Does ExpressVPN Work In China? Yes, But Read This First

Updated on: June 17, 2024
Fact Checked by Eric Goldstein
Kristel van Hoof Kristel van Hoof
Updated on: June 17, 2024 Writer

Short on time? Here’s how to use ExpressVPN in China in 2024:

  • Download and install the VPN. It’s best to sign up for and purchase an ExpressVPN subscription plan before you leave for China because the VPN’s website is often blocked by the country’s Great Firewall.
  • Launch the VPN app. ExpressVPN recommends setting the protocol to Automatic for connecting to a server in China. If it’s not set to Automatic, you can easily change the protocol in the Settings menu.
  • Connect to a server. I recommend connecting to a nearby server in Japan or Singapore for the fastest speeds.

ExpressVPN is one of the only VPNs that consistently works in China. It uses obfuscated servers and other sophisticated server technology that lets you connect to servers outside of China — allowing you to visit a free and open internet. ExpressVPN also has industry-leading security features that further protect your traffic from Chinese government surveillance.

China lets people use government-approved VPNs but bans all other VPNs. However, you can still use ExpressVPN by following the tips I include in this guide. I provide the steps you need to ensure ExpressVPN works in China hassle-free and instructions on how to get an ExpressVPN subscription when you’re already in China.

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Disclaimer: Keep in mind that China has banned the use of non-government-approved VPNs. However, no tourist has ever been prosecuted for using one (to our knowledge) because the Chinese government goes after the VPNs rather than the individuals who use them. My team and I don’t condone using a VPN for any illegal activities. Use a VPN at your own risk and always check the rules and regulations that govern VPN use in the country where you’re located.

Editors' Note: ExpressVPN and this site are in the same ownership group.

How to Get ExpressVPN to Consistently Work In China

1. Use the Automatic Protocol Option

ExpressVPN recommends setting the protocol to Automatic, which selects the best available protocol based on your location. This way, you don’t have to manually search for the best protocol in China. While all of ExpressVPN’s protocols have obfuscation, ExpressVPN removes the guesswork with the Automatic option.

How to select the Automatic protocol option:

  1. Go to the Protocol setting. This can be found by clicking on the menu icon and selecting Preferences.
  2. Select the Automatic radio button to set the protocol.

How to Get ExpressVPN to Consistently Work In China

2. Try the OpenVPN TCP Protocol

China blocks certain ports that might prevent you from using ExpressVPN in the country. Port blocking occurs when an internet service provider (ISP) identifies and blocks internet traffic by the combination of the port number and transport protocol. If setting the protocol to Automatic doesn’t prevent the blocking of your internet connection, try using the OpenVPN TCP protocol option. This protocol uses TCP port 443, which is the port that routes all HTTPS traffic — it’s highly unlikely China will block this port because that would mean it would cut off all HTTPS internet traffic in the country.

How to Get ExpressVPN to Consistently Work In China

3. Make Sure the Kill Switch and Leak Protection Are On

It’s essential to keep the kill switch and DNS and IPv6 leak protection on while using a VPN in China. The kill switch, which ExpressVPN calls Network Lock, instantly disconnects you from the internet if the VPN disconnects without your knowledge. This makes sure that none of your data leaks on the web. DNS and IPv6 leak protection prevents your real Chinese IP from accidentally being exposed.

ExpressVPN’s kill switch is enabled by default. However, if the kill switch is disabled, you can quickly re-enable it by doing the following:

  1. Open General settings. You’ll find this by clicking on the menu icon and selecting Preferences.
  2. Turn on the kill switch. Next to Network Lock, check the box that says Stop all internet traffic if the VPN disconnects unexpectedly.

DNS and IPv6 leak protection are also enabled automatically. This is how you can double-check if IPv6 leak protection is on:

  1. Open Advanced settings. This can be done by clicking on the menu icon and selecting Preferences.
  2. Make sure that IPv6 Leak Protection is enabled. The box that says Prevent IPv6 address detection while connected should be checked.
  3. Check that DNS and WebRTC leak protection are working. At the bottom of the ExpressVPN home page under Tools, click on DNS Leak Test, and then WebRTC Test. The result of each test should say “No leak detected”.

How to Get ExpressVPN to Consistently Work In China

4. Clear Your Browser’s Cache and Cookies

Websites sometimes use your cookies and cache history to see your actual location. This means you might get blocked by certain websites if the VPN IP address doesn’t match your actual location. To prevent this, navigate to your browser’s settings and delete the cache and cookies.

5. Connect to ExpressVPN’s Recommended Servers for China

ExpressVPN offers a list of servers it recommends that you connect to in China. This list includes Japan (Yokohama), the US (Los Angeles 5 and Santa Monica), the UK (Wembley), France (Alsace), and Singapore (Marina Bay). If you don’t need a specific location, it’s best to connect to ExpressVPN using the Pick for Me location in the app.

How to Get ExpressVPN to Consistently Work In China

6. Wait for the Connection

It could take up to 30 seconds to connect if you’re in a part of China with slow internet speeds. If you still can’t connect, try exiting the app and restarting your device. Always make sure that you’re connected to ExpressVPN before you begin to browse the internet in China.

7. Keep Trying to Reconnect to the Same Server Location

You may need to reconnect to the same server location multiple times until you get a connection, especially if the connection has worked for you in the past. Sometimes a specific server gets blocked by the Great Firewall. If this happens, I recommend disconnecting and then reconnecting to the same server location to get a new IP address. If you still can’t connect to a server after multiple attempts, try connecting to a different server location.

8. Reinstall or Update the App

If you still can’t connect to the internet, try reinstalling the ExpressVPN app. You’ll have to ensure that you have the executable file before reinstalling it — the file can be hard to download in China. Be sure to have the latest version of the ExpressVPN app before you travel to China.

9. Use ExpressVPN’s Mirror or Tor Sites

In China, ExpressVPN uses a mirror site, which is an exact copy of its website but with a different URL — this is due to China blocking ExpressVPN’s regular website. However, the Chinese government is constantly trying to also block the mirror site, so ExpressVPN often changes the URL. You’ll need to contact ExpressVPN’s customer support to get the latest URL. It helps to write down the mirror site URL before traveling to China.

Another way to access ExpressVPN’s website is to use its The Onion Router (Tor) site at http://expressobutiolem.onion. You need to download the Tor browser, which allows users in China to surf the web with an added layer of anonymity. Then type in ExpressVPN’s Tor URL, purchase an ExpressVPN subscription, and download the app.

10. Contact Customer Support

I recommend contacting the ExpressVPN support team if you can’t connect to an ExpressVPN server in China after trying all the previous steps. The support representatives are friendly and knowledgeable, and they will provide additional tips to help you connect to one of ExpressVPN’s servers.

While ExpressVPN has 24/7 live chat, unfortunately, you’ll likely only be able to contact the VPN via email — China often blocks ExpressVPN’s website so you can’t access live chat. Instead, send an email to ExpressVPN at support@expressvpn.com (Gmail is blocked in China). ExpressVPN’s email support is very responsive, as I always received a reply within 3-4 hours.

How Does ExpressVPN Work In China?

ExpressVPN has obfuscation on all servers that hide VPN traffic in restrictive countries like China. To detect VPNs, China uses deep packet inspection (DPI), which inspects internet traffic for being routed through a VPN — and blocks all VPN traffic. However, if ExpressVPN detects DPI, it automatically obfuscates the traffic.

In addition, ExpressVPN refreshes its server IP addresses often, which makes it more difficult for the Chinese government to discover ExpressVPN’s servers and block them with firewalls.

Finally, the VPN automatically uses TCP port 443 with the OpenVPN TCP protocol. TCP port 443 is the same port used by HTTPS, which accounts for most non-VPN internet traffic and is nearly impossible to block.

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Editors' Note: ExpressVPN and this site are in the same ownership group.

Why You Should Use ExpressVPN in China

ExpressVPN has top-of-the-line security that prevents the Chinese government from seeing your online activity. ExpressVPN’s proprietary Lightway protocol provides excellent security and lightning-fast speeds in censorship-heavy countries like China. Combined with its military-grade AES 256-bit encryption, full leak protection, and reliable kill switch, this means that nobody will be able to snoop on your online activities — not even the government.

ExpressVPN doesn’t have servers in mainland China, keeping it exempt from Chinese data retention laws. It has a strict no-logs policy that’s been independently verified multiple times, which means that it doesn’t store any of your data, so it can’t ever share your information even if authorities requested it.

Furthermore, ExpressVPN can access lots of top streaming sites, including 10+ Netflix libraries, several Amazon Prime and Disney+ libraries, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Max, Crunchyroll, and 100+ more.

It offers super-fast speeds for all online activities you engage in from China, including streaming in HD. Plus, it has a lot of servers near China, so you can connect to the one that offers the best speed. The Quick Connect feature even chooses the fastest server for you.

No matter what kind of device you have, ExpressVPN has a dedicated app for your operating system or platform, including Android, iOS, macOS, and Windows. It even offers browser extensions and supports routers, so you can protect every device in your home. And the user interface is incredibly intuitive. You don’t have to be a tech whiz to get connected; a single click is all it takes.

Finally, ease of use in China is a big deal. Many VPNs struggle to work reliably in China, thanks to the country’s anti-VPN measures. However, ExpressVPN’s reps confirmed its very reliable in China. They even offer a specific set of instructions to ensure that you can connect while in the country.

How to Install ExpressVPN (Step-by-Step Guide)

Before traveling to China, we recommend installing ExpressVPN on all of your devices to ensure uninterrupted access to the internet. It’s important to do this before you get to China since the country makes it very difficult to download VPN apps. Here’s how to install ExpressVPN from outside China.

PC or Mac

  1. Visit ExpressVPN’s website. Click Get ExpressVPN or Get Started to continue.

How to Install ExpressVPN (Step-by-Step Guide)

  1. Choose a plan. ExpressVPN has multiple plan lengths available. Choose the one that works for you (the longest plans provide the best discounts).

How to Install ExpressVPN (Step-by-Step Guide)

  1. Create an account. ExpressVPN only requires your email address and payment details to sign up. It accepts a variety of payment methods including credit/debit card, PayPal, cryptocurrency, and more.

How to Install ExpressVPN (Step-by-Step Guide)

  1. Download the app. ExpressVPN has great PC and Mac apps. Select the app for your device and follow the installation wizard’s instructions. The process won’t take more than 2-3 minutes.

How to Install ExpressVPN (Step-by-Step Guide)

  1. Sign in and connect. Sign in to your account using your activation code, then connect to a server to make sure the VPN works.

How to Install ExpressVPN (Step-by-Step Guide)

How to Install ExpressVPN (Step-by-Step Guide)

iPhone or iPad

  1. Create an account. Visit expressvpn.com and set up an account. It will only take a few minutes.
  2. Download the app from the Apple Store. Installing it takes less than a minute.

How to Install ExpressVPN (Step-by-Step Guide)

  1. Log into your account. Enter your email address and password to sign in.

How to Install ExpressVPN (Step-by-Step Guide)

  1. Allow VPN configurations. Click Allow and then enter your device password in settings to allow VPN configurations.

How to Install ExpressVPN (Step-by-Step Guide)

  1. Connect to a server. ExpressVPN recommends using the “Pick for Me” server location for use in China.

How to Install ExpressVPN (Step-by-Step Guide)

Android Smartphone or Tablet

  1. Visit ExpressVPN’s official website and make an account. You’ll need to choose a plan, enter your email address, and input your payment information.
  2. Download ExpressVPN’s Android app. Visit the Google Play Store, search for ExpressVPN, and download the app. This will take less than a minute.

How to Install ExpressVPN (Step-by-Step Guide)

  1. Sign in. To log into your account, click Sign In and enter your email and password.

How to Install ExpressVPN (Step-by-Step Guide)

  1. Allow VPN configuration. ExpressVPN needs permission from your device to work. Click OK and follow the instructions in settings.

How to Install ExpressVPN (Step-by-Step Guide)

  1. Connect to a server for China. ExpressVPN recommends choosing the “Pick for me” option.

How to Install ExpressVPN (Step-by-Step Guide)

Browser Extension

  1. Visit ExpressVPN’s website and create an account. It will require your email address and a payment method like PayPal or a credit card.
  2. Get the extension for your preferred browser. Click on “Get VPN Extension” to install it.

How to Install ExpressVPN (Step-by-Step Guide)

  1. Sign in. If you have the VPN app on your device and are logged in, you’ll be logged in automatically on the browser extension.
  2. Connect to a server. Using the “Pick for me” server option is recommended for connections in China.

How to Install ExpressVPN (Step-by-Step Guide)

Editors' Note: ExpressVPN and this site are in the same ownership group.

How to Get ExpressVPN If You’re Already in China

You probably won’t be able to access ExpressVPN’s site in China because it’s blocked by the government. Here’s what you can do instead to get ExpressVPN in China:

  • Use its mirror website. This is a copy of ExpressVPN’s website, but with a different URL address, making it harder for firewalls to detect and block it. ExpressVPN often changes the URL for its mirror site, so you’ll have to contact ExpressVPN’s customer support to get the latest mirror link.
  • Use a free proxy to access ExpressVPN. A proxy changes your IP address but doesn’t encrypt your data. I recommend using a web proxy since you can just copy and paste ExpressVPN’s website link in the search field.
  • Ask a friend outside of China. If you have a friend living outside of China, you could ask them to sign up for ExpressVPN for you. Once they sign up, they can send you the installation files and login credentials via email.
  • Use the SIM card from your home country. If your SIM card supports roaming, you can connect to the internet with it and sign up with ExpressVPN on the official site. Your Chinese ISP isn’t in charge of your roaming data, so you won’t have to worry about any government firewalls or restrictions.
  • Email ExpressVPN for the .apk app if you use Android. If you already have an ExpressVPN subscription and you’re using an Android device, you can try to install the .apk app; this way, you don’t need the app store to get ExpressVPN. You can get the latest .apk file by contacting ExpressVPN’s email support team.
  • Think about planning a journey to Hong Kong or Macau. The Chinese authorities conduct some online surveillance in these areas, but they are beyond the Great Firewall, meaning you should have the ability to visit ExpressVPN’s website, register, and install the application.

Other VPNs that Work in China

ExpressVPN is the best VPN for China. That said, if you can’t get it to work even after trying all of the above suggestions, there are some other good options. Here are some alternatives to try:

  • Private Internet Access (PIA) — This VPN has obfuscation through the open-source encrypted Shadowsocks proxy, refreshes its IPs often, and provides access to the 443 port with OpenVPN. It also has great security, including an audited no-logs policy for anonymity, full leak protection, and more. PIA has servers in 91 countries, several of which are near China (Hong Kong, the Philippines, and Japan).
  • PrivateVPN — PrivateVPN refreshes its IP addresses frequently, lets you use port 443 via OpenVPN, and has obfuscation (StealthVPN). It has fast servers in 63 countries, including those near China like Japan and Singapore.
  • TunnelBear — TunnelBear regularly refreshes its IPs, has obfuscation via GhostBear, and has advanced security features like an audited no-logs policy. Its apps are very user-friendly too. It has servers in 47 countries, including Taiwan and South Korea.

Editors' Note: Private Internet Access and this site are in the same ownership group.

Frequently Asked Questions

What should I do if ExpressVPN doesn’t work in China?

If ExpressVPN isn’t working for you in China, I recommend trying the tips mentioned in this article. These include setting your protocol settings to Automatic, using ExpressVPN’s recommended servers for China, clearing your browser cache and cookies, and many other tips.

If ExpressVPN still isn’t working for you, I recommend reaching out to ExpressVPN’s customer support via email at support@expressvpn.com (but note that Gmail is blocked in China). Email is the best way to contact ExpressVPN because China blocks ExpressVPN’s website, so you won’t have access to 24/7 live chat.

Is it legal to use a VPN in China?

It’s complicated. China has banned non-government-approved VPNs like ExpressVPN, and it’s illegal to use a commercial VPN in China. The government says that you could be fined for using ExpressVPN, but there are no reports of a foreigner ever being fined for using a non-approved VPN.

The government tries to block non-approved VPNs rather than go after individual users. However, I always recommend checking the laws of the region you plan to visit or live in. If you’re traveling to China, it’s best to download ExpressVPN before you arrive because the app and website are blocked there.

Can I use ExpressVPN on Android, iOS, or my router in China?

Yes, ExpressVPN offers native apps for iOS, Android, and routers that work in China. All of ExpressVPN’s servers have obfuscation, so you can use the VPN on whichever device you need. However, I recommend downloading and installing ExpressVPN on your device before traveling to China because China has blocked access to ExpressVPN’s website.

Does ExpressVPN have servers in China?

ExpressVPN doesn’t have physical servers in mainland China, but it does have servers in Hong Kong and Macau, which aren’t behind the Great Firewall. Nonetheless, the Chinese government monitors some internet traffic and blocks some websites in Hong Kong and Macau. To make sure you have access to a free internet, connect to a nearby server location in Japan or Singapore.

Why is the internet censored in China, and which websites are blocked?

China prevents the public from accessing content the government deems inappropriate. This includes information that could be considered damaging to the government, suggestive content, and gambling sites. The following sites are blocked by the Great Firewall:

  • Social media sites and apps: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and others.
  • News websites: BBC, The New York Times, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Bloomberg, NBC, and others.
  • Search engines: Yahoo, DuckDuckGo, Google, Bing, and others.
  • Messaging services: Gmail, WhatsApp, Telegram, Snapchat, Skype, Slack, and others.
  • Information providers: Quora, Wikipedia, WordPress, Archive.

ExpressVPN is one of the few VPNs that can allow you to access all of these platforms.

Is ExpressVPN owned by a Chinese company?

No. ExpressVPN is based in the British Virgin Islands, which is a privacy-friendly nation and isn’t part of the 5/9/14 Eyes Alliances (a group of nations that share intelligence data). The British Virgin Islands also doesn’t have mandatory data retention laws, so ExpressVPN isn’t required to store your data.

Can I use Tor to access ExpressVPN in China?

Using Tor to access ExpressVPN in China is technically possible but isn’t a good idea. The Chinese government employs advanced technology to detect and block bypassing tools and VPNs, including Tor nodes, and Tor doesn’t refresh its IPs very often. So, it’s unlikely to work most of the time.

Additionally, using Tor in China will be painfully slow, and Tor doesn’t protect your privacy very well since it may leak your real IP address. Plus, malicious actors can run their own Tor servers.

Instead, you should download the ExpressVPN app to your device before arriving in China. This way, you won’t have to access ExpressVPN’s site while in China.

Will hotel Wi-Fi provide you with unrestricted access to ExpressVPN in China?

No, this won’t work. Despite what some sources claim, even hotel networks in China strictly censor the internet, regardless if you’re an international visitor or not.

If you plan to use a VPN like ExpressVPN while in China, you should prepare ahead of time. I recommend installing the ExpressVPN app before arriving in China since downloading the app in the country is challenging. If you’re already in China, you can use mirror links or another method to access ExpressVPN in China.

Can you use Shadowsocks to access ExpressVPN in China?

Unfortunately, Shadowsocks cannot be used to access ExpressVPN in China. I tested it myself, and it didn’t work. Plus, the VPN’s support reps informed me that ExpressVPN’s servers don’t support proxy connections, so using it with Shadowsocks won’t work.

But if you want to use a manual Shadowsocks connection to hide VPN traffic, I recommend using a VPN that supports Shadowsocks connections with its servers, like Private Internet Access, which also has built-in obfuscation via Shadowsocks.

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About the Author
Kristel van Hoof
Updated on: June 17, 2024

About the Author

Kristel van Hoof is a former tech researcher and writer for SafetyDetectives with a keen interest in online privacy and cybersecurity. For more than 3 years now, she has been testing and reviewing VPNs and other products for online data protection. When she’s not writing for Safety Detectives, she's dancing with her kids, traveling around the world, and cooking her favorite dishes.