Is it legal to use a VPN in China in 2022? (surprising answer)
One of the most common questions I get about VPNs (or “Virtual Private Network”) is this: Is it legal to use a VPN in China in 2022? As China censors the internet with the “Great Firewall of China” to prevent people inside the country from accessing various websites like Facebook, Twitter, Google, Gmail, etc., it is no wonder that the popularity of the best VPN for China has increased.
The question isn’t common, though, and it’s legit. Is using a VPN legal in China? I have some interesting anecdotes to share as we figure out what’s right and what’s wrong…because it’s clearly not a black and white issue.
January 2022 update: There has been a lot of talk about whether VPN use in China is legal or not in the past few years due to the fact that China has threatened to block all VPNs and has taken a step to remove all VPN apps from the Apple Store in China.
It looks ominous, doesn’t it?
Why would China try to ban and remove something that was legal?
I suggest a different way of looking at this. If VPNs are illegal in China, why not just start arresting foreigners using VPNs instead of making headlines with a ban?
However, as of 2022, no foreigner has been sanctioned for using a VPN.
Historically, China tends to talk a lot about this kind of thing. As I will explain below, asking if VPN software is legal in China is normal…
…but for now, I can still connect to my favorite VPN constantly.
*Noticeable*: Some of the links in the article below are affiliate links, which means that at no additional cost to you, I may be compensated if you decide to use the Services. I only recommend these services because I’ve used them myself and they work! thanks for your support.
Why doesn’t China ban VPNs?
Everyone obviously knows that using a VPN in China is very important if you want to access blocked websites (not sure what a VPN is? Watch this VPN video).
So why doesn’t China stop using all VPNs altogether?
Every year I hear a news story about how China restricted the use of VPNs, and it seems ridiculous that they haven’t cut out VPNs entirely.
Given all the different websites and apps that are blocked in China, it should also be easy to block VPNs.
So why hasn’t China completely banned VPNs?
The answer is very simple.
As you can see, it is not about whether or not it is legal to use a VPN in China.
No, the real reason is…
VPNs are an essential part of doing business.
This is especially true for international companies doing business in China. VPNs are what keep the information that companies transmit between China and the rest of the world secure.
International companies will use VPNs on a daily basis, so if China shuts down all VPNs, it will severely affect the ability of companies – both domestic and foreign – to do business in China.
Individual VPNs vs. Corporate VPNs in China
As an individual, there are a lot of gray areas around whether the government has made VPNs legal in China.
In places like Tibet and Xinjiang, which are politically sensitive areas in China, there have been reports that local residents have been jailed for using a VPN.
Read it carefully: local ChineseNot travelers and expats.
There was a news report published in early 2017 that talked about the government actually cracking down on VPN use and making it illegal. Much fanfare has been made about this news report.
What people didn’t read was the fact that China was very oriented towards it Companies that use VPNs illegally.
You see, when companies use a VPN, they have to get permission from the government to do so. They cannot use a VPN only because it is essential for business. They have to get approvals from the authorities in China in order to set up and use a VPN.
As for individuals, this rule does not apply to us **technically**.
We still have the ability to log into the VPN. Now I say We have the ability… It’s not really.
At any time, China can change its mind, and they have done so in the past, causing problems for foreigners using a VPN.
Will China Punish Me If I Use a VPN?
One example of possible retaliation occurred in Xinjiang at the end of 2015. Authorities in Xinjiang decided to shut down cell phone service for anyone, foreign or domestic, who was using a VPN.
This happened to me personally.
One day while I was using my phone, it suddenly stopped working.
I couldn’t make phone calls.
I could not send a text message.
For days I’ve been adding cash to my phone trying to figure out why it’s not working.
When I brought it to my mobile service provider, they told me that it had been closed by the police and that I was required to go to the police to get it back.
What happened next shocked me.
The police took my phone, went to all my apps and deleted all VPNs and foreign messaging apps (Skype, Viber, Signal, etc).
The police took my phone and proceeded to browse through all my apps and VPN services, and they told me which apps to delete before we could unlock our phone.
Now, keep this in mind: I didn’t get into trouble.
Nobody I know has gone to prison.
This is not recorded in our registry.
All they did was make using our VPN very inconvenient. Once I get my phone back, I’ll be honest… I reinstalled my VPN, reinstalled Skype and a couple of other apps they asked me to get rid of.
I’m still able to use this stuff, and it’s very hard for them to legislate the use of a lot of this stuff.
But you better think that they will keep making it so annoying that you don’t want to. This is what they have already done and what I think they will continue to do.
You might read about China charging fines for VPN use, but then again, this is only for local Chinese and has never happened to any foreign expat in China as far as I know.
There is still every indication that it is legal to use a VPN in China for foreigners.
Recommended VPNs for China in 2022
As you can tell, I still use the VPN every day while living here in China.
I call on my phone. I plug in my computer, and I plug it in on my iPad. Heck, I even connect to a VPN on my Amazon Fire Stick for my TV!
Over the 10 years I’ve lived in China, I’ve tried dozens and dozens of different VPNs and I can say with confidence that these were the most reliable services for me:
ExpressVPN | Best VPN overall
- Best apps for PC and phone;
- 5 simultaneous connections
- Some of the fastest speeds available;
- New and secure Lightway protocol
Surfshark | Best Value VPN for China
- Lowest monthly price
- Unlimited connections
- Wireguard بروتوكول protocol
- Easy to install and use software;
If you can put your mind to rest on whether using a VPN is legal in China and you are looking for a recommended VPN to use, be sure to check it out.
Final thoughts | Are VPNs legal in China?
So…Are VPNs Legal in China?
The truth is that it is a gray area.
As a foreigner, you will not have much trouble using a VPN. You may have a lot of inconveniences in life as it will make it difficult for you to do this but you can rest assured that at least VPNs still work in China.
One thing I will say here is important to note.
Just as China makes life difficult for people using VPNs, it also makes it difficult for VPNs to do business in China. That’s why it’s so important to use a VPN that has dedicated resources to overcome China’s internet censorship.
As mentioned earlier, I’ve found a lot of success using ExpressVPN (use this link to get 3 months of free service) as well as Surfshark, but there are a number of great VPNs for China that might work better wherever you are. visit or live.