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The Best VPN for China: Real Test Results (2019)

Rob Mardisalu

Rob Mardisalu

Editor of TheBestVPN.com
Best vpn in china
We flew to China to test different VPNs

Looking for a VPN in China that actually works?

To help you choose the right one, we flew out to Beijing and tested 28 paid VPNs against two of their ISP networks.

The reason we did this is because China is the most censored country in the world, so you can forget about accessing sites like Google, Facebook, or Twitter using their standard internet connections.

Even premium VPNs rarely work.

And that’s not ideal, especially for expats and residents looking to access what the rest of the world can access without a problem.

So what’s the solution?

Identifying which VPNs actually work in China.

A Few Things Before We Dive In

Disclaimer: Our testing period was three days in Beijing. Using a VPN in China can be very tricky, since networks always try to block VPNs. So what worked for us may not work for you and vice versa. Furthermore, what may work in Beijing may not work in other parts of China.

We recently took a trip to China to continue our mission of letting you know the best VPN services based on hands-on experience and thorough testing. We reviewed a host of VPN services while there to figure out which is the best VPN for China.

Before we start, some facts:

  • We tested 28 VPN services on two Chinese ISPs:
  • Of the 28 VPNs we tested, only 19 worked on Ultra Kings Limited, and only 13 worked on China Unicom.
  • Both ISPs blocked the homepage of 26 of the 28 VPNs we tested. Nine of the 28 VPNs can be downloaded in the Chinese app store through Ultra Kings Limited, while 10 of the 28 VPNs can be downloaded in the Chinese app store through China Unicom.
  • For VPNs that connected successfully, we tested them on 19 different sites. Those sites are:
sites tested in china for best vpn
  • We also tested the VPNs that connected to see whether we could use Whatsapp, Telegram, Viber, and Skype.
  • Only 11 of the 28 VPNs we tested worked on both ISPs.
  • Of the 11 that worked, the best 7 are featured below.

On the first ISP we tested, Ultra Kings Limited, we got a benchmark download speed of 3.9Mbps and an upload speed of 3.3Mbps.

benchmark speed test in china ultra kings limited

On the second ISP we tested, China Unicom, we got a benchmark download speed of 5.14Mbps and an upload speed of 0.52Mbps.

benchmark speed test in china for unicom

It’s also worth mentioning that Ultra Kings Limited looks to be the better ISP for VPNs, as China Unicom seems to ban more VPN IPs.

18 out of 28 worked with Ultra Kings Limited, but only 11 worked with China Unicom. China Unicom was a little bit faster though.

Top 7 Best VPN for China

Below are the best seven VPNs for China based on our hands-on tests. The full link to our testing spreadsheet can be found here.

1. ExpressVPN

Finding a VPN that packs both privacy and performance can be hard. Especially one that actually works from inside China.

What Our Tests in China Revealed

  • Our first-hand experience shows ExpressVPN to be the best VPN for China.
  • It’s one of the few VPNs we tested in China that worked on both ISPs: Ultra Kings Limited and China Unicom.
  • ExpressVPN also successfully accessed all 19 sites we tested. Not only that, but Whatsapp, Telegram, Viber, and Skype worked on both ISPs.

ExpressVPN had a download speed of 2.7Mbps and an upload speed of 2Mbps on Ultra Kings Limited (with benchmarks of 3.9Mbps and 3.3Mbps respectively).

expressvpn speed test from china on ultra kings limited

For China Unicom, we got a download speed of 4.28Mbps and an upload speed of 0.4Mbps (vs. the benchmarks of 5.14Mbps and 0.52Mbps).

expressvpn speed test from china on unicom

Even more impressive is ExpressVPN’s dedication to staying one step ahead of Chinese censors by proactively monitoring its servers for accessibility in China and using advanced technology protocols behind the scenes.

ExpressVPN Summary

ExpressVPN’s no-logs claim has been tested in the real world: the Turkish government once raided their datacenter and seized their servers in an attempt to access logs on a particular user. Guess what they found? Nothing. This, and the fact that ExpressVPN is located in the British Virgin Islands, a VPN-friendly jurisdiction, makes it an attractive for China VPN users.

Here are some high points that pushed ExpressVPN to the top of the list:

  • Accounts are protected by a kill-switch feature that cuts your internet access altogether when your VPN connection fails, effectively preventing your connection from switching to a publicly visible alternative. 
  • The service provides strong AES-256 encryption with OpenVPN support, availability of P2P servers for torrenting, and support for up to five simultaneous connections. 
  • The customer support team is readily available and reliable, especially considering they have a 24/7 email and live chat support that’s not blocked in China.

Although ExpressVPN is a bit expensive at $6.67/mo, we are quite impressed with its real-life performance in China. We believe the cost is justified if you want a reliable VPN for China. They also offer a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Visit ExpressVPN

Read our full ExpressVPN review.

2. ProtonVPN

What Our Tests in China Revealed

  • Overall, ProtonVPN performed well on both ISPs we tested in China.
  • Unfortunately, it could only access 18 out of the 19 sites we tested on the first ISP (it couldn’t access Pornhub).
  • It accessed all 19 sites on the second ISP, however.
  • Whatsapp, Telegram, Viber, and Skype were accessible on both ISPs.

On Ultra Kings Limited, with a benchmark of 3.9Mbps download and 3.3Mbps upload, we got 3.7Mbps download and 3.7Mbps upload. (That increased upload speed isn’t a typo. A VPN sometimes does improve speed! – mostly because of ISP bandwidth throttling)

protonvpn speed test from china on ultra kings limited

On China Unicom, with a benchmark of 5.14Mbps download and 0.52Mbps upload, we got 4.69Mbps download and 0.53Mbps upload.

protonvpn speed test from china on unicom

We find their customer support to be decent as well. They understand fully well that their VPN may work in China today and not tomorrow, and that connections can vary significantly from one Chinese region to another. As such, they have a support team on standby to help with workarounds while they continuously work on countermeasures.

ProtonVPN Summary

ProtonVPN is run by the Swiss company Proton Technologies AG. They’re also the brains behind the popular ProtonMail service, which happens to be the world’s largest encrypted email network.

Run by privacy advocates, ProtonVPN understandably doesn’t log any of your personal browsing data. They are also located in Switzerland, a privacy-friendly country that takes individual privacy rights extremely seriously.

Compared to ExpressVPN, our top pick, ProtonVPN has:

  • A much smaller server park (400 in over 30 countries)
  • The same super-secure AES-256 encryption
  • A kill-switch
  • Netflix support
  • Up to 10 simultaneous connections

ProtonVPN has a number of affordable paid plans, but they’re the only VPN on this list that has a free option. Their free plan provides:

  • Medium speed
  • Access to three countries
  • No data cap
  • Can be used on one device

Otherwise, their cheapest plan costs just $4/mo, allowing access to all countries and can be used on two devices. You can get a prorated refund with their 30-day money-back guarantee. Considering the fact that they offer a free, no-strings-attached option, this is still quite impressive.

Visit ProtonVPN

Read our full ProtonVPN review.

3. Mullvad

What Our Tests in China Revealed

  • Mullvad was able to unblock all 19 websites we tested on both ISPs, as well as Whatsapp, Telegram, Viber, and Skype.
  • We find their customer support to be quite weak, though.

On Ultra Kings Limited, with a benchmark download speed of 3.9Mbps and upload speed of 3.3Mbps, we got a perfect download speed of 3.9Mbps and an upload speed of 3.5Mbps. (Yet another instance of a VPN performing better than the ISP on speed tests.)

mullvad speed test from china ultra kings limited

On China Unicom, with a benchmark of 5.14Mbps download and 0.52Mbps upload, we got a download speed of 4.4Mbps and an upload speed of 0.46Mbps.

mullvad speed test from china unicom

Mullvad Summary

Mullvad is one of our favorite VPNs because it is one of the few services that doesn’t require an email address or a password to use it.

You simply generate an account number on their site and you’re good to go. Payment options that include the ability to pay with a cryptocurrency further enhance its privacy. Mullvad’s strong focus on privacy allays our fears about their being located in Sweden, a member of the 14 Eyes Alliance.

One way Mullvad ensures Chinese residents are able to access blocked websites is through port forwarding and port selection. Except for a few blocked ports to control spam and other security issues, Mullvad can be run on practically any port. Plus, it’s highly supportive of Shadowshocks, an open-source proxy project specifically created to jump the Great Firewall.

Other noteworthy Mullvad features:

  • Offers 370+ servers in over 30 countries
  • Allows up to five simultaneous connections
  • Offers P2P servers that support anonymous torrenting
  • Provides a kill-switch
  • Uses the industry-standard AES-256 encryption

Part of Mullvad’s simplicity is that you don’t have to worry about VPN plans. All features can be accessed for the same flat rate of €5/mo. While not the cheapest, it isn’t the most expensive, either. And, more importantly, you don’t have to be worried about missing key features because there aren’t any other more expensive plans. They also offer a 30-day money-back guarantee for all payment methods other than cash.

Visit Mullvad

Read our full Mullvad review.

4. StrongVPN

At #28 in our general ranking of VPN services, StrongVPN is far from being a favorite. However, we must confess that we were quite impressed by its performance in China.

China’s Great Firewall has a reputation for rendering once-effective VPNs useless. This explains why many other name-brand VPNs fail to work in China.

What Our Tests in China Revealed

  • StrongVPN worked really well on both ISPs we tested.
  • StrongVPN was also able to access all 19 websites we tested.
  • Whatsapp, Telegram, Viber, and Skype worked on both ISPs we tested, too.

On Ultra Kings Limited, with a benchmark download speed of 3.9Mbps and a benchmark upload speed of 3.3Mbps, we got 2.7Mbps download and 2.8Mbps upload.

strongvpn speed test from china ultra kings limited

On China Unicom, with a benchmark download speed of 5.14Mbps and a benchmark upload speed of 0.52Mbps, we got a download speed of 4.76Mbps and an upload speed of 0.4Mbps.

strongvpn speed test from china unicom

StrongVPN Summary

Especially for Chinese residents, StrongVPN offers Scramble, an advanced obfuscation technique that works as an added layer of security for users, making it harder for government censors to detect VPN traffic.

Additionally, StrongVPN assigns dynamic IP addresses instead of the usual static IP addresses other VPN vendors provide. This can also be a drawback because while they have quite a lot of servers, you don’t have much of a say in which server you get to use. StrongVPN randomly assigns servers to users whenever they connect.

Adding to the list of StrongVPN’s core features are:

  • A reliable no-logs policy
  • Strong AES-256 encryption
  • Netflix support
  • P2P servers that allow for anonymous torrenting

The fact that StrongVPN has quick and helpful customer support also makes it an attractive option. That said, being located in the U.S. is a disadvantage in our book.

Starting at $5.83/mo, StrongVPN packs a strong 680+ servers spread across 25+ countries. This server number lands them somewhere in the middle of our overall list (not the most, but not the least, either). While we believe that this is a bit overpriced, it’s worth noting that they have a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Visit StrongVPN

Read our full StrongVPN review.

5. PrivateVPN

PrivateVPN’s Swedish home base places them firmly inside the 14 Eyes jurisdiction. That’s a problem, considering we also found their logging policy questionable.

So this isn’t in any way among our top choices when it comes to a privacy-oriented VPN.

That said, when it comes to VPNs in China, beggars can’t be choosers.

What Our Tests in China Revealed

  • PrivateVPN turned out to be one of our best-performing VPNs.
  • Besides being comparatively fast, PrivateVPN also succeeded in unblocking all 19 sites we tested on both ISPs, as well as Whatsapp, Telegram, Viber, and Skype.

On Ultra Kings Limited, on a benchmark of 3.9Mbps download and 3.3Mbps download, PrivateVPN had a download speed of 4.1Mbps and an upload speed of 3.1Mbps, which is pretty much a perfect speed.

privatevpn speed test from china ultra kings limited

On China Unicom, on a benchmark of 5.14Mbps download and 0.52Mbps upload, PrivateVPN had a download speed of 3.81Mbps and an upload speed of 0.56Mbps. That’s still pretty impressive in our book!

privatevpn speed test from china unicom

PrivateVPN Summary

What makes PrivateVPN a good option for Chinese residents is its stealth mode. In a nutshell, stealth VPN disguises VPN traffic as regular traffic in an effort to fool censorship applications and firewalls. With this feature, PrivateVPN is able to create a VPN tunnel through the Great Firewall, allowing users access to their chosen websites.

PrivateVPN boasts:

  • Strong AES-256 encryption
  • Availability of P2P servers that allow for anonymous torrenting
  • Works perfectly with Netflix
  • Strong customer support

We find PrivateVPN to be expensive when compared to the other available options, however. Starting at $5.95/mo, they only offer access to a conservative 150+ servers in about 60 countries. They could certainly do much better, but it’s still a decent option to bypass China’s firewall. If you don’t like them, you can also take advantage of their 30-day money-back guarantee.

Visit PrivateVPN

Read our full PrivateVPN review.

6. Hotspot Shield

We aren’t big fans of Hotspot Shield for a host of reasons that include DNS leaks, a misleading logging policy, and virtually zero customer support. It didn’t help that Hotspot Shield is located in the U.S.

However, we have to give it to them when it comes to China: Hotspot Shield works!

What Our Tests in China Revealed

  • Our test of Hotspot Shield showed a strong performance inside China. Users, however, report a hit-or-miss, with the majority leaning on the “miss” side of things, so we’re glad it worked so we can let you know how it fared.
  • Hotspot Shield was able to unblock 18 out of the 19 sites we tested on the first ISP (TorProject.org was inaccessible) and all 19 sites on the second ISP.
  • Whatsapp, Telegram, Viber, and Skype were also accessible on both.

On Ultra Kings Limited, on a benchmark of 3.9Mbps download and 3.3Mbps download, Hotspot Shield had a download speed of 3.4Mbps and an upload speed of 0.9Mbps.

hotspot shield speed test from china ultra kings limited

On China Unicom, on a benchmark of 5.14Mbps download and 0.52Mbps upload, Hotspot Shield had a download speed of 3.77Mbps and an upload speed of 0.76Mbps.

hotspot shield speed test from china unicom

Hotspot Shield Summary

Hotspot Shield has been in business since 2005 (a lot longer than most of the other options on this list). They boast a user base of 650 million users.

Hotspot Shield has:

  • A secure AES-256 encryption
  • Support for P2P servers
  • Netflix compatibility

While they have a free ad-supported version (that we’re wary of for privacy reasons), their premium plan is quite affordable at $3.49/mo. The paid plan comes with servers in 70+ countries and supports up to five simultaneous devices. We’re not impressed with their customer support, but a 45-day money-back guarantee is enough assurance to give them a try.

Visit Hotspot Shield

Read our full Hotspot Shield review.

7. VPNSecure

Finally, we have VPNSecure, an Australian-based VPN founded in 2010.

What Our Tests in China Revealed

  • Performance-wise, VPNSecure could only access 18 out of 19 websites with both ISPs we tested (SoundCloud was inaccessible on both).
  • Whatsapp, Telegram, Viber, and Skype were all accessible, thankfully.
  • Their speed performance was just okay overall.

On Ultra Kings Limited, with a benchmark of 3.9Mbps download and 3.3Mbps download, we got a download speed of 2Mbps and an upload speed of 2.6Mbps.

vpnsecure speed test from china ultra kings limited

On China Unicom, with a benchmark of 5.14Mbps download and 0.52Mbps upload, we had a download speed of 2.81Mbps and an upload speed of 0.61Mbps.

vpnsecure speed test from china unicom

VPNSecure Summary

VPNSecure’s logging policy is very difficult to decode. So we can’t say exactly where they stand on logging your browsing or downloading activity.

They do offer a very limited 80 servers in 50 countries (the smallest among all the other options on this list). And at a super expensive price no less: their cheapest plan starts at $6.66/mo!

Just like PrivateVPN, what makes VPNSecure work in China is its stealth VPN protocol. The stealth mode, however, currently only works for desktops.

They boast:

  • A kill-switch
  • Support for unlimited devices
  • P2P servers
  • Both AES-256 and AES-128 encryption
  • Support for Netflix
  • Impressive customer support

They only offer a seven-day money-back guarantee, however, which is on the low side compared to the other options on this list.

Visit VPNSecure

Read our full VPNSecure review.

Conclusion

China’s Great Firewall can be unpredictable.

VPNs that are known to work impressively well suddenly get blocked, particularly during significant political events when the ruling Communist Party deems it necessary to suppress dissent and carefully control access to information.

While there is no guarantee that the above VPNs will always work in China, our personal hands-on tests from inside China show that these seven work well at the time of writing this review.

For other VPN reviews and more information on how VPNs work and what they can do for you, check out the best VPN services for 2019.

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