The Best Working VPN for China

What's the Best VPN for China? (Cover Image)

The “best VPN for China that works 100%,” this has always been a hot topic among expats in China. Despite the crackdowns and restrictions, there are a lot of VPN providers who’re trying to sell (and upsell) their services for expats in China. Skip introduction.

Furthermore, there’s a bunch of mediocre VPN providers and reviewers out there. Avoid them like the plague.

  • Most of these reviewers are interested in making easy money using affiliate links. They recommend almost all VPN services for China and claims it’s the best VPN for China. “Here are our top picks,” “we’ve picked out five top-notch VPN providers in China”..meh! Don’t fall for the marketing gimmicks.
  • I’ve seen some of them including Ivacy in their list. It is no good in my opinion. Not to mention the “well-known” bloggers recommending a multitude of VPN services just to stockpile the referral links.
  • Finding the best from Google is not an easy job because of the “promoted” content you come across.

You need to put a lot of time and effort to research. Let me help you refine the search.

What’s the Best VPN for China?

  1. ExpressVPN: Very popular and works and promise a 99.9% uptime. The services come with optimized servers for streaming Netflix
  2. SocketPro: SocketPro is essentially a ShadowsocksR proxy service provider. The service is dirt cheap, and they provide few servers to stream Netflix, Hulu and more.
  3. DIY Methods: You could set up your Shadowsocks or ShadowsocksR servers on DigitalOcean, Amazon AWS or any other cloud provider of your choice.

Backstory, Finding The Best VPN for China

Having stayed for almost four years in China, I know what works and what doesn’t when it comes to climbing over the great firewall of China.

I’ve tried multiple VPN providers and even wrote a few tutorials on how to set up DIY SOCKS5 proxies for personal use. Read further if you’re tired of the mediocre China VPN reviews.

Image: South China Morning Post

I’ll share the two best options. Without further ado, let’s look at the best working for VPN for China.

Note:

  • The second option is a trustworthy Shadowsocks service provider. Essentially not a VPN.
  • These are my honest recommendations as of February 2019.

The Best Working VPN for China (Review)

ExpressVPN: You might have heard a lot about them. But there are several solid reasons why you should go with ExpressVPN instead of choosing their competitors.

Best Working VPN for China
Stream Netflix, Visit Blocked Sites Including Google Get Express VPN Now

Major Features of ExpressVPN

Let’s look at why ExpressVPN turns out to be the best VPN for China.

Uptime: ExpressVPN has the best up-time comparing to its competitors. Most of their optimized Asian servers are available round the clock.

Working VPN for China 2018

AES-256 Encryption: Yes, encryption is an essential factor while looking for the best VPN provider. AES (trusted by security experts) is a secure encryption algorithm used in symmetric key cryptography. Additionally, the company uses an RSA-4096 handshake and SHA-512 hash message authentication code, along with PFS. Meaning, you’re in good hands.

Multiple protocols: ExpressVPN recommends protocols and servers based on the location and connection. The company also lets you choose the protocols manually in case you know what you’re doing.

Sign up with ExpressVPN

Stream/Unblock Netflix: Important feature. A lot of expats in China has a Netflix account and want to stream their favorite TV shows and movies online or on the go. ExpressVPN’s US, UK, Canada, Hong Kong, and Taiwan servers are optimized for streaming Netflix.

Express VPN on macOS
Express VPN on macOS

Dedicated Apps: ExpressVPN has dedicated apps for MacOS, Windows, iOS, Android, routers, and Linux. Their knowledge base comes with pretty neat guides.

Furthermore, the company offers a “limited” free trial as well. You should try the full-featured version of ExpressVPN “risk-free” for 30 days. Not happy? You’ll get a full refund within 30 days, no questions asked.

Pros

  • Reliable, ExpressVPN is a trusted brand.
  • Few servers are optimized for streaming Netflix.
  • Dedicated Apps

Con

  • One ExpressVPN subscription only covers three devices of any type.

Best VPN Alternative for China

VPN is not your thing? Do you prefer proxy servers to stream Netflix and access Google? Give SocketPro a try.

What’s SocketPro? It is essentially a ShadowsocksR proxy service provider that offers cheap easy to use proxy servers which lets you unblock websites and climb the GFW. The whereabouts of SocketPro team are anonymous because of the nature of the service they provide.

Socketpro
Fast. Easy to Use. Netflix Optimized. Get SocketPro Now.

I’ve been using their service for almost two years. So, don’t worry about anonymity. It’s for their own good to survive in China.

Shadowsocks vs. ShadowsocksR

Shadowsocks is an open source SOCKS5 proxy which, according to their official site, is designed to protect your internet traffic.

ShadowsocksR is a fork of the original Shadowsocks project, claimed to be superior in terms of security and stability.

Here are my blog posts on how to manually setup Shadowsocks and ShadowsocksR.

  1. Setup A ShadowsocksR Server On Amazon EC2
  2. Setup A Shadowsocks Server on DigitalOcean

Why ShadowsocksR instead of a VPN?

A conventional VPN protocol creates a network that slows down Chinese websites, which can be annoying when you’re using Taobao, WeChat, JD.com, etc.

On the other hand, Shadowsocks has a Global Mode and Auto Mode.

Best Working Shadowsocks Service for China
Get SocketPro for All The Devices.

The Global Mode acts similar to a VPN connection whereas the auto settings (Auto mode by PAC) makes sure you can access Chinese website faster, without using a proxy.

Major features of SocketPro

SocketPro is packed with cool features as well. They’ve almost 8000+ active users and 74 node servers.

List of SocketPro Premium Servers
Open image in a new tab for better viewing.

Speed: They use a modern SOCKS5 protocol (ShadowsocksR) to transfer your data, which is faster compared to a traditional VPN.

Cross-platform support: Unlike ExpressVPN, SocketPro DO NOT limit your connection, meaning you can connect all your device at the same time.

Get a SocketPro Account

Secure: Your connection is secured with 256-bit encryption to protect your data from prying eyes.

Pros

  • Dirt Cheap and fast.
  • Unlimited bandwidth and speed.
  • Few servers are optimized for streaming Netflix.

Cons

  • Monthly plans are okay, but the yearly plan comes with better servers.
  • No dedicated app for iOS, you should purchase a 3rd party app.

These are the best reliable VPN services in China that lets you access blocked sites, online resources, and stream Netflix. What’s your best pick?

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Setup A ShadowsocksR Server On Amazon EC2

How to Setup A Shadowsocks Server on Amazon EC2

Learn how to install ShadowsocksR (not Shadowsocks) server on Amazon EC2 Ubuntu instance (Free Tier) easily. I set SSR in the title because it’s superior to Shadowsocks. The script included in this tutorial comes with the option to choose between Shadowsocks or ShadowsocksR during installation. It’s your call.

Heads up: unlike the DigitalOcean guide I posted before, this one involves fewer commands and scripts. 😉

Update 1: I recommend SocketPro, a dirt cheap option ($2.41/mo annual) if you prefer to rely on a service provider. Their services are top-notch and I’ve been using it for almost two years alongside my DIY servers. Click here to read my review.

Update 2: Thanks Janosch for pointing out the error in the installation script. I’ve updated it now.

Why ShadowsocksR?

ShadowsocksR is a fork of the original Shadowsocks project, claimed to be superior regarding security and stability.

Warning: Although this guide is intended to be 100% n00b friendly, there are chances you may face minor issues or errors during setup. Be prepared. Just comment here or write to webmaster[at]mighil.com or connect with me on WeChat @mighil if you want me set it up for you for a small fee.

Prerequisites:

  1. Access to AWS console. (Requires one time credit/debit card verification)
  2. Read more about EC2 Free Tier.
  3. SSH client.
  4. Patience.

Sign in to the AWS Console & Create an EC2 Instance

AWS may take you to the US region by default. It’s up to you choose the location.

Select EC2 in the Compute Section

Select the Asian region (Tokyo or Singapore recommended) if you’re from China.

Click Launch Instance

Go on and read their Getting Started Guide if you’ve got enough time.

Select The Ubuntu Server 16.04 LTS

Ubuntu Server 16.04 LTS is Free Tier Eligible, and that’s what we’re going to use for this guide as well. Click Select and proceed to the next step.

Choose the Instance Type

Look for the t2.micro which is Free Tier eligible. Select it and click Review and Launch.

Configure Security Group

Open the TCP ports you’re going to use for ShadowsocksR. I’ve set Port Range from 8000–8083 for this guide. You can limit the source according to your preference. Click Review and Launch when you’re ready.

Create a New Key Pair

Create, download and save keypairname.pem file in a safe place.

Congrats on the 60% progress. Now learn how to use PEM key on Mac before jumping to the big steps. Windows users, you have to convert PEM file to PPK. Please read it and come back to this article.

macOS: Copy The AWS Generated PEM File to a Safe Location

Here’s how to copy keypairname.pem to /Users/usrname/.ssh/ (hidden directory)

  1. Copy the keypairname.pem file.
  2. Open Finder, use the shortcut “Shift + Command + G” and type in /Users/usrname/.ssh/
  3. Paste the keypairname.pem file.

macOS: chmod 400 the PEM file

We have to set the right permissions for PEM file. Use the chmod command to make sure that your private key file isn’t publicly viewable. For example, if the name of your private key file is keypairname.pem, use the following command:

$ chmod 400 /Users/username/.ssh/keypairname.pem

Alright, it’s about time fellas! Let’s dive into the Terminal/Putty.

macOS: Uncheck this Sucker in Terminal Preferences (Recommended)

There are chances some users may get locale errors, it’s a best practice to uncheck this from Terminal Preferences.

SocketPro Shadowsocks Service Provider
Get SocketPro now if you need a cheap option. 100% working in China.

Connecting to the EC2 Instance

Let’s connect to your instance from Putty or Terminal:

macOS, via Terminal:

$ ssh -i /Users/username/.ssh/keypairname.pem [email protected]

!! Check your public IP from the corresponding AWS EC2 webpage.

Windows via Putty:

Load your PPK and connect to the server as the Ubuntu user

Switch User in EC2 instance

Once you’re inside the EC2 instance. Switch to the root user:

$ sudo su

Run The ShadowsocksR Auto-Installer

Script by @teddysun. Copy and paste each line separately.

$ wget --no-check-certificate -O shadowsocks-all.sh https://raw.githubusercontent.com/teddysun/shadowsocks_install/master/shadowsocks-all.sh
$ chmod +x shadowsocks-all.sh
$ ./shadowsocks-all.sh 2>&1 | tee shadowsocks-all.log

This installer is intuitive and will guide you setup ShadowsocksR on your instance.

Note: It contains installers for other Shadowsocks packages as well.

The installer will generate and display the final config. It displays Private IP (not public IP). So make sure you use Public IP within client apps. As I mentioned EARLIER, you can find your public IP within the corresponding AWS EC2 instance page or run the command below to display the public IP

$ wget -qO- -t1 -T2 ipinfo.io/ip

Commands to start | stop | restart | check status

Shadowsocks-Python

$ /etc/init.d/shadowsocks-python start | stop | restart | status

ShadowsocksR:

$ /etc/init.d/shadowsocks-r start | stop | restart | status

Shadowsocks-Go:

$ /etc/init.d/shadowsocks-go start | stop | restart | status

Shadowsocks-libev:

$ /etc/init.d/shadowsocks-libev start | stop | restart | status

That’s it, congrats on the 100% progress.

Write to mighilcn at gmail dot com or connect with me on WeChat @mighil if you want me set it up for a small fee.

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