Virtual private networks (VPNs) are popular nowadays for several reasons. For one, they protect and secure your personal data while you’re online. They provide added privacy, and prevent anyone from tracking your online activity. They also allow users to bypass content restrictions to access geo-restricted websites.
Unfortunately, not all the governments in the world are fans of VPNs. Some countries go to such dramatic lengths as to partially or totally restrict VPNs. Does your country fall into the group of repressive countries that have banned the use of VPNs? Read this article, and find out if VPNs are legal in your country.
Why are VPNs legal in some countries, but not others?
You may ask, why would a VPN be banned in countries? Isn’t the whole idea of VPNs to protect and secure users online? Why would countries ban them? Apparently, you can’t give something good to humans without someone ruining it for all the rest. While there are bonafide users who respect the sanctity of VPNs, there are malicious parties that try to give VPNs a bad name.
Here are some of the top reasons why VPNs are illegal in some countries:
- ‘Illegal ‘activities: Originally, VPNs were made with the idea of providing a secure network for big organizations and companies. With time, VPNs became more popular among ordinary people, as VPNs provide an unmatched level of security and privacy. Soon, people started using VPNs to organize demonstrations, and get around restrictions placed upon them by governments. Those in power wanted to maintain their power, and they sought to do that by taking a tool away from their people.
- Breaching online services: Given that VPNs allow users to access geo-restricted websites (like Netflix and Hulu), these online services are always doing something to confront the legal use of VPNs. Still, accessing online services like Netflix are still possible if you use the right VPN for Netflix.
YouTube, Google, Netflix etc about to all get blocked in Korea for not being subject to Korean law.
Kim Ilsung's summer villa in the South about to be restored.
What the hell are you doing, Moon
— John Yoo and 805 others (@oniontaker) March 12, 2019
There are other reasons that we could list and make this article way too long, but you get the point. VPNs are good, but they threaten those with power and wealth in a small way. That’s why some countries take such rash precautions and go all the way to ban VPNs in general.
Still, the majority of countries support the idea of VPNs. We’re talking here only a small percent of countries whose governments have taken extreme measures to restrict or totally ban VPNs. Below you can see which countries restrict and which countries ban the use of VPNs.
Countries where VPNs are fully banned
If you’re traveling in these countries, you probably won’t be able to indulge in your everyday online activities, as they have banned the use of VPNs for good. The following countries strictly forbid VPNs, and their use is considered a crime:
- Iraq: In 2014, Iraq banned VPNs altogether in hopes to stop ISIS from manipulating social media. The Iranian government has banned the use of VPNs and software like Psiphon (which is capable of creating VPNs).
- North Korea: While there is no clear information as to why North Korea has banned VPNs, it is known that North Korea prevents its citizens from accessing foreign media. North Korea has one of the strictest Internet regulations in the world, and not much is known about how these laws are enforced. The government manages all websites in North Korea, and there is not much access to the wider web. Still, it is believed that tourists can still use VPN and the Internet in general, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up.
Dammit, now I can't use my North Korea VPN anymore 😑
— jaytrade (@jaycryptotrader) November 21, 2018
- Turkmenistan: The introduction of Turkmenistan’s Internet Law in 2015 gave the government a thorough control over Internet censorships. All Internet access is routed through a sole, government-controlled, monopolist provider, which allows authorities to access and read all users’ correspondence. Attempts to use VPNs or proxies are immediately detected and blocked. VPN and proxy users are subjected to administrative penalties and summoned for “preventive conversations” to the Ministry of National Security, where they face intimidation.
- Belarus: Without any real explanation, Belarus banned the use of VPN and Tor in 2015. The government sees VPNs and Tor as potential tools for political purposes and destabilization. The government owns the primary ISP, allowing the authorities to maintain strict control over all Internet access. Citizens face penalties and other forms of punishment if they try to use VPNs.
VPNs are completely restricted in these countries. If you plan on traveling somewhere in these countries, you can include that under “Cons” in your list.
Countries where VPNs are government-controlled
In all of these countries, any foreign companies that want to promote their VPN services will have to receive approval from the government first. Otherwise, they risk getting banned. The following countries have a “government-controlled” policy about the use of VPNs:
- China: Starting from 2018, all VPN service providers in China need to have a license from the government to be able to operate. The Great Firewall prevents access to a lot of sites and VPN services in China, and VPNs are now included in the list of software that is heavily monitored and restricted. What this means is that every VPN provider will have to agree with the terms set by the Chinese government. Everyone who uses “illegal channels” or another unauthorized VPN service shall be fined up to 15,000 yuan (approximately $2,200).
- Iran: Since 2013, Iran allows only government-approved VPNs to operate in the country. The reason behind the restriction lays in the prosecution of criminals. Using VPNs approved by the government allegedly lead to surveillance and inspection of private data. Using unauthorized VPNs which are not in compliance with Iranian Law can result in 91 days to one year of incarceration. However, actual arrests are a rarity in Iran, because the government only uses this law to prosecute and monitor potential crimes.
- Oman: In 2010, Oman’s Telecom Regulation Authority (TRA) implemented a regulation which prevents the use of VPN services from providers that don’t have a permit. The law imposes a fine of 500 Omani Rial (approximately $1,300) on individuals and 1,000 Omani Rial on companies without the necessary government consent. Institutional use of VPNs in Oman is legal if permission is granted by the government.
- Russia: Russia restricted the use of VPNs in 2017 to prevent the spreading of “extremist material” on the web. This law is not meant to prevent law-abiding citizens from using VPNs. Its main purpose is to block access to “unlawful content.” Using VPNs that don’t have the government’s consent can lead to fines as large as 300,000 RUB ($5,100) for the user and 700,000 RUB ($12,100) for the service provider.
- Turkey: To prevent circumvention of government-imposed censorship via VPN services, the Turkish government instructed all operators to block VPN services and Tor. In 2016, Turkey banned 10 popular VPN service providers, including ExpressVPN, IPVanish, Private Internet Access, and VPN Master.
- United Arab Emirates: In 2012, the UAE made it illegal for anyone in the country to use VPNs or proxies. One of the reasons for this restriction was the fact that people were using Skype, WhatsApp, Viber, and other free VOIP services, leaving out the big telecom companies of the UAE. Even though you can use a VPN if you have valid reasons, it will be tough to prove it. The law states that anyone who uses third-party software to conceal their IP address shall be punished by temporary imprisonment and a fine of no less than AED 500,000 and not exceeding AED 2,000,000.
In these countries, VPNs are under the government’s control. While there’s a little leeway in using VPNs in these countries, it will be for your best interest not to take unnecessary risks. As you can guess, these are all using the “we’re just protecting” you excuse, when what they are really doing is repressing their people.
Fines for using a VPN in various countries
Fines for using VPN services vary in different countries. In some countries, the fines are small and symbolic; in other countries, the penalties are rigorous and may even include imprisonment. Censorship laws are taken very seriously, and I advise that you check out these potential fines before you travel to some of these countries:
- China: Individuals who access international network privately or through “illegal channels” without authorization can be fined up for the amount of 15,000 yuan ($2,200). This is very rare, especially for those on business or vacation.
- Iran: The gruesome thing about Iranian’s Law about VPNs is that unauthorized use of VPNs can be punished with a prison sentence from 91 days to one year. As weasmentioned above, actual arrests are a rarity because the country implemented the law to prosecute criminals and not regular citizens for browsing through common sites like Twitter and Facebook.
- United Arab Emirates: In the UAE, fines for unauthorized use of VPNs may range from 500,000 AED ($136,000) to 2 million AED ($544,000) and a potential custodial sentence. Banks, institutions, and companies are allowed to use VPNs freely as VPNs are only prohibited for individuals. Funny, isn’t it? Those with power and wealth are allowed to use them, those without aren’t…
— Gulshan R. J. (@gulshanrj) July 28, 2016
- North Korea: Although tourists are seemingly allowed to use VPNs in this country, there are penalties for locals who use VPNs to access censored material. It’s difficult to find solid information about North Korean law regarding the use of VPNs, but penalties for using VPNs differ from a small fine to capital punishment.
- Russia: There are clear and specific penalties for both unauthorized VPN providers and VPN users. Unauthorized VPN service providers are fined up to 700,000 RUB ($12,000); VPN users are fined up to 300,000 RUB ($5,100).
- Saudi Arabia: The use of VPNs is only illegal if you use them for VoIP services like WhatsApp, Viber, etc. Funny, isn’t it? Those with power are repressing this without to maintain their power and wealth. According to the government, penalties for using VPN services include “harsh punishment” for locals and deportation for expatriates.
All in all, using VPNs can be quite dangerous if you’re in some of these countries. Make sure to always check with government regulations before deciding to use VPNs in there, and try talking to some locals on Twitter. Otherwise, you risk receiving a hefty penalty or even imprisonment.
How VPNs are banned
Interested in finding out how governments manage to ban VPNs? Of course, you are. Here are some of the most popular methods that countries use:
- VPN blocking: Large organizations, governments, and other corporations use a method called “VPN blocking” to block the encrypted protocol tunneling communications methods that are used by VPNs.
- Other ways of restricting VPN: VPN blocking can also be done in other ways, including blocking the ports (PPTP or L2TP), blocking access to IP addresses that are known to belong to popular VPN providers, and blocking access to all overseas IP addresses.
As you can see, there are lots of ways available for governments to prohibit the use of VPNs on their turf.
To sum it up, even though some countries have decided to ban or restrict VPNs, in the majority of countries, VPNs are completely legal. Nonetheless, use this article to remind yourself which countries are banning VPNs before you travel somewhere. If you need to find good VPNs that specialize in geo-unblocking, read our review of the top VPNs for geo-unblocking, the top 2 are below:
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