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5 Best VPNs for Saudi Arabia (KSA) That Work in 2017

Stephen Cooper

Stephen Cooper

August 21, 2017

According to Freedom House’s annual Freedom on the Net report, Saudi Arabia is the eighth most controlling government in the world in terms of internet controls. Only China, Syria, Iran, Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, Cuba, and Vietnam are more controlling.

The Saudi government hasn’t banned social media platforms. However, anyone using sites like Facebook and Twitter needs to be careful about what they write. In February 2016, a Saudi court sentenced a Twitter user to 2,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for promoting atheism in 600 tweets. You may think your comments are humorous, or inoffensive. However, the authorities in Saudi Arabia probably have a much lower level of tolerance. If it comes to sentencing, it’s their opinion that counts.

It’s important to guard what you write and say in Saudi Arabia. Controlling your speech on the internet is actually easier than you might think. That’s because Saudi Arabia bans just about every online chat, voice, and video messaging system. The main motivation for the bans is the damage such services inflict on the state-owned telecom company’s profits.

Although Saudi Arabia doesn’t ban social media sites, it blocks their integrated chat systems. These include Facebook Messenger, which is not accessible from within the Facebook site. It is also blocked as a standalone website. WhatsApp, Hangouts, Line, Telegram, Snapchat, FaceTime, Team Speak, Wi-Fi Calling, Skype, and Viber are also blocked.

Saudi Arabia bans many websites because they are “immoral”. This includes any depiction or discussion of homosexuality, pornography or prostitution. “Immorality” in Saudi Arabia also stretches to women’s rights.

Despite these controls, Saudi Arabia has the highest percentage of the population using Twitter of any country in the world. It is also second only to Egypt in the Middle East for its number of bloggers – most of whom are women. So, how do free-thinking Saudis get access to information and entertainment in such a repressive regime? Simple – they use Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).

You can read more information about internet controls in Saudi Arabia further on in this article. First, you can find out about the five best VPNs for use in Saudi Arabia.

Quick Links to our 5 best VPNs for Saudi Arabia

  1. VyprVPN
  2. AirVPN
  3. PureVPN
  4. IPVanish
  5. CyberGhost

Best VPNs for Saudi Arabia (KSA): Summary

BestVPN Editor's Choice Award
VyprVPN Homepage
PROS:
  • Three-day free trial
  • Servers in more than 70 countries
  • Up to five simultaneous connections allowed
  • Proprietary cloaking technology
  • Good speeds
CONS:
  • No money-back guarantee

Saudi Arabia has increasingly sophisticated methods to block access to banned sites. The authorities know that the general public uses VPNs to skirt these controls, so the technology center that channels all of the internet access in the country seeks out VPN traffic and blocks it. VyprVPN has an unusual and unique method to avoid detection. Not only do the VyprVPN procedures make it impossible for the authorities to read the contents of your message or detect the destination of the connection, they also mask the telltale signs of VPN activity. These processes are very successful at dodging controls in China - where the authorities have developed the most sophisticated VPN detection systems in the world. As such, VyprVPN has no difficulty getting traffic through the Saudi internet controls.

Check out the best VPN for Saudi Arabia

Visit VyprVPN »Three-day free trial

#2 Best VPN for Saudi Arabia: AirVPN

AirVPN Homepage
PROS:
  • Three-day, €1 trial account
  • Kill switch
  • Strong cloaking methods
  • Good for peer-to-peer (P2P)
  • Good speeds
CONS:
  • Difficult to set up
  • Small server network

AirVPN is a comprehensive privacy and security system. The only problem with this VPN is that the interface is not very easy to understand. The VPN was created by tech enthusiasts who didn't pay much attention to the usability of the app. AirVPN has innovative methods to protect traffic and always gets through the Great Firewall of China (and thus past Saudi restrictions). The technical capabilities of AirVPN make this service a strong contender to be the best VPN for Saudi Arabia.

#3 Best VPN for Saudi Arabia: PureVPN

PureVPN Homepage
PROS:
  • Three-day trial available
  • Servers in 141 countries
  • Up to five simultaneous connections allowed
  • Gets into Netflix
CONS:
  • Can be slow

When we first reviewed PureVPN, it was a service was originally designed to help customers in China get access to foreign websites. The skills the company acquired in battling internet controls in China serve it well to help customers in Saudi Arabia. A great advantage of PureVPN's service is its extensive server network. This is larger than the server lists of all the other VPNs on this list. This is an important feature if you want to get around regional restrictions on streaming services, as you need to pick a VPN located in the same country as the video website. As such, PureVPN gives you more options of entertainment from more countries than the other recommended VPNs for Saudi Arabia.

#4 Best VPN for Saudi Arabia: IPVanish

IPVanish Homepage
PROS:
  • Seven-day money-back guarantee
  • Servers in 60 countries
  • Up to five simultaneous connections allowed
  • Gets into Netflix
  • Fast speeds
CONS:
  • Customer support is slow to respond

IPVanish is also a good bet for getting through detection in Saudi Arabia. Since our original IPVanish review they have been great at dodging VPN detection systems on streaming services and can get into Netflix, which has some of the most thorough procedures to identify and block VPN traffic. IPVanish is also known for its great speeds. This is important if you want to use video calling, because the interactive nature of video chat systems requires a very fast connection.

#5 Best VPN for Saudi Arabia: CyberGhost

CyberGhost Homepage
PROS:
  • 30-day money-back guarantee
  • 918 servers in 27 countries
  • Specialized settings for gaming and downloading
  • Up to five simultaneous connections allowed
CONS:
  • Can't get into Netflix

CyberGhost has very good speeds and would be a good option if you like to make a lot of internet voice and video calls. The interface has a really cool style to it. Although this VPN is very appealing, it is placed fifth on this list because it can't evade detection by Netflix. This indicates that you may get variable performance in Saudi Arabia and possibly experience outages as the authorities periodically detect the VPN and block it.

Internet Controls in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia controls internet access through its Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC). The law that currently defines the activities of this body was created in 2011. All news sites and bloggers must register with the Commission, which gives each site owner a list of content obligations.

The CITC controls the Domain Name System (DNS) structure of the country. When you enter a web address into your browser, DNS servers have to translate it into an internet address. If there is no entry in the DNS for a web address, your browser will tell you that the site doesn’t exist. As such, this is a very effective way to block access to blacklisted sites. The list of sites that are banned is compiled from a number of sources. The Internet Services Unit compiles two lists. One is concerned with moral issues, including pornography, gambling, prostitution, and human trafficking. The other is concerned with criticism of Islam or the promotion of Shia Islam. The Security Committee of the Ministry of the Interior also provides a list of sites that it deems critical of the government or that create political agitation.

The CITC also maintains a growing list of banned chat, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), and video communication systems. These would otherwise compete with the state-owned Saudi Telecom Company.

VPNs employ their own DNS servers to solve this problem. The VPN client software on your computer diverts DNS calls to its own servers, rather than relying on entries in the default DNS server to which your ISP directs these requests.

Content Filtering

The CITC doesn’t just rely on the removal of DNS entries for banned websites. It also practices content filtering. This is a method of inspecting each message that passes over the internet. This centralized inspection is made possible by the fact that there is only one licensed internet carrier in Saudi Arabia: the state-owned Integrated Telecom Company. All internet traffic in Saudi Arabia passes through this organization’s equipment.

The content filtering software was custom built by the Secure Computing Corporation, a US company that McAfee acquired in 2008. The Saudi content inspection software is a variation on Secure Computing’s SmartFilter program. This program looks into the contents of the packets that pass over the internet and searches for keywords. If a keyword is present in the contents of a webpage, ITC’s server drops that packet. If the browser doesn’t receive all of the code for a page, it can’t display it. Thus, effectively, the loss of one packet kills the download of the entire page.

The ITC filters have fewer opportunities to block traffic if that traffic is encrypted. Webpages that have “https://” on the front of the address are delivered with all of the contents of packets encrypted. This protocol is mostly used for commercial websites. VPNs encrypt all traffic that leaves your computer. They also encrypt all responses to your requests for webpages. As such, the ITC cannot read the contents of the pages you are accessing.

Censorship in KSA

There are no cinemas in Saudi Arabia and the TV stations are incredibly dull. Influential clerics deem all forms of entertainment to be corrupting time wasters, so there also aren’t any radio stations worth listening to.

There are several online streaming services available in the country. Even Netflix has a Saudi service. However, the entertainment on these services is heavily edited to comply with national censorship rules, sometimes to the point of being incomprehensible.

The internet gives you access to foreign entertainment streaming services. Unfortunately, the addresses for these sites are on the CITC blacklist, so you won’t be able to open them. Also, streaming services only allow access to people in their own country.

Fortunately, VPNs solve both of these problems. The VPN software diverts traffic to a VPN server, so your connections to streaming services are sent to a different address. This gets those requests through the DNS block. As the requests are encrypted, they also get past SmartFilter. You need to select a server in the same country as the streaming service that you want to access. The VPN server puts its own address as the origin of the request, so its location in the same country gets you past the streaming service’s filters.

Subscription TV Services

Many services require a subscription and check the address of the applicant and the location of the bank account paying for the service. Unless you have a friend abroad who can subscribe for you, forget about those premium services. Fortunately, there are plenty of free services that present excellent entertainment – BBC iPlayer, for example.

Netflix offers a great opportunity for you to see foreign content in Saudi Arabia. The service offers localized media libraries to every country in the world (except China, Syria, and North Korea). When you take out a Netflix subscription in Saudi Arabia, you can also access the service when you travel abroad. However, when you log into Netflix, the server checks your location and delivers you the media library allocated to that country. Naturally, the entertainment available with Netflix in Saudi Arabia is not that hot. Thankfully, a VPN allows you to appear to be in the US, or another country. Netflix will then give you the content for that location.

Best Saudi Arabia VPNs: Conclusion

A VPN will solve all of your internet problems in Saudi Arabia. With a VPN, you can bypass CITC controls and filters to get access to free voice, text, and video chat systems to keep in touch with the folks back home. A VPN will also get you into foreign news sites, porn, dating sites, and all of those sites that have gay or women-empowered content. You can get into streaming services from all over the world in Saudi Arabia if you run a VPN on your computer.

Unfortunately, there is one more complication. The CITC realizes that people use VPNs to get around restrictions, so it blocks VPN sites too. As such, you can’t just subscribe to any old VPN service; it has to be a good one that is specifically designed to avoid detection. All of the VPNs on this list will perform the task of getting you to your desired website without being spotted by the CITC. Regional restrictions on streaming services also examine requests to block VPNs. However, all of the services on our list can defeat those checks too. The most stringent VPN controls in operation among streaming services are implemented by Netflix. Of our list of the best VPNs for Saudi Arabia, only CyberGhost can’t get around those blocks.

Ultimately, all of our recommended VPNs will give you internet freedom in Saudi Arabia.

IMAGE CREDIT: Olena Hromova/Shutterstock.com
Stephen Cooper

Stephen Cooper is a techy geek with a social edge. Downshifting from a successful IT career in Europe, Cooper moved to the Caribbean and now keeps up to speed with Internet technology poolside.

10 responses to “5 Best VPNs for Saudi Arabia (KSA) That Work in 2017

  1. Hi everyone
    I will be moving to KSA soon and would like to know about a good vpn service (UK) to use hulu/Netflix/sky go (UK)

    thanks for recommendations

    1. Hi waqar,

      I’m pretty sure AirVPN works for those. Given current attempts to block access to streaming services via VPN, do take advantage of free trials etc. to check that a service works for what you want before laying down cash (and only pay for a month at the time, as the situation can change quickly).

  2. Anyone I know, and there are quite a few of them, that is using Cyberghost in Saudi is being blocked, me included. I was successfully using it on both Win and Mac but about 2 months ago it stopped connecting.

  3. Hi, can you tell me if it’s safe to purchase a VPN subscription while in Saudi Arabia using credit card issued by a local bank? Can I get around this by using PayPal (never used it before)?

    1. Hi Valentin,

      Please let me start by stressing that I am not a lawyer or an expert on the censorship situation in Saudi Arabia. I worked hard to research this article well, but when it comes to readers’ safety, please approach with caution.

      Baring this in mind, as I understand it, VPN use in Saudi is not illegal (and is in fact very common). You should therefore not encounter any problems paying for it through your Saudi credit card. If you are still worried, then paying via PayPal will add an extra layer of distance between you and the purchase, although paying by Bitcoin would be even (much) more private.

      If you are this worried then you should consider using a VPN that offers ‘stealth servers’ to obfuscate your VPN use. (see 5 best VPNs for China). If you are not doing anything that is likely to piss off the Saudi government, however, I would have thought paying using your local bank card is fine.

  4. hi, I live in saudia Arabia what you think is better for me to stream movies online such as hulu plus or Netflix other than vyprVPN ? btw I tried and it was super fast but it has a high price and I tried pureVPN and its slow !

    thanks.

    1. Hi Saleh
      Try I’d recommend trying IPVanish, Cactus or VPNArea. I’m not sure if a SmartDNS service would work but that’s the cheapest way of getting Netflix abroad but it does mean there is no encyprtion.
      Here’s some links for you to look at: BestVPN for Netflix, Best SmartDNS,
      Peter

    2. Hi Saleh

      I live in KSA too, I’ve good experiences about VPN providers globally
      since 2008 I’ve began using VPN whether free or premium.

      Netflix and Hulu are in USA, so choose a VPN provider
      can give you many servers (more servers = more options) in USA, at this
      point nothing like HMA (Hide My Ass https://www.hidemyass.com)
      I’m using it currently, it offers about 300 servers in
      USA (not including the virtual ones), plus
      you can do test (for Ping & Speed) all of its servers then
      select what you want of them to connect
      with, manually!!, so you have the option to select the less-latency (ping)
      server to get best streaming experience for your living place.

      Finally you should read this review: https://bestvpncom.wpengine.com/blog/9287/hidemyass_review
      to get HMA pros & cons before getting your step ahead.

      Good luck!

  5. i will be living in Saudi Arabia (Eastern province) and i want to get the best VPN for me. My main usage will be streaming video such as Netflixs. Based on your article vyprvpn is the best. However my concern is they will detect my use and then slowdown the transfer rate so stream video will be difficult. So based on my planned usage, which do you think is better vyprvpn or Airvpn?? I will purchase the vpn before going to Saudi. Thank you

    1. Hi Tom,

      To our knowledge VPN traffic is not throttled in Saudi, so you shouldn’t have any problems. Even if it were, is is possible to hide the fact that you are using a VPN (see https://bestvpncom.wpengine.com/blog/5919/how-to-hide-openvpn-traffic-an-introduction/). For your purposes VyprVPN is a good choice. Note that the US is a long distance from Saudi, so you may experience less lag by using the UK version (if that wasn’t what you were planing in the first place).

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