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3 Ways to Download NordVPN in China (Works in 2021)

Last Updated by Kate Hawkins on June 10, 2021

You’ve probably heard that NordVPN is one of the few services that works in China. While I’ve tested better VPNs for bypassing China’s firewalls, NordVPN does occasionally work — but you need to do a couple of things beforehand.

First, you need to download the NordVPN app before entering the country. If you try to visit the NordVPN website from inside China, you’ll find that it’s blocked. Second, you need to connect to an obfuscated server.

However, if you’re already in China, I’ve shortlisted a few options you can try in order to download the VPN.

Top Tip: NordVPN doesn’t always work in China, so I highly recommend having a backup VPN. ExpressVPN is one of the most reliable VPNs for China and it has a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can download it risk-free.

Try ExpressVPN now!

How to Get NordVPN to Work in China

  1. Download NordVPN before you get to China.
  2. Open the app when you land in the country.
  3. Connect to a server and start browsing securely! NordVPN has 450+ obfuscated servers in 14 locations (including Hong Kong, the US, and Italy) to help you bypass China’s Great Firewall.

3 Ways to Get NordVPN If You’re Already in China

NordVPN’s website is blocked in China, but you can still download it onto your devices with my simple solutions below. While you should exercise caution if you decide to use a VPN within China’s borders, you likely won’t be prosecuted for doing so. The common practice is that China fights VPNs by technologically blocking the services, and not by chasing after the people who use them.

However, remember that with China, things can change quickly. During my tests, I could only download the app from within China 8 out of 10 times. The only 100% guaranteed way to get NordVPN to work in China is to set it up before you arrive.

Tip: To save yourself a lot of time and hassle, download a VPN before you arrive in China. This will ensure you’ll be able to bypass China’s restrictions the minute you arrive.

Download ExpressVPN risk-free

1. Use an Alternative Domain

NordVPN has alternative domains designed to work in countries where its website is blocked – specifically China. Luckily, NordVPN’s team tests these domains regularly to ensure that they work.

Screenshot of NordVPN live chat feature

NordVPN offers alternative domains you can use to get NordVPN in China

2. Download an APK VPN File (Android devices only)

If for some reason my first tip doesn’t work, this is another option you can try – but you’ll need an Android device. To download the APK file to your Android, “sideload” it by downloading it to your computer first. You can find the APK file on NordVPN’s mirror site or by typing in the file link to your address bar (NordVPN’s customer support sent it to me when I enquired about it).

6 Simple Steps to Sideload the NordVPN App

  1. Go into your device’s settings and select “Apps & notifications.
    Screenshot of Android settings list
  2. Depending on your Android device, either click “Advanced” or the three dots in the top-right corner
    Screenshot of advanced settings on Android
  3. Click on “Special app access” and select “Install unknown apps.
    Screenshot of Special app access on Android
  4. Type this APK file link into your address barhttps://downloads.nordcdn.com/apps/android/generic/nordvpn-sideload/latest/NordVPN.apk
  5. Switch on “Allow from this source” to sideload the APK file to your Android device.
    Screenshot of file manager for downloads on Android
  6. Open the file and install NordVPN.

You should be able to download the APK file without using a VPN, but if you have trouble you can ask a friend to download the APK file and send it to you by email. For this step, I simply connected my Android device to my computer by USB cable. I then transferred the APK file from my email to my device’s “Downloads” folder and installed it from there.

3. “Borrow” a VPN

As a last resort, if you know someone in China who uses a VPN, ask if you can connect your device to their personal hotspot. This way, you can use their VPN-protected connection to access the NordVPN website on your device.

  1. Have your friend connect their device to a VPN.
  2. Get them to set up a personal hotspot. This option will be found in their device’s general settings, near the WiFi settings.
  3. Connect to their personal hotspot by choosing it from your list of WiFi connection options. You’ll need to enter a password that they choose.
  4. Visit the NordVPN website and download the app! You’ll need to stay connected to the hotspot until the app has downloaded and you’ve completed the setup.

What to Do If NordVPN Stops Working in China – 3 Solutions

If you find you can’t connect to NordVPN when you’re in China, there are several steps you can take to fix the issue you’re having.

  1. Update NordVPN. Once you’ve done that, connect to servers in either Singapore, Japan, Canada, the UK, or the US. These servers have the highest chance of connecting you from China.
  2. Check NordVPN’s troubleshooting guides. If for some reason the alternate domain links aren’t working, use one of NordVPN’s mirror site URLs to check troubleshooting and help guides specifically for connecting from China. Keep in mind that mirror sites may change or be removed without NordVPN’s knowledge. If this happens, contact customer service for updated links.
  3. Contact NordVPN customer support. Although NordVPN has a live chat feature, you may not be able to access it from China. Send customer support an email detailing the issue and they’ll do whatever they can to help you fix it. In case you can’t get to the website, remember to write down the email address – [email protected]

Bypass China’s Firewall with ExpressVPN

Stay 100% Secure – Do This Before You Browse

NordVPN keeps you secure with many built-in features (like AES 256-bit encryption and an automatic kill switch), but its obfuscated servers were specifically designed for countries with heavy internet censorship. Unlike regular NordVPN servers, these specialty servers make your internet traffic impossible to interpret so you can get around the Great Firewall.

Although you can use any of NordVPN’s servers while in China, they won’t be as effective at unblocking sites like Facebook and Wikipedia. That’s why I recommend always connecting to one of the 450+ obfuscated servers every time you browse.

Tip: The NordVPN iOS app doesn’t have obfuscated servers! If you’re using an iPhone or iPad, you’ll need to set up the OpenVPN protocol on your device before you use NordVPN in China. Alternatively, you can check out the best iOS VPN apps for China.

4 Simple Steps for Connecting to an Obfuscated Server

  1. Get the NordVPN app for your desktop or mobile device.
  2. Open the “Settings” menu by clicking the cog icon on the upper right side of the interface.
    Screenshot of NordVPN main interface with Settings cog icon highlighted
  3. Click “Advanced” in the Settings menu and switch “Obfuscated servers (OpenVPN)” to the On position.
    Screenshot of NordVPN advanced settings with obfuscated server option turned on

    On the NordVPN main interface, under “Specialty Servers” you’ll see that “Obfuscated Servers” is now an option.
    Screenshot showing NordVPN's obfuscated server option in the specialty servers menu
  4. Choose a server to connect to. You can click the country marker on the map to connect or choose a specific country from the “Obfuscated Server” menu.
    Screenshot of NordVPN's map interface showing how to connect to an obfuscated server

Common FAQs About VPNs in China

How does NordVPN bypass China’s firewall?

NordVPN can bypass the notorious firewall in two main ways: staying out of China physically and using a special kind of server.

Not one of NordVPN’s 5,800+ servers is located inside China. This means it isn’t a government-approved VPN and it doesn’t have to comply with the government’s regulations. It’s free to disregard China’s data retention requirements and content restrictions, connecting you to servers beyond China’s firewall.

NordVPN also uses obfuscated servers, providing an extra layer of encryption to hide your data and your connection type. An obfuscated server disguises your connection, changing its appearance to look like a regular HTTPS connection instead of a VPN. This makes the firewall think your VPN connection is standard internet traffic, letting it pass through without restriction.

Can I use a free VPN in China?

Free is always tempting, but using a free VPN in China is both a risky and frustrating experience.

There are some secure free VPNs that are great for casual browsing and streaming but simply can’t bypass China’s firewall. Paid VPNs make sure they aren’t detected by the firewall by investing in the server network. Free VPNs don’t have the technology or resources available to reliably get around these blocks.

Why should I use a VPN in China?

Using the internet without a secure VPN makes you subject to government monitoring. If the government deems your activity as a threat, they can confiscate your device or even arrest you. Using a VPN ensures that you can access any content you want regardless of restrictions while keeping your identity anonymous.

Keep in mind that the protection of a VPN doesn’t give you license to commit illegal acts (like downloading copyrighted content), so please exercise a basic level of caution when using a VPN in China.

In 2017, China enacted new, stricter laws that increased internet censorship. The new laws require all internet companies operating within China to register with the government, including VPN services. Registered companies must follow all Chinese laws, including following the government’s internet restrictions. This also means they must comply with any government-issued data requests.

Is using a VPN legal in China?

It’s complicated. Technically, VPNs aren’t legal unless they are government-approved. However, you risk exposing your private data to the government unless you use a VPN with a strict no-logs policy, military-grade encryption, and other security measures. In my research, I’ve found that fines for using a non-approved VPN apply mostly to Chinese nationals rather than foreign workers or tourists anyway.

You can legally use a VPN that is registered with the government, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Using a government-approved VPN won’t protect your online activity or give you access to your home country’s accounts (like Gmail or Netflix). Approved VPN services have to follow government-mandated restrictions, including blocking websites and logging user data – putting your activity and data at risk.

Why does China block websites and services?

The Chinese government restricts access to the internet in the name of protecting citizens from misinformation. While the intention to shield individuals from harmful content is respectable, the restrictions have grown in scope over time.

As a result, the use of any website that posts information considered to be “against the government” is forbidden. This could include celebrity rumors, criticism of the government or party leaders, or blog posts written by activists. Many controversial events, like the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest, are censored from the Chinese internet – and any foreign sites that mention them are blocked.

Which websites are blocked in China?

The Chinese government is continually blocking popular websites that people in other countries use freely every day. As the list changes so frequently, there’s no way to tell just how many websites are blocked from public view.

Popular sites blocked in China include:

  • Search Engines – Yahoo and Google (including Google platforms like Google Docs and Google Drive)
  • News providers – NY Times and BBC
  • Messaging sites – Gmail, WhatsApp, and Snapchat
  • Social media – Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter
  • Streaming servicesNetflix, YouTube, and Spotify
  • Information providers – Wikipedia and Quora

Will my VPN work on my phone in China?

VPNs don’t generally work well on mobile devices in China. Your smartphone, tablet, or other mobile device uses IPSec encryption with your VPN, and this protocol can be detected by the Great Firewall. As a precaution, I suggest you download a VPN that’s been proven to work on mobile devices in China.

You can get the benefits of NordVPN on your phone by connecting your mobile device to your computer with a hotspot. As long as your computer is connected to a NordVPN server, your phone connection will be protected too.

Can I use other VPNs in China?

Yes, there are a small number of VPNs that currently work in China. During my extensive testing, I found 3 VPN services (other than NordVPN) that reliably bypass China’s Great Firewall:

  1. Astrill VPN is one of the most reliable VPNs I’ve tested for China. It had consistently fast speeds that let me stream Netflix with minimal buffering.
  2. ExpressVPN also performed well in all its tests with good speeds, military-grade security, and its ability to access restricted sites easily.
  3. The third VPN I tested, PrivateVPN, has a strict no-logs policy that keeps your data secure every time you connect.

Try the best VPN for China!

Using a VPN in China Keeps You Safe and Unrestricted

With a reliable VPN, you can enjoy internet privacy and freedom. If you’re traveling to China for a holiday or work, you can stay in touch with friends on Facebook, continue to watch your favorite series on Netflix US, and even catch up on your local news.

In Summary — Top VPNs for China in 2021

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Kate Hawkins
Written By Kate Hawkins
Kate Hawkins is a tech-focused writer and web expert with a keen interest in online security and privacy. She enjoys getting stuck into new technology and researching the latest cybersecurity trends to keep readers informed and safe online.