Are VPNs Illegal or Restricted Where You’re an Expat? Here’s What to Do

cartoon of VPN restricted sign

Ok, all over this blog I’ve been trumpeting how amazing VPNs are – and especially how useful they can be for expats like you and me. I’ve gone through and highlighted all the reasons why expats need a VPN and the many ways in which they can benefit from them. So, by now you know why it’s absolutely imperative that you get yourself a VPN when you jet off to live in your new country as an expat. 

One of the things you probably want to know, though, before you head out is whether or not VPNs are illegal – or restricted in any way – in the country where you’ll be living your expat life. It’s a perfectly legitimate question. I know I wouldn’t want to risk getting into any kind of trouble right off the bat after I move to my new country for using a piece of technology that may or may not be considered illegal by local authorities. 

Imagine kicking back in your new digs, firing up your VPN to unblock some Netflix after a long day acclimating to your new surroundings. Then, all of a sudden, you’ve got a tactical team in full riot gear battering down your door and repelling through your windows with laser-sighted guns drawn, barking commands in a language you don’t understand. From your right, a smoke canister is hurled into your living room and your senses are overwhelmed. Next thing you know you’re face down on the ground, your fingers laced behind your head about to get shackled by the police while Gilmore Girls plays innocently on your smart TV in the background. 

You’re rushed off to prison and tossed into a squalid, windowless cell with a backed-up toilet and a hunk of concrete for a bed. Flies buzz in the dank, musty air around you, your only companion a rat picking at something unidentifiable in the corner. You grow frail, your temperament feral, and your hair bedraggled as you mark the days off on the wall with a stone. This is your life now. 

Not exactly how you envisioned your expat life is it?

Ok, yeah I know, I know – that’s a bit too dramatic and, I’d hope, a highly unlikely scenario for any expat VPN user. but it certainly doesn’t hurt to know what the local authorities’ stance on VPN use is in your new country before you get there.  

What’s good is that VPNs are perfectly legal in the vast majority of countries around the world, so in all likelihood, you won’t need to worry about getting into any trouble – be it major or minor – in most places where you find yourself using a VPN as an expat. For extra security, I’d recommend using a VPN with robust obfuscation – a type of cloaking that hides the fact that you’re using a VPN.

So which countries restrict/ban VPNs?

That being said, there are a few places around the world where the government doesn’t uphold privacy as a fundamental right of its citizenry. In these countries, VPN use is either restricted or outright illegal. So if you’re going to one of these countries, you’ll need to exercise caution when using a VPN: 

China (Restricted)

China’s a bit of a gray area here since VPN use is not necessarily illegal, but it’s against the law to use VPNs that are unlicensed and unapproved by the Chinese government (i.e. any VPNs you should actually be using in China). If you’re using a VPN licensed by the Chinese government, though, you may as well tether a drone to your shoulder that records everything you do 24/7 and sends a live feed directly to the CCP.  

Russia (Restricted)

The Russian government has forced local ISPs to block access to VPN websites operating outside of Russia. This can make it difficult to get a quality VPN once you’re on Russian soil, which is why I’d strongly advise you to sign up for a VPN from home before you head off. 

Egypt (Restricted)

For the past few years, Egypt has been actively blocking access to hundreds of websites, including VPN websites which helped provide Egyptian internet users with access to the blocked sites. Egyptian ISPs are also actively targeting and blocking VPN traffic directly. This means that, not only should you get a VPN prior to heading to Egypt, but you should also ensure your VPN has effective obfuscation technology to hide your VPN traffic altogether.

Vietnam (Restricted)

The Vietnamese government also actively blocks all kinds of websites, including sites that help users bypass those government blocks. So again, as with the others, I’d recommend that you get your hands on a robust VPN before heading to Vietnam.

Turkey (Restricted)

The Turkish government doesn’t criminalize VPN use, but it does block access to many VPN providers’ websites, so it’s important to sign up for a VPN service before setting off for Turkey.

Iran (Illegal)

In Iran, a VPN user found to be accessing a forbidden website could face up to a year in prison. Government licensed VPN providers are available and permitted in the country, but accessing blocked sites with an unlicensed VPN provider is illegal in Iran. The reality, however, is that unlicensed VPN use in Iran is widespread, and I haven’t been able to find a case wherein anyone has actually been imprisoned in the country for using a VPN. But be careful, nonetheless. 

Oman (Illegal)

In Oman, a telecommunications law expressly forbids the use of encryption of any kind without governmental permission. Even so, private VPN use in Oman is widespread and there’s really nothing stopping expats – or anyone else – from using VPNs in the country. Just make sure to use a VPN with obfuscation capabilities to cloak the fact that you’re using a VPN in the first place.

Turkmenistan (Illegal)

In Turkmenistan, the government maintains an iron grip on the internet and censors online content heavily. You’ll only be able to access the internet through a single, government-controlled ISP that actively detects VPN use and blocks it. Anyone caught using a VPN to access the open internet faces intimidation and undisclosed penalties. Because of this, using a VPN with obfuscation is crucial from within Turkmenistan.

United Arab Emirates (Illegal)

If you get caught using a VPN in the United Arab Emirates, then you (theoretically) face heavy fines or even prison time. But like most places where VPNs are illegal, however, their use in the UAE is very common in the expat community and unlikely to get you into any actual real-life trouble. It still doesn’t hurt, though, to be careful and cloak your VPN use with obfuscation technology.

Belarus (Illegal)

The Belarusian government banned VPNs a few years ago, and if you get caught using a VPN in Belarus, you could face financial penalties.

What can you do about it?

Above, I’ve mentioned quite a few instances where it’s vital to use a VPN that utilizes obfuscation technology. But what exactly does that mean? In the most basic terms, it means that the VPN is able to hide the fact that you’re using a VPN by disguising your traffic as regular HTTPS traffic. This is naturally beneficial when you’re in a country that outlaws or bans VPN use. If they don’t know you’re using a VPN in the first place, then there’s nothing they can get you on.

Make sure your kill-switch is always active

So if you’re an expat living in one of the countries I listed above, there are a few things you should keep in mind when choosing a VPN to use. First of all, the VPN should offer the aforementioned obfuscation technology to hide your VPN use from local authorities and ISPs. It also goes without saying that your VPN provider should adhere to airtight encryption standards to secure your online activity. Your VPN should also prevent DNS leaks and a kill-switch to ensure your activity is never exposed under any circumstances. Finally, your VPN should adhere to a strict no-logs policy so that you can rest assured that your activity on the VPN network is never logged and thus never made available to authorities if or when they come knocking on your VPN provider’s door.

The best VPN for the job (in my opinion), and the one that ticks all of the boxes above is Express VPN. With this provider, you’ll get an unmatched security and privacy protections along with a vast worldwide network of servers that provide excellent speeds and reliability. You’ll also have access to obfuscation technology and a connection free of leaks and no logging of your activity. Express is a tad on the pricier side, however, so if you’re looking for something a little easier on your pocketbook that can still get the job done and protect your privacy from repressive regimes, I’d suggest checking out Surfshark, NordVPN, or VyprVPN. Each one is excellent and completely reliable. I’ve tested each one thoroughly and can vouch for each one’s security and overall quality.

Always use a VPN with a solid reputation, or you could find yourself in an avoidable mess.

Whichever VPN you choose to go with, rest assured that your privacy will be protected even from the most oppressive and intrusive governments on the planet – even if they’ve banned or outlawed VPN use. Hopefully, you’re reading this before you take off because it’ll be a lot less complicated to get your VPN before you land in your new country (if it happens to be a country that bans VPN use).      

The bottom line is that we as human beings have a fundamental right to privacy, and thankfully most countries recognize that. If you’re an expat in a country where personal privacy is routinely encroached upon, then it’s especially important that you use a VPN, even if VPNs are illegal or restricted. Just be sure to get a VPN that takes your privacy seriously and won’t sell you out to authorities. Even though you’re unlikely to be actually prosecuted for using a VPN in any country, taking the proper precautions like securing your online activity with a quality VPN and cloaking your VPN use altogether will be the key to protecting your privacy and enjoying the free and open internet if your expat adventure finds you in a country with a repressive government. Just be careful and use your best judgment when doing so, because few things in this world are entirely void of risk.

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