Is it legal to use a VPN?

Is a VPN connection legal featured

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Summary: Is It Legal to Use a VPN?

In short, yes. VPNs are legal in most countries. However, some governments have placed restrictions on VPN use or banned the practice altogether. This way, they aim to control the population or maintain national safety. Using VPNs for illegal activities such as hacking or cyberstalking is also illegal and can land you into trouble. There are numerous legal uses of a VPN, including anonymous browsing and content streaming in different countries.

A reliable VPN that offers anonymous browsing with great streaming quality is Surfshark:

To learn more about where, when, and why VPN use can be illegal, read the article below!


Lady Justice
Many people wonder whether it’s legal to use a VPN connection. In most parts of the world, especially in western countries, using a VPN is completely legal. The simple use of a VPN won’t land you in jail in these countries.

But there are some countries whose governments don’t accept VPN use. Usually, these countries have dictatorial regimes or authoritarian leaders. Examples would be China, Russia, and Iran. This article explains which countries ban VPNs and why. It’ll also dive into many of the legal uses of a VPN!

A VPN (Virtual Private Network) creates a lot of possibilities and brings numerous advantages. You could use it to circumvent geographical restrictions on the internet and get access to information that normally wouldn’t be available in your country. A simple example would be BBC iPlayer. This service is meant only for the British public, living in the United Kingdom. However, if you were to use a VPN server based in Great Britain, you’d be able to access the website from Italy, Norway, or the USA as well.

When is Using a VPN Illegal?

To put it simply, using a VPN is illegal in two cases.

  1. It can be illegal due to a nation’s government having banned its use.
  2. It can be illegal when being used to commit illegal activities online. These activities include hacking, cyberstalking, and downloading and selling copyrighted information.

Sometimes circumventing geo-restrictions can also result in violations of the law or companies’ terms of service. For example, the use of a VPN to stream content on Netflix can constitute a violation of its terms of service. However, this does not make VPN use illegal. Instead, you may be subject to consequences such as cancellation or suspension of membership. Check out our FAQ for more information on this.

The following sections provide a breakdown of which countries ban or regulate VPN use and why.

Why is a VPN Connection Illegal in Some Countries?

VPN use is mostly forbidden in countries with authoritarian laws such as China, North Korea, and Turkmenistan. Governments in these countries limit internet freedom as well as the freedom of the press. Therefore, social media and critical news websites tend to be blocked for internet users in the country. The image below shows countries that use online censorship on a huge scale and their main motivations for doing so.

Is a VPN illegal infographic

To get access to these blocked websites and online services anyway, many civilians, tourists, expats, journalists and whistleblowers use a VPN or proxy server. When using a VPN, they are all able to circumvent online censorship while also anonymizing all their online data.

This causes annoyance to the various Governments who then seek to ban VPNs. By banning VPNs, governments hope to achieve a few objectives:

  1. Control the information their citizens can access. Authoritarian regimes seek to create conformity and reduce dissent by exercising strict control over the information available to their citizens. This includes information available online.
  2. Monitor and register civilians’ internet behavior in order to maintain control.
  3. In some cases, VPNs are initially made illegal for safety reasons. Iraq, for example, decided to forbid the secure connection to make it easier to combat IS. Sadly, this means the rest of the population suffers the negative consequences of these laws. In a sense, they’re forced to give up part of their privacy for the sake of national security.

In Which Countries is Using a VPN Connection Forbidden?

China with LockWe’ve already named a couple of countries where using a VPN isn’t allowed. For the sake of clarity, we’ve listed all countries known to block VPNs below. It isn’t always completely clear whether VPN connections are actually forbidden and what kind of punishment to expect when you do use one. Regardless, using a VPN in any of these places is a significant risk.

CountryLegal StatusRemarks
BelarusIllegal
  • Belarus forbade VPN connections as well as the Tor browser back in 2015.
  • It has even made the use of any anonymizing networks or connections illegal.
ChinaHighly Regulated
  • VPN use in China is a bit of a grey area. The Chinese government has given its official approval for some VPN services, which can be used legally. But these services are likely logging your online activities and sharing it with the authorities.
  • Although China has threatened to block all foreign VPNs in 2018, it’s still possible to use them, even if it might not be 100% legal.
  • Some high-quality VPNs such as NordVPN even offer special ‘obfuscated servers’, which help you get around China’s firewall.
EgyptHighly Regulated
  • Egypt’s government has been using Deep Packet Inspections (DPI) to block several VPN protocols (PPTP, L2TP, OpenVPN) since 2017.
  • The country has also been blocking numerous websites and services for a long time.
  • Although VPNs aren’t officially illegal, Egypt has made it very hard to use a VPN to enjoy a free internet within its borders.
  • Click here to learn more about online censorship in Egypt.
IraqIllegal
  • Iraq introduced a complete VPN ban in 2014, also blocking access to some social media and other services.
  • Their main motivation was that it would help them fight IS.
  • These laws are still active, even though IS no longer has the country in its grip.
IranIllegal
  • Iran has officially banned the use of many VPNs since March 2013.
  • Promoting and selling these VPNs is forbidden and can result in a prison sentence.
  • Only VPNs with government approval are allowed to be used, even though those still don’t give you access to blocked websites such as YouTube. They likely log your use, too.
North KoreaIllegal
  • North Korea is known for its strict censorship. It doesn’t even allow civilians to use the regular internet.
  • VPNs are forbidden, but since North Korea is so closed off from the rest of the world, the consequences of VPN use in this country are unknown.
OmanIllegal
  • Using a VPN is illegal for all Omani citizens, but organizations are allowed to use one as long as they have a license.
  • Only VPN services that have been approved by the government are considered legal.
RussiaHighly Regulated
  • Since July 2017 VPN providers are only allowed to offer their services to the Russian population if they share all user data with the government.
  • In 2019 Roskomnadzor (the Russian national media control force) gave several well-known VPNs thirty days to grant them access to all Russian data and abide by the Russian law (meaning enforcing censorship). Many VPNs responded by shutting down their Russian servers.
SyriaPartially legal
  • Using a VPN isn’t necessarily illegal in Syria.
  • However, since 2011 some VPN connections are being blocked, as the government attacks VPN protocols. It’s unsure how successful these attempts are.
TurkeyHighly Regulated
  • To keep citizens from accessing blocked websites, the Turkish government has restricted VPN use.
  • Attempts are made to detect and block VPN connections by means of DPI. Therefore, using a VPN in Turkey might not always work.
  • Moreover, it can make you more of a target for the government: their watchful eyes will be studying you more closely.
  • Click here for more information on internet censorship in Turkey.
TurkmenistanIllegal
  • Turkmenistan heavily censors and restricts the internet in order to block foreign media. VPN use is therefore also banned in this country.
  • The country only has one ISP, which is under government control.
UgandaHighly Regulated
  • Uganda introduced a social media tax in 2018. To get around this tax, many citizens started using VPNs.
  • Now the government is blocking VPN connections and discouraging the use.
  • It recently threatened to arrest VPN users even though VPNs are not technically illegal.
United Arab EmiratesHighly Regulated
  • In the UAE, only organizations are allowed to use a VPN.
  • VPN use is illegal for civilians when they use it for criminal purposes.
  • However, criminal acts in the UAE also include visiting dating websites and the American Netflix.
  • VoIP services such as Skype aren’t allowed either. If you do use them, you could get a high fine or even be sent to prison.
  • Find out more about internet censorship in the UAE here.

VPN shieldLuckily, in most countries, VPNs are legal. Despite their use being banned in the above nations, VPNs are considered an effective tool to ensure privacy and security online. After all, there are many good reasons to use a VPN. And many governments acknowledge the merits of VPN usage. Some of these are:

  1. Protection of individual privacy: Users who are concerned about their privacy use VPNs to browse the internet anonymously.
  2. Secure public browsing: Individuals using public wi-fi prefer to use VPNs to keep their traffic private and avoid any unwanted. interference with their connection.
  3. Transfer of sensitive information: Governments and enterprises use VPNs to secure communications and transactions that pertain to their work
  4. Unblocking: VPNs can be useful to avoid geo-blocking restrictions and make streaming content easier.
  5. Cybersecurity: People also make use of VPNs to prevent malicious cyber activities such as phishing, stalking and bullying.

For a deep dive into the reasons why you may want to use a VPN, we’d like to refer you to our full article on VPNs and their uses.

Why do VPNs Have a Bad Reputation?

After reading about all of these advantages, you may be wondering why VPNs have such a bad reputation despite having many legal and useful applications.  The simple answer is that these applications of VPNs can also be used to conduct and cover up criminal activities.

In crime shows, you might hear about criminals hiding behind a VPN in order to hide their activities. Your favorite fictional FBI team could be unable to find a killer, because they bought their weapon with a VPN. Stories like this give VPNs a bad name, even though they’re just a tool one can use for both good and bad purposes.

For example, VPNs allow for anonymous and private browsing. While this is not illegal by itself, and is even recommended by various organizations and governments, it can also be used to conceal nefarious activities from law enforcement agencies. Illegal downloaders, for example, become less easy to track when they use a VPN. However, the downloading in itself is still illegal.

The use of VPNs for such illegitimate activities gives them a bad name, much like the Tor browser. However, it’s important to remember that the use of a VPN for legal reasons is completely acceptable in most countries. In fact, it’s an essential tool to maintain privacy in the digital age. So if you wonder if VPNs are legal, in most cases the answer will be yes. But there are certain countries where you should be careful.

Legality of VPN Use: Frequently Asked Questions

If you have pressing questions about the legality of VPN use, our FAQ section will be of much help! You can click on any of the queries below to see answers to some of our most frequently asked questions. If your question isn’t answered, please feel free to leave a comment underneath this article. We’ll get back to you as soon as we can!

In most countries, VPNs are legal. Many governments even encourage that their citizens adopt safe internet practices, including the usage of VPNs, for added security and privacy. Government officials of certain countries are advised to use a VPN when travelling abroad, to protect themselves from surveillance by foreign states.

There are also countries where using a VPN is prohibited. The main reason for banning VPNs is that governments cannot keep track of people’s internet activities when a VPN is being used. And a VPN also enables people to circumvent government censorship. Needless to say, dictators and authoritarian leaders don’t want their citizens using VPNs.

It is not always easy to determine which countries are banning or restricting VPN use. But as per most recent reports, the following countries ban or heavily regulate VPN usage:

  1. Belarus
  2. China
  3. Egypt
  4. Iraq
  5. Iran
  6. North Korea
  7. Oman
  8. Russia
  9. Syria
  10. Turkey
  11. Turkmenistan
  12. Uganda
  13. UAE

VPNs allow users to avoid geo-blocking and access content available in other countries. This can come in conflict with the terms of service of several service providers, such as Netflix. So, in some cases, streaming content using a VPN can result in an error or suspension/banning of your account. However, it does not usually amount to a crime.

Using a VPN is completely legal in most countries! In fact, it’s a great tool to protect your privacy and identity online.

However, in countries where using a VPN is illegal, its mere use can land you in jail depending on the punishment prescribed in domestic laws. It’s best to avoid their use in such circumstances.

In countries where VPN use is otherwise legal, you can still end up in jail if caught committing an illegal act while using a VPN.

Cybersecurity analyst
David is a cybersecurity analyst and one of the founders of VPNoverview.com. Since 2014 he has been gaining international experience working with governments, NGOs, and the private sector as a cybersecurity and VPN expert and advisor.
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  1. Hello,
    1. Does a VPN provide additional security and prevent unauthorized access to passwords etc., when performing financial transactions on your cell phone?
    2. Can a VPN be turned off when in countries (China and Egypt) that don’t allow it?
    3. If the VPN Is turned off, would this comply with the laws in China and Egypt?
    4. If I installed a VPN on my mobile iPhone, would I notice any difference in the way my mobile phone operates?
    Please let me know, Thanks

    • Hi David,
      1. It does. A VPN secures your internet connection, making it much harder for anyone to see what you’re doing online. This works the same if you use it on a mobile device, such as a smartphone. Although most banking environments already work with high-level protection, using a VPN on top of that won’t hurt.
      2. You can turn off your VPN whenever you want. Most VPNs have applications that allow you to switch the connection on or off by simply clicking a button.
      3. China and Egypt have been blocking VPN connections for a couple of years. In China, most VPNs are considered illegal. Still, a lot of people in China (and Egypt) use VPNs on a daily basis to get access to a free internet. Whether having a VPN application on your phone that isn’t activated is against the law, is hard to tell. There are stories of people who had to hand over their phones to officials when entering the country. When they got it back, the officials had removed social media and VPN applications. However, this had no further legal consequences for the travelers. In Egypt, using a VPN connection is actually legal, even if many of the providers are blocked. If you want to read more about the situations in these countries you can read about Egypt here and read about China here.
      4. Depending on the VPN’s speed, your location, and the location of the VPN server you’re using, you might notice a slight delay (or increase) in your internet speed. Besides that, the VPN will change your IP address, meaning you might experience the internet differently, possibly giving you more online freedom. If you want to read more about VPNs and how they can be used, we’d like to refer you to our article ‘VPN Explained’.
      Hopefully this answers your questions!

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