Do VPNs still work in China? This is one of the most common questions I have been getting from people who are looking to travel or move to China in 2019. A lot of the concern stems from early reports of the VPN ban that was supposed to happen last year. So what has happened? Do VPNs no longer work in China?
SPECIAL NOTE: If you’re experiencing trouble with your VPN right now, there’s a good reason: China started clamping down on all VPNs heading into the June 4 anniversary (you know, those embarrassing protests from many years ago) and continued through the Hong Kong protests. Rest assured your VPN will go back to normal soon. You can get it to work right now…it might just be really hard to connect and very slow.
I’ll start by putting your mind at ease: as of July 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 most expats in China know well. During important government meetings (such as the Congress meeting last March) 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.
**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.
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 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, What is China 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!