China VPN: Is it legal in China

ExpressVPN is one of the best VPN providers and works consistently across all major regions of China.

Are VPNs Legal in China in 2023?

Are VPNs legal in China

VPNs are illegal in China except for a few businesses with explicit permission. However, you can use a VPN in China if you download it before you go. The best China VPN is ExpressVPN — you can try it for free with a 30-day money-back guarantee.

China’s internet censorship is notorious. The government is known for being very strict with what people can and cannot do within the country. If you’re planning a trip to China, you might be wondering: are VPNs legal in China? Does China block VPNs?

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Yes, VPNs are legal in China, but there are caveats. Keep reading to find out more about China’s censorship rules and which VPNs you can use on your next trip to the country.

What is the punishment for using VPNs in China?

However, if a Chinese citizen uses a VPN to access a site blocked by the Chinese government, they may face jail time. There is little data on punishment for tourists using a VPN, besides officals forcing you to delete the app if they find it on your device.

Does a VPN work in China?

Not all VPNs work in China. However, premium providers like NordVPN and ExpressVPN effectively bypass the Great Firewall and can be used in China.

Can the Chinese government track VPNs?

The Chinese police cannot track VPN traffic, but they are entitled to ask internet service providers for users’ connection and usage logs through court orders.

Are VPNs Legal in China?

In case you’re wondering, VPN is short for virtual private network. A VPN acts like an intermediary between you and the site you want to visit. It encrypts your internet traffic to keep your online activity safe from prying eyes.

VPN usage is a source of confusion for most visitors to China. Here are some points to note before you go VPN browsing on your next trip to Shanghai.

Yes, VPNs are legal in China, but only for businesses with government approval. Additionally, in early 2022, China banned any VPN providers that don’t pass China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology’s (MIIT) approval. However, everyday citizens cannot use a VPN.

China’s government aims to have total cyber sovereignty over its citizens. It cracks down on VPN providers because they allow citizens to circumvent that authority.

However, a handful of premium VPN providers use methods like obfuscated servers to bypass the blocks from the Great Firewall of China.

What Is the Great Firewall of China?

The Great Firewall of China is a massive censorship machine that has been in place since at least 1998. It is a joint effort by the Chinese government and Chinese technology companies to prevent Chinese citizens from accessing information on the web that might be critical of their government.

This censorship affects every website. Every search result on Baidu, for example, is filtered by two algorithms: one that filters out pornographic and violent content, and another that screens out politically sensitive material.

Accessing banned websites like Facebook and Twitter is a punishable offense, especially in extreme cases such as using social media for human rights activism and protests. The government also bans sites that contain pornography, gambling or any other questionable or undesirable content.

The Great Firewall of China uses a range of techniques to blocklist web content. This includes blocking access to specific IP addresses, analyzing URLs for predetermined keywords and deep packet inspection, a system by which unencrypted packets of data are searched to see if they contain sensitive information.

The government also uses a technique called DNS poisoning, where the DNS caches of certain websites are tampered with, so they become inaccessible. After the government identifies which packets of information it wishes to block, it uses the Great Firewall to reset the connections for both parties/systems. It then says access will not be possible because the connection was reset.

If you want to know which websites are blocked by the firewall, you can test the URLs of your preference using a tool like Website Pulse’s.

What Does the Great Firewall of China Mean for VPN Service Providers?

China’s laws on VPN restrictions tend to be vague, and there’s lots of misinformation in the air, too. The reality is the Chinese government cracks down mainly on China-based VPNs and not international providers. Legally, international VPN providers are within their rights as long as they do not set up servers physically located within China.

A VPN provider thinking of setting up in China has to go the extra mile to make sure they get around the Great Firewall. Not all providers can do this effectively, which is why you’ll often find that only premium services provide reliable internet access and the ability to unblock websites.

NordVPN puts up a disclaimer on its site stating that VPNs aren’t explicitly illegal, however the government does what it can to block their usage. This includes removing all VPN apps from the app stores. Google Play Store itself is blocked in China, and local residents don’t have substitutes that offer VPN apps.

International VPN providers appealing to users in China that want to be successful have to implement extra measures.

For one, obfuscation servers are a must, so providers can camouflage the nature of the traffic as locally sourced instead of as VPN traffic. Some examples of VPNs that provide obfuscation include ExpressVPN, NordVPN and Surfshark.

ExpressVPN has obfuscation worked into every server it offers. Meanwhile, NordVPN’s obfuscation is accessible through certain servers, while you can enable Surfshark’s obfuscation through its feature called “camouflage mode.”

Secondly, the VPN must have strong security and encryption protocols, such as AES-256 or ChaCha20. VPN protocols like OpenVPN and WireGuard come standard with these.

What Does the Great Firewall of China Mean for VPN Users?

It’s no secret the Chinese government has an interest in keeping its citizens in a bubble. The Great Firewall has proven successful at preventing users from accessing websites and services the government deems inappropriate. However, it isn’t impenetrable. Users have found workarounds to access blocked sites by using VPNs.

The Chinese government monitors everything its users do online. If you’re caught using blocked websites your internet connection could be cut off for weeks at a time. In the past, the government has cracked down repeatedly on VPN companies and has ruled unauthorized connections as illegal. However, the restrictions were always vague with no clear follow-up.

For tourists or business travelers looking to access their favorite videos or social networks from home, it’s an entirely different story. Travelers to China must rely on VPNs to access their American Netflix account, keep up with the news from home, or send updates to friends via social media.

To date, no foreigner has been caught or penalized for the use of VPNs within the country while there on business or for tourism. While this might give you an extra boost of confidence for VPN usage, it’s still best to be safe given the country’s general stance on internet censorship.

Should You Still Use VPNs in China?

China’s Great Firewall is notorious for blocking any and all content that the Communist Party doesn’t want its citizens to see. In addition to popular Western services.

If things are looking grim, do not fear: I’m here to help. VPNs are essential for anyone traveling to China. If you don’t use a VPN to connect to the internet, you won’t be able to access content that isn’t available in China, like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, foreign news sites and more.

Before you travel to China, you must download at least three reliable VPNs onto whichever devices you plan to use. It’s good to have multiple options in case one VPN has spotty coverage and you need a connection urgently.

Make sure you don’t forget to download these apps before you enter the Chinese region because there’s no way you’ll be able to do so after. The Chinese government blocks VPN websites and downloads from app stores. You also never know when the government might crack down on one VPN provider over another, so it’s good to have backups.

To get around this, you need to install the apps in advance. I recommend these three VPNs for use in China.

1. ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN is one of the best VPN providers and works consistently across all major regions of China.

With over 3,000 servers spread across 94 countries, you’ll have plenty of choices for accessing geo-restricted content. Your best bet is to use those servers situated closest to the Chinese borders. This would allow you to take full advantage of ExpressVPN’s unrivaled VPN server speeds.

All of ExpressVPN servers come with its obfuscation technology. Obfuscation hides VPN usage by rerouting your internet traffic through servers that mask your VPN traffic metadata, so it doesn’t look like you’re using a VPN. Learn more in the comprehensive ExpressVPN review and ExpressVPN pricing guide.

2. NordVPN

NordVPN is another VPN for China and a great backup option to the top pick. Like ExpressVPN, it offers servers in regions surrounding China for easier and faster access, such as Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan. It also offers obfuscated servers, so Chinese authorities won’t find you using a VPN.

NordVPN’s double-VPN servers are handy to have, especially if you’re visiting China for professional reasons. Connecting through a second VPN server adds an additional layer of security. Learn more in the full NordVPN review and NordVPN pricing guide.

3. Surfshark

Surfshark is one of the newer VPNs, with handy features like its Camouflage and NoBorders modes. Surfshark’s NoBorders mode automatically activates when the VPN client detects restrictions on the network. Once activated, the VPN pulls up a list of servers that can unblock content and surf the web free from the eyes of the Great Firewall.

Pair it with the VPN’s Camouflage mode, Surfshark’s version of obfuscation. It camouflages your VPN connection to make it look like a regular internet connection. Learn more in the complete Surfshark review.

Conclusion

Confirming the legality of VPNs in China is tricky. The country has some of the strictest internet laws in the world, but the government has been known to contradict itself on VPN use.

In practice, tourists can use VPNs across different parts of China, but they may encounter varying levels of connection or coverage depending on the provider. Users who want to ensure their online privacy while traveling in China may want to subscribe to a VPN service like ExpressVPN, NordVPN and Surfshark.

Have you visited China before, and if so, what VPN technology did you use during your stay? Let me know in the comments. I wish you safe browsing on your travels!

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    China VPN: Is it legal in China?

    Using VPN in China is used to access blocked websites and for anonymity. As Internet censorship in China affects both the publishing and the viewing of online content, it comes as no surprise that people have to find effective ways to circumvent censorship to reach certain content. The country’s censorship mechanism, known in aggregate as the Great Firewall of China (GFoC), is more sophisticated and comprehensive than that of any other nation in the world, thus creating a tricky situation for publishers and readers alike.

    Since the Great Firewall of China prevents users from accessing certain websites outside of China, using a VPN is one of the means to browse the Internet otherwise inaccessible to Chinese netizens, popularly known as “getting over the wall.” Highly secure VPNs can provide access to blocked content while at the same time protecting the user’s identity from government surveillance. However, China has recently heightened its crackdown on foreign VPN solutions, rendering most of them ineffective in providing the desired efficacy. So the question becomes whether ordinary Chinese consumers take great pains of using a VPN to visit blocked websites.

    Many people wonder whether it is even legal to use VPNs within China. It is actually a bit murky since the government is yet to enforce laws barring individuals from using unauthorized VPNs. Nevertheless, the Great Firewall has VPN detection technologies, making it difficult to plan or deliver website content or applications to mainland China.

    Are VPNs legal in China?

    There has been quite a bit of debate over whether the Chinese government has illegalized the use of VPNs. The government has threatened to ban all VPNs and remove VPN applications from China-based app stores. So, the million-dollar question is why China has not blocked VPNs while numerous benign applications have been blocked?

    The answer is actually very simple. VPNs are essential and necessary components of securely doing business online. VPNs are particularly critical for international companies with a business presence in China or Chinese companies with an international presence. VPNs allow China-based companies to share information with the rest of the world securely. Global organizations use VPNs daily, and if China were to illegalize and ban VPNs, it would make it very challenging for companies, both foreign and domestic, to do business.

    As such, there is a lot of grey area when it comes to individuals using VPNs in China. There have been reports that some individuals have been reprimanded or detained by local authorities for using VPNs to access unauthorized contents. Such incidents make it confusing whether it is illegal to use VPNs. What most people fail to understand is that China is very directive regarding how businesses use VPNs.

    For an organization to use VPNs, it must obtain a government clearance. Companies can’t just start using VPNs based on the notion that a VPN is crucial for business. They must first obtain approval from the relevant authorities before deploying VPNs. The laws, however, do not apply to individual users, though some Chinese citizens have gotten themselves into trouble because of VPNs. However, such incidents are few and inconsistent.

    Do VPNs work in China?

    VPNs do work in China. However, most free VPN services may not work or enable users to access the Internet freely. The reason is that VPN providers require obfuscated servers, multiple encryption protocols, and double VPN technology to bypass the robust restrictions the Chinese government has implemented on the great firewall. Free VPNs lack such features, and it is implausible that they can work in the country. Besides, the connection protocols and encryption methods in free VPNs are easily detectable, and the authorities can quickly identify users using them.

    Moreover, VPN providers offering free services are often unreliable. The connections drop frequently, and this may leave users exposed to online surveillance.

    Free VPN providers also have poor customer support and may not be available to assist customers facing issues. Even if they do work and manage to have a stable connection, the weak encryption may still expose users to surveillance, and the Internet speeds may be slower. Even worse, there are VPNs used as bait to get people to reveal their identity and their destination.

    It is still possible to access and connect to a VPN service in China for determined minds. Although it is challenging to identify a working VPN and establish a connection, businesses and individuals in mainland China can use VPNs. For instance, it isn’t easy to connect to VPN networks when there are important government meetings, sensitive anniversaries, or a significant holiday.

    Despite the VPN service used to connect to the Internet, a few measures can ensure a stable connection. Not all VPNs work in mainland China, especially when there is a government clampdown on server connections. The following steps can provide the best VPN services that can bypass the robust firewall and Internet censorship:

    1. Ensure the VPN application is always updated
    One of the ways to ensure VPNs work in China is by installing the most recent updates. VPN services and providers tweak the deployed connection protocols when it becomes difficult to use them in China. Failing to update VPN applications may prevent them from working, and users may not be able to access blocked websites from within China.

    2. Monitor VPN servers when using them.
    VPN services dedicated to serving the Chinese market often have a status page informing users of timely updates, possible fixes to connection issues, and tips on how users can identify and connect to the fastest VPN servers. Monitoring VPN status informs users of the best servers to connect to when in China.

    3. Change connection protocols and server locations frequently.
    Numerous VPNs permit users to change protocol and server connections as often as necessary to get a stable and fast connection. If you cannot connect to a server, you can change the connection protocol and server location from the provided options. Using a VPN in China may become frustrating, especially when it fails to connect to the desired server. However, users should continue changing the VPN configurations until they get the best connection.

    4. Be patient
    Even if a VPN service works in China, the connection may be slow and unstable. Remember that China has the most robust firewall for monitoring Internet access such that it has slower internet speeds than most countries. VPN services may make the connection speeds to be much slower and more frustrating, and you should, therefore, be patient when using them.

    The bottom line is that VPNs still work in China. Personal VPNs have remained mostly unaffected, but it is still vital for users to choose VPN providers accustomed to playing the mouse-and-cat game with the Chinese government.

    Are VPNs commonly used?

    With the country’s poor Internet freedom for information access, one would probably expect that there is a high VPN usage rate. However, VPNs are not very common because the government must authorize organizations which VPNs to use. China has harsh restrictions on VPN usage such that it is not very common. Individual users may not use VPN services for fear of possible fines and penalties, or they may choose to rely on information readily available, or simply they don’t like the hassle of using a VPN.

    A recent report indicated that VPN restrictions disrupt crucial activities for students, businesses, entrepreneurs, scientists, and essential workers. One bold guess claims that about 30% of internet users in China use a VPN, but the true numbers should be much smaller based on observations from our QA engineers across the country. The government has tried targeting unauthorized VPN providers by shutting them down but has also tried to issue fines or harsher penalties to individuals. The battle is nowhere close to an end.

    Conclusion

    China’s internet censorship prevents organizations and individuals from connecting to certain properties from the outside world. As such, it is pertinent for international and local businesses to not assume that the Chinese online community uses a VPN service. Whether VPNs are legal or illegal in China, website operators should understand that a VPN does not solve China’s internet censorship problems as it is used almost like a last resort.

    Most website users will move to a competitor in a heartbeat if yours fails to load. Websites that load slowly or with persistent connection challenges may lose the lucrative Chinese market to other competitors. It is vital to ensure that your website is China-optimized since you risk losing your customers to those with better website accessibility.

    Website operators eyeing the Chinese market must ascertain that their websites have robust accessibility within the country, use robust content delivery networks (CDNs), and adhere to the necessary ICP rules. Fortunately, Goclick China specializes in website testing and monitoring for your China-facing websites.

    We have deployed servers all across China and have boots-on-the-ground dedicated quality-assurance testers to carry out specific test tasks in strategic locations in China. We are the perfect service provider for monitoring your sites’ accessibility across China, as well as providing hosting solutions based on our benchmark data results obtained from years of testing thousands of websites.

    To learn more about succeeding in China, check out our other articles.