Using a VPN to protect your connection while browsing the internet is one of the most widespread cybersecurity techniques in Europe, along with the use of professional antiviruses to protect our computers against malware. VPNs are very effective tools when it comes to encrypting the data we send and receive over the internet, preventing our debit/credit card information or Amazon or Netflix access credentials from falling into the wrong hands. Some VPNs even offer additional features, such as malware removal or ad blocker.
I, being a regular user of VPN can say that this was the best decision I ever took because it not only enables me to access region-blocked websites but it also encrypts my connection which protects my privacy. As per my experience, I would recommend you to go with a good VPN software company because naturally, when you use VPN, the internet speed slows down a bit, and if you are not using a high-quality VPN company, you will end up getting very slow speed. Thus, using a great VPN would give you the optimum speed.
However, in some countries where democracy is less developed, governments of different political groups have decided to restrict or even make the use of VPNs illegal within their territory. This has raised some alarms about its use when traveling since accidentally using a VPN in a country where it is not allowed. It can lead to fines and other difficulties that nobody wants to go through when they are on vacation.
Which Countries Restrict or Prohibit the Use of VPNs?
Because the laws that condition the use of VPNs frequently change in many countries around the world, it is very difficult to have an exact list of all the countries that restrict their use at any given time.
However, some of the main ones where VPNs are restricted or entirely prohibited are the following:
- Russia: In Russia, VPNs are not illegal per se. Using VPNs within Russian territory is possible, but the government authorizes only Russian VPNs. These VPNs block websites that are not sympathetic to the Russian government’s ideas and presumably filter their users’ browsing data to facilitate investigations or even political persecution.
- China: Something similar happens in China, where the government allows the use of VPNs for certain uses as long as they are government-authorized VPNs. In this way, the government can maintain control over the information sent or received by its citizens through the internet and use this data for political and social control purposes.
- Iran: Similar to what happens in Russia and China, in Iran, VPNs are allowed as long as they are VPNs previously approved by the Iranian government. Using unauthorized VPNs can lead to heavy fines and various legal problems within the country.
- Iraq: The restrictions are much more severe in Iraq, where the use of VPNs is completely prohibited, and even the use of government-sanctioned VPNs is not allowed. Any user or company that uses a VPN of any kind can be exposed to severe penalties.
- Belarus: Since 2015, Belarus has also completely blocked the use of VPNs, a measure in line with a series of laws prohibiting any form of criticism or insult against the government or its president. This is somewhat ironic since the constitution of Belarus prohibits censorship (at least in theory).
- North Korea: As you might expect, North Korea completely bans the use of VPNs for its inhabitants. Still, strangely enough, it does work for tourists, so if you are one of the few people who manage to enter North Korean territory, in principle, you should be able to use a VPN without too much trouble.
VPN Restrictions Are a Measure of Censorship and Repression
As you can see from the examples we have mentioned above, VPNs are illegal or severely restricted in countries where the population is subjected to authoritarian regimes and severe measures of social control. The ban on VPNs in China, for example, is coupled with the ban on the use of platforms such as Google, YouTube, Facebook, or Instagram, among many others. VPNs are not considered harmful; in most cases, governments make ‘licensed’ VPNs available to their citizens that are under their control.
What governments are looking for by prohibiting or restricting access to VPNs is, ultimately, to prevent the free use of the internet. One of the reasons why there are far fewer authoritarian regimes in the 21st century than there were during the 20th century lies in the free flow of information through the internet, which allows citizens to be more critical of their respective governments and better organize themselves to fight against oppressive regimes. Therefore, these types of governments continually try to make VPNs illegal and keep them out of reach of their population.
As a tourist, it is important that you take into account these types of restrictive measures when traveling since breaking the laws of the countries you visit can cause you legal problems, especially if you are in countries with authoritarian governments. Despite the fact that, in many cases, the governments of these countries are lax when it comes to applying sanctions against tourists for the use of VPNs, it is always better to be cautious and avoid them while you are in these territories. You will enjoy VPNs again when you return home.