Photo: KnowInsider
China blocks thousands of websites (more than 8,000 websites to date) using its notorious filtering system, “The Great Firewall”. Photo: KnowInsider

The Chinese government is known as one of the most active censoring agents of the internet. If you live in or are traveling through the mainland you won’t be able to access a wide range of content from outside the country’s borders, including Google, Facebook, Wikipedia, Twitter, and most major foreign news sites. It’s a growing problem that citizens are constantly fighting against, and it’s no easy battle to win.

Access the free and open Internet with a VPN

VPNs are an essential tool in China and throughout the world. They turn ordinary, raw internet traffic into encrypted information, defeating most attempts at monitoring online activity. Instead of sending open data through the internet, a VPN makes it so everything is in code. Not only does this prevent prying eyes from watching what you do, but it also makes it difficult to filter out websites. If the Great Firewall of China doesn’t know what you’re trying to access, it can’t block it, plain and simple.

In addition to simply accessing blocked websites, using a VPN in China will let you do the following:

  • Bypass throttling efforts against foreign websites enacted by the Great Firewall.

  • View social media sites, forums, blogs, and foreign news sites filtered in China.

  • See search engine results the Chinese government doesn’t want you to see.

  • Access websites completely blocked by the Chinese authorities.

  • Keep your identity and activity completely safe and private.

  • Stream videos otherwise unavailable inside of China.

Best VPNs to unblock any site inside China

Photo: VPN Client
Photo: VPN Client

1. NordVPN – Best for China – NordVPN was built specifically to combat government censorship. They’ve built up the most impressive cybersecurity features that can break through the world’s harshest internet restrictions, like the Great Firewall.

2. Surfshark – An affordable VPN that “just works” without requiring exceptional user knowledge of advanced encryption protocols.

3. ExpressVPN – Great for bandwidth-starved networks, thanks to its low encryption overhead and speedy servers.

4. IPVanish – Offers an ideal balanced of privacy, performance, and price.

5. VyprVPN – One of the most capable providers at breaking through the Great Firewall, thanks to its Chameleon protocol.

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Is it legal to use a VPN?

Disclaimer: we are not qualified to give any legal advice; therefore, if you choose to use a VPN, you do so at your own risk.

That being said, our interpretation is that using a VPN (an acronym for a Virtual Private Network) is not an illegal act in and of itself, since it uses a technology developed to extend the benefits of private networks to connections that browse the Internet (or for use on a public network).

Therefore, a VPN is software designed to improve the security of your connection (click here to learn the technical details). Specifically, many universities and presumably Chinese government offices use a VPN system to isolate their internal network from the public.

So, the problem isn’t so much using a VPN as much as the fact that you’re accessing websites that aren’t permitted in China. Is that a crime? The reality is that we have no idea and therefore can’t offer any advice.

On a practical level, our opinion is that the Chinese government couldn’t care less if you use a VPN to log on to your Facebook profile or your Dropbox.

Of course, if you intend to use the Internet fraudulently, VPN or not, be aware that you’re taking a risk both in China and abroad.

What about Chinese websites?

In general, all Chinese websites work and are extremely fast. Note that if you’re using a VPN, some Chinese websites will not work properly (for example, many of the videos on Youku won’t be available). This is because some websites work only in China and by turning on a VPN, you are “masking” your Chinese IP address with that of another country.

Retain open internet access while traveling to China

The Great Firewall of China affects everyone who accesses the internet from the mainland, including travelers. Suddenly finding your e-mail service or Facebook account blocked can be a frustrating experience. Before you leave to explore China, there are a few precautions you can take so you don’t find yourself out of touch with the open internet you know and love.

Download your VPN before you leave

China’s censorship policies are constantly in flux. Some websites disappear without notice, while others are quietly removed from the blockade. Depending on which VPN you use, you might find the main website completely unavailable from within the country’s borders. Make sure you sign up for your VPN account and are paid up through your time in China. Also download the VPN before you leave and make sure everything is ready to go.

Prepare your mobile devices

Most of us rely on our smartphones for a large number of our online interactions. Wi-Fi connections and even mobile data are both subject to the limitations imposed by the Great Firewall, which means you’ll need to download and configure your smartphone VPN apps before you enter the country. You’ll also want to encrypt your Android phone or encrypt your iPhone before you leave, for added offline security.

Avoid using free VPNs

Free VPNs can be nothing but trouble. It’s tempting to use them in a pinch, especially if you forgot to sign up for a real VPN before you got on the plane, but the dangers to your privacy are too great of a risk. A large number of no-cost VPNs collect and sell user data and have been known to collaborate with governments to spy on users. If you’re using a free VPN, you could very well be handing data over to the Chinese authorities. Use the sections above to research and select a strong, reliable, and low-cost VPN for guaranteed online security.

List of websites and apps that AREN’T blocked in China

Below is a non-exhaustive list of websites and apps that are popular in the West that haven’t yet been blocked in China:

Calls and Video Calls

  • FaceTime
  • Skype (not very reliable)


  • LinkedIn
  • WeChat
  • Douyin

Instant Messaging

  • iMessage
  • WeChat

Streaming Platforms

  • HBO Asia (sometimes it has been blocked temporarily)
  • Vevo

Search Engines

  • Bing
  • Baidu
  • Yandex

Email Providers and Work Tools

  • Yahoo Mail
  • Hotmail
  • WeTransfer
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