all your questions about VPNs in China answered

My biggest fear coming to China was feeling isolated. The censorship laws that exist filter the internet behind an invisible firewall that makes communicating with the parts of the world that do have fully functioning internet tricky. Not being able to communicate with people I love is a deal breaker, plain and simple. So I needed to install a VPN on all my devices.

If you're a foreigner readying yourself for a move or visit to China, I've created this post to answer all your questions about VPNs on the mainland. 

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What is the Great Firewall of China?

The Great Firewall of China is the combination of policies and technology I won't ever understand enforced by the Chinese government to regulate the internet in China. The idea is to censor the internet by blocking access to foreign information and search engines. It's not all negative. By "monitoring" the internet, China has created an abundance of jobs in the tech industry. 

Why do I need a VPN?

Sure, you might be fine without Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube, but whether you are casually traveling or planning on living in China, I doubt you'd want to do so without access to Google, Gmail, Whats App, or Messenger. You'll need a VPN for any and all of those apps and web pages as all are blocked. 

What is a VPN?

A VPN is a Virtual Private Network. In the lamest of terms, for people like me who just do not understand most things "tech" without serious help and reading involved, a VPN tricks your computer {or phone, or tablet, etc.} into thinking its somewhere else so you can access blocked sites. Most VPNs allow you to pick your location for connection {for example, I have to be connected somewhere in the US to check my American bank account} or to connect to the "fastest available server". 

Can I get a free VPN?

Yes. I'll warn you that they aren't reliable {meaning they don't hold onto internet connection for long periods of time} or fast {good luck loading YouTube videos}. If you're only visiting China, especially for a short time, consider downloading Betternet. It's free and it works for basic things like checking emails or checking Tripadvisor. 

 Betternet VPN

Betternet VPN

 VYPR VPN 

VYPR VPN 

What's the best VPN to have?

Ask 90% of expats in China what VPN they use and you'll probably get the standard "Express VPN." But, guys, so many of my friends have had problems with Express. Because of its popularity, whenever a big government conference is going on or a major event {like the Victoria Secret Show in Shanghai last winter} takes place, Express VPN is almost always the first VPN to get slowed and stopped. 

In my opinion, Vypr VPN is pretty unbeatable. I have had only a few problems with messages being sent in repeat after installing updates, but other than that, I've found Vypr to be incredible value for money. It holds a connection, which is vital when you Skype as I do, and its auto-connect feature makes getting online a breeze. Typically, my VPN connects me to the United Kingdom or Dubai, sometimes France {like in the above photo}. Every once in a while it connects to Vietnam or Japan, but it seems those connections are slower. 

Do I need a VPN for Hong Kong and Taiwan?

First thing's first, a little history lesson! Hong Kong has only been a territory of China since 1997. Before that, it was governed by England. After visiting Hong Kong and living in mainland China, I can tell you comparing the two is like comparing Montana to Miami-- they might as well be different planets. Taiwan and China have a...strained relationship, to say the least. I'll give you the shorthand version of it all. Basically, two different governments claim Taiwan. All this to say: Hong Kong and Taiwan should be treated as though they are completely separate from China. Obviously, there are ties. But keep it simple and don't overwhelm yourself when you're making travel plans. 

No, you won't need a VPN for travel to Hong Kong or Taiwan. This goes for Macau as well. 

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How does a VPN work?

Simply download the VPN of your choice onto the devices you intend to use unblocked internet on. You'll need to do this prior to arrival in China because once you arrive on the mainland, downloading a VPN isn't possible without jumping through a slew of other complicated tech hoops {apks, blah, blah, blah}. It's as easy as that. If I can do it, anyone can. 

Any other questions you might have about VPNs? Drop them in the comments below!