Using a VPN in China
China uses a variety of sophisticated measures to censor the information and platforms that people can access on the internet.
In addition to internet censorship, China’s online surveillance practices are also a major privacy concern for people living in or visiting the country. These collective methods are known as “The Great Firewall of China” or, officially, the Golden Shield project.
Due to these restrictions and practices, tourists, ex-pats, and business people alike use VPNs to get over the wall.
Best China VPN
Best Free China VPN
How to choose the best VPN for China
No matter which VPN you choose, the most important step is to remember to download it and set it up before you enter China. Once you are there, it will be incredibly difficult to download a VPN as most of these websites are blocked.
Additional factors to take under consideration:
The closer the servers are to your location, the more stable your connection will be. I highly recommend that you choose a VPN with servers in Asia.
VPNs can be a bit slow in China. If speed is important to you, make sure you read reviews.
Number of available servers
The more servers your provider has available, the more spread out users will be. This means you won’t have so many people using up the same resources at once.
Live chat customer support
Some VPN providers offer 24/7 customer support. This could be particularly useful if you have little experience using a VPN.
Targeted optimizations specifically for China
Several providers dedicate resources to make sure that they are always one step ahead of countries, like China, that block content.
Some VPNs limit the number of devices that can be connected at once. This may be an issue if you plan to share your VPN with family, friends, or colleagues.
Compatibility with streaming services
If you know that you will want to use a particular service while you’re in China, check to make sure that it is supported by your chosen VPN. Many streaming services actively block VPNs.
Plans and pricing
The cost of VPNs can vary greatly. Most providers also offer discounts based on the amount of time you subscribe to their service.
Ease of use
Not all VPNs are easy to use. So if you are unfamiliar with this technology, you may want to use one that offers a good user experience and a simple user interface.
VPNs can offer a variety of other features such as a kill switch for when your connection drops or extra security and encryption protocols.
How China’s internet censorship works
China’s internet censorship is a result of a multitude of techniques and technological methods. The Chinese government is infamous for having built, what many people consider to be, the most extensive and sophisticated internet censorship mechanisms in the world. The Great Firewall of China is a way in which the government can control the content people have access to and influence their opinions.
Some examples of the technical strategies used are:
URL analysis and filtering
Links that contain forbidden keywords will be blocked.
If an IP address has been associated with a blacklisted VPN, the IP will be automatically blacklisted.
Slowing down internet connections
If your device is suspected of suspicious activity or traffic, your connection will be throttled so that it becomes so slow it is virtually unusable or results in a connection timeout.
When you type in any website in your browser, your computer is actually calling for the site’s IP address. If you try to access a blacklisted website in China, the DNS cache will send back the wrong IP address. This means that your device will look for the website in the wrong place and, ultimately, be unable to find it.
Are VPNs legal in China?
Surprisingly, this cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”.
While the government has taken steps to make VPNs less accessible such as blocking the websites of VPN providers or removing VPNs from app stores, it is not officially illegal. In fact, many would actually say this is a gray area. Employees at many companies use VPNs on a daily basis. And many of them receive permission from the government to use these VPNs. However, it is absolutely necessary that a company secures this permission from the responsible authority before building or using a VPN. This permission is critical as most companies would not be able to conduct business on an international level without using one. Unfortunately, this does not guarantee that permission will be granted.
When it comes to the VPN usage of private individuals, the regulations become even less clear. While individuals are able to access and use VPNs, it is unclear what the consequences will be if caught.
Can you get in trouble for using a VPN in China?
While we know that it is highly discouraged to use a VPN in China and that the government takes many measures to block VPNs, the potential consequences for using one vary greatly. Chinese citizens have been known to receive fines for using VPNs and, in some parts of China, there have even been accounts of locals receiving prison sentences. However, there have not been any reported cases of a foreigner receiving a formal punishment for using a VPN in China.
It seems that when it comes to tourists and ex-pats, China is less strict. So far, it appears that the worst-case scenario is your cell phone service getting shut down. If this happens, the only way to get it turned on again is to go to the local police station. When you arrive, the police may go through your phone and tell you what needs to be deleted in order to get your service turned back on.
What sites are blocked in China?
Many of the most popular websites in the Western world are blocked in China. Some say that this an attempt by the government to reduce the influence Western culture has on Chinese citizens. Some examples of blocked websites include:
Do any free VPNs work in China?
Several free VPNs claim to work in China. However, I wouldn’t recommend using one of them. Not only can free VPNs be slow and unreliable, but many of them are also blocked by popular streaming services. Even worse, many of them have been found to have major security flaws and may even try to make money by selling your data. The best recommendation I can give you is to sign up for a paid VPN service that actively invests in fighting The Great Firewall of China. These companies make sure to stay up-to-date on the newest anti-VPN initiatives in China and implement countermeasures on a regular basis. If you’re budget-conscious or just unsure if you want to invest in a VPN, I would recommend signing up for a free trial — most providers offer new customers a free 30-day trial.
Why is my VPN slow in China?
Generally speaking, VPNs tend to be a little slower than just simply using the internet by itself. This is because VPNs take various steps to encrypt your activity. Some technical reasons for experiencing slow VPN connectivity can be due to the fact that your chosen provider does not have servers located in Asia. It can also be the case that they don’t have enough servers to support all of their China-based customers. However, many people may also experience performance issues which are a direct result of the various internet censorship measures put in place by the Chinese government. If you contact your VPN’s customer support team, they will do their best to help you minimize these effects.
How to unblock Google, YouTube, and more in China
The best way to unblock websites, such as Google or YouTube, is to use a reliable VPN service. Be sure that you download and install the VPN on all of your devices before you enter China. After you have successfully installed the software, be sure to sign up, pick a plan and test it before you go to China. Otherwise, due to their rigid internet restrictions, it may be nearly impossible to download and install once there.
What to do if your VPN isn’t working in China
If you find that you are in China and your VPN stops working, there are several steps you can take to try to fix it. Some of these steps include:
- Make sure that you have the most recent version of the app installed on your devices.
- Contact customer support.
- Check the dedicated Chinese server status page of your VPN provider. On this page, you will find important or relevant information in real-time.
- Change servers multiple times. Sometimes hopping from server to server will fix connection issues.
- If there is a big event going on, like a public holiday or a major incident, you might just have to wait a few days. Unfortunately, it is known that the Chinese government increase will increase restrictions during important events which result in normally accessible VPNs becoming temporarily inaccessible.
- See our speed comparison of all popular VPN services.
- These are the best Android VPNs of 2021.
- Read our guide on how to watch Netflix from anywhere.
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Author Per-Erik Eriksson
Per-Erik-Eriksson is the main author of VPNetic. Everything you read here has been written by him or one of his colleagues. Per-Erik has 10 years of experience within cybersecurity and has previously worked at Microsoft as a software engineer.
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