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Is VPN illegal?

Jul 09, 2018 · 6 min read

Is VPN illegal?

VPNs are powerful tools that even help protect your privacy from government surveillance, which for some raises the question: Are VPNs legal? Though most countries around the world allow VPN use, the answer may depend on what country you’re in.

Should VPNs be illegal?

VPNs are a thorn in the side of any government that relies heavily on online surveillance or censorship. That’s because a powerful VPN like NordVPN helps users evade both of those practices – by securing your traffic from governments and ISPs.

As a result, some governments demonize VPNs by claiming that they are used primarily for criminal activity. Others simply make VPNs illegal. In both cases, however, the goal is the same – to prevent people from enjoying the free internet the way it was meant to be.

Focusing on the criminal uses for VPNs misses the point. VPNs have many more different positive uses than they have negative ones, and user surveys suggest that those positive uses are probably far more frequent. In a survey of VPN usage tendencies by GlobalWebIndex, almost half of VPN users reported that they use VPNs almost every day of the week – something that would be inconsistent with their being a tool primarily for criminals.

Here are some of the good things VPNs can be used for:

  • Staying secure when using public WiFi while you travel.
  • Maintaining online freedom and evading censorship when living in or visiting an oppressive state.
  • Accessing geo-restricted sites and services in other countries or those from back home when you’re living abroad.
  • Searching for information and communicating securely and privately when dealing with sensitive topics, like when journalists investigate corruption.
  • Working with sensitive trade secrets or other important data that must remain secured at all costs.
  • Browsing the internet while you want to remain private and secure.

Where are VPNs illegal?

VPNs are legal in most of the world. In some countries, however, VPNs are only legal if they fulfill certain requirements that seriously compromise the security and privacy they provide. For the purposes of this list, we will consider VPNs illegal in a country if:

  • Using VPNs is explicitly forbidden for a significant portion or all of the country’s population;
  • Using a VPN is only legal if it meets government regulations that allow the government to regularly monitor users.

The growth of VPNs as world-wide tools for security, privacy, and internet freedom is a relatively recent phenomenon, so many countries with repressive tendencies that have not yet passed any laws regulating their use may still plan to. One of the best places to monitor potential changing attitudes is Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net report.

We’ll update this list whenever we can, but nobody’s perfect. If the country you’re visiting or living in ranks low for internet freedom but isn’t featured on our list of anti-VPN countries, it may be worth doing a bit more research to figure out whether or not you’ll be able to use a VPN.

China

VPNs are illegal in China

With its “Great Firewall,” China is a world leader in internet censorship and authoritarianism. It’s no surprise, then, that VPNs are illegal for Chinese citizens and businesses. Any VPN being used in China must meet government regulations, which means backdoor access, logs, and censorship.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of grey area that makes understanding China’s VPN laws difficult. As this article explains, whether or not a VPN is illegal for you in China depends on who you are and where you’re from. To date, we haven’t heard of many foreigners experiencing serious issues when using VPNs in China.

Russia

VPNs are illegal in Russia

Over the last few years, the Russian government has been rapidly accelerating the growth of its extensive and invasive surveillance apparatus. After pushing to ban Telegram, an encrypted messaging app, Russia has also banned the use of unapproved VPNs. Which VPNs are approved? You guessed it – VPNs that agree to log user data and provide it to the Russian government upon request.

Belarus

Belarus, an authoritarian regime in the heart of Europe and a friend of Russia’s, also has a strict online censorship regime. They’ve backed up their restrictions by criminalizing most forms of online anonymization, including VPNs and the Tor network.

Turkey

VPNs are illegal in Turkey

Turkey has recently taken quite a sharp turn towards authoritarianism both online and off. The government regularly stifles and jails journalists and bans websites that feature unfavorable information – even Wikipedia, Facebook, and Twitter from time to time. Turks began using VPNs to evade censorship, resulting in a VPN ban as well.

Iraq

The Iraqi government has attempted to shut down Facebook, Youtube, and other social media platforms to control the spread of information during critical situations in the past. Exact information is hard to come by, but it appears as though VPNs are banned. However, since there are problems with enforcing the ban, the Iraqi government has resorted to shutting down internet access in problem areas instead. Depending on how the government actually shuts down access in a given scenario, VPNs may or may not be capable of circumventing the block.

United Arab Emirates

VPNs are illegal in the United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates pose an interesting case. The country censors a number of sites and has also banned popular services like Skype in the past. VPNs are not illegal – unless they’re used to perform crimes or other illegal actions, in which case VPN users can expect fines or even heavy jail time on top of any punishments incurred for the actions they actually took. Does visiting a site or using a service blocked by the government constitute a crime? If the government accuses you of using a VPN criminally, how can you prove that you’re innocent if there’s no trace of your online activity? All in all, the law creates a strong disincentive to use a VPN and makes it easy to apply very harsh punishments.

Oman

Before Oman actually banned the use of VPNs by individuals, the use of private encrypted communications was also illegal, meaning that VPN use has been frowned upon for a while. As an absolute monarchy, free speech and democracy are not held in high regard in Oman, and because VPNs provide online freedom, they are banned. The country’s ISPs also enjoy a monopoly on VoIP communications, blocking all competitors. Locals use VPNs to circumvent the government monopoly.

VPNs can only be used by institutions or organizations if they are approved by Oman’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA).

Iran

Iran is a regular abuser of free internet access, which it does to manipulate its citizens. The country censors many of the world’s most popular websites in an effort to eliminate Western influence. During times of political unrest and elections, it throttles nationwide internet speeds to make communication and organization difficult. It is no surprise, then, that VPNs are illegal in Iran. Only government-approved VPNs are legal to use, and those, naturally, provide the government with censorship and surveillance capabilities.

Egypt

Like many of its neighbors, Egypt has blocked its citizens from visiting a broad range of websites. Are you starting to see a pattern? VPNs make the internet free and accessible, so if the national government doesn’t want that to be the case, it will want to block VPNs. This trend in Egypt has accelerated rapidly over the last few years, with numerous local and international news sources being blocked.

Turkmenistan

Forget the internet – Turkmenistan’s absolute dictators have banned far stranger things than the odd disobedient website, including circuses, gold teeth, lip-synching, and black cars. Internet service is highly limited, and when you can find it, it will be heavily restricted. VPNs, as a result, are also banned.

North Korea

VPNs are illegal in North Korea

North Korea is considered one of the most repressive regimes in the world, so heavy internet regulation is par for the course. Very few people in Korea even have access to the world-wide internet. Instead, citizens use Kwangmyong, a national intranet that is limited to several thousand websites on various topics. Foreign visitors can access the world-wide web via 3G service, but VPN use is prohibited and internet access is monitored.

How are VPN bans enforced?

While we aren’t encouraging readers to break any laws, NordVPN stands for a free, open, and private internet. Leading VPNs like NordVPN are designed to operate in adverse conditions, overcoming advanced surveillance and censorship efforts around the world. Before using NordVPN in a country that bans VPNs, make sure you understand the risks involved.

Our dedicated team of engineers works hard to keep NordVPN secure from the latest threats from both hackers and repressive entities. VPN service disruptions can be expected in countries with powerful VPN filtration like China or the United Arab Emirates, but we always try to stay one step ahead.


Daniel Markuson
Daniel Markuson successVerified author

Daniel is a digital privacy enthusiast and an Internet security expert. As the blog editor at NordVPN, Daniel loves to serve up generous helpings of news, stories, and tips to help people stay private and secure.


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