In A Nutshell
As of February 2014, a new round of blocking was activated in China. We currently recommend these VPNs to bypass the firewall:
- ExpressVPN: Servers in Hong Kong and the US West Coast. Many apps available. They have a 30 days money-back offer.
- 12VPN: Headquartered in Hong Kong, and they have experience with the Great Firewall, many Chinese customers. 7 day money back policy. But no P2P downloading/torrenting.
- IPVanish: VPN server in Shanghai, good reputation for privacy and fast connection speeds, allows torrents
- VPN.AC: Servers in Hong Kong, company with good reputation and a focus on privacy
The easiest way to bypass Chinese Firewall is to use a VPN that serves China. A VPN or “virtual private network” is a service that encrypts and redirects all your internet connections. The Chinese government has never stated that using a VPN to circumvent the Great Firewall is illegal, and nobody has been prosecuted for using a VPN. Despite this, China blocks the websites of most major VPNs.
When in China, you want to connect to VPN server in Asia (e.g. in China, Hong Kong, Bangkok). The next best option is to connect to a server on the West Coast of the US (e.g. Los Angeles, San Francisco).
Which VPN Protocols To Use?
- OpenVPN: Strangely, this is the least reliable protocol/client to use — you’ll find most ports are currently blocked (connection reset). The main cause appears to be spoofed RST packets.
- L2TP: This is a fast protocol for China and has few problems right now
- PPTP: Use only if L2TP doesn’t work for you. Slower and less reliable than L2TP
Here are more details on the best VPN to use in China:
12VPN are headquartered in Hong Kong, and they have experience with the Great Firewall. They also have a huge Chinese user-base. 12VPN gives you the choice of four server locations for OpenVPN, all of them based in the UK and US. The West Coast of the US is the best choice if your are in China, due its (relative) proximity to Asia. 12VPN provides you with a file of pre-configured settings for the to use with the OpenVPN app (Windows), or the Tunnelblick app (Mac OS X). You simply drop these in the correct location (as 12VPN’s site wiki explains very clearly) on your computer.
12VPN‘s service cost $9.95 per month or $79 per year.
ExpressVPN is optimized for China — it has servers Hong Kong and the US West Coast. Many people like their 30-day money back offer. They are slightly more expressive than other VPNs, but worth it if you want reliability. The monthly rate is $12.95.
IPVanish started operation in 2012, and is headquartered in the USA, but they have a server inside Shanghai, China. They have already earned a good reputation for privacy and fast connection speeds. According to the company there are “no restrictions on any legal use of the VPN”, and P2P services such as BitTorrent are not filtered. The service costs $10 per month or $77 per year. IPVanish has 110 VPN servers located throughout 47 countries giving 7,000+ potential IP addresses. They run their own tier-1 network, and they company claims that they have the fastest VPN connection speeds. IPVanish supports OpenVPN, PPTP and L2TP/IPSec protocols.
The cost of the service is $10 per month, or $78 per year.
VPN.AC has servers in Hong Kong. It is owned by Netsec Interactive Solutions – a company with ten years of experience in internet security. It hosts servers in 7 countries capable of reaching gigabit port speeds. You can get 20% off if you use the code “BVPNZ20″.
StrongVPN has built a excellent reputation over the years. They have become known for the reliability of their service and the number of servers they offer (350 in 19 countries). They are also one of the few VPN providers that offer 24 hour live help. Until recently, StrongVPN was blocked in China. However, they have now set up some mirrors for China, and they are not longer blocked.
StrongVPN’s Phil Blancett said recently: “We have seen a rapid increase in users coming from China in the past few months. It’s pushed us to automate as much as we can from inside our customer area. Customers can now choose from many locations on the West Coast of the USA, which ensures they have the best possible speed”. Blancett also stated that StrongVPN itself is growing and focusing more on Asia as well: “Early last year we purchased a FCP Routing Device from Internap that allowed us to automatically adjust and optimize our routes. It’s really improved our routes to Asia.”
This service doesn’t allow torrenting, so look for a VPN that allows torrents (e.g. ExpressVPN)
StrongVPN‘s service costs $30 for 3 months or $85 per year.
Just as a side note, whatever VPN service you’re using, you’ll still have problems if you’re using a Chinese DNS server (ie, your local ISP provided DNS server). China love to mess with DNS and implements a lot of filtering through their DNS servers, returning bad data or no data at all for a lot of requests. If your computer is using Chinese DNS servers, you’re gonna have a bad time.
You can check what DNS servers you are using here:
If you’re still using a Chinese DNS, change your DNS settings to use either the servers provided by your VPN, or one of the many public DNS servers. I recommend the following:
If just want to browse the uncensored internet in the short term, you can use the free Tor Browser. Note that, while using Tor, your web page will be somewhat slow to load, and your other internet connections will still be blocked. Also, make sure you use a Tor Bridge.