Are VPNs Legal? — Complete Guide to VPN Laws in 2024

Raven Wu
Raven Wu Writer
Updated on: May 1, 2024
Fact Checked by Eric Goldstein
Raven Wu Raven Wu
Updated on: May 1, 2024 Writer

It can definitely be a bit tricky to understand the laws around VPN usage. Different countries have different regulations, and there’s a lot of information out there — both accurate and misleading that further complicates the matter.

The truth is VPNs are legal in most countries. There are only a handful of countries where they are banned, and if you’re caught using a VPN, you may be subject to fines and other penalties. In addition, there are a few countries where VPNs are allowed but their usage is restricted.

A VPN is a great tool to use in countries that restrict access to the internet — it allows you to connect to a server in a country that doesn’t censor online content. This way, you have the freedom to browse any website or app you want, including social media platforms, news sites, and instant messaging tools, such as WhatsApp and Telegram. Please note that this may be illegal in some restrictive countries, so you should first familiarize yourself with local laws and regulations before doing any of this.

However, not all VPNs work in countries that detect and block VPNs. This is why it’s critical that you use a quality VPN that comes with state-of-the-art obfuscation tools, which hide your VPN connection and elude detection.

The #1 VPN for browsing the internet freely and securely is ExpressVPN. It has top-tier privacy and security features that safeguard your online anonymity, and it works in restrictive countries like China, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia.

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Please Note: This article is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Neither I nor anyone at SafetyDetectives condones doing anything illegal. You should always check local laws to be aware of regulations in your jurisdiction.

Is It Legal to Use a VPN?

It’s legal to use VPNs in most countries — there are some countries where VPNs are banned, like Iraq and North Korea, or restricted, such as China and Russia.

However, it’s still illegal to use a VPN to conduct or hide criminal activities, even in countries where VPNs are 100% legal. These may include:

  • Pirating content. Downloading or distributing copyrighted materials like movies, music, or books through torrents or illegal streaming sites.
  • Illegal trading. Buying or selling illegal goods or services, such as narcotics or stolen data.
  • Fraud. Conducting fraudulent activities, like identity theft or scamming.
  • Hacking. Gaining unauthorized access to computers, networks, or databases.
  • Stalking and cyberbullying. Using a VPN doesn’t exempt you from laws against harassment.

Where Are VPNs Illegal?

I have provided a list below of countries where VPNs are 100% illegal/banned. Also, note that laws concerning VPNs can change at a moment’s notice, so I recommend checking local laws before using a VPN in a restrictive country, just to be on the safe side.

Countries ban or restrict VPNs so they can censor internet usage of their citizens — a VPN gives you access to foreign news outlets, social media platforms, or other websites that could offer differing viewpoints or dissenting opinions of the government.

Belarus

Belarus banned VPNs in 2015, along with other technologies aimed at providing online privacy, such as The Onion Router (Tor) and even social media apps like Telegram and Signal. If you’re caught using a VPN in the country, you may be subjected to fines. The government has also been accused of using different surveillance techniques, including deep packet inspection (DPI) to detect and block VPN traffic.

Iraq

VPNs have been illegal in Iraq since 2014. However, the government’s firewall isn’t as strong as China’s or North Korea’s. There’s little information on what might happen if you’re caught using a VPN in the country.

North Korea

VPNs are completely banned in North Korea. Most people in North Korea don’t have access to the internet. Instead, they have an intranet service called Kwangmyong, which is fully controlled and monitored by the government and closed off from the rest of the world — VPNs don’t work on it. Only those with special authorization and foreigners have access to the real internet. The punishment for using a VPN in the country is unclear.

Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan banned VPNs in 2019. The government actively works to detect and block VPN traffic through the state-owned internet service provider (ISP), Turkmentelecom, which is the only authorized ISP in the country. It even forced its citizens to swear on the Quran that they won’t use VPNs. Those caught using a VPN are fined an unspecified amount.

Where Are VPNs Restricted?

Below is a list of countries where VPNs are legal, but their use is heavily restricted. This may mean that only certain approved VPNs are allowed or that the government blocks VPN websites and traffic. In some cases, VPNs exist in a gray area where it’s not explicitly illegal, but using one (especially to access censored content) could still get you into trouble.

China

China only allows government-approved VPNs, which must agree to comply with government regulations on censorship and log user data — this entirely defeats the purpose of using a VPN. I still haven’t found any reports of people being fined for using an unapproved VPN, but the Chinese government has put people in prison for creating and selling unauthorized VPNs products.

Egypt

Egypt doesn’t have a law that bans VPNs, but the government blocks them. This means that VPN websites might be unavailable in the country. Keep in mind that using a VPN to access banned content in Egypt, which includes most VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) apps and anything that violates its moral standards, could result in a fine or even a jail sentence.

India

VPNs are legal in India, but providers are required to store user data for 5 years. This basically means that VPNs with servers in the country can’t be relied on to protect your privacy. Some top providers have removed their physical servers in India in response to this new policy and offer virtual Indian servers instead. Virtual servers still assign you an IP address from the country that you connect to but they’re physically located in a different country. For example, ExpressVPN’s Indian servers are actually in the UK.

Iran

VPNs aren’t illegal in Iran, but the country’s laws are murky, to say the least. The government has been blocking and discouraging VPN use since 2013, and there have been moves to impose legal restrictions on their use. For example, in 2022, the Iranian government drafted a regulation to require people to submit an application to the government in order to purchase a VPN. Even then, you can only use a government-approved VPN, which is heavily monitored and censors content that the Iranian government doesn’t want its citizens to see. Using a non-approved VPN can get you a prison sentence.

Oman

VPNs technically are legal in Oman, but the situation is a little hazy because the law also states that you’re not allowed to access encrypted parts of the internet, which is what VPNs do, without government permission. The problem is that many apps and services, including messaging and online banking apps (not just VPNs), also use encryption, so many people disregard that part of the law. In short, it’s still possible to be charged with a crime for using a VPN, and you may face fines for using one to access censored content.

Russia

Russia announced that it will block certain VPNs and protocols that pose a threat to the country. All VPN services operating there must follow the government-approved “legal framework,” which says that VPNs have to block banned sites. Russia also bans individual VPNs with mixed success. If you’re caught using an unapproved VPN, you may face a fine.

Turkey

VPNs are legal, but the government blocks VPN websites, IP addresses, and traffic. Some registered VPN providers are allowed to operate in Turkey, but overall, it’s very difficult to get or use a VPN in the country. If you’re planning on visiting, it’s best to check your provider’s support to see if it works there before you arrive.

United Arab Emirates

VPNs are allowed, but there are strict internet censorship laws that prohibit using a VPN to access content like political dissent and pornography. If you’re caught, you may get a fine and even temporary imprisonment. The law specifically states that you’re not allowed to use “fraudulent computer network protocol” to commit a crime.

Uganda

Uganda’s government isn’t a huge fan of VPNs. It blocked VPN services in 2021 to prevent circumvention of its social media restrictions and social media tax, and it has tried to ban VPN traffic through the ISPs in the country. However, it has since lifted most of these restrictions and there are currently no specific laws in the country that prohibit the use of VPNs.

How Are VPN Restrictions Enforced?

Governments that restrict VPN usage employ one or more of the following methods to detect and prevent their use:

  • Deep Packet Inspection (DPI). DPI involves analyzing the data packets sent through the network to identify patterns or signatures characteristic of VPN traffic. Once DPI detects VPN usage, it blocks the connection or slows it down to the point where it’s basically useless.
  • Domain/IP blocking. Some governments create lists of known VPN service IPs and block all traffic to or from these addresses. To keep their blocking measures effective, they often use databases that consistently update with the latest VPN server IP addresses.
  • Port blocking. Each VPN protocol uses specific ports for communication. For example, OpenVPN commonly uses UDP port 1194. By blocking these ports, governments can effectively disable certain types of VPNs.
  • National firewalls. Some countries, notably China with its Great Firewall, employ large-scale firewalls to monitor and regulate their entire internet traffic. These firewalls filter both incoming and outgoing data packets to control what content can be accessed within the country.
  • Collaboration with ISPs. Some restrictive countries’s governments work closely with, or even own ISPs, which connect your device to the wider internet. On government directions, ISPs implement restrictive measures directly at the network level to block or throttle VPNs.
  • VPN app blocking. Some governments direct app stores to remove VPN apps from their listings within that country. The government-controlled ISPs also ban the VPNs’ websites, which makes it very difficult for anyone to get a VPN.

What Happens If You Use a VPN Illegally?

It’s not always clear what punishment you could face for using a VPN illegally since a lot of the governments that ban or restrict VPNs make it super difficult to find information about it.

The bottom line is it depends on the country. Depending on where you are, you could be fined or face imprisonment and lose your internet connection.

Some countries don’t fully enforce their bans because they don’t have the necessary technology, or they just don’t follow through because of economic reasons, like tourism.

A good example of this is Iraq and China. Iraq bans VPNs, but its poor internet infrastructure means that it’s not able to pinpoint every VPNs use. In the case of China, I haven’t found 1 report that says a foreigner has been fined or imprisoned for using a VPN there, despite VPNs being banned. In other countries, however, you could face hefty fines or even imprisonment.

The penalties you face may also depend on what you did with the VPN. For example, you may face legal consequences for using a VPN to access blocked content compared to if you were using a VPN for more innocent purposes, such as securing your data on a public Wi-Fi network.

Is It Possible to Bypass VPN Blocks?

Yes, it’s possible to bypass VPN blocks in restrictive countries, to access a free and open internet. But you’ll need to get a VPN that’s good for government bypassing and very few VPN providers are able to hide your VPN traffic. So, when choosing a VPN for use in a restrictive country, you’ll want to be on the lookout for one or more of these features:

  • Obfuscation. Disguises VPN traffic as regular internet traffic, making it more challenging for authorities to detect that a VPN is being used. This is particularly useful in countries that employ Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) to block VPNs. ExpressVPN’s obfuscation does an excellent job of getting around government restrictions.
  • Regularly refreshing IP addresses. Some VPN services frequently change the IP addresses of their servers. This helps bypass VPN blocks that rely on blacklisting IP addresses known to be associated with VPN servers.
  • Tor over VPN support. Some providers allow you to route their VPN traffic through the Tor network, which adds an additional layer of encryption and anonymity, making it harder for third parties to detect VPN usage. Note that the Tor network is illegal in some places, so make sure to check before you start visiting .onion sites with a VPN.
  • Access to OpenVPN or WireGuard. Both OpenVPN and WireGuard support a wide range of ports, which helps bypass VPN blocks that rely on blocking specific ports commonly associated with VPN traffic. That’s why most VPN providers only have obfuscation on the OpenVPN protocol. ExpressVPN is one of the only VPNs that offers obfuscation on all protocols.

You’ll also want to get a VPN with strong privacy and security features because countries that employ VPN blocks are usually also countries where your online activities are subject to constant government surveillance. The following privacy and security features help keep your online activities private and secure:

  • Full leak protection. Prevents DNS, IPv6, and WebRTC leaks to ensure your real IP address remains hidden.
  • RAM-only servers. These servers store your data in volatile memory, meaning all of it is wiped whenever the server is rebooted. By doing so, they prevent any residual data from becoming a target for cybercriminals or potential government seizures.
  • Perfect forward secrecy. This changes the key used to encrypt your data frequently, so even if your current session is compromised, your past and future data will remain secure.
  • No-logs policy. The provider does not keep any logs of your online activities, ensuring that there’s no record of your internet usage that could be provided to authorities or other third parties.

If you need a good VPN for restrictive countries, try ExpressVPN — this provider works without issues in places like China and Russia, and it also provides industry-leading security and privacy features.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is it legal to stream using a VPN?

Yes, as long as you’re in a country where VPNs are legal. However, streaming platforms, like Netflix, have licensing agreements that limit the availability of their content to specific countries. If you use a VPN to circumvent this restriction, you’re usually in violation of their terms of service and may break copyright law (which isn’t something we at SafetyDetectives condone).

Can you get in trouble for using a VPN?

Generally speaking, no, you won’t get into trouble for using a VPN unless you’re in one of the few countries in the world where VPNs are illegal. In most countries, VPNs are perfectly legal and are often used for legitimate purposes like enhancing online privacy or securing data. However, using a VPN to engage in activities is still illegal, including things like fraud, hacking, or distributing copyrighted material without authorization.

Where am I not allowed to use a VPN?

VPNs are legal in most countries, but there are a few countries that ban or restrict VPNs. VPNs are 100% illegal in Belarus, Iraq, North Korea, and Turkmenistan, and they’re heavily restricted in China, Egypt, India, Iran, Oman, Russia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and Uganda. Laws and regulations around VPN usage in restrictive countries may change, so please check local laws before getting or using a VPN in a restrictive country.

What is the punishment for using a VPN?

The punishment for using a VPN illegally depends on where you are. In countries where VPNs are restricted or banned, penalties can range from fines to imprisonment. The severity of the punishment may vary depending on what you were using the VPN for.

In countries where VPNs are legal, you’ll only get into trouble with the law if you use a VPN to engage in illegal activities — in which case, the legal repercussions will depend on the jurisdiction and the nature of the offense.

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About the Author
Raven Wu
Raven Wu
Writer
Updated on: May 1, 2024

About the Author

Raven Wu is a freelance writer, editor, and translator. He is a strong advocate of internet freedom and is very passionate about technology, and he’s honed his craft by researching and writing about a variety of other topics including education, literature, health, pop culture, and games. Outside of work, he's an amateur novelist and history enthusiast who enjoys hard games, spicy food, and thinking way too hard about everything.