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Are VPNs Legal? Here Are 10 Countries Where They Aren’t

UPDATED
April 23, 2024

 

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are a great tool to keep you safe and anonymous on the internet. Unfortunately, these are actually prohibited in some nations, which may come as a surprise to some people.

 

There are some that outright forbid the use of VPNs, while others only have strict regulations on specific industries. But are VPNs ever legal in the first place? Keep reading to find out!

 

Table of Contents

 

10 Countries Where VPN Is Not Legal

  1. China
  2. Oman
  3. North Korea
  4. Uganda
  5. Iraq
  6. Turkmenistan
  7. Belarus
  8. Russia
  9. Turkey
  10. United Arab Emirates

 

Are VPNs Legal?

 

In most nations, including the US, using a VPN is completely legal. But, this doesn’t imply that using them to engage in illegal activity is perfectly acceptable. A VPN will protect your privacy, but even the best VPNs won’t keep the law from punishing you for theft, illegal purchases, or any other crimes that fall under the jurisdiction of the local legal system.

 

However, in some nations outside of the US, using a VPN is prohibited or severely restricted. The following sections will dive deep into why some of these countries prohibit the use of VPNs.

 

1. China Strictly Restricts VPN Access

 

China alley way

The Great Firewall of China blocks a lot of online content in China.

 

Even though China has opened its economy to the rest of the world, the country still leans heavily toward socialism. A single-party system’s core integration has led to some very troublesome rules being imposed on the population.

 

To put the VPN issue in perspective, China has long prohibited access to a significant number of foreign websites and applications from within its borders. Examples of these include the well-known social networking website Facebook and search giant Google.

 

Since using a VPN can essentially get around these restrictions, the nation outlawed the use of VPNs altogether, except for companies that have received government approval.

 

Fortunately, despite the strict protection from the Great Firewall of China, you can still use a VPN there (P.S. we’ve also got a guide on how to use a VPN in China that you can check out).

 

 

2. Oman Prohibits Use Of Encryption

 

Oman national flag

Muslim countries such as Oman tend to ban any content that’s critical of Islam.

 

A lot of users claimed that using a VPN in Oman is a gray area. But, if we were to look at the bigger picture, Oman makes it clear that using any kind of encryption in communications is prohibited.

 

The thing is, since the country would have to block or make access to websites that use SSL illegal, this law is essentially unenforceable. Therefore, technically speaking, Oman wouldn’t be able to access the vast majority of the internet.

 

Unfortunately, there aren’t many other sources available on the bizarre situation of this case.

 

Note

Learn the safest ways to buy VPN anonymously.

 

 

3. North Korea Bans VPNs For Most Users

 

North Korea national flag

A lot of things are prohibited in North Korea, including VPNs.

 

To be completely honest, nobody really needs to be shocked by North Korea’s ban on VPN use. The nation has one of the most authoritarian governments in the world, which forbids its citizens from doing nearly anything except working and honoring their leader.

 

According to Reporters Without Borders’ annual Press Freedom Index, the nation came in last place in 2017. But, reports claim that those with privileges in the nation have access to VPNs and Tor, mostly for skills training.

 

Though, since Internet access and even cell phone service aren’t widely available in the nation, we’re not sure if the ban on VPNs in the country actually means anything to anyone.

 

 

4. Uganda Taxes On Social Media

 

Uganda police

Uganda banned the use of VPNs since people don’t want to pay social media taxes.
(Credit: BBC News)

 

Uganda is a bit controversial, as most of the nations on this list so far have been found to prohibit VPN use primarily for authoritarian motives. In Uganda’s case, the government decided in 2018 that it’d be a good idea to tax citizens who wish to use social media.

 

Although the tax only cost 200 Ugandan Shillings (or about $0.05), users started using VPNs to get around it. Due to this, the government eventually started a war against VPN providers and gave Internet Service Providers (ISPs) the order to block VPN users.

 

Unfortunately (or rather, fortunately), Uganda lacks the resources to fully enforce a VPN block, which is why many users still use VPNs there.

 

 

5. Iraq Prohibits VPNs

 

protest in Iraq

Iraq banned the use of VPNs as a part of its defense strategy against ISIS.
(Credit: Chatham House)

 

Iraq used Internet bans and restrictions as part of its defense strategy during the local conflict with ISIS, similar to The Five Eyes Alliance which combats terrorism. The use of VPNs was prohibited under these limitations.

 

Though, that was a while ago, and ISIS isn’t as dangerous now as it once was.

 

Sadly, this is a state where laws and beliefs frequently clash. As a result, it’s currently difficult to determine whether using a VPN in the country is legal given that even censorship is a touchy subject.

 

 

6. Turkmenistan Forbids VPNs

 

Turkmenistan national flag

Turkmenistan is extremely isolated and forbids the use of VPNs.

 

In keeping with the government’s effort to tightly regulate all media in the nation, no foreign media organizations are permitted inside. So of course, domestic businesses are strictly regulated, and Turkmenistan forbids the use of VPNs altogether.

 

The nation’s extremely isolated and its record on human rights is horrifyingly impressive. Again, this is a country that retains a strong socialist identity at its core and is tightly governed by the ruling junta even as it transitions to the modern era as a presidential republic.

 

 

7. Belarus Is In The Gray

 

Belarus national flag

Belarus banned all types of internet anonymizers in 2016. (Credit: National Today)

 

Belarus is a bit of an anomaly because its constitution forbids censorship, but several laws make it illegal. The nation has used the current cry of “fake news” as a tool to achieve its goals, similar to many other nations trying to restrict online freedom.

 

In 2016, the nation took the initiative to outright outlaw all types of internet anonymizers, including Tor, which uses a global network of volunteer nodes to scramble user Internet traffic. This ban covers VPNs, proxies, and other similar services.

 

Additionally, digital freedom in Belarus has steadily declined over time. From creating barriers to access and restricting freedom of speech, the government there has strictly applied these laws to its own citizens.

 

 

8. Russia Outlawed VPNs

 

Putin the president of russia

Russia is still a socialist country even after the fall of the Soviet Union. (Credit: DW News)

 

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has turned into a complex federation, but at its core, it’s still very much a socialist country. This has been especially true under Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who has effectively controlled the nation since his rise to power in 1999.

 

In November 2017, Russia passed a law outlawing VPNs, drawing criticism for eroding the country’s digital freedoms. The action’s just one of many that the government’s taking to exert more control over the Internet.

 

Recently, the government there has ordered foreign VPN providers to blacklist specific websites. As a result, some providers, like TorGuard, have stopped offering their services in Russia.

 

 

9. Turkey Blocks VPNs

 

Turkey national flag

Not only has Turkey restricted freedom of speech but they also restricted online content.

 

Turkey, a nation with a history of strict censorship, has blocked and made it illegal to use VPNs there since 2018. This action is a component of broad censorship laws designed to severely limit access to particular sources of information and platforms.

 

Only propaganda-broadcasting operations have been allowed to continue as the ruling junta’s control over media outlets has gotten increasingly more extensive over the past 12 years. Thousands of websites and platforms, including social media sites, cloud storage services, and even some content delivery networks, are currently blocked in Turkey.

 

 

10. United Arab Emirates (UAE) Permits Certain Approved VPNs

 

UAE national flag

The UAE can punish you with imprisonment and fine you thousands of dollars if you break their laws.

 

In 2012, during the Arab Spring, only VPNs that received government approval were permitted in the United Arab Emirates. This was done to discourage the use of Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and Skype.

 

VoIP services were restricted in the UAE for both political and economic reasons. It aims to persuade locals to pay the (expensive) subscription fee for Etisalat and Du, two local telecom services. However, this doesn’t apply to corporate entities, and they’re able to use VPNs unrestricted.

 

If a VPN is used to commit a crime in the UAE, you can be punished with imprisonment or a fine of between AED 150,000 and AED 500,000, or roughly $41,000 and $136,000, respectively.

 

 

What Happens If You Use A VPN Illegally?

 

If you use a VPN in violation of the law, you risk losing your internet access, paying a few hundred to several hundred thousand dollars in fines, or even going to jail. So, if it’s necessary for you to use a VPN in these hostile environments, do exercise extreme caution and only use the most reputable services.

 

 

VPNs And Your Rights

 

In the US and the majority of other countries around the world, VPNs are acceptable security tools to use. They’re a method for connecting to the internet or an internal company network that’s highly recommended by experts for maintaining privacy and security.

 

Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that they are safe or legal to use everywhere. If you’re traveling for business and intend to use a VPN, make sure that it’s allowed in the country you intend to visit. The use of a VPN to access geo-restricted content produced by any given streaming platform can violate its terms of service.

 

But, always keep in mind that any illegal activity carried out over a VPN remains illegal—regardless of the country you are in.

 

 

 

VPN Guides and Best VPN Services

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