Update December 2017: As you may be aware, China has been threatening to ban all VPN usage in China. This weird game of cat-and-mouse, where China tries to strengthen its control of the internet while VPN services move to find new ways around it, has been going on for more than a decade. It’s nothing new. As a current resident of China who uses VPNs every day, I can assure you that each of these VPN services still works well in China. When that changes…I’ll let you know 🙂
Over the past
4 months 2 years 3 years 5 years, I have been testing a number of VPN services (VPN = “Virtual Private Network”), a necessary evil for me since I run an online business here in China. Some of them have performed well and a couple have been a surprise disappointment. My goal was to take an unbiased perspective on what were the best VPNs for China.
This has not been a simple review process for me – and I hope that the effort I put into this can give you confidence that even though there are affiliate links below, what I am sharing are my honest opinions on these companies. Currently there are just too many “review websites” who spent 5 minutes trying out a service or worse yet, are owned by particular VPN company in an effort to disparage their competitors.
I originally did this research for my primary website, FarWestChina.com, which is why you’ll see the FWC intro before each video. I’ve gone into extensive detail on good VPN options for China on that site as well.
So without further ado, here is a short list (not a comprehensive list, mind you!) of some of the top VPNs – some high-security VPNs and some cheap VPNs for those on a budget – that I have personally used. They are listed here in no particular order and the links are affiliate links, which means that at no additional cost to you, I can be supported in my efforts to provide this free content. Thanks!
Further Reading: Is it Legal to Use a VPN in China?
Review of ExpressVPN – Recommended
I had quite a few people share with me how much they like ExpressVPN so I was interested to give them a try myself. From what I had heard, there were two things that separated ExpressVPN from the competition: high-speeds and an unbelievably easy install.
The speeds during my personal test period were the same as I experienced with all the other VPN services, but one thing’s for sure: their software is by far the easiest to install and use. They have beautifully-designed apps for Mac, Windows, Android and iOS. Just download and click “connect” and you’re good to go. Every VPN should be this easy, but unfortunately they’re not. If you’re one of those who consider themselves the antithesis of “tech-savvy”, ExpressVPN is worth the money.
Best of all, ExpressVPN is my go-to VPN when it comes to watching Netflix in China, which as you may know, has become increasingly hard lately (because of Netflix restrictions, not Chinese restrictions).
For a more details, pros vs cons, etc., check out the TravelChinaCheaper in-depth review of ExpressVPN.
Save 35% on ExpressVPN when you sign up for their annual plan.
Review of NordVPN – Recommended
Not every VPN decides to enter the China market – and that’s understandable! So when NordVPN decided to make China a focus a couple years ago, there were a lot of people (including me) who were curious to see how they would fare.
As it turns out, they’ve done quite well! I find that I really enjoy the NordVPN apps and their speeds in country have been great. Every time China makes a change in the “Great Firewall”, NordVPN quickly adapts to make sure that I remain connected to the outside world. This takes manpower, and it doesn’t happen very quickly with every VPN on the market.
Aside from the fact that NordVPN works well in China, I confidently recommend people purchase the service because of their 30-day money back guarantee. In fact, I often tell people to purchase both ExpressVPN and NordVPN (since they both have 30 day guarantees) and then see which one works best when they arrive. Better yet, you can do what I do and keep both so that you have a backup 😉
Save up to 70% on NordVPN when you visit their China VPN page.
Review of VyprVPN (25% off Discount Code)
Note: VyprVPN is running a special where they offer 25% off annual plans. If you’re looking for a VPN and like VyprVPN, now is the time to try them out.
Started in 2006, VyprVPN has become one of the most popular VPNs for people in restrictive countries like China, Iraq and many others. One of the reasons is because of their proprietary Chameleon 256-bit encryption protocol which avoids detection while giving you high security.
One of the things I really like about Vypr is their array of beautiful apps, from Windows to Mac to iOS to Android. What’s better, they all speak to each other so that if you tell your iPhone that you prefer a certain server, your Mac application will follow suit. I haven’t seen that in any other VPN service.
My only complaint with Vypr is that 1) they don’t accept Bitcoin or any other anonymous form of payment and 2) they do admit to minimal logging of user data. This should only concern you, however, if your primary purpose of using a VPN is illegal downloading, otherwise this isn’t a bad thing. I explain more in the video below:
VyprVPN Special: Get 25% off all VPN plans!
Review of Private Internet Access
Ever since 2009, Private Internet Access has been providing one of the most simple ways to connect to a VPN. They’re a pretty new company compared to some of these other service providers but they are one of the cheapest around.
What I like most about Private Internet Access – and you’ll see this in my video tutorial below – is that from the moment I clicked “buy” to the moment I was actually connected to the VPN was less than 5 minutes. It’s super fast.
My only complaint is that the install process for mobile devices is manual. I walk through what I had to do with my iPad in the video below (jump to 6:15) but that’s just one of the things you give up when you pay such a small monthly fee.
Save up to 50% on annual plans. Click to give PIA a 7-day risk free trial run.
Review of 12VPN (Bonus 10% Discount Code)
12VPN is one of my favorite VPN services for various reasons, not the least of which is that is has consistently provided me with excellent service. Their software is very simple and easy to use, their customer service has been good and their pricing is below the average.
No other VPN service has communicated with me as well as 12VPN has. I receive monthly updates on service and when there was a problem with one of the submarine lines crossing the Pacific Ocean, I not only got an email telling me about it, they also took the time to explain why it mattered. Very cool.
12VPN Discount Code: get 10% off. Type in “fwc10” at checkout.
Review of Jungl VPN (Bonus 15% Discount)
Chances are you’ve never heard of Jungl VPN. Before last year, I hadn’t either. There are actually hundreds of small VPN services that cater to specific niches and it would be crazy to try to review them all. Jungl came highly recommended to me, especially here in China, so I decided to give it a try.
The results surprised me. While the service is one of the most expensive that I’ve come across, the level of security and the personal customer support have been amazing. I’ve now used them for over 6 months – both on my laptop and my cellphone – and any time I’ve come across any problems they have been the fastest to respond and fix them.
Learn more about what they offer – including one feature you won’t find with any other VPN – in the video review below, or go to the Jungl website to check out their pricing.
Jungl VPN Coupon Code: Get 15% off on Jungl using the code “FWCSave15“.
VPNs to Avoid (in my opinion)
While I’m at it, I also want to mention two VPN services that were a disappointment to me. I have no reason to comment poorly on their service (they both offer generous affiliate commissions) other than the fact that during my review period they were, frankly, terrible.
The first is Astrill. They’re a fairly well-known VPN service, especially out here in China where I currently reside, so I figured that recommending their service would be a no-brainer. I was wrong. Not only was their customer support extremely rude…and they knew that I was conducting a review!…but they made me pay for my 7-day free trial. (in fairness, they did eventually refund me the money, but only after 2 months of my incessant complaining).
The second was SunVPN. The problem here is that I like SunVPN and I don’t want to advise against them, I just can’t recommend them. I had problems downloading their software from the get-go and for some reason there was a communication breakdown that we haven’t been able to iron out. Their service seemed good for the short time I used it (it took me a couple weeks just to finally get it running) but the price/value ratio just didn’t add up compared to all the others I had tested.
See for yourself what I mean in the two video reviews I did here:
Conclusion for the Best VPNs for China
If you’ve done any amount of research online you know that this list doesn’t even begin to cover the number of VPN companies out there. Be careful, though: not every “Top 5 VPN Services” article you see out there provides legitimate reviews – this is especially true if their URL is something like “bestvpn” dot com or “vpnreviewsite” dot com.
The aforementioned services follow what I like to call the three “R’s” of a good VPN service: they are reliable, reasonably priced, and they are respected companies. When it comes to VPNs, you’re always going to run into some sort of problem somewhere down the road, but with these companies I assure you that you’ll be happy with the service and be well-taken care of by their customer support staff.
I hope this has been helpful and best of luck finding the appropriate VPN service for your needs!
p.s. In case you weren’t aware, these are the types of services that you’ll need in order to use Netflix, Hulu or Pandora in China.
p.p.s. If you want more visual reviews and VPN tutorials, you’ll want to check out the videos by VPN Video Reviews.