Internet freedom continued to decline in Russia during 2020. Freedom House rated the country’s internet freedom as “Not Free,” with a rating of 30/100, one point lower than 2019. (0 = least free, 100 = most free.)
Telecom providers in the country are required to store the content of voice calls, data, images and text messages for 6 months, and to store metadata (sender and recipients of messages, the time and date and more) for 3 years.
Russian authorities censor and block a wide range of online topics, often throwing up such roadblocks in the name of combating “extremism.” This is why you need a Virtual Private Network (VPN).
While Facebook, Twitter, and some other social networks are available, they are heavily monitored. The use of private messaging apps, such as Telegram, is officially blocked by the Russian government.
Netflix and some other streaming sites are available in Russia, but the available content varies from that of other countries.
Russian citizens and visitors need not worry about censorship laws or having their online activities monitored or blocked by the Russian government, or having their entertainment options limited. A Virtual Private Network (VPN) subscription will keep their online activities undercover and will unlock geo-blocked content from around the globe.
But not all popular VPN services work well and can be slow in Russia due to the blockade.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the 5 best VPN providers that have proven to provide the best online protection from inside of Russia, while also offering proven unblocking of geo-blocked content.
How to Use a VPN Provider From Inside Russia
To use a VPN from inside Russia, do the following:
- Subscribe to a VPN provider. (I recommend NordVPN.)
- Install the provider’s app(s) on your connected device(s).
- Log into the VPN service.
- Select a VPN server outside of Russia to access content in other countries or to protect your online activities. (None of these providers have servers inside Russian borders.)
- Enjoy your internet freedom and anonymity!
PRO TIP: Download your VPN of choice to your devices before entering Russia. It’s always possible that the website of your VPN could be blocked while inside Russia, so you’re much better off playing it safe and setting up the VPN before you enter Russia.
Best VPNs for Use in Russia
These 5 VPN providers have proven themselves to be the best bets for VPN protection while inside Russian borders. If you’re short on time, here’s the TL;DR version:
- NordVPN: This long-time leader in the VPN industry provides reliable VPN protection, a wide-ranging global server network and top-notch multi-platform support and customer support.
- Surfshark: This budget-priced provider will deliver above-average VPN protection at a below-average price. The provider’s multi-year subscription options offer excellent value, delivering services on a level with many higher-priced providers.
- ExpressVPN: ExpressVPN offers optimal security and privacy protections, as well as a massive server network, great multi-platform support and fast connection speeds.
- CyberGhost: Newbie VPN users or users looking for an easy way to obtain top-notch VPN protection will appreciate CyberGhost. Easy-to-use apps provide access to a comprehensive global server network, which includes streaming- and file sharing-optimized servers.
- IPVanish: When you’re using a VPN from inside of Russia, every little extra bit of online privacy is always welcome. This provider owns and operates its entire global server network, keeping any third-party contractors away from their users’ personal information.
Note: While I normally require a VPN to have a physical server presence located inside any of the countries I cover, Russia is a glaring exception to that rule. Russia requires VPNs operating inside Russian borders to block access to websites banned by the government. This has led to most VPN providers pulling their servers from Russian soil. The VPNs still work, you just won’t be able to connect to a Russian server to access Russia-only content.
When ranking these providers, I considered the following factors:
- Global server coverage
- Privacy and security features
- Connection speeds
- Multi-platform app support
- Customer support offerings
The 5 best VPNs for use inside of Russia are:
NordVPN is the best choice for optimal connection protection and enhancement from inside the country of Russia.
The provider’s global network includes over 5,500 servers, stationed in 59 countries, giving you plenty of access to streaming, gaming and other kinds of content across the free world.
NordVPN connections are protected with military-grade encryption, kill switch protection, and IPv6 and DNS leak prevention. Malware and ad blocking are also available. The provider’s Onion Over VPN feature can route your traffic through the Onion network for added anonymity.
That’s in addition to the provider’s obfuscated servers and Double VPN option, which routes your connection through two VPN servers for increased security.
Privacy protection is well handled by the provider’s no-server-logs policy and a cryptocurrency payment option.
Russian connection speeds, while above average compared to the rest of the world, aren’t exactly blazingly fast (half the speeds found in the U.S.), making it important to have a VPN that doesn’t significantly slow your connection. NordVPN delivered some of the fastest speeds in my most recent round of connection speed tests, meaning it won’t slow your connection by much.
App support from the provider includes apps for the Amazon Fire, Android, Android TV, iOS, Linux, macOS and Windows device platforms. Chrome and Firefox browser extensions protect your browsing activity, while extensive router features protect all of your connected devices. Up to 6 devices can connect to the service at once on a single login.
Always-on customer support consists of 24/7 live support chat, email support and a searchable information library.
- Servers in 59 countries
- Incredibly fast speeds
- Good app support
- Simple, affordable VPN
- Android app doesn’t include a kill switch
BEST BUDGET-MINDED VPN OPTION:NordVPN is the best choice for Russian users looking for optimal protection for their online activities thanks to its extensive suite of security features. The provider offers some of the fastest speeds around and protects your privacy thoroughly. A 30-day, no-risk money-back guarantee is available.
Read my full review of NordVPN.
If you’re watching every ruble, and who isn’t these days, you’ll appreciate Surfshark‘s low multi-year subscription prices.
The provider’s global server network includes 3,200+ servers stationed in 65+ countries around the globe. It should be noted that the server count is nearly double what it was last year, so it’s possible that it will only continue to grow in size.
Connection protection is made up of military-level encryption, as well as a kill switch, and DNS and IPv6 leak prevention. The provider also offers a “Multi-Hop” option that routes your connection through two VPN servers for double VPN encryption and anonymity.
Your privacy is protected by a strict no-logs policy and a Bitcoin payment option.
Surfshark connection speeds are above average and can easily handle gaming, online gambling, video streaming and file sharing. Data caps will never rear their ugly head. Worldwide they came up well in my latest VPN speed test.
App support includes options for the Android, iOS, Linux, macOS, Windows, Android TV and Amazon Fire device platforms. Chrome and Firefox browser extensions are available, as is support for various router types. If you’re looking for VPN protection for all of your comrades, you’ll appreciate the provider’s unlimited simultaneous connections allowance.
Always-available support includes 24/7 support chat, a contact form and a searchable support library.
- “Multi-Hop” protection = double encryption and anonymity
- Low-priced subscriptions
- Unlimited connections allowance
- Fast connections
- Apps lack some advanced options
BEST FOR BUDGET:Surfshark is the wisest choice on this list for budget-minded individuals due to its bargain-priced multi-year VPN subscription options. Its security and privacy protections are top-notch, and it offers an unlimited concurrent connections allowance. A 30-day money-back guarantee is available.
Read my full review of Surfshark.
ExpressVPN‘s optimal security and privacy protections make it a great choice for security-minded users who want to protect their connections thoroughly.
The provider’s comprehensive global server network provides optimal access to the world outside of Russia thanks to its over 3,000 servers located in 94 countries around the globe.
Your online activities are well protected thanks to banking-grade encryption, a kill switch, and DNS and IPv6 leak prevention. A split-tunneling option allows you to pick and choose which applications will use the encrypted ExpressVPN connection.
Your privacy is also well kept at this provider thanks to a strict no-logs policy, as well as the option to use Bitcoin to pay for your subscription. An added level of privacy is offered by ExpressVPN’s TrustedServer technology, which runs all servers from RAM, never saving data to a physical hard drive. All data is wiped with each reboot of a server.
ExpressVPN only minorly slows a user’s connection, providing enough bandwidth for most online activities. No data caps to deal with, either.
No matter which device you use to access the internet, ExpressVPN probably has an app for it. Apps are available for the Amazon Fire, Android, Android TV, iOS, macOS, Linux and Windows device platforms.
Firefox and Chrome users can take advantage of the provider’s browser extensions, and extensive router support is also available. Up to 5 devices can connect at once on the same account.
Customer support is always there for you, as it includes 24/7 live support chat, email support, a trouble ticket system and a searchable support library.
- Comprehensive global server network
- Reliable access to content around the globe
- Excellent privacy and security features
- Outstanding native app support
- More expensive than many of its competitors
- Doesn’t offer many advanced configuration options
GREAT FOR SECURITY:ExpressVPN is an admirable VPN provider that offers extensive security features and above-average privacy protections. You’ll want to check out this provider if security and privacy are your main concerns. A 30-day money-back guarantee is available.
Read my full review of ExpressVPN.
Newbie VPN users or internet users who are new to the online scene will appreciate CyberGhost’s easy-to-use apps and services.
The provider has over 6,900 servers stationed in 90 countries. You’ll find that many of those servers are optimized for file sharing and streaming video.
CyberGhost’s server network provides well-protected connections that are protected with military-grade encryption, a kill switch, and DNS/IPv6 leak protection. CyberGhost will also block ads and online trackers and will even force websites to serve up HTTPS versions of their pages if you so desire.
No privacy worries thanks to the provider’s strict no-logs policy and its acceptance of Bitcoin in return for its considerable services.
Fast connections are the rule here, with plenty of horsepower for streaming sites, file downloading and gaming. No daily or monthly data caps to worry about here.
CyberGhost is an optimal option for new VPN users thanks to its variety of easy-to-use apps. There are options available for the Amazon Fire, Android, Android TV, iOS, macOS, Linux and Windows platforms.
Chrome and Firefox browser extensions are also available. The provider’s router features can protect all of your connected devices. Up to 7 devices can connect to the service simultaneously on the same account.
Always-available support chat, email support, a trouble ticket system and a searchable support database provide 24/7 support.
- Thousands of servers in 89 countries
- Streaming-ready connections
- Easy-to-use apps for popular device platforms
- Streaming- and file sharing-optimized servers
- Advanced users might miss some options
- Can’t unblock some streaming sites
BEST NEWBIE VPN USER OPTION:Users who are new to the VPN scene, or who simply want easy-to-use VPN protection, will appreciate the services that CyberGhost provides. Features include easy-to-use apps, a comprehensive global server network, and streaming- and downloading-optimized servers. A 45-day, no-risk money-back guarantee is available.
Read my full review of CyberGhost.
IPVanish provides excellent VPN protection, and even takes privacy protections one step further than the other providers on this list.
The provider’s global server network includes 1,400+ servers located in 60 countries around the globe. IPVanish owns and operates every one of those servers, not leasing them like many other providers do.
By owning and managing all of their server farms, the provider offers an extra layer of privacy by keeping third-party contractor hands off of your personal data.
All of those servers provide banking-level encrypted connections that are also protected by a kill switch, an auto-reconnect feature, and a proprietary “scramble” feature that disguises your VPN activity as normal browser traffic.
No server logs are ever written or saved. While most users will likely pay using a credit card or PayPal, it’s worth noting that a cryptocurrency payment option is not available.
IPVanish’s connection speeds should easily handle whatever you throw at them, including streaming sites, file sharing, and gaming. No data caps here.
IPVanish app support includes offerings for the Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, ChromeOS, and Amazon Fire device platforms. There are setup instructions for Linux devices. Router support is present and accounted for, but browser extensions are not. An unlimited number of devices can connect to the service at once using a single login.
24/7 customer support chat, a searchable support database, and email support are available.
- Proprietary “scramble” feature
- Keeps third-party contractors away
- Unlimited devices can connect simultaneously
- No Bitcoin payment option
- Short-term subscriptions are expensive
AN ADDED LAYER OF SECURITY:IPVanish is a great option for Russian users looking for a bit of added privacy and security. The provider owns and operates all of its servers, so no third-party contractors get near your data. Plus, a “scramble” feature disguises your VPN activities. Unfortunately, there’s no Bitcoin payment option. A 30-day money-back guarantee is available.
Read my full review of IPVanish.
Methodology for Assessing VPNs for Russia
Never select a VPN service provider for use in Russia before confirming whether or not it will work in the overly restrictive country. It has been shown that not just any VPN will always work. I’ve put the best available VPNs through their paces to determine whether or not they will work effectively in Russia, and I’ve listed them above.
These are the categories I paid close attention to when assessing those VPNs for use in Russia:
- Speed: While Russian internet speeds are actually fairly decent, a faster connection is always a plus. Russian users enjoy gaming, streaming, and other popular online pastimes, just the same as the rest of the world. All of the VPNs on my list, especially NordVPN and ExpressVPN, provide super-fast download speeds.
- Server Network: A large server network is an important consideration for many online activities, as it improves your chances of unblocking geo-blocked internet content in other countries. In addition, a high server count in multiple countries can leads to improved performance, as no single server will be hit too hard by large groups of users.
- Value: Never settle for a VPN that asks a premium price without offering premium features. Each VPN I recommend for Russia offers an excellent value, with a reasonable asking price, while offering a high level of service.
- Ease of Use: A VPN should be as easy to use as possible. Providers should offer powerful, yet easy-to-use apps. The VPNs I recommend offer simple-to-use yet powerful apps. A VPN provider should also offer apps for a wide array of device platforms, allowing you to use the VPN with as many of your devices as possible.
- Security and Privacy: Since the Russian government puts several limitations on its citizens’ internet usage, making comprehensive digital security and privacy protections essential features of any VPN. Banking-level encryption, an automatic kill switch, and DNS/IP leak protection are the bare minimum bit of online security that you should accept. A VPN should never save server logs of any kind, so the Russian government can never order that any usage records be turned over (because there won’t be any).
- Streaming: Streaming is a popular online activity among many VPN users, so it makes sense to consider a VPN’s ability to provide access to geo-blocked streaming content. Each VPN on my list offers reliable access to Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and other popular streaming sites.
Check out more information about my VPN testing methodology.
Will a Free VPN Work in Russia?
While a free VPN might work in the land of the bolsheviks, do you really want to trust a free VPN provider with your security in a restrictive country like Russia?
The “private” part of “Virtual Private Network” is often missing with free VPNs. Many popular VPN services pay the bills by tracking their customers’ online activities and then selling that information to advertisers and other nosy parties. If a free VPN keeps logs of your online activity and sells it, what makes you think they wouldn’t sell or give it to Russian authorities?
Other freebie VPN providers have been caught injecting unwanted tracking cookies and advertisements into their users’ browsing sessions. Those tracking cookies stick around, even after you disconnect from the VPN’s servers.
You’ll also likely be dissatisfied with both the convenience and performance of a free VPN.
When you connect to a free VPN, you could be forced to cool your heels in a virtual waiting room until a slot opens up on the provider’s limited servers selection. Then, once you’re given the go-ahead to connect, you’ll likely either be automatically connected to a server of the provider’s choice, or have a limited number of server locations to choose from.
When you’re finally connected, you may find that your internet connection is greatly slowed down. Many freebie providers will throttle the connections of their free users to preserve bandwidth for use by their paying customers. You’ll also likely find your VPN usage is limited by daily or monthly data caps.
None of this sounds good to me, does it sound good to you? Pay a few bucks per month for reliable VPN protection – you’ll be glad you did.
What Can I Do With A VPN?
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is the best way to both protect and enhance your online activities.
A VPN’s ability to temporarily assign a new IP address to your connected device increases the amount of online content available to you. Since an IP address can be used to determine a user’s geographical location, gaining a new IP that identifies you as being in another country allows you to access content reserved for that country.
This location-“spoofing” ability allows you to use a VPN to access streaming content, gaming servers, financial services and more that might not be available from your actual location.
A VPN’s protection keeps prying eyes away from your online activities, whether those Nosy Nellies include the government, your ISP or the guy with the cool rig at the next table over in the coffee shop.
A VPN encrypts your internet connection, so it comes in handy when you’re using a public Wi-Fi hotspot such as are found in stores, hotels, coffee shops, and other public locations. Hackers love those.
Since most hotspots lack encryption, all of your online activities are open to monitoring. That means a bad guy could glean information from your online shopping, bill paying and banking. UGH!
Encryption also prevents your ISP from monitoring your online travels, meaning they can’t collect information on your usage and sell it to advertisers or give it to the government. Plus, it also prevents the ISP from throttling or blocking your connection simply because you’re engaging in “unapproved” activities, like sharing files.
Many VPN providers have a feature called “split tunneling.” Split tunneling allows you to select which of your device’s apps will use the VPN’s encrypted tunnel. Split tunneling allows you to preserve your VPN bandwidth for apps that don’t require protection, allowing them to use the unprotected portion of your connection.
Russian residents and visitors are strongly recommended to investigate the benefits of using a Virtual Private Network to protect and enhance your Russian online activities, like my top choice, NordVPN.
NordVPN delivers reliable access to geo-blocked content via its wide-ranging global server network. The provider’s speedy connections can handle any of your favorite online activities, while protecting those activities from being observed by prying eyes.
For more information or to purchase a subscription, visit the NordVPN website.
Russia VPN Q&A
Are VPNs Banned in Russia?
Although Russia has in the past threatened to shut down VPN providers with servers inside of Russia that don’t comply with Russian “privacy” laws, the actual use of VPNs from inside of Russia is not illegal. That said, many VPN websites are blocked in Russia, so be sure to subscribe to a VPN service before entering the country.
Can I Live Stream Moskva TV With a VPN?
By using a VPN’s ability to “spoof” your IP address, making it appear as if you’re inside of Russia, you can live stream Moskva TV. However, you will need to find a VPN provider with servers inside of Russia, which means the provider is subject to Russia’s less-than-private data retention laws.
Will a VPN and VoIP Work Together?
One of the most common questions I get from my Russian readers considering a VPN service is whether it will work with a VOIP service. This is because the Russian government has in the past considered a ban on VOIP services, and it is open to the same type of intrusive monitoring by the Russian government as is any online activity. Any of the VPNs recommended above will protect your online voice conversations.
- How to Use a VPN Provider From Inside Russia
- Best VPNs for Use in Russia
- 1. NordVPN
- 2. Surfshark
- 3. ExpressVPN
- 4. CyberGhost
- 5. IPVanish
- Methodology for Assessing VPNs for Russia
- Will a Free VPN Work in Russia?
- What Can I Do With A VPN?
- Russia VPN Q&A
- Are VPNs Banned in Russia?
- Can I Live Stream Moskva TV With a VPN?
- Will a VPN and VoIP Work Together?