VPNs keep your online activity private and unrestricted. Some countries with repressive governments have outlawed VPNs in an attempt to maintain control.

Using a VPN helps you to evade all but the most sophisticated efforts to regulate the internet and censor information. That is why repressive governments around the world have been making efforts to block or ban VPNs. However, such legislation is generally unpopular and hard to enforce, which steers most countries away from outright bans.

Rather than try to ban VPNs altogether, many countries simply try to block access to known VPN service providers. While this is difficult, it can be done if governments are willing to dedicate resources to the task.

This post includes a list of the countries where VPNs are banned or blocked, and explores your rights to browsing privately.

How do governments block VPNs?

Blocking ports or IP addresses

When you use a VPN, your internet traffic is protected because it is encrypted and routed through the VPN server, obscuring your IP address. This traffic can be stopped by blocking ports that are used by some VPN protocols, such as PPTP or L2TP or outright blocking the IP addresses of VPN services.

Proton VPN does not use PPTP or L2TP. We only use protocols which are known to be secure OpenVPN, IKEv2, and WireGuard.

The most sophisticated tools, like deep packet inspection, can actually identify VPN protocols in packet metadata, allowing countries like China to find and block VPN servers in a more automated and targeted fashion. Countries that are not worried about the economic impact of blanket internet censorship, like North Korea, have simply blocked access to all overseas IP addresses.

Making VPN usage illegal

Other countries that do not have the technology to block VPNs have passed legislation that outlaws VPN services that are not registered with the government. The most repressive countries have made all VPNs illegal and instituted severe punishments for those who are caught, hoping to scare people away despite the technical difficulty of detecting VPN traffic.

Where are VPNs illegal?

VPN illegality isn’t always as clear cut as having a single law against their usage. Countries with strict internet censorship laws, for example, may de facto ban VPNs as part of their restrictive controls on how citizens can use the internet. These countries are listed below as Uncertain status countries.

Other countries may not make VPNs illegal outright, but instead they will block VPN servers or force ISPs to prevent their customers from accessing VPNs. Countries where VPNs are blocked or banned by ISPs, despite not being outlawed, are listed under Countries that have blocked VPNs.

Countries where there are laws forbidding the use of VPNs outright are listed under Countries where VPNs are illegal.

Uncertain status

Certain countries have very strict internet censorship laws, meaning that using a VPN within that country can come with risks, even if there is not a known legal ban. Countries with these kinds of censorship laws include:

  • North Korea
  • Cuba
  • Egypt
  • Vietnam
  • Bahrain

Other countries have taken actions to block and ban VPN traffic, although these governments do not necessarily have full control of their territory and infrastructure. In any case, the governments of these countries can be considered as hostile to VPN use, and citizens may be at risk if they are found to be using them. Examples of these countries include:

  • Syria
  • Libya

Countries that have blocked VPNs

The countries below have placed technological restrictions on their citizens’ ability to access the internet in order to block VPNs or discourage people from using one.

Myanmar

Myanmar has been ramping up its internet censorship in the wake of the February 2021 military coup. This has included restricting internet access for Myanmar’s citizens down to a handful of “whitelisted” websites. The military rulers have ordered ISPs to block access to VPNs(new window) to prevent people from skirting these internet restrictions.

Turkey

In 2016, the Erdogan regime began blocking VPN services and Tor(new window). Now Turkey is using deep packet inspection(new window) techniques, similar to China, to detect and block VPN and Tor traffic.

The use of a VPN connection in Turkey can also mark you out as a person of interest for law enforcement. Despite this, VPN usage in Turkey is quite widespread.

The website Turkey Blocks(new window) monitors internet censorship in Turkey.

Uganda

In response to the failed implementation of a tax on social media(new window), the use of VPN services by Ugandans soared. The Ugandan government responded by demanding that local internet service providers block VPN services.

After scrapping the social media tax in favor of a tax on all internet usage, the Ugandan government also implemented an entire internet blackout(new window) during the elections. While there is currently no legislation specifically against VPNs in Uganda, they continue to block VPN servers(new window).

United Arab Emirates

In 2016, the UAE revised its laws, making the use of a VPN service “to commit a crime or prevent its discovery” punishable by temporary imprisonment and a fine of up to two million dirham (roughly $540,000).

While there are legal uses for VPNs in the UAE, the country has also placed an outright ban on VoIP calls and numerous websites, including some French TV channels and Netflix. It is illegal to use a VPN to access any of these blocked websites or to place a banned call.

Venezuela

In 2018, Venezuela’s largest internet service provider attempted to block the use of Tor and VPN services(new window), presumably on government orders. However, there are no specific laws against using VPNs in Venezuela at present.

Countries where VPNs are illegal

The countries below have passed laws directly or indirectly prohibiting the use of VPNs.

Belarus

The Belarusian government has worked to restrict its citizens’ access to the outside internet(new window) for years. In 2015 it banned both Tor and VPN services(new window), although it appears Belarusians have found ways to circumvent(new window) the technological and legal barriers.

China

China has perhaps gone the furthest of any country to ban and block VPNs(new window) and Tor. Any VPN service must be licensed by the Chinese government. Those that are not will be closed if they are in-country or blocked if they are based in a foreign country. China is one of the few countries in the world that has complete control of all the local internet service providers, and they use deep packet inspection to monitor internet traffic in and entering into the Chinese cybersphere(new window). They are generally able to identify and block VPN traffic.

Iran

In 2013, Iran attempted to block access to VPNs(new window) based in foreign countries, only allowing VPN services that are licensed and registered with the Iranian government. While selling or promoting VPNs is a crime(new window) and citizens can be punished for using a VPN, VPN use among citizens and even government officials is still very common.

Iraq

In trying to deal with ISIS’s online presence, the Iraqi government has gone to extremes — not only banning VPN services and social media(new window), but also instituting rolling blackouts of the internet across the country(new window). Although the country is no longer under siege by ISIS, its draconian internet restrictions remain in place.

Oman

In 2010, Oman passed a law(new window) that prohibited individuals from using VPN services. Anyone caught violating this law is subject to a 500 rial fine (roughly $1,300). Companies can apply for a permit to use a government-approved VPN, but if a company is found to be breaking the anti-VPN law, it faces a 1,000 rial fine.

Russia

Even before it invaded Ukraine, Russia had taken strong legal action to control free speech and access to information both within its borders and online.

The Russian Duma passed the Yarovaya Law in 2016(new window) that required VPN services to register with the government and log their users’ online activity. In 2017, the Duma passed another law(new window) requiring approved VPNs to block their users from accessing certain websites targeted by the Russian government. Those that did not were threatened with bans.

Proton VPN does not have a presence in Russia, so we are not subject to these laws and have never complied with them. Furthermore, we do not log any information about what you do online or location-based information.

Since the start of the ongoing war in Ukraine, the Russian government has attempted to block access to all the international news and social media outlets that have been critical of the war or presented evidence that counters the government’s domestic disinformation campaign.

This caused a massive increase in demand for VPN services(new window) that can overcome these censorship blocks, leading the Russian government to go to great lengths to block VPN services themselves.

Proton VPN is committed to fighting for the right of Russian citizens to access the uncensored internet and has so far been largely successful at evading efforts to block our service in Russia. This is a constantly evolving and difficult situation, but we will continue serving the needs of the Proton community in Russia.

Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan is one of the worst countries(new window) in the world for internet freedom. There is an outright ban on VPNs in this country, with reports of citizens being required to swear on the Koran(new window) that they will not use one before they are able to have an internet connection installed. There have also been reports that the authorities in Turkmenistan will stop people in the street and search their smartphone(new window) to ensure they do not have a VPN installed on their device.

CountryStatus
BahrainUncertain
BelarusIllegal
ChinaIllegal
CubaUncertain
EgyptUncertain
IranIllegal
IraqIllegal
LibyaUncertain
MyanmarBlocked
North KoreaUncertain
OmanIllegal
RussiaIllegal
SyriaUncertain
TurkeyBlocked
TurkmenistanIllegal
UAEBlocked
UgandaBlocked
VenezuelaBlocked
VietnamUncertain

Where are VPNs legal?

Using a VPN is legal in the vast majority of countries, but using a VPN to break the law is not. So using a VPN to infringe on copyright or for hacking purposes is still illegal, even though the use of VPN itself isn’t.

No countries accept private browsing as an inalienable human right, so it’s important that everyone continues to defend the ability to legally use a VPN, even if you live in a country where VPN usage is unrestricted.

For example, the UK government has repeatedly attempted to block, repeal, or break privacy and security methods(new window), such as end-to-end encryption, and has also implemented the Investigatory Powers Act(new window), allowing them to access citizens’ browsing data. So while VPNs remain entirely legal in the UK, it doesn’t mean they always will be.

Similar anti-privacy moves are being made by governments around the world, including in countries where VPNs are legal.

Why are VPNs illegal in some countries?

If there is a commonality among all the countries on this list, it is that their governments want to control the information their citizens have access to. These governments are afraid that if they had to compete in the marketplace of ideas, they would lose. Instead, they have resorted to the 21st century equivalent of shutting down newspapers and burning books.

Our mission is to provide an internet that is free and secure. Until that day arrives, we will continue to offer a free and unlimited VPN service to support those who do not have other means to access the information they need.

Protect your privacy and security online
Get Proton VPN free

Related articles

What is AirTag stalking?
In an era of “smart devices” that often double as spy devices, AirTags are tracking tools that are open about their function and can be vital in helping locate lost items (as anyone who has lost their car keys can attest to). However, as a recent cla
How to fix a "Your connection is not safe" error
As you surf the web using your browser, you’ll no doubt encounter websites that your browser will refuse to load, instead showing some variation of an error message, such as Your connection is not private or Warning: Potential Security Risk Ahead. 
Your search history is a window into your inner life. Anyone with access to it knows what your hobbies and interests are, your sexual orientation and preferences, the things that worry you (for example your medical concerns), your political affiliati
how to flush dns blog
  • Privacy deep dives
A DNS cache is a record of all the websites you’ve visited over a set amount of time. Simply put, your DNS cache is a list of websites you visited in the past that’s stored on your device. Your computer uses it to speed up visits to those same websit
Is Temu legit?
  • Privacy basics
Temu has become an unavoidable brand. Unknown to most up to a year ago, the online retailer exploded onto the digital scene in the United States with lavish ads and a riveting social media campaign, and has started its takeover in Europe now, too. As
We examIne whether the controversial Chinese video platform is safe to use
  • Privacy basics
In this article, we take an in-depth look at whether the wildly popular social media platform TikTok is safe to use. Several countries recently banned government officials from using TikTok, and now the US House of Representatives has passed the Pro