China is one of the countries where the Internet is heavily censored. You can’t just connect to an open hotspot and check your Facebook or Gmail. Many western websites are locked behind the Great Firewall.
A good solution in such cases is a VPN (Virtual Private Network) service. For a fee, you can join their networks and bypass blocks by connecting through an outside server. Yet, not all VPNs can do it equally well. Out of the few that can bypass the Great Firewall, NordVPN is one of them. Here’s everything that you should know about it, as well as the online security situation in China.
Why do I need a VPN in China?
If you’re traveling to China, a VPN isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. Locals and visitors use them to pierce holes through the Great Firewall to access the censored services and media. Without one, you’re stuck on the wrong side of the wall. If you’re heavily relying on services like Messenger or Gmail, you won’t even be able to get in touch with your family or work. It’s not all bad news, a VPN can solve all of these problems.
With a VPN, your connection is encrypted, making it obscure for government-owned Internet Service Providers (or ISPs). Sometimes, additional obfuscation protocols are added to send the additional data packets to trick the Great Firewall that you’re not actually using a VPN. All of this allows you to unblock pages that would remain closed to you. Just make sure to set it up before going into the country.
How to set up NordVPN for China use
If you’re not already in China and are planning your trip, make sure to set up the VPN in advance. The reason why it’s much harder to do it when you’re in the country is the blocks that you’re trying to avoid. Most VPN pages are blocked, and you’ll have to find a workaround that could be avoided if you install it the night before the flight.
1. You need a VPN provider that you know will work in China. We recommend NordVPN as it has a great track record of bypassing the Great Firewall.
2. Register for the service and pay for your subscription. Make sure that the duration isn’t shorter than your stay.
3. Download the VPN provider’s apps and install them on all of your devices. As a backup, also have the install files in a flash drive somewhere, just in case.
4. When the installation is done, open up the app, log in and connect to some server to verify that it’s working. Try obfuscated servers as they’ll be the ones that you’ll be relying on when you’re in China
5. That’s it. You now will have unrestricted Internet in China.
When in China, tunneling protocols like OpenVPN, PPTP, and L2TP are blocked. Keep this in mind when troubleshooting connectivity issues.
How does NordVPN bypass the Great Firewall?
NordVPN uses the technology called obfuscation. It uses OpenVPN tunneling protocol, but it camouflages its traffic to look like a regular HTTPS one. This is needed because your ISP knows that you’re using a VPN even when your VPN traffic is encrypted. The Great Firewall is pretty good at stopping usual VPN traffic (hence, simple OpenVPN, PPTP, and L2TP don’t work).
Sending additional data packets to spoof the Great Firewall makes your VPN traffic look like you’re just browsing through available pages without a VPN. This is what allows NordVPN to bypass the blocks. Obfuscated servers are available for all of their apps, so no matter what device you’re using, you’ll get it to work.
Why not all VPNs work in China?
The Great Firewall isn’t a fixed entity. Much like any other service, it also receives updates and gets better at blocking connections. This requires a lot of resources and time on the VPN provider’s part. You have to plan out the infrastructure, you also have to constantly monitor the situation and provide timely responses when something’s not working. Not many businesses have the luxury to go through the burden that bypassing the Great Firewall brings.
Is NordVPN banned in China?
All western VPN service providers are restricted. They’re not banned, but you won’t be able to access their web pages. NordVPN is among the pages that are inaccessible from mainland China, but that doesn’t mean that it’s banned as a service and wouldn’t work when using their products.
Is it legal to use a VPN in China?
While it is illegal to use VPNs in China, it mainly targets the local businesses offering VPN services. However, they turn a blind eye to their users. So you don’t really have anything to worry about.
Do free VPNs work in China?
No, free VPNs don’t have the resources to battle the Great Firewall of China. You won’t find an option that is respectful of your privacy and works in China, and for free of charge.