VPNs are a great tool for protecting your online privacy and security.
They encrypt your online data and hide your IP Address to prevent governments, ISPs, and hackers from monitoring your online activities. They can also unblock censored and geo-restricted content around the world.
A growing number of internet users love VPNs, but many governments do not. For some, VPNs are tools to break local censorship and surveillance laws. For others, they are a device people use to hide illegal activity.
As a result, the answer to whether using a VPN is illegal or not depends on where you live.
Is using a VPN legal?
In the UK, USA, and the vast majority of other countries around the world, using a VPN is completely legal.
You can sign up for a VPN such as ExpressVPN using your regular credit card and accessing websites, downloading apps, and connecting to servers around the world can all be done without any fear of legal retribution.
However, that doesn’t mean that anything you do while using a VPN suddenly becomes legal too. Indeed, much of the suspicion that many governments have about VPNs stem from the impression that they are used primarily to hide illegal activity.
This is categorically not the case, but users should still be aware that there are some activities which will be illegal in most countries whether you are using a VPN or not. These include:
- Hacking – Gaining unauthorized access to individual or corporate IT systems to steal or disrupt activity is illegal almost everywhere.
- File Sharing – File sharing, also known as torrenting, is mostly when users download or stream copyrighted content. This is in breach of copyright law in most countries, including the UK and the USA. Anyone caught file sharing illegally could face fines or even possible jail time.
- Buying or selling on the dark web – The dark web is an area of the internet not accessible through the usual search engines. It is a place where users can easily access drugs, weapons, illegal pornography, and other illegal items. Buying or selling such items is illegal in most countries and there are usually strong penalties.
- Stalking – VPNs are sometimes used by cyber-stalkers but such activity is illegal in the UK, USA, and many other countries regardless of whether a VPN is used or not.
A VPN may make it harder for people get caught undertaking such activities, but they are still illegal. And beware, some less reputable VPNs (not those recommended on this site) will hand over user data if asked to do so.
Where are VPN apps illegal?
While using a VPN is legal in most countries, there are a handful where it is not.
There is an outright ban on the use of all VPNs in just four countries at the moment:
- Iraq – under the guise of stopping ISIS manipulating social media – since 2014.
- Belarus – to prop up government internet censorship – since 2015.
- Turkmenistan – the sole state-owned ISP banned VPNs to censor foreign media – since 2015.
- North Korea – few locals have access to the internet but those that do cannot use VPNs. Tourists usually can.
Where are VPN services blocked?
In addition to these, there are another six countries we are aware of where the government has placed some kind of control over VPN use.
Usually this means that the countries are trying to block access to VPNs, with mixed success in most cases. In some VPN services might be available, but their use still subject to legal restrictions.
Those six countries are:
- China – the Communist regime has banned the use of all but state-approved VPNs which comply with their censorship and surveillance regimes – Since March 2018.
- Russia – only state-approved VPNs are allowed to ‘prevent the spreading of “extremist materials”’ – since 2017.
- Oman – to protect government censorship and prevent use of VOIP services – since 2010.
- United Arab Emirates – VPNs banned to stop people using VOIP services. Punishable by imprisonment and fines of up to $400,000 – since 2012.
- Iran – only regime-approved VPNs are permitted with up to a year in jail for those who break the law – since 2013.
- Turkey – to protect government censorship – since 2016
Some VPNs like ExpressVPN and NordVPN will still work in the majority of these countries. In places like China, many people use VPNs to access social media and overseas media outlets, as well as many other basic online services.
But users in these countries should be aware that if they are caught using VPNs, they could face serious legal consequences.
In short, in most countries, VPNs are completely legal to use. However there is a caveat to this. While using a VPN may be legal, this does not make it legal to do things when using a VPN that would otherwise be illegal. Illegal activity is still illegal with or without a VPN.
There are a few countries where using a VPN is completely illegal and several more which have a number of legal restrictions on their use. We have detailed those we are aware of above. If you know of any others, do let us know.
In these countries, it is usually still possible to use some VPNs, but if you are caught doing so, there could be consequences.