VPNs have become the best digital tools for preserving your privacy and protecting your confidential data. More importantly, they can help you visit websites not usually accessible in your country. As you can imagine, this can be a problem for certain governments, especially those who wish to control the online flow of information. As a way to prevent you from using a VPN, certain countries have made these tools illegal – which means that you’ll face harsh consequences if you’re caught using a VPN. With this said, we’ll give you a list of the countries that have banned VPNs, while also providing other essential information that you need to keep in mind.
Before jumping to individual descriptions of the situation in these countries, we’d like to give you an overview of the most important information. If you look at the table found below, you’ll find a list of countries where VPNs are banned in 2020. As you’ll see, we have two groups here. There are countries where VPNs are completely banned, which means that they’re officially illegal. And then, we have a group of countries where you can still use a VPN – but be prepared to inspect local laws to avoid any activities that might get you into trouble.
Disclaimer: This article does not constitute legal advice and is provided for informational purposes. It is your responsibility to make sure you are aware of your local laws. Consult a qualified legal professional to advise you.
As you can see, we have countries where VPNs are illegal. We also have countries where VPNs are restricted in a certain way. You can use the links provided in this paragraph to jump to the central segment of this article. However, we highly advise you to read the following segments as well, to get a clear picture of this situation.
Why Is Using VPN Services Illegal in Some Countries?
If you look at the (thankfully short) list of countries that have put legal restrictions on the use of VPNs, you might notice that they all share a few common traits. Mainly, their governments are known for taking a dim view of dissenting opinions. They tend to be conservative, authoritarian, and have only one real political party.
In other words, these are countries that don’t really like the freedom of speech or scrutiny from the international community. That’s why we tend to see bans on social media, blogs, and other tools that support independent journalism.
Of course, the reasons that these countries give official justification to ban or regulate VPNs usually revolves around the idea that VPNs aid criminal activity. It’s an attitude of ‘guilty until proven innocent.’ But there’s no evidence one way or another that a significant percentage of VPN users are criminals.
Controlling what information the citizens of a country are exposed to has long been the keystone of maintaining a nation that is short on personal liberty. The Internet makes that job much more difficult, which makes the eventual flexing of legal and political might unsurprising.
How Do Countries Ban VPN Services?
It’s not that all of these countries have simply banned the use of VPN technology in all cases. Some have merely regulated them so that you cannot use a VPN to hide what you do from the government itself. So, there may be a list of approved VPNs who must report their user list to the state. Alternatively, there are specific use cases where you must apply for permission. Obviously, this can only refer to VPN providers who are based in that country and are therefore subject to their laws.
Frequently, the government will order ISPs to block the IP addresses of known VPN providers. They may also make it a legal requirement to block specific ports. These are all technical blocks to prevent the use of VPNs. However, tech-savvy people will always find a way around VPN blocking, so bans are enforced with legal consequences.
If the law in your country says that you may not use a VPN at all, or only use it under certain conditions, then violating those laws will come with penalties. These vary in type and severity in each country, but none of them are pleasant. Mainly it’s this fear of punishment that these governments believe will keep people in line and away from VPN services.
Should You Still Try to Use a VPN?
In general, using a VPN isn’t a problem – especially when it comes to countries that respect their citizens’ right to freedom of speech. However, we have those countries with more restrictive governments actively trying to fight against VPN services. So, in case you’re in such a state, our recommendation would be strongly to reconsider your options.
Obviously, we don’t recommend using a VPN in countries that made this activity illegal. VPNs indeed hide your online data, and they hide this data from ISPs as well. So, even though someone won’t actually see what you’re doing online, they will still know that you’re using a VPN. As you can see, this can quickly get you into all kinds of problems.
Then, we have those countries that strictly regulate the use of VPN services. To stay on the safe side, avoid VPN services in those countries. However, if you really need to use one, make sure to stay within the limits of what’s allowed.
Which Countries Have Officially & Explicitly Banned VPN Services?
Finally, these are the countries that have banned VPN services. This means that using VPNs in these countries is considered a criminal activity.
1. The Republic of Belarus
Although Belarus is no longer officially a part of Russia, they have taken more than a few pages from their neighbors. Given that it’s one of the last real dictatorships in Europe, it should surprise no one that freedom of information is not high on the list of things the government likes. The current President, Alexander Lukashenko, is also the first president of Belarus as it is today, and it’s a position he took in 1994 and still holds today, in 2020.
In Belarus, it is illegal (since 2012) to visit foreign websites. Doing this will get you a fine equal to half the average salary in the country – $120. In 2015, more laws were passed that forced ISPs to spy on their users and keep records for government use. Using a VPN to access foreign sites can, therefore, get a Belarus user in hot water.
We should also note some recent (and highly surprising) developments in this country. Belarus has become the first country to make IPv6 mandatory for ISPs. This means that you shouldn’t make a mistake thinking that Belarus relies on outdated Internet infrastructure. In other words, you should stay on the safe side – and stay away from VPNs.
- Are VPNs Legal in Belarus? – Visiting foreign and blocked websites is illegal. So, using VPNs for those activities is considered illegal as well.
- Are VPNs Blocked in Belarus? – Yes, the majority of VPNs are blocked.
- Should You Use a VPN in Belarus? – We recommend you avoid VPN services while in this country. Otherwise, you’ll face harsh consequences.
2. The Republic of Iraq
Iraq was, and it remains a conflict hotspot on the world stage. Following the major disruptions after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the country has struggled to return to stability and normality. The latest fly in the peace ointment is the ISIS organization, which has been causing havoc in the war-torn state. ISIS is notable for being incredibly adept at using social media for propaganda and recruitment. So, in a purported effort to halt these, the Iraqi government has blocked access to these services.
Incredibly, this is one of the most subtle approaches the Iraqi government has taken. In the past, the government has simply switched off the Internet in the entire country – a sledgehammer approach to censorship in anyone’s book. As you might expect, VPNs are also part of the block, and if you’re caught using one to access content the Iraqi government doesn’t like, you could have a big problem on your hands.
- Are VPNs Legal in Iraq? – No, VPNs are not legal in this country.
- Are VPNs Blocked in Iraq? – Yes, numerous VPNs are blocked.
- Should You Use a VPN in Iraq? – No, you shouldn’t use VPN services while in this country, as this could lead to severe consequences.
3. The Sultanate of Oman
Unlike the UAE, the law around VPNs in the nation of the Oman Sultanate is quite clear. Personal use of VPNs is illegal and carries a fine of over one thousand dollars. Even before the law that specifically made VPNs illegal was proposed, VPNs were de facto illegal as a form of unlicensed encryption. Institutional use of VPNs is legal in Oman if the government grants permission.
We should also note that some changes (for the better) have happened recently, caused by the Coronavirus outbreak. More precisely, Oman has decided to unblock some VoIP apps such as Skype for Business, Google Meet, and Zoom. However, we’re pretty sure that this development is temporary, as it seems unlikely that Oman will change its stance towards VPN services and restricted websites in the foreseeable future. With this said, we don’t recommend using VPN applications in this country.
- Are VPNs Legal in Oman? – No, VPNs are not permitted for personal use.
- Are VPNs Blocked in Oman? – Yes, numerous VPNs are blocked.
- Should You Use a VPN in Oman? – No, we don’t recommend using a VPN in this country, as its laws explicitly forbid utilizing this kind of software.
4. The Republic of Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan only has one ISP and one mobile operator. Both of these organizations are entirely owned by the state, which means the country is subject to extreme censorship. In fact, users who try to access banned sites and apps may even have their SIM cards permanently blocked on the network, forcing them to buy new ones and move on to a new number. So there really is no scope at all for using VPN services within the borders of this country.
It should also be noted that Turkmenistan has been blocking VPN apps in this country on several different occasions. It means that even downloading this type of software has become incredibly hard. With all of this said, it’s best if you stay away from VPN services while in Turkmenistan, as this will most likely get you into a severe problem.
- Are VPNs Legal in Turkmenistan? – No, VPNs are not legal in this country.
- Are VPNs Blocked in Turkmenistan? – Yes, numerous VPNs are blocked.
- Should You Use a VPN in Turkmenistan? – No, you shouldn’t use a VPN while in this country, as this could easily get you into trouble.
5. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea)
It feels weird even to put this reclusive country on the list. Why? Because it almost doesn’t matter whether VPNs are legal or illegal in North Korea. After all, there’s barely any Internet at all. While it’s difficult to know the exact details of, well, anything in this country, it seems that there are only about 7,000 Web users there. Almost all of these are part of the government. It means that if you are in North Korea and are reading this, you already know that VPNs are illegal there.
So, to be more accurate, only about 7,000 people in the country have access to the global net. Other citizens have access to a unique government-owned intranet that apparently only has 28 websites. Any attempt to gain unsanctioned access to the broader Web will likely not end well for the perpetrator.
- Are VPNs Legal in North Korea? – No, VPNs are not legal in this country.
- Are VPNs Blocked in North Korea? – Yes, VPNs are blocked.
- Should You Use a VPN in North Korea? – This is one of the most reclusive countries in the world, and we recommend staying away from VPN services.
Which Countries Have Restricted (Not Yet Made Illegal) the Use of VPNs?
Next, we’ll list the countries where VPNs are legal to use – but there are local restrictions that you need to keep in mind. It means that you’re free to use a VPN in a restricted or limited way.
1. The People’s Republic of China
You might have heard of the Great Firewall of China, which is the nickname given to the system of Internet regulation and censorship that the Chinese government exerts with an iron fist. China sees the Internet inside its borders as something it should assert total control over, and so blocks have been instituted on almost all of the Internet services that most of us in other countries might take for granted. This includes anything with the word ‘Google’ in front of it, Facebook, YouTube, and just recently – this list contains Wikipedia as well. The list of banned websites is actually quite long.
If you access the Internet from within mainland China and try to get news or social media content not approved by the government, you’ll just hit a brick wall. That is unless you use a VPN that works in China. So, predictably, in July of 2017, the Chinese government ordered Chinese ISPs to block the use of VPNs. The plan finally came into action in 2018. However, it important to say that most of the legal issues are not aimed at individuals but VPN service providers themselves.
- Are VPNs Legal in China? – Selling VPNs is illegal. However, you’re free to use a VPN that complies with this country’s regulation.
- Are VPNs Blocked in China? – Yes, numerous VPNs are blocked.
- Should You Use a VPN in China? – Yes, you’re free to use a VPN in China. However, make sure not to do anything against this country’s laws.
2. The Republic of Turkey
Turkey has been known for a long time as one of the great success stories of the Islamic world. It’s been a relatively free and prosperous nation that had good relations with the Western world. In the last few years, however, the country has been going through a rather rough time and even its bid to become a member of the EU is no longer looking likely. The current President and his government are not fans of social media and have instituted social media bans when things in the country have been at their lowest.
There’s actually an excellent site called Turkey Blocks, which maps the government’s actions against specific internet services as they happen. In December of 2016, they reported that serious VPN crackdowns had commenced in the nation, and this was the beginning of the country’s war against VPN services. However, there are still fully-working VPNs for Turkey.
- Are VPNs Legal in Turkey? – Yes, using VPNs is legal in this country.
- Are VPNs Blocked in Turkey? – Yes, numerous VPNs are blocked.
- Should You Use a VPN in Turkey? – Yes, you’re free to use a VPN in Turkey. However, do your research as many VPNs are not functioning properly in this country.
3.The United Arab Emirates (UAE)
The UAE is an absolute monarchy, one of the last nations in the world to have such a system. It has one of the strictest legal punishment regimes in the world – with extensive use of corporal punishments for acts that would barely be crimes in the rest of the world. The country also has many strictures around acceptable speech and behavior.
VPNs are the friend of UAE residents who want to get the word out on government abuses, and so there are legal measures in place against them. The UAE laws around VPNs are, however, quite complicated. The cybercrime law essentially specifies that it is illegal to use a VPN for the purpose of committing a crime. In other words, it’s not so much that VPNs themselves are illegal, but if you use them to get around services or content the government has blocked, you could face a prison sentence or a huge fine.
The UAE telecom authority says that VPNs are not banned as long as you use them to do legal things. However, it is exactly the list of things that the government wants blocking that people require VPNs for in the first place, so it becomes a moot point. And finally, here are your best options for VPNs in the UAE.
- Are VPNs Legal in the UAE? – The use of VPNs is strictly regulated.
- Are VPNs Blocked in the UAE? – Yes, numerous VPNs are blocked.
- Should You Use a VPN in the UAE? – If you decide to use a VPN in this country, make sure to know what’s permitted and what’s forbidden.
4. The Russian Federation (Russia)
Russia has never been known as a bastion of freedom. The Russian President (and perennial internet meme) Vladimir Putin has long put the kibosh on any dissent. In July of 2017, the President reportedly signed a law banning VPNs. Then, in 2019, Russia started forcing VPNs into implementing lists of blocked websites. We’re talking about a dozen or so VPN services, all of which have since refused to comply – except for Kaspersky’s Secure Connection VPN. This is also the reason why many VPNs no longer offer servers in this country, so make sure to take a look at the best VPNs for Russia.
This is the latest in a long line of laws that Putin has signed to take control of public information. It’s a way to crack down on access to content that the government says is not acceptable. You should also know that a recently introduced set of laws is obliging Internet service providers to install special equipment with the goal of tracking, filtering, and rerouting Internet traffic. In other words, this is yet another great reason to think about your privacy if you connect to the Internet from inside Russia.
- Are VPNs Legal in Russia? – Only government-approved VPNs are legal.
- Are VPNs Blocked in Russia? – Yes, numerous VPNs are blocked.
- Should You Use a VPN in Russia? – You should be careful when using a VPN in this country, so make sure you’re not doing anything against Russia’s laws.
5. The Islamic Republic of Iran
Like the UAE, Iraq, and Oman, Iran is not a big fan of information from the outside world getting to its citizens. Unlike those other countries, Iran is actually a republic and not an absolute monarchy. Iran has a president who only has a term of four years. Except that, above the President, there is a supreme leader who does not have a limited term and has the final say in all decisions. So, okay, maybe it’s not that different after all.
Iran really doesn’t like the idea of its people being exposed to the wider world, and it has gone as far as building a national intranet that can be cut off from the world-wide-web and is entirely government-controlled. Like in the UAE, VPN use in Iraq is not banned in a blanket fashion. Instead, you can use VPN services from a list of registered and government-approved providers. Yes, you can see where this is going. Ironically, this does not seem to have stopped even government officials from using VPNs.
- Are VPNs Legal in Iran? – Only government-approved VPNs are allowed.
- Are VPNs Blocked in Iran? – Yes, numerous VPNs are blocked.
- Should You Use a VPN in Iran? – Make sure to use a VPN in compliance with the country’s laws and don’t do anything forbidden by Iranian laws.
Dear readers, that would be all we’ve prepared for you. We hope that you’ve managed to learn more about the countries where VPNs are illegal. So, make sure to do your research and stay away from any potentially dangerous activities. In case you have any questions for us, don’t hesitate to use the comments section below.
Written by ODD Balls