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VPNs are perfectly legal in the vast majority of countries around the world, including nations such as the United States and the United Kingdom. However, that’s not the case everywhere, as there’s a collection of regions in which they’re either outright banned, or limited to some degree.
Where are VPNs illegal or blocked, and why? We’ll take you through a list of the countries affected, as well as provide an explanation as to why we’d be careful when connecting to free VPN services.
Premium VPNs are a great tool to bypass online blocks and geo-restrictions.
Why Countries Ban VPNs
Virtual private networks (VPNs) are used to provide online privacy and anonymity, so they’re not ideal for any country that aims to keep tabs on what people are up to. When looking at the countries on this list, many share key characteristics aimed to limit internet freedom for users in their country.
For example, they might ban or curb the use of social media, perhaps because of its capabilities in terms of spreading messages between a civilian population quickly. The same often goes for international news sites, essentially cutting them off from the rest of the world.
There aren’t any western countries on this list, though a number have blocked VPNs to consolidate power.
Users in these countries frequently try free VPNs to get around government censorship. Yet, we’d be wary when using free services even if they are appealing. Many have been caught selling user data, can significantly slow down connection speeds, or are unable to safely encrypt everything on your device.
Countries That Ban VPNs
Here’s an alphabetical and up-to-date list of countries known to ban or limit the use of VPNs in some shape or form within their borders.
The government restricts the use of many VPNs in Bahrain, imposing registration requirements on mobile phone users and uncovering the identities of anonymous or pseudonymous users in order to prosecute them in the past.
The European Parliament released a summary of the media environment in Belarus following a presidential election that saw limits on both traditional and electronic media:
“On 21 August 2020, it was reported that the websites of more than 70 media outlets had been blocked. The government was also reportedly involved in blocking the censorship circumvention services, such as virtual private networks (VPNs), used by the public to access blocked news portals and websites.”
China is an obvious example, but what are the rules surrounding VPNs? VPNs aren’t illegal in China, but their use is heavily restricted.
In other words, they’re happy to allow state-sponsored versions of software, although they will block content via the Great Firewall. The government went as far as removing key VPN apps from China’s Apple Store in 2017.
VPNs are entirely legal in Cuba, but you’ll have greater difficulty using a VPN to circumvent censorship or stay anonymous online than in other countries. Starting in October 2020, the messaging app Telegram was inaccessible for approximately five weeks, along with several popular VPNs.
Everything from adult content to news and social media is banned in Iran, while they plan to replicate China’s Great Firewall of digital and legislative barriers via legislation in the future. You will be able to sign up with a VPN service, but only with providers that have been registered and approved by the government.
The Iraqi government banned the use of VPNs in 2014 to combat the rise of ISIS, and they’re still illegal as of 2022. It’s a complete blanket ban, with no exceptions.
Unblock content and websites in your country with a secure VPN.
In March 2021, Myanmar banned the use of VPNs, though some orders emerged as early as February 4 according to reports from the region. The Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) confirmed that multiple circumvention-tool websites were blocked at least once alongside their IP addresses in February 2021.
An extreme example is North Korea, where they take strict control of all online communications. In fact, citizens have no access to the internet. Kwangmyong, which is Korean for “bright star,” is North Korea’s officially sanctioned intranet.
An engineer was reportedly able to extract a list of basic North Korean sites in 2016, including some English-language versions of articles. However, it’s unclear whether VPNs are illegal in the region, or just unable to be accessed by most of their population.
Oman’s Telecom Regulation Authority (TRA) proposed plans to prohibit the use of VPNs back in 2010, while the internet is heavily restricted in the region. Once again, the exact rules are unclear, but it makes sense for visitors and locals to self-censor with the use of a secure VPN.
It’s legal to use a VPN in Pakistan, although the government does block and filter lots of content. They also took steps to mandate that ISPs inform them about customers using encrypted tools, including VPNs.
Rather than blocking all VPNs, Russia has attempted to co-opt them into the fold via the Roskomnadzor — Russia’s communications regulator. The likes of Hola VPN, ExpressVPN, KeepSolid VPN Unlimited, NordVPN, Speedify, and IPVanish have been blocked for refusing to give in to their demands.
Using a VPN service is against Saudi Arabia’s cyber laws and therefore banned. Freedom House notes:
“Many Saudi internet users have become savvy at using circumvention tools such as Hotspot Shield, which allows users to access a virtual private network (VPN) to bypass censorship. However, the websites of many circumvention tools, such as Tor and major VPN providers, are blocked by the government.”
It’s not illegal to use a VPN in Turkey, but they’re limited by a government that heavily censors the internet. As best they can, Turkey blocks popular communication apps and sites like Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp. Direct access to Tor has also been blocked, and the same goes for a number of popular VPN services.
Turkmenistan has an average internet speed of 0.50 megabits per second (Mbps) and was the slowest of all 224 countries surveyed by Cable.co.uk in 2021.
And according to The Times, their internet is also heavily censored, with users reportedly “being forced to swear on the Quran that they will not use VPNs” when applying for their homes to have coverage.
Many countries on this list share key characteristics aimed to limit internet freedom for users within their borders.
The use of free VPN services is prevalent in Uganda. They first gained notoriety during the 2016 national elections, when the likes of Twitter and Facebook were blocked. A social media tax was introduced in 2018, in which users paid a fee per day to access over 60 platforms. Instead, users turned to free VPN services.
VPNs are legal in Uganda, but the government does block VPN traffic and urge telecom companies to do the same.
UAE cyber laws are reasonably stringent. It’s not outright banned, but VPN usage can carry a heavy fine if used to commit a crime.
According to Hacker News, “[A person] shall be punished by temporary imprisonment and a fine not less than Dh500,000 [$136,000] and not in excess of Dh2 million [$545,000] or either of these two penalties whoever uses a fraudulent computer network protocol address by using a false address or a third-party address by any other means for the purpose of committing a crime or preventing its discovery”.
Freedom House rates Uzbekistan as the 11th least-free country in the world. They heavily restrict content and access to many sites. However, while the government actively blocks certain VPNs, the use of a VPN is not illegal.
“The Union of Youth of Uzbekistan, a government-affiliated youth organization, has recruited social media trolls from its ranks. These trolls smear government critics and spread disinformation, including false claims about the illegality of VPN usage in Uzbekistan.”
Cyber experts at Freedom House have said that the escalation of censorship in Venezuela is becoming more sophisticated and harder to circumvent, as “VPNs and anonymization services are needed to circumvent HTTP, HTTPS, and server name identification (SNI) filtering.”
VPNs that Bypass Blocking
We’ve listed a trio of services that can bypass online blocks in the majority of regions around the globe. They will work in countries where VPNs are illegal, although we’d advise against breaking any local laws if you could get into serious trouble.
The privacy-focused NordVPN has over 5,200 ultra-fast servers across 60 countries. They offer a range of user guides showing how to connect from a country with internet restrictions such as China.
NordVPN is packed with additional features including threat protection and Double VPN. The latter is an advanced VPN security feature that routes your traffic through two VPN servers instead of one – encrypting your data twice.
Surfshark is another viable option to circumvent VPN bans, especially thanks to its NoBorders mode. As they explain:
“NoBorders enables you to use Surfshark in geo-restricted areas. If you try to use Surfshark in China, our app detects this and immediately switches to NoBorders mode. This provides you with a list of servers that function well with network constraints.”
Once again, a network of more than 3,200 servers in over 65 countries ensures top speeds. And it’s proven to unblock content in a host of content worldwide.
CyberGhost offers NoSpy servers and infrastructure that is specifically built to avoid surveillance and safeguard your online privacy anywhere.
Their team independently operates and entirely manages their network, which can be used to bypass many forms of online censorship. You’ll gain access to over 7,600 VPN servers located in more than 91 countries to help bypass online blocks.
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