Are VPNs Legal?

Simon Migliano Head of Research at Top10VPN

Simon is a recognized world expert in VPNs. He's tested hundreds of VPN services and his research has featured on the BBC, The New York Times, CNet and more. Read full bio

Our Verdict

It's completely legal to use a VPN in the USA, Canada, UK, and the majority of Europe. Using a VPN is only illegal if you live in Belarus, Iraq, North Korea or Turkmenistan. However, countries like China and Russia have laws that restrict VPN use in certain ways.

Illustration showing countries where VPNs are illegal and legal

Though they have had a negative reputation in the past, Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are legitimate tools used to protect your online privacy and security.

VPNs are legal to use in most countries, but they are often associated with illegal activity. This guide will explain where VPNs are legal and illegal. It will also take a closer look at VPN laws in the 10 countries where VPNs are restricted.

We investigated the VPN laws of 190+ countries to find out where VPNs are legal. We found 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 allow VPN use but have noteworthy digital rights restrictions.

Some governments have laws that limit or ban the use of VPNs in order to limit internet freedom. As of March 2021, VPN use is regulated to some degree by several countries including Russia, China, UAE, and North Korea.

Though using a VPN is legal in most of the world, your activity while using the VPN is still subject to the laws of the country you’re located in. It’s still possible for law enforcement to demand information stored by your VPN provider.

Using a VPN can also breach the terms of service of streaming platforms including Netflix and BBC iPlayer. While it isn’t strictly illegal to use a VPN with Netflix, it can violate their Terms and Conditions.

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

Where Are VPNs Legal?

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

VPNs are legal in almost every country in the world, including the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and most of Europe. However, you are still subject to the laws of the country you’re located in – not the laws of the country you’ve routed your internet connection through.

This means that any illegal online activity is still illegal when you’re using a VPN – regardless of the server you’re connected to.

It can be confusing when VPN services offer servers 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, where VPNs are either illegal or restricted.

Using these VPN servers is perfectly legal as long as you’re not physically located in one of the 10 countries mentioned above.

This is because VPN services can use virtual server locations. These servers are not actually located in the country they’re labelled with. 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 server locations.

Unfortunately, not all VPNs are created equal, and not all VPNs are safe. Once you’ve determined that VPNs are legal in your country, you should also consider other factors that might impact your online safety.

These factors might include your VPN service’s jurisdiction, logging policy, and security offering. Your country’s approach to digital rights is also worth being aware of, even if VPN use is legal.

Where Are VPNs Illegal or Restricted?

VPNs are illegal in Belarus, Iraq, North Korea and Turkmenistan. The use of VPN services is heavily restricted in China, Iran, Oman, Russia, Turkey, and the UAE.

Map showing where VPNs are illegal

The countries in the following table are labeled according to the strength of their VPN laws and restrictions. ‘Extensive’ is the strongest level of restriction, followed by ‘moderate’ and ‘minor.’

Country VPN Law 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 laws in the 10 most restricted countries.

Here is a more detailed list of VPN laws in the 10 countries where VPNs are either illegal or restricted:

1. Belarus

VPNs are illegal in Belarus.

Belarus bans VPNs as it sees them as a method to undermine the law. In February 2015, the country’s Communications Ministry ruled against the use of anonymized services like VPNs.

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

It’s still unclear whether the government can actually contain the expanding VPN market. For the moment, there is an unspecified fine for anyone caught using a VPN in Belarus.

2. China

Only government-approved VPNs are legal in China.

VPNs are technically legal in China. However, all VPN services have to gain approval from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) before they are allowed to operate in the country.

This often involves agreeing to conditions such as data logging, which makes the VPN pointless from a privacy perspective.

While there are suggestions that China might soon open up the VPN industry to foreign investment, using a VPN ‘without authorization’ can currently result in fines of up to 15,000 yuan (roughly $2,200).

Despite this, many people still wish to use a VPN in China. If this applies to you, we recommend you visit our list of the best VPNs for China, since the majority of VPN apps will not work.

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

3. Iran

Only government-approved VPNs are legal in Iran.

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

The penalty for using a VPN that isn’t sanctioned by the Iranian government is up to one year in prison.

4. Iraq

VPNs are illegal in Iraq.

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

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

5. North 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, and foreign diplomats are prohibited from using it.

6. Oman

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 officially applied for. In addition, usage logs are kept by any VPN that is permitted.

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.

7. Russia

Only government-approved VPNs are legal in Russia.

Russia has banned unapproved VPNs 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 recommendations for the best VPNs for Russia.

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 protester marches against increasing internet censorship, holding a sign that reads “you will not switch off the internet.” Credit: Elena Rostunova

8. Turkey

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 list of VPNs that work in Turkey.

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. Citizens protest against the government’s decision to introduce content filtering. Credit: Evren Kalinbacak

9. Turkmenistan

VPNs are illegal in Turkmenistan.

Turkmenistan banned VPNs in 2015 to censor foreign media. All proxies and VPN services are detected and blocked by Turkmenistan’s state-run ISP, Turkmenet.

Turkmenistan’s internet is deliberately overpriced to discourage people from using it. A monthly subscription costs $213 for 8Kbps — 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”.

10. United Arab Emirates (UAE)

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 (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, check our list of VPNs that are safe to use in the UAE.

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 Kashmir. It began with a complete communications blackout, which was followed by a “whitelist” of a small number of websites. Many residents turned to VPNs to help bypass these website blocks

After a video of separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani emerged on social media in February 2020, police have begun taking action against VPN users.

Anyone suspected of using a VPN to spread secessionist ideals is being called in for questioning. 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.

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” rather than 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 is committing a crime.

Pakistan

The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) originally set a deadline of June 30th 2020 for citizens to register their VPN connections with the government. After this date, any unregistered VPNs were supposed to be blocked.

This deadline was then postponed until 31st July 2020, and then again to 30th September, “in order to facilitate businesses & the public”.

According to the PTA, the law is in line with regulations which state that “any mode of communication that becomes hidden or encrypted” requires appropriate registration.

It is unclear what the consequences of using an unregistered VPN in Pakistan will be. However, the PTA has stated in a press release that “action will be taken only against unauthorized VPNs for terminating illegal traffic which causes loss to the national exchequer.”

Pakistani authorities have previously blocked popular websites such as YouTube, Facebook, and Wikipedia. Connections to platforms such as Twitter, Periscope, and Zoom have also been throttled in the past.

It remains to be seen how strictly commercial VPN users will be targeted after the ruling is enforced, but we advise caution. We’ll be monitoring the situation and will update this page when there are developments.

UPDATE: As of April 2021, there has been little word from the PTA regarding the VPN ban. Currently, it seems to apply only to businesses and not to individuals.

Related Digital Laws & Restrictions

Our research found 17 countries where VPNs are legal but there are other noteworthy laws restricting digital freedoms. This often includes surveillance, censorship, and content blocking.

The following table summarises the laws in countries with notable online restrictions. All of the countries in this section have online surveillance and censorship laws that are worth considering if you’re concerned about your internet privacy and security.

The countries in this table have been labeled according to the strength of their laws and restrictions. ‘Extensive’ is the strongest, followed by ‘moderate’ and ‘minor.’

Country VPN Law 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 summary of VPN laws and digital rights in 17 notable countries.

About the Author


  • Simon Migliano Head of Research at Top10VPN

    Simon Migliano

    Simon is a recognized world expert in VPNs. He's tested hundreds of VPN services and his research has featured on the BBC, The New York Times, CNet and more. Read full bio