VPN not working in China

Looking for a way to get your VPN working again in China? With the country’s strict restrictions on websites and VPNs, this can be tricky.

The Chinese government cracks down on unapproved VPNs, which are the vast majority. These restrictions aim to limit citizens’ access to information outside the “Great Firewall,” the system filtering internet content.

That makes it hard for anyone in China to access banned sites like Facebook, Google, and Twitter – but not impossible. We’ve found a few ways that will help your VPN get back up and running.

Our guide will help you fix your VPN not working in China. If it still isn’t working, our list of the best VPNs will offer a helping hand.

VPN not working in China: Fix

There are a few fixes you can try to get your VPN wokring in China, but if all else fails, it’s best to get a better VPN.

Regardless, try out these simple steps to get it working again:

  1. Check your internet connection

    Fix X VPN not working

    A good place to start is making sure that you’re still connected to the internet. If so, check that your internet is running correctly.

    An easy way to do this is to check your internet speed. You can do that here.

    If you think your internet is running slower than usual, it can be a sign your internet connection is having problems. This can create issues with your VPN. Call your ISP if this is the case.

  2. Disable antivirus

    Fix X VPN not working

    If you have an antivirus installed on your device, try disabling it. Turn on your VPN and see if it works.

    Depending on the antivirus you use, VPN software can sometimes be mistaken for a virus or malware by antivirus software. When this happens, the antivirus blocks the VPN.

    Disabling your antivirus or making your VPN an exemption may fix the problems you’re coming across. The best antivirus software will let you do this with ease.

  3. Delete Cookies

    How To Delete Cookies

    Accumulated or corrupt cookies in a browser might interfere with the way websites and online services function, especially when using a VPN.

    Try deleting your cookies to see if this fixes your VPN not working in China.

  4. Change to a different server

    Hayu not working with VPN

    If your VPN no longer works in China when connecting to a particular server, it’s likely the IP address the VPN has given you has been identified and blocked.

    There may be other issues with the server, such as overcrowding or it simply being too slow. With this in mind, changing to a different server will give you a different IP address.

    If this one hasn’t been blocked or doesn’t experience any issues, your VPN will work again.

  5. Reinstall and update your VPN

    AMazon Prime not working with VPN

    If your VPN isn’t working, it may have picked up a bug or an error that’s interrupting the software.

    A simple and effective way to get rid of bugs is to reinstall the software or check for software updates.

    Not only does this ensure you have the latest version of your VPN, including any bug-fixing updates, but it also means you’ll have a fresh installation of the software, so any errors or bugs you may have picked up will be erased.

  6. Upgrade to a better VPN

    Surfshark not working with Max

    If the above fixes don’t work, either your VPN isn’t managing to keep up with the demand of its many customers, or it doesn’t have enough resources to get past China’s VPN blocks.

    The best thing to do in this situation is to upgrade to a VPN that has the resources to keep up with increasing demand and has an incredibly fast, secure connection.

    The VPNs we recommend are ExpressVPN ($6.66/month) or NordVPN ($3.79/month).

Are VPNs legal in China?

This is a bit of a grey area, as there doesn’t seem to be a definitive answer. Owning or using a VPN itself isn’t explicitly outlawed, but the crucial aspect lies in government approval.

China heavily restricts VPN usage, and only a handful operate under government sanction. These authorised services cater to specific business needs under government scrutiny, not unrestricted internet access.

Using unapproved VPNs, which constitute the vast majority, carries potential consequences. Therefore, while technically not illegal in the strictest sense, using unapproved VPNs in China to access the open internet goes against government restrictions and can be problematic.

That said, while China’s “Great Firewall” blocks websites like Facebook and Google, it doesn’t block VPNs entirely.

How does China block VPNs?

China employs a multi-layered approach to hinder VPN usage within its borders:

  • Blocking IP Addresses: The Great Firewall, China’s internet censorship system, maintains a dynamic list of known VPN server IP addresses. Once identified, these IP addresses are blocked, preventing users from establishing a connection to the VPN server.
  • Deep Packet Inspection (DPI): This technique involves scrutinizing data packets traveling across the network. By analysing patterns and encryption methods, the system attempts to flag traffic characteristic of VPN usage. If VPN activity is suspected, the connection might be slowed down significantly (throttling) or entirely blocked.
  • DNS Manipulation: The government can manipulate the Domain Name System (DNS) to redirect users attempting to access VPN websites to fake or non-functional pages. Tampering with DNS servers can lead users to download malware disguised as VPN software.
  • Restrictions on VPN Apps: Government pressure forces app stores like Apple’s App Store and Google Play to remove any VPN applications not officially approved. This makes it challenging to find and download reliable VPNs within China.

Do VPNs still work in China?

Yes, VPNs still work in China, but not all are effective in bypassing Chinese restrictions. If they have a low server count, limited security tools, and don’t have the right VPN protocols, these VPN services can be challenging to use.

That said, some VPNs prioritise features specifically designed to navigate restricted environments. This includes obfuscated servers, which disguise VPN traffic as regular internet traffic to make it appear less suspicious to DPI systems, and split tunneling, which allows you to choose which applications utilise the VPN connection and which ones use the regular internet connection.

This is what you can expect from ExpressVPN and NordVPN, and more. With thousands of servers, advanced obfuscation features, and their own protocols (Lightway and Nordlynx, respectively), these services are able to sneak past strict blocks. That’s why we continue to use them.

For more on the best VPNs to use in China, we’ve got you covered below.

Best VPNs for China

1. ExpressVPN

The fastest and most reliable VPN of 2024

  • Physical servers in 104 countries
  • Brilliant for unblocking streaming services
  • Very high-speed Lightway protocol
  • Available on almost any device
  • Very secure
  • Pricey
  • Only 8 simultaneous devices
  • No addons
ExpressVPN

Streaming: ExpressVPN excels in unblocking geo-restricted content and works seamlessly with streaming services, even in countries where VPNs are banned. It consistently performed well in tests with Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, and HBO Max.

Servers: ExpressVPN is highly regarded for its lightning-fast speeds and impressive server coverage, with over 3,000 servers in 104 countries that facilitate reliable and swift access in China, even in regions with strict digital censorship. You can also expect obfuscated server connections.

Privacy: ExpressVPN’s advanced encryption and privacy features ensure that your online presence and activities remain secure and anonymous, making it an excellent choice for those who take their digital privacy seriously while getting past China’s VPN blocks.

Price: ExpressVPN offers three payment plans: a 1-month option at $12.95/month, a 6-month option at $9.99/month, and a 12-month option at $6.67/month. Payment methods include major credit cards, PayPal, Bitcoin, and other systems, accommodating a wide range of users.

Speeds: ExpressVPN maintains high download speeds with minimal drop-off, ensuring efficient performance. Tests showed a slight decrease in upload speeds, but download speeds remained fast across various server locations, including the US, UK, and Vietnam.

Download Speeds (Mbps)Upload Speeds (Mbps)
VPN off937.07520.93
ExpressVPN US server824.626.96
ExpressVPN UK server794.953.70
ExpressVPN Vietnam server761.903.81

Read our full ExpressVPN review.

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2. NordVPN

An excellent, affordable, and fast VPN option for 2024

  • Affordable pricing
  • Effective streaming access
  • Diverse server types
  • Solid speeds
  • Useful add-ons
  • Strong security
  • Limited server locations
  • No virtual servers
NordVPN

Streaming: NordVPN is highly effective for bypassing geo-restrictions on streaming platforms like Netflix and BBC iPlayer. It has shown consistent success in connecting to various streaming services without noticeable issues.

Servers: NordVPN brings over 6,000 servers spanning 60 countries. While this isn’t as many countries as other VPNs, it’s still more than enough to get around China’s region blocks. You can also expect obfuscated server connections. Its commitment to physical servers ensures faster and more reliable connections.

Privacy: NordVPN stands out with its unique Double VPN technology, which routes your connection through two separate VPN servers, doubling the encryption and security of your data. This, along with its Threat Protection feature that blocks ads and malicious websites, makes NordVPN a robust option for China users who want extra layers of security without sacrificing performance

Price: NordVPN offers three pricing plans: Complete, Plus, and Standard. The 2-year plan for the Standard package is priced at $3.19/month, the 1-year plan at $4.99/month, and the monthly plan at $12.99/month. It accepts major credit cards and various payment systems.

Speeds: Below is a table showing the speeds tested for NordVPN. From our tests in New Zealand, NordVPN displayed very good speeds, although slightly behind ExpressVPN, but significantly faster than many other VPNs on the market.

Download Speeds (Mbps)Upload Speeds (Mbps)
No VPN (New Zealand)937.07520.93
NordVPN US server710.906.98
NordVPN UK server531.123.73

Read our full NordVPN review.

Special Offer for you!

(30-day money-back guarantee)

3. Private Internet Access

Affordable and secure VPN with wide device compatibility

  • Affordable pricing plans
  • Unlimited simultaneous devices
  • Extra features like ad blocker and email protection
  • Verified no-log policy
  • Compatible with streaming services like Netflix and Hulu
  • High use of virtual servers
  • Not as fast as top-tier VPNs
  • Lacks proprietary protocol options
PIA

Streaming: Private Internet Access works well with streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Max, although it initially faced some difficulties with BBC iPlayer, which were resolved after some fixes.

Servers: PIA has over 35,000 servers in 84 countries, which is above the average of 71 countries. That’s more than enough for anyone trying to use their VPN in China. However, 50% of these servers are virtual, impacting reliability compared to VPNs with more physical servers.

Privacy: PIA’s app is open-source, inviting third-party scrutiny and verification. Its easy-to-use interface allows for detailed settings adjustments, and the automatic kill switch ensures your VPN activity in China is always protected, even if your VPN connection unexpectedly drops.

Price: PIA offers three subscription options: 1-month at $11.95/month, 1-year at $3.33/month (upfront cost $39.95), and 3-year at $2.03/month (upfront fee $79). Payment methods include credit cards, PayPal, cryptocurrencies, and Amazon payments.

Speeds: Speed tests for PIA showed significant drops in download speeds across various servers. While using WireGuard protocol, speeds were faster than OpenVPN but still slower compared to top-tier VPNs like ExpressVPN.

OpenVPN Download Speeds (Mbps)OpenVPN Upload Speeds (Mbps)WireGuard Download Speeds (Mbps)WireGuard Upload Speeds (Mbps)
VPN off (New Zealand)930516
PIA US server238.527.17300.658.65
PIA UK server2453.77315.787.23
PIA Vietnam server4456.554898.24

Read our full Private Internet Access review.

Special Offer for you!

(30-day money-back guarantee)

4. Surfshark

Affordable and secure VPN with unlimited device policy of 2024

  • Attractive pricing for long-term subscriptions
  • Supports unlimited simultaneous connections
  • Robust security and privacy
  • 24/7 responsive chat support
  • Extensive server network in 100 countries
  • Has trouble with services like Hulu
  • Lacks a unique proprietary protocol
  • App can be overwhelming
  • Not the fastest among competitors
Surfshark

Streaming: Surfshark performs well with most streaming services but faces challenges with some, like Hulu. This could be a drawback for users who heavily rely on VPNs for streaming content from various regions.

Servers: Surfshark boasts over 3,300 servers in 100 countries, which is well above the average and includes both physical and virtual servers, providing extensive geographic coverage for anyone using their VPN in China.

Privacy: Surfshark emphasises its commitment to privacy with successful DNS leak tests and independent security audits by Cure53, ensuring robust online security and privacy for China. You can find more about their security audits here.

Price: Surfshark offers a 1-month option costing $12.95/month, a 12-month option at $3.99/month, and a 24-month option at $2.49/month. It accepts major credit cards, PayPal, Google Pay, Amazon Pay, and various cryptocurrencies.

Speeds: Below is a table that gives you an idea of the speed performance when using Surfshark. From our tests, we observed decent speeds, suitable for general use, but not the fastest compared to some rivals.

Download Speeds (Mbps)Upload Speeds (Mbps)
No VPN (New Zealand)940.55520.24
Surfshark US server775.96.15
Surfshark UK server587.793.79

Read our full Surfshark review.

Special Offer for you!

(30-day money-back guarantee)

5. PureVPN

A mid-range VPN that balances performance and price

  • Affordable
  • Unblocks major streaming services
  • Use on up to 10 devices simultaneously
  • Streamlined user interface
  • No log audit verified by KPMG
  • Several free add-ons
  • Buffering on BBC iPlayer at peak times
  • Past concerns with “no log” policy
PureVPN

Streaming: PureVPN has shown improvement in its ability to unblock streaming services. While it initially struggled with BBC iPlayer, its performance improved during less busy times. PureVPN can unblock major streaming services, but it may encounter buffering issues during peak streaming periods.

Servers: PureVPN offers over 6,000 servers in over 65 countries, making it an ideal, robust network for users trying to get past China’s region blocks.

Privacy: PureVPN has faced criticism in the past for its privacy policies. However, it has recently undergone a no-log audit verified by KPMG in the past 12 months, aiming to reassure users about its commitment to privacy. If you’re using your VPN in China and privacy is a must, you may want to look elsewhere.

Price: PureVPN offers three payment options: a 1-month plan at $10.95/month, a 1-year plan at $3.74/month, and a 2-year plan at $1.96/month. PureVPN accepts all major credit cards, PayPal, and a variety of other digital payment options.

Speeds: Below is a table that gives you an idea of the speed performance you can expect when using PureVPN. The VPN has shown variable download speeds across different streaming servers, with some experiencing significant drop-offs during peak times.

Download Speeds (Mbps)Upload Speeds (Mbps)
No VPN189.44139.82
PureVPN UK Server24.3198.99
PureVPN US Server49.83106.52

Read our full PureVPN review.

Special Offer for you!

(30-day money-back guarantee)

VPN not working in China: FAQs

Q: Why isn’t my VPN working in China?

Answer: China aims to control the distribution of information, with the Chinese government citing security concerns for its reason for restricting access to VPNs. However, critics argue it’s about controlling the narrative and limiting access to independent media.

Q: Is using a VPN in China legal?

Answer: Yes, using a VPN in China is techincally legal, but the country heavily restricts the use of VPNs. This is due to the country censoring information. It’s important to note that a VPN encrypts your internet connection and can provide anonymity online.

Q: What should I do if my VPN stops working in China?

Answer: If your VPN stops working when trying to connect to a server in China, try disconnecting and reconnecting to a different VPN server, as this can often resolve the issue. If problems persist, check with your VPN provider for any specific settings that could help.

Q: What happens if you use a VPN in China?

Answer: Yes, using a VPN in China, particularly unapproved ones, can lead to consequences. While using a VPN itself isn’t explicitly illegal, using or profiting from unauthorised VPN services, especially for activities deemed illegal, can result in penalties like fines or imprisonment.

Q: Which VPNs work in China?

Answer: To choose the best VPN for China, look for one with a large selection of servers, strong encryption, and a reputation for reliability. It’s also beneficial to select a VPN that offers dedicated IP addresses and has received positive feedback from users in the area you’re trying to bypass.

Patch Bowen
Patch Bowen is an accomplished technology journalist with a solid academic foundation, holding a degree from Auckland University. His expertise spans across a range of tech topics, with a notable focus on product reviews, industry trends, and the impact of technology on society. With his work featured on major New Zealand websites like Stuff.co.nz, thebit.nz, and The Press, Patch has established himself as a credible voice in technology media. His articles are known for their detailed analysis and practical insights, particularly in making complex technological concepts understandable for a broad audience. At ReviewsFire, Patch is renowned for his thorough evaluations and clear, informative writing style. He has a knack for identifying and explaining the nuances of the latest gadgets and digital trends, earning him a reputation as a trusted source for tech advice and information.

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