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Are VPNs legal? Country guide for 2023

VPNs keep you private and secure online by hiding your IP address and routing your internet traffic through an encrypted connection to a VPN server. But is this service allowed everywhere? While using a VPN may be legal in most countries, some either restrict VPN services or ban them altogether. Read on to find out where you are free to use a VPN and what to be aware of in a country that restricts online freedom.

Daniel Markuson

Daniel Markuson

Are VPNs legal? Country guide for 2023

Yes, VPNs are legal in most countries around the world, including the US, Canada, and most of Europe. However, you might risk heavy fines or even imprisonment for using a VPN in a country that bans it, for example, North Korea or Iraq. Some governments, like those of Russia and China, also restrict the use of VPNs, so you should be extra careful when choosing a VPN provider and using its services in those regions.

It all depends on the country you are in. VPNs are illegal in countries with governments that practice online surveillance or censorship. This is because a powerful VPN like NordVPN helps you bypass those practices by hiding your IP address and online activities from authorities and internet service providers (ISPs).

Some governments demonize VPN services, claiming that they are primarily used for illegal activities, so they declare VPNs illegal. Others enforce internet censorship laws. In both cases, such governments prevent people from enjoying the freedom the internet is meant to provide.

But focusing on illegal activities misses the whole point of using a VPN because its positive application far surpasses the negative. Online privacy, security from hackers while using public Wi-Fi, safe communication on sensitive topics, and handling of confidential data are among the main advantages of a reliable VPN service.

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Where are VPNs illegal?

VPNs are illegal in North Korea, Belarus, Oman, Iraq, and Turkmenistan. In some other countries, including China, Russia, Türkiye, UAE, India, Iran, Egypt, and Uganda, only government-approved VPNs are legal, but these might allow the authorities to monitor users. This undermines the privacy a VPN is meant to provide, so we consider VPNs illegal in those countries and include them in the following list.

China

China heavily restricts and filters its traffic by using a variety of online blocks and filters, often referred to as the Great Firewall. That’s why you need a VPN to access restricted content. Any VPN used in China must meet government regulations, which means backdoor access, logs, and censorship.

The country often blocks services that don’t comply with their VPN laws and rules, so this makes it a bit more complicated to use a quality VPN in China. However, we haven’t yet heard of many foreigners experiencing serious issues when using VPN services in China. NordVPN is a great option to use in China – it has an obfuscated servers function, which hides the fact that you use a VPN, so it is way more difficult to curb your connection on these grounds.

Russia

In 2017, Russia banned unapproved VPN providers. Which VPNs get approved? You guessed it – those that agree to log user data and provide it to the Russian government upon request. The country also banned the use of VPNs for accessing blocked content. But it is not illegal to use a VPN for other purposes.

However, in 2019, Russia pursued its banning policies even further. Roskomnadzor, Russia’s federal service for supervision of communications, ordered the world’s leading VPN providers to provide the Russian government with access to their servers located in Russia. This is why we removed all our servers from Russia. The privacy of our users is of utmost importance to us, and we cannot comply with such requirements.

PRO TIP: PRO TIP: If you’re traveling abroad but want to access a device you left at home, you can use NordVPN’s Meshnet function. Meshnet allows you to connect multiple devices for remote access through secure encrypted tunnels.

Belarus

VPNs are illegal in Belarus along with the Tor network. They have been banned since 2015 as has any technology that provides users with online privacy. The dictatorial regime tries to maintain a stranglehold on internal internet traffic to avoid the circulation of potentially anti-governmental information.

Türkiye

While VPNs are not illegal in the country, their use is restricted. Türkiye also blocks some VPN providers alongside numerous mainstream social media platforms and websites. Authorities claim their goal is to prevent terrorism, but in this case, blocking VPN and social media services goes hand in hand with avoiding politically sensitive content.

Iraq

Iraq only banned VPNs in recent years, but it has never had a good reputation when it comes to online freedom. While the country’s censorship measures are not as rigid as in North Korea or China, they still punish VPN users. However, even censorship is a restricted topic in Iraq, so it is difficult to find up-to-date info on VPN usage.

United Arab Emirates

While VPNs are not restricted in the UAE, them for illegal activities or accessing websites banned by the government can get you in trouble. If caught using a VPN server, users may face a fine of at least $136,129. The UAE uses obscure wording in its laws, but it seems clear that VPN usage is strongly discouraged.

Oman

Oman explicitly forbids encryption of communications. However, a full implementation of this law would cut off the country from the majority of the World Wide Web, so it is a gray area. Naturally, VPNs are forbidden too. The catch, however, is that VPNs can be used by institutions or organizations approved by Oman’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA).

India

In 2022, the Indian government ordered VPN companies operating in the country to start collecting and storing user data. VPN companies could then be compelled to share this information with the authorities. Failing to comply with these rules can result in jail sentences for VPN providers.

While VPNs are not technically illegal in India yet, these new laws fundamentally undermine the ability of VPN providers to maintain a quality VPN service with servers in the country. For that reason, our NordVPN servers in India have been shut down.

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Iran

VPN providers are legal in Iran only if they’ve been approved by the government. Naturally, approved VPNs allow censorship and monitoring of users. So you will need to use an undetectable VPN to avoid being punished. Again, obfuscated servers can help you in this case.

Egypt

In Egypt, people attempting to accessed blocked websites via a VPN might face fines or jail time. WhileVPNs as such are not illegal in Egypt, you should use them cautiously and always take precautions. These might include using a double VPN feature or obfuscated servers. As always, for your own safety, you should refrain from all illegal activities while using a VPN.

Turkmenistan

VPNs are illegal and blocked completely in Turkmenistan. Any attempts to use them are tracked and subjected to penalties. This is one of the more extreme cases of VPN ban. Most citizens can only use Turkmenet, a heavily censored version of the telecommunication network. The state also acutely surveils and monitors all your online activities. Because of such an unusual internet setup, even advanced VPN tools like obfuscated servers won’t help.

North Korea

North Korea is considered one of the most repressive countries in the world, so strict internet regulation and restrictive VPN laws are par for the course. The government prohibits VPN use and monitors internet access. Similarly to Turkmenistan, most citizens are only allowed to use the country’s intranet. But the majority of the population doesn’t even have internet access or a telephone service.

Uganda

Uganda is an odd example because it attempted to block VPNs not for political or surveillance reasons but for economic ones. Some years ago, the government decided to tax citizens for using social media, so people started using VPN services to bypass this regulation. The Ugandan government then instructed ISPs to block VPN users. However, many people have continued using VPNs since VPNs have not been declared illegal in the country.

The growth of VPNs as a global tool for security, privacy, and internet freedom is a relatively recent phenomenon. Many countries with repressive tendencies that have not yet passed laws regulating their use may still be planning to do so. One of the best places to monitor potentially changing attitudes is Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net report.

VPNs protect your online privacy and prevent criminals and cyberterrorists from accessing your online data. If you use a VPN service, you can browse privately and securely, even on public Wi-Fi.

VPNs also protect your freedom of speech and help you evade censorship in oppressive countries. A VPN creates an encrypted tunnel for your data and hides your IP address, which obscures your online activities from trackers and makes handling sensitive data less dangerous. You can search for sensitive information and communicate it freely.

How are VPN bans enforced?

Countries with oppressive regimes practice the following methods to enforce bans on VPNs:

  • Require VPN providers to grant access to servers located in their territory. VPN providers that have a no-log policy do not comply with such demands, because it violates their terms of service. As a result, they cannot have servers in that country.
  • Use deep packet inspection (DPI). This method can be used to trace certain forms of VPN traffic, helping governments control information coming in and out of the country. It also allows them to monitor who is using a VPN.
  • Impose hefty fines on or even imprison those who are caught using a VPN.
  • Offer free VPNs issued or approved by the government, compromising your security and defeating the purpose of a VPN. The problem with free VPNs is that even the independent ones need to make money somehow. So they serve you ads, collect information about you, and/or monitor your traffic. They can then sell this information to governments, hackers, and other third parties.

What can happen if you use a VPN illegally?

If you use a VPN illegally, you can lose your internet connection, be fined anywhere from a few hundred to hundreds of thousands of dollars, or face imprisonment. You should be extremely careful and use only the most reliable VPN services in hostile environments.

How to bypass VPN blocks

If you find yourself in a VPN-restricting country, you should be extremely careful when choosing a VPN provider. Do thorough research on the VPN service you are planning to use, and read its terms of service carefully to make sure the provider doesn’t collect your data and won’t sell it to third parties.

For this reason, you should use paid VPNs instead of free ones because free VPNs are known for collecting user data and don’t guarantee privacy. They also may have weak infrastructure and limited functionality. For the reasons already mentioned, you should also under no circumstances use the state-approved VPNs.

With a good VPN, changing your location is simple. For example, if you’re in China and you connect to a server in California or New York City, your data will be sent to that server before it’s passed on to the website you’re trying to reach. This way you can get access to the unrestricted internet.

NordVPN has functions that are extremely useful and will help you stay safe in high-risk areas:

  • Obfuscated servers. This function hides the fact that you use a VPN by changing your data packets and hiding all the VPN metadata. In this case, a snooping organization won’t be able to see that you use a VPN.
  • Double VPN. It provides you with extra layers of encryption, so you have better security.
  • Kill Switch. This feature helps prevent your data from being exposed because it disconnects you from the internet when a VPN connection drops. This way your data remains secure while browsing without a VPN.
  • A large numbers of servers. If a VPN company has a large network of servers, you can always reach your desired virtual locale or choose an alternative server in case the server you are connected to becomes overloaded.

Your rights and VPNs

The best VPN providers, like NordVPN, stand for a free, open, and private internet. We believe that everyone has the right to express their opinion freely, regardless of their location or line of work. NordVPN was designed to operate even in adverse conditions, overcoming advanced surveillance and censorship efforts around the world.

NordVPN also believes that everyone should have the right to keep their personal life and all sensitive information truly private, be it from repressive regimes or hackers. Our dedicated team of engineers works hard to keep NordVPN secure from the latest threats.

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Daniel Markuson
Daniel Markuson Daniel Markuson
Daniel is a digital privacy enthusiast and an internet security expert. As the blog editor at NordVPN, Daniel is generous with spreading news, stories, and tips through the power of a well-written word.