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China is one of the countries that censor the type of information its citizens can access on the internet.
It does this using the Great Firewall which restricts how much access its citizens have to the internet using various techniques like DNS spoofing, manual and AI censorship as well as IP filtering.
However, regardless of this level of censorship, government-approved VPNs are legal in China. In fact, many of its citizens use VPNs for more secure and free browsing.
This also means that VPNs operating without government approval are illegal, and using them can attract different penalties.
Therefore, with this stance on VPN usage, is there a punishment for using a VPN in China? Keep reading as we dive deeper into the topic.
Is VPN legal in China?
Yes, VPNs are legal in China but it is important to note that only the VPNs the Chinese government approves are legal.
Therefore, it is illegal to use unapproved providers, which includes most of the VPN providers that we recommend and what you’ll normally think about when hearing the word VPN.
In fact, the government blocks all VPNs operating in the country without its approval. For instance, you can’t access most VPNs’ homepages, including ExpressVPN while in China.
This means that the approved VPN providers are answerable to the government, and as such, will log user data and traffic to be turned over to the government upon request.
This defeats the purpose of privacy and security a normal VPN offers.
China’s strict regulation and censorship of the internet have stifled many foreign businesses from gaining a foothold in the country.
The Great Firewall of China limits access to information online and this is why many of its citizens use VPNs.
What is the punishment for using VPN in China?
The punishment for using a VPN in China ranges from 100 yuan fines to arrests, and over 5 years of jail time.
Organizations and companies face harsher consequences
The extent of punishment varies between organizations to individuals.
As mentioned earlier, organizations and companies are to use only government-approved VPNs. A company’s failure to abide by this rule may lead to incurring fines or even prison sentences.
Operating illegal VPNs leads to jail time
Also, Chinese citizens working as VPN service providers without approval or clearance from the government also risk fines or jail terms.
For example, a man was sentenced to 5 and half years in jail in addition to a $76,000 fine in 2017.
This approval or clearance from the government is in a bid to compel the providers to log user data and information for the government.
Illegal VPN for personal use gets you fined
Regular citizens using a VPN for illegal activities usually only have to pay fines.
For instance, a man was recently punished for using a VPN to access foreign porn websites.
Another man had to pay a 1000 yuan fine in 2019 for using an illegal VPN to access foreign websites.
This punishment was for selling unapproved VPN services to citizens.
Foreigners face less severe punishments
However, the punishment for foreigners is not as severe.
In many cases, the government only blocks the expat’s device in a bid to get them to report themselves.
When they report themselves, the police go through their phones and delete all the unlawful apps they can find on the device, but that’s about it.
Can foreigners use a VPN in China?
Yes, foreigners can use VPNs in China. Although the country doesn’t tolerate the use of VPNs, they are somewhat lenient with non-Chinese
However, if the government can detect that you’re using a VPN, it can interrupt your device’s internet access.
For example, If your VPN connection is detected as a foreigner, a lieu may be placed on your device to block internet access, texts, calls, and other functionalities, forcing you to take it for examination.
During that process, the police will show up and delete the apps that violate the law of China, including VPNs.
That said, if you use a VPN that can bypass the Chinese Firewall, you will most likely face no consequences at all.
How many Chinese people use VPN?
According to Statista, as of 2017, around 31% of netizens in China use VPNs to bypass the unending government censorship on social media platforms and other websites.
Foreigners make up a larger part of the percentage because almost all the expats in China use VPNs for their business and daily activities.
Furthermore, building a successful business in China requires you to use a VPN especially if your business requires communication with investors or partners from outside China.
This data is high compared to free countries where citizens typically don’t need a VPN to access basic internet services.
On the other hand, this figure is low in comparison to other countries with more intense restrictions on internet services.
Additionally, this figure may change in 2023. This is because the Chinese government has intensified its Firewall and occasionally cracks down on the use of VPNs.
This means that only a few reliable VPNs with adequate security and encryption protocols are able to bypass the Great Firewall of China.
Although it’s legal to use a VPN in China, the unending restrictions by the government are exhaustive.
These restrictions prevent individuals and companies from having access to basic social and interactive platforms to connect to the outside world.
This is why the use of VPNs is on a rise in China. It is their only option to connect and have access to various internet services and online communities.
However, not all VPNs are able to bypass the Great Firewall of China, especially the free ones.
In summary, punishments for using a VPN in China exist, including arrests, fines, and jail time.
Therefore, you must ensure that you do not engage in any illegal activities while using a VPN in China.