The Legality of VPNs in China
Before we talk about the three best VPNs that work in China, we thought it would be best to give you a short overview of the country’s stand vis-à-vis VPNs.
China doesn’t outrightly ban VPNs (unlike these countries where VPNs are illegal). By China’s laws, you can safely use a VPN as long as it has the government’s seal of approval. To gain approval, however, a VPN must give the government backdoor access to its systems, rendering its protection moot in the first place.
That being said, those regulations apply mostly to companies that use VPNs, rather than individuals. So far, no person has gotten into trouble by using a VPN. The closest case is a man being sentenced to five years in jail for distributing an illegal VPN – not for using it.1
Still, you should exercise caution when using a VPN in China. In some cases, phones of tourists are inspected, and VPNs are removed. If you’re ever in that situation, it’s best to comply.
Additionally, note that while some VPNs work in China, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can buy a VPN subscription while in the country. Websites of VPNs not approved by the government are often banned, so it’s best to purchase and install a VPN before your trip.
Now that we’ve briefed you about the VPN situation, let’s look closer at the three options we mentioned earlier: NordVPN, Surfshark, and Private Internet Access.
FYI: In addition to online censorship, China has strict regulations in place to limit online gaming among young internet users. The law, enacted in 2021, limits the availability of online gaming servers in China to one hour during Fridays and weekends only. However, VPNs can be used to connect to another region’s server. We made a list of the best VPNs to use for gaming here.