Traveling to Shanghai and want to protect your data online? Whether you’re simply looking for better online security or you want to access your favorite streaming services and social media sites from back home, a VPN can help. We reveal the best VPNs (or Virtual Private Networks) for Shanghai and explain how to use them.
Between widespread online surveillance in China and the government’s ever-expanding list of blocked sites, the digital landscape can be a minefield for international travelers. To make matters worse, journalists and activists are frequently charged with vaguely-defined crimes such as “inciting subversion” or “provoking trouble”.
Although the government has redoubled its efforts to stamp out VPN usage in recent years, there are still a few that can reliably bypass the Great Firewall. Naturally, providers are hesitant to explain how, but we can speculate that they reshape your web traffic to hide the markers that usually signify VPN activity. It’s worth mentioning that VPNs encrypt this data too, preventing it from being read by anyone who might be monitoring your network.
In a rush? We’ve created a brief overview of the best VPNs for Shanghai below. If you see one you like, keep reading; we’ll cover each in more detail a little later.
Best VPNs for Shanghai:
- NordVPN: Our first choice for travelers in Shanghai. Has a verified no-logs policy, an impressive array of security tools and anti-censorship servers, plus some of the fastest speeds available. All plans include a risk-free 30-day money-back guarantee.
- Surfshark: The best way to browse safely on a budget in Shanghai. Boasts a stealth mode, a strong focus on security, and top-tier speeds. Protect every device you own at the same time.
- ExpressVPN: With fast connections, a solid security and privacy toolkit, and no configuration needed, this versatile provider makes it easy to browse freely during your trip to Shanghai.
- VyprVPN: A veteran provider with a stellar reputation on security. Chameleon protocol and no-logs policy make it easy to browse safely in China. A solid choice for almost any task in Shanghai.
- Hotspot Shield: A fast, reliable, and user-friendly VPN with its own Catapult Hydra protocol that takes the stress out of bypassing censorship. Works with most streaming services too.
- PrivateVPN: A true no-logs provider that puts your privacy above all else. Offers impressive speeds, a stealth mode, and the ability to access just about every service we’ve tested abroad.
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Given that the Chinese government has invested huge amounts of time and money into blocking VPNs, it’s a good idea to research services before you sign up. Still, we’d rather you end up with a versatile VPN rather than one that only works for this specific task. That’s why we created a list of criteria that all of our recommendations had to meet:
- Can reliably beat China’s Great Firewall
- Provides high enough speeds for day-to-day tasks like watching TV
- Works with regionally-restricted services like HBO Max
- Doesn’t log any data that could be used to identify you
- Comes packed with security tools including uncrackable encryption and leak protection
- Supports all of the most popular devices
We explain our VPN testing methodology in more detail below.
Best VPN for Shanghai
Let’s take a closer look at the best VPNs for Shanghai, starting with our top pick, NordVPN:
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
NordVPN is our #1 choice for staying safe online in Shanghai. Using this provider’s obfuscated servers, you can quickly, easily, and reliably bypass Chinese internet restrictions. Further, while these only support OpenVPN connections, they should still be fast enough for video calling, streaming, and torrenting. If you run into any problems, you can get help, day or night, since NordVPN’s website has several alternate URLs that still work in China at the time of writing.
This service has one of the most expansive security toolkits on the market. Its features include 256-bit AES encryption, tracking and leak prevention, an app-specific kill switch, and automatic wifi protection. NordVPN is regularly audited to prove that it keeps no logs. For extra privacy, all of its servers now run on RAM instead of disks, meaning data simply cannot be stored long-term. Users can sign up anonymously by paying in Bitcoin, Ripple, or Ethereum.
NordVPN has its own Android, iOS, MacOS, Windows, and Linux apps. It can also be installed directly on supported routers, but you’ll have to follow manual setup instructions.
- Ranks highly in terms of speed
- Reliably beats the Great Firewall
- One of the best on security
- Verified no-logs policy
- Around-the-clock support
- Obfuscated servers only work on OpenVPN connections
BEST VPN FOR SHANGHAI:NordVPN is our #1 choice. It’s quick, capable of bypassing Chinese internet restrictions, and highly security-focused. Not only that, but it has twice shown that it keeps no logs. There’s even a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can try it risk-free.
Why not take a look at our complete NordVPN review?
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
Surfshark is our top low-cost VPN but it’s just as capable as some of the more expensive services on the market. Unlike NordVPN, every one of its 3,200 servers works in China—you just have to use the Shadowsocks protocol or enable the NoBorders mode in the settings. The Great Firewall is frequently updated, which can cause existing workarounds to stop working, so having two options for bypassing censorship is excellent. With high speeds and no connection limit, you shouldn’t have any issues staying safe during your visit.
This VPN comes packed with security tools including a kill switch, 256-bit encryption, automatic tracker-blocking, and leak protection. Additionally, Surfshark follows a true no-logs policy and recently reworded this to make it more easily-understandable. Users can pay in three different cryptocurrencies for another layer of privacy. There’s a 24/7 live chat service in case of any issues, though you will have to ask for the mirror URLs before your visit to use this.
Surfshark apps are available for MacOS, Linux, Windows, iOS, and Android. What’s more, you can manually configure this VPN to work with select routers.
- One of the fastest VPNs on the market
- Can beat almost any online blocking
- Impressive security toolkit
- Doesn’t keep any logs at all
- No connection limit
- Settings menu feels a little disorganized
BEST BUDGET VPN:Surfshark is our top budget service. It offers exceptionally high speeds, a vast array of security tools, and unlimited connections at a very affordable price. Best of all, it works well in China and even offers a 30-day money-back guarantee.
To find out more, read our full Surfshark review.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
ExpressVPN doesn’t have to be specially configured to get around the Great Firewall. Further, it has several mirror sites (and a .onion site), which means you’ll always have access to live chat and support articles, wherever you are in the world. This VPN’s Lightway protocol offers exceptionally high speeds, making it perfect for lag-free video calls, streaming, and browsing. Further, with over 3,000 servers to choose from in 94 countries, you should be able to access just about any service you’d use back home.
This service keeps you safe using 256-bit encryption, a kill switch, and protection against IPv6 and DNS leaks. It can also restrict access to local devices on the network and allow specific apps to pass through the VPN (which could, for instance, help you use China-only services while connected to a server elsewhere). ExpressVPN doesn’t log any personally identifiable data and accepts Bitcoin, plus a wide array of prepaid cards.
ExpressVPN has apps for Android, Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Linux. It also offers custom router firmware with an interactive setup guide. This was recently overhauled and now boasts higher speeds and more stable performance.
- A very fast VPN that “just works”
- Easy to get help while in China
- Strong on security and privacy
- Pay anonymously with Bitcoin
- Only allows five simultaneous connections
NO SETUP NEEDED:ExpressVPN is a security-conscious provider that has no issues beating China’s Great Firewall. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be configured to do so! Also boasts servers in 94 countries, consistently impressive speeds, and a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Check out our complete ExpressVPN review.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
VyprVPN provides access to roughly 700 servers in 60-plus countries. All of these are capable of bypassing the Great Firewall, as long as you’re using the service’s proprietary Chameleon protocol. If you’re having problems, you can quickly tell if the problem is on your end or not since the website has a status page that discusses current outages and provides temporary workarounds. Crucially, VyprVPN has several mirror sites so this page is available everywhere.
As well as following a zero-logs policy, this provider offers 256-bit encryption, a kill switch, and protection against DNS and IPv6 leaks. The apps also include automatic wi-fi protection, the option to use VyprVPN’s own DNS servers, and a feature that can reconnect you any time your connection to the VPN drops. To make things as easy as possible for users, VyprVPN offers 24/7 support over live chat and allows a staggering 30 simultaneous connections.
VyprVPN provides apps for iOS, MacOS, Android, Windows, and Linux. Various internet routers are supported too, but you’ll have to follow manual setup instructions for these.
- Ideal for accessing your usual services while in China
- Excellent security and privacy features
- Dedicated status updates page
- Very high connection limit
- Could be faster
GREAT REPUTATION:VyprVPN is known for its impressive array of security tools and strong privacy focus. This makes it a natural choice for browsing privately in Shanghai, although it’s equally comfortable streaming and torrenting. A 30-day money-back guarantee is included.
Read the full VyprVPN review.
Money-back guarantee: 45 DAYS
Editor’s Note: Hotspot Shield is owned by Pango, Comparitech’s parent company.
Hotspot Shield is a quick and effective way to beat Chinese internet blocking, with uncluttered apps and just enough settings to avoid overwhelming new users. There are roughly 1,800 servers to choose from, including some specially optimized for accessing US streaming sites. All of these work in China, but you will have to use the service’s own Catapult Hydra protocol. Speeds are fast enough for everyday tasks and up to five devices can be connected at once.
There are all kinds of security features built-in, such as automatic wi-fi protection, a kill switch, 256-bit encryption, and protection against DNS and IPv6 leaks. This provider recently added split tunneling functionality too, which you can use to continue accessing China-only platforms while connected to a server in a different country. Hotspot Shield doesn’t keep any logs longer than the duration of your session. Customer support is on-hand 24/7 via email and live chat.
Hotspot Shield apps are available for Linux, MacOS, Windows, Android, and iOS. Alternatively, it’s possible to manually install this service directly on a supported router.
- User-friendly VPN with decent speeds
- Great for beating regional blocking
- Fast and responsive support
- No anonymous payment options
- Not as customizable as others in this list
FAST AND VERSATILE:Hotspot Shield allows you to simply change protocol and unblock all of your favorite sites in China. What’s more, it’s fast enough for almost any task and offers a great selection of security and privacy features. This VPN even has a 45-day money-back guarantee.
Interested? Take a look at our in-depth Hotspot Shield review.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
PrivateVPN has roughly 200 servers in 60+ countries. While this may not be as many as some of its rivals offer, this provider makes up for it with above-average speed and unblocking ability. In fact, with the stealth mode active, you’ll be able to use platforms like WhatsApp, Skype, and Facebook in China. Six devices can be connected simultaneously and there are no bandwidth limits whatsoever.
This service recently became its own ISP in addition to its own server host. This means that it retains full control over your data at all times for greatly-enhanced privacy. It also refuses to keep any logs and provides 256-bit encryption, a customizable kill switch, and leak protection in its apps. Live chat and email support are available most hours of the day just in case you have any problems.
PrivateVPN has its own MacOS, Windows, iOS, and Windows apps. It works with Linux systems and supported routers too, although these devices require manual configuration.
- High speeds, unlimited bandwidth
- Boasts a stealth mode and various other security features
- No-logs VPN that accepts Bitcoin
- Fairly small network
- Doesn’t quite offer 24/7 support
GREAT FOR PRIVACY:PrivateVPN has complemented its impressive security offering by making huge strides on privacy lately. With exceptional speed and unblocking ability, it’s a solid choice, both in China and the rest of the world. All plans include a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Read our comprehensive PrivateVPN review.
How to access the wider internet in Shanghai with a VPN
Despite the government’s best efforts, it’s relatively easy to get around Chinese internet restrictions, provided you have the right VPN. That said, because most VPN websites are inaccessible, you will have to prepare by downloading the VPN before you arrive in the country.
Here’s how to use a VPN in Shanghai:
- First, sign up for one of the VPNs above. They’re all great choices but we particularly recommend NordVPN.
- Install the VPN onto any device you plan on using in China. While you’re here, we’d recommend checking out the stealth mode and obfuscation tools too, so that you can see if any functionality is only present in certain versions of the app.
- Visit your VPN provider’s support center and find manual setup instructions just in case the apps don’t work as expected when you arrive. We’d also recommend asking support staff whether there are any mirror URLs you can use to get in touch while in China.
- You’re now properly prepared for your trip. On arrival, enable your VPN’s cloaking feature (whether it’s a special protocol, stealth mode, or obfuscated server), and you should be able to browse the web as normal.
China’s list of banned websites is constantly growing. Rather than have you arrive in the country only to realize that a service you rely on is unavailable, we’ve created a tool that lets you check if a specific website is accessible in China before you visit.
Because the Chinese government has invested so much time and effort into blocking foreign VPNs outright, it’s difficult to find one that still works. However, it’s not enough to simply beat the Great Firewall; you have to be able to browse safely and reliably. Below, you’ll find a few key areas we considered when choosing the best VPNs for Shanghai, and what we looked out for:
- Unblocking capabilities: The obvious question is whether a service can beat China’s web-blocking or not. We also consider things like how frequently a service is reported as blocked and how long it usually takes to get back online after Great Firewall updates
- Security tools: Your VPN will need some form of traffic obfuscation to evade China’s VPN-detection tools. Additionally, to meet our standards, it must offer 256-bit encryption, a kill switch, and protection against DNS and IPv6 leaks. Naturally, we prefer services that offer an even wider range of security features
- Privacy: To ensure you’re never identifiable, the VPNs above all have a no-logs policy. Many accept anonymous payment methods like Bitcoin, and several run on RAM servers that automatically wipe all saved data on reboot
- Performance: Every VPN reduces your speeds somewhat, and you can expect a slightly steeper drop in China due to the effort of obfuscating your traffic. Still, we regularly speed test major providers and only recommend those that perform well
- Ease of use: These services should be simple and straightforward to use, even in China. We look for VPNs with a toggleable stealth mode or something similar, while manual configuration shouldn’t be required except for in extreme circumstances
- Other relevant features: We strongly prefer providers that offer mirror sites that can be accessed in China, since this allows you to get help in the event of any problems. Following on from this, 24/7 live chat is a huge bonus, as is the ability to get a Chinese IP address
This is actually only a small fraction of our larger testing process. To remain as transparent as possible, we’ve created a whole post outlining how we test VPNs.
VPNs in China: Frequently Asked Questions
Are VPNs legal in China?
Currently, there are no rules against using government-approved VPNs in China. However, there’s no guarantee that these providers will stand up for your privacy in the face of governmental pressure.
While foreign VPNs aren’t available on the country’s app stores, travelers from other countries usually don’t face any legal repercussions for using them. There are exceptions to this, though; China has previously detained people for nothing more than using VPNs to access foreign websites.
It is important to remember that using a VPN may be legal but conducting illegal activities using a VPN is still illegal.
Due to the substantial risks involved, we encourage readers to research relevant Chinese legislation or consider consulting a legal professional before using a VPN during your visit. As although we make every effort to thoroughly research this topic nothing in our article should be considered legal advice.
Why might I need to use a VPN in Shanghai?
Simply put, China’s internet censorship is among the strictest in the world, and it appears to be getting worse. The country has a well-documented history of human rights abuses and has recently taken to interning people in reeducation camps based on nothing more than their religious beliefs.Needless to say, not having access to your usual messaging services is a huge problem for anyone hoping to remain in contact with those back home.
Freedom Houses’ 2021 Freedom on the Net report illustrates that something as simple as accidentally visiting a foreign website could see you jailed. VPNs can help with this as they encrypt your data, which prevents the government from seeing what you do online.
What kind of websites are blocked in China?
The list of content that’s blocked in China is expansive and ever-growing. Additionally, there’s no comprehensive, publicly-available list of banned sites, so keeping track of updates to the Great Firewall is extremely difficult. Still, there are categories of content that are almost certain to be blocked, and we’ll list a few of these below:
- Foreign news sites (BBC, New York Times, Reuters)
- Social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram)
- Messaging apps (WhatsApp, Snapchat, Slack)
- Google services (Gmail, Google Search, Google Maps)
- Privacy-related websites (Comparitech, NordVPN, OpenVPN)
- Adult websites (Pornhub, xHamster, ePorner)
- Cloud storage services (Dropbox, OneDrive, Mega)
- User-created content (YouTube, Wattpad, TikTok)