VPN MASTER GUIDE
How do I choose the best VPN to use in China?
- Pick a reliable VPN
- Choose one with high-quality support
- VPN speed
- Make sure it has a range of viable servers
- Consider security and privacy
I’ve lived in China for over 10 years. I’ll give you my honest opinion from personal experience. So, what are the best active VPN’s for making your way around the Great Firewall of China?
Wondering what a VPN even is? Read this article to find out. Then come back here to find out which VPN you should buy, and why!
If you’re planning a trip or moving to China, I imagine the first thing you’ll consider is how you’ll be affected by the censorship? You’ll need a VPN. And, you’ll need it before you arrive. Not all available VPN’s work in China and most are increasingly slow and frustrating.
What if I’m in China already, without a VPN?
Accessing a VPN when you are in China isn’t impossible but it’s a little trickier. If you’re in China without a VPN you need to be connected to a stable VPN to buy or access another VPN. Of course, VPN sites are blocked because the government doesn’t want you to use them.
You’ll need a friend or colleague who already has a VPN to access the site for you, help you buy your VPN, and then they’ll need to log-in to their VPN on your computer or phone to install the APP to use your own VPN.
What’s the best VPN to use?
There are three main VPN’s used by the majority of people here in China. Astrill VPN, Express VPN, and NordVPN You’ve probably heard of Express, they invest a ton in marketing and therefore you see ads for them everywhere. Plus, they are the most popular upon expats here in China.
Astrill is a little more low key but personally, I think their speed, connectivity, and customer service is better than any other VPN I’ve used. Remember, I’ve been in China for over 10 years. I’ve experienced the loss of many VPN’s and the crackdowns from the government time after time.
Astrill still takes the gold for me. That being said, I often have mini-melt downs because the connection can be super slow, keep dropping off or take ages to connect to a server. Plus, when the government has their fancy meetings it’s often impossible to connect. I’ve had issues when live streaming and uploading content. There is not much we can do but accept it and try not to let it get to us. Or, have a back-up VPN and try using them intermittently.
Great things about Express VPN
- ExpressVPN apps for Windows, Android, and Apple
- Best-in-class security & encryption
- Ultra-fast servers in 94 countries
- High-speed unlimited bandwidth
- 24/7 customer support
- 30-day 100% money-back guarantee
Great things about Astrill VPN
- Super easy to use, connect with one click
- A network of powerful servers
- VPN servers in 115 cities across 64 countries
- Unlimited bandwidth and speed
- Connect unlimited devices
- Apple and Android Apps
- Amazing customer support
Great things about NordVPN
- Works on Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, and iOS
- Secure up to 6 devices with a single account
- Secures your data with military-grade encryption
- Offers servers in 60 countries
- Quick Connect button — chooses the best server location for you
- 24/7 customer support
- 30-day 100% money-back guarantee
For a more detailed comparison of Express and Astrill read this post.
Have You Heard Of Astrill VPN Before?
Have you heard of Astrill VPN before? Neither had I before the trusty tech guy at work recommended it to me. I’ve tested other VPN’s but none of them seem to come close, for me. VPN stability changes based on where you are located. Sometimes when I’m at home in Tianjin it works fine then I take the train to Beijing and it stops working for some reason. You’ll never know why, you just gotta accept that maybe you won’t get on Instagram for a few hours, or maybe even a day. That is the reality here in China. No VPN will solve all your issues. They all have problems.
It’s not the cheapest. But let’s be honest, you get what you pay for. You wanna get a VPN on the cheap? Go ahead. Live with the misery of never connecting to your favorite sites. It’s really fun for all of five seconds until you can’t Skype your family because your VPN won’t connect.
I really like Astrill’s speed test. They ping and download from a variety of servers and send me the ratings so I always know what the best server to connect to is.
Watch the YouTube video below to find out why Astrill has been my main VPN since fall 2018.
The Battle Of The VPN’s
I invited two of my close friends around so we could test our VPN’s in realtime. We all connected to the same Cities at the same time on our phones so we could test the connectivity of each different VPN provider.
We tested Astrill on an Android phone, Astrill on an iPhone and Express on an iPhone. I asked my Instagram followers which VPN they used and the majority said Express VPN.
We did a speed test for upload and download speed on all three phones and Express came out drastically lower than the two Astrill tests.
Astrill iPhone — download 21.1 Mbps and upload 8.12 Mbps
Astrill Android — download 13.8 Mbps and upload 11.4 Mbps
Express iPhone — download 0.49 Mbps and upload 4.64 Mbps
Watch the video below to see the full battle!
Which VPN Is The Most Popular Here?
We just wanna browse Instagram and watch Netflix like regular people outside China. Out of the 16,000 ish followers I had on January 2019, 167 of them responded with what VPN they use.
What matters here in China, is if you go with a free VPN you are inviting a world of headaches because some days you will be able to connect and other times you just won’t be able to. And, if and when you do connect your connection is likely to be very slow.
If you use one of my recommended VPN’s and for some reason, the connection is slow, which does happen, you’ll be able to switch to a myriad of different servers, ask customer support which one is working best at the moment, and do speed tests yourself to get back online quickly and efficiently. Fingers crossed.
Don’t hold me to that, sometimes the government is out to get us (not literally) and hold our VPN’s hostage for a while. Use this time to connect with friends in China, learn new things about WeChat functionality or realize what a black hole Facebook can be, so delete it off your phone.
Does Express VPN Work In China In 2019?
The quick answer is: It depends!
Survey #2: I ask the same 16,000 followers their thoughts on Express VPN.
“Very reliable, good value for money, 24-hour help service is great.”
“Works well most of the time, got blocked last week (June 2019) but the problem was quickly fixed.”
“It connects the fastest but it gets blocked a lot, sometimes for a couple of days.”
“It’s not consistent lately. There are different locations to switch to and others are faster. Messing with it here and there is better than no VPN.”
“It was great when I arrived ten months ago but more recently it’s been much less reliable.”
Watch the video below for more responses and my answer to “Is it game over in China for Express VPN?”
What About NordVPN?
There is a semi-new kid on the block and he’s rising up the ranks. NordVPN has been on my radar for a while and only more recently has the public started to adopt using it.
NordVPN is the cheapest at only $6.99 per month when you purchase the annual plan. Plus, they often do super sales where you can purchase for as little as $2.99 per month when you commit to a three-year plan. Similar to Express, they also offer a 30-day 100% money-back guarantee.
From my experience, Nord and Express VPN’s both go down during sensitive times in China. Most people have had mixed experiences with NordVPN, some having to switch VPN’s after a few months, some stating that theirs is super stable. Watch the video below to gain the full insight.
Are VPN’s Legal In China?
This question is under debate. You’ll probably have seen other bloggers deeming the use of VPN’s illegal. The South China Morning Post released an article declaring unauthorized VPN services illegal at the beginning of the crackdown in 2017.
“First off, using a VPN in China is still not illegal. The new policy affects VPN providers, not their users. There is no precedent on record of anyone being arrested, fined, or detained for using a VPN. Because VPN use in China is so widespread, especially among academics and expatriates, this is unlikely to change.”
In their article ‘What’s the best VPN in China’ they go on to say:
“The notice does not say using a VPN service is a crime. I cannot stress this enough, because this important point has been repeatedly misinterpreted by western media. The notice says that VPN providers cannot legally operate in China without government approval. It does not affect VPN users in any legal way.”
What VPN Should I Buy?
Solid question. If I were you, I’d buy one of the top two VPN’s here in China. Astrill or Express. They are long-standing VPN’s with a huge following. The majority of expats here in China use Express VPN.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t complaints out there about either of these. My Instagram followers prove that different people in different locations have mixed experiences. VPNs give access in China to the internets we hold most dearly. But, no one is overly happy with their VPN experience. Express takes its sweet time connecting. Many VPNs don’t work from time to time or are difficult to connect later in the day. This is life. *Sigh* the struggle is real.
Try for yourself. Express has a 30-day free trial so you can try before you buy and see how it works for you.
A quick and important disclosure:
Some of the links above are affiliate links, which means that if you choose to make a purchase, I will earn a commission. This commission comes at no additional cost to you. I recommend them because they are helpful and useful.