Are VPNs Legal to Use? (Hint: It Depends Where You Are)

See whether VPNs are legal for your activities and for where you live.
Ben Walker, Author
Catherine McNally, Editor
Last updated May 19, 2022

Whether it’s your internet service provider (ISP) collecting data or a hacker trying to steal your information, having the right online protections in place is important. Virtual private networks (VPNs) provide a way to help hide your online activity and protect your privacy. But are VPNs legal to use?

In most cases, yes. But certain countries have laws or restrictions against VPNs. And VPNs won’t legalize anything illegal, including certain activities on the dark web. Learn more about why you might use a VPN and whether it would be legal for you to do so.

In this article
Are VPNs legal?
Where is it illegal to use a VPN?
Is it safe to use a VPN?
Why should you use a VPN?
FAQs
Bottom line

Yes, VPNs are legal for most countries in the world, including the U.S. and U.K.

You might consider using a VPN for a variety of reasons, but its main purpose is to help protect you while you’re online. VPNs do this by masking your IP address and adding encryption to help prevent anyone from seeing where you’re located or what you’re doing online.

Here are a few reasons you might want to use a VPN:

  • Hide your online searches
  • Hide your uploads
  • Hide your downloads
  • Mask your physical location
  • Keep sensitive information private

Keep in mind that all of these are legal reasons to use a VPN. You likely don’t want a hacker accessing your credit card information or home address while using an open Wi-Fi network.

In this case, using a VPN could help protect you and prevent identity theft. In another case, you might not want your ISP to collect and sell your personal data, such as your browsing history or health information.

It’s important to note that using a VPN won’t legalize any illegal activities. This means if an activity is already considered illegal where you live, using a VPN won’t change that — you would still be participating in illegal activity.

In the U.S., this could include torrenting copyrighted material, cyberbullying, and buying illegal drugs online. Torrenting copyrighted material typically includes downloading movies, shows, video games, or software without the proper permission.

Is it legal to stream with a VPN?

It’s typically legal to stream with a VPN in many countries, which could open up opportunities to stream content from different parts of the world. For example, Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services offer different streaming catalogs depending on where you live.

If you live in the U.S. and want to watch what’s available on Netflix in the U.K., you might use a VPN service to change your IP address to a location within the U.K. Although technically legal, this type of action typically goes against the terms of service for different streaming platforms.

Many popular streaming services block VPN use for different reasons, including licensing restrictions based on location. A provider such as Netflix might have a license to include certain content in its library, but only in select countries. If you try to use a VPN to skirt the geographical restrictions, you’re likely to get an error message.

In many cases, this will be the extent of your attempt to use a VPN with a streaming service — you simply won’t be able to stream anything until you turn off the VPN. However, it’s possible that a streaming service could ban you or suspend your account if you use a VPN for streaming.

Where is it illegal to use a VPN?

Although VPNs from legitimate companies are generally legal to use worldwide, certain countries restrict or ban their usage. If you use VPNs and travel, consider the VPN laws in these countries:

Belarus

Belarus bans VPNs and most internet access to foreign websites entirely.

China

China is known for its internet censorship laws under “The Great Firewall of China,” which limits how the internet is used within its borders. This includes banning non-government-approved VPNs.

However, the legality of using a VPN in China is a bit vague. To err on the side of caution, it’s likely better to avoid using VPNs if you’re visiting China.

Iran

Iran tends to block VPNs unless they’re government-approved. This doesn’t mean a VPN won’t work in Iran, but the majority of VPNs aren’t allowed.

Iraq

Iraq bans the use of VPNs. This is thought to be a response to help counteract propaganda efforts on the world wide web and social media by terrorist organizations.

North Korea

North Korea bans VPNs for its citizens, but are VPNs illegal for foreigners? It’s uncertain.

Oman

The country of Oman has a gray area with the legality of VPNs. But as a country with internet censorship in place, it’s likely best to avoid using one.

Russia

Russia has restricted VPN use in the past, but VPNs, in general, don’t appear to be illegal. However, you might want to avoid accessing any sites that the Russian government blocks.

Turkey

Turkey restricts VPN use. This could mean VPNs are still legal to use in Turkey, but you’d have to find one that works. You would also want to avoid accessing any blocked websites if you use a VPN.

Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan bans the use of VPNs. Turkmenistan has heavy censorship rules and internet restrictions in place. This isn’t a country with much internet freedom.

United Arab Emirates (UAE)

The UAE condemns the use of VPNs for illegal activities, but VPN use doesn’t appear to be illegal in UAE. However, certain VPN providers could be blocked.

Keep in mind that rules and laws are constantly changing in different countries. If you’re a frequent traveler, it likely makes sense to research technology laws for foreign countries before you visit them.

Is it safe to use a VPN?

It’s typically safe to use a VPN as long as you’re in a location where they aren’t banned or restricted. For security purposes, popular VPN services that you pay for are generally safe and secure to use.

Free VPNs might not offer the same security standards as paid options, though it’s always in your best interest to compare different VPN offerings. Here are a few factors to keep in mind when choosing a VPN service:

Internet speed

It’s normal to experience slower internet speeds with a VPN, but you likely don’t want a service that completely halts your internet usage. Check reviews to see which VPN services might have the least impact on your internet speed. Keep in mind that if you already have slow internet, it’s still going to be slow with a VPN.

Security

Research the type of security protocols in place for each VPN service, which could include their encryption type, a kill switch to disconnect your internet if the VPN drops, and multi-factor authentication. You also might want a VPN with a no-logs policy, which means the service itself won’t track your internet traffic. Examples of services with no-logs policies include NordVPN, ExpressVPN, and Surfshark.

Coverage

How many VPN servers does a company offer and where are they located? Having more servers and more locations gives you options for choosing the best setup for your VPN usage. For example, CyberGhost offers over 7,900 servers in more than 91 countries, including the U.S., Canada, Australia, Egypt, and more.

Ease of use

If a VPN isn’t easy to use, such as simply choosing a server and then pressing a button to connect to it, you might want to look into other options. Many of the best VPN services offer simple and straightforward functionality.

Multiple devices

Not all VPN users access VPNs through computers — some use apps on mobile devices as well. Compare different VPN companies to see what their device limits are and the types of devices you’re able to use.

Free trial

You might not be able to tell if a VPN has everything you’re looking for until you actually try it out. Take advantage of free trials and money-back guarantees to find a service that suits your needs.

Price

Many VPNs don’t cost much more than a few bucks a month if you sign up for a year or more at a time. But remember to consider what benefits you get with the price when comparing services.

Customer service

If you run into any hiccups, will someone be there to help? Research what a VPN’s customer service is like through online reviews or by testing it yourself when using a free trial.

Why should you use a VPN?

You should typically use a VPN to help improve your internet security and online privacy.

If you look at online security as a whole, you have multiple options for keeping your personal information as safe and secure as possible. This could include using software to protect against computer viruses, malware, and annoying ads.

You also might consider a password manager to help generate secure passwords for all your online accounts and to keep your online information organized.

Using a VPN is one more layer of security that contributes to your overall protection against unsavory characters and online threats. With a legitimate VPN, you’re able to hide your online activities and keep sensitive information private.

This could make sense for keeping sensitive work information safe, but it could also protect your personal financial information. For example, if you connect to a public Wi-Fi network at the airport or a restaurant, you could be giving hackers opportunities to access your internet activity.

This typically wouldn’t matter too much for most activities, but what if you log into an account or enter credit card information to make a purchase? This information could fall into the wrong hands, setting you up for fraudulent purchases and/or identity theft.

A VPN could protect you in this and other situations, whether you’re on public or private Wi-Fi. By encrypting your connection and masking your IP address, it becomes much more difficult for hackers to access any of your data.

FAQs


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Is it illegal to use a VPN for Netflix?

It’s typically not illegal to use a VPN for Netflix unless you’re in a country that bans VPN use in general. Using VPNs from legitimate companies is allowed in the U.S. and most countries worldwide.

However, using a VPN for Netflix to access streaming catalogs from other countries is likely against the company’s terms of service. In many cases, you might get an error message if you try using a VPN with Netflix.


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In what countries is using a VPN illegal?

It’s illegal or there are restrictions on using VPNs in these countries:

  • Belarus
  • China
  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • North Korea
  • Oman
  • Russia
  • Turkey
  • Turkmenistan
  • United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.)

Is a VPN illegal in the U.S.?

No, VPNs aren’t illegal in the U.S. However, certain actions that are already illegal are still illegal if you use a VPN. This could include pirating shows or movies, hacking, or engaging in activities on the dark web.


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Is a VPN illegal in the U.K.?

No, VPNs aren’t illegal in the U.K. Using a VPN for increased online security is legal in most countries worldwide, including the U.K. However, any illegal activity done while using a VPN would still be considered illegal. This includes downloading copyrighted material on the internet.

Bottom line

VPNs are typically legal to use worldwide, though you have to be wary of different laws in certain countries. This is helpful for everyday individuals and travelers because proper use of a VPN could help improve your online protection — potentially safeguarding you from cybersecurity threats.

But keep in mind that any illegal online activities would still be considered illegal with the use of a VPN. Downloading copyrighted material and engaging in certain activities on the dark web are illegal in the U.S. Learn how to stay safe online to help improve your online security.

Author Details
Ben Walker
Ben Walker is a writer at All About Cookies with a passion for all things internet and technology, whether it's using VPNs while away from home or organizing his life with password managers.