Even if Chinese people are very connected, especially trough their smartphones and Chinese apps, you might know that Internet in China is restricted, which means connecting to your favourite websites might be sometimes… frustrating.
This is because of the so-called “Great Firewall” of China — a countrywide Internet filter that restricts the access of certain websites. More than 2600 major websites are blocked in China, such as Google, Gmail, Facebook, Youtube, Yahoo, Twitter, Vimeo, WordPress, Blogspot…
However, investing in a VPN service can help you making your life easier.
But what is a VPN exactly? VPNs allow users to securely access a private network. People use VPN for different reasons: online security, online privacy or to bypass Internet content blocking. Don’t worry, VPNs are not illegal as there is currently no law or regulation about using VPNs in China. In fact, they are often used in businesses and enterprises (that being said, it is illegal to operate a VPN company inside China without the proper registration).
The VPN service offer is huge. You can find online comparisons, but still, it remains difficult to know which VPN best fits your needs: number of simultaneous users, speed, bandwidth, reliability, ease of setup, customer service, server location, device compatibility, cost… It seems that the most utilised VPNs among the expat community are ExpressVPN and Astrill.
Paid VPNs are generally better than free VPNs in China. If you only need to use VPN occasionally, then a free VPN might be OK. However, if you need to use VPN on a daily basis, free VPNs won’t be enough, because free VPNs usually have restrictions on bandwidth usage and their speed is usually slower. In addition, you might run into security risks by using a free VPN. A paid VPN is quite affordable and will usually cost you between 5$ to 15$ USD / month. Most companies offer a discount on yearly plans. Additionally, you can sometimes split the cost among a couple of friends, as most VPNs allow sharing on one account.
Also good to know: Some websites recommend to set up and test your VPN before you arrive in China. Many of the websites of the VPN companies are blocked (or could become blocked at any time), so it helps to have your VPNs customer support email saved somewhere on your computer.