Do you live or work in Saudi Arabia? Travel there often? Want unrestricted access to the free, open internet while you’re there – unencumbered by Saudi Arabia’s strict censorship policies? Using a VPN can help you there – but the question remains: since Saudi Arabia is so oppressive and controlling of the internet, are VPNs even legal to use?
In this guide, we’ll give you the short-answer form of whether VPNs are legal in Saudi Arabia, then guide you through the criteria we used to select the best VPNs for the job. We’ll give you our list, then expand on Saudi Arabia’s censorship policies and how VPNs can help you get around them.
- 1 VPNs – Legal or not in Saudi Arabia?
- 2 How to choose a VPN for Saudi Arabian use
- 3 Best legal VPNs for Saudi Arabia
- 4 How to get around censorship in Saudi Arabia with a VPN
- 5 Legality of VPNs around the world
- 6 Internet censorship in Saudi Arabia
- 7 Be careful – even when using a VPN
- 8 Conclusion
VPNs – Legal or not in Saudi Arabia?
The shortest answer we can give is — Yes.
Although, the Saudi Arabian government actively censors the internet access and activity of its users (including blocking as many as 5.5 million sites). In fact, the Guardian once called it the leader of Arab regimes in terms of censorship. Still, they haven’t completely outlawed VPN usage yet.
So, with so many sites blocked, using a VPN to get around this censorship may be toeing the line – but doing so with a VPN is still completely legal.
How to choose a VPN for Saudi Arabian use
Now that you know that VPNs are legal in Saudi Arabia, how do you choose the best one to use? With the vast numbers of free and paid VPNs out there, it can be overwhelming trying to sort through it all. Lucky for you, we did it already – and here are the criteria we used. If the VPN you’re looking at meets all these criteria, chances are it’s a good one:
- Strong encryption – To make the list, each VPN we looked at had to have powerful encryption capable of bypassing censorship and geo-blocks. They also had to be tough enough to keep your identity, actual location, and traffic hidden and secure.
- Device compatibility – With so many internet users in Saudi Arabia relying on mobile devices, it only makes sense that your VPN have software to protect your smart phone, tablet, or other device. Each VPN on our list had to be compatible with the most common operating systems.
- Server network size – Having a large server network at your disposal means you have greater agency over your VPN experience. Choose the best server based on location, on latency, or on other built-in features your provider may offer. More servers equals more options for a given use-case.
- Zero-logging policy – Many ISPs track, record, and then sell your data to third parties. If you’re going to run the same information through a VPN, you want to avoid that problem, too. So each VPN we included on our list below have sturdy no-logging policies to keep your information the way it should be: private.
Best legal VPNs for Saudi Arabia
We now present the top four best VPNs that are completely legal to use in Saudi Arabia:
In addition to being one of the fastest providers on the market, ExpressVPN offers encryption protocols so strong, it would take millions of years for the world’s best supercomputer to crack it and get at your data. Alongside this, they offer a DNS leak test and automatic kill switch to stop any of your information from every leaking out.
ExpressVPN also gives you more than 2,000 servers in 94 countries to choose from and are exempt from the Five, Nine, and Fourteen Eyes surveillance agreements. Widely available for most desktop, mobile, browsers, and even TV, gaming consoles, and routers, you’re able to connect as many as three devices at once – so you can keep your desktop, smart phone, and tablet secure.
With the split tunneling feature, you don’t have to turn your VPN on and off if you want to switch between local content and uncensored sites – you can pick and choose which sites will go through your VPN, keeping you safe and unblocked while letting you continue to catch up on local news and channels.
Finally, ExpressVPN offers a solid zero-logging policy. No logging of traffic, DNS requests, IP addresses, or browsing history means they don’t have any information that can be used to identify you.
Learn more about this great provider in our full ExpressVPN review.
NordVPN comes in high on our list – and it’s easy to see why. They give you a truly massive network to work with: more than 5,000 servers in 62 countries, along with a slew of specialty servers. No matter which country you choose to connect to or from, you’re virtually guaranteed a fast and stable connection.
Beyond range of choice and sheer performance, NordVPN delivers hard on the privacy front, with virtually unbreakable 256-bit AES encryption as well as one of the industry’s best no-logging policies. But NordVPN’s advanced features are where this provider really shines – and make it an incredible pick for oppressive governments like Saudi Arabia. They offer specialty servers for various use-cases — so you can get extra anonymity on Onion network, utilize a double VPN for extra encryption, or hide the fact that you’re using a VPN with obfuscated servers. You can also tweak the encryption protocols to get through the toughest firewalls.
NordVPN is also one of the most reliable services for bypassing VPN blocks thrown up by popular streaming sites, like Netflix. This is especially handy considering that dedicated VPN software is available for all major operating systems, so you can always stream and browse with complete peace of mind.
Take a look at everything this great service has to offer in our full 2018 NordVPN review.
With PrivateVPN, you get two very important things: speed and security. 256-bit encryption comes standard, but when you need an extra boost in speed, you’re able to drop the encryption to 128 bits. Why would you want to? Because although not as strong as the 256-bit, 128 is still excellent, and gives you an even better balance between performance and privacy. This allows you to get past Saudi Arabia’s censorship, and do so without losing the ability to download, stream, and share seamlessly.
PrivateVPN is based out of Sweden, which is a very privacy-friendly country. But even if requested by officials, PrivateVPN wouldn’t be able to give out any of your information that could be used to identify you, thanks to their no-logging policy. And an automatic kill switch keeps your information safe by shutting off your connection in case of an accidental drop – before your data can be spied by your ISP.
At more than 80 servers in 57 countries, you have access to enough nodes to always find the best connection for you use-case. PrivateVPN also provides support for Windows, Mac OS, Linux, Android, iOS, and more – so there’s no need to worry about not being able to use the app on your device.
Check out our PrivateVPN review to find out more.
How to get around censorship in Saudi Arabia with a VPN
So how do you actually get around the firewalls blocking you from view content when in Saudi Arabia?
Well, VPNs help you break through these censorship firewalls by encrypting your data and traffic. This encryption prevents the censorship firewalls from being able to “see” what you’re viewing – streaming video, downloading files, surfing, etc. And if the firewall can’t see it, it can’t block your access to it.
Here are the steps:
- Sign up for a VPN provider, then download and install its software onto the device you’d like to have protected.
- Open the VPN application and sign in with your VPN credentials.
- Pick a server in a country near to, but outside of Saudi Arabia and connect to it. Some VPNs will automatically connect you to the fastest server that is nearest, so you may have to go to the VPN’s server list to change this if it’s one within Saudi Arabia.
- Now that you’re connected, you’re good to go, right? Sort of. Before you start browsing, streaming, and downloading, run a test on your IP address. Open your web browser and visit ipleak.net. Near the top it should say, “Your IP Addresses.” Just below it there should be a box with a bunch of digits. Just under those digits should be a country name (United States, Saudi Arabia, Britain, etc.). If the country in the box matches the country your chosen server is in, you’re securely connected to your VPN’s server and safe to access the internet further – without worry of being spied on, traced, or censored.
Legality of VPNs around the world
For the most part, VPNs are legal to use around the world. But wondering whether they are is a good question to ask, especially since some countries – like China, Russia, Iraq, and North Korea – either restrict or ban the usage of VPNs.
But although VPNs are legal in most countries, they can breach terms of service of certain online services. I.e., although it’s not illegal to use a VPN to access a streaming service like Netflix or Hulu, it does breach their terms of service. So if they were to somehow catch up to you, you could be banned from using their service. With a good VPN, though, this isn’t likely to happen.
And although most VPNs promise to maintain zero logs on your traffic, there is precedence for some providers handing over information on users when law enforcement comes knocking – but again, you shouldn’t have this problem with any of the VPNs on our list above.
Internet censorship in Saudi Arabia
The Saudi Arabian government placed a web filter over all internet access in the country in the early 2000s that gave them complete control over what residents can view online while in the country. Since 2008, it’s been estimated that the Saudi Telecommunications Commission has blocked more than 5.5 million websites.
But, they’ve also slowed down internet connections of websites and services and imposed new restrictions. As recently as 2016, the company Telegram was throttled to stop people from sharing photos and files on its messenger service. Mobile service providers are also now required to obtain and keep on file the fingerprints of new SIM card buyers.
Two types of blocked content
The Saudi Arabian Internet Services Unit has two lists of blocked content. The first blocks “immoral” content, like adult websites and pornography. The other filters criticisms of local government or religious policies. Most fall under the following categories (taken from another post we wrote on this subject):
- Regional – anything coming from outside the country
- Society and culture – political and opinion content
- Business and economy
- News and media
- Reference and education
Be careful – even when using a VPN
Saudi Arabia regularly violates users’ rights, including jailing those who speak out in opposition. While we don’t advocate breaking laws or putting yourself in danger, if you plan on engaging in human advocacy activities or criticizing governmental/religious policies – even in anonymous chat rooms – you’ll need more than just a VPN to protect yourself.
More powerful protection is needed – take a look at Tor, instead.
Although the Saudi Arabian government has a tight hold on what residents can view online, you can get around these restrictions with a VPN. And with this guide, you can rest assured that, despite the government’s widespread censorship, it’s still 100% legal to do so in Saudi Arabia – and make an informed choice on the right VPN for you.
Do you live, work, or travel often to Saudi Arabia? Have you used a VPN to access the full internet while there, or considered doing so? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.