What a VPN Is, Why You Need One & How to Get One || PLUS Our Top VPN Recommendations for 2023
SEPTEMBER 2023 UPDATE || Currently ExpressVPN and Nord VPN are experiencing issues in China. Other VPNs may also be having connectivity problems. Astrill appears unaffected.
Want to post Instagram reels, check your Gmail account or simply Netflix and Chill whilst you’re in China?
Then you’re going to need a VPN.
A VPN, or virtual private network, is a must-have for your time in China and will allow you to access the internet just like you would in your home country.
With the sheer number of different VPNs available to download and heaps of often outdated information online, it’s hard to know which is the best VPN to use.
But fear not!
We’re here to answer all your questions about VPNs and tell you everything you need to know about downloading and using one.
We’ve also weighed in on the free vs paid VPN debate and given our verdict – and included our top recommendations for both types.
An Introduction to VPNs
VPN China || What is a VPN?
VPN China || Why Should I Use a VPN?
VPN China || How to Download a VPN
VPN China || Free vs Paid VPNs
LTL recommended VPNs
VPN China || Best Free VPNs
VPN China || Express VPN
VPN China || Nord VPN
VPN China || TunnelBear VPN
VPN China || Astrill VPN
VPN China || HideMyAss! VPN
VPN China || Ivacy
VPN China || FAQs
PSST || if you want to find out the best VPN for China in 2023, click here.
VPN China || What is a VPN?
Don’t worry if you’re new to the world of VPNs, we’ve got you covered.
Here’s everything you need to know about what a VPN is and how it works:
What It Is
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) conceals a user’s IP address and therefore allows private internet surfing from wherever you are.
Because it conceals your location, you can surf freely without being discovered.
This means that you can access censored or blocked websites and services.
Thanks to the infamous Great Firewall of China, many popular social media websites in China are blocked.
This, as well as Netflix, Google, and Youtube services, are all blocked. You will need a VPN in China to access any of these websites.
If you’re not yet in China and looking to get yourself a VPN before you get here, you’re in the right place.
How It Works (The Techy Bit)
When initially connecting to the internet, you will first connect to your Internet Service Provider (ISP).
This, in turn, connects you further to any other websites. Every website that you go through or any service you use on the internet will first bypass your ISP – and can also be viewed by your Internet Service Provider.
When connecting to a VPN server (i.e. a server run by your VPN provider), you will be doing so via an encrypted connection.
Still with us? Hang in there!
This means that all data that travels between your device and the VPN (i.e the internet services or site you’re using) is encrypted so that only you and the VPN server “sees” it.
Your ISP will not be able to track your traffic on the internet, but only see that you are connected to a VPN server.
A VPN provides private internet access, but depending on the VPN you’re using, this access may not be 100% private, since the VPN server may be logging or able to view the sites that you are too.
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VPN China || Why Should I Use a VPN?
In China, the websites that are blocked include many popular social media websites such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat.
Fun Fact: You can access Tiktok, but it’s the version that only Chinese people can register for: 抖音 dǒu yīn
Youtube and (almost) all Google services are also blocked, so in order to access YouTube or Facebook in China, you will need the help of a VPN service.
There are 3 main reasons to use a VPN:
- Unlimited Access
Use the internet in privacy without others seeing what you’re up to.
Use the internet freely without being blocked by any government censorship.
Choose your location depending on where you want to appear from, and be able to access certain websites and services only available in certain countries.
As far as the internet is concerned, you are located in the same place that your VPN is connected to.
For example: when using Netflix, if a favourite TV program of yours is only available in the US, you can connect to the US server and enjoy access! Clever, eh?
Using a VPN allows you to download and torrent safely.
You can also use public WiFi hotspots safely without having to worry about hackers.
Even if a hacker manages to intercept any data, it is encrypted anyway so it’s safe.
VPN China || How to Download a VPN?
The good news is that if you’re outside of China, it’s extremely easy to download a VPN. You can simply find one on your phone’s app store or directly download a VPN from the relevant website.
And if you’re in China? Well, that’s where it gets a little trickier.
But when there’s a will there’s a way!
Here are our 5 best tips for downloading a VPN in China:
#1 – Utilise Hotels
To the surprise of most, many popular luxury hotel chains in major cities in China offer WiFi that has a built-in VPN.
Head over to the nearest one, grab yourself a coffee in the lobby and enjoy the WiFi.
From here, head over to the app store and download either a free or paid VPN.
Here is a list of some of the most popular hotel chains (out of around 30) to check out:
#2 – Sim Card of Home/Different Country
If you’re still using or have access to a sim card from your home country that is set up with roaming, you will be able to access everything that your network provider usually lets you anywhere else in the world.
Get onto your app store and download a VPN. Once it is on your phone, you will be able to use it with whatever sim card you’re using.
When you change to a Chinese Sim Card, you will need to turn on the VPN when you want to have a scroll through your newsfeed on Facebook in China.
👉👉👉 If you come to China with LTL, we can help get you set up with a Chinese sim card.
#3 – Download an APK VPN file
What is an APK File?
An APK is a type of file that can be put onto smartphones.
You can try to find an APK online by using a friend’s VPN on a computer.
Once you have the file on the computer, you can transfer this to your phone and get it working from there.
Alternatively, you can ask around your expat friends if they perhaps have access to any VPN APKs that they can either send you via Bluetooth or WeChat.
📨 You could also get a friend from home to send you an email with a file in it.
#4 – A Trip to Hong Kong/Taipei
If all else fails, and you’ve spent weeks disconnected from the outside world, frustrated about not being able to bypass the Great Firewall of China, we have another idea.
A weekend trip to Hong Kong or Taipei would allow you to get reconnected to the outside world!
You could even hop over to wonderful Seoul which is a short flight from Beijing.
Let’s be honest, there are far worse places to spend your time.
DID YOU KNOW – If you don’t want to leave mainland China, Special Economic Zone Shenzhen (bordering Hong Kong) often picks up signal from its neighbour.
If not, it has generally more relaxed rules regarding the Internet due to the amount of foreign commerce that takes place in this cosmopolitan city. So, you might be lucky here, but don’t hinge all hopes on this.
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VPN China || Free VS Paid VPNs
As to be expected, there are advantages and disadvantages to both.
|Good for short stays||Good privacy|
|Lack of privacy||High internet speed|
|Advertisements||Good service quality|
|No customer support||Costly|
If privacy is at the forefront of your considerations when looking to use a VPN service, then move straight to a paid VPN.
After all, free VPNs need to make their money somehow.
When using a free VPN, you risk having your browsing activity sold to third parties for advertising purposes.
If you opt for using a free VPN, the VPN service provider is extremely unlikely to provide you with support.
So, if there is ever an issue with your VPN, you won’t have a support team at hand.
You may then find yourself stuck and unable to waste time on your favourite social media sites for the next few hours!
Even worse, maybe your VPN breaks or gets blocked completely.
This is something you should take into consideration before choosing to use a free VPN service.
If you’re looking for high internet speed and unlimited usage, there are only a few free VPNs out there that offer this, usually you’ll have to compromise on speed or usage.
With a paid VPN service you are almost always guaranteed better internet speed and connection.
When it comes to Free VPN or Paid VPN services, you really do get what you pay for.
The only true advantage of using a free VPN is just that – it’s free.
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VPN China || Best Free VPNs
As we explained above, in the VPN world, you really do get what you pay for.
However, that’s not to say there aren’t some pretty decent free VPN options out there for your time in China – and we’ve done the searching so you don’t have to!
Here’s a look at our top 8…
Free VPNs – Quick Comparison
First of all let’s have a look at how our eight top free VPNs for China compare on some of the key things you should be looking for from a VPN:
- If there is a monthly or daily data limit when using the VPN.
- The number of devices you can connect to (e.g. phone, computer tablet).
- How many different server locations are available for a VPN connection.
- If you encounter any problems with your VPN what support is available to you to help fix it.
|VPN||Data Limit||Device Connections||Locations||Support|
|Hotspot Shield||500MB/day||1||1 (US only)||Support centre|
|TunnelBear||500MB/month||1||23||Bot live chat|
|Windscribe||10GB/month||Unlimited||10+||Bot live chat|
|Betternet||Unlimited||1||1 (US only)||Via Email only|
|Star VPN||Unlimited||1||30+||Via Email only|
|Atlas VPN||Unlimited||1||3||Support centre|
|Proton VPN||Unlimited||1||3||Support centre|
VPN China || LTL Recommended VPNS
NOTE || All of the following VPNs require a payment, but as we’ve explained above, they’re almost always worth the investment!
- Very trusted service
- 24/7 Support Online
- Constantly voted as a top choice for the best VPN into China
Express VPN is one of the most downloaded VPN’s and commonly used in China and with good reason.
Express consistently provide a wide number of locations to connect to, and this seems to grow by the year.
Currently they boast about 150 locations from 100 countries, not a bad portfolio by any stretch.
The customer service is also 24/7 and generally of great help.
If you are hoping to watch some home comforts on Netflix or iPlayer (BBC) then you have the chance to connect to your own countries VPN location and enjoy everything you would from back home.
Express can be downloaded onto a number of devices and used simultaneously if you so wish.
In terms of the full package of speed, efficiency, reliability and user satisfaction, we think there is no better VPN into China than Express.
The only real drawback is the fact it’s a little more expensive than competitor VPN’s.
In reality, providing you are in China for the foreseeable future, it’s an investment well worth making. And they’re currently offering customers who sign up for a 12 month subscription 35% off!
AUTUMN 2023 UPDATE || As mentioned at the start of the article Express is currently not working in China. These things can change rapidly, so whilst news isn’t good right now, you can be assured Express will be working to find a solution. Currently though, you’ll be better off going elsewhere.
- Good privacy – no logging policy
If privacy is a top concern, Nord VPN is perhaps the one for you.
They have a no-log policy so your browsing data is kept safe. On top of this, they also utilize military-grade security protocols.
What’s more, is that you can use this VPN on multiple devices at once time. Six, to be exact!
It can be used on a variety of platforms such as Windows, Apple, Android… And is good for all of your devices (PC, laptop, mobile etc.)
The only downside to this VPN? It’s perhaps not as user intuitive as Express if a fancy look is something you care about.
Due to the huge number of security features that come with Nord, it can be known to have an impact on the speed of connection from time to time also.
Sign up for Nord VPN below and get some rather sizeable discounts.
AUTUMN 2023 UPDATE || As above with Express, Nord is also experiencing issues in China so do your due diligence before purchasing.
- Blocks Adverts
- Great for first-time users
This VPN is also on our list for best FREE VPNs.
It offers a free package which reaps all of the basic benefits of this VPN, such as the clear, user-friendly interface making it great for first-time VPN users.
Plus, there are bears everywhere which makes it somewhat joyful to use.
The free version, however, will limit you to a very small 500MB per month – so you’re probably going to want to upgrade if you want to, well, do anything really.
Thankfully, the slightly below-average price means that it is affordable. Despite it being cheaper than others, it doesn’t compromise on its product quality or security either!
If you are on a tighter budget, and opt for the cheaper Tunnel Bear, be prepared for the occasional problem here and there.
- A favourite for use in China
- Highest number of usable IP addresses available (89,000+)
Astrill offers a secure and quick connection.
It is a very user-friendly VPN that offers the ability to switch between locations quickly and efficiently without having to turn the VPN on and off or restart the VPN.
It shows the internet speed in a small convenient box to help you choose the quickest VPN for you.
There are also multiple VPN server options for several countries – most of them being for USA. This allows you to try multiple servers in one location and find the quickest one.
It is also optimized for use in China, making this arguably near the top in terms of best VPN into China.Given some of the other VPN problems in China, this is the one you want!
It offers several services that use USA based servers that are ‘China optimized’, and recently it just added a new ‘China Supercharged’ VPN server option. We can vouch for the fact that it is, indeed, ‘supercharged’.
Astrill has always been a popular choice of VPN in China. It offers less server locations than Express VPN, but its subscription packages are cheaper:
NOTE || If you want to connect on Xbox, be aware Astrill does not offer this facility.
- Servers all over the world
- Great app interface
This makes our list as one of the best VPNs into China for its huge number of servers based all over the world, and their contact helplines available in different locations should you have any problems.
Their contact details are clearly displayed and have good customer service.
Plus, they do a free 7-day trial.
Not too shabby!
- Five log-in’s at once
- Cheaper due to being less well known
- Multiple Servers
The inclusion of Ivacy might turn a few heads given the fact it doesn’t make many Top 10 VPN lists but we believe otherwise given position student feedback.
See Astrill above which is not compatible with Xbox?
No such problem with Ivacy who are compatible on anything Windows, MXQ Pro, X Box, PlayStation, Android, and Kodi to name a few.
Ivacy also boasts a strong pricing structure which come up cheaper than some of the bigger names in the market… so what’s the catch you ask…
It doesn’t work with Netflix.
This is a game changer for foreigners in China who enjoy home comforts. Sure you can find movies and series online elsewhere but Netflix is often the go to choice.
Unfortunately with Ivacy it’s not possible.
Ivacy is an “under the radar” option not many VPN review sites choose but we think, bar a few clear flaws it’s actually really strong value for money and has a lot of positives.
And the Winner is…
Each VPN has something different to offer, but all of the above VPNs are very well-known and renowned VPNs.
As of 2023, Astrill is the one you want.
Given the issues with other popular VPN’s such as Express and Nord this makes Astrill a clear stand out given the full package it offer.
Ultimately though, pick your VPN according to what factors are important to you, and you’ll be surfing your favourite sites in China in no time!
What is your favourite VPN? Tell us in the comments below.
VPN into China || FAQs
What is a VPN?
DEFINITION – A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a service that conceals a user’s IP address, or in other words their location, providing private internet access.
What is the best VPN into China?
There are a number of contenders but Express VPN and Astrill are widely regarded as the most reliable and speedy.
Do I need a VPN to use Google in China?
Should I download a VPN before coming to China?
Ideally yes, it’s much easier to set all this up before coming to China.
Can I use a VPN to change my Netflix location?
You can yes. This is a great benefit of using a VPN as it unlocks different shows depending on the location you choose.
Do I need a VPN to use Whatsapp in China?
Whatsapp is banned in China, so a VPN will be required for access.
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