While most people don’t have to worry about the legalities around Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), it’s important to know if you’re allowed to use them when you’re traveling. Are VPNs legal everywhere? You’re about to find out.
What Is VPN?
Other than these standard functionalities, many VPNs can safeguard your identity when your connection suddenly drops and encrypt your online communications. Some can even block ads, protect your device from malware, and trick your internet service provider (ISP).
To learn more about how VPN works, we have a more detailed explanation in this article.
Are VPNs Legal?
Most of the time, the answer is yes.
Notwithstanding the tendency of many Western governments to spy on their citizens and exchange information, VPN legality is practically universal.
The problem is that there are still a few repressive regimes in the world. They openly censor the internet on the pretense of stopping cybercriminals and protecting national interests. Oppressive governments carry web regulation to extremes, taking away their people’s freedom of speech, expression, and press.
When you visit a country under the jurisdiction of controlling leaders, expect total or partial VPN blockers.
Where Are VPNs Illegal?
So, in what countries is a VPN illegal? This question can be difficult to answer directly.
Some countries that allow VPNs won’t let vendors do business in peace. And not all governments that have a dim view of these internet privacy tools prohibit them outright. We’ve broken them down into two categories: restricted and banned. In the section below, we’ll go through each of them.
As follows are countries that consider the use of VPN legal but regulate it heavily.
Despite what the Western media say about China’s tough stance on VPNs, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) doesn’t consider every VPN illegal. While the technology itself isn’t banned, the government doesn’t tolerate domestic vendors as these companies are trying to bypass the Great Firewall.
USA VPN service providers and others based outside of Mainland China could serve users. But since 2017, you can’t download VPNs from app stores in China. If you’re traveling to China from abroad, you must already have a VPN on your device to use it.
But this doesn’t mean foreigners can access the internet as usual with a VPN. The Cyberspace Administration of China can block any web traffic trying to go around the Great Firewall.
A recent example was the disrupted YouTube live stream of the Oscars 2021 in Shanghai, where Beijing-born Chloe Zhao won the Academy Award for Best Director. Zhao got in trouble with the CCP for her critical comment on the government back in 2013.
Is a VPN illegal in Egypt? Not completely. But the Egyptian government has been busy curtailing access to media platforms and anti-surveillance tools (including VPNs) since 2017, way before creating any legal framework to do so.
Only registered VPN companies can operate in Iran. To do business legally, they have to comply with Iran’s internet censorship rules.
Since legal VPN services in the country are next to useless, many Iranian netizens have resorted to creative workarounds to access the free Web. The authorities can arrest illegal VPN users, but they’re particularly interested in punishing vocal dissenters.
Technically, VPNs are legal in Myanmar. But on February 1, 2021, the country was reverted to military rule after a successful coup attempt by the Burmese armed forces, whose political party suffered a defeat in the elections. In the hope of crippling mass demonstrations against the military, the junta has implemented a VPN ban and shut down Facebook temporarily.
Oman has banned VPN for personal use since 2010, the year the Arab Spring broke out. But is a VPN illegal for businesses too?
The use of VPNs in Oman is a privilege reserved for public and private institutions only. The country’s telecommunications regulator must permit it beforehand as well.
This sultanate’s legal climate has been unfavorable for messaging and internet privacy tools for over a decade. But using VPNs is still popular among Omani citizens—a few vendors even house servers in this country.
In 2011, Pakistan started to ban the use of VPN services to pursue its web filtering initiatives. It has required ISPs to report customers who use them to the authorities.
While businesses that need extra secure connections for exchanging sensitive data are an exception to the rule, the Pakistani government obliged them to register and disclose their encryption software provider no later than June 30, 2020. Or else they wouldn’t be able to secure their traffic.
Russia has one of the most controversial VPN laws in Europe. The Russian Federation’s legislation surrounding VPNs doesn’t outright forbid them but criminalizes their use for circumventing the government’s geo-restrictions. Violators, both users and vendors, can face hefty fines. The law exempts corporate VPNs.
To operate in Russia, VPN providers have to make their protocol friendly to Roskomnadzor, the country’s federal censor. In other words, they have to give Vladimir Putin and Company backdoors to traffic data.
VPN vendors didn’t feel the law’s enforcement immediately, but Russia went after those that had refused to play by its rules, eventually. Although the authorities’ internet crackdowns haven’t let up, ordinary citizens continue to rely on VPNs to defy institutional online censorship.
Can you use a VPN in Saudi Arabia?
Much like the rest of the Middle East, Saudi Arabia has no laws banning the use of VPNs. But the government carefully filters all domestic and international internet traffic.
The authorities have zero tolerance for subjects such as LGBT+ rights, gambling, drug use, and pornography. And they have no problem silencing their critics. So while you’re free to use a VPN in Saudi Arabia, you shouldn’t use it recklessly. You may find yourself in hot water if you commit a serious offense, even by accident or as a tourist.
In 2020, the Turkish authorities toyed with the idea of a total ban on VPNs. But the proposal to outlaw or tightly regulate VPNs and proxies wasn’t new. The government had already blocked a significant number of them to curb social networking sites and messaging apps within the nation’s borders.
So, are VPNs legal in Turkey? Yes, but things may change soon. For now, some of the VPN vendors we’ve reviewed are still active in the country.
The Ugandan government hasn’t outlawed VPN usage yet. But it has announced that it’s clamping down on VPN subscribers.
VPNs have been a problem for Ugandan politicians who have wanted to censor the internet since 2016. The desire of Ugandans to browse the internet anonymously has only grown stronger as the government passed legislation for taxing social media.
The government has been trying to block VPNs since 2019 to no avail. But in January 2021, Uganda’s information and communications technology minister was confident that the regulators would finally be able to unmask and catch tax-evading VPN users.
United Arab Emirates
VPNs aren’t banned in the UAE, but many things you would use the service for are. Online activities like watching adult content, spreading hate, or organizing illicit protests are illegal.
Likewise, the government can give you a hefty penalty if you use Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services to make free calls via a VPN. This policy exists to protect the interests of state-owned telecoms.
Similar to China, internet censorship is prevalent in Vietnam. The socialist republic uses the Bamboo Firewall to ban select websites and suppress any anti-government sentiment.
Despite this, this Southeast Asian country hasn’t launched VPN blockers. The problem is that the Communist Party of Vietnam prosecutes those trying to get around the geo-restrictions and express dissent against the authorities.
The following countries are the least tolerant of VPNs.
Belarus is one of the few countries in the world to ban VPNs, proxies, and the Onion network directly. The Belarusian government has been violating its citizens’ right to access information for many years. And it officially inked an all-out prohibition of internet anonymizers of any kind in 2016.
Despite this, the authorities haven’t succeeded in ridding the country of VPNs. In 2020, protesters turned to underground VPN operators to help neutralize government-imposed takedowns of news sites, search engines, and social networks after an allegedly rigged presidential election.
In 2014, the Iraqi government tightly policed its cyberspace by declaring a VPN ban and blocking Google, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube as a defense against ISIS. There was a time when the authorities even switched off the internet altogether.
The bold decision to implement such extreme digital censorship has been a double-edged sword. While it has helped cripple the terrorists, it also deprived ordinary Iraqis of access to life-saving information.
There’s no way to verify North Korea VPN laws, assuming that they exist. But the consensus is that the hermit kingdom doesn’t allow it. It hardly matters anyway as the general population can only browse through Kwangmyong, its national intranet.
The communist nation does have the internet, which is accessible by visitors via 3G. But using VPNs while you’re on North Korean soil is a huge no-no. Who knows what would happen to you if you tried.
The official legal status of VPN use in this former Soviet republic isn’t crystal clear. But Turkmenistan’s policy is undoubtedly worse than the strict rules on using a VPN in Russia.
The government, which controls Turkmentelecom (the only internet service provider and mobile operator in the country), has been actively blocking download attempts of VPN apps on Google Play since 2019. Turkmenistan’s cybersecurity law was signed in the same year and empowered its ruler to further censor parts of the internet in the name of national security.
In mid-March 2021, the most popular VPNs in the country mysteriously malfunctioned.
Do’s and Don’ts of VPN Use
Just because it’s legal to use a VPN in the USA and most other countries doesn’t mean it’s the same everywhere. Always remember the legitimate uses of VPNs below.
- Offsetting the dangers of public Wi-Fi networks
- Protecting sensitive information
- Access streaming platform accounts while you’re abroad
- Torrenting with a masked IP address
- Playing online games more conveniently and privately
- Making phone calls over the internet more securely
- Picking up better deals using foreign IP addresses
No matter what vendor you use, these are common ways to misuse VPNs that can put you in trouble.
- Scamming people
- Buying and/or selling contraband like drugs
- Stealing and/or consuming copyright material
- Spreading malware
VPN Services You Can Trust
Out of all Europe, Australia, Canada, and USA VPN service providers, only a few can deliver reliable service consistently. The following are some of our top picks:
NordVPN has established itself as the authority on private browsing.
It natively supports double VPN and Onion over VPN. Also, its NordLynx protocol is an enhanced version of WireGuard.
Thanks to obfuscated VPN technology, NordVPN’s 59-country network of 5,430 servers doesn’t attract the attention of ISPs. Its three-year plan costs $3.49/month, and it comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Private Internet Access (PIA)
PIA is the best VPN for peer-to-peer file sharing.
This provider has customizable encryption settings, supports port forwarding, and offers a SOCKS5 proxy. PIA’s fleet has more than 35,470 servers. For as low as $2.91/month, you can route your traffic to any of its remote computers in 78 countries and territories to hide your actual location.
ExpressVPN is the perfect VPN for streaming.
It can successfully bypass the geo-restrictions and unblock services like Netflix or Disney+ with its OpenVPN UDP, IKEv2, and L2TP/IPSec protocols. You can enjoy unlimited bandwidth with any of its 3,000+ servers in 94 countries. ExpressVPN’s annual subscription costs $8.33/month.
Are VPNs Legal? – Conclusion
VPN legality isn’t a black-and-white subject. Some countries have proven that legislation isn’t always necessary to undercut the utility of VPNs.
Although many real-world examples prove that it’s hard to ban VPNs completely, using one irresponsibly could get you into a lot of trouble.
Always use common sense to make the most of VPNs and don’t use them irresponsibly.
It is not illegal to use a VPN for Netflix. But some countries forbid the use of VPNs altogether, so make sure you know the risks. In VPN-friendly countries, Netflix does look down upon using a VPN but won’t cancel your account.
It depends on where you are and how you use it. Some countries forbid the use of VPNs, and using the internet with one can be a quick ticket to jail. But in places where VPNs are legal, using them to engage in illegal activity can also put you in a lot of trouble.
No, in the vast majority of countries it’s legal to use a VPN. Even some of the most controlling regimes don’t ban VPNs completely. So, are VPNs legal in all countries? Unfortunately, no. Our article above shows you the countries in which VPN use is restricted or banned altogether.