Most countries employ some form of blocking to restrict access to sites hosting illegal material. The problem is that China has far more stringent restrictions than most places. It blocks highly popular, legal sites like Facebook, Wikipedia, Twitter, Google (including Google Docs and Drive), and YouTube. This makes it difficult for travelers to stay in touch with their friends back home or work remotely or as part of an international team. Plus, it also cuts off the supply of neutral information about the country. Luckily you can bypass these restrictions by connecting to a VPN.
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) encrypt your internet traffic and route it through server locations elsewhere in the world. This not only allows you to bypass Chinese internet censorship entirely, but it also prevents your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and the government from monitoring your online activities.
Most VPN providers aren’t capable of bypassing China’s Firewall, however, NordVPN is one of the few that is. So in this article, we’ll take a closer look at NordVPN, its features and how to use it, and an important tip for iPhone users.
How does NordVPN bypass China’s Great Firewall?
NordVPN is one of the few VPN services that works reliably in China. There are a couple of tricks it uses to evade detection: first, it doesn’t offer any servers in China itself. This means that NordVPN doesn’t have to comply with China’s complex data retention legislation and removes the risk of government interference with the service’s hardware.
Second, NordVPN offers obfuscated servers. These are specially designed for use in countries with heavily-restricted internet access. NordVPN is understandably hesitant to explain how these servers bypass state-imposed restrictions. However, it likely involves disguising a user’s internet traffic to more closely resemble regular HTTPS activity. Just changing your IP address is not enough in China.
Read our full NordVPN review.
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How to access blocked websites in China using NordVPN
We go into more detail on how to use NordVPN in China below, but if you’re already familiar with VPNs, here is a quick summary of how to unblock your favorite sites.
Here’s how to unblock websites in China with NordVPN:
- Click the gear icon at the top of NordVPN’s main page
- Select Advanced from the list on the left
- Make sure that the Obfuscated servers (OpenVPN) option is turned on. If it’s greyed out, visit the Auto-connect tab and make sure you’re using the OpenVPN protocol.
- Return to the home screen.
- Now, scroll down the server list until you see Specialty servers. Below it, you should see the Obfuscated servers option. Click this to automatically connect to a suitable server. That’s it — you’re now free to access whatever you like in China.
How to use NordVPN in China
The main NordVPN website is currently unavailable in China. Customer support can direct you to a working mirror site (which is just a copy of the main website, accessible from a different URL). It’s worth noting, however, that these can be taken offline at a moment’s notice, so the best course of action is to register and install NordVPN before you arrive in China.
iOS users can still use the service in China by manually setting up an IKEv2 connection but the easiest way to get connected on Windows, Linux, MacOS, and Android is to use an obfuscated server. To enable these, open your NordVPN app and click the Settings option in the top-left.
Next, scroll to the bottom of the list and click Show advanced settings. You’ll see a warning, but just click on the I know what I am doing button. Now, find Obfuscated Servers in the list and click the toggle button to enable them.
If you return to the app’s home screen, you should see an Obfuscated Servers option at the top of the list on the left-hand side. Clicking it will automatically connect you to the best server location, but you can also choose one from a specific country by clicking on the three-dot icon to the right.
Once connected, you’re free to browse the internet as you normally would. If your chosen server doesn’t work, we’d recommend trying one in a different location. If you’re still having trouble, customer support should be able to help, either by specifying a server that still works or by providing instructions for configuring your device for using obfuscated servers.
Support is available 24/7 over live chat, and if they can’t solve your problem, you can take advantage of NordVPN’s 30-day money-back guarantee to claim a full refund.
Why does China block certain websites?
Ostensibly, China’s internet restrictions are in place to protect its citizens from harmful materials or ideologies. However, these restrictions have frequently grown in scope, with a particular emphasis on censoring news or opinions that cast the Communist Party of China in an unfavorable light.
Specifically, section five of the Computer Information Network and Internet Security, Protection, and Management Regulations ordinance (1997) makes it a crime to use the internet to tell lies, distort the truth, spread rumors, or “injure the reputation of state organs.” The problem here is that this wording appears to be intentionally vague: it does not specify that any type of rumor is exempt, for instance, meaning that everyone, from journalists to celebrity gossip publishers, runs the risk of prosecution.
Which sites and online services are blocked?
While it’s impossible to know exactly how many pages are censored in China, recent estimates put the number of blocked domains at around 10,000. Below, we’ve listed some of the types of online content that cannot be accessed from mainland China:
- Social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram)
- Messaging sites (WhatsApp, Snapchat, Gmail, Slack, Telegram)
- Streaming sites (Netflix, YouTube, Twitch, Spotify)
- News sites (BBC, NYTimes, The Guardian, Reuters)
- Neutral sources of information (Wikipedia, Quora, Scribd)
- Cloud storage platforms (Google Drive, Google Docs, Dropbox, Mega)
- Search engines (Google, DuckDuckGo, Yahoo)
- VPN-related material (VPN websites, general information, and installation tutorials)
See Also: Check if a site is blocked in China.
Do any other VPNs work in China?
As some VPNs allow you to bypass China’s Great Firewall, the Chinese government has put a major emphasis on restricting access. Further, they even block basic information about how a VPN works. Many VPN providers lack the time and resources required to find a workaround. This means that the list of VPNs that work in China grows shorter all the time.
Currently, there are only a handful of services (other than NordVPN) that can reliably connect: Surfshark, ExpressVPN, and VyprVPN, are some examples but for the full list, check out our dedicated article on the best VPNs for China.
It’s important to note that all of these services’ websites are blocked in China. Some services have official mirror sites set up to allow you access when in China, but these aren’t guaranteed to work. As such, we strongly recommend registering with a VPN provider and installing the software before visiting the country.
See also: Does ExpressVPN work in China?
China VPN FAQs
What is the download speed like in China with VPN?
VPNs will always reduce your speeds to some degree (generally by about 30%). That said, you can expect slower-than-normal speeds in China. This is because in order to avoid China’s Great Firewall, your traffic has to be secured exceptionally well, which takes its toll on your connection speed. NordVPN has obfuscated servers capable of bypassing the Great Firewall in numerous countries, so latency shouldn’t be an issue, at least.
Does NordVPN have an automatic kill switch?
NordVPN does have an automatic kill switch. Better still, it can be customized so that when your connection drops, it only stops sending data to specific apps. This is useful, for instance, if you want to make sure a download isn’t interrupted and you’re not bothered about privacy.
NordVPN is a zero-logs provider. In other words, it doesn’t store any connection logs, activity logs, IP addresses, login timestamps, or bandwidth data. This means that NordVPN can’t reveal details of your activities, even if asked to by the government.
Will NordVPN work in China on an iPhone?
iPhone users can still connect to NordVPN in China, but as obfuscated servers aren’t yet available in this version of the app, they’ll have to configure an IKEv2 connection manually. Relax: this is actually much easier than it sounds; NordVPN has step-by-step instructions on its website.
Are VPNs safe to use in China?
Although VPN usage is heavily restricted in China, it hasn’t been banned outright. After all, businesses use VPNs all the time so international employees can securely access a shared intranet. However, China only allows businesses to use approved VPNs. As a result, VPN apps can’t just be downloaded from stores like elsewhere in the world.
China’s VPN laws are extremely complex and user experiences vary from one person to another. Nothing we’ve said should be considered legal advice. We strongly advise familiarizing yourself with the pertinent legislation before attempting to use a VPN when in China.
My VPN’s website is inaccessible — what should I do?
If you’re in China already, there isn’t much you can do if your VPN’s site is suddenly blocked. As such, it’s better to be proactive: before you arrive in China, we recommend making a note of alternative URLs, support email addresses, and manual connection processes for your device.
Think about how you’ll store this information. If your VPN goes down unexpectedly, you won’t be able to access cloud storage services or messaging sites. Ideally, relevant information would be kept in a locally-stored, encrypted file on a password-protected device.
How do I check if a site is blocked or not?
If you’re heading to China soon and are unsure if a particular website will be accessible, you can use our Great Firewall tool to check in advance. However, the list of blocked websites updates frequently. As such, there’s no guarantee a given site will still be available when you arrive.
Will NordVPN allow me to access Netflix USA from China?
NordVPN is one of a small number of VPNs that works in China. Better still, it also works with many different Netflix libraries, Netflix USA included. As long as you connect to a NordVPN server in the US and get a US IP address, you’ll be able to watch Netflix in China as normal. Note that you may need to try more than one server to find one that works, however.
NordVPN still not working in China?
At the moment, NordVPN works in China. That said, as the government frequently updates and upgrades its VPN-detection tools, there may be times when the service is unavailable for a while. As one of the largest providers, though, NordVPN has the resources and motivation required to find a workaround. In fact, it’s usually back online in a matter of hours.