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5 Best VPNs for Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is ranked 161 out of 173 countries for freedom of the press by Reporters Without Borders, who describe it as an ‘internet enemy’ in their 2012 report.

Making no pretense over their surveillance and filtering of the internet, all internet traffic from Saudi’s 25 licensed ISP’s is routed to the King Abdulaziz City for Science & Technology (KACST – the organization responsible for monitoring the internet) server farm, where a content filter (Secure Computing’s SmartFilter) blocks thousands of websites.

In addition to this filter, the Internet Services Unit (ISU) maintains two lists, one concerned with blocking websites deemed ‘immoral’, the other with blocking websites on religious grounds.

Social censorship

Perhaps the primary concern of internet filtering in Saudi Arabia is to block access to ‘immoral’ content. Although pornography (which is much more widely defined than in the West) is the main target, websites relating to alcohol, drugs, gay and lesbian issues, family planning and sex-education are also blocked.

In addition to this, websites that provide tools for evading censorship, such as web proxy sites, are also blocked. This has led to Wikipedia and Google translate being banned from 2006, as their translation services are seen as a way evading censorship.

Social media sites where members may be improperly dressed, exchange explicit material, or gamble, are also blocked. Twitter was blocked until 2008, but since then its use has skyrocketed (in June 2012 alone the number of Saudi users grew by 3000 per cent), and has become particularly popular with the Kingdom’s female population, who have found it allows a degree of freedom not permitted to them in the ‘real’ world.

In addition to blocking websites considered immoral, the Saudi religious police (the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice) have requested permission to monitor social networking websites to prevent young people ‘get[ing] involved in negative practices away from the eyes of the Saudi authorities”. As far as we can determine however, permission for this been has up till now denied.

Religious censorship

The Saudi Royal Family has very close ties to the Wahabi version of Islam (a strict interpretation of Sunni), and blocks content that promotes other forms of the religion, particularly Shia, but also Bahá’í and ‘secular’ Islam. Websites that are critical of Islam in general are also blocked.

saudi blocked

In 2011 Saudi journalist Hamza Kashgari was arrested for tweets he made about the Prophet Mohammed which were deemed blasphemous, a charge that can carry the death sentence in Saudi Arabia. Mr Kashgari fled to Malaysia in the hope of obtaining political asylum in New Zealand, but was deported back to Saudi, where he still awaits trial.

In March this year it was widely reported that Saudi Arabia was planning to ban encrypted messaging services such as Skype, Viber and WhatsApp unless they were provided with a means of monitoring communications on them. The motivations for this appear to be mix of moral worry about young people socialising freely, and political fear over the role such technologies played in the various recent popular uprising in the Middle East. It seems this ban never came into force, but we have not been able to confirm this.

Political Censorship

Saudi Arabia blocks websites determined to be ‘politically astray’, an aspect that became very noticeable during the ‘Arab Spring’ of 2011, when obtaining any information about events occurring in Tunisia, Egypt, and later Syria became almost impossible.

Most global media websites are accessible, but various prominent Arab news portals have been blocked. In addition to this, while most human rights and free speech websites can be viewed, some that are critical of Saudi Arabia are blocked e.g. Article19 and the Free Speech Coalition.

While writing this article, it has been reported that seven Shia activists have been sentenced to between five and ten years in prison for calling for peaceful ant-government demonstrations on Facebook. A Human Rights Watch spokesman commented on the case, saying that ‘sending people off to years in prison for peaceful Facebook posts sends a strong message that there’s no safe way to speak out in Saudi Arabia, even on online social networks’.

VPN in Saudi Arabia

VPN is a very popular and effective means of evading censorship in Saudi Arabia, as it creates a secure encrypted tunnel between your computer and a VPN server located somewhere else in the world. Although KACST will be able to tell that you are using a VPN service (unless you take measures to prevent this), it is not illegal in Saudi, and makes it nearly impossible to ‘see’ what you are up to on the internet (or trace internet activity back to you).

For most users in Saudi Arabia, whether or not a VPN provider keeps logs is unlikely to be a big issue, as they will almost certainly not turn these over to the Saudi government if you are not breaking the law of the country in which the VPN server is located. However, Saudi Arabia’s huge wealth means that many Western governments have a much closer relationship to it than is either comfortable or ethical, so if your internet activity might land you in big trouble (such as writing political blogs critical of the Saudi regime), then use a service that keeps no logs whatsoever, or use Tor instead.

Please remember that simply tracing your IP (which VPN will prevent) is not the only way for authorities to uncover you identity. Giving your own identity away (either directly e.g. by making Facebook posts in your own name, or indirectly e.g. by displaying knowledge of privileged information etc.), metadata analysis, old fashioned wiretaps, physical surveillance and more can be used to discover who you are, so be please do be careful.


Saudi Arabai VPN Summary

Disclosure: compensated affiliate: click here for more information

Rank Company Score Price Link

1

VyprVPN Logo
Read Review9.9/10
$8.33 / monthVisit Site

2

AirVPN Logo
Read Review9.6/10
$4.82 / monthVisit Site

3

PureVPN Logo
Read Review9.4/10
$7.99 / monthVisit Site

4

IPVanish Logo
Read Review9.2/10
$6.49 / monthVisit Site

5

CyberGhost Logo
Read Review9.1/10
$5.83 / monthVisit Site

Take a look below to see slightly more detailed views about each provider.

Winner

VyprVPN

4,95/5

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  • PROS
  • Fast
  • 160-bit and 256-bit OpenVPN encryption (Pro only)
  • Android app
  • iOS app
  • 7 day money back guarantee
  • Up to 3 simultaneous connections
  • No usage logs
  • CONS
  • Not much
  • Price on high end

Run by global internet consortium Golden Frog, VyprVPN is a great choice for users in Saudi, especially as it runs its own data centers, which is not something any other VPN boasts, and therefore has excellent speeds. It keeps no usage logs (although it does keep some connection logs), and allows P2P downloading. Encryption is rock-solid at 160-bit to 256-bit OpenVPN, and the fact that you can connect up to 2 devices at once (or 3 for the premier package) is really good. Note that these comments only refer to the slightly pricey (our only real criticism) Pro plan, and that the PPTP only basic version should be avoided.

Try Out the Best VPN for Saudi Arabia Today!

» Visit VyprVPN

3 day free trial

2nd place

AirVPN

4,8/5

  • PROS
  • Accepts Bitcoin
  • No logs
  • 256-bit AES encryption
  • Dynamic port forwarding
  • Real-time user and server statistics
  • Support for Tor over VPN and VPN through SSL and SSH tunnels
  • Good speeds
  • 3 day free trial
  • P2P: yes
  • CONS
  • 0 simultaneous connections

If privacy and security are a top priority, then AirVPN is the provider for you. Founded by activists and hactivists after a Pirate Party festival in Rome, AirVPN believes passionately in internet anonymity. It keeps no logs, accept payment via Bitcoin, and uses super-secure 256-bit AES encryption. It also supports the ultra-stealth technologies of VPN over Tor, and VPN through SSL and SSH tunnels, which should make even the most paranoid user happy. AirVPN’s Romanian server means that speed should not be a big issue (and is easily monitored through AirVPN’s series of beautifully presented graphs), although the fact that only one device can be connected to the service at a time is bit of a bummer.

» Visit AirVPN


3rd place

PureVPN

4,7/5

  • PROS
  • P2P: yes (on some servers)
  • ‘Up to’ 256-bit SSTP and OpenVPN encryption
  • iOS app
  • Android app
  • 3 days money back guarantee
  • Servers in Turkey and Romania
  • CONS
  • Keeps logs (but based in Hong Kong)

PureVPN is a very fully featured service (‘up to’ 256-bit SSTP and OpenVPN encryption, 2 simultaneous connections, iOS and Android apps), with servers handily located in Turkey, Romania, and throughout Europe. It does keep logs, but since it is based in Hong Kong (which pays minimal attention to international law and politics), this is probably not a major worry.

» Visit PureVPN


4th place

IPVanish

4,6/5

  • PROS
  • 3500+ IP addresses with over 90 servers in 20 countries (including India, Hong Kong, Moldova and Romania)
  • Fast (with amazing upload speeds)
  • Nice VPN client
  • CONS
  • ‘No logs’ policy is a joke
  • P2P: no
  • US company

IPVanish operates a blazingly fast service, with servers usefully located in India, Moldova and Romania (as well as plenty of places elsewhere). It claims to keep no logs and to use shared IPs to make individual identification of a user with any internet activity impossible, but as we received a warning from them over alleged copyright infringement, we just don’t believe this.

» Visit IPVanish


5th place

CyberGhost

4,55/5

  • PROS
  • No logs
  • Fast
  • Great VPN client with internet kill switch
  • Good free service
  • 30 day free trial
  • P2P: yes
  • Servers in Romania
  • CONS
  • Does not accept Bitcoin
  • VPN client is Windows only (although guides are provides for setting OpenVPN up on other devices)

Based in Romania (which is convenient for access from Saudi), CyberGhost keeps no logs, allows BitTorrent downloading, is fast, and has a great Windows VPN client with lots of features, including an internet kill switch. CyberGhost doesn’t accept Bitcoin, which is a bit of a shame as this is something of a hallmark for a VPN with a good regard for privacy, but the 30 day free trial is unarguably very generous.

» Visit CyberGhost


Conclusion

Saudi Arabia has some of the most draconian internet censorship and surveillance measures in the world, backed up by some potentially very harsh penalties for opinions expressed online that it doesn’t like. It is hardly surprising therefore, that many residents seek to free themselves of such restrictions through the use of VPN. While VPN highly effective, we do urge anyone whose life or liberty may be at risk to be extremely cautious.


And here’s the summary once more:

VPNs for Sauid Arabia Summary

Disclosure: compensated affiliate: click here for more information

Rank Company Score Price Link

1

VyprVPN Logo
Read Review9.9/10
$8.33 / monthVisit Site

2

AirVPN Logo
Read Review9.6/10
$4.82 / monthVisit Site

3

PureVPN Logo
Read Review9.4/10
$7.99 / monthVisit Site

4

IPVanish Logo
Read Review9.2/10
$6.49 / monthVisit Site

5

CyberGhost Logo
Read Review9.1/10
$5.83 / monthVisit Site

Douglas Crawford I am a freelance writer, technology enthusiast, and lover of life who enjoys spinning words and sharing knowledge for a living. Find me on Google+

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10 responses to “5 Best VPNs for Saudi Arabia

  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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