Is using a VPN in China illegal?

Chances are good that you may have heard that there are countries that have banned VPNs. If you live in China, you may believe that China is one of those countries.

Is using a VPN in China illegal? There isn’t a blanket ban on VPNs in China so it’s not illegal but a license may be required to use a VPN. With many options to download VPN software onto computers and mobile phones severely restricted by the Chinese government, it’s highly advisable to download any VPN software before going to China as this can help get around the download restriction.

A lot of media outlets have pretty much said the opposite that the Chinese government have banned VPNS but this is wrong. It’s not illegal to use VPN technology. However, China’s government has described the people who are able to use a VPN, along with the reasons why they are allowed to use them.

Although you often will find China on lists of countries that have banned using VPNs, it’s not really that simple. Even though some people say that they are illegal to use, there are others who claim that they can be used without limitations.

Like with many other things, the truth’s found in between. Therefore, let’s look at the way that you can use a VPN without worrying about doing something illegal.

The things that are being banned are VPN services from other countries and other kinds of implementations that aren’t complying with the regulations and policies of the government. There are a number of VPN apps that were pulled by Apple from their Chinese store (check out ExpressVPN that prides itself on being able to be used in China).

That’s not surprising, since it would be bad for the company if they were forced from China. Google also has removed the ads related to VPN, so they don’t appear in China. Lastly, telecoms in China were told to block all of the VPN related traffic back in March of 2018. However, this really never came about, since a lot of apps still offer their services these days.

The law didn’t cause VPNs to be illegal, even though you might have read it online somewhere. Rather, it was decided by the government to ban the VPNs operating without ‘licenses’. What this means is that you have a lot of VPN apps that you can use, and they can still be used to go outside of the country.

However, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be concerned. We aren’t sure about the relationship between the government and those VPNs. Are they keeping logs and is there backdoor access developed? We don’t know as of yet.

Do You Need a VPN in China?

Using a VPN in China is a good idea as they are helpful because when a VPN is used, the censorship in can be circumvented and the geo-blocking that some services experience can be circumvented. Geo-blocking is a practice where some services will restrict the content based on a region, such as BBC, Netflix, Pandora and others. This can be very annoying, but that’s why VPNs are so helpful.

While you are connected to your VPN, it seems as if your computer’s found in the same country where your VPN’s server is. The reason for this is because the internet traffic gets routed through that particular server. For example, let’s say that you have a VPN with a server in the United States. Because of this, you are able to access websites such as Facebook which can be accessed in the United States even if it’s been blocked by China.

Not only that, you’re able to watch the Netflix shows that you can’t normally watch on Netflix because you live in China.

It’s best to set up your VPN on your mobile devices and laptop before you come to China, since the websites of the VPN providers, where you download your software, often are blocked when you get to China.

What is the Punishment for Using VPN in China?

So, what happens if you are caught using an unauthorized VPN in China? The truth is that it’s not exactly known. However, there is some history that we can go on to see what has happened in the past. There have been a few punishments that have been handed down to those who broke the law.

  • Back in the year 2017, a man was fined 500,000 yuan equal to $76,000 and sent to jail for 5 ½ years. His crime was selling VPN services illegally.
  • In 2019, in southern Guangdong province, a local was fined 1,000 yuan for accessing blocked websites using a VPN.
  • In early 2019, it was reported that an individual who was caught using a VPN in an unauthorized way would have to pay a fine of $145. Based on where you are living and how much you make at your job, this could be a huge amount to pay. That’s why it made many people think again before they took the risk.
  • As recently as a couple of months ago, in July 2020, it was reported that a man in the Hunan province was given administrative penalty to a man using a VPN for visiting illegal pornography sites. The exact penalty was unspecified.

It’s not certain what the fines and penalties are these days. It seems like there will be a constant struggle between China’s government, its citizens and the VPNs. The more that China punishes those who are using the VPNs, the sneakier the citizens and the VPNs are bound to be. They will do their best to hide what they are doing and make it harder for the government to catch them.

Tips for Using a VPN in China

If you are planning to visit China for a business trip, you’ll want to prepare beforehand if you want to use a VPN while there. Below are some tips that you may find handy.

  • Sign up before you go – If you are moving to China or you are going there for a business trip, one of the things you want to do is to sign up for your VPN before you leave. This will give you plenty of time to research the VPNs and choose one that will work best for you.
  • Use a less popular VPN – Rather than using one of the popular ones like NordVPN or ExpressVPN, try something less popular. These VPNS are often targeted by the government so that they are blocked.
  • Test Your VPN – Before you leave for your trip, test the VPN to ensure it’s working properly, and you understand how it’s used. Access your VPN software through your browser or device, then choose the server you want to use. Make sure that you’re connecting to somewhere such as Estonia or Iceland, since they’re known for Internet freedom.
  • Connect to a Different App Store – Premium VPN services can be purchased and downloaded in another country and u sed in China. Although there are VPN companies in China, they may have logging and security issues.
  • Try a Variety of VPNs on Devices – Rather than only using one VPN, download a variety of VPNs on your different devices. What works on one of your devices may not work on another.
  • Change Your Server Location – You shouldn’t fall for the ads that say over 1,000 servers in over 100 countries. Most of the common servers aren’t going to work when you’re in China. So, make sure you’re contacting the company to find out which servers work from China.

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