For many people the thought of having to use a VPN in India wouldn’t normally cross our mind. Unfortunately, the country isn’t the most liberal when it comes to digital activities. Over the years there have been a disturbingly increase in the number of what some would see as a violation of freedom on the Internet for India.
According to information from Freedom House, India has seen new rules on connectivity restrictions, controversial government surveillance activities and even intervention activities passed by the country’s telecom regulator.
These occurrences and more like them have seriously violated the right to privacy that Internet users should be able to expect. This coupled with the usual risks of unprotected Internet usage has made India a hot spot in BitCatcha’s VPN roundups.
India Tightly Regulates Internet Access
For a long time, India has attempted to block access to a large (and increasing number of) websites. While you may be right in thinking that these sites were perhaps illegal or immoral in some way, such as pornographic sites, that hasn’t always been the case.
Warning message to users in India when trying to access a site banned by the government
(Image source: Dailyhunt
For example, in 2011 and as recently as 2016 there have been temporary bans on Facebook in the country which were implemented without any warning.
The government has also formalized the ban on many other websites with a blanket law which prohibits citizens from trying to visit any site on a specific list. Penalties for violating this law are severe and go past the usual fines, allowing for prison sentences of up to three years if caught.
The Government’s Surveillance Activities Are Legal!
Because of its attempts to block access to many websites, it has always been assumed that India was carrying out some forms of covert surveillance on its own citizens. This has now been legalized to an extent thanks to official authorization given.
The government has allowed 10 federal agencies the right to intercept and monitor information from any computer. This is a move towards the mass surveillance activities undertaken in China to supervise the activities of its citizens.
Not only can these agencies now monitor and intercept, but officially they can even decrypt any information thus obtained. The agencies authorized are not just those concerned with national security, but also overseeing tax investigation, narcotics, financial crime and others.
This information on its own is already alarming, but even more so given that the Indian Supreme Court has recognised the right to privacy as a fundamental right. This means that the government is giving authorization for such activities in violation of the law.
Dubious Legislation Regarding Media Streaming
Media streaming and P2P file sharing in the country is a little bit more of a hazy area. Although technically streaming isn’t illegal, it might be if the site offering such services is on the list of banned sites.
A high court judge in India in 2016 ruled that there was no offence in viewing media being streamed, but rather in other areas associated with the activity. These include the distribution, exhibition or sale of copyright material. Unfortunately, ISPs in the country at the time were giving notice to their users that all media streaming activities were punishable offences – including viewing!
As you can see, there are legal fine lines involved in the matter and you certainly don’t want to get caught on a technicality here.
ISPs In India Are Blocking Proxies
Reddit users have been discussing reports that Reliance Jio, one of the largest telcos in the country, has been blocking proxy websites. Proxies help users work around geolocation restrictions, meaning that the company is dictating the behaviour of its 250 million user-strong subscriber base.
Again, this is in violation of net neutrality which in general works on the principle that ISPs must not exert their own influence on data. The site Quartz did an investigation in the country and found that “At least seven proxy sites were not accessible … from a Jio connection”.
These were not just banned sites but also sites which allowed the download of VPN software. The telco has apparently blocked access to Hide.me, Hidester amd Megaproxy, amongst others. While other ISPs have not yet followed suit what would prevent them from doing the same?
Again, the issue here is unclear boundaries between what is legal or not, along with whether companies decide to toe the government line, offer their own independent support of government efforts (like Jio) or simply do as they wish. Either way, Internet users in India are at their mercy.
VPNs Are Still Legal In India
While at this point of time there has been no official news of laws banning the use of VPN services in India, it is a bit of a tricky issue. Take for example the case of Jio Reliance I discussed above – what if ISPs decide to add all VPN service providers to the list of banned sites?
While using a VPN there may not be legally restricted, there are still laws which prevent all users in the country from using VPNs for illegal activities. I would take this to mean that if you were to use an VPN service – it better be one that does not keep logs!
What We Look For In A VPN For India
1. Privacy and anonymity
As you may realise by now, India really isn’t the kind of place where you want to be surfing the net without the use of a VPN, whether you are a national or visitor to the country. Because of the factors I’ve shared above and the seriousness of consequences of violating those regulations, it is a good idea to focus on the aspects of privacy and anonymity a VPN offers for users in India.
With both the government as well as private industry working together as well as independently to monitor and control traffic, a VPN needs to be able to ensure that your data and activities can be kept exactly the way it should be – private.
One of the best ways to ensure this is to keep an eye out for VPNs that not only have strict no-logging policies but that are also based out of countries that are laxer in their data retention laws. This certainly excludes countries in the five eyes and fourteen eyes jurisdiction.
The security spiel on VPNs is the same for India-based users as everywhere else. The ideal balance is known only to you, as a user. Do you opt for 256-bit encryption at the risk of lower VPN speeds or are you willing to lower that bar for increased speed?
Personally, I feel that for the India market that it would be best to try and keep encryption levels high for two main reasons. The first is that one of the protagonists in the case we are discussing is the Indian government, which will likely have more resources dedicated towards attempting to break any encryption encountered.
The second is that because of lower average internet speeds in the country, you are safe to keep encryption levels as high as possible without compromising your overall maximum speeds achievable.
3. Geolocation spoofing
Normally when we talk about geolocation spoofing it would be with an aim of accessing alternative content from mainstream providers such as Netflix US or the BBC iPlayer in the UK. However, India users have much more to look forward to in geolocation spoofing since there are literally a ton of sites they cannot access.
This is where a VPN would shine, especially since there are reports of some telcos banning even proxy sites from being used.
4. P2P support
One of the categories of sites being blocked from access in India seems to be torrent sites. Again, this is another area where a VPN would really help. Look out for VPNs that have P2P traffic guidelines clearly spelt out in their terms of service, such as TorGuard or NordVPN.
5. Speed and stability
With an average fixed line broadband speed of just 27.68Mbps in India, most VPNs should have zero issues matching the needs of users there. Mobile speeds are even lower at an average of 10.13Mbps, so the main concern with VPNs in India certainly won’t be speed.
Best VPNs for India
As with all my VPN tests, before judging their speed I always judge my own. The following is my actual broadband speed based on a service line of 500Mbps, without a VPN connection active:
As I am based in Malaysia, my speeds will tend to be high connecting to Asia-region VPN servers and slower as I connect to servers in the US or Europe. For this test I connected to a India-based speed test server to give you an idea of relative speed over distance.
As you can see, a VPN-free connection to a local server nets me a decent speed of 333Mbps. Speeds of course will vary at times, so take this with a pinch of salt.
- Price is based on the currency exchange rate of 1 USD = 69.39 INR.
- Price shown is based on 12-mo subscriptions. Price can get cheaper when you subscribe for a longer period.
- Offshore privacy protection
- Full 256-bit encryption
- 148 VPN locations
"Using ExpressVPN can get you an IP address in India that is fast, secure and allows for streaming media and more."
Because of the many restrictions there It should come as no surprise that ExpressVPN seems to have laid extensive infrastructure allowances for India. The company has key servers in both Chennai and Mumbai as well as an alternate that can be routed via the UK.
On average, this VPN service offers excellent all-round service from top-notch speeds all the way to comprehensive applications and protocols – ideal for safety, privacy and anonymity. Its security protocols are also the best-in-class for consumer use existing today.
I have tested the service comprehensively and have no hesitation in recommending them as the top VPN service provider for users in India. ExpressVPN is stable and allows access on a good range of devices as well.
As an idea of how good it gets, I compared my default line speed without a VPN to an ExpressVPN covered test to the same location. With ExpressVPN on and connected to a server in India, I managed to show a decent 18Mbps downstream speed.
Read our full ExpressVPN Review for more information!
- No logs
- Kill switch
- Supports 6 devices
"With its sleek interface, stable speeds and fantastic longer-term price plans, Nord is an outstanding choice for any VPN user."
NordVPN takes a strong second place in our Best VPN for India list for many reasons. One of the first is that they are based in Panama, which is also a good place to be for VPNs. Aside from that, NordVPN has a sterling reputation and is another VPN provider that has a huge number of servers in many countries.
Their strict no-logging policy combines with 256-bit military grade encryption and great price plans to offer almost anyone a deal that is hard to resist.
With a 47Mbps downstream speed, in this round of tests NordVPN showed very stable performance on their India server. What makes them even more attractive thorough is that they not only allow P2P traffic but have specially optimized servers for P2P traffic!
- Built for P2P
- TorGuard stealth proxy
- Supports 5 connections
"Using TorGuard is a delightful experience and gives one the assurance their Internet connection is truly safe."
The TorGuard interface may seem a little dated when first encountered but there is no doubt that there are one of the most secure VPN service providers around. Even though there isn’t a lot of bling on the user-facing side, performance is quite remarkable.
There is one key difference between TorGuard and many competitors in that it allows you to choose what level of encryption you prefer. This means that for P2P users, you can turn down encryption a notch and enjoy faster torrenting speeds anytime!
Aside from that, TorGuard has many other redeeming qualities, such as stable speeds, multi-platform capability and the ability to bypass VPN blockers.
As one of the top three best VPNs for India, TorGuard of course met certain speed requirements. This showed in my test result for it from a Chennai-based VPN server and again, users in the country should generally get this speed with few issues.
The only downside is that for younger users who are used to the sleekness of modern applications, the TorGuard interface will look like something from the past.
- Offers data compression
- Ad blocking
- Supports 7 devices
"CyberGhost is based out of Romania but it has paid attention to the needs of India users by steadily increasing its server count in the country."
CyberGhosties are happy with them and they have certainly tried to be hip and upbeat in their marketing. This is another of the more well-known names in the VPN industry but personally I feel that they just might be a tiny bit overhyped.
Specification wise CyberGhost talks the good talk but having gone through tests with them I advise a small pinch of salt. Do keep in mind though that this is a ranking list, so my expectations are quite high.
Users in India need to take note that most of CyberGhost servers are in the EU zone, but thankfully, they have some in the Asia region as well. India seems to be an exception though and they have gone the extra mile to establish a higher server count there.
Overall, we managed to get very useable speeds of 10Mbps which is still enough to stream media on.
- Forced 256-bit encryption
- Unlimited P2P
- Supports 10 devices
"Great for the Paranoid but perhaps won’t be top of the list for India-based users, IPVanish is highly marketed but poorly supported."
IPVanish has suffered greatly in recent times due to its embroilment in certain …shall we say, unfortunate incidents. Yet aside from that, take note that they are under new management and hopefully such things will become just speed bumps in their past.
Moving those incidents aside, they remain a VPN giant in the field and boast speeds that are impressive. Luckily for that, since if you have any complaints about their speed, there isn’t much you can do as they force 256-bit encryption on everyone without exception.
Speed-wise, IPVanish managed to stay up to par even with its more limited India presence. I managed to establish a downstream speed of around 20Mbps which is decent for the infrastructure there. For those willing to experiment you can always try other servers in the region which may give better results. Still, the connection was stable and more than enough to stream media on.
- Easy-to-use apps
- Unlimited bandwidth
- Supports split tunnelling
"PureVPN is certainly one of the leaders in a completive industry thanks to a solid network of servers."
Hosting over 2,000 servers located in more than 140 countries around the world, PureVPN certainly has the infrastructure needed to show itself as an industry leader. It complements this with excellent enterprise-grade security features to protect its users from intrusion or detection.
One big benefits of trying them out is that they are one of the few in the market now who are allowing access to the WireGuard protocol – a next-gen protocol that is supposedly lightyears ahead of OpenVPN. It is a little limited in coverage though, with a presence in only around five countries.
Connecting to a Chennai-based PureVPN server I was able to get close to 20Mbps – again, nothing to sneeze at but far from the best I have seen. Still, I would say that these figures are reflective of a company which does indeed have some measure of focus here.
- Optimized servers for P2P
- Allows server hopping
- Supports 10 devices
"FastestVPN isn’t the fastest but it certainly offers a value proposition that is hard to challenge."
FastestVPN isn’t the fastest I have tested but neither is it the slowest. It offers more limited countries to run your connection out of compared to many top-tier VPNs but at prices from as low as 83 cents a month it is a steal. They also have P2P optimized servers which makes them good for that as well.
The low prices do come with one serious drawback and that is the limited performance in overcoming geo-blocking. At last we discovered, FastestVPN can’t allow you to access either Netflix US content or the UK’s BBC iPlayer – bummer!
Do I Really Need A VPN In India?
Given the terrible combination of both government and private pressure on Internet freedom in the country, I feel that the use of a VPN should rank quite highly on most user’s agenda there. This goes doubly so for foreigners who are in India for work or leisure – you certainly don’t want to run afoul of legislation and end up in an Indian jail.
There are too many unknowns in many areas and my take is that it is always better to be safe than sorry. Please, look for the right VPN for you today if you’re on the Internet in India.
To recap, here are the top 3 VPN for India:
SECURITY & PRIVACY