Whether or not using a VPN is illegal for you depends entirely on where you’re based. For instance, someone living in the US has a completely different experience with VPNs to someone living in North Korea. The reasons countries ban or restrict them differ based on the state and its motives, but it’s likely attributed to several things. Preventing resistance against the regime and monitoring citizens are online priorities for oppressive countries such as Belarus or Iran.

countries with strictest VPN rules and how to bypass them

Most parts of the world don’t ban them, although they might like to. Much of what people use VPNs for is legitimate – they allow businesses to offer a secure, uninterrupted connection to their private network. Families and friends can make private VoIP calls without the worry of their privacy being breached.

But it’s fair to say that most of the reasons for using a VPN are often illegal. P2P sharers can do what they do without surveillance; streamers can spoof their connection into accessing Geo-restricted content; deep divers can explore the seedy underbelly of the Internet, known as the dark web.

The legitimate benefits of using these services are why many countries will offer government-sanctioned alternatives. If you have nothing to hide, then this might be a good option. But using one of these VPNs usually means sacrificing your privacy and freedom. Not using them opens you up to hefty fines and even prison sentences. In countries like North Korea and Belarus they’re completely banned, and the punishment can be even harsher. For some, it’s a tough luck of the draw. It really is.

The Strictest countries with VPN

Russia

Russians have long faced oppression – way before the technology and industrial eras. Putin runs a tight ship, and those who speak out against him often land themselves in some form of trouble. It’s no secret that they’ve been embroiled in international scandals in recent years. The Olympic doping fiasco and, more recently, the Skripal novichok incident, are just a couple of examples. It comes as no surprise then – I hope – that this KGB-style of government keeps a tight grip on Internet privileges. It imposes its regulation on law-abiding citizens with the aim to prevent anti-establishment, ‘unlawful content’ from being accessed or uploaded. Just like the others listed below, it does allow government-sanctioned VPNs. The penalty for using one without government approval will see both you and the ISP landed with a fine.

China

China is well known for its stance on online freedom. The legislation and technology used to regulate Internet usage, quite cleverly nicknamed the ‘Great Firewall of China’, is oppressive to the everyday user. Typical social media websites and search engines are replaced with state-run alternatives, and state-owned providers have the market share. Anyone looking to set up a VPN in China must first seek approval from the government and adhere to their policies henceforth. Policies that essentially defeat the object of a VPN, but while they’re heavily regulated in China, they’re allowed. They just don’t provide what they’re supposed to. Using a service outside this regulation will land you a fine.

Iran 

Living in a state where religion and politics are one and the same is tough for Internet users. It’s highly unlikely there’ll ever be a light of Internet freedom at the end of the tunnel, mostly due to an ideology established several thousand years ago. Iran does, however, allow the use of VPNs, if they’re government approved. Just like China and Russia, Iran does this to be able to surveil its citizens, and to prosecute those who violate their state laws. While using a VPN here can land a user up to a year in the clink, actual legal motion is rare. The Iranian government has bigger fish to fry, namely those who oppose the regime.

Some of the best VPNs available in 2018

ExpressVPN 

ExpressVPN is one of the most reliable services in restrictive countries because of its stance on data-retention. Its location is a digital safe haven, because it isn’t subjected to any copyright infringement laws. It’s also one of the providers with the best level of protection available. Surveillance and hacking are prevented with a 256-bit AES encryption, DNS/IPv6 leak protection, as well as an automatic kill switch and the option of split tunneling. ExpressVPN refrains from restricting streaming and downloading and is available across all devices.

Cost: 1 Month - $12.95 (billed monthly) / 6 Months - $59.95 (billed twice a year) / 12 Months - $99.95 (billed once a year)

NordVPN

Users of NordVPN do so with high levels of encryption and privacy. As well as a 256-bit encryption, it comes with Onion over VPN and DoubleVPN for twice the encryption, and CyberSec for protection against intrusive adware. With access to NordVPN’s SmartPlay technology, streams become safer too. Its platform is simple to operate on all devices, so getting protection is easy for everyone. Plus, there’s unlimited bandwidth and zero throttling to ensure uninterrupted performance.

Cost: 1 Month - $11.95 (billed monthly) / 12 Months - $69.00 (billed once a year) / 24 Months - $79.00 (billed every two years)

VyprVPN

VyprVPN prides itself on being autonomous in the marketplace. It claims to not have any involvement from third parties and is in charge of maintaining the network and hardware – all of which it owns – itself. It uses exclusive Chameleon technology with a 256-bit encryption to get around any VPN blocking and throttling. Just like the others, VyprVPN also comes with unlimited bandwidth, as well as multiple protocols and protection against DNS leaks.

Cost: Basic plan - $60.00 (billed once a year, or $9.95 billed monthly) / Premium plan - $80.00 (billed once a year, or $12.95 billed monthly)