Unfortunately, internet censorship is rife in many Middle Eastern countries. Of course, the government isn’t the only entity that can monitor your online activities; there’s a chance that your employer, your Internet Service Provider (ISP), or hackers are also keeping tabs on you. VPNs encrypt your traffic and route it through a server in a different location, ensuring it can’t be read by any outside observer and keeping your activities private.
Important: Countries including the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Saudi Arabia block traffic from all but a few government-approved VPNs. This means that the majority of VPNs won’t work in these locations. However, some still do and below, we’ve listed the best VPNs that work anywhere in the Middle East.
Aside from privacy, this process has one other major benefit: it allows you to appear as though you’re actually in another country. Often, sites and services are only available to users in specific locations, and they check the user’s IP address before granting access. Whenever you connect to a VPN, however, you’re given a temporary, country-specific IP. Most platforms are unable to tell the difference, so a VPN should allow you to access whatever you like, regardless of where you are in the world.
We’ll go more in-depth with each of our top picks later, but if you just want to see our recommendations, you can find them below:
- ExpressVPN: A high-speed VPN with servers in Egypt and Israel, as well as strong unblocking ability.
- NordVPN: Low-cost, high-performance, highly-secure service which works in countries with strict online censorship.
- PrivateVPN: A fast, reliable way to safely browse the internet in the Middle East.
- Surfshark: Security-conscious service with wide reach, high speeds, and which boasts servers in multiple Middle Eastern countries.
- VyprVPN: Offers fast speeds, numerous Middle Eastern servers, advanced security, and a three-day free trial.
How to browse safely with a VPN in the Middle East
The good news is that with a VPN, it’s fairly simple to protect yourself when using the internet in the Middle East:
- First, you’ll need to sign up for a reliable VPN service (we recommend ExpressVPN).
- Download and install the appropriate version for your device.
- Connect to a server in the country of the site or service you’d like to unblock.
- Try loading the website. If it doesn’t load immediately, you might have to clear your browser’s cookies and cache. Once you reload the page, it should work correctly.
PAID VPN COVERAGE FOR FREE: Usually, VPNs offer the lowest prices to long-term subscribers. If you’re only looking for short-term coverage, though, you can just use ExpressVPN’s 30-day money-back guarantee instead. Although you have to pay upfront, you can cancel at any point in this period to receive a full refund, effectively giving you premium protection for free.
Which VPNs work best in the Middle East?
Choosing which VPN to use is rarely as simple as it should be. After all, there are hundreds of competing providers, all offering different features and all claiming to be the best. To identify the best VPNs for the Middle East, we only considered services meeting all of the criteria laid out below:
- Has a wide network, with servers in several Middle Eastern countries
- Offers reliable, high-speed connections
- Uses powerful encryption and includes various other security features
- Includes apps for the most popular operating systems
- Logs no personally identifiable information, although ideally keeps no logs whatsoever
Best VPNs for the Middle East
Keep reading to find our most highly-recommended VPNs for the Middle East:
ExpressVPN is capable of unblocking a huge range of services including Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video, as well as bypassing government-imposed restrictions. It offers unlimited bandwidth, access to more than 2,000 servers across 94 countries (including Egypt and Israel), and speeds that are high enough to stream live HD video without any noticeable buffering.
This VPN ensures your privacy with 256-bit AES encryption (which is effectively uncrackable), perfect forward secrecy, and protection against DNS and IPv6 leaks. Its desktop apps include a kill switch that automatically stops all traffic if you disconnect unexpectedly, which is especially useful in countries where the internet is monitored. ExpressVPN doesn’t log any personally identifiable information, plus you can pay with Bitcoin for added peace of mind. Customer support is available 24/7 over live chat.
ExpressVPN offers apps for Android, iOS, Mac, Windows, and Linux. There’s also custom firmware to make installing the service on a router easier.
- Strong security features
- Very fast
- Anonymous registration possible
- Large server network
- Unblocks popular streaming services
- Only allows three connections at once
BEST VPN FOR THE MIDDLE EAST:ExpressVPN is our #1 choice It’s fast, private and secure and reliably works in the Middle East. It works with services blocked in the Middle East such as Skype, and others and comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee so you can try it risk-free.
NordVPN has a huge network of more than 5,000 servers spread throughout 62 countries, including Turkey, Israel, the UAE, and Egypt. This VPN is able to reliably unblock even the most stubborn geo-blocked services with ease and even offers specialized obfuscated servers designed for bypassing governmental blocking. With up to six simultaneous connections allowed, you’re able to protect most, if not all, of your devices at the same time.
This provider shows a strong commitment to your privacy. There’s 256-bit encryption, a customizable kill switch, an ad-blocker, and a malware-scanner, as well as DNS, IPv6, port forwarding, and WebRTC leak protection. Users can access Tor over VPN or use two VPNs at the same time. NordVPN has a no-logs policy and allows you to sign up anonymously. Live chat is available 24/7 in case of any problems.
NordVPN apps are available for MacOS, iOS, Windows, Android, and Linux. It can be manually installed on wireless routers.
- Highly-customizable security
- Reliable connections
- Offers servers designed for browsing in countries with heavy censorship
- Server connection can be slow in the desktop app
BEST BUDGET CHOICE:NordVPN offers comprehensive protection, excellent unblocking, and decent speeds at a very affordable price. There’s even a 30-day money-back guarantee.
PrivateVPN offers higher speeds than many of its rivals, but has a smaller network, with just 88 servers covering 59 countries, including Israel, Turkey, and Cyprus. It’s still well worth your consideration, though, since it’s highly secure, capable of unblocking in countries with strict censorship, and as a bonus, it can even unblock platforms like Netflix abroad. Six connections are allowed, so you can stream from whichever device you prefer.
This VPN keeps your activities private with 256-bit encryption, a kill switch (Windows only), and WebRTC, DNS, and IPv6 leak protection. While PrivateVPN has a strict no-logging policy, it allows you to sign up anonymously using a throwaway email address and Bitcoin. Having difficulty getting set up? No problem – customer support can configure and install the software for you remotely.
PrivateVPN offers apps for Windows, MacOS, Android, and iOS. Manual configuration is required for Linux-based systems or network routers.
- Very high speeds
- No logs
- Able to unblock popular services
- No live chat support
- Fairly small network
FAST, SECURE BROWSING:PrivateVPN is a reliable, high-speed service It comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee, great unblocking capability, and the option to register anonymously.
Surfshark has around 500 servers covering 50 countries, including Israel and Turkey. It has decent speeds and can reliably unblock stubborn platforms like Netflix abroad, but there are two things that really set it apart from the competition. The first is that you can connect as many devices as you like. The second is the sheer number of security features on offer.
256-bit encryption is enabled by default, as is DNS, WebRTC, and IPv6 leak protection. You can also use Surfshark’s kill switch, choose to use dual VPNs, obfuscate your traffic, or let some apps through the VPN. There’s even automatic ad and malware-blocking. Surfshark doesn’t log any personally identifiable information. Support is available 24/7 via live chat.
Surfshark has apps for Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, and Amazon Fire Stick. In certain countries, you may have to manually configure the service on MacOS and iOS devices. It can be manually installed on Linux and select routers.
- Good multi-platform support
- Several security features
- No logging
- Unlimited connections
- Relatively small network
PRIVACY-ORIENTED:Surfshark is a fast, security conscious VPN Plans include a 30-day money-back guarantee.
VyprVPN offers 700+ servers across 64 countries including Turkey, the UAE, Bahrain, Israel, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. It’s a fast service, capable of unblocking platforms like Netflix without any issues. What’s more, it also gives you access to free cloud-storage and an encrypted messaging app. The base subscription permits three simultaneous connections, but you can connect up to five devices with a premium subscription.
This VPN includes several useful security features. There’s 256-bit encryption, DNS leak protection, and a kill switch (desktop versions only), for a start. However, it also allows you to use its Chameleon protocol which conceals the fact that you’re using a VPN in the first place. VyprVPN no longer logs any personal information, including IP addresses. Support is available over live chat, 24/7.
VyprVPN apps are available for Android, iOS, Windows, MacOS, and Blackphone. It can be manually installed on Linux devices and select wireless routers.
- No logging
- Traffic obfuscation
- Highly secure
- Can easily bypass most regional restrictions
- No way to sign up anonymously
GREAT SECURITY FEATURES:VyprVPN has several Middle Eastern servers, powerful security features, and great unblocking capability, and even includes a three-day free trial.
Can I use a free VPN in the Middle East?
Although free VPNs are often appealing at first glance, we advise against using one. Firstly, despite their huge user bases, they usually have fairly small networks. As a result, you can expect very slow speeds, which in turn, lead to choppy video and long pauses while your content buffers. Additionally, these VPNs usually can’t unblock the most popular geo-blocked services, meaning they’re highly unlikely to be able to bypass government-imposed restrictions.
Free VPNs aren’t charities; they’re designed to make money just like any other business. However, as they don’t bill the user directly, they have to find other ways to make a profit. This usually means they’ll include large ads on sites you visit, but some services even use tracking cookies to harvest valuable user data. Once enough has been collected, it can be sold to third parties without your knowledge or express consent.
Finally, but most importantly, there’s no guarantee you’ll even choose a safe service. A 2016 survey showed that of 283 tested apps, over 38% included malware. Assuming you find one that doesn’t, 18% let the user browse with no encryption at all, and 84% leaked personal information over IPv6. Even well-known free VPNs comes with their own risks, as we discovered when Hola was caught selling idle user bandwidth to help run botnets.
Can I watch Middle Eastern TV abroad with a VPN?
For all intents and purposes, once you’ve connected to a server in a particular country, you’re able to access services from that region as though you were physically there. This means that yes, you can use a VPN to watch Middle Eastern TV from abroad. For instance, you could stream Cinemoz, Starzplay, or Shahid from outside of the Middle East, or access the Hulu, Netflix, or BBC iPlayer from inside the Middle East, depending on which server you use.
It’s important to note that some platforms prevent foreign users from accessing their service in other ways. For example, you might be asked to use a payment method that’s only available in a particular country, or might have to verify that you actually have a Middle Eastern address or phone number. Some services, including Netflix, allow you to pay with gift cards. These are ideal since they’re fairly simple to acquire and don’t require you to enter any personal information.
Internet censorship in the Middle East
Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates have some of the most pervasive internet censorship in the world. There are numerous documented cases of citizens being prosecuted for speaking ill of the government or expressing opinions contrary to the status quo. These countries restrict access to huge swathes of content, and these blocks often include popular social media platforms, messaging apps, and news websites, severely restricting the flow of unbiased information.
Can I get in trouble for using a VPN in the Middle East?
Really, it depends on which country you’re in and what you’re using a VPN for. The Middle East is a huge region, made up of 15+ countries, each with their own rules and regulations. Below, we’ve listed each Middle Eastern country, the status of its internet, and any VPN restrictions it might have.
Note: while we’ve attempted to be as thorough as possible while researching for this article, we are not legal experts. Comparitech does not condone using a VPN for illegal purposes and recommends our readers research a country’s relevant legislation for themselves before travelling.
|Bahrain||Pervasive censorship and a history of threatening activists.||Unregulated|
|Cyprus||Foreign gambling sites blocked, otherwise unrestricted.||Unregulated|
|Egypt||News, anti-censorship, and encrypted communications platforms blocked. Heavy surveillance on social media.||Unregulated, but most websites blocked|
|Iran||Widespread blocking including news, social media, and encrypted messaging apps.||Government-approved VPNs only|
|Iraq||Recurrent social media blocking, possible government surveillance.||Banned outright|
|Israel||Non-Israeli gambling sites blocked.||Unregulated|
|Jordan||Politically sensitive issues and LGBT content censored. History of internet surveillance and arresting journalists.||Unregulated|
|Kuwait||All sexual content (including LGBT support) and anti-monarchy, anti-establishment, or anti-religious content blocked.||Unregulated|
|Lebanon||Inconsistent blocking of gambling and pornography sites.||Unregulated|
|Oman||Extensive surveillance and censorship of material relating to sex, anti-Islam, anti-government, or anti-censorship sentiment.||Unregulated, but many VPN sites blocked|
|Palestine||Selective censorship of news and pornography.||Unregulated|
|Qatar||State-owned ISP can allegedly intercept other ISP’s traffic. Dating, pornography, anti-government, privacy, VoIP services blocked.||Unregulated|
|Saudi Arabia||History of arresting or assassinating journalists. Material relating to encryption, VPNs, sexual topics, or religious conversion is blocked, as is news coverage that portrays the government unfavorably.||Unregulated but many VPN sites blocked|
|Syria||Extensive blocking and surveillance of anti-government and news sites. Has a history of journalist assassination and pro-government cyber-warfare campaigns.||Unregulated|
|Turkey||Widespread blocks on pornography, file-sharing, news, social media, gambling, cloud storage, free information, and streaming sites.||Unregulated but popular VPN websites blocked|
|United Arab Emirates||Blocks content relating to dating, pornography, gambling, social media, VoIP services, bypassing censorship, and anything deemed politically-sensitive.||Unregulated, but using a VPN for anything illegal is a crime in and of itself|
|Yemen||Censors anti-Islam material, gambling, sexual, anti-establishment, or “offensive” content. Has been known to throttle websites that aren’t banned, including Facebook.||Unregulated|
- 1 How to browse safely with a VPN in the Middle East
- 2 Which VPNs work best in the Middle East?
- 3 Best VPNs for the Middle East
- 4 1. ExpressVPN
- 5 2. NordVPN
- 6 3. PrivateVPN
- 7 4. Surfshark
- 8 5. VyprVPN
- 9 Can I use a free VPN in the Middle East?
- 10 Can I watch Middle Eastern TV abroad with a VPN?
- 11 Internet censorship in the Middle East
- 12 Can I get in trouble for using a VPN in the Middle East?