China VPN: What I'm Currently Using
Last update: April 2019
This article is for people who already know what a VPN is and understand why they need one.
For many people, using a VPN service is great for increased privacy and security online.
For those of us living in China, having a reliable VPN service is absolutely essential for accessing websites and online services that are hosted outside of China.
It used to be that my favorite U.S. sites (such as Gmail) would work most of the time. You just had to put up with slow speeds or periodic blockages. But it seems Internet access in China hit a low point in 2014 with Google joining the likes of Facebook and Twitter as services that are blocked in China. Basically no more Google search and no more Gmail unless you flip on your trusty VPN service.
To help further illustrate how bad things have gotten, I've even switched the default search engine on my iPhone to Bing!
So in an effort to help others in need of a reliable VPN service in China or elsewhere, I will share what VPN service I am happy with at the moment and promise to update this article if/when I switch to a new VPN service. Hopefully I'll never need to update this article!
VPN(s) currently in use
So far so good with ExpressVPN. If you are an experienced VPN user, you are probably familiar with having to periodically change server locations as servers get blocked. When I used ProXPN and StrongVPN, the process of changing servers was a manual one, and you literally had to try location after location until you found one with decent speeds.
With the ExpressVPN client, the software can run through all of the locations available (including Hong Kong and Japan) and show you which have the fastest speeds. This is a serious time saver.
VPN services used in the past but can no longer recommend
Astrill provided decent speeds, and they also have a solid software client that enables you to run speed tests on all server locations. However, I had to switch to ExpressVPN after I found out that I was constantly getting blocked by sites in the U.S. because I was on Astrill, which kind of defeats the purpose of using a VPN service in the first place. My guess is that given Astrill's popularity, traffic from many of their IP addresses are flagged as spam.
Used ProXPN years ago and at the time it was a pretty bare bones type service. The nice thing about it was that it had a free option that worked quite well for some time (until it didn't). Have no idea what it's like nowadays though.
I used StrongVPN prior to switching to Astrill. It was pretty great for a while until it just stopped working reliably in 2014. Lots of server locations but needed to manually run speed tests on each server location which drove me crazy.