VPN usage is now widespread in the UK, with some 44% of Brits having used a virtual private network at some point in their lives.
What’s more, some 23% of the UK population accept and understand the need for VPNs, while this figure continues to grow year-on-year and the underlying technology becomes more widespread.
However, not all countries treat VPNs the same, as while their use is not prohibited on these shores, significant restrictions or even full bans exist in some global jurisdictions.
In this article, we’ll ask why you’d want to use a VPN when travelling overseas, while taking a look at the countries where legal restrictions exist.
Why Use a VPN Abroad (or When Travelling)?
Let’s start with a basic question; why would you need to use a VPN while travelling or visiting another country?
Well, to begin with, VPNs work by creating an encrypted tunnel between your desktop or mobile devices and a remote server. This ensures that all data and web traffic is encrypted, and appears as a string of indecipherable code to hackers and other network users.
The deployment of a remote server also masks your own IP address and physical location, which makes it much less likely that you’ll fall victim to malicious malware attacks and practices such as doxing.
So, when you’re travelling and visiting unfamiliar countries, you can use a trusted and reputable VPN to secure your network connections and create an additional layer of protection as you move from one location to another.
If you’re an avid streamer of content through platforms like Netflix or Hulu, the decision to use a VPN and connect to a remote server in a location of your choice can deliver additional benefits.
Remember, VPNs mask your corporeal location and use remote servers to trick others into thinking you’re located elsewhere in the world. At the same time, platforms like Netflix operate different content libraries jurisdictions across the globe, with licensing terms and restrictions meaning that you can access many more programs in the US or UK than you can in Central America.
So, utilising a VPN enables you to access your preferred Netflix content library, wherever you may be in the world. So, whether you want to access the comprehensive range of programs available in the UK or resume binge-watching one of your favourite UK series as you travel, you can do so with complete ease and convenience.
The Legalities of Using a VPN When Travelling – Where is the Technology Banned?
While there are numerous reasons to use a virtual private network when abroad or when travelling, and you’re allowed to download a VPN for UK usage, there remain a number of legal restrictions in different (and particularly authoritative) parts of the world.
In these jurisdictions, using a VPN can be expressly illegal in the worst-case scenario, while at best it’s likely to be wholly ineffective and difficult to find virtual private networks that work.
Currently, Russia, Belarus, North Korea, Turkmenistan, Iraq, Turkey and Oman have all imposed a complete ban on VPN usage. Belarus and Russia, who often operate in lockstep when it comes to introducing laws, enacted legislation banning VPNs in 2016 and 2017 respectively.
Interestingly, Belarus did so despite having a constitution that actively prohibits censorship, which perhaps shows how the country has become a little too entrenched in its allegiance with Russia over time.
Unsurprisingly, North Korea also operates a complete ban on VPNs, as does Turkmenistan. In the latter nation, VPN censorship reflects the government’s efforts to control all media outlets, while also ensuring that no outside news reports from overseas are accessible. This is a worrying trend in any country, of course, but it’s one that will affect you directly if you visit the jurisdiction or happen to pass through it.
Iraq, Oman and Turkey have also implemented complete VPN bans, and the latter nation may come as a surprise to some. However, Turkey has become an increasingly authoritarian and censorious nation in recent times, and VPNs have been blocked and made illegal since 2018.
Where Are Restrictions in Place?
There is at least some clarity when visiting countries that have implemented complete VPN bans, as you’ll know to avoid this course of action should you ever find yourself a guest in one of these nations.
However, there are also plenty of nations that have developed quite complex legislation and restrictions pertaining to VPN usage, which can create challenges when deciding whether or not to use this protocol (and how to access the technology).
For example, Uganda has moved to restrict VPN usage for monetary purposes, as the government actively taxes natives who use social media sites. However, people started to use VPNs to avoid this tax levy, so the authorities have instructed ISPs to block users.
However, VPNs are capable of preventing ISPs from identifying activity and usage in some cases (depending on the precise client), while the Ugandan government also lacks the technical expertise to completely enforce a ban. So, visitors may continue to use VPNs while within the country’s boundaries, but you should know that this is a risky and potentially unlawful practice.
The UAE and China have more stringent and strongly worded laws prohibiting VPN usage, with the former even allowing for minimum fines of 500,000 dirhams (approximately $136,129) to be imposed on users who are caught and identified.
In the case of China, however, there are exceptions to VPN illegality, as some government-approved service providers are able to leverage such technology. Such entities are generally agencies that may be directly answerable to the government, but this makes it theoretically possible to access and use a VPN.
Despite this, it’s almost impossible to recommend a VPN client that works reliably or consistently within China’s borders, and this is something to keep in mind when visiting the country or travelling through it.