If you’ve felt like this or you’re worried that this is going to be the reality when you land…you’re not alone.
This last year has been filled with turmoil thanks to protests in Hong Kong, a few sensitive anniversaries and, of course...Covid-19.
All of this has put China on high alert.
In an effort to maintain control of the internet, the Chinese government has made connecting to a VPN extremely difficult. Some VPN companies have given up on China altogether.
Only a few, which I consider to be the best VPNs for expats in China, measure up.
So what are your choices if you can’t live without Facebook, Instagram, Gmail or Netflix? The fact is, not every VPN service works well in China – and free VPNs suck.
You need to invest in a VPN that actively serves the China market and doesn’t mind playing cat-and-mouse with China’s censors.
The Best VPN for China in 2023
There’s plenty of debate about the “best VPN” for China. For the sake of your sanity, though, I’m going to list three that meet the following criteria that I find to be most important as an expat in China:
- Experience: These VPNs have been around for at least 6 years.
- Reliability: They’ve successfully weathered multiple shut down attempts by China’s censors.
- China Focus: These VPNs specifically serve the China market, which is admittedly one of the hardest markets to operate as a VPN company.
Believe it or not, the simple criteria listed above eliminates about 90% of the VPNs on the market today.
Most of the ones I’m seeing right now are either brand new or they pretend to cater to the China market (i.e. they advertise to us China expats but they don’t actually provide good customer support).
So with this in mind, here are the three best VPNs for China that have experience, reliability and a China focus.
Important Note: The great thing about every single one of these VPNs is that they all offer a 30-day money back guarantee. This means that you could theoretically sign up for all three VPN services, find out which one connects well in your specific city/situation and then get a refund on the others.
Or…you can do what I do and keep an active subscription to multiple VPN services. My business relies on consistent access to the internet, though, so it’s worthwhile for me to have options to choose from.
Note: The links above are affiliate links, which means that at no extra cost, I will earn a commission if you choose to use any of these services. Thank you for your support!
Maintaining VPN Connection in China | Tips & Tricks
Let’s get something out of the way quickly here: every VPN service, no matter how good they are, is eventually going to run into problems in China.
You’re never going to have 100% connectivity in China.
The benefit of the using ExpressVPN, NordVPN or VyprVPN is that their commitment to the China market means they’re constantly monitoring connection services and they seem to get everything restored the quickest when the censorship hammer comes down.
But what happens when you start having difficulty connecting to one of the many blocked websites and apps in China, even with a VPN? Here are some simple tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years:
- Check the Date and the News: Is there a sensitive anniversary coming up? Is Congress in session? Are there protests in the news having to do with China? All of these things might be reasons why it’s suddenly hard to connect to your VPN. Knowing this may not help you connect, but at least you’ll understand why it’s been hard.
- Update Your VPN App: A lot of these VPNs evade censorship through updates to their apps and connection protocols. If you start having a hard time connecting within China, look to see if there’s an update for the app on your desktop or mobile device.
- Go Through a Basic Trouble Shooting Exercise: It may seem annoying, but I suggest completely shutting down your computer and rebooting it. Likewise, try connecting on different devices or different networks – that can make a difference believe it or not.
- Test Different Connection Protocols and Servers: With all three VPN services I listed above, you have the ability to not only change servers to another country, you can also change the connection protocol. This sometimes happens in the advanced settings and you may find that a less-secure connection works better than a secure one at times.
- Contact your VPN Service: They can often help you determine which server would be best to connect to. Don’t be afraid to use their customer service.
It also helps to troubleshoot your internet connection. There have been times when my computer connects fine while my mobile device doesn’t.
I don’t have a good explanation for why…that’s just the way it is in China sometimes.
Fixing VPN Connection Problems in China
Are VPNs still working in China? There have definitely been a lot of issues lately no matter which VPN you use.
If you’re having trouble connecting to a VPN in China, I suggest you try ExpressVPN to see if that works better. Worst case scenario – you just return it for a full refund if you don’t see an improvement.
More than anything, though, have patience. Understand that you’re not the only expat in China who is having trouble with the internet. We all do.
It’s just a part of life here in China.
Josh lived in China and Thailand for over 10 years. During that time, Josh has taught English, studied Mandarin at university, and started his own business in western China. Apart from helping expats here on China Expat Society, Josh also offers advice to travelers on TravelChinaCheaper and FarWestChina.