VPN Tips for China

Best Apps to Watch English TV Shows in China

As a traveler or expat, being able to watch your favorite English TV shows in China can mean the difference between sanity and depression. I mean, honestly, if you’ve ever turned on a Chinese TV you know how mind-numbingly boring they are. So what are the best apps or websites that will allow you to watch English TV shows in China?

The reality is that you’re not going to find much quality English content on Chinese TV channels. And by “not much”, what I really mean is…nothing.

You can browse the few English channels but I promise you’ll be disappointed.

If you really want to watch quality TV in English, you’re going to have to look outside of China to do so.

Now, before I dive too far into this list, I have two biases I must disclose and one important notice for anybody that wants to stream this kind of content while living, traveling or working in China.

Pardon My Biases (I Realize They Exist)

My first bias is this: I’d rather pay for quality, ad-free content than to look for free-streams that might infect my computer.

If you’re looking for a list of free streaming websites for China, you’re going to be disappointed here. If this is you, I recommend you jump on Youku or Reddit, but don’t say I didn’t warn you about the ads and viruses.

My second, equally important bias goes like this: I’m an American who knows mostly American shows.

It’s not that I think American shows are the best or that there are no other countries outside of the U.S. (I’ve been blamed of both, oddly), I just admit that I don’t have much experience otherwise.

Finally, one important notice regarding an annoying little thing called geo-restricted content. In most cases, even if you’re paying to use a service like Netflix or Hulu, licensing agreements require that they restrict content streamed in countries like China.

What this means is that the only way for you to use most of these apps is through a software known as a Virtual Private Network, or “VPN” for short. It basically tricks computers into thinking that you’re located in a country where these geo-restrictions aren’t an issue.

Personally, I use and recommend either ExpressVPN or NordVPN. All I have to do is connect to a VPN server in the US and…voilà…I can watch my English TV shows in China.

Almost every expat in China uses a VPN and it’s worth every penny I spend on it each year.

Note: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, which means that at no extra cost to you, I may be compensated if you choose to use some of these services.

Best Apps for English TV in China

Ok, with that out of the way, let’s jump in to my favorite apps for streaming great English content in China.

1. Watch YouTube TV in China (United States)

Ever since YouTube TV launched in early 2019, I’ve been a subscriber. I’m able to watch, record, and stream almost all of my favorite English TV shows that air on regular cable. This includes sitcoms, movies and even sports.

Currently, YouTube TV is only available in the U.S. and even within the United States you have to choose your “home area” (i.e. the ciy/state where you technically reside).

Make sure you choose your home area wisely, because YouTube requires that you use the service from within your home area at least once every three months.

I recommend choosing a home area that corresponds to a VPN server from either ExpressVPN or NordVPN, that way you can pretend to check in to that city.

YouTube TV Benefits

  • 70+ channels that includes all the major networks, sports, and news.
  • Unlimited DVR of your favorite shows that can are stored in the cloud (not your device)
  • Apps that you can use to watch YouTube TV on mobile devices, TVs, Media players and more.

YouTube TV Restrictions

  • Monthly cost: US$50/mo
  • Only streams U.S. content within the U.S.
  • Must check in to your “home area” once every 3 months.
  • Some networks still restrict their content on YouTube TV (CBS is notorious for this).

2. Watch BBC TV in China (U.K.)

If you prefer to watch British English TV shows in China, naturally you’ll turn to the BBC. They offer streaming options for their BBC iPlayer, the BBC News and, thankfully, BBC Sport.

Unlike YouTube TV, there is no monthly cost to stream BBC shows in China (or anywhere in the world for that matter). You will have to register with the site to watch shows, but it’s a free and mostly painless process.

My Take: If you like British TV or you prefer to watch more futbol (soccer) or cricket instead of American football or baseball, using the BBC to watch English TV shows in China might be a good option for you.

3. Stream Netflix in China

While Netflix has never been a true “one stop shop” for my favorite English content (I need my sports and sitcoms!), there is a lot here that can’t be found on either YouTube TV or BBC.

As with YouTube TV, you need both a paid account as well as a VPN to watch Netflix in China. Still, you’ll get access to thousands of shows and movies, many of which are pieces of content that you can only find on Netflix.

My Take: Netflix is ok, but honestly I get tired of their content quickly. Make sure you browse their catalogue of shows and movies before you commit to the monthly payments.

4. Watch Amazon Prime Video in China

Prime Video has slowly been gaining market share on Netflix, and the bonus is that if you already use Amazon services in China, Prime Video is just an addition benefit you can take advantage of to watch English TV shows in China.

Prime Video is all on-demand, with a very limited selection of live shows (which include Thursday Night Football if you’re an American who wants to watch NFL games in China). There are tons of English TV shows and movies to choose from.

My Take: Similar to Netflix, I get bored of the Prime Video library after a couple months. If you’re already an Amazon Prime member, though, it’s worth seeing what they have instead of paying the monthly fee for Netflix!

5. Stream Hulu in China

I think of Hulu as a cross between YouTube TV and Netflix. You can choose a cheaper monthly option that only has on-demand movies and TV shows you can watch in China (with a VPN of course) OR…you can choose the live TV package that has all the on-demand content plus streaming of 60+ shows in the US.

It’s slightly cheaper than YouTube TV, but you also don’t get as much. There aren’t as many channels and there’s a limit on the amount of DVR space you can use (currently 50 hours).

My Take: If you want to do live streaming of U.S. TV shows in China, stick with YouTube TV. That is, unless there is specific content only available on Hulu that you want to watch (i.e. Fyre Fraud, The Handmaid’s Tale, etc.).

6. Use Sling in China (US TV Shows Only)

The final option I’ll mention for now is Sling. Personally, I used this service once a while back and while it does provide options for watching English TV shows in China using a VPN, it wasn’t my favorite.

Sling has a number of confusing packages to choose from (Orange, Blue, Orange + Blue, etc.), and doesn’t offer the ability to skip ads. Still, there are a number of great add-ons, including their NBA watch package.

My Thoughts: Sling is more of an a la carte TV service, so if you’d prefer to choose exactly what you want to watch and don’t mind ads, this could be a good option for you.

Final Thoughts | Watching English TV Shows in China

I know it may seem crazy, but I really think it’s worth it to invest in your sanity while gallivanting around the globe. Yes, it costs a little money for some of these services to watch English TV shows in China.

And yes, there is a charge for the required VPNs like ExpressVPN or NordVPN in order to make these work.

But in the end, you’ll get to stay connected to “home” while also providing some much-needed entertainment along the way. Plus, with a VPN you’ll get access to everything else that is blocked in China!

I know I’m missing other options that could potentially be added here, so feel free to leave a comment with suggestions and I might even edit the article to include them!

Further Reading & Resources

Josh Summers

Josh is the founder of TravelChinaCheaper.com who has been living in China with his family since 2006. Over that period of time he has traveled by plane, train, car, motorcycle and even camel to explore almost every corner of the country.

View Comments

  • As a Canadian, I caN't really use the YouTube option in China because of the three month thing you mentioned with the need to return to "home".
    I just tried Amazon Prime but they do not let you use a VPN. When I turned the VPN off, all the content was Georestricted. I contacted customer support and they said Amazon Prime has not yet been given air time (or some term like this) in China. It is 8 months after your article was posted so perhaps things changed?
    I had used Netflix pReviously and may have to go back.

    • I'm not sure where you're getting your information. I was watching a show using a VPN just last night.

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