Do you want to stay connected with your friends and family on social networks while you are in China? Maybe you’re interested to start a blog in China about your adventures. Or perhaps you want to keep enjoying your favorite websites and watch your favorite TV shows while in China?
If you answered yes to any of these question, then you definitely need what as known as a VPN in China.
As the great firewall of China is getting more sophisticated and less permeable, a reliable VPN connection is essential to access social networking sites, blogs, country specific websites, and a wide range of other websites and apps that China commonly blocks, e.g. the New York Times (my favorite breakfast read).
Let’s look at how VPN works, why you need it in China, and my recommendation for a great VPN.
What is a VPN, Really?
Surprisingly, many people have used a VPN service, often at work. However, not everyone knows what a VPN really is and why it is helpful for internet access in China.
So let me try to explain.
The acronym “VPN” stands for Virtual Private Network and at its core, it allows for a private, encrypted connection across a public network (such as the internet).
Many companies use a VPN to give their employees secure remote access to the company network. You can also use an encrypted VPN to protect your privacy when using public networks like WiFi hotspots.
Personal VPNs like ExpressVPN extend this same data encryption that multi-national companies use to an individual user.
But Why is a VPN Necessary for China?
The reason a VPN is so useful in China is because a VPN allows you to circumvent both China’s censorship as well as the geo-blocking of certain services. And if you didn’t know, “geo-blocking” is a practice by which certain services restrict content based on your region (including Netflix, Pandora, BBC, etc.).
It’s annoying, but thankfully a VPN helps fix the problem.
While connected to a VPN, your computer looks like it is located in the country where the VPN server is located because your internet traffic routes through that server. So, for example, let’s say your VPN server is in the US. This means you can access Facebook and any other website that is available in the US even if it is blocked in China.
Better yet, you can even watch Netflix shows even though they are geo-restricted from within China.
A VPN for China is best set-up on your laptop and mobile devices before coming to China, because the websites of VPN providers, from where the software is downloaded, are often blocked in China.
Which is the Best VPN for China?
China does not allow foreign companies to operate a VPN in China and over the past couple years has even cracked down on Chinese companies that run VPN services. China actively blocks VPN connections, which is why it is so very important that you choose a VPN company that will provide support when changes need to be made.
It is for this reason that free VPNs rarely work well in China. For one thing, they don’t provide support but even more importantly, they tend to sell your data (it’s the only way they can make the service free!).
Paid services are only a few US dollars per month and often more reliable and able to adapt quickly to the increased sophistication from the authorities in shutting down VPN connections.
Based on over a decade of experience in China, I recommend the following two VPN services:
- ExpressVPN: Over the past decade, ExpressVPN has become the most popular choice of VPNs among expats in China. The primary reason for this is that they’ve been incredibly reliable and have served the China market the best.
- NordVPN: I call NordVPN my “backup”, but the reality is that I use it just as much as ExpressVPN. They have a beautiful and easy-to-use app design that works well across all devices. They’re also slightly cheaper.
I recommend both not only because they have been the most reliable over the years, but also because they both offer 30-day money back guarantees.
With either VPN service, you can choose from literally thousands of servers worldwide. And to be clear, you’re looking for the nearest available server outside of China, not for VPN servers inside of China (I get that question a lot).
My Favorite VPN for China
If you forced me to only choose one, I lean toward ExpressVPN just because I’ve been using them the longest. They specifically serve the China market and their software is the easiest to use, even if you’re not “tech-savvy”.
I’ve been working with them for so many years, in fact, that they’ve offered a special deal wherein if you use my link to purchase an annual subscription to ExpressVPN, you’ll receive 3 extra months free!
Full Disclosure: 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 the services I recommend. Rest assured, I only recommend what I use myself!
Final Thoughts | It’s Called the “World-Wide” Web
Once you’re able to find the best VPN for China expats, you can enjoy the World Wide Web, not just the part approved by the Chinese. You can access you favorite websites, blogs and social networks, and have an extra layer of protection when using public networks.
If you’re an expat in China or you’re planning to be one soon…a VPN is a definitely must-have.