are vpns legal

Yes, VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) are legal in the US, the UK, and pretty much everywhere else in the world, with several exceptions. However, committing illegal acts with a VPN is still, well, illegal.

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.

Table of contents

    Is it legal to use a VPN in the USA?

    Currently, there are no laws restricting VPN usage in the US. And if you scroll down to the table, you’ll see that none of the Western countries are on that already short list.

    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.
    North Korea
    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.
    Heavily restricted
    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.”
    Heavily restricted
    Freedom House scores UAE 17/100 on internet freedom, part of which is the country’s heavily regulated and fined laws on VPN use.
    Heavily restricted
    Uganda started blocking VPN providers because the citizens use the service to bypass the OTT tax that’s commonly called the “social media tax.”

    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 open up their own VPN service in Russia. Doing so in support of Alexei Navalny (anti-corruption activist) and to fight for free internet, even if such an act is deemed illegal by Kremlin. 

    In short, people are getting illegal VPNs to get news from other sources, which is illegal.

    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. 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 if you’re using a VPN.

    However! There are stealth VPNs, which 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. 

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    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?

    You could get fined. In places where using a VPN is a felony, you would be issued a monetary fine, an administrative penalty, or, in some cases, incarceration (if not everything altogether). All of it depends on how you use it. The punishments for stealing the fire of Olympus are:

    • China – a fine of around $2,000;
    • Belarus – a fine of $120 for trying to access blocked content;
    • Iran – incarceration from 91 days to a year;
    • N. Korea – up to capital punishment, although tourists can use a VPN;
    • Russia – a fine of $5,100 for regular users and $12,000 for VPN providers;
    • Saudi Arabia – you can get deported from the country if you use a VPN for VoIP services (WhatsApp, Messenger, Viber, etc.);
    • Uganda –  getting caught exercising free speech gets you a fine of $4,000 and incarceration of up to 7 years;
    • Oman a fine of $1,300 for individuals and $2,600 for companies;
    • United Arab Emirates – if you use a VPN to commit a crime in the UAE, you get sentenced not only for the crime but for the use of a VPN too. The fines are between $136,000 and $544,000;
    • Turkmenistan – the person caught using a VPN will be issued ‘’administrative penalties and summoned for “preventive conversations” to the Ministry of National Security, where they face intimidation.”

    Why do people question privacy protection tools?

    The two main reasons are a lack of education and a bad reputation given by criminals.

    A lack of understanding (of how a VPN operates) leads people to believe in different VPN myths, and them feeling reserved about VPN services. Probably because the gears that keep VPNs turning are not apparent to everyday users.  

    You turn the app on and everything (almost) annoying (like pop-ups and different restrictions) about the internet is gone. To some people, it’s akin to magic, and magic is scary. 

    Another reason is people give VPNs a bad rap. Some criminals use VPNs to reach the dark web, some to avoid the law, and some to commit illegal acts of cybercrime. In short, criminals use VPNs to avoid detection, run away from the government, and hide within the masses.

    Thanks to that, upon hearing “VPN,” some people think about criminal activities. Thanks, criminals (not!)

    Essentially, these two reasons boil down to one – knowledge, or lack thereof.

    The takeaway: Are VPNs legal? Yes, almost everywhere

    While there are countries that 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, as well as protecting users from wrongdoers that overstep their own legality. 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 do VPNs have legality issues? 

    In some countries, it’s illegal or heavily restricted to use a VPN. What a VPN does is give you some form of freedom of choice. Some exercise that freedom to commit crimes.

    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, it is against the service’s terms and conditions to use it to access libraries outside of your country.

    Disclaimer: Surfshark does not encourage using a VPN in ways that would potentially violate the Terms of Service 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, as long as you’re not using them to break the law and the usage aligns with the terms and conditions of other service providers (e.g., streaming services.)

    Is it legal to watch foreign TV with a VPN?

    It is, but it may be against the Terms of Service of the platform you’re trying to stream.