The Chinese government imposes heavy censorship on internet use within the country. These restrictions are known collectively as China’s Great Firewall, and they present a real problem to travelers and expats staying or living in China. However, you can bypass the Great Firewall with a Virtual Private Network (VPN) like ExpressVPN. Today, we’ll explain Chinese internet blocking in more detail, and show how to use ExpressVPN safely in China.
The internet censorship policy is nothing new; most countries block access to websites that host illegal material, for instance. That said, China’s restrictions are numerous and far-reaching. Social media sites and messaging apps like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and WhatsApp are blocked, so it’s hard to stay in touch with friends and family in other countries. Further, with dissenting opinions readily quashed online and major western news sites inaccessible, it’s challenging to find unbiased information about the wider world.
There is a workaround though: by signing up to a working VPN service before you travel, you can beat China’s Great Firewall and access blocked sites. These services work by encrypting your traffic and routing it through international server networks. The benefits are twofold: you gain access to sites that are usually blocked in China and your activities become almost impossible for your Internet Service Provider (ISP) or the government to monitor.
How can ExpressVPN beat Chinese internet restrictions?
Although most VPNs no longer work in China, ExpressVPN still does. This provider doesn’t have any server locations in China, so it doesn’t have to monitor its users’ online activities or comply with other aspects of Chinese data-retention legislation. Additionally, this makes it far less likely that the service’s hardware will be bugged by government operatives. Sadly, this isn’t a fringe conspiracy theory and it happened recently to Apple and Amazon servers.
Why use ExpressVPN in China?
ExpressVPN is a strong choice for internet users in China for numerous reasons. Firstly, it’s very fast and offers access to more than 3,000 VPN servers across 94 different countries. Second, it has excellent multi-platform support, and even includes custom firmware to make installing it on network routers as simple as possible.
This service takes information security seriously. It uses 256-bit AES encryption, perfect forward secrecy, and protection against DNS, IPv6, and WebRTC leaks to keep your online activities private at all times. There’s also an internet kill switch protection feature (desktop only) that immediately stops all traffic if your VPN connection drops suddenly. Best of all, ExpressVPN doesn’t log any personally identifiable information. It even allows you to pay in Bitcoin for increased anonymity. Standard payment methods are available also.
GET EXPRESSVPN FREE: Usually, VPNs save their lowest prices for users willing to commit to a year or more upfront. However, if you only need short-term coverage, you can use ExpressVPN’s 30-day money-back guarantee instead. This does require an immediate payment, but you can cancel at any point to get a full refund, effectively allowing you to try it for free.
How to use ExpressVPN in China
One of the best things about ExpressVPN is that there are no special steps required to connect in China. Just choose your preferred VPN server connection as normal and you should be able to browse the web freely. However, the ExpressVPN website is currently blocked in China. As a result, we strongly recommend registering and installing the service before you travel to the country.
Because China monitors its citizens’ internet connections so closely, there are a couple of steps we recommend taking before you connect for the first time. To begin with, we’re going to make sure ExpressVPN automatically connects your device to the VPN whenever it’s turned on. From the main page, click the menu icon (three lines) in the top-left, then choose Options.
Under the General tab, enable the first two options. This will ensure you never accidentally browse without protection. If you’re using a desktop version of the app, we also recommend enabling Stop all internet traffic if the VPN disconnects unexpectedly.
Next, move across to the Advanced tab and make sure the IPv6 leak protection and DNS options are checked. When you’re done, click OK.
Now you’re free to connect as you normally would. To do this, return to the home screen and click the large button in the middle. This will automatically connect you to the best server for your current location. You can also choose a specific country to connect to by clicking the Choose Location button, and picking one from the list on the right. As you can see ExpressVPN takes your online security seriously, perhaps one of the reasons it still works in China and is reliable.
Why does China restrict the internet so heavily?
In theory, China’s internet restrictions are supposed to protect citizens from material that could corrupt, divide, mislead, or incite hatred. The problem is that ideas are open to interpretation but only the Chinese government decides which content falls under what category. As such, the Great Firewall is regularly used as a tool to silence political opponents and those with dissenting opinions.
It doesn’t help that the relevant legislation (Computer Information Network and Internet Security, Protection, and Management Regulations, 1997) is ambiguously worded and seems designed to give the government as many ways as possible to censor content. For example, anyone who posts content critical of the government (even if it’s a balanced news article) could be guilty of “inciting division,” “openly insulting other people,” “injuring the reputation of state organs,” or “activities against the constitution.” Further, with rumors forbidden entirely, even lower-stakes activities like discussing celebrity news online could be considered a crime.
What kind of services are blocked in China?
It’s not only political content that China forbids access to. Although there’s no comprehensive list of every blocked website, recent estimates suggest around 10,000 domains are currently inaccessible from the mainland. Take a look below for a list of some of the content China blocks:
- Messaging services (WhatsApp, Gmail, Slack, Telegram)
- Social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter)
- Streaming platforms (YouTube, Twitch, Netflix, Spotify)
- News sites (The Guardian, BBC, NYTimes)
- Search engines (Google, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo)
- VPN and proxy-related sites (tutorials, configuration guides)
- Cloud-storage (Google Drive, Google Docs, Mega, Dropbox)
- Information repositories (Wikipedia, Quora, Archive)
How good is ExpressVPN’s connection speed?
When it comes to internet speed, ExpressVPN is actually one of the best around. It averaged 135 Mbps in our most recent tests, which is more than fast enough for uninterrupted browsing, streaming, or torrenting. For context, Netflix recommends download speeds of 25 Mbps for watching 4K content. In short, even if multiple people are using your network at the same time, you shouldn’t run into any issues.
Does ExpressVPN offer unlimited bandwidth?
ExpressVPN provides completely unlimited bandwidth and doesn’t throttle your speeds at all. As such, it’s an excellent choice for anyone who regularly does data-intensive activities like torrenting or watching Ultra-HD video.
Which operating systems does ExpressVPN support?
ExpressVPN offers a user-friendly Windows app, but that’s far from the only platform it supports. There are also apps for MacOS, Linux, iOS devices, and Android. Here’s the best part: the mobile apps preserve most of the functionality of the desktop versions. This means that if you connect using the Android app, you’ll be just as secure as if you were on your main PC.
It’s also possible to manually install this service on your home router thanks to ExpressVPN’s custom firmware. This just received a huge update that increased its speeds and stability. If you haven’t already tried it out, now’s the time!
Do any other VPNs work in China?
The Chinese government has put a lot of effort into stopping VPNs from providing a way around their internet restrictions. Further, we’ve heard from some services that local ISPs are blocking them of their own accord. As such, there aren’t many VPN services that still work in China, and even fewer that are reliable.
Currently, the only services that we know work reliably in China are ExpressVPN, NordVPN, Surfshark, VyprVPN, Hotspot Shield, PrivateVPN, and Astrill. However, as the main website for each of these services is currently blocked, you’ll have to find a working mirror site in order to sign up when in China. As these mirrors can also become inaccessible, we strongly advise you to register before visiting the country.
Express VPN in China: FAQs
Can I check whether a specific site is blocked?
Comparitech actually has a Great Firewall tool that enables you to check whether a given site is currently blocked in China or not. It’s worth noting that China’s restrictions are frequently updated, though. This means that even if a website is currently available, it may not be by the time you arrive.
What should I do if my VPN’s site is unexpectedly blocked?
If you’re in China and suddenly find yourself unable to connect to your VPN or access your provider’s website, the only real course of action is to wait and see if the service comes back online. That said, there are a few steps you can take in advance of your trip to reduce the chance of being left stranded.
Although ExpressVPN and the other services listed above work reliably in China, we recommend keeping a note of your VPN’s mirror sites, support email addresses, and manual configuration instructions for your device, just in case. You’ll be unable to access anything stored in the cloud, so it’s best to keep a copy of this information on a password-protected device.
Is it safe to use a VPN in China?
Access to VPNs is heavily restricted in China, but the technology itself isn’t illegal. For instance, the country allows businesses to choose from a list of pre-approved local VPN providers so they can work with international employees.
Is Google Maps Banned in China?
Unfortunately, China’s government has blocked all kinds of everyday services including Facebook, WhatsApp, and yes, Google Maps. That said, there are plenty of alternatives that still work including Apple Maps, Baidu Maps, and WeChat.
Can foreigners live stream in China?
As of 2017, foreigners in China were allowed to live stream, provided they had applied for (and been granted) a permit from the government. This did not appear to be rigidly enforced until recently, though, when streamers started receiving bans for offenses as minor as having foreign people on their streams.
Can tourists use the Internet in China?
You won’t have any problems finding publicly available wifi networks in China -- free internet is available from hotels, coffee shops, and tourist hotspots, just like anywhere else in the world. The problem is that you won’t be able to access any sites caught up in the Great Firewall; unfortunately, you don’t get a pass just because you’re a tourist. The only way to access your usual services is to use one of the few VPNs that can still bypass China’s online restrictions.
Does ExpressVPN have servers in Hong Kong?
ExpressVPN has three sets of servers spread across Hong Kong. While the country has recently been forced into recognizing China’s national security law, ExpressVPN users can still browse without worrying about who might be watching. This is because the service refuses to log any data that could identify you.
Can I use a VPN with a smartphone in China?
Most of the VPNs that still work in China do so regardless of the platform. There are some exceptions, but often, there’ll be a workaround in place. For instance, iOS users can’t access NordVPN’s obfuscated servers but can manually configure the service to use them instead.
If there’s any doubt, the best thing to do is ask your VPN provider for advice ahead of your visit to China. It’d be a smart idea to store a copy of the manual setup instructions somewhere safe too, just in case you can’t use the mobile apps once you arrive.
Is ExpressVPN a Chinese company?
Since the news broke that Chinese firms secretly operated 29 separate VPN companies, consumers have understandably been more concerned about whether their activities are really secure when they connect.
There’s no need to worry, though: ExpressVPN is based in the British Virgin Islands, and its own website states that “ExpressVPN's leadership team and owners are not involved in any other VPN company/brand or any business other than ExpressVPN.” Those owners are also identifiable with a quick Google search: Peter Burchhardt and Dan Pomerantz, two Wharton graduates who founded ExpressVPN in 2009. In other words, no, ExpressVPN is not a Chinese company.
How do I login to ExpressVPN from China?
Users should be able to login and use the ExpressVPN apps as normal while in China. However, problems do pop up periodically as China upgrades its web-blocking capabilities. ExpressVPN actually has a page dedicated to solving this exact issue, but as the service’s website is blocked by the Great Firewall, you’ll have to save a copy of the instructions offline so that you’re able to access them after you arrive. For this reason, it’s also important that you install the latest version of the ExpressVPN app before you leave for China.
Is ExpressVPN secure in China?
Wondering if you can trust ExpressVPN while in China? The good news is that this service is safe to use, wherever you are in the world. That's because it doesn't keep any logs that could be traced back to you -- a fact that has been verified by independent auditors.
Further, it's possible to pay in Bitcoin, or register with a disposable email address, in case you'd like to increase your anonymity even further.
Last but not least, ExpressVPN uses RAM-only servers, so all data is wiped every time they reboot. In short, even if the Chinese government were to seize ExpressVPN's Hong Kong-based servers, it'd be unable to find any useful information on the service's users.
Is ExpressVPN even legal in China?
Using VPNs became highly regulated in China in 2017 when the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology began blocking access to any proxy services that give consumers the ability to bypass government blocks to services like Facebook and Google.
Since that time, the government has blocked access to any VPNs that have not registered with the government to get an official license. As a result, it can be very hard to connect to VPN websites in order to take out a subscription. This includes accessing ExpressVPN’s website from China.
Despite this crackdown on technologies that allow people to bypass the great firewall of China, very few individuals have been singled out for using VPNs. Instead, the government focuses on targeting companies that provide those services, with a view to fining them for allowing individuals to bypass the government-imposed censorship.
Due to the fact that ExpressVPN can be used to bypass China’s strict website blocks, it almost certainly falls into the government’s restricted list. And, while the government has not targeted individuals en masse for bypassing its blocks, it is possible that they could do so in the future.
In January of 2021, for example, the Shanghai firm Wintao Law published an article that warned that “individual VPN users should be cautious, as there are legal risks to bypassing the wall for whatever reason.”
Ultimately, whether you might get in trouble with the law depends on what you decide to use a VPN for. Bypassing China’s firewall to access restricted news and services, or to engage in crimes that harm national security could be considered illegal, and in 2019 a precedent was set in which an individual from Shaoguan, Guangdong province was fined 1,000 yuan ($146) for using a VPN app to access foreign services.
As ExpressVPN is known to be able to successfully bypass government blocks imposed by the great firewall, it seems fair to note that it is one of the more restricted VPN services that users can get their hands on. For more information on the legal situation, check our guide.
Note: Comparitech does not provide legal advice. Nothing in this article constitutes legal advice and you should always do your own research before using a VPN.