Private Internet Access has one of the cheapest VPN subscriptions available — you can sign up for as little as $2.03/month. With such a low price, I wondered whether PIA could really stand out against its higher-priced competitors. It’s been around for 10+ years, so it could be one of the best-value VPNs out there.
I decided to find out just how good it is by looking into the company’s logging policy, security features, and testing out its speeds. In addition, I performed in-depth tests on its ability to unblock streaming platforms, its torrenting performance, and every other aspect of the VPN to see where it ranks among other top VPNs.
Overall, Private Internet Access is a secure choice and great value for the money. With its streaming abilities, strong torrenting performance, and customizable security options, it’s impressive that you can get a subscription for so little. On top of that, you get unlimited device connections.
The fact that it comes with a trustworthy 30-day money-back guarantee shows that PIA really stands behind its product. With that said, even though it’s one of the cheapest, I wouldn’t call it the best. There are still a couple of VPNs out there that it falls short of in certain areas.
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Short on Time? Here Are My Key Findings
- Good for unblocking streaming sites. I was able to access 17 different Netflix libraries (including the US), Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, HBO Max, BBC iPlayer, and more. Read the complete results of my streaming tests here.
- Great speeds on nearby servers. I had no problems gaming and streaming in Ultra HD on local servers, but speeds were slower at long distances. Find out how much the VPN will slow your connection here.
- Tons of servers to choose from. It has one of the largest server networks of any VPN, but several servers are virtual locations. Check out how reliable the network was during my tests.
- Good security with many customizable settings. PIA passed all of my leak tests, and it also has variable encryption levels, split tunneling, and a kill switch. Here are the full results of my security tests.
- Solid choice for torrenting. I was able to download files at fast speeds on any server. Read ahead to see how its port forwarding option increases speeds.
- Great apps for every major OS. You’ll get full-featured apps on every OS that are super easy to use. Read ahead to see why its Linux app stands out.
- 30-day money-back guarantee. I ordered a subscription for $2.03/month and with its refund policy, I got all of my money back in 1 day. Read about how easy it is to have your refund processed here.
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Private Internet Access Features — 2023 Update
Money Back Guarantee
Does VPN keep logs?
Number of servers
Based in country
24/7 Live Chat Support
Streaming — Unblocks 25+ Top Streaming Platforms Including US Netflix and Disney+9.6
Private Internet Access is good at unblocking streaming platforms. I was able to unblock US Netflix and libraries from 16 other countries. HBO Max and ESPN+ were a bit tougher, but I managed to access them with some simple troubleshooting. The only platforms I tested that didn’t work were Sky Go and DAZN. Plus, its fast speeds let me stream in 4K.
I tested 25+ servers and accessed the following platforms:
||Amazon Prime Video
||C More SE
Unblocked: Netflix (US, UK, Japan, and 14 Other Libraries)
It was easy to access US Netflix using PIA’s US East Streaming Optimized server. It only took 3 seconds to load before In The Dark played back.
There were significantly longer load times and lag when I used long-distance servers
In addition to the US library, I was able to unblock Netflix regions in the following countries:
I didn’t need to use the streaming-optimized servers to unblock Netflix libraries. There are special Netflix servers in the US, Japan, the UK, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Italy. They’re supposed to work better for streaming, but I didn’t notice any difference.
Many times, normal servers outperformed them. For example, the Tokyo Streaming Optimized server didn’t work to unblock Netflix, but the regular Tokyo server unblocked it on the first try.
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It couldn’t have been easier to stream Disney+ with PIA. The platform loaded up right away, and I was able to start watching She-Hulk: Attorney at Law instantly.
I only had to wait around 3 seconds for each episode to load
The picture quality was great, and I didn’t experience lag or buffering with the US East Streaming Optimized server.
I was only able to access Hulu with the streaming servers. I tried using the Seattle, New York, and Montana locations, but I was blocked each time. I tried it on Chrome, Microsoft Edge, and Firefox, but none of these worked.
I watched Difficult People without any interruptions once I accessed it
Once I switched to a streaming server, the video played back great with zero interruptions or choppiness.
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Unblocked: Amazon Prime Video
Amazon Prime Video US worked, but only with PIA’s dedicated streaming server. I also tried the normal Seattle, New York, and Denver servers, but they were all blocked.
I watched 2 episodes of Crash Course without any load times
The only other Amazon Prime library I could access was the UK region. Unfortunately, I couldn’t unblock other large libraries (like Prime Video Japan). When I tried both its streaming-optimized server and its regular Tokyo server, the VPN was detected.
Unblocked: HBO Max
HBO Max took a bit of work, but I was able to unblock it. Normal servers were blocked, and the US East Streaming Optimized server didn’t work either.
I had the most seamless streams using the OpenVPN protocol
However, I got it to work with the US West Streaming Optimized server. I could watch 3 episodes of Euphoria and only had to wait around 5 seconds between episodes for loading.
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Unblocked: BBC iPlayer
The London Streaming Server easily unblocked BBC iPlayer, despite the fact that my first test with the non-optimized server in London was blocked.
I didn’t experience any lag, even while I was casting from my phone
Once I had access, the videos played back well, and I only had to wait around 6 seconds for each episode to load.
ITV needed the London Streaming Optimized server to work too.
I didn’t experience any loading times with ITV
I also tried to access it on the London and Manchester servers, but these didn’t work.
ESPN+ was a little tougher to unblock. It only worked on the US West Streaming Optimized server, and I had to disconnect and reconnect a couple of times to get it to work.
I had quite a bit more lagging when watching ESPN+
Also Unblocks: Kodi, Crunchyroll, Peacock and more
Private Internet Access also works with Kodi and Popcorn Time. Kodi is a free app that makes it easier to stream media on all your devices. However, it can also be used to access platforms that have illegal content. My team and I don’t condone any illegal activity, so I recommend you only watch copyright-free content on these channels.
Popcorn Time is a popular Kodi add-on that offers P2P streaming. I used it to watch the public domain movie Night of the Living Dead. It took a few minutes to load since there weren’t many seeders, but it played back perfectly once it was loaded.
I also unblocked Peacock, Paramount+, Crunchyroll, and several other platforms. It even works well with Twitch. After I hopped on the Vegas server, I was able to jump into a livestream of the music producer Decap without any loading times.
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Blocked by: Sky Go and DAZN
I made several attempts, but I just couldn’t unblock Sky Go or DAZN. I tried to reconnect to different servers, but this didn’t work. Then, I reached out to Private Internet Access’ live chat for some help with this problem.
The representative didn’t give me any troubleshooting tips for streaming either
The support agent didn’t provide me with any extra information or tips. Whenever I asked about streaming, the agents sent me to a page that lists the platforms it unblocks. However, this list is incomplete because I was able to access many more sites. Eventually, I just had to test servers and platforms on my own.
While I was impressed with how many platforms PIA could access, other VPNs are more reliable for unblocking streaming platforms. For instance, I didn’t have to hunt as hard for servers with ExpressVPN. Plus, it never caused my streams to lag, even on faraway servers.
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Speeds — Great on Nearby Servers, but Speeds Drop at Long Distances9.0
Private Internet Access is really fast on local servers, but long-distance servers can slow your speeds more. I performed all of my tests on a Windows laptop. The app was set to the OpenVPN UDP protocol with 128-bit encryption because it gave me the best speeds compared to other protocols (while still keeping my connection safe).
PIA’s Auto-connect feature selects the fastest server available for you. I was impressed with how well this worked. When I tried it the first time, I was connected to the Southampton, UK server. This surprised me because there are other server locations closer to me (Manchester and London). However, when I tested out the closer servers, Southampton was definitely the fastest.
Overall, I was really impressed with PIA’s speeds. On local servers, I had an average drop of 10%. It’s normal for a VPN to drop your speeds by around 10–20%, so this was a great result.
On long-distance locations, I had a 49% decrease from my normal connection speeds. I still had average download speeds of 37.22 Mbps, so I didn’t notice a big difference while streaming or browsing. However, if you have a slower base internet speed (say 25 Mbps), a 49% drop would be more noticeable.
The speeds dropped more on long-distance servers, but it was always still fast enough for HD streaming
I could connect to local and long-distance servers quickly. The average time it took to connect to a local server was 3 seconds, and the distant servers were just a little bit slower at around 5 seconds.
I also tested video conferencing with Private Internet Access, and it worked well. The video and sound on Zoom only had a slight delay, which is about the same as my normal experience.
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Local Test Results
In my first test, Auto-connect set me up on the Southampton, UK server, which only dropped my download speed by 6%.
I could consistently stream in UltraHD on local servers with PIA
Below are my speed stats with no VPN.
No VPN connection (Glasgow, UK):
With the VPN connected, my ping rate only increased by 4 ms, which is great. My download speed only decreased by 6%, so I couldn’t feel any difference when streaming or browsing.
||27 (17% increase)
||68.72 (5% decrease)
||17.01 (8% decrease)
On my next test, I tried the France server, which is around 1,000 km from me. My ping rate was still quite low, and the upload speed barely changed, but my download speed decreased by almost 20%
||33 (43% increase)
||59.53 (18% decrease)
||17.60 (5% decrease)
The next local server I tested was in Stockholm, 2,663 km away. The download speed was even higher than with the Paris server, which is over 1,500 km closer to me. There was only a 7% drop from my original speed. The ping rate was quite a bit higher at 52 ms, but this is still low enough for lag-free gaming.
||52 (126% increase)
||67.78 (7% decrease)
||27.67 (50% decrease)
Overall, my local tests show that Private Internet Access can achieve really good speeds with servers close to you. I recommend using the Auto-connect feature to ensure you get the best speeds every time.
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PIA’s speeds didn’t drop significantly until the server was over 6,000 km away, but speeds were a little more inconsistent on the long-distance servers. The Seattle server, which is 7,157 km from me, only dropped by 9%. The ping rate was much higher, though, so it’s not suitable for gaming.
||183 (695% increase)
||66.12 (9% decrease)
||17.50 (5% decrease)
The next server I tested was in Atlanta, 6,396 km away. This is where my speed took a bit of a dip. My download rate was 33% slower than my test without a VPN. For comparison, my speeds only dropped by 5% using ExpressVPN’s Atlanta server. So, this was a little disappointing.
||114 (395% increase)
||48.90 (33% decrease)
||17.32 (6% decrease)
The Tokyo server is 9,244 km from me, but my speeds were much slower. This was the first server where I noticed a big difference. There was an 85% drop, and I experienced quite a bit of lag, as well as longer loading times when streaming.
||283 (1,130% increase)
||11.00 (85% drop)
||16.63 (10% decrease)
Despite being 16,932 km away from me, the Melbourne server gave me slightly better speeds than the Tokyo one. It still wasn’t fast enough for Ultra HD streaming, but I could stream on Netflix without too many interruptions.
||263 (1,043% increase)
||14.91 (80% drop)
||16.20 (12% decrease)
On long-distance servers, Private Internet Access loses a lot of speed and shows quite a few inconsistencies. Because of that, there are other VPNs I recommend to get fast speeds even when servers are far away.
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Are PIA’s Speeds Fast Enough for Gaming? Yes, but Not on Long-Distance Servers9.0
Nearby servers let you play online games with ease, but long-distance locations make gaming impossible. I played Rise of Empires: Ice and Fire on the France server, where the ping was only 33 ms.
Without the VPN, I only waited around 10 seconds for the game to load, whereas with a VPN, it took about one minute to connect. Still, I was able to play without any issues once the game loaded.
The OpenVPN protocol gave me the best speeds for uninterrupted gaming
I then tried using servers in Atlanta and Seattle. I waited 5 minutes for the game to load, but it wouldn't even start up. So, gaming is only possible on local servers with PIA.
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Server Network — One of the Largest Server Lists of Any VPN9.8
PIA has a huge server list with great global coverage, so you’ll be able to access content from around the world.
But although PIA offers an impressive 29,650 servers, it’s important to note that it only has servers in 84 countries. There are VPNs out there with fewer servers, but a lot more server locations. For example, CyberGhost has 9,167 servers in 91 countries, while ExpressVPN offers 3,000 servers in 94 countries.
Like both ExpressVPN and CyberGhost, though, its network runs on RAM-only servers, which is great for added privacy. Rather than use hard drives, which store information and need to be manually wiped, RAM servers automatically clear all data whenever they're rebooted (essentially with the flick of a switch).
With 53 servers in North America, PIA is one of the best VPNs to access US content. However, there’s still strong worldwide coverage. PIA’s server coverage is:
||Number of server locations
Having so many servers improves speeds because it prevents overcrowding, which can slow you down. It also makes it harder for streaming services to flag IPs they notice being used by multiple people. Plus, it makes it easier to find a server close to you, which will give you the best speeds.
PIA also has an option to sign up for a Dedicated IP. This will give you an IP address that only you can use. It helps prevent constant CAPTCHA checks and getting flagged on safe sites. It costs $5 extra per month, and PIA only offers IPs in the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, and Germany. It’s not a bad price (CyberGhost offers it for the same), but it’s too bad it’s not available in more locations.
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Does PIA Use Virtual Locations? Yes
Private Internet Access has virtual servers in 80 locations. There are 145 locations total, so virtual locations make up over 50% of its server network. That’s not a problem for me since I don’t mind using these servers. However, there are VPNs that don’t use any if this concerns you.
You can also disable virtual servers in the app settings. All you have to do is go to “Show Geo-located Regions” in the app settings and toggle it off.
One negative of having virtual locations is that it might lower your speeds. Since the server is actually in another country, it might be farther away from you than it appears, which means your data will have to travel farther.
On the positive side, having virtual locations allows PIA to offer locations in countries where it can be unsafe to have physical servers. It used to have physical servers in Brazil and Russia but removed them over privacy concerns. You can still use locations in these countries, but it’s now done through virtual servers.
The other icons next to the servers are latency and favorites
Private Internet Access also owns all of its servers, so you don’t have to worry about a third party handling your data. PIA’s customer support confirmed this. Most VPNs use outside companies to handle at least a few of their servers, and some VPNs only use rented servers. It also gives you the option to use DNS servers owned by the company. All the work put into these servers is impressive and shows that Private Internet Access is dedicated to protecting your data.
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Security — Good, With Several Customization Options9.6
Private Internet Access has some strong, adjustable security options. It offers multiple encryption levels and protocols that can be mixed and matched. PIA also has split tunneling and a kill switch. The packet size can also be adjusted between large and small, but I usually set it to auto. This only matters when you have unreliable connections, and I never had any connection issues with PIA's servers.
On top of that, I consider Private Internet Access safe since all of its apps are open-source. This means that third parties can access, test, and update it regularly to ensure it’s as secure as possible. I also like its Whitehat Security Alert program. This is a bug bounty system, which means it pays people who can find bugs in Private Internet Access. This can be submitted by anyone through its Vulnerability Disclosure forms. So even more people are helping to keep the apps working smoothly. Lastly, PIA passed all of my leak tests
Private Internet Access offers military-grade 256-bit encryption, which makes it impossible for anyone to spy on your data. With the OpenVPN protocol, the default setting is 128-bit encryption, but I recommend moving it up to 256-bit. I didn’t find any difference in speeds during my tests, so there’s no reason not to use the highest level of encryption for the highest level of protection. If you’re using WireGuard, the encryption level is always 256-bit.
I recommend using 256-bit encryption since it didn't affect my speeds
In addition, you can no longer change the handshake settings or choose between a few data authentication options. Private Internet Access removed this customization option to fix compatibility issues and make the VPN more stable. While these were nice options for advanced users, I don’t see it as a problem. Now, the VPN defaults to the most secure settings (GCM ciphers and the RSA-4096 certificate), so you’ll still get top-notch security. The same level is used for both protocols. It also offers 4 remote ports for both TCP (8443, 853, 443, 80) and UDP (8080, 853, 123, 53) or you can enter a local port in the PIA client.
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Leak Test Results — Passed
I didn’t find any DNS, WebRTC or IP leaks. After performing tests with 4 virtual locations and 6 bare-metal servers, PIA never leaked any of my vital information. The tests I conducted show you which IP addresses are visible to the websites you visit (which can be easily accessed by people who want to steal your data).
No one was able to see my real IP while I was connected to PIA
The only IPs that showed up were the ones I was connected to on the VPN.
Open Source Apps
All of PIA’s apps are open source, which makes them safer because anyone can check them for security vulnerabilities. Making these applications open source shows that Private Internet Access is transparent with its customers and anyone concerned with internet security.
Reliable Kill Switch
The kill switch blocks your internet traffic if the VPN gets disconnected. This is an essential feature because it ensures there’s never a chance for hackers to steal your data because your real IP can’t be accidentally leaked. For my tests, I kept a browser open while I switched servers and the page wouldn’t load if the VPN was still connecting. That’s how I knew it was working. You have the option to turn it off, but I recommend always keeping it set to on. You can also use the "Advanced Kill Switch," which blocks all traffic until the VPN is connected.
The Advanced Kill Switch blocks all traffic until the VPN is connected
This feature is available on Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS devices.
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Split Tunneling to Reroute Traffic
This feature lets you route some traffic through the VPN tunnel and the rest through your regular connection. I like to keep my banking app outside of the VPN, so my account isn’t blocked, for example.
You can keep access to your local news while you watch a Netflix library from another country
It’s available for Windows, Mac, Linux, and you can exempt apps (not websites) on Android devices. In the Android app, you can find the split tunneling feature under “Per App Settings.” It’s not currently available for iOS devices.
Protocols — 3 Good Options
You can use OpenVPN and WireGuard on every app; these are strong protocols, but other VPNs offer more. Protocols are a set of rules your VPN follows that tell it how to encrypt your traffic. OpenVPN is the safest because it’s open source, so it’s constantly checked for vulnerabilities.
WireGuard can sometimes be faster, but OpenVPN beat it in my speed tests. In addition to WireGuard and OpenVPN, the iOS app has access to IPsec (IKEv2). This is an older protocol that can be faster, but I don’t recommend it because it’s less secure.
MACE Ad Blocker — Only Blocks Some Ads
The ad blocker won’t remove all ads. In the app, PIA claims MACE blocks trackers, malware, and ads. However, while it worked to block ads on several sites I tested when I put it through an advanced test, many ads still got through.
It also can't block YouTube ads
It also doesn't give you the ability to whitelist (exempt sites or apps). Plus, I was disappointed that it can’t block ads on YouTube videos, so I’d recommend using a separate ad blocker.
InBrowser — Fast Incognito Browsing for Mobile Devices
Private Internet Access also offers its own incognito browser called InBrowser. It’s only available for Android and iOS. It can work in conjunction with the TOR network, and it deletes your history, cookies, and session data every time you log off.
iOS users can't access extensions or InBrowser, but they have an ad-blocker for Safari
It doubled the speeds on my phone (from 22.81 Mbps with Chrome to 46.49 Mbps with InBrowser). I was surprised with how fast it was. Incognito browsers are usually a little faster because they don’t run as many extensions. However, the incognito browser on Chrome is only 17 percent faster on average for me (while InBrowser was 102 percent faster). InBrowser is a nice addition, but you should use it with the VPN. It will only protect your browser and not fully encrypt the device like the VPN will.
PIA also has a feature that shows you if your email address has been exposed in a data breach. You can access this through the Client Support Panel, under the tab “Identity Guard.” It will regularly search for your email address, and you can set up email alerts to notify you if it’s ever compromised.
Private DNS Servers
Private Internet Access also runs its own private DNS servers. This means that it can handle your DNS requests instead of your ISP, which is more secure. ISPs do store and could share your DNS queries, and since they can tie them back to your IP address, this gives them a way to track you. You can also set the Windows client to use any custom DNS you want, but I recommend using PIA’s.
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Privacy — A Proven No-Logs Policy, but It’s Located in the US9.2
Does Private Internet Access Keep Logs? No
Private Internet Access doesn’t store any information that can be used to identify you. It only retains your email address, payment details, state and zip code (for tax purposes), and anonymized data used to improve the service. For maximum security, you can even create a new email address and pay with cryptocurrency. On top of that, it states that it will never rent or sell any customer's information.
It only collects enough data to maintain accounts and comply with tax regulations
In June 2022, PIA's no-logs policy was independently audited by Big Four auditing firm Deloitte. It found that PIA's server configurations are in line with its internal privacy policies, don't store logs, and cannot identify users or track their activities. This means there is no record of your online activity on PIA's servers.
Plus, its network architecture is designed to prevent data retention. PIA’s service runs on RAM-only servers. These servers use RAM modules rather than traditional hard disks and restart themselves regularly. All user data is lost when the servers are rebooted, so you can be confident that your data can't be shared since it's never stored.
Ownership and Company History
Private Internet Access is owned by Kape Technologies, which was formerly known as Crossrider and operated in the mobile advertisement and browser extension development sectors. In 2018, the company faced criticism when its software was exploited by hackers to include adware in some of its downloads.
However, since the name change, the company no longer works in advertising and now focuses on VPNs. Kape also owns CyberGhost and ExpressVPN, 2 other trustworthy VPNs. Plus, I ran tests on the app, and it was completely free of malware.
Based in the US
Private Internet Access operates out of the United States, which isn’t the most privacy-friendly country. The US was one of the founding members of the 5/9/14 Eyes Alliance. This is a pact between governments where they promise to share information on people they’re suspicious of.
However, Private Internet Access has a strong no-logs policy that has been audited and proven many times. It has operated for over a decade without ever storing or sharing any identifiable information on its users, so I trust them with my data.
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Torrenting — Download on Any Server with Fast Speeds9.6
I could download files on P2P networks super fast while connected to Private Internet Access. In my test, I found a torrent of Night of the Living Dead. It’s a 700MB file, and it took less than 10 minutes to complete.
I downloaded a 700 Mb file in less than 10 minutes
It also lets you use port forwarding, which can really improve your speeds. This lets you access more seeders. After I turned it on, I was downloading twice as fast. However, my upload speeds never changed, staying under 3 kB/s. This is normal for me, so the VPN didn’t affect it. Port forwarding can also bypass NAT firewalls, which could help you access blocked websites.
You can find it under the Network section of the settings
There is also the option to use a SOCKS5 proxy, but I don’t recommend it. The way proxies work with PIA is as a double-hop, meaning it sends your connection to the proxy before moving it through the VPN tunnel. This slows down your speeds by quite a bit (91 percent for me). Even if you could connect directly to the proxy, it’s not a good idea because it wouldn’t encrypt your traffic.
You can torrent on any server with unlimited bandwidth. This is nice because many VPNs only let you torrent on a select few locations. I was able to download with BitTorrent, Deluge, uTorrent, and Transmission and the MACE ad blocker worked well to block ads on these programs, too. Overall, it’s a solid option I’d recommend if you plan to torrent often.
My team and I do not endorse any illegal activities. While numerous countries permit sharing copyright-free files through P2P services, I suggest that you review your country's regulations before engaging in any torrenting activities.
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Does Private Internet Access Work in China? Yes
You can use Private Internet Access in China. You couldn’t in the past, but a customer support agent confirmed it now works in the country. It was briefly blocked in Hong Kong in 2019, but I was impressed that PIA made sure to get it working there again.
The customer support agent said it will work in China, but an alternate setup may be required
PIA’s knowledge base recommends changing the protocol to WireGuard to get it to work in China. If this doesn’t work, you can try setting up a connection through the OpenVPN application. It also recommends generating manual configuration files as a last resort.