The Essentials

Are VPNs Legal? VPN & Censorship Laws Around the World

Simon Migliano
Updated

VPNs are legal in most countries around the world, but not everywhere. This guide will take a detailed look at the 10 countries where using a VPN is illegal or restricted. We’ll then highlight 17 other countries with laws that suppress digital freedoms.

Illustration showing countries where VPNs are illegal and legal

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are used to increase online privacy and security. Using a VPN encrypts your connection so that ISPs, governments, and malicious third-parties can’t track, monitor or hack your online activity. This allows users to bypass regional censorship and stay safe on public WiFi.

Some governments limit or ban the use of VPNs in order to restrict internet freedoms and limit access to foreign media.

We investigated the laws of 190+ countries to see where VPNs are legal and where they are restricted or illegal. The key findings were that:

  • VPNs are legal to use in most countries around the world, including the US and UK.
  • VPNs are illegal in Belarus, Iraq, North Korea, and Turkmenistan.
  • VPN use is restricted in an additional six countries, including China and Russia.
  • 17 countries permit VPN use, but have noteworthy digital rights restrictions.

In this guide, we’ll take a detailed look at the laws and regulations within each of the 10 countries where VPNs are either restricted or illegal.

If your country is not mentioned in the table below, then it is perfectly legal to use a VPN there.

That said, while VPNs might be legal in your country, illegal online activity is still illegal — regardless of whether you’re using a VPN or not.

The same applies for breaching the terms of service on sites like Netflix. While it isn’t necessarily illegal to use a VPN for Netflix, it can violate their Terms and Conditions.

DISCLAIMER: While this guide has been thoroughly researched, we are not legal professionals and cannot guarantee that this information is accurate. If you wish to clarify VPN legality or the specific laws of any country, seek professional legal advice.

Where Are VPNs Illegal or Restricted?

Map showing where VPNs are illegal or restricted

The 10 Most Restricted Countries

Country VPN Status Social Media Blocks Censorship Surveillance
Belarus Illegal Moderate Extensive Extensive
China Restricted Extensive Extensive Extensive
Iran Restricted Moderate Extensive Extensive
Iraq Illegal Moderate Moderate Minor
North Korea Illegal Extensive Extensive Extensive
Oman Restricted Minor Extensive Moderate
Russia Restricted Moderate Extensive Moderate
Turkey Restricted Moderate Extensive Extensive
Turkmenistan Illegal Extensive Extensive Extensive
UAE Restricted Moderate Extensive Moderate

A table summarising VPN legality and infringements on digital rights in the 10 most restricted countries

Key: The countries in this table are labeled accordingly for each category, with ‘extensive’ being the strongest, followed by ‘moderate’ and ‘minor.’

For example, a country labeled as ‘extensive’ in the censorship column has a large number of related laws and practices in place, while a country labeled ‘moderate’ will only have some. A country labeled ‘minor’ will have a low number, but still enough to negatively affects users’ rights.

1Belarus

VPNs are illegal in Belarus.

Belarus has blocked VPNs as it sees them as a method to undermine the law.

Tor, which enables anonymous communications and access to the Dark Web, has also been blocked in Belarus since 2016.

In February 2015, the country’s Communications Ministry ruled against the use of anonymized services like VPNs.

It remains unclear, however, how much ability the government actually has to contain the expanding VPN market. For the moment, there exists an unspecified fine for anyone caught using a VPN in Belarus.

Related Laws & Practices:

This same law requires all internet providers in Belarus to register users and censor sites on the national blacklist, which includes sites with pornographic and “extremist” content.

  • However, officials in Belarus are now frequently blocking other sites, such as independent news agencies like Nasha Niva.
  • The 2018 Amendments to the Law on Mass Media gave the Ministry of Information in Belarus complete control over all online resources, and instructs all owners of content to check it for defamation or false information.
  • The amendments to the Mass Media law also forbid users contributing to foreign media without special accreditation from the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Back to Most Restricted Table

2China

A woman lays flowers on the sign for Google's offices in China

China, 2010. Google closes its site in the country following disputes over censorship with the government. Credit: Wenn Rights/Alamy

Only government-approved VPNs are legal in China.

While VPNs aren’t technically illegal in China, any VPN provider has to gain strict approval from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) before they can operate in the country.

This often involves agreeing to conditions, such as logging, which undermine the purpose of a VPN and make it pointless from a privacy perspective.

Using a VPN ‘without authorization’ in China can result in fines of up to 15,000 yuan (roughly $2,200).

Despite this, many people still wish to use VPNs in China. If this applies to you, we recommend you visit our guide to the best VPN for China .

Related Laws & Practices:

  • The 2015 Amendments to the Criminal Code introduced prison time of up to seven years for those found guilty of spreading ‘misinformation’ on social media or information networks of any sort. It’s unclear what counts as ‘misinformation,’ meaning that authorities can justify unfair arrests.
  • The 2015 Anti-Terrorism Law prohibits Chinese users from spreading information or images about terrorist acts via social media. It states that company employees must delete terrorist content in order to avoid detention, and puts pressure on private companies to hand over user data to Chinese authorities.
  • The 2017 Cybersecurity Law strengthens the obligation of internet companies to make sure users are registered under their real names, and that user data is stored within the country.
  • The Cybersecurity Law requires Chinese internet companies to assist authorities with investigations or risk losing their license.
  • The Cybersecurity Law also confirmed the role of the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) as responsible for enforcing laws relating to telecommunications and online activity.
  • The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) are responsible for monitoring online content and behavior. They continually introduce new laws that affect users online activity.

In 2017, the CAC introduced 176 new rules concerning online behavior in China.

  • Any online activity seen to be going against the interest of the CCP will likely be illegal in China. Censorship guidelines established by China’s CCP are highly secretive, while the criminal code is often used to justify sending individuals to prison.
  • China is widely regarded as the leader in surveillance and censorship technology, and many are concerned about the exportation of this technology to other countries.

Back to Most Restricted Table

3Iran

Only VPNs sanctioned by the state are legal in Iran.

Iran has been blocking unsanctioned VPNs since 2013, while state-sanctioned VPNs are monitored heavily.

The penalty for using a non state-sanctioned VPN in Iran is up to one year in prison.

Related Laws & Practices:

Human rights groups, foreign news outlets, and political opposition groups are among those whose sites are blocked in Iran.

  • Domestic and foreign sites are even priced differently to encourage users to access only state-sanctioned, local content. Those accessing approved sites receive a 50% discount.
  • Authorities are now increasing their own involvement with censorship circumvention tools such as MTProto, which uses the technical infrastructure of Iran’s Ministry of Information Communications Technology.
  • Because of the government’s involvement with these censorship circumvention tools, users now have no way of knowing whether data sent via these apps is safe, or is being viewed and stored by the Iranian government.
  • Iran blocked domestic internet companies from hosting banned websites on 8th October 2019. This means that banned websites must move to foreign hosting companies to remain accessible.

Back to Most Restricted Table

4Iraq

VPNs are illegal in Iraq.

VPNs have been banned in Iraq since 2014. The government claims this ban is to keep terrorist organizations, chiefly ISIS, from influencing the public via social media.

ISIS is no longer operating in Iraq, but the country’s harsh censorship laws remain.

Iraqi government officials use VPNs, despite there officially being ‘no exceptions’ to the rule.

Related Laws & Practices:

The Law prohibits acts that undermine Iraq’s “independence, peace and political, military security and economic interests”, which could easily encompass any form of online expression authorities do not agree with.

  • While Iraq has few laws that directly reference censorship, the country frequently carries out internet shutdowns. One reason commonly cited by the government for this is to prevent students cheating during exam season, though this seems unlikely.
  • In 2018, Amnesty International reported that authorities were shutting down the internet in Iraq to prevent the sharing of videos or images that showed state violence against protestors on social media.
  • Social media in Iraq has faced frequent blocking, such as in 2014, and most recently during anti-government protests on 2nd October 2019.
  • As of 3rd October 2019, Iraq authorities have implemented a complete internet shutdown that is affecting 75% of the country’s population. This is as a result of anti-government protests.

Back to Most Restricted Table

5North Korea

VPNs are illegal in North Korea.

North Koreans aren’t allowed to access foreign media, so it’s not surprising that VPNs are illegal.

The penalty for VPN use is unknown as North Korea is so secretive.

The country’s internet is also heavily censored, with foreign diplomats prohibited from using it.

Back to Most Restricted Table

6Oman

Only VPNs permitted by the Sultanate are legal in Oman.

Since 2010, Oman has banned all VPNs except those permitted by the Sultanate. These exceptions only apply to corporate VPN use, where they must be applied for and the logs are kept.

Personal VPN use is illegal in Oman to prevent citizens from bypassing censorship.
Attempting to circumvent these laws is punishable with a fine of $1,300.

Related Laws & Practices:

  • The 2002 Telecommunications Act forbids the monitoring of telecommunications in Oman, unless there has been a violation of “public order or morals or infringements on the rights of others.”
  • The wording of the Telecommunications Act is broad, meaning it could be used to justify unfair arrests by authorities.
  • This same law established the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority in Oman. The TRA is committed to “regulating and maintaining the telecom services” of Oman and enforcing the Telecommunications Act.
  • Criticism of Sultan Qaboos is strictly prohibited in Oman, preventing the development of genuinely independent media.

Media outlets that aren’t run by the state are known to accept money from the Omani government and practice self-censorship.

  • If outlets don’t self-censor, they’re at risk of being blocked, shut down or having their licenses revoked by authorities, while journalists can face prosecution.

Back to Most Restricted Table

7Russia

A protestor in Russia marches against increasing internet censorship, holding a sign that reads: you will not switch off the internet.

Moscow, Russia. March 10th, 2019. A protestor marches against increasing internet censorship, holding a sign that reads “you will not switch off the internet.” Credit: Elena Rostunova

Only government-approved VPNs are legal in Russia.

Russia bans unapproved VPNs, supposedly to prevent access to ‘unlawful content’.

Russian ISPs enforce the ban by blocking websites that offer VPN services.

The punishment for using an unapproved VPN in Russia is 300,000 RUB ($5,100) for the user and 700,000 RUB ($12,000) for the service provider.

If you’re traveling to Russia and need to use a VPN, we recommend you visit our guide to the best VPN for Russia.

Related Laws & Practices:

  • The 2016 amendments to the Yarovaya Law introduced harsh prison sentences of up to seven years for endorsing or advocating “terrorism” online. Its broad wording leaves the law open to misuse by Russian officials who can determine what counts as “terrorism”.
  • Under the Yarovaya Law, inciting calls to extremism online can land you in prison for up to five years. Inciting hatred can get you up to six years.

In Russia, ‘extremism’ includes humiliation of national dignity, propaganda of exceptionalism, and public justification of terrorism. These terms are broad and open to misuse by Russian authorities.

  • The 2019 Fake News Bill was passed into law in March and bans the posting of ‘fake news’ online by digital media outlets and other websites. Those found guilty are liable to be fined up to 400,000 rubles ($6,000).
  • Roskomnadzor (Russia’s telecommunications watchdog) issue takedown requests to those caught posting ‘fake news’ online. These must be abided by “instantly”, usually within 24 hours.
  • The 2019 Internet Insults Bill bans insulting Putin and Russian authorities, as well as posting content online that shows “disrespect to society, the state and government organs of the Russian federation”.
  • Punishment for violating the Internet Insults Law is a fine of up to 100,000 rubles ($1,570) or a prison sentence of up to 15 days.
  • The 2019 Sovereign Internet Bill formalized Russia’s plan to create a domestic internet. This has been portrayed as a necessary security measure in case countries like the US cut them off from the internet.
  • Many suspect that the Sovereign Internet Bill was passed to increase the government’s ability to suppress dissent.
  • The Russian government are aiming to route all internet traffic domestically over the next few years. If this goes as planned, users will be at increased risk of monitoring, surveillance, and censorship because of the government’s use of Deep Packet Inspection (DPI). DPI is currently used by China as an effective blocking tool and to carry out mass censorship.
  • Russia blocks a large number of sites including the messaging app Telegram. Telegram is blocked in Russia because the company refused to hand over encryption keys to authorities. Many users across Russia have continued to access Telegram through the use of a VPN.
  • Political opposition sites, LGBTQ content, and sites that cover Russia’s conflict with Ukraine are other examples of blocked sites in Russia.

Back to Most Restricted Table

8Turkey

A woman shouts into a megaphone as part of a press release during a protest against Tukey's introduction of content filtering

Istanbul, Turkey. May 15th, 2011. Press release during protest against the government’s decision to introduce content filtering. Credit: Evren Kalinbacak

VPNs are legal in Turkey, but their use is restricted.

The Turkish government have been restricting VPN use since 2016, justifying the crackdown as necessary to protect national security and to ‘fight terrorism’.

10 VPN providers were blocked in Turkey in 2016, alongside the Tor Network.

As watchdogs in Turkey have noted, it is often people critical of the government who end up being penalized and censored by authorities.

If you need a VPN before visiting, you can read our guide to the best VPN for Turkey.

Related Laws & Practices:

  • In November 2011, Turkey’s Information and Communications Technology Authority (BTK) introduced a new internet filtering system, the “Secure Usage of the Internet” project. This gives internet subscribers a choice of profiles to access the internet with.
  • Initially, these profiles were ‘family,’ ‘standard’, ‘children’, or ‘domestic’. However, following mass protests, these were changed to optional ‘family’ and ‘child’ profiles. If chosen, these automatically apply a BTK-determined whitelist, blocking out content the government does not approve of.
  • The 2014 Amendments to the Law on State Intelligence Services and the National Intelligence Organization grant the Turkish National Intelligence Agency the right to access all personal and business communications data without a court order.
  • The Intelligence Services law also grants Turkish agents immunity from prosecution if they commit any unlawful acts in the course of their work.
  • Reporting on the actions of the Turkish National Intelligence Organization is also prohibited. Journalists can go to prison for up to nine years if they publish material leaked from intelligence sources.
  • The 2016 Law on Regulation of Content Posted on the Internet (a.k.a The Internet Act) prohibits defamation of the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
  • The Internet Act also led to the blocking of Wikipedia in 2017 to prevent users from accessing pages citing Turkey’s involvement in the Syrian conflict. This block was eventually lifted in January 2020, after two-and-a-half years.
  • Sites and content can be blocked in Turkey under the Internet Act if they’re considered a “threat to national security”. This can be interpreted at will by the government, and has been used to censor independent news sites.
  • The Internet Act also requires hosting and access providers to keep all data traffic for up to a year.
  • The 2018 Anti-Terrorism Law criminalizes ‘legitimizing, glorifying, or inciting violent methods or threats’ in Turkey for the ‘propaganda of a terrorist organization’. This law also endorses permanent State of Emergency powers such as detaining suspects without charge.

The broad wording of the Anti-Terrorism Law has been used in Turkey to punish journalists and academics for insulting the government. Those found guilty of criticizing authorities can face up to five years in prison.

  • The 2019 Amendments to Internet Regulations have made it a requirement that all online content providers in Turkey — from Netflix to independent news sites — get a license from Turkey’s Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK).
  • Content providers that don’t obtain a license from the RTÜK face being blocked. Providers with a license will be monitored and blocked if they post anything the government does not approve of.
  • Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have also faced blocking in Turkey. Facebook and Twitter frequently receive requests to takedown content.
  • Twitter reports show that it has been issued more takedown requests from Turkey than any other country in the world.
  • Turkey regularly blocks LGBTQ sites and content on the grounds of obscenity.

Back to Most Restricted Table

9Turkmenistan

VPNs are illegal in Turkmenistan.

Turkmenistan banned VPNs in 2015 to censor foreign media.

Any use of proxies or VPNs is detected and blocked by Turkmenistan’s sole, state-run ISP, Turkmenet.

Turkmenistan’s internet is deliberately priced out to discourage people from using it. A monthly subscription costs $213 for 8Kbpsd — more than the country’s average monthly salary.

Using a VPN in Turkmenistan can bring an unspecified fine and an intimidating summons from the Ministry of National Security to have a “preventative conversation”.

Related Laws & Practices:

Independent news and social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are blocked in Turkmenistan.

  • Messaging apps WeChat, Viber, and WhatsApp have been blocked since November 2013.
  • All internet activity and correspondence in Turkmenistan is monitored by the authorities.

Back to Most Restricted Table

10UAE

Only government-approved VPNs are legal in the UAE.

The United Arab Emirates only permits the use of government-approved VPNs. This was enforced in 2012, during the Arab Spring.

Banning unapproved VPNs was done to discourage the use of VoIP services like Skype, WhatsApp, and Facebook.

The blocking of VoIP services in the UAE was for both economic and political reasons. It aims to encourage local residents to pay the (quite expensive) subscription fee for local telecom services, Etislat and Du.

Corporate entities, however, are able to use VPNs unrestricted.

If a VPN is used to commit a crime in the UAE, the user could face prison or a fine of between AED 150,000 (roughly $41,000) and AED 500,000 (roughly $136,000).

For those in need of a VPN before traveling to the UAE, we put together our guide to the best VPN for the UAE.

Related Laws & Practices:

  • The 2017 Amendments to the 2012 Cybercrime Law bans language that offends religion, the state, its rulers and symbols, as well as online gambling and pornography. The law also criminalizes using the internet in the UAE to call for protests.
  • These amendments criminalized expressing “sympathy for Qatar” with prison time of up to 15 years for those who do.
  • ISPs in the UAE must block and censor content considered pornographic or a threat to the power of the state, as well as content related to gambling or terrorism.

Posting social, political, or religious opinions online in the UAE is enough to send users to prison.

Back to Most Restricted Table

KASHMIR, INDIA

While using a VPN is technically legal throughout all of India, there have been instances of VPN ‘blocking’ in the northern region of Kashmir and Jammu.

In August 2019, the Indian government began restricting internet use in the previously semi-autonomous region: initially with a complete communications blackout, and then permitting 2G connections whilst “whitelisting” a small number of sites. Because of this, many residents had turned to VPNs for their online activity.

However, from the start of February 2020 — after a video of separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani emerged on social media — police have begun taking action against VPN users

Anyone suspected of using a VPN to spread secessionist ideals is being called in for questioning and there are reported cases of soldiers forcefully searching people’s phones for VPN apps. If found, they have deleted the app, confiscated the phone, or even beat the owner.

To clarify, according to Indian law, it is still perfectly legal to use a VPN in Kashmir. Most ‘offenders’ are being booked for “misuse of social media” under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, and not for using a VPN.

With that said, we would advise extreme caution when it comes to using a VPN in Kashmir. It is not worth taking the risk whilst authorities continue to work on the assumption that anyone using a VPN must be committing some sort of crime.

Where Are VPNs Legal?

VPNs are legal in every other country around the world, including the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

a map showing everywhere in the world where using a VPN is legal

There can be confusion when VPN providers offer servers located in countries where VPNs are illegal or restricted.

ExpressVPN, for example, allows users to connect to VPN servers in Belarus and Turkey.

Screenshot showing that ExpressVPN has server locations in Turkey and Belarus, two places where VPNs are illegal or restricted

ExpressVPN offers servers in Belarus and Turkey, two places where VPNs are either illegal or restricted

Using these servers is perfectly legal, provided you’re not physically located in one of the 10 countries mentioned above. There are two main reasons for this:

  1. You are bound by the laws of the country you physically reside in, and not the laws of a country you route your internet connection through.
  2. Often, VPN providers will use virtual locations. These are servers that are not actually based in the specified location. For instance, ExpressVPN’s Belarus and Turkey servers are both physically located in the Netherlands, where VPNs are legal.
Screenshot of some of the virtual server locations used by ExpressVPN, including Belarus and Turkey

ExpressVPN uses a number of virtual locations

Unfortunately, not all VPNs are created equal. Once you’ve determined that VPNs are legal in your country, there are a number of other important factors to consider:

  1. VPN Jurisdiction. The world’s most powerful countries have secretive agreements that threaten the privacy and security afforded by a VPN. These agreements promote intelligence-sharing and encourage intrusive surveillance. When choosing a VPN, you should look for a provider that is based outside of these alliances.
  2. VPN Logging Policy. A VPN should not keep any record of a user’s activity. If a VPN is logging your data, then your privacy is at risk. A government could seize the server logs or an attacker could hack them. You should choose a provider with a strict no-logs policy.
  3. VPN Data Leaks. VPNs are meant to encrypt your data so that prying third-parties are unable to identify you. Despite this, a worrying number of VPNs have been found to leak data, leaving users vulnerable to identification. You should use a VPN that is known not to leak.

Your country’s approach to digital rights is also worth being aware of, even when VPN use is legal.

In our research we found 17 countries where using a VPN is permitted, but where there are some other noteworthy restrictions to digital freedom.

These countries are summarised in the table below. They all have online surveillance and censorship laws that are worth considering if you’re concerned about your internet privacy and security.

17 Countries with Notable Digital Rights Restrictions

Country VPN Status Social Media Blocks Censorship Surveillance
Cambodia Legal Moderate Extensive Extensive
Cuba Legal Minor Extensive Extensive
Egypt Legal Moderate Moderate Moderate
Eritrea Legal Moderate Moderate Moderate
Ethiopia Legal Moderate Extensive Moderate
Indonesia Legal Moderate Extensive Extensive
Kazakhstan Legal Moderate Extensive Moderate
Malaysia Legal Moderate Extensive Extensive
Myanmar Legal Minor Extensive Moderate
Saudi Arabia Legal Moderate Extensive Extensive
Sudan Legal Moderate Extensive Moderate
Syria Legal Minor Extensive Extensive
Thailand Legal Moderate Extensive Extensive
Uganda Legal Extensive Extensive Moderate
Uzbekistan Legal Moderate Extensive Extensive
Venezuela Legal Moderate Moderate Moderate
Vietnam Legal Moderate Moderate Moderate

A table summarising VPN legality and infringements on digital rights in 17 notable countries

Key: The countries in this table are labeled accordingly for each category, with ‘extensive’ being the strongest, followed by ‘moderate’ and ‘minor.’

For example, a country labeled as ‘extensive’ in the censorship column has a large number of related laws and practices in place, while a country labeled ‘moderate’ will only have some. A country labeled ‘minor’ will have a low number, but still enough to negatively affects users’ rights.

To find a reliable VPN, read our best VPN recommendations for 2020. We take into account legality, jurisdiction, logging, and more.

About the Author


  • Simon Migliano Head of Research at Top10VPN

    Simon Migliano

    Simon is our Head of Research and has tested hundreds of VPNs since 2016. His research has been covered by the BBC, The New York Times, CNet, Wired, and more. Read full bio