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Best VPN service to unlock the internet in China in 2024

In this article, I explain which is the best VPN to unblock Instagram and all other censored websites in China and worldwide.

shanghai skyline

If you are planning to travel to China, you might probably know that many websites and social networks are censored: Gmail, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and WordPress, to mention a few. There are more than 2600 censored websites in China, but as you can imagine, the number keeps rising… You can check here if you want to know whether a website is available in China or not,

Some may think this is good news: spending time without social networks isn’t that bad. This might be true, but if you, like me, use the internet to work or to keep in touch with your family, then censorship can be really bad.

So the question is: how can you bypass the Great Firewall of China (there is no censorship in Hong Kong and Macau at the moment)? The answer is simple: you should get a VPN, a Virtual Private Network. Before talking about the actual choice of the best VPN, let me briefly tell you what a VPN is and how it works.

A VPN can also unlock TikTok and WeChat in any country where they are blocked.

What is a VPN, and how does it work?

You don’t have to be a hacker or a nerd to use a VPN or to understand how it works. To put it simply, rather than connecting to a censored website while you are in China or any other country where a specific website is not available, a VPN allows you to “trick the system” and make it believe that you are in a different country, one of those where the website is freely available.

You make your Internet Service Provider believe that you are outside of China while you are not.

If this is not clear enough for you, remember that you don’t have to do anything most of the time: buy a subscription from the VPN service and install the App. Turn the App on and enjoy your freedom. The VPN will take care of all the rest…

Another reason why you should get a VPN anyway, no matter if you are travelling to China, Iran, Pakistan, or any other country in the world, is that you can use it to stream your favorite TV shows or movies even if the content you want to see it’s not available outside of your country. For example, many TV series on Netflix USA are unavailable on Netflix Italy unless you use a VPN and connect your PC to an American server.

There are tons of VPNs out there. Some are free, while others offer a free trial, after which you have to pay. I usually tell my friends NOT TO GET a free VPN. Why? For the simple reason that you get what you pay for… There is a reason why some VPNs are free, and others are not. Developing a secure protocol, designing the app, setting up dozens of servers worldwide, granting speed and privacy to all the users, and running all the systems takes time and thousands of hours of work from professional developers. This work is done by developers, who will have to be paid. If a VPN is free, you make money by selling your private info gathered while using it.

Whichever VPN you choose, don’t forget to get your VPN BEFORE entering China: most of the websites of the VPN providers are censored, too, so it can be more difficult to access them, though not impossible, as you can read later.

Is it legal to use it in China?

This is a difficult question to answer. There are new regulations in China, and according to them, if a VPN is registered in China, it has to be approved by the government. However, this law applies only to VPN services based in China. All other businesses are not subjected to Chinese laws. I’ve never had any problem. The government is aware that there are foreigners living in China who need to access all Western websites, and I believe that it turns a blind eye to them.

Selling VPN services, on the other hand, is strictly forbidden and usually punished by imprisonment.

Which is best?

The answer to this question often changes as the government blocks all VPNs. For example, until recently, I recommended using VyprVPN. Unfortunately, it stopped working. Later, I recommended ExpressVPN, and now that doesn’t work either. Despite all attempts to block it the only one that has always worked is Astrill. The main disadvantage of this app is the very high cost, but this is amortized if you take an annual subscription.

Which version should you get?

Unlike other VPNs, Astrill does not offer very special services apart from a feature called VIP. This option provides access to additional servers for faster speeds and reduced latency for Asian customers and gamers.

In my experience, this option is unnecessary if you plan a trip to China.

The other thing to choose is the length of the subscription. As mentioned, the cost is quite high if you choose the monthly subscription. If you pay for one year, it costs half as much.

If you are already in China, you can access the alternative version of Astrill’s site, which should not be censored.

How to set up the Astrill VPN App

Once you have created your account, you can proceed with payment and download the app from the Google Play Store or Apple Store. Log in to the app with the same information you registered for the site.

You have to set the server location manually, or in other words, what country you want to make it look like you are connecting from. You must try a few countries until you find a good server.

Fortunately, Astrill runs a lot of servers, and even if some are blocked by Chinese censorship, there are many others that are available.

Usually, the fastest servers are in Hong Kong, Japan or Taiwan. Other times in Korea. As a rule, remember that the closer the server is geographically to your location, the faster it will be. If, on the other hand, you need to access a site only available in a specific nation, then choose the server located in that nation.

The protocol is the other option you will need to change occasionally. If some websites are blocked after Astrill is activated, don’t worry: China’s firewall constantly evolves. Try other combinations of servers and protocols, and you will see that everything will return to normal.

I’m not in China; why do I need a VPN anyway?

why you should use a vpn on public wifi

To conclude this post, I want to remember that using a VPN is recommended not only if you are planning to travel to countries where the Internet is censored but also if you use a Wi-Fi connection in your city. Why? The number of Internet hotspots keeps rising, and so are the risks associated with Wi-Fi connections. Even if a password protects the Wi-Fi connection, you never know who can spy on what you are doing.

Virtually anyone can come between your PC and the hotspot and see what you are doing unless you use a VPN. This is a real risk for all of us, but especially for those who work using the Internet. Not long ago a journalist was hacked while using the Wi-Fi onboard an airplane. Someone accessed his private emails and read the story he was working on. This happened because He didn’t protect its connection with a VPN.

I prefer using a VPN whenever I’m connected to Wi-Fi, whether in China, Italy or anywhere else.

You can find some posts about China here, and here is my complete travel guide to China.

4 thoughts on “Best VPN service to unlock the internet in China in 2024”

  1. Jamson

    I used Express before but switch to Surfshark now. Couple of friends been in China couple of weeks ago so this VPN worked with this VPN too. I use this one mainly for Netflix as it is optimized for streaming services. Plus if internet speed is fast enough you can get 4k quality!

  2. John Forrest

    I would still choose Astrill as the best vpn for China. Never used vyprvpn yet but the 50+ servers I can get with Astrill is more than I need. Plus, the speed is really good.

    1. Thanks John for your feedback. I still believe VyprVPN works better in China due to their Chameleon algorithm, talking from personal experience. For some reasons Astrill seems to be the favorite target of the censors.

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