When you’re preparing for your move to China, one of the key things to check off your “to do” list is to download and install a VPN. But not just any VPN. Trust me when I say that you need to find the best VPN for China expats, one that serves the China expat market by constantly out-maneuvering Chinese censorship. I’d like to offer some recommendations based on my experience of the best VPN for expats in China as of November 2019.
After more than a decade living and traveling around China, I’ve had to learn a few things the hard way, particularly as it relates to the internet in China.
The most important lessons has had to do with Virtual Private Networks, or “VPN” for short. You can ask pretty much any person who has lived in China for at least a year and they’ll agree with the following:
- As an Expat in China, You Need a VPN: If you want to maintain your sanity or remain connected to friends and family back home, subscribing to a VPN is not optional. It’s a must. And yes, it’s worth the small annual fee.
- VPNs Don’t Always Work in China: While the Chinese government honestly doesn’t care if you, a foreigner, use a VPN, the fact that they don’t want their own citizens using one makes our lives as expats harder. Sometimes a VPN just doesn’t work in China, whether because the server has been blocked or because Congress is in session (or, right now, if they’re celebrating an important 70th anniversary of the country).
- Because of This, Using a China-Specific VPN is Important: Every VPN company says they work well in China. Very few actually do. If you want a shot at a consistent VPN connection, you need to go with a company that has a history of serving the China market, which means making the necessary adjustments to avoid blocking / censorship.
When you consider all the different websites that are blocked in China, you’ll understand why this is so important. I’d like to share a quick list detailing the best VPN for China expats.
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 the services below. I only recommend what I’ve personally used, however, and I appreciate your support of this free website!
Best VPN for Expats in China (long term)
Having lived as an expat in China for over a decade, I’ve had both positive and negative experiences with different VPN companies. Not surprisingly, a few of the bad ones are no longer in business (though not all!).
For this list of the best VPN for China expats, I’m only including services that I have personally used for at least the past 5 years. For these specific China recommendations, the VPNs must meet the following criteria:
- They must have a history (5+ years) of being reliable and consistent, even during those times when China cracks down on VPN usage;
- They must have a China status page, that shows updates when connection gets hard and tells you which servers are working;
- They must have a 30-day money back guarantee, so you can try them, see which one works best for you, and then return the other two if you like.
This isn’t just any old list thrown together at random. I’ve used more than 25 different VPN services from within China and these are the only 3 that made the cut.
1. NordVPN – Best VPN for Expats in China
Of the three on this list, I admit that I’ve used NordVPN for the least amount of time. Still, over the past 5 years I’ve been incredibly impressed by how well NordVPN has served the China expat community.
To start, NordVPN has a simple UI, meaning it’s easy to use even for those who aren’t tech-savvy. To connect to a VPN server and bypass China’s censorship, you just click on a map for where you want to be. That’s it! Android and iOS apps make this fast on mobile devices as well.
Best of all, NordVPN is the lowest price on this list, making it an incredible value. Give it a try and you have 30 days to get your money back if you don’t like it.
2. ExpressVPN – Most Consistent VPN for China Expats
Of all these VPNs, I’ve used ExpressVPN for the longest. If I had to hand out awards, I would give this service the “most reliable” award. On very few occasions have I been unable to connect to an ExpressVPN server, and even then it’s only been for a short period of time when all VPNs are having trouble in China.
ExpressVPN has some of the fastest servers, which is important for those China expats who value speed (gaming, video streaming, etc.). It’s also a popular service – if you were to ask 10 expats what VPN they use, at least 4 would say ExpressVPN.
If you’re thinking of trying ExpressVPN, make sure you use this link, which will automatically add three months free to any annual plan!
3. VyprVPN – Most Trustworthy VPN
Last, but not least, VyprVPN is the longest-running VPN on this list. It’s position as the third does not reflect on its quality (heck, it’s beat out plenty of other VPN services to get here); on the contrary, it’s an excellent VPN option for expats in China.
One of the things I really love about VyprVPN is their transparency. There’s not much you can find out about many VPNs on their about page (even for the two above), but that’s not true for VyprVPN. They’re extremely transparent about their leadership, corporate structure, company values and mission statement.
Within the admittedly dark world of VPNs, VyprVPN is a breath of fresh air. They’re up front about how they use your data, so you can check to see if they fit what you need. They’re fairly priced and easy to use.
*Remember, all three of these VPNs offer 30-day money back guarantees, which means that you can try them and if they don’t work as advertised in China, you can get your money back.
**Another thing to note: If a reliable, uncensored connection to the internet is vital to your life or business, I recommend downloading at least two, if not all three of these VPNs to use as backup. There are many times that I end up switching between services to see which one connects at the highest speed.
Final Thoughts | VPNs for Expats in China
You can roll the dice with any cheap VPN when you move to China. You could even try your luck with free VPNs and proxies, although I would seriously discourage that since it puts your online security at risk.
But trust me when I say that it’s worth following my recommendations for the best VPN for China expats. I’ve been using NordVPN successfully for years, I’ve loved using and working with ExpressVPN and VyprVPN is one of the most transparent VPN companies I’ve ever seen.
Staying connected on the internet in China is always going to be a struggle. A VPN isn’t going to solve every single problem you have and it won’t work 100% of the time – no matter what service you use. But it will make your expat life better in China, and that’s worth a lot.
Has this been helpful? Are there other questions you’d like to ask about this list? Leave a comment below!