If you have reached this page, you are probably wondering if it is legally allowed to work with a VPN. For most countries in the world, the answer is yes. However, each country has its own laws and regulations. If you use a VPN to remain anonymous while doing illegal activities, you are still subject to the law. What you are doing is still illegal, regardless of whether you are using a VPN or not.
A VPN (virtual private network) creates many possibilities. You can use it to bypass geographic restrictions on the Internet and gain access to information that would not normally be available in your country. A simple example would be the BBC iPlayer. This service is intended for audiences living in the UK only. However, if you were to use a VPN server in Great Britain, you could also access the web from Italy, Norway, or the United States.
Many people wonder if it is legal to use a VPN connection. In most parts of the world, especially Western countries, the use of a VPN is completely legal. There, you don’t have to fear arrest just because you use a VPN. Even so, there are some countries whose governments do not accept the use of a VPN.
Typically, these countries have dictatorial regimes or extremely authoritarian leaders. Examples would be China, Russia and Iran. Why do they want to limit the use of VPNs? And why are VPNs so infamous? Well, we will explain it to you in this article.
Why is a VPN connection illegal in some countries?
Using a VPN is mostly prohibited in countries with authoritarian laws like China, North Korea, and Turkmenistan. The government in these countries has limited the freedom of the Internet, as well as the freedom of the press. Therefore, social networks and news websites that are critical of the government tend to be blocked for Internet users in those countries.
To gain access to these blocked websites and online services anyway, many civilians, expats, tourists, journalists, and informants use a VPN or proxy server. The image below shows the countries that use online censorship on a large scale and their main motivations for doing so.
By banning VPNs, governments hope to control what information their citizens can access. In addition, they want to monitor and record the behaviour of civilians on the Internet. When using a VPN, citizens, tourists, expats, journalists, and whistleblowers can bypass online censorship while anonymizing all their data.
This annoys governments a lot, as it means they will have less control. Therefore, VPNs are often made illegal in such places. Some countries have even introduced harsh punishments for using a VPN. An example of this would be the United Arab Emirates, which we will talk about later.
In some cases, VPNs are initially made illegal for security reasons. Iraq, for example, decided to ban the secure connection to facilitate the fight against Islamic State. Unfortunately, this means that the rest of the population suffers the negative consequences of these laws. In a sense, they are forced to give up some of their privacy for the sake of national security.
In which countries is it prohibited to use a VPN connection?
We have already named a couple of countries where using a VPN is not allowed. For the sake of clarity, we have listed below all the countries known to block VPNs or consider their use illegal. It is often not completely clear whether VPN connections are completely prohibited and what kind of punishment to expect when using one. Regardless, using a VPN in any of these places is a huge risk.
|Belarus||Belarus banned VPN connections and Tor Browser in 2015. They have even made the use of any anonymous network or connection illegal. This probably has to do with its close relationship with Russia.|
|China||The use of VPNs in China is in a gray area. The Chinese government has given its official approval to some VPN services, which can be used legally. These services are likely to record online activities and share them with authorities. Although China threatened to block all foreign VPNs in 2018, it is still possible to use them, even if it is not 100% legal. Some high-quality VPNs, like NordVPN, even offer special “obfuscated servers” that help you get around China’s firewall.|
|Egypt||Since 2017, the Egyptian government has been using Deep Packet Inspections (DPI) to block various VPN protocols (PPTP, L2TP, OpenVPN) . The country has been blocking numerous websites and services for a long time. Although VPNs are not officially illegal, Egypt has made it very difficult to use a VPN to enjoy free internet within its borders.|
|Iraq||Iraq introduced a complete ban on VPNs in 2014, also blocking access to some social media and other services. His main motivation was that it would help them fight ISIS. Even now, these laws continue to be active, despite the fact that ISIS no longer has the country in its clutches.|
|Iran||Iran has officially banned the use of many VPNs since March 2013. Promoting and selling these VPNs is prohibited, and can result in a prison sentence. You can only use a government-approved VPN, even though they still don’t give you access to blocked websites like YouTube. It is likely that they will also log your use.|
|North Korea||North Korea is known for its strict censorship. It doesn’t even allow civilians to use the internet in any way. VPNs are prohibited, but since North Korea is so closed off from the rest of the world, the consequences of using a VPN in this country are unknown.|
|Oman||Using a VPN is illegal for all Omani citizens, but organizations can use one as long as they have a license. Only government approved VPN services are legal.|
|Russia||Since July 2017, VPN providers can only offer their services to the Russian population if they share all user data with the government. In 2019, Roskomnadzor (Russia’s national media watchdog) gave several well-known VPNs thirty days to give them access to all Russian data and comply with Russian law (i.e. enforce censorship). Many VPNs responded by shutting down their Russian servers.|
|Syria||In Syria, using a VPN is not necessarily illegal. However, since 2011 some VPN connections have been blocked as the government cracks down on VPN protocols. It is not known for sure how successful these attempts are.|
|Turkey||To prevent citizens from accessing blocked websites, the Turkish government has restricted the use of VPNs. Attempts are made to detect and block VPN connections via DPI. Therefore, using a VPN in Turkey does not always work. Also, it can make you a bigger target for the government: their eyes will scrutinize you more closely.|
|Turkmenistan||Turkmenistan heavily censors and restricts the Internet to block foreign media. Therefore, the use of a VPN is also prohibited in this country. The country only has one ISP, which is under government control.|
|Uganda||Uganda introduced a social media tax in 2018. To avoid this tax, many citizens started using a VPN. Now the government is blocking VPN connections and discouraging their use. However, using a VPN is not officially illegal (yet).|
|United Arab Emirates||In the UAE, only organizations are allowed to use a VPN. Using a VPN is illegal for civilians when using it for criminal purposes. However, criminal acts in the UAE also include visiting dating sites and Netflix America. VoIP services, such as Skype, are also not allowed. If you use them, you could receive a heavy fine or even end up in prison.|
Why do VPNs have such a bad reputation?
A VPN can help you surf the Internet anonymously. Provides more freedom and security online. Therefore, today almost all large companies regularly use a corporate VPN. Still, many people believe that VPNs are not completely legal. In many parts of the world, they are: you can use a VPN to protect your privacy online whenever you want. VPNs allow you to access the Internet securely, which in itself is not bad, dangerous or prohibited, in most places.
However, it is illegal to engage in criminal activity while using a VPN. Depending on the country you are in, the definition of “criminal” can differ greatly. Most countries would consider the sale of hard drugs a criminal offence, for example. Criminals who care about this type of activity may try to stay out of government control by using a VPN.
Their privacy will be somewhat protected, making it difficult for the police to find and punish them. However, the criminal practices in which they participate remain illegal. If they get caught, they’ll be in serious trouble. Not for using a VPN, but for doing illegal activities.
As with the Tor browser, many people believe that a VPN connection is illegal because it makes it easier to commit crimes. However, that is not the only use of a protected and anonymous Internet connection. A VPN is simply a means to an end that can be used for multiple purposes, both good and bad.
Legal uses of a VPN
There are many good reasons to use a VPN. Privacy often plays an important role, along with the added protection when using public Wi-Fi hotspots. Streaming content can also be easier with a VPN. For more information on why you might want to use a VPN, we’d like to refer you to our article on VPNs and their uses.
To summarize: VPNs are legal in most countries. However, some governments have placed restrictions on the use of VPNs or banned them altogether. Their goal is to control the population or maintain national security.
Using a VPN on these sites can be dangerous and can get you in trouble. However, when you are not in any of those countries, and you are not involved in criminal activities, there is no need to be afraid.