As you probably know, there are countries that have banned the use of VPN services. Even though China is often found among those countries, things aren’t that simple. While some people say that VPNs are illegal in this country, others claim that you can use VPNs without any limitations. As always, the correct answer is somewhere in the middle. So, let’s talk about how to use VPNs in China without breaking the law in 2020.
In case you’ve been following the situation surrounding VPNs in China, you have probably heard about China’s authorities blocking VPNs. It has created quite a commotion online and offline, especially when it came to large corporations. Even the USA has warned against this action as a way to protect companies that originate from this country but operate in China. And as a response, some VPN-related laws were relaxed in the meantime. However, and as you can easily see, this only led to more confusion.
To give you an answer on the safety of using VPNs in China, we need to take a look at the newest developments. More precisely, we’re going to answer a series of commonly asked questions. So, let’s jump right in.
Is China Actively Blocking VPN Services? And Why?
You need to understand that its government tightly controls China – and this applies to the flow of information as well. That is why the Great Firewall of China was created. Thanks to this ‘invention,’ the officials are able to filter outgoing and incoming Internet data. For example, numerous websites can be blocked or censored – and these changes and decisions can happen overnight.
It all started as a way to control political groups that were deemed dangerous by the Chinese officials. Here, we’re talking mostly about Taiwanese and Tibetan separatist groups. As a way to control their reach, websites and forums started to get blocked a while ago. However, these groups have started using other means to spread information, mostly over social media. Therefore, services and websites like Facebook and Google were forced to back out of this country or to remove certain features.
Finally, China understands that it’s impossible to ban VPNs altogether – and this especially applies to business organizations. After all, VPNs come with numerous legitimate uses, and we’re sure that the Chinese government is using this technology to encrypt its own data. So, instead of banning this technology, China has decided to regulate VPNs and create a list of licensing options.
Is It Illegal to Use a VPN in China?
The first thing we have to get out of the way is the fact that VPNs have not received a blanket ban in China. Plenty of media outlets have essentially said as much, but this is false information. VPN technology itself is not illegal within China. It’s just that the Chinese government has now explicitly described who may use VPNs, as well as which are the allowed purposes for these tools.
So, what’s being banned are foreign VPN services and other VPN implementations that don’t comply with government policies and regulations. To this end, several things have already happened. Apple has pulled some VPN apps from the Chinese app store. After all, they can’t afford to be kicked out of China. And also, Google has removed VPN-related ads from appearing in this country. Finally, Chinese telecoms have had been told to block all VPN traffic in March 2018 (even though this never really went into action, as many VPN apps keep on offering their services even today).
The new law didn’t make VPNs illegal in this country, as you might have read online. Instead, the Chinese government has decided to ban VPNs that operate without a “license.” It means that you still have a whole range of Virtual Private Network apps at your disposal, and you can still use them to go beyond the Great Firewall of China. However, it doesn’t mean that there’s no reason for concern. We don’t know the exact relationship between licensed VPNs and the Chinese government. Do those VPNs keep logs, and have they developed backdoor access? Only time will tell.
Can I Use a VPN in China?
Using a VPN in China is indeed a grey-area thing. This country blocks numerous websites, and there’s no way of accessing them via regular Internet connections. However, it’s not true that the Chinese government is tracking down every VPN user. As long as you use it for personal purposes and avoiding any risky situations, you are good to go.
In case you download a huge amount of data on a daily basis, or if you get in contact with people who might be suspected, this is when the authorities might be interested in your online whereabouts. What’s interesting to note is that this situation doesn’t only apply to China, but plenty of other countries as well.
Finally, you need to keep in mind that China has solid anti-pornography and anti-prostitution laws, which need to be taken seriously. Just because you’re using a VPN doesn’t mean that you should go against this country’s laws.
Can Foreigners Use VPNs in China?
Let’s say that you plan on traveling to China and that you want to use your own VPN. In theory, any VPN should work since the Great Firewall of China isn’t that difficult to go through after all. So, what would happen if you’re caught using a foreign VPN?
To give you an answer, we’ll take a look at what happened to Josh Summers, who spent plenty of time living in China. Back in 2015, his smartphone stopped working while he was in Xinjiang. He wasn’t able to make phone calls or send messages, and his Web connection dropped as well. Josh pointed out that his cell service provider told him to go to the police. There, his phone was taken away from him, and all but ‘legal’ apps were deleted, including Skype and his VPN application. Then, he received his phone back – and that’s about it. It means that he wasn’t forced to pay a fine, nor did he go to jail.
The truth is that Josh’s story happened in 2015, and China has decided to become more aggressive since then. So, our advice would be not to try your luck with just about any VPN – and it’s always best to use a VPN with a proven track record of working in China.
Can You Use Corporate VPNs in China?
It is a common practice for large business organizations to use VPNs to secure their communication. A country that completely blocks this practice doesn’t exist. That is because China is interested in foreign investments, and it doesn’t want to impede them – even though numerous strict laws do exist in practice.
Generally, corporate VPNs use the public Internet to create secure communication channels. Even though there were reports saying that China is disrupting corporate VPNs, this isn’t something to be overly concerned about. It is believed that companies are free to use their custom VPNs – but they need to know their limitations.
The biggest limitation of using a corporate VPN is that all data generated in China needs to remain within the country’s borders. We are talking about personal data like ID cards, passport information, and bank accounts – and this is China’s effort to protect its citizens.
What’s the Punishment for Using VPN in China?
Many experts agree that the Great Firewall of China is built to discourage regular Web users from accessing censored websites. After all, bypassing the firewall is actually quite easy and all you need is a reliable VPN. Therefore, the main goal of this action isn’t to catch those using a VPN.
Using VPNs within legal limits (avoiding the dark Web or any kind of criminal activity) will not get you in trouble. However, selling VPNs is a tricky business. There were reports of a man sentenced to nine months in jail for selling VPNs. Yet, we haven’t seen any other news of the authorities punishing individuals for using VPNs.
So, Can You Get a Legal VPN in China?
The only way to use a VPN in China without getting into legal trouble is by using a government-approved VPN. If a VPN is government-approved, it means it’s of no use if you want to hide your activity from the government itself. That’s because they need to agree to government oversight. And also, whatever you use the VPN for, it has to be an approved use case. This means you can’t use it to circumvent censorship without breaking the law.
So, here are the essential points of using a VPN in China without breaking the law:
- Use a VPN with explicit authorization from the Chinese government. Once you shortlist the VPNs you’re interested in, make sure to contact them and ask about their relationship with Chinese authorities (whether they’re approved or not).
- Use VPNs only for sanctioned purposes, such as data security or letting your field workers access Intranet features. Once again, keep in mind that you must stay away from any online criminal activities. Using a VPN won’t protect you if you break any laws, in China or elsewhere in the world.
Before we conclude this article, we’ll answer frequently asked questions related to the main question of this article – how to use VPNs in China without breaking the law. So, keep on reading.
Can You Watch Netflix in China?
Even though Netflix is available pretty much in the entire world, China is not on the list of supported countries. However, it doesn’t mean you can’t access this video streaming service. Just make sure to pick a VPN that works in China and that’s licensed by the government.
Can You Download VPN Apps From the Chinese iOS App Store?
Since Apple has removed a bunch of highly popular VPNs from its Chinese app store, it can be hard to install and natively run a VPN app. The most popular solution to this problem is to create a new iTunes account using an address from the USA. This also includes using a VPN, so that your IP address points to a location in the US.
Can You Pay for a VPN Using Chinese Payment Services?
Well, this depends on the chosen VPN. While the majority of the popular VPN services support PayPal, which is a way to keep your subscription alive, only a handful support payment options like Chinese bank cards, Union Pay, and AliPay. One of the VPNs that stands out in this manner is ExpressVPN.
How to Access Facebook in China – via a VPN, Proxy, or SSH?
You might be surprised to know that Facebook is indeed blocked in China. Even though Mark Zuckerberg has visited China numerous times and he even met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the website remains blocked. Instead of using Facebook, Chinese Web users rely on social media networks like WeChat, Sina Weibo, Youku, Douban, and others. All of these are Chinese creations.
It’s interesting to note that VPNs can easily overcome this obstacle and open Facebook to Chinese users. By using a VPN, you get a new IP address outside of China, and Facebook becomes fully available. Also, you should know that Proxies or SSH aren’t as secure as VPNs, which is why we recommend you not use these methods of unblocking websites.
How Do Foreigners Check Gmail in China?
You might already know that Google is still banned in China, even though this might change in the near future. So, how do foreigners check Gmail? The easy answer is – they can’t since Google services are not available in this country. The long answer is – there are still ways to make Gmail work.
Of course, the best and easiest method is to use a VPN. This includes running a VPN application on your phone or computer. It’s convenient since you don’t have to change your workflow. You can keep the Gmail app on your phone and use it whenever you want.
Can You Use WhatsApp in China?
WhatsApp is not banned in China, and it’s actually one of a few international messaging services available in this country. However, what’s worrying is that WhatsApp was briefly blocked back in July 2017. Even though you can still use this app, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t add another layer of protection. So, read our following segment to see which VPN to pick.
Can I Download VPNs in China?
China has indeed blocked access to several websites selling VPN services. However, this is why you’ll find mirror or proxy websites that are still available in this country. So, instead of visiting the official website of a VPN, you need to do a Google search if a mirror website is available. This one looks exactly like the original website, allowing you to log-in to your user account and download the required software.
What’s the Best VPN for China in 2020?
As per our reviews and extensive testing, we highly recommend using ExpressVPN. This is a licensed VPN that works in China without any problems. On top of that, this application allows you to access a bunch of popular foreign services, including media streaming services.
Do Free VPNs Work in China?
We strongly recommend staying away from free VPN services, especially if you’re in China. That’s because free VPNs can’t grant you the same level of anonymity and security as commercial VPNs can. Besides, free VPNs come with highly limiting caps in terms of their bandwidth or data usage.
It really pays off to use a commercial VPN if you’re in China. Do your research, and we’re sure you’ll manage to find an affordable solution that’s going to meet your every need. Once again, we do recommend checking out ExpressVPN for yourself.
Dear readers, that would be all on how to use VPNs in China without breaking the law in 2020. We hope that you managed to find answers to all of your questions. If not, please don’t hesitate to post a comment below.