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Using a virtual private network (VPN) is the best way to secure your data and privacy online. It changes your IP (Internet Protocol) address, encrypts online traffic, and gives you private internet access. While it is a legal tool in most of the world and is used by millions daily, some countries have restricted or outright banned VPN use.

But why do countries enforce VPN bans? What does using a VPN entail in a state with strict internet censorship laws? 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?

    VPNs are legal in most countries, like the US, Canada, Japan, the UK, and most of Europe. However, VPN use is restricted or outright banned in some countries, including North Korea, Turkmenistan, Belarus, and Iraq. Despite VPNs being illegal or restricted in some places, activists and citizens still use VPNs to stay connected.

    Disclaimer: Please note that using Surfshark services for any illegal activities is strictly forbidden and violates our Terms of Service. Make sure that any use of Surfshark services for your particular activities conforms to all relevant laws and regulations, including those of any service providers and websites you access using Surfshark.

    Countries where VPNs are illegal

    While citizens in most countries enjoy easy access to VPNs to change their virtual location and enjoy a safe online experience, a handful of countries have made VPNs illegal or restricted. Below is a table outlining these countries and their current VPN status.

    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 imposing restrictions on their use.

    China allows VPN providers to operate as long as they cooperate with the state, which defeats the purpose of using a VPN to bypass the Great Firewall.
    In 2017, Russia passed a law demanding that VPNs and proxies ban access to sites banned by the Russian government, ostensibly to stop piracy. If the VPN provider doesn’t comply, they get banned in Russia.
    The UAE
    According to Freedom House, the UAE scores 30/100 on internet freedom, part of which is the country’s heavily regulated and fined laws on VPN use.
    Belarus started blocking Tor and VPNs back in 2015, and the 2020 upheaval over fraudulent elections keeps the regime motivated to maintain the block.
    Initially, Iraq banned or blocked VPN use in 2014 to fight ISIS, but the restrictions haven’t eased yet.
    North Korea
    While North Korea has its own intranet and uses regular internet to evade financial sanctions, as one of the most totalitarian countries, it is unsurprisingly hostile to VPNs.
    In Oman, personal VPNs are illegal. Only government-approved providers are allowed, and unauthorized use can result in a $1300 fine. Corporate VPNs are required to maintain user activity logs.
    One of the most authoritarian countries in the world, Turkmenistan, makes internet users swear on the Quran that they won’t be using a VPN. The goal is to stop locals from accessing information the state finds undesirable.
    Iran has had a rocky history when it comes to internet freedom. To control access to foreign websites and services, using a VPN service has been made illegal, except for those with a legal permit.
    Uganda started blocking VPN providers because citizens use the service to bypass the OTT tax, commonly called the “social media tax.”
    VPNs are legal in India, but in 2022 a data law was introduced requiring VPN providers to keep customer data. This means that user privacy is highly restricted.

    It’s also important to mention that user privacy-oriented VPNs have shut down their physical servers in India.
    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.
    Saudi Arabia
    VPNs aren’t illegal in Saudi Arabia, but their government enforces strict internet censorship laws. That means that VPN services must comply with Saudi Arabia’s internet regulations. Using a VPN to access blocked content may result in jail time and a fine of up to SR 500,000 ($133,316).
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    What’s the situation with Russia and VPNs?

    As of writing this piece, it’s only legal to use a VPN* that adheres to the demands of the state. However, since the onset of the Russo-Ukrainian war, many people have used VPNs unauthorized by the state to bypass state censorship.

    The Internet Protection Society even managed to launch its own VPN services in Russia. They did so in support of Alexei Navalny (the late anti-corruption activist) to fight for internet freedom, even if the Kremlin deemed such an act illegal. 

    In a further attempt to fight VPN use, Russia planned to block VPN services starting on March 1, 2024. Following up on that, it seems Russian authorities have only banned VPN advertising.

    *VPN service providers committed to protecting user privacy shut down their physical servers in Russia

    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 five years. This includes usernames, phone numbers, and even activity logs.

    In other words, you can use an Indian-based VPN, but your privacy may be limited, and some of your online activities might be recorded. 

    Maintaining a no-logs policy is impossible under current legislation. As a result, most VPN service providers moved their physical servers out of India.

    With that said, Surfshark VPN and other VPNs that don’t log your online activity offer virtual servers in India, which allows you to get an Indian IP address while using a VPN that doesn’t collect or store data about your activity.

    Can you get caught using a VPN?

    Yes, you can. A VPN encrypts data but doesn’t hide the fact that you’re using a VPN. With a VPN, ISPs (Internet Service Providers) can’t see what you’re doing online, but they can see that your data is encrypted by a VPN. If VPN use is illegal in a particular country, an ISP may send this information to the authorities.

    To solve this issue, Surfshark offers obfuscated servers. By connecting to one of these servers, you can hide the fact that you’re using a VPN while protecting your activity.

    Shortly put, obfuscation makes the encrypted VPN traffic seem normal and not encrypted. This way, it becomes much harder for surveillance entities to detect that you’re using a VPN.

    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. 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 and only partake in lawful activities while using the service.

    Why do people question VPNs?

    Unfortunately, VPNs are sometimes seen as unreliable or untrustworthy. This perception is often influenced by the risky practices of some free VPN providers.

    Free VPNs aren’t safe. They have been known to sell data to third parties, track your online activity, and even install malware on your devices. As a result, all VPN providers get a bad rep for things done by a select few.

    Premium VPN providers such as Surfshark go above and beyond to secure your data and privacy online — which is further ensured by various audits and no-logs policies.

    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?

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    Why are VPNs restricted in some countries? 

    VPNs give you more 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 limit the freedom of their citizens.

    Is it illegal to use a VPN for Netflix?

    VPNs are legal for streaming 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: Please note that using Surfshark services for any illegal activities is strictly forbidden and constitutes a violation of our Terms of Service. Make sure that any use of Surfshark services for your particular activities conforms to all relevant laws and regulations, including those of any service providers and websites you access using Surfshark.

    Are VPNs legal in China?

    Yes, VPNs in China are legal, but they are heavily restricted. Any VPN operating in China must cooperate with the government, which means they have to collect and store user activity data. As a result, the Great Firewall of China tries to restrict VPNs with no-logs policies, such as Surfshark.

    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.

    Are VPNs legal in the US?

    VPNs are legal in the US, and no laws restrict VPN use. However, using a VPN doesn’t exempt you from service provider rules or legal liability.

    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 on, 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.

    *You can use Binance.US, which is specifically designed for the US market and legal for US residents to use.

    Are VPNs safe to use?

    Yes, virtual private networks are safe to use in most parts of the world. VPNs are one of the best tools for protecting your data and privacy online. However, some countries with heavy internet restrictions ban VPNs, making VPN use illegal.

    Are VPNs legal for streaming?

    Whether or not using a VPN for streaming is legal depends solely on your streaming platform. Most streaming platforms don’t want users to circumvent their location because they have region-restricted licensing agreements. As a result, using a VPN to change location will be against the ToS of most streaming services.