Many of us take for granted that we can use the internet for just about anything – like social media, watching TV, or even reading the new – without any limitations. That is not the case across the globe. Several large and modern countries have governments that censor technology, including access to the internet. For some nations, they believe open access to information may be seen as a threat to the government. Others believe they are limiting access to distasteful or immoral content.
As such, there are several places around the world that limit internet activity. In these locations, you can’t access just any websites and online services you want to. However, there are some solutions to get around censorship abroad. With a proper VPN set up, you may be able to access more content. However, because you may be breaking some rules, you’ll have to be careful to secure your online activity and prevent the wrong people from finding out about your VPN use.
Here are six places where you’ll need a VPN to bypass censorship:
Concerned about foreign content, the Iranian government has banned a list of foreign websites and services from the use by the local population. The country of Iran bans some internet activity citing moral, religious and political purposes as the primary reasons. In Iran, some keywords are banned which can cause innocent searches to also be tricky. For example, words such as “embassy” are censored because it contains the word “ass” in it. An intranet within Iran’s borders serves as a subpar substitute that’s significantly slower and offers Iran-only sites.
To keep using foreign sites, you’ll need a VPN. Having a VPN is against Iranian law, but this may not be enforced as long as you lay low and avoid upsetting local authorities.
The People’s Republic of China has very high surveillance and many blocks. China blocks so many sites, its censorship is often referred to as The Great Firewall of China – noon to the popular Great Wall of China.
Many major apps and social media services that we use daily are blocked there including Facebook, Google, YouTube, and Reddit. Chinese does have some alternatives to popular International apps and websites and in some cases, some website may be accessible. Additionally, because of the censorship, there are several unique apps that are built just for the Chinese market.
Additionally, China tracks and monitors all VPNs. It’s illegal to use a VPN here without permission and an official license, but some users manage to hide theirs.
With a partially-closed Internet, the Russian government exerts strong surveillance over online users. Several popular sites are not accessible in Russia including LinkedIn, which the Russian government cited had inappropriate access to user’s information.
The Russian government does not allow unapproved VPNs to be used and may penalize VPN users who fail to register and obtain permission. Over time, experts believe Russia will continue to trend to censorship and even develop a closed-off internet system similar to China.
Pakistan’s government bans online content and sites for morality and political concerns. Many popular websites like Facebook, YouTube and Instagram have been blocked at one time or another due to “immoral content”. While these sites may come back for a period of time, it is often at the discretion of the government in charge. Pakistan also blocks certain keywords and can block individual activity during national religious holidays.
Depending on when you are in Pakistan, you may be able to access popular foreign sites without using a VPN, but you’re probably better off using one for greater access.
Located north west of Afghanistan, Turkmenistan blocks many sites and has a high level of government surveillance. The government here continues to add sites to the blocked list.
You’re going to want to use a VPN if you travel through Turkmenistan. Because many websites are banned completely by the local government, a VPN may be necessary to access the foreign sites and services you need.
6. Saudi Arabia
Concerned with suppressing political dissent, Saudi Arabia uses censorship to block access to a lot of foreign sites and content. The government here censors content made by citizens if it is deemed too immoral or politically dissident. Also, some major sites like Skype and WhatsApp have been banned although they often do return. Using centralized online hubs, Saudi Arabia routes and censors traffic for keywords and information that’s banned or restricted.
VPN may not be illegal, but it may be blocked because of the main, IP-filtering, internet hub.
Preparing for Your Trip to a Censored Country
Before you go, consider preparing ahead for your trip and finding the right VPN service. Follow these tips: Consider your speed. VPNs can slow down your connection, so be sure to find one that doesn’t slow it down too much.
1. Use an auto-connect feature so you can get online and be protected right away without thinking about it. You’re on the road, and manually connecting might not always be the first thing on your mind.
2. Find a service with plenty of endpoints so if some of them are blocked, you’ll still be able to connect.
3. Check to make sure your service was recently working where you plan to go. Some countries are always on the lookout for ways to block VPNs, so you want to stay one step ahead of the government at all times.
4. Get something that’s user-friendly. The last thing you want to do is troubleshoot your VPN service when you really need it to work flawlessly.
5. Read reviews and tutorials before you leave if you need to. Test out the service and make sure it’s what you’re looking for.
With a little advance preparation and a bit of luck, you’ll be able to access anything you need even if you’re surrounded by an oppressive regime. Over time, it’s possible other countries will close down access to the outside Internet and more governments may become restrictive. Thankfully, the right VPN can work wonders and open (online) doors.