A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is the best tool for securing your data and privacy online. It changes your IP (Internet Protocol) address and encrypts all traffic to keep you safe. While it is a legal tool in most of the world and is used by millions every day, some countries have restricted or outright banned VPN use.
But what’s the deal with some countries prohibiting VPN use? And are you 100% in the safe zone if you don’t reside in one of these countries? Let’s get cracking.
Disclaimer: This article is based on information that is freely accessible online. It is not legal advice and should be read for informational purposes only.
Table of contents
Is it legal to use a VPN?
Yes, it is perfectly legal to use a VPN almost everywhere. There are no restrictions to using a VPN in the US, the UK, Canada, and almost all of Europe.
But there are a few outliers. Some countries that already heavily restrict the freedom of their people have also limited the use of VPNs. For instance, the likes of Belarus and North Korea have completely banned the use of VPNs, and some other countries, such as India, China, and Russia, have restricted their use.
Obviously, a VPN isn’t a gateway to illegal activities just because it protects one’s privacy. No VPN providers encourage committing crimes while connected to a VPN service. Besides that, one tool isn’t going to protect criminal VPN users from legal trouble, as law enforcement has many tools to track and catch perpetrators.
Where is it illegal to use a VPN?
While most of the world enjoys easy access to VPNs, a handful of countries have made VPNs illegal or at least restricted.
I’ve provided a table with the said countries and their current VPN status below. Looking at it, it’s no surprise that already oppressive regimes are the ones that impose these restrictions.
Unfortunately, restricting freedom of speech is nothing new for some countries, be it via banning social media platforms or news outlets (usually associated with Western media). Since VPN services protect the fundamental human right to privacy, authoritarian regimes waste no time jumping on that as well.
Belarus started blocking Tor and VPNs back in 2015, and the recent upheaval over fraudulent elections keeps the regime motivated to maintain the block.
Initially, Iraq banned or blocked VPN use to fight ISIS, but the restrictions haven’t eased yet, especially with internal turmoil in the country.
While North Korea has its own intranet and uses regular internet to evade financial sanctions, one of the most totalitarian countries is unsurprisingly hostile to VPNs.
Oman bans a swathe of the World Wide Web, covering content from criticism of Islam to pornography. Tor and VPN usage is also banned to prevent access to such content.
One of the most authoritarian countries in the world, Turkmenistan, makes internet users swear on the Quran (yep) that they won’t be using a VPN. The goal is to stop locals from accessing information the state finds undesirable.
China allows VPN providers to operate as long as they cooperate with the state, which defeats the purpose of using the VPN to bypass the Great Firewall.
Iran has had a rocky history when it comes to internet freedom. To control access to foreign websites and services, a proposed piece of legislation to ban VPNs (among other things) has been under deliberations for four years now.
In 2017, Russia passed a law demanding that VPNs and proxies ban access to sites the Russian government banned, ostensibly to stop piracy. If the VPN provider doesn’t comply, they get banned in Russia.
Technically, VPNs are legal; practically, they’re restricted to “combat terrorism.”
Freedom House scores UAE 17/100 on internet freedom, part of which is the country’s heavily regulated and fined laws on VPN use.
Uganda started blocking VPN providers because the citizens use the service to bypass the OTT tax, that’s commonly called the “social media tax.”
VPNs are legal in India, but their new data law requires VPN providers to keep customer data. This means that user privacy is highly restricted.
Using a VPN is legal in Venezuela, but the country has many internet restrictions. A VPN is the best option to bypass them for now, although there were attempts to limit VPN usage in the past.
Using a VPN in Egypt is legal, but internet use is heavily restricted. Attempts to access blocked content with a VPN may lead to jail time.
What’s the situation with Russia and VPNs?
As of writing this piece, the war hasn’t changed the legislative status of a VPN in Russia: it’s legal to use a VPN that adheres to the demands of the state. However, right from the start of the war, many people have downloaded VPNs illegally to look beyond the iron curtain of censorship.
Some – The Internet Protection Society – even managed to launch their own VPN services in Russia. They did so in support of Alexei Navalny (anti-corruption activist) and to fight for free internet, even if such an act is deemed illegal by the Kremlin.
In short, people are getting illegal VPNs to get news from other sources, which is illegal.
Is it legal to use a VPN in India?
Using a VPN in India is perfectly legal, but there is a huge caveat attached to it. As of April 2022, India requires all VPNs to keep user data for 5 years. This includes usernames, phone numbers, and even activity logs.
In other words, you can use an Indian-based VPN, but your privacy is restricted, and your actions online are being monitored.
Maintaining a no-logs policy, an integral part of any good VPN, is impossible under current legislation. As a result, most VPN service providers moved their physical servers out of India.
You can still maintain your privacy online by using a VPN with virtual servers in India or one that offers servers in surrounding countries without having a physical server in India.
Can you get caught using a VPN?
Yes, you can. The basic function of a VPN is encrypting data, not hiding it (at least for most VPNs). Your ISP (Internet Service Provider) gives you access to the internet, and every bit of info goes through their servers. You turn on your VPN, and now the data you send out appears as gibberish to your ISP. It stands out because the data’s encrypted and no longer understandable – that’s how they see you’re using a VPN.
However! There are stealth VPNs that make you invisible each time you establish a VPN connection. One of the ways they make you invisible to your ISP is obfuscation.
Shortly put, obfuscation makes the encrypted data you’re emitting seem like it’s normal and not encrypted. In doing so, you become invisible to Big Brother.
Can you get in trouble for using a VPN?
Unless you’re in a country where virtual private networks are illegal, you can use a VPN without any issues. However, you shouldn’t expect a VPN service to protect you from legal trouble if you engage in illegal activity while using it. Downloading copyrighted material is one example of such a crime.
Simply put, as long as you stay within the legal framework of your country, you won’t get in any trouble for using a VPN.
Reminder: You shouldn’t download copyrighted material or engage in unethical hacking and other cybercrimes.
What could happen if you used a VPN illegally?
The punishments for the illegal use of VPNs vary significantly. In some cases, you can lose your internet connection or receive a fine for using a VPN. In the most extreme cases, using a VPN in a country where it is banned can lead to jail time.
Therefore, you should only use a VPN where it is legal to do so and only partake in legal activities while using the service.
Why do people question privacy protection tools?
Unfortunately, VPNs are sometimes seen as unreliable or not trustworthy. This reputation is brought upon by the dangerous activities of free VPN providers.
Premium VPN providers such as Surfshark go above and beyond to secure your data and privacy online. This is further ensured by various audits and no-logs policies.
On the other hand, free VPNs aren’t safe & have been known to sell data to third parties, track your activity online, and even install malware on your devices. As a result, all VPN providers get a bad rep for things done by a select few.
The takeaway: are VPNs legal? Yes, almost everywhere
While some countries restrict or even block VPNs, they are perfectly legal in most of the world. VPNs play an essential role in ensuring digital security and privacy. So if it’s legal to use a VPN in your country, but you’re not doing that already, why not give Surfshark a try?
Why are VPNs restricted in some countries?
VPNs give you freedom and privacy online, and these are things that some governments are trying to limit. As a result, VPN use is restricted or outright banned in countries that restrict the freedom of their citizens.
Is it illegal to use a VPN for Netflix?
Using a VPN with Netflix is legal as long as you’re watching your country’s library. However, using it to access libraries outside of your country is against the service’s terms and conditions.
Disclaimer: We prohibit using Surfshark services for any unlawful purposes as it is against our Terms of Service. Please be sure to act in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations of other service providers.
Are VPNs legal in China?
Yes, VPNs in China are legal, but they are heavily restricted.
Are VPNs legal in the UK?
Yes, using a VPN in the UK is legal. No VPN laws ban or restrict the use of a VPN in the UK. A VPN does not make you invincible, though, so you still need to comply with the law and the terms and conditions of your service providers.
Is it legal to watch foreign TV with a VPN?
There is nothing illegal about using a VPN to watch foreign TV. But it may be against the Terms of Service of the platform you’re trying to stream, in which case, your accounts may be restricted.
Is it legal to use Binance with a VPN?
Yes, using Binance with a VPN is legal. But keep in mind that Binance is banned in the US, and using a VPN to access it in the United States is against the Terms of Service. So while it is not illegal, your account can be banned if you don’t follow the ToS.
Can you get in trouble for using a VPN?
In general, you won’t get in trouble for using a VPN as long as you don’t do anything illegal while using it. That said, some countries, such as Belarus, Iraq, and North Korea, have banned the use of VPNs. Simply using a VPN in these countries may lead to trouble.
Are VPNs safe to use?
Yes, VPNs are definitely safe to use. It is one of the best tools for protecting your data and privacy online. Some countries with heavy internet restrictions ban VPNs, so although it is safe, using a VPN is not legal in a few countries in the world.