China is a surprisingly popular destination for US expats. It’s actually affordable, its large cities have bustling nightlife and are very high-tech, the food is amazing, and there’s just so much culture to experience! Not to mention the amazing landscapes you see when you leave the big city.
But for all those good things, there is a big issue nobody can ignore – the Great Firewall of China. It’s a state-enforced firewall that all national ISPs are forced to implement. It blocks access to tons of popular sites, including YouTube, Google, Gmail, Dropbox, Slack, Amazon, The New York Times, BBC, and more.
While China has alternative online services that make up for the lack of those popular sites, they’re not anything special – especially if you’re not familiar with the Chinese language, content, and entertainment.
So what options do you have left? Do you need to just accept you can’t use your favorite sites anymore?
Not really – there is actually a very good way to bypass the Great Firewall of China, and we’ll tell you all about it in this guide.
How to Unblock Censored Sites in China
The best advice we can give is to use a VPN. Using a VPN will help you unblock censored websites in China (and any other country that censors the web).
If you never used a VPN before, all you need to know about it is that it’s an online service that encrypts your traffic and hides your IP address from websites and other Internet users.
The main thing to focus on is the “hides your IP address” part – that’s what helps you get around the Great Firewall of China.
Well, it’s not directly by hiding your IP – but by routing your traffic through a VPN server (which is the process that hides your IP address). Due to that, you will communicate with the Internet through the VPN server (so you’ll do it through its IP address).
Since the VPN’s IP doesn’t have a firewall restrictions assigned to it by the Great Firewall of China, you’ll be able to bypass the Chinese firewall and browse any sites you want.
Can’t China Block VPNs?
Yes, of course – and the government is actually really good at blocking VPNs. It mostly uses IP blocks – basically, it blacklists the VPN server’s IP address, so you can’t communicate with it anymore.
Besides that, the authorities also use DPI (Deep Packet Inspection) blocks to block OpenVPN (a VPN protocol) connections country-wide. The moment OpenVPN data is detected, the connection is dropped.
But many top VPNs are able to evade China’s blocking methods, and continue to work well in that country.
What Are Some Good VPNs for China?
Not all VPNs work in China – only a few of them reliably bypass the Great Firewall according to our tests. We asked our colleagues in China to try out over ten top VPNs, and they confirmed that these ones work the best:
These VPNs reliably bypass IP blocks by refreshing their IPs very often. They also offer obfuscation – a security feature that hide OpenVPN traffic, making it look like regular Internet traffic (so DPI can’t detect and drop OpenVPN connections).
What’s more, these three VPN providers also have mirrored links. Those are links that work in China and let you download the VPN apps (in case the official sites are blocked).
Do VPNs Have Servers in China?
Yes, but they’re not actually physical servers. VPN providers wouldn’t risk hosting physical servers in a country like China where the authorities could always seize their servers. It’s just too dangerous to route user data through that location.
Instead, most VPN have servers near China – Taiwan, Macau, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, and so on.
A few providers might have servers labeled as being in China, but they’re actually virtual locations not physical servers. That means the VPNs rent IPs from China, but they use physical servers in other countries (usually privacy-friendly countries).
Will a VPN Slow Down Your Speeds?
Yes, VPNs slow down your Internet speeds. It’s because they make your traffic heavier by encrypting it. Also, the further away the VPN server is from you, the longer it takes data to travel from it to your device.
But don’t worry – you can unblock censored sites and still maintain smooth speeds. Here are some speed optimization tips to help you out:
- Try connecting to servers near your current location – so other Asian countries close to China.
- Instead of OpenVPN, use WireGuard, IKEv2/IPSec, or L2TP/IPSec. They’re significantly faster than OpenVPN. But don’t use PPTP – it’s not safe to use this protocol because its encryption is very weak.
- Don’t use the VPN over WiFi. Use it over a wired connection instead. That way, the WiFi signal can’t cause slowdowns.
- If the VPN has split-tunneling, use it to only route the traffic you want to secure through the VPN. If there’s less data to encrypt and decrypt, your speeds will be faster.
- Some VPNs show the server load (how many users are connected to the server) and ping (how long it takes your device to communicate with the VPN server). Only connect to VPN servers with a low load and ping – your speeds will be faster that way.
- Turn off background apps that use the Internet which you don’t need. They’ll only be bandwidth hogs, slowing down your VPN connections.
The Bottom Line
While moving to China is a great experience, you’ll probably miss being able to use the sites you’ve been used to up until now – like YouTube and Google. Don’t worry – a VPN can help you bypass the government’s censorship and unblock any sites you want.
Ever used a VPN in China? Please tell us about your experience. Also, if you know other unblocking tools that work well in China, please tell us about them.