Updated June 19, 2019
South Korea, as popular as it is with tourists and settlers, is much like most Asian governments in that it’s known for digitally oppressing its population. Not only are journalists imprisoned for coverage on topics like North Korea, but women advocating feminist views have been known to be targets of harassment. While it’s certainly the more liberal side of the peninsula, many argue that it’s increasing restrictions, such as snooping on and censoring SNI traffic, make South Korea an online dictatorship.
Now, South Korea has one of the highest rates of mobile and internet penetration rates worldwide -- which is what makes it such an issue. According to Freedom on the Net, while considering ‘smart’ devices like phones, televisions and games consoles, approximately 97-percent of South Koreans have had internet access since 2012. With most of the population using some sort of device to benefit from SK’s rapid connections, it’s easy for the government to monitor and censor the content they don’t want people within their borders to access.
But much like borders, these web restrictions can be circumvented: with the right tools and know-how. A virtual private network (VPN) allows users to bypass a government’s online reach while spoofing ISPs at the same time. By using a VPN, all traffic is first routed through an encrypted server, making internet activity untraceable, but also seemingly coming from a different country to the user’s own. While the IP isn’t traceable, it will appear to the website that the user is perhaps in the States rather than South Korea, for example.
Not every VPN is a good choice – especially in countries where penalties for illegal online activity could be more severe. Any decent VPN worth its salt will offer what’s mentioned above, as well as strong levels of encryption and a worldwide server-base. When determining the best VPNs, the following criteria should always be considered:
- A large global server network
- Top speeds and infrastructure in Asia
- Compatibility across device platforms
- Powerful encryption
Based on these considerations, the following are the top recommended VPNs for South Korea in 2019.
ExpressVPN has always been a great option for South Korea. It has a vast server network spanning 94 countries, with many based in Asian countries like South Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Macau, and Hong Kong. It’s amongst the few that actually work well in South Korea and offer close options for streaming neighboring countries’ content. As it’s based in the Britsh Virgin Islands, a haven for internet freedom, users won’t need to worry about the provider succumbing to the government’s information requests.
It employs the highest level of encryption and is able to evade many strict proxy detection systems, and native apps are available for nearly all devices, like MacOS, Windows, Android, iOS and Linux.
NordVPN doesn’t have servers in as many countries as ExpressVPN, but it has twice as many in its global network, with many based in South Korea.
NordVPN has no issue with its subscribers using P2P networks and employs dedicated servers for this purpose. All data when possible is sent through a double-hop connection – meaning that all traffic data is encrypted through two servers, making it especially ideal for use in an oppressive country.
CyberGhost continues expanding its service in over 50 countries, with more than 1200 servers and growing. Just like the providers mentioned above, CyberGhost has a large number of its servers based in Asia, including South Korea, India, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Japan, among others.
Cyberghost comes with random-attack protection, and also dedicates servers to torrenting, which makes anonymous P2P sharing in South Korea much safer. It offers Bitcoin subscription payments, unlike most others, and also offers apps for all popular devices and operating systems.
Avoid using free VPNs in South Korea
Tempting as it may be, don’t use free VPN services in South Korea. The most important feature of using a VPN here, encryption, is basically non-existent. Most free providers will come with the promise of privacy, but by the same token sell your data to third-parties and cave under government data requests.
If cash is tight and you need to use free VPN services, go for the trial versions of well-established providers. Just keep in mind that most of these trials will usually have limitations, like data-usage caps. That includes regular activities like video streaming, torrenting and online gaming services, as they use up these data allowances extremely fast. It’s important to remember, though, that free VPNs aren’t a long-term solution.
South Korea’s legal landscape is forever changing. The idea that its government is now eavesdropping on SNI data, giving greater power to its state censors, speaks volumes for a country that’s long been embroiled in corruption.
It’s tough for the everyday user, given that the only real reason most content is banned is the government’s disliking to the free-flow of information. And it’s ironic that a trade powerhouse like South Korea, with its international trade partners, can deny its citizens the same benefit of freedom of information.
It’s especially important to employ a VPN when connecting to the web in South Korea, no matter what digital device you use most. The services recommended in this article will effectively conceal user identity and help South Koreans avoid prosecution.