Short on time? Here’s how to use ExpressVPN in China in 2023:
- 1. Get ExpressVPN. Sign up on its site (ideally before you leave for China), then download and install its apps on your devices.
- 2. Open the VPN app. Head to the app’s settings and switch the protocol to Automatic (recommended) — ExpressVPN recommends using this protocol setting in China.
- 3. Connect to a server. Select a nearby server in Japan, Hong Kong, or Singapore to get the fastest speeds.
ExpressVPN is the best VPN to use in China in 2023, as it consistently works in the country (and other restrictive countries like Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia). In addition, it provides excellent security features that protect your data from Chinese hackers and government surveillance.
That said, China is extremely aggressive when it comes to detecting and blocking VPNs, to the point where it even manages to block ExpressVPN sometimes. Fortunately, there are several workarounds you can try to solve this issue — I cover all of them in this guide. In addition, I provide tips on how to subscribe to ExpressVPN if you’re already in China and alternative VPNs you can use in China (if you can’t use ExpressVPN at all).
Why Does China Try to Block VPNs?
China uses country-wide firewalls to prevent its citizens from enjoying free Internet. The government blocks access to tons of popular websites, including social media platforms, news sites, and platforms like Google and YouTube. In addition, the Chinese government is also heavily involved in mass online surveillance and tracks the websites that its citizens visit.
There are some VPNs, such as ExpressVPN, that allow users to bypass these restrictions, and they are also able to stop anyone (including the government) from spying on users’ internet traffic. So, the Chinese government aggressively detects and blocks VPNs.
Why Does ExpressVPN Work in China?
ExpressVPN consistently works in China because it:
- Refreshes its server IP addresses very fast. This makes it very difficult for the Chinese government to block ExpressVPN’s servers with firewalls.
- Provides traffic obfuscation via all protocol options. This feature makes VPN data look like regular internet data. Obfuscation helps you bypass Deep Packet Inspection (DPI), a traffic analysis method that is used to detect a VPN protocol’s patterns and signatures (and is used to block or slow the protocol down until it’s not usable).
- Uses TCP port 443. Each VPN protocol uses specific ports (numbers assigned to network protocols that are used for online communication) to access the web. The Chinese government can block those ports to prevent people from using VPNs. But ExpressVPN automatically uses TCP port 443 with the OpenVPN TCP setting. That is the same port used by HTTPS, which accounts for pretty much all non-VPN internet traffic — so TCP port 443 is almost impossible to block.
ExpressVPN Isn’t Working While You’re in China? Try The Following Steps
1. Wait for the VPN Connection to Be Established
Whenever I use ExpressVPN, it takes only 2–3 seconds to connect to a server. However, if you’re in a part of China that has slow internet speeds, it could take longer to successfully connect to a server. I recommend waiting at least 30–60 seconds for the connection to go through. If it still doesn’t work, try the other tips on my list.
2. Connect to ExpressVPN’s Recommended Servers for China
ExpressVPN has a short list of servers it recommends users connect to in China. The full list can be found on ExpressVPN’s website or by contacting customer support.
3. Get a New IP Address
The Chinese government uses firewalls to block IP addresses that belong to ExpressVPN (and other VPNs). This way, it prevents users in China from connecting to ExpressVPN’s servers.
ExpressVPN refreshes its servers’ IP addresses very often, so it can usually bypass IP blocks with ease. Still, China’s IP blocking is very aggressive, so it might be able to block ExpressVPN’s servers sometimes. Fortunately, the solution is simple — just reconnect to the server to get a new IP address. I tested ExpressVPN’s Hong Kong server 10+ times, and I always had a different IP address when I reconnected to the server.
If you continue experiencing connectivity issues even after reconnecting to the server multiple times, there’s a chance your ISP blocked the entire IP range used by that server. In this case, I recommend trying a different server.
4. Use the Automatic Protocol Option
Like most restrictive countries, China uses DPI to detect and block VPN connections. I asked ExpressVPN’s support reps about circumventing this issue, and they told me all users in China should use the Automatic protocol option. It automatically selects the best protocol for you, and it also obfuscates your VPN traffic to make it look like normal internet traffic — so that DPI can’t detect it.
Note: To change the protocol to Automatic, open the ExpressVPN app, click on the menu icon, pick Options, head to Protocol, and select Automatic (recommended).
5. Use the OpenVPN TCP Option
If port blocking is preventing you from using ExpressVPN, I recommend using the OpenVPN TCP protocol option. ExpressVPN configured it to automatically use TCP port 443, and it’s extremely unlikely that Chinese ISPs would block this port — if they were to do that, Chinese internet users wouldn’t be able to access Chinese sites that use HTTPS.
Note: To change the protocol to OpenVPN TCP, open the ExpressVPN app, click on the menu icon, pick Options, head to Protocol, and select OpenVPN — TCP.
6. Contact Customer Support
If you still can’t connect to ExpressVPN in China, I strongly advise contacting the provider’s support team. It should be able to determine what issue is preventing you from using the service and provide you with helpful tips.
ExpressVPN has knowledgeable 24/7 live chat representatives, but you won’t be able to use this support platform if you can’t access the provider’s site in China. Instead, you’ll need to contact ExpressVPN’s support team by using this email address: email@example.com. ExpressVPN replies to email messages pretty fast (whenever I email ExpressVPN, I usually hear back from a support rep in about 6–7 hours) and always provides helpful assistance.
How to Download/Purchase ExpressVPN If You’re in China
To use ExpressVPN, you normally just have to sign up and purchase one of the pricing plans on its site, download and install one of its apps, run the app, and connect to a VPN server. Unfortunately, it’s very likely that you won’t be able to access ExpressVPN’s site in China because the government blocks it. If that’s the case, here’s what you can do to get ExpressVPN in China:
Use Mirrored Links
A mirrored link is an exact copy of a VPN provider’s website, but it uses a different address so that it’s harder for firewalls to detect and block it. For instance, instead of www.expressvpn.com, you’d see something like www.upsbcgh.com (this is just an example, not an actual mirrored link for ExpressVPN).
Unfortunately, I can’t provide you with a working mirrored link for ExpressVPN — these links change very often. To get a working mirrored link, I recommend contacting ExpressVPN by email. Alternatively, if you have an friend in another country, you could ask them to get the link from ExpressVPN’s live chat reps and send it to you.
Use a Free Proxy to Access ExpressVPN’s Site
Free proxies are tools that change your IP address like a VPN but don’t encrypt your data, and there’s a chance the Chinese government doesn’t aggressively block very small and less-known services.
I recommend using web proxies since they’re very convenient — their websites act like proxies (you copy-paste ExpressVPN’s website link in a search field and the web proxy lets you access it while connected to a proxy server). You can easily find these services by using the keywords “free web proxy” on any search engine. Alternatively, just look up free proxy services on your mobile device’s app store.
Ask an Overseas Friend to Get ExpressVPN for You
If you have a friend who doesn’t live in a restrictive country, you can ask them to sign up for ExpressVPN for you, and then they can send you the login credentials and installation files. You can pay your friend for the subscription through PayPal, a bank transfer, or cryptocurrencies, which are all payment methods that work in China.
(Android Users) Email ExpressVPN and Ask for the .apk App
If you have an ExpressVPN subscription and an Android device but can’t download ExpressVPN’s app from any app store, try installing its .apk app instead (you don’t need the app store to do this, so government censorship won’t interfere with your installation). To get the .apk file for the latest ExpressVPN Android app, you need to contact the provider’s email support team.
Note: I strongly recommend only using the .apk app that’s provided by ExpressVPN’s support team. If you try to look up the .apk file on search engines instead, you might come across malicious sites and apps that will infect your device with malware.
Use the SIM Card From Your Home Country
If you’re a tourist, you probably already swapped your phone’s SIM card for a local SIM card when you arrived in China. Unfortunately, the local SIM’s mobile data won’t let you access ExpressVPN’s site because its web access is restricted by the Chinese government.
However, if you still have the SIM card from your home country, you can use it instead to sign up on ExpressVPN’s site — its roaming data won’t use Chinese telecom providers and ISPs, so the government’s firewalls won’t be able to restrict your internet access.
Take a Trip to Hong Kong, Macau, or Taiwan
If none of the tips I mentioned so far are doable, you could take a day or weekend trip to Hong Kong, Macau, or Taiwan. Chinese interference and surveillance is an issue in those places too, but the internet isn’t censored there (or as heavily censored as in China). So, you should be able to access ExpressVPN’s site, sign up, and download and install the provider’s apps on your devices.
Is It Legal to Use a VPN in China?
My findings suggest that using VPNs in China is a legal gray area. While government-approved VPNs are permitted, opting for one enables the Chinese government to monitor your traffic. On the other hand, I have yet to discover any regulations that explicitly prohibit the use of non-government-approved VPNs like ExpressVPN.
I have also read numerous internet posts from Chinese users that say you’re more likely to get in legal trouble as a Chinese national than a foreign tourist or expat if you use a non-government-approved VPN. You might also face legal repercussions if you’re caught promoting VPNs like ExpressVPN on Chinese messaging apps and websites.
Also, I found several reports from news outlets about people being arrested or fined in China in relation to VPNs. However, all those reports were about people who were running and selling their own VPN services, which were not approved by the government.
Overall, I strongly recommend researching the local laws of the region you live in or plan to visit to make sure you don’t risk any serious legal repercussions if you’re caught using a VPN in China.
Other VPNs That Work in China
If you still can’t use ExpressVPN in China after trying all of my tips, I recommend trying a different VPN. Here are some other top services that consistently work in China:
- Private Internet Access (PIA) — This provider refreshes its IP addresses very often, lets you use TCP port 443 with OpenVPN, and provides obfuscation via Shadowsocks (an open-source encrypted proxy). It also comes with full leak protection, and its no-logs policy has been proven true in court documents. PIA has servers in 80+ countries, including locations close to China like Hong Kong, Japan, and the Philippines.
- PrivateVPN — This VPN refreshes its IP addresses pretty fast, provides access to obfuscation (StealthVPN), and automatically uses TCP port 443 if you use the OpenVPN protocol. PrivateVPN has 200+ servers in 60+ countries, including locations like Japan and Singapore.
- TunnelBear — This service has a good IP refresh rate and has an easy-to-use obfuscation feature (GhostBear). TunnelBear has servers in 45+ countries including places like South Korea and Taiwan, and its no-logs policy undergoes annual audits. TunnelBear is also very beginner-friendly thanks to its intuitive and fun-to-use apps.
Frequently Asked Questions
What should I do if ExpressVPN doesn’t work in China?
In the very unlikely event that ExpressVPN won’t work for you in China, I recommend trying all the tips I outlined in this article — like using ExpressVPN’s recommended servers for China and using the Automatic protocol setting.
And if you’re in China and can’t get an ExpressVPN subscription, I suggest trying the different options I mentioned in this article (like using mirrored links or asking an overseas friend for help).
Can I use ExpressVPN on iOS and Android in China?
Yes, ExpressVPN has intuitive iOS and Android apps that work well in China. I strongly recommend downloading and installing them on your mobile devices before traveling to China because it could be difficult to download them in the country.
If you’re already in China and can’t find ExpressVPN’s mobile apps on your device’s app store, there’s a workaround but only for Android users — email ExpressVPN and ask them to send you the .apk file so that you can manually install its Android app on your device. If you’re an iOS user, I recommend emailing ExpressVPN to see if its support reps can help you install the iOS app on your device.
Will hotel WiFi provide you with unrestricted access to ExpressVPN in China?
It’s very unlikely — some online sources claim hotels in China provide unrestricted internet access, but my research shows that many hotels have started censoring web access on their networks.
You’re better off using other methods to access ExpressVPN’s site in China, like using mirrored links or using a free unblocking tool.
Can you use Shadowsocks to access ExpressVPN in China?
Unfortunately, no — I tested Shadowsocks (an open-source, encrypted proxy that many people in China use to circumvent censorship) with ExpressVPN, and it didn’t work. I also asked multiple ExpressVPN support reps if I can use Shadowsocks to access ExpressVPN in China, and they said it won’t work because ExpressVPN’s servers don’t support proxy connections.
If you really want to use a manual Shadowsocks connection to obfuscate VPN traffic, I recommend getting a VPN that supports Shadowsocks connections to its servers, like Private Internet Access because it also has built-in Shadowsocks obfuscation.
How Does ExpressVPN protect your data in China?
ExpressVPN keeps you safe from government surveillance and hackers in China using high-end security features.
It has essential VPN features like 256-bit AES encryption, a no-logs policy that has been independently audited), a kill switch (automatically disconnects you from the internet if the VPN connection drops to prevent your IP address from leaking and being exposed to the government).
It also comes with advanced security features like built-in protection against IPv6, DNS, and WebRTC leaks and perfect forward secrecy, which changes the encryption key for each VPN session to prevent hackers from using compromised past or future keys to spy on your connections.
And ExpressVPN’s Threat Manager feature blocks malicious sites, so it can protect you from fake Chinese sites.
Why is ExpressVPN not working with Netflix in China?
If you’re in China and are connected to a server in a different (or your home) country, you may have trouble accessing Netflix in that country with ExpressVPN because tracking cookies are revealing your real geo-location to Netflix. To solve this issue, simply use a different browser (with incognito/private mode enabled) to access Netflix while connected to ExpressVPN (which is our top pick for streaming Netflix).
If that doesn’t work, I also recommend reconnecting to the same server you’re using or trying a different server in the same country as the Netflix library you want to access. That way, you’ll get a new IP address, which Netflix probably hasn’t detected and blocked.
Can I use Tor to access ExpressVPN in China?
It’s hard to say. While Tor is an anti-censorship tool that hides your IP address and encrypts your traffic multiple times, it doesn’t work very well in China because the government successfully blocks it (Tor traffic can be detected and Tor doesn’t refresh its IP addresses very often).
There are ways to use Tor in China, and 2 methods (Snowflake and meek-azure) are actually built into the Tor browser. However, these features cause significant slowdowns (Tor generally has slow speeds), so I don’t recommend using Tor to connect to ExpressVPN because your connections will be unbearably slow or will drop very often. Plus, using ExpressVPN over Tor isn’t safe — Tor can leak your real IP address and malicious actors can run their own Tor servers.
Using Tor for ExpressVPN in China only makes sense if you need to access the provider’s site. But even then, I only recommend using it if the other tips I provided don’t work.