Skype has become the de facto voice-over-IP (VoIP) service around the world for making voice and video calls over the internet. It allows anyone in the world to create an account and start making calls to other Skype users for free, and to mobile and landlines for just pennies a minute.
In many countries, however, using Skype is either prohibited or limited. ISPs block access to Skype either at the government’s request or for their own benefit. The reasons vary from country to country. In some places, like Belize, the big telecom operators don’t want competition from over-the-top (OTT) VoIP services like Skype. In others, like Egypt, the government won’t allow Skype to operate because they cannot monitor people’s communications. Finally, some countries make it prohibitively expensive and difficult for Skype to operate. In the UAE for example, Skype has been unable to acquire the proper telecom operator license.
No matter where you are, however, you can always access Skype with the help of a good VPN service. Short for virtual private network, a VPN encrypts all of a device’s internet traffic and routes it through an intermediary server in a location of the user’s choosing. The encryption hides the contents of your online activity, and the server masks its destination.
If you’re in a country that blocks Skype, all you need to do is connect to a VPN server in a country where Skype is not banned. This is usually done by simply installing a VPN app, logging in, choosing a country, and hitting a “Connect” button. Once the encrypted tunnel between your device and the VPN server is established, you are free to use Skype as you normally would. For best results, choose a server geographically near you.
Your ISP cannot see that you are using Skype when the VPN is enabled, but we do not encourage you to break the law in countries where using a VPN or Skype is illegal.
To narrow down the list of the best VPNs for Skype, we chose the following criteria:
- Fast, stable connections for clear VoIP communications
- Strong encryption
- No logs policy
- Apps for multiple operating systems
ExpressVPN optimizes every one of its servers in all 78 countries it operates in, so you should never have a problem with call quality. The provider uses the highest standards of encryption and authentication, including perfect forward secrecy. It keeps no traffic logs and minimal, non-identifying metadata logs. Well-designed, easy-to-use apps are available for Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS, Linux (command line), and certain wifi routers.
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Read our full review of ExpressVPN.
NordVPN operates servers in over 60 countries and allows up to six devices to be connected at once. Some of those servers are optimized for better stability (anti-DDoS), faster streaming (ultra-fast TV), and improved privacy (Tor over VPN, double VPN). Strong encryption is used on all connections and the company plans to improve it further this year. NordVPN maintains a strict zero logs policy on both traffic and metadata. Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, Android, and iOS.
Read our detailed NordVPN Review.
IPVanish also owns all of its physical servers around the world, guaranteeing you speed with unlimited bandwidth and data. It comes packaged with a no-logs policy and military-grade encryption. Users can set how often they want their IP address to change and enable a number of privacy setting including IPv6 leak protection, DNS leak protection, a kill switch, and traffic obfuscation. Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, Android, and iOS.
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Read our full IPVanish Review.
VyprVPN owns and operates all of its own servers and network equipment, unlike most other providers who rent out from third parties. That means better privacy and performance, ensuring clear audio and video quality when using Skype. For those concerned about government surveillance, an optional “Chameleon” protocol promises a stealthier connection than what you get with the standard OpenVPN protocol. The company keeps no traffic logs but does store some metadata. Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, Android, and iOS.
Read our full VyprVPN Review.
PureVPN boasts a huge range of servers across 121 countries. The company uses 128-bit AES encryption, which isn’t as strong as its rivals but its plenty strong enough for the vast majority of users. No traffic logs are stored on company servers. Connection speed is excellent and the apps are easy for novice’s to pick up quickly. Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, and DD-WRT wifi routers.
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Read our in-depth PureVPN Review.
What countries is Skype blocked in?
Skype is banned nationwide in the following countries: Guyana, Kuwait, Libya, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, and the UAE.
Skype is regionally limited, banned by certain ISPs, or periodically blocked in these countries: Bahrain, Belize, Brazil, several Carribean countries, China, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Myanmar, Pakistan, Paraguay, Panama, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Syria, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Vietnam, Russia, Venezuela, and Yemen
Will using a VPN with Skype prevent government surveillance?
Skype calls and messages are encrypted, but not end-to-end. The service uses strong 256-bit AES encryption and unbreakable 2,048-encryption keys. Instant messages are sent using either TLS or AES encryption. The only thing that’s not encrypted is the part of a mobile or landline call that travels over ordinary phone networks (PSTN).
However, despite that encryption, reports have surfaced suggesting certain government to Skype users’ conversations.
In 2013, Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA had widespread access to voice and video calls on the service which were presumed to be encrypted. Even before Skype was acquired by Microsoft, Snowden showed the company was working with the NSA. Since it was acquired in 2011, the amount of information being collected has tripled and now includes video.
We now know that American, Russian, and Chinese officials can eavesdrop on Skype conversations. While the exact method isn’t abundantly clear, we have a pretty good idea of how it works. Normally, when you call or message someone on Skype, that data is encrypted using a session key randomly generated on your computer. That key is sent to the recipient so that only they can decrypt it.
When a government authority requests, however, Skype can covertly switch the session key on your device for one generated on Skype’s servers. When the voice, video, and message data passes through Skype’s servers, they can then intercept it and decrypt it for the authority to see.
So, will a VPN protect you from this? Probably not, to be frank. It’s not clear what Microsoft’s procedure is on this. If you connect to a VPN and change your IP address to a country that’s not Russia, the US, or China, then it’s possible you would be exempt from being spied on. But it’s also just as likely that Microsoft will hand over information on demand no matter where you are located.
If you want to use Skype, your data must pass through Microsoft’s servers without VPN encryption at some point. There’s simply no avoiding this. If this is a deal-breaker, try an alternative VoIP service.
Note that this tactic is probably not used on a mass scale for bulk data gathering. It would most likely happen on an individual, case-by-case basis only when requested by authorities.
China users: don’t use TOM Skype
If you live in China and you go to the Microsoft website to download Skype without a VPN, there’s a good chance you’ll end up with TOM Skype. While it looks more or less the same, TOM Skype is a China-compliant version of Skype that allows Chinese authorities to independently spy on and censor conversations.
Instead, connect to a VPN and download the international version that Chinese authorities can’t crack, at least not without Skype’s explicit permission and assistance.
Tip: Many VPNs are blocked in China. We maintain a list of working China VPN services.