There are a lot of cool things about China, with plenty of reasons to travel to, work, or even live there. Something that isn’t cool is China’s restrictive Internet access and censorship policy. In fact, the country has recently doubled-down on their restrictions, with a new cybersecurity law going into effect this summer (2017). If you’re going to be living in, working in, or simply visiting the country, odds are you’re going to want a great VPN to help you access all the sites and services you want to while still preserving your privacy and anonymity.
Nearly every major Internet provider in China is controlled by the Chinese government, so you’ll want a great VPN to get around the “Great Firewall." But, how do you choose the best one?
Depending on your needs, there may be other things you'll want to think about, but these should serve as a good starting foundation for evaluation purposes - and are the six criteria I've used in my analysis of the VPN's listed here.
- Duration: How long are you going to be in China? How long will you need the VPN?
- Price: What’s your budget? How much are you willing to pay?
- Features and Services: Do you really need all the fancy bells and whistles some services offer? How concerned are you about the strength of your connection and the ability to choose ports, switch servers and such? Figure out which features you absolutely need - and which you can live without.
- Performance and Speed: How does using the VPN impact your speed and performance? Is it going to present problems you if you’re video conferencing, downloading files, or gaming frequently?
- Privacy and Security: How well does the service protect your anonymity? What kinds of data do they collect? Do they have measures in place to protect your identity if there's a security breach?
- Ease of Use: How easy is it to install, set-up, manage and maintain? Do they have good customer support?
Getting around China’s censorship policies doesn’t have to be a herculean task. All it takes is a good VPN. Each of these 7 VPNs has a variety of options and features, and is unique in its own way. Take some time to determine what’s most important to you, and then evaluate each to determine which one will best suit your needs.
ExpressVPN delivers a premium service packaged with both desktop and mobile clients, a variety of servers to choose from, and pretty outstanding customer support. Plus, they have stealth servers in 145 cities throughout 94 countries which have been configured to dodge Chinese censorship technology. There’s even a smart DNS option to geo-spoof your location.
ExpressVPN is a little more expensive than most other VPNs, with a one-month plan costing $12.95. If you choose a yearly plan, it’ll cost you $8.33 a month. A 15-month plan works out to about $6.33 a month. Unfortunately, there’s no free trial or free plans, and regardless of what plan you choose, you’ll be limited to three connections at a time.
This VPN delivers pretty good results in performance tests. UK and US servers have an average download speed of 20 to 25 Mbps, while even more remote servers like those based in Pakistan maintained a stable and acceptable connection speed of around 18 Mbps. There were a few slow connections here and there, but overall performance was great.
The company states that they will never "collect or log traffic data or browsing activity from individual users connected to our VPN." A few details are collected regarding connection dates, server choice and the total amount of data transferred, but they don’t log your connection times or your IP address.
With both desktop and mobile clients, fantastic user support, and a kill switch to stop apps from connecting to the Internet if your VPN ends up being disconnected, ExpressVPN is definitely worth your consideration.
- Great support for desktop and mobile clients
- Stealth servers are great for use in China
- Easy to use and install
- No free trial or free plan option
- Only supports 3 simultaneous connections
VyprVPN, which is run by Golden Frog, is based out of Switzerland. The company promises a user-friendly experience while ensuring anonymity and security. While they don’t collect DNS requests, they do log timestamps, bandwidth, and IP addresses. Due to favorable Swiss laws regarding data retention, however, this data won't be turned over to anyone else.
VyperVPN offers a free three-day trial, as well as basic and premier options. The basic option costs five dollars a month and is billed annually, or $9.95 a month billed monthly. The premier plan comes in at $6.67 billed annually or $12.95 billed monthly. The basic plan gives you three simultaneous connections, while the premier plan bumps you up to 5. Both plans offer unlimited data. Premier plans come with extra protection through OpenVPN and metadata scrambling tech. All plans come with a fairly sophisticated AES-256 cipher with RSA-2048 handshake encryption.
Connection tests come back with a ping of about 75 ms, which may make gaming rather difficult. Download speeds were also cut by about 65%. Upload speeds were less impacted, with only a 6% change. Despite the drop in download speeds, streaming shows through Netflix still works fine.
Overall, Vypr is easy and intuitive install, and the auto-select server option is great if you’re traveling to places like China. Plus, they offer unlimited data with all of their plans.
- Easy to install and use
- All plans have unlimited data
- Does not log DNS requests
- Good mobile support
- Bad ping and download speeds with some servers
- Bad for gaming
- Difficult to pay for anonymously since Bitcoin isn’t accepted
Headquartered in Italy, AirVPN bills itself as a VPN created specifically to defend net neutrality and the privacy of its customers. They offer an easy to use interface with transparent server statuses, and place a heavy emphasis on privacy and anonymity.
Performance-wise, AirVPN has a higher than normal ping, but there’s never much of a decline in overall speed. There’s no protection against adware or malware, however, and limited server locations could prove to be problematic. The service itself runs on an OpenVPN protocol, which adds another layer of security into the mix, and can bypass geographical restrictions by DNS routing (double-hopping). The firewall, which forces all traffic through the VPN tunnel, can be turned on and off with the click of a button.
AirVPN offers a free three-day trial, although many people have had problems actually taking advantage of the offer (myself included). Paid subscriptions are as short as three days, which costs $1.14, which will likely be an attractive option if you’re traveling abroad for only a week or so and don’t need a full month's worth of service. There’s a month-long subscription for $8 and annual subscriptions run $60. All plans have the same features, which is convenient since you don’t need to sign up for a year-long plan to access to all the features.
- 3-day free trial (allegedly)
- Easy installation and interface
- Transparent server statuses
- Emphasis on security and privacy
- Blocks IPv6
- No prevention against adware or malware
- Limited server locations
With 300+ servers in almost 50 countries, Astrill offers above-average performance for your typical VPN, along with a variety of customization options and P2P support on many servers. Because of the sheer amount of options offered, it’s unfortunately not the most user friendly VPN on the market.
The shortest subscription option is 3 months for $30. An annual subscription is $5.83 per month. Standard plans only allow for two simultaneous connections. The home plan gets you 5-device support for 5 dollars a month. There’s also a free 7-day trial.
Astrill has a mixed track record in terms of connection ease and speed. It can be extremely difficult to connect to certain servers, and almost impossible if the server supports P2P. Once a connection is established, however, it usually performs well.
To sign up, you must provide the company with your name, physical address, email address, and cell phone number. They then send a pin number to your phone to verify that the number you provided them with is legitimate. For anyone who is concerned with privacy and anonymity, this could be pretty troublesome. They claim there’s no logging, although the actual terms published on the website say little about data collection and logging.
- Extremely customizable to fit your specific needs
- Great performance when connected
- Difficult to connect to some servers
- Unintuitive and cluttered interface
- Only supports two simultaneous connections
- Requires a lot of personal details to create an account
- Poor refund policy, Astrill can only be refunded if it does not work due to a technical issue within seven days
Buffered VPN comes standard with a variety of security features, as well as excellent connection speeds, and with over 500 servers in 37 different countries (many of which offer P2P support), they have great coverage worldwide. Upload and download speeds are good, and performance tests were consistent on a number of different servers. The service overall is pretty basic, however, so if you’re looking for a lot of customization options, Buffered probably isn’t the best option.
Several different payment options are available, and all come with a refund for up to 10gb of storage. A month long subscription is $12.99, a six-month subscription is $59.94 and a year-long subscription costs $99. Unfortunately, they don’t accept payments in untraceable forms like Bitcoin, but all plans support simultaneous connection for up to 5 devices.
Terms of service make it very clear that the company does not regularly log information about individual users, and that no information will be disclosed unless Hungarian law requires it. The only user activity that is logged is the duration of your connection and how much data is used.
- Reliable and speedy performance
- Refunds for up to 10 GB of data
- Allows P2P
- Easy to install
- High price point
- No free version
- Lack of customizable features
PureVPN has over 500 servers located in 141 countries, and comes standard with a wide variety of features, including a split-tunneling option so you can decide which traffic goes through the VPN and which uses your regular ISP; a stealth VPN browser that claims to provide Internet users up to 20Mbps boost in speed, regardless of their existing Internet connection speed; and dedicated apps for Windows, Linux, and Android.
The user interface isn’t the greatest, but performance and speed is some of the best in the market. No free trials are available, and the shortest plan is 30 days for $9.99. A six-month subscription is $7.99 per month, and a 2-year plan is $59.99.
PureVPN records the time you are connected to a server, as well as the total bandwidth used, but they never log the sites you visit, nor the files you download. And since the company is headquartered in Hong Kong, which lacks mandatory data retention laws, this isn’t likely to change any time soon.
- Split-tunneling option
- Stealth VPN browser
- High-speed consistent performance
- Wide-variety of customization options
- Massive choice of servers
- No free plan or trial
- Plans are a long-term commitment
- Poor user interface
With more than 200 servers in over 50 different countries, Ivacy is a great VPN with a staggering amount of features like a non-stop server switching option, support for up to 5 connections simultaneously and no data caps. The service is compatible with almost every device and platform, although connection speeds are sometimes inconsistent and no free options are available.
Monthly plans come in at $6.75 a month, 6-month plans are $5.75 per month, and a 2-year subscription drops to $2.04 per month. All plans come with a seven-day money back guarantee, unless you you pay with Bitcoin or Paymentwall.
Ivacy does not track or store profile data, and thanks to a 256-bit encryption, the risk of data theft is extremely low. Their policy page says that they don’t log or even monitor your online activities, which is reassuring when it comes to preserving anonymity.
- Compatible with almost any device
- Simple installation and intuitive interface
- Supports 5 simultaneous connections
- 7-day money back guarantee
- No free plan
- Inconsistent connection speeds