logging policy). With regards to China, please remember that the GFW is actively trying to block VPN connections, and that sometimes it can be quite good at this.

  7. 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.

  8. “– 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.

  9. 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.

      1. Hello Douglas,

        Since you mentioned UDP, here is what UDP can measure and TCP/IP can never measure.

        Packet loss
        Jitter
        Out of order packets

        Since TCP/IP and UDP/IP can both measure bandwidth but UDP offers more information than TCP/IP. I would say the bandwidth test should have both TCP/IP and UDP/IP not just one of them. That is why a TCP/IP only bandwidth test is incomplete.

        BTW TCP/IP ACK is far more complicated than what most people think it is. First of all TCP/IP does not ACK packets, it ACKs segment offsets and secondly TCP/IP uses the concept of sliding windows so the transmission is not just one packet but multiple packets. A packet by packet ACK would simply flood the entire Internet with ACKS 🙂

        1. Hi expat,

          I agree that a dual TCP and UDP test would be ideal. I still think, however, that a test measuring average TCP performance is the most reliable indicator of rw results.

  10. 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.

    2. Thanks to GeoIP blocking many local websites will block you when you are using located in another company. Most people use VPN to access block contents (blocked by ISP or the country that serves the contents). The problem is that they get blocked by several domestic websites when connected to VPN. Even if they don’t get blocked, the domestic website access will be very slow because of VPN. The solution is split routing. i.e. Route domestic traffic directly using ISP and the rest or some of the traffic via VPN. Here is a demonstration video on how split routing works.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2BaHViaWNdQ

      1. Hi expat,

        Since you have engaged with me on this subject, I will let this one through. Please note, however, that I usually moderate advertising on this website’s comments sections. If you want to advertise on BestVPN, I will be happy to put you into contact with our sales team.

  11. 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.

      2. Douglas, accessing Netflix in China is pretty hit and miss. Overall I could use it almost anytime but it took work and patience. One day one server would work, then another day another server would work better. Often my stream would stop after a bit and need to buffer for a few minutes, often I would have to start the process of looking for another server in the middle of a show. Once in a while, I simply could not get an adequate stream at all, but as I said, usually I could, but it would take up to half an hour or more of fiddling, other times I could get it on the first try.

        The Great Firewall is different in different parts of China and what works great in Guangzhou may not work in Beijing and visa versa and the next day (or 5 minutes later) nothing (or everything) can work. The long and short of it is, you will not find one VPN service for China that is a be all and end all. No matter what service you go with you will have issues, the key seems to be finding a service that you can fiddle with enough (such as switching servers, using different protocols etc.) that you will eventually find the right combination that works for whatever city you are in for that day. It is largely a matter of trial and error and learning the tricks and learning what servers generally work from where you are and even what time of day. Yes, it is a real pain in the butt, but in the end if you put in the effort, you can usually get out and you can usually stream things like Netflix, but not always.

        When I am back home I would never go through all that much hassle to watch Netflix, but when I am in China and desperate to watch English TV, I am usually willing (but with much frustration and annoyance) to put in the extra effort.

        I used ExpressVPN mostly while in Mainland China and I would never recommend it as it is anything but reliable and seamless in China and often the connection speeds are deplorable and I often have spend well over 1/2 an hour, or more trying to find a server that had enough speed to do anything, much less Netflix. For the premium price they charge it should be better. The reality is though, I could get it to work almost all of the time, with patience, which is better than most, so therefore I would recommend it, but not for the faint hearted.

        Beware though, the best way for someone to navigate China if you read only English is still Google maps, really it is almost the only realistic option. However standing on a corner when you are lost taking 5-20 minutes fiddling with trying to get a good VPN connection so you can use Google maps, in the rain, is annoying but it is a reality. In the end, cabs are cheap, keep the address of somewhere you know, or where you are going written down in Chinese in your wallet, and be prepared to flag down a taxi and hand him the paper.

        ExpressVPN does have fairly good customer support, but in the end they can only get you started and often give the same old canned answers, but they can at least help those who are new to the Great Firewall jungle and VPN’s and point you in the right direction.

        In the end, my biggest beef with ExpressVPN was them not having a family plan. The price is high already high for a product that is far from seamless and needing to pay the same high price for both my wife and I with no discount is a bit much. I wish I could honestly say don’t use them since it far from works perfectly but from my experiences and the experiences of many of my friends, again, there is no VPN service in China that is 100% (or 90% or 80% or 70% or…)

        In the end, learn Mandarin or Cantonese, and use Chinese websites and watch Chinese TV. In the end, this might just be easier than finding a completely reliable VPN for China. (I say that tongue in cheek, but just barely)

        To summarize, there is no 5 out of 5 star VPN for China, the most you will get is 2 or 3 stars out of 5 and only then because you can get some of them to work, most of the time if you have the patience.

        Also remember, different VPN’s work differently in different parts of China. The Great Firewall is not the same in all parts of China! If you are going there for a short time sign up before you go with a trial service or pay for a month and once you get there, ask other expats, in the area you will be in, what is working for them and what they use it for and compare it with your needs. If you are lucky enough to know expats in the area already, ask them before you go.

        China is one of the most amazing and beautiful countries in the world. At first it can be daunting, but get out and have fun and adventure. Learn at least a few words of Mandarin and go exploring, shopping, traveling etc. It might take a few minutes but usually you can find someone who knows English at least enough to help you find where you are going if your VPN simply is not cooperating. Charades is an invaluable tool to pick up before you leave! For the most part, body language is universal. The Chinese people are some of the most friendly people to foreigners I have ever met. Be warned though, if you ask directions from a Chinese person, whatever they tell you, do the opposite. I don’t understand, but it usually works.

        1. Hi Fireeater,

          Thanks for that “on-the-ground) information.

          “The Great Firewall is different in different parts of China and what works great in Guangzhou may not work in Beijing and visa versa and the next day (or 5 minutes later) nothing (or everything) can work. The long and short of it is, you will not find one VPN service for China that is a be all and end all.”

          This is pretty much what I understand about the VPN situation in China, and is what I have tried to convey in this article.

          “Charades is an invaluable tool to pick up before you leave!”

          I am failing my Google-fu! Can you tell us more about this tool?

  12. 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.

          1. Its not so much about opensource, its about invention. Don’t you think inventors are entitled to benefit financially from their inventions? If the technology is given out freely, every VPN company will simply copy it and the inventor gets nothing for all their research and hard work. Of course nobody is stopping the other VPN companies from inventing. If one company can invent VPN Anti-Throttling, so can they 🙂

          2. Hi expat,

            There is an ongoing conversation about this subject within the security world. I think a viable compromise solution is to copyright the technology but make the code source -available so that it can be independently audited (should anyone qualified have the time and/or inclination to do so). At the very least, respected independent auditors can be hired to ok the code (this is the route ProtonMail took initially, although it has now open-sourced its entire project).

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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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