VPNs are very useful. So useful, in fact, that many countries with oppressive regimes consider them a problem – to the point where they take legal action against VPN usage.
In fact, if you google “are VPNs illegal,” you’ll find tons of articles listing countries where using such a service is against the law.
But here’s the thing – most of that info isn’t 100% accurate. It’s not that VPNs are completely illegal in all those countries. Things just aren’t that simple.
Instead, it’s more that you might face legal issues if you run a VPN yourself, use one in a region with specific restrictions, or use non-approved VPNs – just to name a few cases.
4 Countries Where Using a VPN Can Be Legally Problematic
There are tons of countries where using a VPN can get you in legal trouble, so I decided to focus on the most popular ones. The ones you’ll often find in articles about whether or not VPNs are illegal.
China is notorious for censoring the web, and trying to regulate VPN usage.
But are VPNs illegal in China, actually?
Well, there’s no yes or no answer I can give you. To be honest, it depends on the region you are in. For example:
In Guangdong, a guy got a $150 fine for using a VPN to bypass the Great Firewall of China.
In Chongqing, the law says that you can get a $2,178 fine for using a VPN.
In Xinjiang, the authorities might only shut down your cell phone service if they think you’re using a VPN. They won’t fine or jail you, but they will go through your phone to delete any VPN apps they see.
It is generally believed that you will be fine using a VPN in China as a tourist, and maybe even as a citizen, since these are rare cases. In fact, even though China said it will ban non-approved VPNs, over 30% of people in the country still use them regularly.
Just make sure you don’t run your own VPN service in China, otherwise you risk up to five and a half years in prison.
When people talk about VPNs being illegal in Russia, they’re usually referring to this law.
However, that law mostly referred to Russian-based VPNs. They are the ones risking the biggest fines, not you, the VPN user.
As a result, you would not risk prison time for using a VPN, but you can be fined if you promote info and links about VPNs on the web.
Things are getting a bit more serious recently, though, with Russia threatening to block nine popular VPN providers for not complying with their requests.
Despite that, I still haven’t found any clear sources saying that using a VPN is illegal in Russia.
This might actually be one of the only countries where using a VPN in any form is completely illegal.
Here’s the thing about Turkmenistan – there really isn’t much Internet access in the country to begin with. Only around 14.5% of the population has it, and those people have to put up with a lot of censorship and government surveillance.
In fact, the Internet in Turkmenistan feels more like an intranet because of all the restrictions you need to deal with.
Also, according to this document, if someone actually tries to run a VPN connection in Turkmenistan, the authorities will quickly block it.
On its own, that’s not too bad, but it gets worse. People who use VPNs can get administrative penalties, and might even be forced to show up at the Ministry of National Security for “preventive conversations.”
I don’t know about you, but that sounds extremely creepy and Orwellian.
4. The UAE
Many people use VPNs in the UAE to unblock VoIP services, but how legal are they?
Not very – if you use a non-regulated VPN, that is. VPNs are only legal in the country if the government approves them.
So, VPNs aren’t exactly illegal there, but using the legal ones is pretty pointless since they likely share data with the government.
How to Safely Use a VPN in a Country Where It Might Be Illegal
The only thing you can do is use a VPN with obfuscation features. Basically, that’s technology that allows the VPN to hide its own traffic, so ISPs can’t tell you’re using a VPN.
The method is pretty effective, though I wouldn’t say it’s safe to use in a country like Turkmenistan.
If you need help finding a great VPN service for a specific country, check out the ProPrivacy World Privacy Report – it’s got all the info you need.
Closing Remarks - Using a VPN to Do Illegal Stuff Is Still Illegal Everywhere in the World
Like you’ve just seen, VPNs are illegal in some countries in certain situations, and pretty much completely illegal or very risky to use in Turkmenistan.
Normally, if you use a VPN with obfuscation technology, you should be safe since the authorities wouldn’t be able to tell you’re using one. Though, I’d still be wary of using one in Turkmenistan.
That aside, please keep one thing in mind – if you use a VPN to do illicit stuff (downloading child porn, cyberstalking people, buying and selling weapons or illegal substances, engaging in spamming, phishing, or online harassment, etc.), it’s completely illegal. It doesn’t matter what country you are in.
Of course, I’m not saying you’re going to do any of that, but it had to be said since I’ve actually seen misconceptions about that - like people saying you can “safely” use a VPN to harass people with hate speech on Facebook.
Other than that, I’d be more than happy to hear what thoughts you have about countries that have laws about VPN usage. Also, what other countries do you think have a harsh or misunderstood legal approach to VPNs?