Do VPNs still work in China? If you’re in China right now, it’s been impossible to miss the hoopla surrounding the celebration of China’s 70th anniversary. You’ve probably also noticed that your VPN has stopped working. Coincidence? Not really. So what has happened? Do VPNs no longer work in China?
SPECIAL NOTE: Starting with the National Day celebration last month, China has been clamping down particularly hard on VPN connections. And this comes after an already difficult summer of Hong Kong protests that have been extremely sensitive to China. If you’re experiencing trouble with your VPN right now, you’re not alone. Your VPN may be having trouble connecting, but be patient and check out some of the steps below. Good luck!
I’ll start by saying this: as of November 1, 2019, it is possible to connect to a VPN in China. It’s been difficult to connect at times but yes, it is possible.
The connectivity of VPNs in China goes on a cycle, a fact that you probably know well if you’ve lived in China for more than a year. During important government meetings (such as the Congress meeting last March), major holidays or during sensitive anniversaries, it becomes harder to connect to VPNs. Not impossible…but hard. That’s why it’s important to choose a VPN that dedicates significant resources to serving the China market.
Personally, I use ExpressVPN – which has been incredibly reliable for me these past few years – but I also subscribe to a number of other VPNs that work great in China. No matter what VPN you use, there are a few steps you can take to ensure that you can stay connected even when it feels like your VPN no longer works in China.
**Note: The links for VPNs here are affiliate links, which means that at no extra cost to you I will be compensated should you choose to use their services. That said, I do personally subscribe to at least 6 VPNs at any given time and have been using them within China for over 10 years.
Tips for Good VPN Connection in China (3 Steps)
Time needed: 15 minutes.
Not every VPN service works well in China, particularly when China starts clamping down on server connections, but there are a few measures you can take to give yourself the best chance to connect to a VPN.
- Make Sure Your VPN App is Updated
One of the best ways to improve VPN connectivity is to keep your app updated. VPN services like ExpressVPN and NordVPN make important tweaks to their connection protocols when connections become difficult. You may not be able to log on to the websites directly, but the links above are dynamic links that direct you to an unblocked page from within China.
- Check the China Server Status of Your VPN
Any VPN service that serves the China market well will have a status page that will provide timely updates on connection issues, possible fixes and tips on how to connect to VPN servers in China. Examples of this would be the ExpressVPN Status page, the NordVPN status page, and the VyprVPN status page. Each of these webpages should be updated on a weekly, if not daily basis, and often tell you exactly which servers are working in China.
- Change Server Locations and Connection Protocols (multiple times)
Most VPNs like ExpressVPN allow you to choose not only what server you want to connect to around the world, but also what kind of VPN connection protocol you use to do it. If you find that you aren’t able to connect in China, try changing to a different server location or connection protocol. And don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t work after 2-3 changes. Sometimes it takes me 10-15 changes before I’m able to find a connection that works.
- Be Patient; Even if You Connect, It’s Going to be Slow
You should also realize that if your VPN is having a difficult time connecting to the server, it’s highly likely that even when it does connect, your internet speeds are going to be extremely slow. Remember…this is China! Be patient. If past experience tells us anything, it’s that this too shall pass (even if it takes a week or two).
While almost every VPN will be affected by China’s increased censorship, only the best are able to make adjustments and evade the block. If you can’t tell, that’s one of the reasons I often recommend ExpressVPN.
Will China Block VPNs in the Future?
I’ve lived in China for over a decade and these types of “VPN scares” seem to happen all the time. China has a major anniversary or threatens to block all VPNs and people freak out. Changes are made and the VPN companies adjust. It’s the classic game of cat and mouse censorship China plays.
And that’s the thing: it would be very difficult for China to completely block VPNs. There are times when they do a very good job, such as during sensitive dates or during high-level government meetings.
However, even during these times of tightened internet, VPNs like ExpressVPN have historically adjusted quickly to the changes so that we foreigners can still enjoy getting on Facebook, Gmail and Instagram in China.
Some VPN companies are faster than others and some get blocked quicker than others, but that’s why I always subscribe to at least two VPNs at once – one as my primary and one as a backup.
If VPNs Still Work in China, What Are They Blocking?
The million-dollar question is this: what’s the deal with all this news about China blocking VPNs?
Based on my understanding, it’s really quite simple. China is looking to control the way the companies and corporations access the internet using a VPN (which is what VPNs were originally designed for). Reading the fine print, some of the more recent bans reveal China’s intention to block VPNs for corporations.
China really wants corporations to use government-registered VPN services to secure their data, which honestly is a bit scary. Smaller companies that use 3rd party VPNs will need to make changes whereas the larger corporations that can afford to build a proprietary VPN will need to get it registered with the government.
It all boils down to China tightening its grip on information coming into and out of the country.
Wait…What is a VPN?
If you’re one of those people who isn’t quite sure what a VPN is, you should start by watching this video introduction to a VPN:
In short, a VPN (short for “Virtual Private Network”) is a way to encrypt the data that gets sent and received on the internet from your device, including computers, tablets and phones. In addition to encrypting your data to keep it safe, a VPN is also used to access geo-restricted content such as watching Netflix in China or view all of the websites and apps that are blocked in China.
With all this speculation about China blocking VPNs, the next logical question is whether or not a VPN is legal to use. That’s a very good question, and one that I’ve already answered in depth here.
Conclusion | Do VPNs Still Work in China?
The answer is a simple yes, and I will continue to keep this article updated each month throughout this year with any news. So far, it seems that all personal VPNs have been unaffected, but it’s still important that you choose a reliable VPN that has a history of playing the cat-and-mouse game with China.
As I mentioned earlier, many people in China use ExpressVPN (and if you use this link, which is an affiliate link, they’ll give you 3 months free with any annual plan). I can vouch for how well ExpressVPN has worked for me here in China. Give them a try and if it doesn’t work for you, they offer a 30-day money back guarantee.
Will you be traveling or moving out to China soon? Aside from VPNs, what other concerns do you have? Leave a comment below!