Are VPNs Legal

In the U.S., it’s legal to use VPNs; even the FBI recommends them for more online privacy. 1

Is It Legal to Use a VPN?

In the United States, yes, it is legal to use a VPN. Every country has different regulations regarding the legality of a virtual private network. Your VPN is a privacy tool, and you are completely free to use it as one.

While using a VPN service is completely legal, you should never engage in illegal activity while using a VPN. Never do anything that violates your VPN’s terms of use policy or download any copyright materials with your VPN provider.

  • Is private browsing a personal right?
  • Where are VPNs illegal?
  • Can I use a VPN server located in a country that restricts VPNs?
  • Is a VPN safe to use?

Is “private browsing” a personal right?

Not necessarily. In 2017, Congress voted against regulations aimed at protecting the privacy of individuals online, mostly because the restrictions were too broad. 1 Congress argued that the regulations would only cause consumers and large companies to lose their right to targeted promotions (basically, advertisements based on your search history).

Because of this decision, internet privacy is no longer guaranteed. If you’re not using a VPN service, companies can sell your information and browsing patterns to other companies.

Where are VPNs illegal?

Belarus, China, Russia, Iraq, North Korea, and the United Arab Emirates are a few examples of countries that outlaw VPNs and enforce strict internet censorship laws. Even though it is illegal to use a VPN service in these countries, other countries allow VPNs.

Businesses and private organizations originally used VPNs to provide secure networks for their employees and teams to use. Because some people perform illegal activities while using a VPN, some countries decided to ban them.

You can use a VPN for many legitimate purposes. People who are concerned about their privacy often use VPNs to help them stay anonymous. Many government organizations and non-governmental organizations use VPNs to keep their work private as well. This article provides more information about VPNs and why you should use one.

Can I use a VPN server located in a country that restricts VPNs?

Make sure you check into the legal restrictions of the country you’re connecting through because VPN laws can vary. There’s a difference between being in that country physically and using a VPN (which is illegal no matter what) and connecting from somewhere else. However, if a VPN is banned, it’s important to still check whether you can access a VPN server in that country no matter where you are.

Even if your VPN client provides servers located in that country, you never know what restrictions are in place. If you want to make sure your information is kept as private as possible, find a VPN that’s registered in a country outside of the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

You should also consider the logging policy of your VPN. Most VPN providers have a “no logs policy,” which means that the VPN does not store your data. If your VPN has a no logging policy, then you don’t have to worry about your data being stored or sold. However, some countries can require VPNs to share their data, despite the logging policy. It’s always a good idea to check the VPN regulations for whichever country your server is located in.

Every country has different rules for how the VPN can operate, despite their logging policy. If you want to make sure your information is kept as private as possible, find a VPN that’s registered in a country outside of the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. These five countries often share online data and have greater authority for forcing VPNs to give them private information.

CyberGhost, Private Internet Access, and ExpressVPN are great VPN services to use if you want a wide range of server options to choose from (both have servers located in over 80 countries).

Is a VPN safe to use?

Absolutely. A VPN is designed to keep your information safe and prevent unnecessary internet exposure. You might trust your internet service provider (ISP) to keep your data safe, but you are at risk of being hacked when you’re using public Wi-Fi. If you want to know how to protect yourself online, check out our internet safety tips. Since internet privacy is not a guarantee (as discussed earlier), you should use the freedom you have to buy a VPN and keep your information private and safe.

When choosing a VPN, look for something that best fits your needs. For example, some VPNs are faster than others, while some prioritize having a large number of servers to choose from. This guide can help you choose from the best VPNs available. If streaming movies over Netflix and Hulu is important to you, consider a VPN known to work well for streaming like NordVPN or Mulvad. If you’re more interested in the best security, then look for a VPN with a great encryption software like ExpressVPN.

Remember to think about whether the VPN has a “no logging policy” and check to see which country the client registers in. The last thing you want is for a VPN client to sell your personal information to another company. Fortunately, VPNs are legal in the United States, and using one can protect your privacy.

Are VPNs Legal?

Simon Migliano 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 and more.

  1. What Is a VPN?
  2. Are VPNs Legal?

Our Verdict

Yes, VPNs are completely legal in the USA, UK, Canada and in most other countries around the world. VPNs are 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

Virtual private networks (VPNs) are legitimate tools used to protect your privacy and security on the internet.

VPNs are legal to use in most countries, although they are illegal in four countries and restricted in a further six.

We investigated the VPN laws of 190+ countries to understand where VPNs are legal. We found that:

  • VPNs are legal to use in most countries, including the USA 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.

Despite the fact VPNs are legal in most countries, your activity while connected to a VPN is still subject to the laws of the country you’re located in. Ultimately, illegal activity remains illegal.

Moreover, it’s still possible for law enforcement to demand information stored by your VPN provider, unless you’re using a truly no-logs VPN service.

Keep in mind that using a VPN can also breach the terms of service of geo-restricted websites and applications you unblock from abroad.

What’s In This Guide

  • Where Are VPNs Legal?
  • Where Are VPNs Illegal or Restricted?
  • Related Digital Laws & Restrictions

What’s In This Guide

  • Where Are VPNs Legal?
  • Where Are VPNs Illegal or Restricted?
  • Related Digital Laws & Restrictions

DISCLAIMER: While we’ve carried out thorough research to create this guide, 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 where in the world using a VPN is legal

VPN services 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.

In other words, illegal online activity is still illegal when you’re using a VPN, regardless of the server you’re connected to.

VPN services can still provide servers (and IP addresses) in countries where VPNs are illegal or restricted. ExpressVPN, for example, let’s users connect to VPN servers in Belarus and Turkey.

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 sometimes use virtual server locations. These servers are not actually located in the country they’re labeled 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.

Crucially, not all VPNs are created equal, and not all VPNs are safe.

Once you’ve determined that VPNs are legal in your country, you need to consider other factors that may impact your online safety.

These factors include your VPN service’s jurisdiction, logging policy, and security features. Your country’s torrenting laws and stance on digital rights is also important, even if VPN use is legal.

You should choose a verified no-logs VPN that’s been proven to not store any activity or connection logs.

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.

The countries where VPNs are illegal

The countries in the table below are labeled according to the severity of their VPN laws and restrictions. ‘Extensive’ is the strictest 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 summarizing 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

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 anonymizers 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, read our article on the best VPNs for China, since most VPN apps will not work.

A woman lays flowers on the sign for Google

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 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 services, which have to apply for authorization.

All approved corporate VPN providers must keep web usage logs.

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.

In September 2021, the Roskomnadzor banned ExpressVPN, NordVPN, IPVanish VPN, Hola VPN, KeepSolid VPN Unlimited and Speedify VPN.

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 see our recommendations for the best VPNs for Russia.

A protester 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. 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, see which VPNs still work in Turkey.

A woman shouts into a megaphone as part of a press release during a protest against Tukey

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 $213.00 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).

If you’re in need of a VPN before traveling to the UAE, see our list of recommended VPNs for 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 writing, 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

We discovered 17 countries where VPNs are legal but there are other significant laws restricting digital freedoms. This often includes surveillance, internet censorship, and content blocking.

The table below summarizes the laws in countries with notable internet restrictions, such as online surveillance and censorship.

Each country is labeled based on the degree of restrictions. ‘Extensive’ is the most severe, 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.

Is Using a VPN Legal?

Antivirus Guide

By encrypting everything you do online, VPNs allow for completely private browsing, but is this digital security solution too good to be true? VPN usage may or may not be legal depending on what country you’re in, so buckle up for the important information you need to know to keep yourself safe, online and off.

All of our content is written by humans, not robots. Learn More

Aliza Vigderman

Aliza Vigderman , Senior Editor

Aliza Vigderman

Gabe Turner , Chief Editor
Last Updated Nov 14, 2022
By Aliza Vigderman & Gabe Turner on Nov 14, 2022

  • Are VPNs Legal?
  • Video Breakdown
  • How Do VPNs Work?
  • Are They Necessary?
  • Recap

Disclaimer: The information herein is provided for informational purposes only and is not legal advice, nor is it a substitute for obtaining advice from an attorney. Each case is different, and you should not act or rely on any information contained herein without seeking the advice of an experienced attorney.

NordVPN connected

Is Using a VPN Legal?

In the U.S., it’s legal to use VPNs; even the FBI recommends them for more online privacy. 1

The Right to Browse Privately

That being said, the right to browse the internet privately doesn’t exist, at least in the U.S. Without VPNs, internet service providers, governments and corporations can see your data; that is, if you don’t use a VPN first. 2

Mozilla VPN iOS App Connected

Countries Where VPNs Are Illegal

The countries that have banned VPNs include:

  • Belarus
  • China
  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • Oman
  • Russia
  • Turkey
  • Uganda
  • United Arab Emirates (to get a VPN there, read our list of the best UAE VPNs)
  • Venezuela

There are also several countries with strict internet censorship laws; while they don’t ban VPNs outright, anyone who uses them will be at risk of hostility from the government:

  • North Korea (see our list of the best VPNs for Korea)
  • Cuba
  • Egypt
  • Vietnam
  • Bahrain
  • Turkmenistan
  • Myanmar
  • Syria
  • Libya 3

While VPNs may be illegal or discouraged in certain countries, you can still connect to servers in these countries with the right VPN. However, VPN usage in restricted areas comes with its own set of risks, depending on which country you’re in and which VPN you choose.

VPNSecure Dashboard

Are VPNs Safe to Use?

Not all VPNs are safe to use. To minimize your risk, look for the following in your VPN search:

Strict logging policy: Most VPNs claim that they do not keep logs of any kind, but what they’re referring to specifically is logs of web activity. While most VPNs won’t log any of the websites you visit, some will log your devices’ IP addresses or personal information like your name and email. Make sure that you use a VPN that doesn’t log any of your personal information; ideally, it logs only an email address and anonymized payment information.

Pro Tip: For the most privacy, use a throwaway email address to register for a VPN that’s not linked to any of your PII (personally identifiable information).

  • Five Eyes nonmember: Five Eyes, Nine Eyes and 14 Eyes is an international surveillance alliance whose member countries can legally spy on their citizens. Make sure that the VPN you choose is headquartered in a nonmember country like the Seychelles so that the company can’t be legally forced to hand customer data over to the government.
  • Strong encryption methods: The VPN should also use an encryption method such as AES-256; the U.S. military and government trust it, so it’s good enough for you as well.

The best way to protect yourself from jail, fines and other forms of punishment is simply not to use a VPN in countries where they’re illegal. But if you must, adhering to the above practices is the safest way to do it. So, what happens if you get caught using a VPN in a country where it’s illegal? Well, depending on the country, you could receive punishments of fines, jail time and more. Here are some recent punishments that the Chinese government gave to users for using VPNs:

  • 2020: Just last year, a man in China was given an unspecified “administrative penalty” for bypassing the country’s Great Firewall.

Did You Know: In China, the Great Firewall only allows citizens to access government-approved websites, greatly restricting what people can do online.

  • 2019: Someone who sold VPN services was sentenced to five and a half years in prison and fined $76,000 USD.
  • 2017: A man was fined a little over $155 USD for using a VPN. 4

We don’t intend to scare you by listing these punishments; rather, these are worst-case scenarios. Still, these types of punishments make choosing the right VPN for travel more important than ever before.

HMA VPN on on Mac

Using VPNs for Illegal Activities

There’s a misconception that if you use a VPN, then the illegal activity you’re doing will suddenly become legal. Wrong! Illegal online activities, like violating the Digital Millenium Copyright Act or downloading child pornography, are still illegal even with a VPN. That’s why we only recommend using VPNs to torrent non-copyrighted content. 5 While a VPN may be able to hide activity, it doesn’t change the legal status of the acts.

Why People Use VPNs Legally

There are multiple legally sound reasons why people use VPNs, according to our VPN usage study. That includes:

  • General privacy
  • General security
  • Protection from public Wi-Fi networks
  • Increased security during online shopping
  • Hiding information from ISPs and Google
  • Streaming content from other countries’ servers.

Can You Be Fined or Prosecuted for Using a VPN?

Essentially, if you’re using a VPN in a country where they’re legal for legal activities, then you have nothing to worry about. However, if you’re in a country where VPNs are illegal and you’re found out, then yes, you could be fined or prosecuted.

Video Breakdown

Gabe Turner, an attorney and Security.org’s Chief Editor, discusses the legality of VPNs in this video.

How Do VPNs Work?

VPNs work by sending a user’s device IP address and web traffic through an encrypted tunnel before it reaches the internet. This prevents ISPs and hackers from tracing their online activity. Some VPNs even encrypt this information twice or more times, a process called multi-hop encryption. Once the user connects to a VPN, it will replace the device’s IP address with another one to hide their location, which is why it may seem to websites that the user is in a different country. To learn more, read our VPN guide.

IVPN No Leaks

Is Using a VPN Necessary?

Depending on where you are and what you want to do online, a VPN may or may not be necessary. For example, if you are on your secure home network and simply want to watch your country’s Netflix library, then a VPN won’t be of much use. However, if you are on a public Wi-Fi network, want to watch another country’s Netflix library, or simply don’t want your ISP to know your online activity, then yes, VPNs are necessary. Ultimately, it’s a personal choice; if you want privacy online, a VPN is the simplest and most straightforward method.

Recap

Unless you’re doing anything illegal, using a VPN in the U.S. is perfectly legally sound. However, if you’re using a VPN in a country where it’s not legal, it’s important to download one of the best VPNs in terms of privacy. While we can’t condone any illegal activity, there are ways to get around government restrictions to access a more free and open internet, and VPNs are at the forefront.

TunnelBear VPN Kill Switch

Frequently Asked Questions

Not so fast. Here is some more information about the legality behind VPNs.

Whether or not you can get in trouble for using a VPN depends on what country you’re in. If you’re in the U.S., VPNs are legal, so no, you can’t get into trouble for using them. However, if you’re in a country that bans VPNs, like China, then yes, you can get into trouble for using them.

Using a VPN is legal in Australia.

In the U.S., using a VPN to watch Netflix is legal; however, Netflix does block many VPNs, so you may or may not be able to get access.

It is legal to use a VPN in the U.K.

  1. FBI. (2021). Protected Voices: Virtual Private Networks.
    fbi.gov/video-repository/protected-voices-virtual-private-networks-083018.mp4/view
  2. ACLU. (2021). Internet Privacy.
    aclu.org/issues/privacy-technology/internet-privacy
  3. ProtonVPN. (2021). Are VPNs Legal?
    protonvpn.com/blog/are-vpns-illegal/
  4. Sixth Tone. (2020). Hunan Man Punished for Using VPN to Watch Porn.
    sixthtone.com/news/1005989/hunan-man-punished-for-using-vpn-to-watch-porn
  5. EFF. (2021). Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
    eff.org/issues/dmca
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