The Essentials

Are VPNs Legal?

David Hughes
David HughesUpdated

The short answer is: yes, VPNs are legal to use almost everywhere in the world. With online privacy increasingly at risk, VPNs are a must-have tool to keep your online activity private.

Illustration of VPN Symbol Over a Map of the Planet

The US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, France, and Germany are just a handful of the vast majority of countries that fully allow VPNs.

A VPN is a great tool to protect yourself from intrusive government surveillance, bypass censorship and undermine geo-restrictions.

So it’s natural that people wonder: is a VPN legal?

We looked over all 195 countries in the world and found that VPN is perfectly legal, except for 10 more complicated countries:

  • Belarus
  • China
  • Russia
  • Iran
  • UAE
  • Oman
  • Turkey
  • Iraq
  • Turkmenistan
  • North Korea

You should know that using a VPN for illegal purposes is illegal everywhere, but what is considered illegal in one country may be legal in another, so it’s always important to familiarize yourself with local laws.

If a country is not included on our list then using a VPN there is legal. But let’s take a closer look at the exceptions.

Countries Where VPNs Are Illegal

Belarus

Belarus, described as “Europe’s last Dictatorship”, has blocked VPNs as it sees them exclusively as a method to undermine the law. Tor has been blocked since 2016 too.

In 2012, the Belarussian government introduced a law restricting access to foreign websites. Those who do face a potential fine of $120.

It may not sound extreme, but for many Belarusians, that’s almost half a year’s wage.

In February 2015, the Communications Ministry also decreed specifically against anonymized services such as VPNs. But to what extent the government has the capacity to contain this expanding market remains unclear.

There is an unnamed fine for anyone caught using a VPN.

 

Iraq

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

ISIS is no longer operating in Iraq, but the Draconian laws – including shutting down the internet entirely – remain intact.

Government officials use VPNs, too, despite ‘no exceptions’ being the official rule.

 

North Korea

No foreign media is allowed at all, so it’s not surprising that VPNs are illegal in North Korea.

The internet is heavily censored. Even diplomats abroad aren’t allowed to use the internet.

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

 

Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan banned VPNs in 2015 in order to censor foreign media.

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

The internet itself is deliberately priced out to discourage people from using it, with a monthly subscription costing $213 for 8Kbpsd. That’s more than Turkmenistan’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”.

Countries Where VPNs Are Restricted

China

VPNs are not illegal in China, but it only allows government approved VPNs.

VPN providers have to gain strict approval from the Chinese Communist Party before they can operate.

This often entails agreeing to conditions that undermine the purpose of a VPN, such as logging, rendering it pointless when it comes to privacy.

Using a VPN “without authorization” can result in fines of up to 15,000 yuan (approximately $2,200).

Many people still require VPNs in spite of this, and if you need to do this before travelling to the country, we recommend you visit our guide to the Best VPN for China.

 

Iran

Iran has been blocking VPNs since 2013. You can only use sanctioned VPNs in Iran, and the ones that are sanctioned are heavily monitored.

The penalty for using a non-sanctioned VPN is up to one year in prison – very harsh indeed.

Actual arrests are said to be quite rare though, with the government using the law almost exclusively against opposition and hardly ever for casual social media users.

If you’re certain that you want to use a VPN in Iran, we put together a guide for the Best VPN for Iran.

 

Oman

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

Personal VPN use is illegal in Oman. This is to prevent efforts to bypass censorship.

Attempting to circumvent these laws can bring a fine of $1,300.

 

Russia

Only government-approved VPNs are allowed in Russia, much like China, so as to prevent access to “unlawful content.”

Russian ISPs enforce the ban, 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 travelling to Russia and need to use a VPN, we recommend you visit our guide to the Best VPN for Russia.

 

Turkey

The Turkish government has been restricting VPN use since 2016, justifying the crack downs through national security – “to “fight terrorism”.

But as watchdogs in the country have noted, it is often people critical of the government who end up being penalized and censored. Any attempt to circumvent Turkish censorship is therefore prevented.

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

 

UAE

The United Arab Emirates has only permitted government-approved VPNs since 2012, during the Arab Spring, in order to discourage the use of VoIP services such as Skype, WhatsApp and Facebook.

This is for protectionist economic reasons as much as political, aiming to encourage local residents to pay the (quite expensive) subscription fee for local telecom services.

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 either jail 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 travelling to UAE, we put together a recommended list in our guide to the Best VPN for UAE.