Are VPNs Legal? Here’s What You Need to Know

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Are VPNs Legal In My Country? (Answers for 15 Countries)

VPNs sound like a great way to be safe online, but are VPNs legal in my country? I investigated my own country’s laws plus the laws for 15 other countries. Here’s what I found out.

VPNs are mostly legal worldwide, though some countries restrict or outright outlaw their use. You need to be very cautious when using them in countries like China, but most countries--like the US, Japan, and the UK--allow you to use them freely.

The legalities behind VPNs are complex and change often, and I wanted to go further in depth to understand what’s legal and illegal in fifteen popular countries. Here’s what I learned about using a VPN in countries like Cuba, Greece, and Canada--and what the penalties could be for illegally using a VPN in China, Thailand, or Turkey.

What is a VPN and Why Would You Use It?

VPN stands for virtual private network; you can think of it as a sort of secret internet tunnel that allows you to communicate securely with others on your VPN or conduct your internet affairs without being tracked. If this sounds like a good thing and a bad thing--you’d be right!

VPNs can both enable higher levels of security than a normal coffee shop wifi might allow, but it can also act as a cover for illegal or illicit internet activities. That’s why it can be controversial--and, ostensibly, why it’s illegal or restricted in some countries. Here are a few key points to understand when you’re wondering, “are VPNs legal in my country?”

  • VPNs disguise your IP address so that third parties — hackers, governments, and more — can't tell where you're located. VPNs do this by "substituting" or rerouting your connection through one of their servers. This can be helpful, but it can also cause problems. Not only could you be held accountable to the laws of the server country, you could be violating the terms of the service that you're using while on the VPN such as Netflix or Hulu.
  • VPNs aren't always completely private. In the past, there has been some legal precedent for VPNs handing over data about you to the federal government.
  • You are still responsible for illegal activity, even if it's one a VPN.

Are VPNs Legal in…

Now, there are still tons of countries where you can use a VPN freely and securely (the United States being one of them), and there are also lots of great VPN services that cost just a few bucks a month. I wanted to dig a little deeper though, to find out whether or not VPNS are legal in the following countries:

  • China
  • Germany
  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Japan
  • UK
  • Thailand
  • Singapore
  • Russia
  • Turkey
  • Cuba
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Argentina
  • Greece

Are VPNs Legal in the United States?

Yes! VPNs are legal in the United States for any non-illegal purposes. Keep in mind that if you go with a VPN who keeps logs, your VPN may be required to turn over those logs to law enforcement. NordVPN is one of the largest and most popular VPNs in the states and most other countries, as well.

Are VPNs Legal in China?

Are VPNs legal in China? It’s complicated. China imposes a very strict firewall on the internet inside the country, but laws surrounding VPNs seem to make the issue a grey area. Here are some things that we know:

  • China allows corporations to apply for permission to use VPNs. To receive permission, corporations are likely required to turn over usage laws or even grant the government backdoor access.
  • China has issued penalties or prison time for people who have created VPNs or for corporations who have used VPNs without permission — but other than a few small fines, it does not appear that China has imprisoned individuals (especially foreign individuals) for using a VPN.
  • China recently removed all VPNs from app stores making it very difficult to "safely" use a VPN in the country.
  • Because of China's extensive firewall use, VPNs have to be constantly tweaked and redeveloped.

In short, VPNs aren’t strictly illegal for individual use in China--but you should tread very carefully.

Are VPNs Legal in Germany?

Like most of the Western world--including the European Union--VPNs are legal in Germany as long as you’re using them for legal purposes. Here are two examples of why you might legally use a VPN in Germany:

  • Access the internet safely (for example, in a coffee shop, where you might be vulnerable to cyber attack)
  • Anonymous torrenting (torrenting is a type of peer-to-peer (P2P) tech that allows file sharing online. However, it makes your IP address visible to others on the same network. Using a VPN allows you to torrent without revealing your true location.)

Are VPNs Legal in Australia?

The Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill issued in Australia in 2015 is alarming for many reasons, but the good news for those wishing to use a VPN is that the bill does not ban the use of VPNs. As with any other technology, illegal activity--whether it’s on a VPN or not--is a no go, but a VPN itself is perfectly legal down under.

Companies like Netflix have long wished that VPNs were illegal, but currently, they have no recourse for pursuing legal action against individuals streaming content in geo-restricted areas using a VPN. You can, however, find yourself banned from using Netflix if they catch you using VPN--so proceed with caution!   

Are VPNs Legal in Canada?

VPNs are completely legal in Canada, just like they are in the United States and most of the rest of the Western world. You can use a VPN for individual use or a corporation without restrictions like you would find in China--though, keep in mind, that any illegal activity can still be punished.

Illegal activity includes illicit porn consumption or distribution, spying or hacking and using a VPN to cover your tracks, and so forth. Legal VPN activity, however, includes using a VPN for anonymous torrenting or to safely share files within a network.

Are VPNs Legal in Japan?

Yes, VPNs are legal in Japan. The country of Japan is considered extremely technological advanced, with an impressive 91% of the country connected to the internet. As such, VPNs are popular there both for Japanese citizens and for international visitors. Many high-quality VPNs exist in Japan, with several holding servers in Japan--helpful for Japanese nationals traveling outside the country.  

While illegal activity utilizing a VPN is still subject to prosecution, even for foreign visitors, you may continue to use a VPN on your phone, tablet, computer, or any other device just as you would in the United States.

Are VPNs Legal in the UK?

UK citizens have legitimate concerns about “Big Brother” and government oversight, so it makes sense that people are asking about the legality of using VPNs in the UK. The good news is that VPNs are legal in the UK (provided you’re conducting activities in a legal manner).

Visitors to the UK as well as people who live in the UK can use VPNs to do things like log in to their work’s private network when they’re away from the office and legitimately prevent companies like Facebook and even hackers from logging online activities including browsing habits. Keep in mind, however, that the police can and will require VPNs to turn over your logs if they suspect illegal activity.

Are VPNs Legal in Thailand?

VPNs are legal in Thailand--unless they’re used for illegal activity or to bypass government blocks. There are a lot of multinational companies in Thailand that rely heavily on VPNs to access company networks securely, and the Thai government is by necessity open to such technology.

However, since the most recent revision of the Computer Crime Act, Thailand has launched increased censorship of foreign sites and anything deemed unflattering, seditious, and so forth. This increased censorship has led to more individuals turning to VPNs, especially since there’s often little rhyme or reason to what sites are blocked and what is considered legal.

VPNs have become a way for individuals to protect themselves against government retaliation in Thailand.  

Are VPNs Legal in Singapore?

VPNs are legal, despite the country’s strict internet censorship. Over one hundred websites are now blocked in Singapore, but if you use a VPN, you can get past these blocks. Fortunately, Singapore has neither outlawed VPNs nor made using them to access restricted sites an explicitly illegal activity.

The high number of expats living in Singapore benefits greatly from this open policy when it comes to VPNs, whether that’s the access their home versions of Netflix or Hulu or home news websites.

Are VPNs Legal in Russia?

While only four or five countries in the world have outlawed VPNs altogether, a slightly larger number of countries have allowed them with strict rules governing their use--Russia is one of these countries. In 2017, Russian enacted a law limiting the legal use of VPNs and other proxy tools that enable individuals to search the internet anonymously.

VPNs may, technically, still function, but are required to provide total transparency to the Roskomnadzor, Russia’s media watchdog.

Are VPNs Legal in Turkey?

Turkey is one of the states that has not outright made VPN use illegal. However, it has cracked down heavily on VPN providers such as Tor. Experts believe Turkey is moving towards a closed system much like China’s, as it has also blocked extremely popular international social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp.

While such censorship makes VPNs more and more appealing in Turkey, it’s getting more and more difficult to find secure, legitimate VPNs to utilize.

Are VPNs Legal in Cuba?

Surprisingly, the use of VPNs is legal in Cuba. Despite heavy government censorship, sites like Facebook and Twitter are not banned, and neither are VPNs. The real problem, however, is the lack of internet connectivity in Cuba.

Only 5% of individuals have internet access in their homes, and even recent government-approved wifi hotspots in Havana and other major cities are still extremely limited and cost more than $2 per hour. Visitors to Cuba are welcome to utilize VPNs--but it’s finding (and paying for) internet access that will be the real problem.   

Are VPNs Legal in the United Arab Emirates?

Are VPNs legal in the UAE? Sort of. The laws as they exist are a bit muddled, and believed to exist to keep people off Skype, WhatsApp, and other VoIP services and instead using UAE’s telecom providers. The exact laws on the books don’t make VPN usage illegal, but they do promise prison time or even massive fines if VPNs are used to perform an illegal activity.

There’s also a potential that using a VPN to access a blocked site, like Skype, could also incur penalties. These laws, however, only apply to individuals--corporations may use VPNs.

Are VPNs Legal in Argentina?

VPNs are legal in Argentina, as they are in most of South America. Argentina has not always had a great human rights record and has proposed reforms that might make put Argentinian’s internet rights in question. For now, however, there are no explicit restrictions on VPNs and visitors and residents alike can use them.

Are VPNs Legal in Greece?

Are VPNs legal in Greece? Yes. Greece’s government has begun to censor internet use via site blocking (this has been going on since at least 2014 or 2015) however like most nations, Greece has done little to directly address the use of VPNs. This is good news for visitors looking to stream or download content from their home countries or wanting increased internet security while traveling, as beautiful Greece is a top travel destination for many!   

Final Thoughts

Most of us are much more vulnerable than we think we are, especially considering how much time we spend on the wifi! High-quality VPNs are a great way to protect yourself--and luckily they’re legal almost everywhere.


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