Do you want to stay connected with your friends and family on social networks while you are in China? Maybe write a blog about your China adventures? And keep enjoying your favorite websites and TV shows from your home country? Then you definitely need 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 sites that China commonly or temporarily 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.
(Updated November 2017)
What really is a VPN?
Most people have used a VPN service, often at work, but not everyone knows what a VPN really is and why it is helpful for internet access in China. So let me try to explain.
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network and basically extends a secure private network across a public network, such as the internet. Many companies use it 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 Wi-Fi hotspots.
Why use VPN in China?
The reason VPN is so useful in China is because with VPN you can circumvent the so-called geo-blocking, which is regional restrictions on certain websites. While using a VPN, your computer looks like it is located in the country where the VPN server is because your internet traffic routes through that server. Lets say your VPN server is in the US, so you can access Facebook and any other website that is available in the US even if it is blocked in China.
A VPN for China is best set-up on your laptop 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 without a local partner, a position they reinforced since late 2012 and even more strongly in 2017. Therefore, China increasingly targets and blocks foreign VPN providers, forcing them to continuously update protocols and switching ports to stay ahead. (The WSJ ran an article about internet censorship and VPN blocking in China.)
Free VPN packages are available and may work for some, although I would not count on tech support or frequent technology updates. Paid services are only a few US dollars per months and often more reliable and able to adapt quickly to the increased sophistication from the authorities in shutting down VPN connections.
We used StrongVPN in China for over 3 years and were happy enough then with its performance and customer service. A few years ago we switched to VyprVPN, which we are still using now. (Full disclosure, if you buy a service from StrongVPN or VyprVPN using the links on my site I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. With VyprVPN, my link gives you access to a special 25% discount offer.)
With both VPN services you can choose from many servers worldwide. Especially VyprVPN has a huge network of 700+ servers in 70+ locations worldwide.
My favorite VPN for China
VyprVPN became my preferred choice of VPN for China because of their Chameleon protocol. Chameleon is especially designed for China and other restrictive countries to make it harder for the VPN to be blocked. Use this link for a special offer of a 25% discount for an annual account.
So that’s why you need a great VPN for China
With a reliable VPN in China 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.
(The slow speed often experienced with non-Chinese websites is an entirely different issue …)