Internet censorship in many Middle Eastern countries is some of the most restrictive found in the world today. Governments there monitor and restrict their citizens’ internet access for numerous reasons, ranging from religious, to political, to legal.
In addition to government monitoring, users also have to worry about their Internet Service Provider (ISP) tracking their online activities, as well as hackers looking to steal their important personal and business-related information.
Later on, I’ll share a list of what each country in the region blocks, and whether a VPN is legal in each country. But it’s safe to assume that if you’re in a Middle Eastern country, they’re blocking something on the web.
Luckily, Middle Easterners and visitors to the region can use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to avoid government monitoring and restrictions, and to protect their online activities from the prying eyes of their ISP and hackers.
In this article, I’ll share with you my list of the 5 best VPNs to use in the Middle East.
How to Use a VPN in the Middle East
Keep in mind that some countries in the Middle East – such as the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and others – do their best to block all VPN traffic (excepting that from a few government-approved providers). This means that many VPNs won’t work in these countries.
However, the 5 VPN providers in this article are continuing to fight the good fight, and the last time I checked, they still work inside those countries and the other Middle Eastern countries.
Even if a country doesn’t block VPNs from operating inside its borders, many will block the websites of “unapproved” VPN providers, making it harder to sign up for service. That’s why I always recommend that you sign up for a VPN subscription, download the provider’s software and test it before you visit the Middle East.
Users who are looking for the best way to protect their online activities from prying eyes and open access to the rest of the world need only follow these few steps:
- Subscribe to a VPN provider. (I suggest ExpressVPN.)
- Download and install your provider’s app(s) to your device(s).
- Log into the VPN’s server network.
- Select and connect to a VPN server located anywhere outside of the Middle East.
- Enjoy your internet freedom.
Best VPNs for the Middle East
In testing all of my top VPN providers, I found that these 5 VPNs offer the best protection in the Middle East. Here’s a short summary:
- ExpressVPN: This provider ranks at #1 thanks to its optimal security and privacy protections. In addition to government-grade encryption, the provider also offers other protection options.
- NordVPN: This provider delivers excellent protection at a reasonable price. Its obfuscated servers and Double VPN options help hide your VPN activity and provide additional encrypted protection for your connection.
- PrivateVPN: This up-and-coming VPN provider may not have the most impressive global server network, but their connection protection includes a “Stealth VPN” feature that disguises your VPN activity as normal browser traffic.
- Surfshark: This provider has a rapidly-growing server network and offers excellent connection protection, as well as reliable access to the outside world.
- VyprVPN: This provider owns and operates its entire global server network, providing an extra layer of privacy. VyprVPN provides reliable access to the outside world via its custom “Chameleon” protocol, which helps hide your VPN activity.
I evaluated and ranked the top Middle East VPNs using the following criteria:
- No user logs of any kind
- Highest level of encryption
- Automatic kill switch
- DNS leak protection
- Comprehensive multi-platform support
- Top-notch customer support
Here’s my list of the top 5 VPNs for use in the Middle East.
ExpressVPN is the best option for breaking through most Middle Eastern countries’ blockades and remaining incognito.
The provider does little to slow your internet connection, providing the fastest download speeds of any VPN provider in my latest round of connection speed tests. No data caps to restrict your online activities.
The provider has 3,000+ VPN servers in 94 countries, providing protection no matter what part of the world you need to connect to. The provider’s server network offers reliable access to geo- and government-blocked content, including streaming services, blocked websites and more.
The provider is based in the British Virgin Islands, which doesn’t require VPN providers to keep any user logs. The provider takes full advantage of that, protecting your privacy by keeping no logs of any type. ExpressVPN accepts Bitcoin to keep your payment info completely incognito.
Military-level encryption, automatic kill switch protection, and IPv6 and DNS leak prevention keep your online activities undercover. Plus, the provider offers the ability to route your computer’s DNS requests through the ExpressVPN DNS service which runs on every server.
The provider offers native apps for the Amazon Fire, Android, Chromebook, iOS, Linux, macOS and Windows device platforms. Browser extensions are available for the Chrome and Firefox platforms.
Excellent router compatibility can be used to protect all of your online devices. Up to 5 simultaneous connections are allowed on a single username.
ExpressVPN provides always-available customer support, with 24/7 live support chat, email support, a support ticket tracking system, and a knowledge base.
- Most expensive provider on this list
BEST VPN FOR THE MIDDLE EAST:ExpressVPN is the best VPN for protecting your online activities while in the Middle East. The provider’s top-notch privacy and security do an excellent job of keeping your online activities protected. A 30-day money-back guarantee is available.
Read my full review of ExpressVPN.
NordVPN delivers reliable protection for your Middle Eastern online activities thanks to its obfuscated servers and Double VPN features.
While this provider’s connections are the slowest of the bunch, they are not slow. Depending on your usual connection speeds, NordVPN-provided connections can easily handle streaming, gaming and any other online activity you might enjoy.
NordVPN has over 5,200 servers stationed in nearly 60 countries. The provider’s servers do an above-average job of unblocking content, no matter who is doing the blocking.
All of those servers are kept log-free, and a cryptocurrency payment option keeps your subscription payment info undercover.
In addition to bank-grade encryption, NordVPN provides kill switch protection, and DNS leak and IPv6 leak prevention. Plus, the provider’s obfuscated servers hide your VPN activities, and their Double VPN option encrypts your connection twice by routing it through twin VPN servers.
NordVPN app support consists of native apps for the Android, Android TV, iOS, macOS, Linux and Windows platforms. Plus, Chrome and Firefox browser extensions are available.
Up to 6 devices can connect at the same time using a single set of login credentials, and router support is available if you need more than that.
24/7 live support chat, email support, a trouble ticket tracking system and a searchable support library have your support needs covered around the clock.
- Keeps no user logs ever
- Bank-grade encryption
- Excellent privacy protections
- Connection obfuscation and Double VPN protection
- App interface could be a bit more user-friendly
BEST FOR BUDGET:NordVPN provides excellent online protection at a budget price. The provider’s obfuscation-optimized servers help hide your VPN activity, while their Double VPN option encrypts your connection twice. A 30-day money-back guarantee is available.
Read my full review of NordVPN.
PrivateVPN is an up-and-coming VPN provider that has somewhat limited global server coverage, but offers “Stealth VPN” access to those servers, hiding your VPN activity.
This provider offers fast connection speeds, easily up to streaming high definition video, playing fast online games or sharing large files.
While the provider’s global server count of 150+ servers spread out among 60 countries is a bit thin, all of them do a top-notch job of unblocking geo-blocked content. Just make sure they have servers in the targeted areas.
All of those servers are run without keeping any type of logs, and a Bitcoin subscription payment option keeps your payment info secure.
Government-level encryption protects your online activities from prying eyes, as does the provider’s kill switch option, and its IPv6 and DNS leak protection. In addition, the provider’s “Stealth VPN” protection helps keep your VPN usage hidden.
Native app support is limited to the big 4 (Android, iOS, macOS and Windows), but the provider also offers compatibility with numerous router makes and models. Up to 6 devices at once can be connected to the PrivateVPN servers using a single username.
PrivateVPN customer support is made up of an email support feature, an FAQ library and live support chat. (While the provider claims its support chat feature is available 24/7, I’ve visited the site numerous times when it wasn’t available. The chat balloon will be green when live chat is available).
- Reliable access to the outside world
- Stealth VPN connection protection
- Up to 6 simultaneous connections
- Low server numbers
- Below-average multi-platform app support
IMPRESSIVE ONLINE PROTECTION:PrivateVPN offers reliable and not-easily-detectable access to the world outside of the Middle East thanks to its “Stealth VPN” obfuscation feature, which hides your VPN activity from observation. A 30-day money-back guarantee is available.
Read my full review of PrivateVPN.
Surfshark earns a spot in this roundup thanks to its “Multi-Hop” Double VPN routing, excellent encrypted connections and quickly-growing global server network.
Surfshark connections aren’t lacking any bandwidth, making them above average for streaming, gaming and sharing files. No data caps of any kind are ever imposed.
Surfshark’s global server network numbers have reached 1,000+ servers in 61+ countries, nearly double their numbers from earlier this year. The network does an excellent job of unblocking streaming and gaming services, as well as other types of content and websites.
Those servers are all operated without saving logs of any type, and the provider also accepts Bitcoin as payment for their considerable services.
In addition to government-level encryption, the provider offers kill switch protection, ad and tracking cookies blocking, and DNS leak protection. It also offers Double VPN protection (called “Multi-Hop”), which routes your internet connection through two VPN servers, further obfuscating your actual IP address.
Surfshark app support includes native apps for the Android, iOS, Linux, macOS, Windows and Amazon Fire platforms. Chrome and Firefox browser extensions are also available.
Router support is available as well. Users looking to protect large groups of users will appreciate Surfshark’s unlimited simultaneous connections allowance.
Customer support is always available thanks to the provider’s 24/7 support chat, contact form and support knowledgebase.
- Excellent online protection
- Unlimited simultaneous connections
- Double VPN means double anonymity
- Global server coverage is improving but has a ways to go
- The monthly subscription option is expensive
GREAT FOR GROUPS:Surfshark provides top-notch protection for your Middle Eastern internet activity thanks to its Double VPN protection. Large groups looking for VPN protection will appreciate the provider’s unlimited simultaneous connections policy. A 30-day money-back guarantee is available.
Read my full review of Surfshark.
VyprVPN offers a type of privacy protection that no other provider on this list can offer thanks to its self-owned and -operated global server network.
VyprVPN’s connection speeds fall somewhere near the middle of the pack, but are easily up to handling most any online activity.
The provider’s global server network consists of 700+ servers in over 70 countries. Those servers deliver access to most of the free world, opening up a world of geo-blocked content.
As of December 2018, the provider keeps no logs of any type for any platform on those servers, and since they own and operate all of them, they offer added privacy, thanks to their keeping third-party contractors’ hands off of your personal info.
All VyprVPN connections are protected by military-grade encryption, kill switch protection, and custom DNS settings that prevent DNS leaks. The provider also offers “Chameleon” protection, which is a custom, proprietary OpenVPN protocol to mask your VPN traffic.
VyprVPN native app support includes apps for the Android, Android TV, iOS, macOS and Windows platforms. No browser extensions are available. The provider does offer compatibility with numerous routers. Up to 3 devices can connect to the service at once on a single set of user credentials.
Customer support is an always-available kind of thing, with 24/7 support chat, email support, a support contact form and a searchable knowledge base.
- All-around connection protection
- No logs
- Owns and operates its server farms
- More expensive than many other VPNs
- Limit of 3 concurrent connections
PROPRIETARY SERVER NETWORK:VyprVPN’s self-owned and-operated server network keeps third-party contractors away from your information. Plus, its “Chameleon” protection helps hide your VPN activities. A 30-day money-back guarantee is available.
Read my full review of VyprVPN.
Is a Free VPN a Good Option for Use in the Middle East?
No, don’t even consider it. Please, for your own good, don’t. A “free” VPN is never a good idea, but particularly not in an overly restrictive region like the Middle East.
I would argue that the most important reason for using a VPN is to keep your online activities safe from prying eyes. Online security and privacy are doubly important in the Middle East.
A free VPN will not protect your privacy. As a matter of fact, it might increase your online risk.
Many sans-cost VPN providers will track their users’ online travels and then sell that information to advertisers and other interested parties. If a VPN provider is willing to sell your info to anyone, they probably wouldn’t resist too hard if the government of a Middle Eastern country came a-callin’.
You also might keep in mind that some free VPNs have also been caught injecting unwanted ads and tracking cookies into their users’ browser sessions. (Those tracking cookies stick around, even after you’ve disconnected from the VPN network.)
You also pay for “free” VPNs with your precious time. Some freebie providers force you to cool your heels in a queue, waiting until one of the limited free spots is open on their servers. Once you’ve been given the green light, you’ll either find that your server selection is severely limited, or you’re simply assigned a server of the provider’s choosing.
Many free VPNs will also throttle your connection speeds, and force daily or monthly data caps on your VPN usage.
Does any of this sound good to you?
Is It Legal to Use a VPN in the Middle East?
When it comes to whether or not a VPN is legal to use, it really comes down to which of the 15+ Middle Eastern countries you’re in. Many of the countries have some or many restrictions on your online activities.
The list below is the information I was able to find for each country. It lists the censorship status of the country, and whether the country restricts VPN usage.
Pixel Privacy doesn’t condone illegal activities on the web, and I strongly recommend you research the country you’re about to visit to determine the country’s laws regarding the internet and VPN usage.
- Bahrain: Heavy censorship. VPN usage is unregulated.
- Cyprus: Blocks foreign gambling sites; otherwise, no restrictions. VPN usage is unregulated.
- Egypt: Blocks news, anti-censorship, and encrypted communications platforms. Surveillance on social media. VPN usage is unregulated, but the government blocks most VPN websites.
- Iran: Widespread blocking of websites and encrypted messaging apps. Government-approved VPNs only.
- Iraq: Occasionally blocks social media. Possible government surveillance. VPN usage banned.
- Israel: Blocks all non-Israeli gambling sites. VPN usage is unregulated.
- Jordan: Censors LGBT and politically sensitive content. History of surveillance and arresting of journalists. VPN usage is unregulated.
- Kuwait: Blocks sexual content, LGBT content and anti-monarchy, anti-religious or anti-establishment content. VPN usage is unregulated.
- Lebanon: Occasional blocking of gambling and pornographic sites. VPN usage is unregulated.
- Oman: Extensive censorship of sexual materials, and anti-Islam, anti-government and anti-censorship content. VPN usage is unregulated, but many VPN websites are blocked.
- Palestine: Selectively censors news and pornographic websites. VPN usage is unregulated.
- Qatar: Blocks dating, pornography, anti-government, privacy and VoIP services. VPN usage is unregulated.
- Saudi Arabia: History of arresting and assassinating journalists. Blocks content related to encryption, VPNs, sex and religious conversion. It also blocks news covering government unfavorably. VPN usage is unregulated, but many VPN websites are blocked.
- Syria: Blocking and surveillance of anti-government and news sites. Has assassinated journalists. VPN usage is unregulated.
- Turkey: Blocks pornography, file sharing, news, social media, gambling, streaming sites and more. VPN usage is unregulated, but many VPN websites are blocked.
- Dubai/United Arab Emirates: Blocks content related to gambling, dating, porn, social media, VoIP services and politically sensitive materials. VPN usage is unregulated, but the government will prosecute for using a VPN for anything illegal.
- Yemen: Censors anti-Islamic material, as well as gambling, sexual, anti-establishment or other “offensive” content. Has throttled websites such as Facebook. VPN usage is unregulated.
How to Maximize Your Privacy in The Middle East
Once you’re in the Middle East, do the following before connecting to your VPN of choice.
Enable every protection your VPN app offers. If the OpenVPN protocol is available, use it. Enable kill switch protection, auto-reconnect, obfuscation features, Double VPN and Stealth VPN features, as well as any other option that can help hide your activities and the fact that you are using a VPN.
What Else Can I Use a VPN For?
While a VPN provides comprehensive protection for your online security and privacy, it also provides additional advantages.
A VPN opens access to a world of content that might not normally be available in your region. This includes streaming services, gaming content, and other services and websites that may be blocked in your country.
A VPN’s encrypted connections hide your online activities from your ISP, who may want to throttle your connection speeds, simply because you may be engaging in unapproved activities (such as P2P file sharing) or accessing unapproved sites.
That same encrypted connection also hides your online activities when you’re using an unprotected public Wi-Fi hotspot, allowing you to shop online, pay bills and do your banking without worrying about that shifty fellow at the next table over in the coffee shop trying to steal your important information.
A VPN is the best tool available to both enhance and protect all of your online activities while visiting the Middle East.
Of all of the VPNs on this list, ExpressVPN offers the best way to avoid Middle Eastern internet censorship, protect your online activities from prying eyes, and provide access to content that might normally be blocked in that area of the world.
For more information or to purchase a subscription, visit the ExpressVPN website.