What Are the Best VPNs for China in 2022?

Because of China’s internet censorship laws, you may need to use a VPN when in the country if you plan to surf the international web. There are many options available, so it’s important to make an informed decision in order to choose the most reliable service. Read on for CLI’s guide to choosing the best China VPN in 2022.

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What is a VPN?

A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is a digital software service for your smart device that establishes a private and protected internet connection. By connecting to a remote proxy server, VPNs disguise your device’s Internet Protocol (IP) address by making it appear as if you are connecting from another country.

In addition to allowing you access to content only available in other regions, VPNs also make data traffic invisible to your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and other outside parties.

an apple brand desktop computer sitting on a desk with a laptop and a cellphone on either side of it

Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs, allow you to disguise your IP address by connecting through a remote proxy server.

Why use a VPN?

There are several reasons why some internet-users choose to use VPNs.

  1. VPNs protect personal data, particularly when using public or shared wifi, since unencrypted internet traffic can be observed by anyone on your network. 
  2. VPNs make your online behavior virtually untraceable, since connecting through a VPN’s remote server unlinks your activity from your computer’s IP address.
  3. VPNs provide a secure channel for data transfer and may therefore be useful when exchanging private information such as financial or otherwise sensitive files.
  4. VPNs help internet users bypass geographic restrictions and access websites that are only available in certain countries.

By connecting to a remote VPN server outside of your country, your online geographic location is reconfigured, allowing you access to region-specific content that may only be available to those whose IP addresses correspond with locations within your home country or region.

section of the keys on a computer keyboard which appear black with orange-red lights shining underneath

Using a VPN allows you to access content that may not be available on the Internet in the region where you’re located. 

Why do you need a VPN in China?

You may have heard of the Great Wall, but what about the Great Firewall? China’s broad internet censorship system was put into place by the Chinese government during the 1990’s to limit residents' access to certain media and (allegedly) protect them from harmful disinformation on the World Wide Web.

Because of this sophisticated virtual wall, many internet-users in China utilize VPNs to access blocked sites. If you’re traveling in the Middle Kingdom and want to keep up with your favorite Netflix shows or need to check your Gmail for work, connecting to a VPN associated with an IP address that is located in a country with internet freedom will grant you access.

Another reason to use a VPN in China is to conceal your internet behavior from outside surveillance, since your information is either unlogged or unavailable to third parties outside of your VPN provider.

5G network wireless systems and internet of things with modern city skyline of Shanghai, China

China’s booming domestic Internet is, in many ways, in fact an "intranet," only granting domestic users access to homegrown and monitored websites while restricting access to non-Chinese sites. 

Blocked sites in China

So, which websites exactly are blocked in China? Before deciding whether or not to use a China VPN, check out this nonexhaustive list of popular websites and apps restricted by the Great Firewall as of November 2021:

  • Google
  • Gmail
  • Youtube
  • Spotify
  • Facebook
  • WordPress
  • Instagram 
  • Quora
  • Reddit
  • Tumblr
  • The New York Times
  • The Wall Street Journal
  • The Economist
  • WhatsApp

Keep in mind that many websites are newly blocked or unblocked in China every day. Additionally, some websites that are not technically restricted may display limited information or suffer from extremely slow load times.

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Google, meet Baidu

With so many popular western websites hidden, how does the Chinese internet work? It is worth noting that China has its own, powerful versions of search engines, social media sites, and video streaming services, all of which are heavily utilized by domestic netizens.

For example, Baidu is the equivalent of Google; BilliBilli, Youku and IQIYI are similar to YouTube; and WeChat is China’s most widely used messaging and content-sharing platform. These Chinese-run websites all work swiftly and smoothly across the country, providing users access to a vast sea of domestic, mostly Chinese-language internet content.

Remember, if you are serious about learning Chinese and understanding modern China, utilizing the Chinese internet and immersing yourself in Chinese popular media is an excellent way to learn more about the culture and integrate into society. 

Note that VPNs are sometimes used by those located outside China to access Chinese websites. Since certain domestic Chinese sites don’t run as smoothly outside China as they do within the country, Chinese speakers in other countries sometimes gain access to their favorite Chinese sites by setting their IP address to a location within China using a VPN.

the logo for Baidu, a Chinese search engine

Baidu is like a Chinese-language version of Google, albeit with far greater search restrictions.

VPNs in China: Legal or not?

You may be wondering if using a VPN is a crime in China. The legality of VPNs has long been a grey area under Chinese law.

It is generally understood that VPNs themselves are not illegal when used by individuals, however the act of accessing blocked sites is technically a crime. That said, most individual VPN-users fly under the radar, and some companies and universities even utilize official, government-approved VPNs on their campuses.

There is some evidence that VPNs have faced increasing scrutiny in recent years and, as such, it isn’t uncommon for certain services to face challenges such as dropped connections or pockets of unavailability.

chinese formal traditional garden white wall with round gate hole from bamboo and decorative stones next to fruit trees

VPNs are a legal grey area in China.

Best China VPNs for 2022

Anyone considering using a VPN will be happy to know that there are many services available, with new free and paid options entering the market every season.

However, not all VPNs are created equal. Below are our top three VPNs in 2022:

#1: Astrill VPN

Astrill VPN ranks number one on our list due to its consistent, reliable, and ultra-fast service. It includes remote servers in 300 cities across 50 countries, giving you a multitude of locations to choose from when connecting.

Astrill VPN logo

Astrill has been tried and tested by CLI for years in China and is our top recommended choice for professional and personal users alike.

Key Features:

  • Multiple connection protocols, comprehensive set-up guides, and a solid customer support system
  • Particularly useful China VPN, since it has several servers optimized specifically for users in China, uniquely configured to hop the Middle Kingdom’s notoriously high-tech firewall
  • Recommended for anyone planning to work or study in China long-term

Price:

  • 1 Month ($20.00/Month)
  • 6 Months ($15.00/Month)
  • 1 Year ($10.00/Month)
  • (Due to its enhanced reliability and advanced connection features, Astrill is one of the more expensive VPNs on the market, although discounts are offered for annual subscriptions)

Free trial:

  • 7 Days

#2: Express VPN

ExpressVPN is another popular China VPN choice. The service is useful for accessing the entire Internet, downloading files quickly and streaming content.

ExpressVPN logo

Express VPN is another great choice for users based in China.

Key Features:

  • More than 2,000 servers across the world
  • User-friendly with a simple-to-navigate interface, making it an ideal choice for VPN newbies
  • Allows you to connect to your VPN account from up to five devices simultaneously

Price:

  • 1 Month ($12.95/Month)
  • 6 Months ($9.99/Month)
  • 12 Months ($8.30/Month)
  • (Slightly cheaper than Astrill)

Free trial

  • 7 Days

#3: NordVPN

Established in 2008, NordVPN has earned a reputation for being a trustworthy and reliable China VPN.

NordVPN logo

NordVPN is the most economical choice for those on a budget.

Key Features:

  • No log-policy, which means your surfing history is not only not shared with outside parties, but never even stored to begin with
  • Servers around the world and decently-fast streaming services

Price:

  • 1 Month ($11.95/Month)
  • 12 Months ($4.92/Month)
  • 24 Months ($3.71/Month)
  • (Less expensive than most other VPNs on the market, making it a solid choice for budget-conscious users)

Free trial:

  • 7 Days

Your Pre-China Checklist

As seasoned China-travelers will tell you, deciding whether or not to use a China VPN is an important step on your pre-departure checklist.

If you do plan to use a VPN, be sure to install the service on your device before you set off, since downloading one within China’s borders can be difficult and sometimes impossible.

Navigating China’s internet can be challenging if you’re not prepared. Fortunately, there are many ways to make life easier for yourself when living, working, or traveling in the Middle Kingdom.

After getting internet-ready, brush up on your Chinese and start communicating with locals by enrolling in CLI’s online Chinese lessons before you go!

the sun and moon pagodas in Guilin, China with fireworks going off in the background

If you plan to use a VPN, make sure to install it before starting your China adventure.

Chinese vocabulary related to VPNs and the Internet

HànzìPīnyīnDefinition
虚拟专用网络xūnǐzhuānyòngwǎngluòVPN
虚拟私人网络xūnǐsīrénwǎngluòVPN
安装ānzhuāngto install
软件ruǎnjiànsoftware
防火长城Fánghuǒ ChángchéngThe Great Firewall
翻墙fānqiángto hop the wall (to use a VPN)
公共互联网gōnggòng hùliánwǎngpublic internet
IP地址IP dìzhǐIP address
服务器fúwùqì(internet) server
网络隐私wǎngluò yǐnsīinternet privacy
匿名nìmínganonymous
隐私权yǐnsīquánprivacy rights
谷歌GǔgēGoogle
百度BǎidùBaidu, a popular Chinese search engine
互联网审查hùliánwǎng shěncháinternet censorship
搜索引擎sōusuǒ yǐnqíngsearch engine
浏览器liúlǎnqìinternet browser
封禁fēngjìnto ban (a movie or website)
网友wǎngyǒuinternet user

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