Countries that have banned VPNs

VPN banned countries

Over the past few years, VPN use has grown exponentially.

With the impact of the recent coronavirus pandemic on people’s working habits, these figures have grown even more over the past few months. According to NordVPN, global use of its service grew by 165% in March of this year alone.

While global growth figures are all very impressive, the truth is that VPN use is not welcomed everywhere.

For all the criticism we have seen from western governments about how encryption impacts their ability to monitor what people are up to online, the use of encrypted technology such as VPNs remains legal in places like the US, the UK, and the EU.

But it is not legal everywhere.

A lot of countries have either banned the use of VPNs outright or made it illegal to use any VPN that is not in the pocket of the ruling power.

There are various reasons why different regimes choose to ban VPN use – but the pattern is broadly the same.

They are almost exclusively authoritarian single-party that rule by fear and use information control as a means to prevent the people living there from knowing the truth.

In this guide, we are going to take a closer look at which countries ban VPNs and why. We will example the methods they use to try and prevent people from using VPNs and why these (largely speaking) don’t work.

We will also recommend the best VPNs to use in these countries if you want to bypass state censorship and enjoy the free access to information that you are entitled to.

But we will also be clear that in many of these countries, being caught with a VPN does have consequences and these can be severe.

Why do people use VPNs?

Why do people use VPN

It says much for the spread in VPN usage around the world that most people these days have a vague idea of what a Virtual Private Network is. If you are still unclear, then it is well worth having a read of our Ultimate Beginners Guide to What is a VPN.

People use VPNs for a variety of different things, and we will detail the most common of these below. But it is worth noting that reasons for using a VPN do vary depending on which countries you are in.

If you are living in the UK or the USA, there is as much chance of you using a VPN to unblock Netflix and watch your favourite show as there is that it is a privacy tool.

But if you are unfortunate enough to live in a country such as China where VPN use is banned, you are far more likely to need a VPN to access basic internet sites that are censored or post on social media without fear of reprisals.

The most common uses for a VPN globally

Protect online privacy

With western governments increasingly keen to snoop on the online activities of their citizens and public awareness of the fact growing thanks to Edward Snowden and other whistle-blowers, more and more people are determined to keep their online data private.

In authoritarian countries, where the consequences for visiting the wrong site or posting the wrong thing can be dire, this is especially important. A VPN is a key tool in the online privacy battle.

Online security

VPNs encrypt all of your internet data as it travels between your device and the VPN’s server. This stops hackers and other unsavoury characters from being able to access it and thus makes a VPN an essential tool in your online security arsenal.

Using public Wi-Fi safely

Public Wi-Fi is ubiquitous in many parts of the world these days but it is notoriously insecure. But if you connect to a VPN, even the weakest of public Wi-Fi networks can be safe to use, even for sensitive things like online banking or shopping.

Access censored content

Internet censorship is on the rise around the world, with both democratic and authoritarian governments increasingly prone to blocking content they don’t like.

But with a VPN you can unblock all of this censored material by merely redirecting your internet traffic through a country where it is legal.

Access geo-blocked content

A lot of websites and streaming services like Netflix use geo-blocking to prevent people from outside certain countries or regions from being able to log in. But this annoys many users, such as those travelling for business or holidays and keen to watch their favourite shows.

VPNs can unblock geo-restricted content and let you stream or access sites from anywhere.

Access home networks when travelling

If you run a home network and want to be able to access it securely while travelling, you can do if you are using a VPN.

Access business networks when travelling

If you are a businessperson and regularly on the road for your job, a VPN can let you access your company network and any sensitive content safely and securely.

Why do some countries ban VPNs

Why do countries ban VPN

As you can see from the above uses, a VPN is a tool that can be used by anyone to open up the internet.

It allows users to bypass government censorship and corporate restrictions and access what they want when they want. Even better, it provides them with the encryption they need to be able to do this privately and securely.

Needless to say, this is why a number of the world’s more authoritarian regimes have gone out of their way to try and stop their people from being able to use VPNs.

A VPN has a vital role to play in these countries for anyone that opposes regimes and stands up for the rights of individuals. The likes of opposition politicians, anti-government activists, human rights lawyers, journalists, and foreign diplomats all depend on VPNs these days to do their jobs effectively.

But the main worry for authoritarian regimes is when regular people are using VPNs to access information and media coverage that doesn’t fit with their view of the world.

One of the ways a dictator or a single-party state maintains their grip on power is by controlling the flow of information. And for regimes like the ones in China, Russia, and Iran, it is maintaining this grip on power that is their number one priority.

Anything that interferes with this priority will come under sustained attack from these regimes, and this is why VPNs have been in the firing line for many years now.

A ban on VPNs is just another way of controlling information, preventing their people from knowing the truth about them, and maintaining a grip and what they know and what they don’t know.

The same countries that ban VPNs are also almost always the same ones than ban social media sites, blogs, independent media outlets, independent information sites like Wikipedia.

They are the same countries that place restrictions on freedom of speech and freedom of expressions and remove the people’s right to having a democratically accountable government. Blocking VPNs is just one part of a much broader pattern.

We will go into more detail about how VPNs are banned and what individual countries do to enforce a ban and punish those that break the law by using a VPN further down this guide.

Banned v Restricted

Banned vs restricted

When you are reading up on countries that have banned VPNs, you might come across a distinction between VPN use being banned and being restricted. This is an important distinction and worth explaining fully because it does make a difference.

As you would probably expect, when VPNs are banned in a country, using them is unlawful and if you are caught using a VPN, you are likely to face legal repercussions under local law.

In these countries, access to all VPN websites is likely to be blocked and VPNs apps will most likely have been removed from the local app store. While these apps will still work in the country, you may have to travel overseas in order to download the app.

In other countries, VPN use is technically classified as being restricted rather than banned. However, these restrictions can amount to an outright ban in all but name.

For example, some countries have banned all VPNs that don’t comply with Government rules about allowing state bodies access to user data. A VPN that will enable governments to access data about what their users are doing online is not a VPN by any definition we would use since they do nothing to protect their user privacy.

Learn More

Discover why you should download a VPN app before travelling overseas.

In some other countries, VPNs are required to store user data within the host country. The clear implication of a law like this is that Government’s want this data to be close at hand so they can access it if required. No VPN worth its salt would agree to such a requirement.

For the purposes of this guide, we have made a clear distinction about whether VPNs are technically banned or restricted. But for countries where this type of restriction is in place, we are clear that this amounts to a ban in all but name as far as we are concerned.

How do countries ban/restrict VPNs?

VPN server with magnifying glass illustration

We have explained why some countries choose to ban VPNs and detailed the key difference between banning VPNs and restricting access to them. But in this section, we will go into a little more detail about how countries go about banning VPNs.

There are a number of different ways that VPNs can be blocked inside a country. Not every country uses every method, but if they are serious about stopping anyone from being able to access a VPN, a country is likely to employ the majority of these different techniques:

Deep Packet Inspection (DPI)

Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) is a technique which allows the detailed inspection of all data that is sent over a computer network.

When you are using a VPN, there are certain markers on your internet data that DPI is often able to identify. If a country wants to ban VPNs, a favoured technique is to use DPI to identify and block any traffic that is thought to have come through a VPN.

It is an intensive and expensive approach that is beyond the reach of many smaller and less wealthy regimes. But it is commonly used in countries in Communist China.

However, DPI is not 100% reliable and if a VPN provider wants its data to get through DPI surveillance, it is possible for them to manipulate it sufficiently to do this.

That is why, despite the best efforts of the Chinese Communist regime and the huge resources they have thrown at it, several VPNs continue to work there.

Domestic Data Storage Laws

In some countries, most notably Russia, the regime in control has passed a law that requires all tech companies to store any data they gather about Russian users or which is generated inside Russia on servers based inside the country too.

If a VPN refuses to do this, as almost all VPNs have in the case of Russia, the regime will then seek to block access to its website and apps for failing to comply with the law.

This law is a not-so-subtle ploy to find an excuse to ban VPNs, but while it works on paper, the reality is somewhat different.

In the case of Russia, while a few VPNs chose to close their Russian servers rather than risk a battle with the authorities, and some VPNs have had their websites blocks and apps removed from local app stores, we are unaware of a single VPN that has stopped working in the country as a result of this law.

Making apps unavailable

A simple way to stop people using a VPN is to get their app pulled from the local app stores. A number of countries have made this demand of companies like Google and Apple and, scandalously, these companies have by-and-large complied with this censorship request.

While this is an inconvenience for users, it is not a foolproof approach either.

Users can still download apps while overseas while VPN providers will often set up dummy URLs that are not blocked by state censorship in order to provide a platform for users to sign up and download their app.

Blocking Addresses of VPN providers

Another common tactic is to block access to the URL of VPN provider’s websites. This will stop people from being able to read up on a VPN provider, sign up for their service or downloading their app.

As with removing the apps from the app stores, a lot of VPN providers will create new URLs to ensure their website remains accessible in these countries and regularly communicate these URLs with local users.

Threats and Punishments

Another common approach in regimes that block VPNs is to use threats, intimidation, and punishments to try and scare people off using a VPN.

In Communist China, there are several cases of individuals being jailed after being caught with a VPN on their internet-enabled smartphone or computer.

Mistreatment and beatings after being stopped and searched for such an offence are also common, especially in areas where the regime is pursuing a policy of cultural genocide such as East Turkestan/Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, and Tibet.

Another example is in the disputed Indian region of Kashmir where there are numerous reports of people receiving serious public beatings after being caught with a VPN on their phone.

Sadly, these two examples are just the tip of the iceberg and there are many more cases of jailing and physical punishments for using VPNs in a number of those countries where VPNs are banned.

Which countries have banned VPNs

Two globes with Chinese and Russian flags

There are currently eight countries which can be classified as having banned VPNs. In some other guides, you might see some of these being listed as having restricted access to VPNs rather than prohibiting them, but this is incorrect.

Some of the countries on this list have banned the use of all VPNs save for government-approved ones. But a closer examination of these VPNs shows that they are not fit to use the name.

They are essentially tools to allow the governments of these countries to monitor and control users even more closely. These VPNs will not offer users any form of privacy and are unlikely to unblock censored content.

Since these are not VPNs by any genuine definition of the term, we have concluded that VPNs are effectively banned in these countries rather than just restricted.

China

China

The Communist regime in China has spent billions of dollars and committed millions of working hours to create the most repression and constricted internet censorship and surveillance regimes on the planet.

The Great Firewall, as it is commonly known, blocks access to millions of website from across the world. This includes household names that we all take for granted such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Wikipedia, Netflix, the BBC… the list goes on and on and on.

Any website that refuses to comply with the regimes stringent censorship requirements and let the Chinese Communist Party access user data is swiftly made unavailable.

The Great Firewall is one of the principal tools which this genocidal totalitarian regime uses to restrict the flow of information, control its people, and maintain its vice-like grip on power.

China’s VPN crackdown began in earnest in 2017 as a result of the Communist Party’s sweeping CyberSecurity law. It formally came into effect on 31st March 2018.

It was around this time that Apple agreed to help the Communist regime control information inside China by removing VPNs from its Chinese app store.

Access to most popular VPN websites has been blocked and the regime uses Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) technology to check for VPN users.

Punishments for breaching the ban can be severe.

Initially, it appeared that it was companies and those selling or promoting VPN use that were the target of the law. We reported on one example of a man being jailed for 7 years for sharing information about a VPN.

Since the coronavirus pandemic outbreak in Wuhan and the Communist Party’s frantic efforts to hide its culpability and deflect blame, things have got considerably tougher as the regime attempts to stop people reading the truth about the virus’ origin.

There are now numerous reports of users having been targeted and in areas occupied by China, such as Xinjiang / East Turkestan, there are even reports of people being stopped and devices searches.

Officially, you can only be fined up to 15,000 yuan (approximately US$2,200) but in reality punishments and detentions can be much more arbitrary.

International businesses have also been targeted and pressured to connect to government-approved VPNs instead of the corporate ones they currently use.

Most businesses have resisted this citing concerns over intellectual property and some have even relocated out of China as a result.

Is it legal to use a VPN in China? No. Not unless you are using a state-approved VPN, but these are not worthy of the name and should be avoided at any costs.

Is it safe to use a VPN in China? It should be ok for most foreigners visiting the country. The practice is widespread and visitors are not the target of the Communist regime’s controlling policies. It is still illegal though, so there is a potential risk involved.

If you are a Chinese citizen, the risk is greater, but as long as you take sensible precautions such as keeping your kill switch enabled and not logging into any CCP-monitored sites like WeChat and Weibo, you should be ok.

If you live in an area where you might be searched, it is worth carrying a dummy phone without a VPN to offer up if you are stopped and checked. Or using and additional app which can hide or disguise what apps you have installed.

Read our exclusive guide to the best VPNs for China here.

Russia

Russia

Under the regime of Vladimir Putin, Russia has evolved into what is effectively a single-party kleptocracy, with Putin and his cronies not afraid to go to any lengths to maintain their control of the state.

One strand of this has been to clamp down hard on any form of dissent and any information that challenges the official state lines or questions Putin and his acolytes.

Internet censorship and surveillance has been a key part of that.

Putin first passed a law banning the use of VPNs back in 2017, but at the time Russia had neither the resources of the technological capabilities to enforce the ban and, in practice, not much changed.

But last year, the Roskomnadzor, Russia’s internet oversight body, wrote to many of the top VPNs telling them they had to censor all websites that were blacklisted in the country or face being blocked themselves.

Only the Russian-based Kaspersky VPN complied with this demand and many pulled their Russian servers as a result.

Putin’s regime has since tried to block access to many VPNs, with websites and IP Addresses being blocked. But it has still had little effect on the accessibility of VPNs inside Russia.

Is it legal to use a VPN in Russia? No, not unless it is a state-sanctioned provider, but these offer no privacy protection and should be avoided.

Is it safe to use a VPN in Russia? Generally speaking, yes. Enforcement is rare and haphazard and the chances of visitors being targeted is remote.

If you live in Russia, there is a slightly higher chance, but most enforcement is focused on opposition leaders, human rights campaigners and journalists.

Officially, you can be fined up to 300,000 RUB (US$5,100) for using a VPN. If you are in one of these target groups, you are likely to fear the detention and beatings far more.

Iran

Iran

The Islamic Republic of Iran is a brutal theocracy that crushes all form of dissent and democracy to impose its extreme interpretation of Islam on its people.

This includes restricting access to any online content that questions the regime or the Supreme Leader and all manner of content that is classed as blasphemous or heretical under the country’s extreme religious laws.

This has seen online censorship used freely and the regime has even gone so far as to develop a national intranet to enable them to cut the people of Iran off from the global internet and try to prevent them from seeing content the regime doesn’t like.

Inevitably, VPNs are hugely popular in Iran to get around these restrictions, but the theocratic leaders are aware of this and the use of any VPN that is not state-approved, is illegal in Iran and has been since 2013.

If you are caught using a VPN illegally in Iran, you can face anything between 91 days and one year in prison. However, arrests and detention for this crime are infrequent and almost non-existent among foreign visitors to the country.

There are a few government-approved VPNs but much like those offered by the regimes in China and Russia, these will apply state censorship laws and monitor what you are doing and are therefore to be avoided at any cost.

It is telling that a lot of Iranian officials and government ministers that have been found to get around the restrictions they place on their people and access the internet freely.

Is it legal to use a VPN in Iran? No. Only government-approved VPNs are permitted and these will both censor and surveil your online activities.

Is it safe to use a VPN in Iran? Relatively. Arrests and punishments for VPN use in Iran are uncommon, especially for visitors to the country.

The laws in place are mainly targeted at opposition and freedom campaigners but even they succumb to it very infrequently.

Oman

Oman

The use of unauthorised encryption is illegal in Oman and has been for some time. This includes VPNs but is not exclusively aimed at them.

Like Iran, Oman is a deeply religious country and while it is far less oppressive, it still has onerous online censorship laws that restrict access to all sorts of different websites.

The other big issue in Oman and other countries in the Middle East is the use of VOIP services. These challenge the state-controlled telecoms monopolies that are hugely profitable as well as providing a form of communication that cannot be surveilled by the government.

There has been some relaxation of these rules since the coronavirus pandemic broke out but it is widely anticipated that this is only a temporary measure.

As a result, all encryption, including VPNs, has been banned in Oman since 2010 with those found to be using VPNs at risk of a fine of 500 Omani Rial (US$1,300).

You can use some state-controlled VPNs but these are transparent about the fact that they keep logs of all your online activity.

Is it legal to use a VPN in Oman? No. Using VPNs is illegal unless they are state-sanctioned providers.

Is it safe to use a VPN in Oman? Using a VPN is explicitly against the law in Oman, but many people still do and as far as we are aware, punishments are rare.

It is still advisable to take precautions to avoid being caught, such as using a kill switch.

Iraq

Iraq

VPNs have been banned in Iraq since June 2014 and, for once, there was a semi-legitimate reason for the Iraqi government taking this step.

At the time, the extremist ISIS group was running amok in the north of Iraq and using fairly sophisticated online techniques to communicate and spread their propaganda.

In Iraq, the decision was taken to introduce a sweeping clampdown on internet freedoms in an attempt to stop ISIS’ poison spreading further across the country.

All social media and chat apps that couldn’t be monitored by the state were banned as were VPNs and any other tool that could stop the government monitoring ISIS activists online.

However, this was back in 2014 and since then ISIS has been largely defeated and wiped-out in Iraq and across the whole region.

But the restrictions in online freedom put in place remain in Iraq and the use of all VPNs is illegal across the country. As with neighbouring Iran, there is plenty of evidence of Iraqi government officials using VPNs, but for the people, they remain off-limits.

Is it legal to use a VPN in Iraq? No. All VPN use is illegal with no exceptions.

Is it safe to use a VPN in Iraq? Iraq mostly lacks the infrastructure and resources to enforce this type of ban too vigorously. Nevertheless, we would advise readers to be wary as the consequences of being caught using a VPN illegal could be severe.

If you have to use one, take all possible precautions, including using the kill switch.

Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan is a former Soviet state that is run as a totalitarian dictatorship by the horse-obsessed President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow.

In keeping with such a regime, Turkmenistan has only one Internet Service Provider (ISP) and only one mobile network provider and the state controls both of these.

The people have Turkmenistan have to tolerate extreme censorship which has been in place for many years and is regularly updated.

This is designed to prevent any criticism of the regime domestically and also to block foreign media outlets that might challenge the regime’s propaganda.

The Turkmen authorities conduct rigorous surveillance of all Turkmenistani citizens both at home and abroad and this extends onto the internet.

It uses various technologies to do this, including (scandalously) some developed by UK-based companies.

In this environment, it will come as no surprise that VPNs are banned across Turkmenistan without exception. It would be a lot harder to enforce the levels of censorship and surveillance the regime uses if any VPNs were permitted.

All VPN websites are blocked and downloading a VPN app inside Turkmenistan is incredibly difficult.

The punishments for being caught using a VPN in Turkmenistan are not clear. Still, they are thought to involve administrative penalties and being summoned for “preventive conversations” at the Ministry of National Security.

It seems unlikely that it will be just ‘a conversation’ that you will have to endure while there, especially if you have any record of opposing the Turkmenistani regime or standing up for human rights in the country.

Is it legal to use a VPN in Turkmenistan? No. All VPN use is illegal with no exceptions.

Is it safe to use a VPN in Turkmenistan? While the precise penalties are unclear, the chances are that you could face lengthy detentions and physical punishments or torture if caught using a VPN.

We wouldn’t recommend it, but that being said, many brave Turkmenistani people do take exactly this risk to try and defend their rights in one of the world’s worst and most overlooked regimes.

Belarus

Belarus

Belarus is known as Europe’s last dictatorship. It has been in the headlines of late after Alexander Lukashenko attempted to steal the most recent ‘election’ to the chagrin of the Belorussian people.

Belarus is technically independent from Russia but hugely reliant on Vladimir Putin’s regime there. Lukashenko has also taken a few tips from Putin on how to maintain his grip on power.

Since 2012, it has been illegal in Belarus to visit any foreign website. If you are found to have done so, you will face a fine of up to US$120, which may not sound much but equates to half the average annual salary in the country.

From 2015, Belarus’ ISPs, which are all effectively controlled by the state, were ordered to keep a record of every citizen’s online activity which the government can access as and when it wishes.

Using a VPN to access foreign websites is a criminal offence of late and, as the widespread recent pictures of police brutality against democracy protestors has shown, the fine may well be the last thing you have to worry about.

Further Reading

Mikhail Bushuev of DW said “many Belarusians turned to free anonymizing tools and virtual private networks” against recent internet restrictions (Source).

Is it legal to use a VPN in Belarus? No. All VPN use is illegal with no exceptions.

Is it safe to use a VPN in Belarus? The government is not blessed with enormous resources and has many other issues at the moment trying to contain the widespread public unrest that has followed Lukashenko’s stolen election.

This means that it is quite possible that VPN use is not at the top of their list of priorities at the moment.

On the other hand, the Lukashenko regime is clamping down hard on dissent and the punishments, if you are caught, are likely to be brutal and severe. VPN use is common in Belarus but is done very much at your own risk.

North Korea

Outline of North Korea

North Korea is to Communist China what Belarus is to Russia; a single-party totalitarian dictatorship that is solely reliant on its authoritarian neighbour for survival.

North Korea is a reclusive state whose 25 million or so people live in abject poverty, in fear of their lives, and are subject to all manner of humanitarian horrors.

Internet freedom is pretty low on their list of priorities, not least because internet coverage in North Korea is almost non-existent and the 7,000 or so people who can access it are all fairly high-up members of the ruling party.

There is a domestic intranet known as the Kwangmyong which some other people can access, but this appears to contain a total of 28 websites, all with some link to the ruling party.

If you visit North Korea as a tourist, you will be able to access the internet using 3G, but your activity will be closely monitored.

If you are caught using a VPN to access websites illegally, the consequences could be dire. It is not unknown for foreigners to be sentenced to years in work-camps and even face the death penalty.

Is it legal to use a VPN in North Korea? Absolutely not. All VPN use is illegal with no exceptions. However, as internet access isn’t generally available to the public, this is a moot point.

Is it safe to use a VPN in North Korea? No. The consequences could be dire with the prospects of spending years in concentration camps or even facing the death penalty. Not recommended.

Which countries have restricted VPNs

Two globes with Turkish and Ugandan flags illustration

As we have clarified higher up in this guide, while there are eight countries where VPN use is banned, there are also several other countries where there are restrictions in place on VPN use.

In this section, we will profile the main four of these:

Venezuela

Venezuela

Venezuela used to be held up as a socialist paradise; proof that socialism could work to the benefit of all. But then the oil price dropped and it turned out this paradise was, like all socialist states, built of a foundation of sand and authoritarianism.

Venezuelan dictator Nicholas Madura has done everything he can to cling onto power despite the country’s economy spiralling out of control.

He stole the 2018 Presidential election with his victory being rejected by the international community and has continued to assert his grip on power despite the widespread hunger and poverty his regime has caused and the tidal wave of refugees that has fled the country in recent years.

As with all dictators, Maduro’s control is built around managing the flow of information and this means that widespread censorship and a degree of online surveillance is in place.

But Maduro’s regime is far shakier than some of the others on this list and enforcing these laws is very difficult for them.

Back in 2018, the main state-controlled Internet Service Provider in Venezuela attempted to block access to VPNs and the TOR network. It enjoyed distinctly mixed results and several subsequent attempts to block VPNs have also had limited success.

Further Reading

Krasimir Buchvarov of ChainBulletin noted on recent VPN blocks, “ISPs were only able to block access to the VPNs’ websites, allowing Venezuelans to continue accessing the supposedly-blocked online platforms.” (Source).

VPN use is still widespread in Venezuela and being caught using one against the Maduro regime is likely to have fairly serious consequences. But the chances of being caught are slim.

Is it legal to use a VPN in Venezuela? We are not aware of any specific laws that ban the use of VPNs in Venezuela, but there have been several instances where ISPs controlled by the regime have attempted to block them.

This strongly suggests that the regime opposes their use, which would be in keeping with their efforts to restrict free access to the internet.

Is it safe to use a VPN in Venezuela? If you are caught using a VPN against the interests of the regime, you are likely to face fairly severe consequences.

But enforcement is haphazard at best and VPN use is widespread, so you will likely get away with it.

Turkey

Turkey

Turkey was, until relatively recently, a popular example of an Islamic country that had embraced secular democracy. Then, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan came to power and things have quickly changed.

Under Erdogan’s strongman leadership, democracy has been undermined and internet blackouts and social media limitations have been used as a tool to repress opposition, particularly in the Kurdish regions in the east of Turkey.

As part of this process, VPNs have also come under fire.

The first proper crackdown on VPN use came back in December 2016 with a number of VPNs and also the TOR network being targeted as a result of direct government orders to Turkish ISPs.

Since then, the situation has changed regularly but at any one time, there are usually several VPN providers that are blocked in Turkey and various other restrictions in place, on top of the usual censorship and surveillance that the government of President Erdogan routinely uses.

Is it legal to use a VPN in Turkey? Yes, it is still legal although there are some reports of people in the Kurdish east of Turkey being targeted for using VPNs to access content that isn’t permitted.

Is it safe to use a VPN in Turkey? Generally speaking, yes. But some VPNs don’t work there and if you are advocating Kurdish nationalism, you could face consequences.

UAE

UAE

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a friend to many western democracies that seem happy to overlook the fact that it is actually the world’s last absolute monarchy.

The UAE has one of the strictest legal codes in the world with lengthy jail sentences and corporal punishments dished out for even the most minor of offences. Needless to say, the Government isn’t keen on the world being too aware of these often brutal, human-rights contravening, punishments.

As an Islamic state, the UAE also has a strict moral code and this has resulted in the widespread use of internet censorship to prevent people from accessing online content the rulers deem unacceptable.

Then there is the telecommunications issue, which we touched on above when talking about Oman.

The UAE has a state telecoms monopoly and is keen to stop people from undercutting their profits by using VOIP services. These are banned in the UAE to prop up the profits of the state telecoms providers and as a result, VPN use is strictly regulated to stop people accessing services like Skype, WhatsApp, and Viber.

Is it legal to use a VPN in the UAE? It is not explicitly illegal to use a VPN, but their use is carefully regulated and if you are found to be using a VPN to break the law in other ways, such as to access WhatsApp, there can be serious consequences.

Is it safe to use a VPN in the UAE? You should be aware of what is and isn’t legal in the UAE before connecting to your VPN as the consequences for breaking these laws can be severe. But as long as you stay within these laws, it is safe to use a VPN in the UAE.

Uganda

Uganda

Uganda is the only African country to appear on this list and it is also the most recent addition too.

It’s VPN restrictions all came about as a result of its widely ridiculed and condemned plan to tax users of social media sites.

This tax was placed at a prohibitively high rate to deter ordinary people from using sites like Facebook, where information that was critical of the country’s dictatorial president, Yoweri Museveni, can circulate freely.

Uganda’s people quickly realised that by using a VPN, they could bypass this tax, but so too did the regime which quickly told all Ugandan ISPs to block access to all VPNs.

Most of Uganda’s ISPs did their level best to do this but with resources limited and motivation minimal, the effects of this ban have been patchy at best.

Further Reading

Ben Parker of TheNewHumanitarian at the time of social media blocks noted, “Google searches for “VPN” from Uganda have also spiked dramatically, according to the Google Trends tool.” (Source).

But the blocks do remain in place and while most visitors to Uganda should be able to use a VPN without any problems, if you are suspected of opposing the Museveni regime, there could be consequences if you are caught with one.

Is it legal to use a VPN in Uganda? While it is not technically illegal, the Government has mandated the blocking of VPNs across the country.

Is it safe to use a VPN in Uganda? Largely speaking yes, as long as you are not actively opposing the Museveni regime.

Should you use a VPN in a country where it is banned?

The first and most important point to make in this section is that, if VPN is banned in a country and you choose to use one, you are breaking the law and could face legal consequences if caught doing so.

We do not condone law-breaking and certainly are not recommending anyone do anything that is illegal.

Having said that, the one thing that links all of these countries that have either banned VPNs or placed restrictions on them is their authoritarian governments.

For those people who work as journalists, human rights lawyers or campaigners, or are involved in political activism, VPNs are often the only way they can communicate freely and safely with the outside world.

For those people, the risks involved in breaking local laws to use a VPN are worth taking.

For many other ordinary people, the opportunity to access information freely, watch western TV and films uncensored, and use sites like Google and popular social media platforms also outweigh the risk.

That again is a personal judgement call.

Visitors to these countries also need to weigh up the pros and cons before deciding whether or not to use a VPN. In some countries, they can do so without too much risk. But in others, the risks are severe and probably not worth it.

Ultimately, people have to make their own decision, but with each country we have profiled in this guide, we have given our views on whether it is safe or not.

These are just pointers though and we cannot take responsibility for the decision that you make and any consequences that you might face.

The best VPNs to use in countries where VPN is restricted

If you do decide to use a VPN in a country where they are either banned or restricted, one of the biggest challenges you are going to face is finding a VPN provider that actually works there.

When a country decides to block VPNs, it is usually possible for VPN providers to find ways around these blocks and keep their service functional.

This can sometimes be a bit of a game of cat and mouse, but the VPNs are the mouse and invariably stay one step ahead of the Government’s feline foe.

But VPN providers do have to have the stomach for the fight and not all of them do.

Some providers are happy to focus on providing a service for their users in western democracies and are unwilling to go to the effort and expensive of keeping things up and running elsewhere.

But fortunately, there are still some providers that are pulling out all the stops to keep their service accessible everywhere and in this section, we are going to profile our pick of the top 5 VPNs to use in countries where VPNs are either banned or restricted.

How to choose a VPN to use in countries where VPNs are banned or restricted

When picking a VPN to use in one of these countries, the first thing you need to check is that it works in the country you will be visiting or living in. Beyond that, there are a few key features you need to be looking for:

Strong encryption – Robust 256-bit AES encryption is the absolute minimum you should be looking for

A no user logs guarantee – To protect your privacy and the prospect of reprisals from governments if you are caught, a no user logs guarantee means there is no risk of your internet activity being found out.

Most providers claim to offer, but only a few have had it verified independently. It is worth looking for this to be on the safe side.

Kill Switch – A kill switch is a really helpful feature that will cut off your internet if your VPN connection goes down. This ensures your data and IP Address can never be inadvertently leaked which in countries like these could have serious repercussions.

Apps – You will need a VPN on all your internet-enabled devices in these countries, so be sure your chosen VPN has apps for every device you are planning to use.

Simultaneous connections – You may find yourself using these devices simultaneously and if so, you need a VPN that permits this.

Some VPNs offer 10, 12, or even unlimited simultaneous connections which means all your devices can be protected and those of your family too.

Top 5 VPNs to use in countries where VPNs are banned or restricted

VPN server with padlock illustration

Based on our expert rigorous testing and feedback from users around the world, we have selected the top 5 VPNs to use in countries where VPNs are banned or restricted:

1. ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN apps on multiple types of devices

ExpressVPN has been around for many years and is well established. It’s also been our Editor’s pick of the best VPNs on this site for a long time.

The combination of top-notch security and privacy protections, as well as a wide range of excellent features, makes them the obvious top recommendation for use in countries where VPNs are banned or restricted.

ExpressVPN has a watertight no user logs guarantee that ensures your privacy and this policy has been verified by PriceWaterhouseCooper (PWC) in a comprehensive independent privacy audit.

There is also a robust 256-bit AES encryption used as standard for all ExpressVPN customers in addition to a wide range of additional security features including the crucial kill switch and various other features to help keep your VPN use secure.

ExpressVPN has a vast range of dedicated apps that are available for Android, Apple iOS, Windows, Mac OS, Amazon Fire TV / Stick, Linux and even some select routers. There are also browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Safari.

ExpressVPN is one of the few VPNs currently available that works in Communist China and should also be accessible in all of the other countries on this list. They have gone out of their way to make sure this remains this case.

It is not the cheapest VPN on the market, but it does have a generous 30-day money back guarantee which allows you to try their service for a month before committing any money and you can connect up to five devices simultaneously.

If you sign up today, you can save 49% thanks to an exclusive offer for VPNCompare readers.

Read our full review of ExpressVPN to find out more.

2. NordVPN

NordVPN website

NordVPN is another high-quality VPN that delivers on its security and privacy promises and if you don’t fancy ExpressVPN, you should check these out.

It uses 256-bit AES encryption as standard and also boasts one of the most comprehensive security feature selections of any VPN we have tested.

This includes double-hop servers, Tor-over-VPN servers and of course, that essential kill switch, which means you have all the tools you need to stay safe in many countries.

It doesn’t work in countries like China with its heavy restrictions, but most others, it’s accessible.

NordVPN also has a no user logs claim that has been verified by PWC and is 100% trustworthy and dependable. NordVPN is guaranteed to keep your data and IP Address private.

The service has plenty of user-friendly apps including for Android, iOS, Windows, Mac OS and the Amazon Fire TV Stick devices.

They have also recently adopted the new, faster, and more secure WireGuard protocol, which means you can enjoy fast, hyper-secure connections in these countries too.

It also offers six simultaneous connections with every account, one more than ExpressVPN.

NordVPN prices are impressively low for the standard of service they offer. There is also a 30-day money back guarantee, which gives you plenty of time to test the service before you buy.

Read our full review of NordVPN to find out more.

3. CyberGhost VPN

Cyberghost Website

CyberGhost VPN has made some big improvements over the past couple of years and is another excellent choice.

It has some excellent user-friendly app which are ideal for beginners and it still offers all the security and privacy protection you need. There is 256-bit AES encryption for all subscribers and a no user logs guarantee you can trust.

However, unlike the two providers above, this hasn’t yet been audited by a third party.

The CyberGhost VPN apps are available for almost every device including Android, iOS, Windows, Mac OS, Linux, Routers and the Amazon Fire TV Stick and you are permitted to connect up to 7 devices at the same time.

Connection speeds are quite good and CyberGhost work in the majority of countries we have profiled in this guide.

Prices are reasonable and there is also an unbeatable 45-day money back guarantee on offer as well. CyberGhost VPN is another great choice for countries where VPNs are restricted.

It doesn’t, however, work in China.

Read our full review of CyberGhost VPN to find out more.

4. IPVanish

IPVanish website

IPVanish was once up there with the very best VPNs but it has been on the wane a little since 2018 when a historical law-enforcement case raised concerns over their no logs policy.

But this policy has now been entirely and comprehensively reaffirmed and IPVanish is confident it does not store any user data or connection information. Again, this hasn’t been verified by a third party.

As it has always offered robust 256-bit AES encryption as standard and some tremendous additional security features, this means it is another good choice for use in countries such as the ones profiled in this guide.

IPVanish lets users connect on an unlimited number of devices simultaneously and is renowned for their huge range of apps including for Windows, Mac OS, Android, and Apple iOS as well as the Amazon Fire TV Stick, Linux, and various other devices.

They have also recently upgraded to a 30-day money back guarantee and still offer some very competitive prices.

They don’t work in every country we have talked about in this guide but should still offer a strong service in the vast majority.

Read our full review of IPVanish to find out more.

5. Surfshark

Surfshark Website screengrab

Surfshark VPN is a relatively new VPN provider that has had a massive impact since it burst onto the VPN scene back in 2018. The key to its success has been its range of features and services which are up there with the very best.

It is another VPN that offers robust 256-bit AES encryption to all users alongside a whole host of security features, including an excellent kill switch.

There is a comprehensive no user logs guarantee in place as part of an excellent and clear privacy policy. This hasn’t been audited.

Surfshark has top quality, user-friendly apps available for almost every device that you can think of.

It claims to work in most countries around the world. While it has worked in China in the past in our tests, it can be hit and miss.

Prices for Surfshark are incredibly competitive and there is also a 30-day money back guarantee available as well as some great value rates if you sign up for the long-term.

Read our full review of Surfshark to find out more.

Conclusion

Man with laptop and VPN server illustration

Fortunately, there are not too many countries around the world that have banned or placed restrictions on the use of VPNs at the moment.

On a less positive note, the number has grown in recent years and the anti-encryption rhetoric we have seen of late suggests the number may continue to rise.

For now, the countries that have banned VPNs all share similar traits.

They are mainly authoritarian regimes or dictatorships that maintain control of their countries through a combination of fear and control of information.

In this guide, we have highlighted each country and explained how, why, and when VPN use has been affected.

We have also advised on whether we believe it is safe to use VPNs in these countries or not (but have also stressed that this is an individual decision).

Not every VPN is able to work in these countries, but we have also recommended the top 5 VPNs that our experts would suggest you turn to if you want to try and access information and websites freely in countries where VPN use is banned or restricted.

We will keep this guide updated as regularly as we can as VPN bans and restrictions are changing fairly regularly around the world.

If you have any fresh intelligence on the situation with VPN use in any of the countries we have covered in this guide, or any other countries around the world, please do not hesitate to comment below.

Illustrations © TwistedFingers Ltd + Nikiforov Oleg, Alancotton, Dmnkandrsk & Artof Sha – Dreamstime.com

David Spencer

Author: David Spencer

Cyber-security & Technology Reporter, David, monitors everything going on in the privacy world. Fighting for a less restricted internet as a member of the VPNCompare team for over 3 years.

Away from writing, he enjoys reading and politics. He is currently learning Mandarin too... slowly.

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