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Is VPN Illegal to Use? (All You Need to Know)

Is VPN legal

VPNs are becoming more and more popular, with tons of people using them on an almost daily basis.

Despite that, you do have to wonder: With all the perks it offers, is VPN illegal to use, actually?

If you want to learn about that, we’ve got you covered with this article.

Disclaimer

Before we begin, though, please understand one thing – we are not lawyers, and all the info you’ll read in this article is a result of our own research. If you really want to know about VPN legality in your country, and be sure there are no problems using one, we recommend consulting a certified lawyer.

“So Wait – Is VPN Illegal to Use?”

Well, not exactly, but this isn’t a question that has a Yes/No answer.

Basically, VPN legality depends on the country’s laws. VPNs might be legal in some countries, and illegal in others.

Also, keep in mind that a VPN might be illegal if you use it for any of the following:

  • Download illegal torrents, or illegally infringe on a company’s copyright.
  • Download or share child pornography, or any other illegal content associated with the deep web.
  • Buy and sell illegal substances and weapons on the deep web.
  • Engage in spamming and phishing.
  • Hack other people’s devices.
  • Engage in cyberstalking and online harassment.

Usually, VPN providers will make it clear if you can torrent files on their servers or not.

As for the rest of the things on the list, every provider will mention that you can’t legally use their service for that in their Terms of Service.

Countries Where Using a VPN Isn’t Exactly Legal

We’re not saying using a VPN in the countries on this list is 100% against the law, but their legal status is pretty vague.

So, you might either not have any access to VPN services, have to use government-approved VPNs, or you might face huge fines or jail time if you use a VPN.

Why do some countries block VPNs, though?

Usually because:

  • The governments want to control what people can do on the Internet, making sure they don’t unblock censored websites, for instance.
  • The authorities use “counter-terrorism” as an excuse, stating that VPN users engage in criminal activities.
  • Governments want to make sure their political opponents can’t safely spread dissent among the population.
  • Governments want to be sure the people in the country can’t access other sources of information that might go against their narrative.

With that out of the way, here are the places where VPNs aren’t very “legal.” We’ll group the countries by how they approach VPN legality to make things easier for you:

Countries Where You Can Only Use Government-Approved VPNs

Russia

The Russian government first passed a law back in 2017 that allegedly made it illegal for people to use services like VPNs and proxies to access websites that are banned in the country.

Still, there were a lot of misunderstandings surrounding the law.

You weren’t risking any prison time, and Russian authorities mostly targeted Russian-based VPN providers. You could end up getting huge fines, but only in specific scenarios – like if you ran your own VPN service or if you were a VPN provider who refused to comply with Russia’s regulations.

However, things got a bit more serious recently. The Russian government got more aggressive, threatening to restrict access to VPN services that didn’t block the same websites the government does. Right now, it got to the point where the government made it clear they will start blocking nine VPN providers.

Still, the authorities didn’t say it was illegal to continue using a VPN in Russia. But if the government will start blocking all providers except the ones who are based in Russia or collaborate with Russian authorities, it’s not like you’ll have any decent options left.

China

It’s hardly surprising that VPN legality is a grey area in a country like China. The country pretty much forces VPN providers to gain government approval to work in the country.

The government has threatened to block non-approved VPN apps on multiple occasions, and it actually went through with it in 2018.

Despite that, many people in China continued using VPNs successfully. It’s only in 2019 that the government started issuing fines to certain individuals for using a VPN to bypass the Great Firewall of China.

Keep in mind that something like that doesn’t happen all across the country. Not all municipalities in China will treat VPN usage the same way.

For example, if you use a VPN in Chongqing, you can end up getting a fine of a little over $2,000.

Money

On the other hand, in Xinjiang, you might get your cell phone service shut down if the authorities suspect you of using VPNs. You won’t get any fines or jail time, but you’re gonna have to go down to the police station, and watch officers go through your phone as they tell you which apps you need to delete to be able to use your phone again.

Of course, nothing stops you from just reinstalling a VPN on your phone once you leave, but the authorities do make it very annoying and inconvenient to use one.

And if you’re really lucky, nothing will happen if you use a VPN in China.

Oh, and it goes without saying that you shouldn’t try to run your own VPN in China. Otherwise, you risk some serious prison time.

The Middle East

It’s not a secret that many Middle Eastern countries restrict access to various online content, but only a few went so far as blocking VPN services, and forcing people to only use government-approved VPNs instead.

So, that pretty much means having to use a provider that shares user data with the authorities.

Still, even though some VPN services might be unavailable, online users manage to find ways to use VPNs anyway. Of course, that’s not without any risks since you can end up facing prison time or huge fines (anywhere between $1,300 to $816,000).

Some of the best examples include:

  • Iran – The country started blocking access to some VPN services back in 2013, but you might be able to use VPNs normally anyway. It seems that if you’re not involved in politics or anything like that, you likely don’t need to worry about the government tracking you. Just keep in mind there have been claims (without any sources, though) that using a VPN in Iran can result in prison time.
  • Oman – The country made VPNs illegal for individuals back in 2010, and the government hasn’t backed down on their stance since. You might be able to use a government-approved one (emphasis on “might”), but it’s likely that only institutional use of VPNs is legal. And while there haven’t been any reports about people getting fined or ending up in jail for using a VPN, Oman’s press doesn’t exactly enjoy any freedom, so the authorities can keep stuff like that on the downlow.
  • The UAE – Using a VPN as an individual isn’t exactly illegal in the UAE. But the catch is you need to use a “legal” VPN service (so, a government-approved one), and make sure the IP address you’re getting isn’t “fraudulent” or “used for criminal activities.” The obvious problem with that kind of wording is how vague it is. In the end, it’s the government that dictates what is or isn’t “fraudulent” or “criminal activity.”

Countries That Completely Ban VPNs

The usual way countries ban VPNs is blocking access to VPN providers’ websites. They might also force ISPs to block network ports that some VPN protocols use (like TCP port 1701 and UDP ports 500, 4500, and 1701 for L2TP/IPSec).

Besides that, governments will normally order ISPs to use deep packet inspection to identify VPN connections by the info found in the packet metadata. Once the ISP spots a VPN connection, it will block it immediately, and likely forward the information to the authorities.

Ban VPNs

Here are the countries that fully ban VPNs:

  • Iraq – The government has allegedly fully banned VPN services back in 2014. Whether people in the country can use VPNs without any repercussions isn’t clear. Still, we are talking about a government that had no problem blocking dozens of popular websites (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google) and shutting off web access country-wide. So you might be lucky and get to use a VPN in Iraq without anything happening, or you might end up in legal trouble or just have your web access shut down.
  • Turkmenistan – The country has just one national ISP, makes affording a web connection nearly impossible for many people, and has even dismantled many satellite dishes. And, according to this document, if you try to use a VPN connection in Turkmenistan, the authorities will just block it. What’s more, depending on your luck, the Ministry of National Security might even try to intimidate you with administrative penalties or “preventive conversations.”
  • Belarus – The Belarusian government blocks many websites, and they decided to also start blocking the Tor network and VPN services back in 2016. That doesn’t mean you might not be able to use a VPN at all in Belarus, but it might be hard to do so. Also, you might allegedly face fines if you use a VPN to bypass geo-blocks.
  • North Korea – Since the country runs its own intranet, it’s pretty obvious locals can’t use VPNs in the country. The government bans all foreign media, after all, so allowing access to VPNs wouldn’t be in their interest. You might be able to use a VPN as a tourist, though that’s not a guarantee. There’s a chance you’ll get some world-wide web access at your hotel, but the government will definitely monitor it. There’s no saying if you’ll get kicked off the web or face any charges if you try to use a VPN that way.
  • Uganda – Many people in Uganda use VPNs to bypass the mandatory social media tax. So, the government decided to just block VPNs in the country. They didn’t really say if you’d end up facing jail time or fines for managing to use a VPN anyway, but you should expect that from a government that decides to charge money for online platforms which are free to access and use.
  • Syria – The government started blocking all VPN connections following the 2011 uprising. The authorities successfully targeted protocols like PPTP and L2TP, and also made OpenVPN connections unstable.

Countries That Only Restrict Some VPN Usage

Turkey

The Turkish government has started banning access to some VPN services and the Tor network, though that doesn’t mean there’s no way to use a VPN in Turkey. In fact, tons of people in Turkey use VPNs regularly.

As it stands, you probably won’t have to deal with any serious legal problems if you use a VPN in the country – unless you make a really big fuss about it, most likely.

Egypt

In Egypt, you can end up in jail if you access websites the government banned. Also, the law clearly states that you face jail time (up to one year) or huge fines (around $6,000) if you use a VPN to bypass government censorship.

Funny enough, though, the law doesn’t say you can’t use a VPN to encrypt your Internet traffic or bypass geo-blocks. The only thing you can’t legally do with a VPN (for now) is access websites the government specifically blocked.

Are VPNs Legal Everywhere Else?

Generally, yes.

You can safely and legally use a VPN in places like the US, the UK, the EU, Australia, Japan, or Canada. Even though some countries might have laws prohibiting file-sharing, or their governments outright ban some websites, using VPNs isn’t against the law.

Of course, keep in mind that some countries have strict data retention laws while others don’t. For example, if a VPN provider has their HQ in the UK, they will have to comply with local data retention laws, and share a certain amount of user data with the government.

Can You Face Any Fines or Prosecution If You Use a VPN?

Well, if you use a service in a country that prohibits or punishes it, that will definitely happen.

If you use a VPN in a country where it’s legal to do so, you’ll only deal with fines and legal issues if you use the service to do anything illegal (like we mentioned at the start of the article).

Jail

Here’s an example of a man ending up in jail for using a VPN to cyberstalk someone, and here’s an example of a woman having to pay a fine for using a VPN to hack her former employer.

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So Is VPN Illegal or Not? Here’s the Main Idea

VPNs are a great way to protect your privacy on the web, and oppressive regimes know it. That’s why 13 countries (according to our own research) block VPN services:

  1. Rusia
  2. China
  3. The UAE
  4. Iran
  5. Iraq
  6. Turkey
  7. Oman
  8. North Korea
  9. Turkmenistan
  10. Belarus
  11. Uganda
  12. Egypt
  13. Syria

Using a VPN in any of those countries doesn’t mean you’ll automatically get a huge fine or go to jail, but it is likely to happen. So, keep that in mind.

But is VPN legal to use in the rest of the world?

Pretty much yes. As long as you don’t use a VPN to do anything illegal, you should be fine.

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