Best VPN for China: Bypass the Chinese Firewall

Firewall VPN CHina

Going online in China is a totally different experience compared to going online anywhere else in the world. The Chinese government has blocked many sites, making it nearly impossible for people within the country’s borders to access these sites.

However, some VPNs allow you to bypass this Chinese firewall. Here are the top three VPNs you can use in China to gain access to YouTube, Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, Discord, and countless other sites and platforms.

  1. ExpressVPN (has special “stealth” servers)
  2. NordVPN (uses obscured servers)
  3. VyprVPN (powered by Chameleon technology)

Would you like to know more about China, online restrictions, and the many ways a VPN can help you? Read our full article below to learn more.

China is a country of unprecedented economic growth. In a short time, China has become one of the biggest superpowers in the world. Unfortunately, China is also a country where free internet is not as widely available as it is in the West. Anyone traveling to China will notice that sites like Gmail, Facebook and YouTube are not available there. It’s a shame, because it scares off Western tourists, companies and expats. In addition, Chinese citizens do not have access to all available information.

Fortunately, there is a way to bypass the Chinese firewall. The solution is quite simple: using a VPN. A VPN is software that secures your internet connection and can connect you to the internet through a server in another country. The latter ensures that the Chinese firewall does not “detect” that you are trying to access one of these blocked sites from China. Read on to find out exactly how this works and which VPNs are the best option to use in China.

Top 3 VPNs for China

There are VPNs that have special features that allow you to bypass the Chinese firewall without being detected. You can often install these VPNs on your smartphone or tablet so that you can use them freely in China. Below you will find an overview of the best VPN providers for China. Looking for more? Check out our VPN comparison tool.

ExpressVPN for China

The ExpressVPN is not the VPN service cheaper, but it’s one of the best for China. It uses stealthy servers in Hong Kong that are specifically designed to bypass the firewall. ExpressVPN also has many servers close to China – for example, in Japan, Malaysia and Thailand – for a fast uncensored internet connection.

ExpressVPN uses a power off button for the privacy of its customers. This stops all internet applications as soon as the VPN is disconnected. This means that no information will be exposed over an unsecured connection.

The VPN service also offers DNS leak protection, WebRTC leak protection and OpenVPN encryption with perfect direct secrecy to encrypt your information and ensure your privacy. It might sound a little technical, but the bottom line is that you stay safe and anonymous, even in China.

NordVPN for China

The NordVPN uses another method to bypass the firewall called ‘Technology Obfsproxy VPN’. This is the same robust technology that Tor uses to overcome barriers. With this service, you don’t have to worry about privacy.

NordVPN also uses a power off button and provides DNS leak protection. NordVPN features OpenVPN encryption with perfect forward secrecy. It is necessary to connect through a special NordVPN server as it is necessary to use Obfsproxy.

Another advantage that NordVPN offers users in China is its dedicated IP addresses. These are unique IP addresses that are used by only one person at a time. On the contrary, normal VPN IP addresses are shared by many users at the same time. 

This means VPN users with dedicated IP addresses are harder to detect and harder to block by the Chinese government’s VPN blocks.

VyprVPN for China

VyprVPN uses port selection and stealth technology called ‘Chameleon’. This technology was specifically designed to bypass the firewall. Makes encrypted VPN traffic look like normal internet traffic.

The most impressive thing about this VPN service is that it has full control over its entire infrastructure. There are no third parties that increase speed and privacy. The downsides are that connection logs are kept (when you connect to the VPN) and that P2P (torrent) is not allowed.

The Great Firewall of China: Why is China Blocking Websites?

China with Lock

The Great Firewall of China, also known as the ‘Golden Shield’, is the world’s largest Internet censorship system. Not all parts of the internet that you can easily access in the US and other countries are also accessible in China. Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and many other sites are blocked. But why?

The Chinese government has several reasons to block websites. Sometimes this involves “protecting” its citizens or protecting Chinese companies from foreign competition. In addition, censorship is also used to spread or block certain ideologies in China.

By blocking certain websites, the Chinese government is trying to protect its citizens from content it deems dangerous or inappropriate. Furthermore, this means that Chinese companies are also protected from competition from abroad. 

For example, as citizens can only access the Chinese version of Facebook (WeChat), they are forced to use it instead of a competitor from outside China. It also makes it easier for the government to verify the data of Chinese companies and citizens.

How does the Chinese censorship device work?

China’s great firewall consists of a variety of technologies. This involves blocking IP addresses from websites, as well as filtering DNS, URLs, and packets. China is also actively blocking VPNs. However, some VPN providers, like the three listed above, have found ways around this.

China is a huge country, so it is impossible for the government to keep an eye on all the internet activities of its citizens in detail. As a result, the firewall can be very inconsistent: a website blocked in one province may be accessible in another.

This means that the massive firewall is not perfectly secure. It is an ongoing game of cat and mouse between blocked sites and the Chinese authorities. First someone finds a hole in the firewall, then China closes that hole and starts the cycle again. Despite this, it is getting more and more difficult for Chinese citizens to get free internet access.

What websites are blocked in China?

It is a nuisance, at best, for Chinese citizens and foreign visitors not to have access to a full, free version of the Internet.

The table below contains an overview of popular websites blocked in China. We don’t mention all the sites that are blocked (this list is too long), but we do provide some known and commonly used blocked sites.

BLOCKED SITESBLOCKED SINCE 
Chinese Wikipedia (part)May 2015
discordJuly 2018
dropboxJune 2014
DuckDuckGoSeptember 2014
FacebookJuly 2009
flickrJuly 2014
Google (Maps, Docs, Gmail etc.)May 2014
HBOJune 2018
InstagramSeptember 2014
Microsoft OneDriveJuly 2014
NetflixUnknown
PinterestMarch 2017
pornhubMay 2012
redditAugust 2018
SlideShareUnknown
The Pirate BayFebruary 2012
tinderUnknown
Torproject2008
Twitch.tvSeptember 2018
twitterJune 2009
vimeoOctober 2009
WhatsappSeptember 2017
YouTubeMarch 2009

Gmail, Facebook and YouTube in China

A VPN is a simple and well-known solution to combating Chinese internet censorship. With a VPN, you can easily overcome barriers as it connects to the internet through a server located outside of China. Internet traffic can be diverted through Germany, for example.

The Chinese firewall can only see that you are connecting to a German server, not that you are connecting to Google. This server is allowed, so your connection can be created. China doesn’t know that you are actually using Google through that external server. It can be difficult to understand exactly how a VPN works, but it usually works like this:

Accessing YouTube in China without a VPN

No Internet Access China

Without a VPN, the Chinese firewall sees that you are trying to access a website they have blocked. You will get a message saying that the website you are trying to visit is inaccessible.

Accessing YouTube in China with a VPN

China VPN Internet Access

With a VPN, your data will be encrypted, and the Chinese firewall will only see that you want to connect to a server in another country. The Chinese firewall does not recognize this as a blocked website and will allow the connection. The website you are trying to visit will now be accessible.

Are VPNs Legal in China?

Since China blocks VPNs, you might wonder if VPNs are illegal in China. This is a somewhat gray area. So far, there are no reported cases of anyone getting in trouble for using a VPN, but China is trying to make using a VPN as difficult as possible. 

VPN sites are blocked and VPN software for Android and iOS is not available on App Stores. In 2015, the phone connections of all VPN users in Xinjiang were disconnected. This connection was not restored until the VPN software was removed. However, this was punctual.

As a foreigner, you will encounter very few problems if you use a VPN in China. While VPNs that have not been approved by the state have recently been banned in China, nothing has been done about it yet. Bottom line: there’s nothing to worry about yet, but it’s a good idea to keep up to date with the latest on VPN usage in China.

Installing a VPN for China

You practically don’t need technical knowledge to install a VPN. You can install a VPN by simply downloading a file and running it. It works in the same way as installing Spotify, for example. Install a VPN on your desktop using this step-by-step guide:

VPN Configure Steps Desktop
  1. Go to your chosen VPN website, select a subscription and create an account.
  2. Download the VPN installer file for your operating system, or login to the website and download the installation file from your account page.
  3. Run the installation wizard from the downloaded file.
  4. Open the VPN app and login with your account information.
  5. If necessary, customize your settings and select a server. Please note that VPN providers have different ways of ensuring a successful connection in China. It may be necessary to analyse the exact steps to take.
  6. Start the VPN. There is usually an obvious button or option in the VPN software. Once the VPN is connected, you can enjoy uncensored internet in China

On Android or iOS, this works the same, but you can simply download the software from the App Store or Google Play. It’s also important that you don’t need to have a separate account for each device. You can install your VPN on all your devices, and you only need an account and subscription to log in.

Note : Some VPN provider websites are blocked in China. This means that you cannot download and install the VPN while in China. So, always install VPN before going to China. It can be difficult to terminate a VPN subscription from China.

Chinese alternatives to Western websites

Maybe you want to avoid using a VPN or are curious about Chinese alternatives to Western websites. China has its own counterpart on almost every known western website. They have their own search engines, video sites, and social media. It’s kind of interesting to see. Perhaps you can better connect with locals using these sites.

WeChat is particularly popular in China. It is used for almost everything, and you would really miss it if you were in China for a long time and didn’t use it. Anyway, the table below shows some common Western sites and services alongside their Chinese counterparts. 

It’s not always just a ban. Sometimes there are other reasons why websites work well in the West but not in China (like competition, legislation, etc.).

COMMON WEBSITE OR SERVICECHINESE ALTERNATIVE
FacebookWeChat*, QQ
GoogleBing, Google.cn ( doesn’t always work ), Baidu
Google MapsGoogle.cn, Baidu Maps, Open Street Map, Mapquest
news sites Quartz, Asia Times, China Daily, The Diplomat, South China Morning Post
Online shopping websitesTaobao, Tmall
PinterestWoxihuan
resteraunt review sites dianping
tinderTantan
twitterweibo
UberDiDi, Mobike (for bikes)
YouTubeYouko Tudou, Bilibili

*Comparing WeChat (Weixin) to Facebook doesn’t really do it justice. WeChat is much bigger and is used for many other purposes. It is a kind of mega platform made up of Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, Uber, Apple Pay and more. 

You can ask questions, order a taxi, pay at restaurants, and so on. The Chinese use it for almost anything, and so we highly recommend that you check it out and use it if you are in China for a long time.

There are also some Chinese websites and services that we have no alternative to. This is illustrated by Douban. Douban is a combination of IMDb, Spotify, SoundCloud and Myspace. It is a meeting point for all kinds of cultural interests such as movies and music.

Conclusion

Using the internet in China is an entirely different experience than connecting online in most other countries. Due to government censorship, many popular websites and apps like Facebook and Google are blocked. However, with the right VPN, you can gain access to these blocked websites. We recommend ExpressVPN, NordVPN and VyprVPN because these VPN providers are great for ensuring a free internet experience even in China.

China has many local alternatives to the sites it blocks, which are definitely worth trying. WeChat (the most popular social network in China) is very popular, for example. Are you going to China for a significant period? In that case, make sure you install a good and reliable VPN on all your devices, but certainly also have fun trying some local alternatives to blocked websites!

Best VPN for China: Bypass the Chinese Firewall – FAQ

Do you have any questions about how to bypass the Chinese firewall using the right VPN? Take a look at our FAQs below!

Fortunately, there is an easy way to do this: using a VPN. With a VPN, you can direct data traffic out of China and through a server in a foreign country (USA, for example) before connecting to the page you want to visit. 

As such, the Chinese firewall will not detect that a user located in China wants to visit a blocked website, meaning you gain access as you normally would in other countries.

The Chinese government blocks numerous websites and apps, including Gmail, Facebook, WhatsApp, Google and the Chinese version of Wikipedia. A much more extensive list of blocked websites and apps can be found in this document.

There are several reasons for this, but three are probably the most important: First, the Chinese government wants to “protect” its citizens from ideas and messages that it deems dangerous. 

Second, blocking foreign stores on the Web is an efficient way to protect Chinese companies from international competitors. Finally, it is much easier to monitor Chinese websites and apps than it is to monitor foreign websites.

Want to know how to bypass Chinese firewall and gain access to blocked services like Gmail and Facebook? Take a look at this document.

The best VPN to use in China is ExpressVPN. This provider offers fast and stable servers and special technology to bypass the Great Chinese Firewall without being detected. 

That way, you will have a free internet experience without censorship. Learn more about ExpressVPN by reading our extensive review.