In 2000, Google China launched to give viewers the option of Simplified and Traditional Chinese versions of the website, only to begin facing censorship six years later, with Google pulling out of China in 2010. In 2014, China began blocking all parts of Google, including Gmail, the world’s most-used mail server. With the ban in place, any attempts to search Google or to log into Gmail from your PC, laptop, tablet, or smartphone will be met with an error message that these websites are blocked by order of the Chinese government. China’s government has control over all Internet access to every computer in the country and has been called “The Great Firewall of China” not only for its ability to limit what users inside its borders see, but also for its ability to use that firewall to carry out malicious attacks on websites located in other countries that run negative coverage of the Chinese government and its Internet policies. With that sort of censorship in place, the only effective way to access Gmail, Google, and its various subsidiaries while in China is to use a virtual private network (VPN).

How Do VPNs work?

VPNs go a step farther in security that proxies by using an encrypted connection that joins your device to the remote server. All data sent through this “tunnel” in either direction is heavily encrypted, making it impossible for your ISP to see what websites you are visiting or what data you are downloading or uploading. The remote server downloads your requests, pairs them with an IP address from its own country, and sends them along to the Internet.

How to Use a VPN in China

Top Choices for  VPNs  in China

1Private Internet Access (PIA) VPN

Private Internet Access (PIA) VPN can raise some eyebrows on its security because it’s located in the United States, but it has provided nothing but success so far. With 3,000 servers, a competitive price, and top-level security featuring DNS leak protection, top-level encryption, and a kill switch, it’s a solid choice for working around China’s Google censorship. Get it Now


VyprVPN is based in privacy-friendly Switzerland and uses 256-bit AES encryption. This is also a smart choice given it does not limit bandwidth at any time and has more than 200,000 IPs address spread across more than 70 locations. Get it Now


NordVPN is one of the best all-around VPN choices around thanks to a 2018 expansion that saw it reach more than 4,400 servers in 60 countries. Its security features include Double VPN tunneling, AES 256-bit encryption, IP leak protection, and a kill switch. Get it Now

It’s hard to say what is and isn’t legal in China as the government seems to add new violations on a whim. VPNs are definitely used by Chinese businesses, particularly those with international partners, because otherwise they would be extremely limited in their abilities. Those are mostly corporate-grade VPNS, however, not the same as ones used by individuals. In the last few years, China has removed all VPN apps from the Chinese Apple store, and several VPN websites are blocked by the Great Firewall. If you are traveling to China and want to make sure you have the same Internet access you enjoy outside of the country, select and download a VPN client before beginning your trip.