Online activities in China have been subject to the ever-increasing governmental monitoring.
The "Great Firewall of China" is well established as regulating Internet access in the country, including blocking certain (foreign) websites and services and slowing down cross-border Internet traffic, meaning citizens and visitors alike might want to consider using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) when accessing the Internet there.
This means you will have a tough time trying to reach Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Google search (just to name a few), something most people in the rest of the world can’t imagine their lives without.
Regardless of the fact that the Communist Party of China is trying to ban the use of VPNs altogether, some VPN providers continue to operate on the Chinese soil. A good VPN provider will keep your online activities private and your identity hidden while giving you access to sites and services you wouldn’t be able to reach otherwise.
So if you do want to get online in China, here is our choice of the best VPN services to choose from.
Number-one VPN provider for China
Number of servers: 2000+ | Server locations: 148 | IP addresses: 30,000 | Maximum devices supported: 3
ExpressVPN is among the most used VPNs in China because it offers the anonymity and freedoms endangered by the Great Firewall policies. Users in China can choose from the wide range of servers scattered in many countries across the world, with the most important located in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan. Their closeness to China guarantees to deliver blazing speeds for any content you want to access.
This VPN provider has smart dedicated apps available for a wide range of devices including routers. It also offers extensions for the three most popular Internet browsers in the world - Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. However, you can only connect three different devices simultaneously.
The British Virgin Islands-based VPN service prides itself with a strict no-logs policy, which for some VPN providers can be a grey area as to what exactly this policy entails. But for ExpressVPN, this claim was proven in an actual case of one country’s government demanding user logs in a murder investigation. ExpressVPN gave the authorities no information because there wasn’t any. The company keeps no logs, and there are no data retention laws in the BVI.
ExpressVPN is a bit pricier than its counterparts, and it doesn’t have a free trial. However, there’s a 30-day money-back guarantee allowing you to test out the service. During this period, you can ask for a refund if you don’t quite like how the service performs or have any issues whatsoever. Their customer support is available 24/7 to help you with any concerns and questions you might have.
There are three pricing plans available:
Top mix of security and speed
Number of servers: 700+ | Server locations: 70+ | IP addresses: 200,000+ | Maximum devices supported: 3-5
Based in Switzerland, VyprVPN is one of the rare tier-1 VPN providers (owning every server in their network instead of renting them) offering support for users in China. They have a rather wide selection of servers spread across over 60 countries and six continents. If you’re in China, you’ll be glad to hear that 14 of those servers are located in Asia, promising impressive speeds.
One of the things separating VyprVPN from its counterparts is its proprietary Chameleon security protocol. The technology scrambles OpenVPN packet metadata to make sure it’s safe from deep packet inspection (DPI), and VPN blocking and throttling by the Great Firewall of China. However, the Chameleon technology is only available in the Premium plan, which also comes with the VyprVPN Cloud.
There are some drawbacks, though. VyprVPN keeps basic connection logs, such as connection times, which it erases after 30 days. It promises not to keep any activity or usage logs, ever.
Depending on the link used, VyprVPN offers a 30-day money-back guarantee. Most of the time though, you just get a three-day free trial. Make sure to check with their customer support which is available 24/7.
The packages available are:
[$5 a month] Basic plan, 1-year - $60.00
[$9.95 a month] Basic plan, 1-month - $9.95
[$6.67 a month] Premium plan, 1-year - $80.00
[$12.95 a month] Premium plan, 1-month - $12.95
3. Buffered VPN
Best VPN for gaming and streaming
Number of servers: N/A | Server locations: 45 | IP addresses: N/A | Maximum devices supported: 5
The Hungary-based Buffered VPN’s mission is to make sure their customers “experience the Internet as it should be - private, safe and fair.” Upon putting this promise to the test, we’ve discovered Buffered is indeed impressive. It has several servers in Asia which guarantees you’ll have a reliable and fast connection in China.
Another thing separating Buffered from the rest of the VPN services out there is the useful Test Firewall feature in the Windows app. The feature enables running a port discovery, showing all of the available port on the network a user is connecting through. This is especially handy for users in China because it helps get around the Great Firewall.
Be that as it may, we have a bone to pick with Buffered. They don’t have a native mobile support. This is a bit disappointing as Buffered allows up to five simultaneous connections. Instead, there are detailed how-to guides on their website to help you configure mobile apps manually. If you need more assistance, make sure you contact their friendly round-the-clock-available customer support.
Buffered offers a 30-day money-back guarantee in case you’re less than satisfied with the service. Speaking of payments, in addition to credit cards and PayPal, the service also accepts payments in bitcoin.
Choose between three subscription plans:
Optimal combination of performance and price
Number of servers: 220 | Server locations: 20 | IP addresses: N/A | Maximum devices supported: 5
Located in Italy, AirVPN is operated by ‘activists and hacktivists’ who started the project in 2010 with an aim to protect net neutrality and privacy, and to fight against censorship. This is why they clearly state they do not monitor or track any of your online activities.
This VPN provider offers reliable and solid performance, for up to five simultaneous connections per account. If you want to test this out, there’s a three-day period for such purposes.
Unfortunately, AirVPN’s server network is rather limited. However, users in China might still benefit from the service because as many as seven of the servers are located in Asia.
Another downside is that there is no live chat support on the website, which might make it difficult to get immediate assistance when you need it. Instead, they have a forum where you can ask all your questions.
AirVPN offers quite a range of pricing plans and payment options (including cryptocurrency):
Most reliable VPN out there
Number of servers: 682 | Server locations: 46 | IP addresses: 59,500 shared and dedicated | Maximum devices supported: 5
StrongVPN is one of the go-to VPN services for both Chinese expats and visitors. With 680+ servers in 26 countries and 46 cities, it provides clients for all the major platforms, along with detailed how-to guides for manual setup for other platforms.
It provides strong and fast connections, successfully bypassing the restrictions imposed by the Great Firewall.
Concerned about security? No need. StrongVPN offers wide protocol support, up to 2048-bit encryption, as well as StrongDNS - their own invention aimed at protecting you against DNS leaks. Zero-logging policy included. If you still have any concerns, just contact their technical support which is available 24/7.
On the other hand, its poorly designed Windows client is a disadvantage. One of the things we mostly object is the fact that the servers aren’t labeled according to use case, which makes it difficult to find a server for a specific purpose. There’s also no information on latency, bandwidth, or current server load and capacity.
Although it’s a bit pricey, StrongVPN offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can get your money back if you’re not happy with the service.
The available plans are:
How to choose the best VPN for China
There aren’t many VPN providers out there with the strength or willpower to deal with the high level of online censorship and government control. These VPNs have proven they have the means and capacities to maintain uptime in a difficult online environment such as the one in China. Therefore, what you need to look out for when searching for a good VPN provider is the capability to withstand such harsh climate and pick out the most reliable one.
A top quality customer support is also a big deal to watch out for, as they’re the ones getting you back to online safety when downtime occurs.
You should also devote extra attention to the number and range of available servers, especially the ones in Asia which will provide you with the best speeds and most reliable connections.
High level of security and privacy is another obvious consideration when picking out the best VPN for you.
Note: The Chinese government’s official ban on VPNs came into effect on March 31, but at the time of writing, no VPN providers acknowledged any changes regarding the provision of their services in China.
Photo credit: karen roach / Shutterstock