Saudi Arabia ranks extremely poorly on internet freedoms with a litany of sites and social media apps blocked for residents throughout the country. Bloggers have also been arrested and incarcerated for speaking out against the government and its authoritarian policies.
Advocacy body Freedom House says the internet landscape in the country is “not free”, with authorities constantly striving to stifle online commentary as well as access to content. That’s probably one of the reasons more than 30 percent of Saudi netizens use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to access the web in the Middle Eastern country.
If you don’t have the time to read the whole article, here’s our list of the best VPNs for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA):
- ExpressVPN Our preferred option for Saudi Arabia. Proven no-logs policy and best-in-class security. Fast speeds for streaming Netflix and other geo-blocked content from abroad. Comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee
- NordVPN Zero-logs policy and strong security. Unblocks streaming sites and has tons of servers.
- Surfshark Unlimited connections, fast speeds, and impressive unblocking capabilities.
- PrivateVPN Resolute encryption and top-notch ability to thwart geo-restrictions on streaming content sites.
- VyprVPN Good speeds and solid security.
Using a VPN keeps you safe and secure on the web. The software masks your true location by encrypting all the traffic to and from your device and routing it via an intermediary server outside your current location. That means it’s very difficult for hackers or surveillance agencies to pry.
A VPN is also an excellent choice for foreign expatriates living in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia wishing to access local content from back home like BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Hulu, Sky Sports, or BeIN sports.
Best VPNs for Saudi Arabia
Our list of the best VPNs for Saudi Arabia is based on the following factors:
- Speed and stability of service
- Large network of servers across the world for expatriates to unblock content
- Strong encryption parameters to maintain privacy and anonymity
- Ease of use
- Apps for Android and iOS
Based on the above criteria we recommend the following VPNs for Saudi Arabia.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
Best all round VPN for Saudi Arabia
ExpressVPN is a speedy, easy-to-use VPN that’s consistently ranked as one of our top services in this space. The design is neat and intuitive. It doesn’t compromise on encryption protocols, either, which are among the toughest in the industry. Users can select servers manually, from a list of recommended ones according to their location, or with a ‘smart location’ option that tells you which server it thinks best suits you. There are tons of options without the feeling of being overwhelmed.
The server network itself is robust with over 3,000 spread across 94 countries including locations in the Middle East, Asia Pacific, and Europe. Foreign expatriates living in Saudi Arabia will notice that ExpressVPN gives them many options to stay in touch with local content from back home.
Privacy and anonymity are important factors while choosing to use a VPN in Saudi Arabia. Users should rest assured that ExpressVPN has their back because it has a transparent policy of not storing any user data. There is only a sliver of metadata retention that analyzes the time users connect to the service, the servers they prefer, and total bandwidth utilized. Your individual IP address won’t be logged. The company says it retains this bare minimum data to improve service levels – and so far we haven’t come across any complaints of privacy infractions.
If you’re still feeling queasy, it’s possible to register for the service via a burner email account and pay with Bitcoin. The already low threat of privacy invasion will be further reduced.
As mentioned earlier in this article, ExpressVPN’s encryption protocols are tough. It uses 256-bit AES-CBC with the utilization of both HMAC authentication and perfect forward secrecy. An internet kill switch temporarily halts all web traffic if the connection drops unexpectedly, keeping your connection secure.
The service unlocks geo-restricted content on Netflix without breaking a sweat and is similarly compatible with both Hulu and BBC iPlayer. It supports torrents.
There are apps for Android and iOS as well as desktop support for Windows and MacOS.
- Industry-leading privacy and security features make this a natural choice for Saudi Arabia
- Accepts Bitcoin and anonymous registration possible
- Advanced location spoofing
- Keeps no traffic logs of any personal data
- Reliably unblocks geo-restricted content and restricted sites
- Extremely fast download/streaming speeds
- Can only simultaneously connect 3 devices
BEST VPN FOR SAUDI ARABIA:ExpressVPN is our TopChoice. Reliably unblocks content in Saudi Arabia and unblocks all major sites and apps. Excellent security and privacy, it offers extremely fast connections and servers in a huge range of countries. Try it risk-free with the 30-day money back guarantee.
Read our review of ExpressVPN.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
Best budget VPN for Saudi Arabia
NordVPN has been in existence for over a decade and has used its experience to build up a loyal legion of fans across the globe. The app may come across as clunky and cumbersome, but that doesn’t reflect on its core product – which provides impeccable speeds and security parameters. Long term users of NordVPN swear by it.
NordVPN continues the trend of adopting a zero-logs policy. This means it simply does not have any information about user sessions, traffic, or timestamps.
The company has received official requests for user data by government surveillance agencies. But the policy meant it couldn’t comply and user information remained hidden. Servers were confiscated in one instance for agents to scrub them thoroughly, but they were unable to glean any information. Privacy advocates will be pleased. NordVPN is also incorporated in Panama, meaning it’s out of the reach of any data retention laws – so the policy is unlikely to change.
The company operates 1081 servers in 61 countries making it a handy option for the entire gamut of web activity. It’s one of the few VPN providers that sorts servers for specific requirements such as anti-DDoS, video streaming, double VPN, Tor over VPN, or dedicated IP.
NordVPN works most online streaming services including Netflix, Hulu, and BBC iPlayer. It supports torrenting.
The company encrypts internet traffic via the 256-bit AES protocol by default and uses 2,048-bit SSL keys. DNS leak protection is enabled. The specifications propel it into the top-tier of VPN services so you should rest easy if you’re worried about privacy or anonymity.
Apps for Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android are available.
- Military-grade 256-bit encryption for great privacy
- Low-budget VPN for torrenting and streaming
- Unparalleled network – 5,000 servers across 63 countries
- Strict no-logs policy ideal for privacy-conscious users
- Access complete anonymity with cryptocurrency payments
- Some servers take longer to connect to
Best Budget VPN:NordVPN is a great value choice. A great choice for security and privacy and works reliably in Saudi Arabia and throughout the Middle East. Use up to 6 devices at once with great connection speeds. 30-day money back guarantee.
Here’s our review of NordVPN.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
Great for Netflix and other streaming services
Surfshark is a relative newcomer to the VPN scene, but it’s been creating quite the buzz. It has great unblocking capabilities as well as top-notch customer service.
At the time of writing, this provider has around 500 servers covering 50 countries. Some locations near Saudi Arabia are included, such as Turkey and Israel.
Surfshark is able to circumvent geo-restrictions around a plethora of streaming sites, including Netflix.
The security features Surf Shark provides are top-tier. 256-bit encryption is included by default as well as DNS, WebRTC, and IPv6 leak protection. An internet kill switch is on offer and you can further set up dual VPNs along with ad and malware blocking. What’s more, this provider has a policy of not storing any personally identifiable information.
Customer support is available around the clock. Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, and Amazon Fire Stick. Customers will enjoy the fact that you can connect an unlimited number of devices with a single account.
- Takes privacy and security very seriously
- Great at unblocking popular streaming sites like Netflix, Hulu, and BBC iPlayer
- 24/7 live chat
- Decent speeds for downloading and streaming
- Server network is smaller than most other VPNs
SECURE AND PRIVATE:Surfshark has military-grade encryption standards that will keep your web activity hidden. It comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Read our in-depth review of Surfshark
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
Good value VPN with fast speeds that works well in Saudi Arabia
PrivateVPN is well-known for its blazing speeds and impressive ability to unblock geo-restricted content. While it has only 88 servers in 59 countries, this provider punches above its weight when it comes to delivering a solid VPN product that’s safe, secure, and speedy.
PrivateVPN can unblock Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, and more. It uses 256-bit encryption, an internet kill switch (for the Windows app), WebRTC, DNS, and IPv6 leak protection.
It doesn’t store any user logs, including IP addresses. Privacy-conscious users can also sign up with burner email addresses and pay with Bitcoin.
Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android. A single account allows for 6 devices to connect at the same time.
- No issues getting it working in Saudi Arabia
- Gaining a solid reputation for unblocking geo-restricted content, including from the UK
- Our tests revealed impressive speeds
- Doesn’t have 24/7 live chat
- Small number of servers
STREAMING VPN:PrivateVPN is incredibly fast and unlocks several geo-restricted streaming sites. All plans come with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Read our review of PrivateVPN
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
Top level security, keeps no logs and works well in Saudi Arabia
VyprVPN is a favorite with people who value privacy and security as its proprietary tech is world-class. The company itself has been around for over seven years, making it a mature service that skirts government blockades at will.
It does, however, having a logging policy – specifically “the user’s source IP address, the VyprVPN IP address used by the user, connection start and stop time and total number of bytes used.” Some users might be concerned about that. But the company insists all data is kept on servers for a period of 30 days and is used for troubleshooting. The content of communications is not logged.
Your private data is unlikely to ever be exposed or exploited by hackers. As we mentioned earlier, VyprVPN’s encryption standards are incredible – it’s popular in China where it easily unblocks the Great Firewall. This means that the company has the ability to outwit thousands of state-appointed government engineers that work around the clock to keep sites out of the reach of people accessing the web in China. That’s impressive.
A premium version of the package will allow access to the Chameleon™ protocol. This feature scrambles OpenVPN metadata so deep packet inspection cannot recognize it.
It maintains its servers with a great degree of caution too. VyprVPN is one of the few services that runs entire data centers. This stands in contrast to other services that mainly outsource or rent. It’s in control of all the traffic flowing through the system, ensuring stringent privacy, minimal downtime, and great speeds.
VyprVPN uses the OpenVPN protocol, 256-bit AES encryption, 2,048-bit RSA keys without perfect forward secrecy, and SHA256 authentication. There’s an internet kill switch included. It’s also able to unlock content on Netflix, Hulu, and BBC iPlayer.
There are over 700 VyprVPN servers spread across the world.
Apps are available for both Android and iOS as well as desktop support for Windows and MacOS.
- Great unblocking capabilities, works well in Saudi Arabia
- Stable and speedy connections with secure apps
- Owns and manages its entire network of servers
- Slightly more expensive than some VPNs
- Other VPNs have more options for advanced configuration
- Doesn’t accept Bitcoin
User friendly Apps:VyprVPN achieves good speeds. Great uptime as all servers are owned by VyprVPN. Pricier than others on the list. 30-day money-back guarantee.
Read our full review of VyprVPN.
What about a free VPN?
It’s tempting to opt for a free VPN because you don’t have to sign up with a credit card and there usually isn’t any cash transaction at all. But forget about receiving the same speeds, encryption standards, or customer service.
Free VPNs are in the business of making money. They’re registered companies that have to pay for staff salaries, office space, server maintenance, and other overheads. So when the product itself is free, you end up becoming the product.
There have been multiple instances of free VPNs transgressing their power by tracking and stealing your data, selling it to 3rd-party advertisers, and bombarding you with invasive advertisements. Because you’re connected to a weak network, there is also the threat of a malware infection. Your device can also be unwittingly used as a pawn in a massive botnet army (more on this later).
If you’re unsure about whether you need a VPN, check out our list of the best VPNs with a free trial. It’ll help you test out the service for a few days and analyze whether the software works for you or not. But we recommend you avoid the random ones that exist on the interwebs. There’s more than what meets the eye.
Some VPNs to avoid
One of the reasons people opt for a VPN is so that their privacy and anonymity are guaranteed. We’ve discussed this at length throughout the article – VPN providers have a similar commitment that they respect the wishes of their users and don’t try to pull a fast one. Unfortunately, some companies have a history of not caring at all. In this section, we’ll tell you about three VPN services that willingly sold or handed over user data. We believe that’s a major ethical violation and a red flag to avoid them in the future.
There’s evidence to suggest that VPN provider PureVPN collaborated with law enforcement agencies to help identify one of its users.
PureVPN and the FBI joined forces after an unnamed 24-year-old woman filed a complaint about falling prey to an online blackmailing plot. She suspected her roommate, Ryan Lin, to be culpable.
The FBI traced the activity back to PureVPN, who then used its logs to identify the culprit. Ryan was arrested. PureVPN insists that it didn’t record the content of communications, but it did have a ‘no-logs’ policy in place. There’s a real question mark on how ethical they might have behaved.
Israel-based Hola, which developed and operated a popular VPN extension for the Chrome browser, built up its user base to a staggering 50 million. Unfortunately, it wasn’t content with further engendering the community. Instead, it chose to decimate its image and goodwill by unethically leveraging the user base by making them pawns in a massive botnet army.
What this meant was that Hola users, without their knowledge or consent, had a part of their internet bandwidth siphoned off for coordinated attacks on other sites, illegal promotion of copyrighted content, and possible distribution of pornography.
We’ll leave the rest to you.
3. Hotspot Shield
On the basis of anecdotal evidence, Hotspot Shield definitely ranks as one of the more popular free VPN providers out there. No one suspected it of wrongdoing until recently.
Last month, the VPN industry was shocked by claims of a privacy advocacy group which said that Hotspot Shield forcefully inserted tracking cookies in user devices, scraped the data, and sold it to advertisers. It’s also been accused of diverting ecommerce traffic to partner domains – what this means is that when HotSpot Shield users typed in requests for sites like macys.com, they were navigated to other ecommerce sites instead. It’s likely that the VPN company earned commissions via this arrangement. That’s probably illegal and definitely unethical.
The Federal Trade Commission is investigating the matter and will likely reach a decision in the coming months. We can’t say for sure whether the VPN company did commit these alleged transgressions, but they do follow a similar tale when compared to other services. We recommend you avoid Hotspot Shield until the future is clearer.
It’s important to note that under no circumstances do we condone the use of VPNs to commit acts expressly forbidden by a country’s laws. However, we maintain that VPN providers need to be open and transparent with users. If it tracks user data, even under certain circumstances, it needs to be open and upfront about it. Violating this trust, handing over data, or hijacking HTTP requests is unacceptable.
How do I blog anonymously in Saudi Arabia?
Liberal Saudi blogger Raif Badawi was arrested five years ago for promoting free speech and questioning the direction his country was taking. He remains behind bars to this day with his wife and child now in Canada.
In another case, Abu Sin, a teenage vlogger, was arrested after videos of him chatting online with a female friend in California went viral. Local police said the behavior “was unethical”, and stated that to be the reason behind his arrest.
Law enforcement agencies in Saudi Arabia don’t take kindly to chatter that deviates from state sanctioned policies. Any supposed transgressions from the devout Islamic way of life are also looked down upon. We recommend you use a VPN and protect your identity if looking to start a blog in Saudi Arabia.
Please note that Comparitech does not condone the violation of local laws, whether by using a VPN or not. Please research the possible ramifications of your behavior before deciding to continue on this path. If necessary consult a lawyer who might be able to provide in-depth advice.
Will the internet ever be free in Saudi Arabia?
More than 70 percent of Saudi residents are connected to the web in the country. That’s an impressive number, catapulting it into one of the most digitally connected countries of the world.
Unfortunately, locals can only access a mere fraction of the web. The Guardian says Saudi Arabia leads the region in internet censorship with sophisticated filters in place to block content and keep tabs on online behavior.
Freedom House adds that sites which are deemed to contain “harmful”, “illegal”, “anti-Islamic”, or “offensive” material are likely to be blocked. Other parameters include web pages promoting extremist ideologies or criticism of the Saudi royal family.
A new anti terrorism law passed in 2014 has resulted in a greater caution for online activity as well. Citizens can be censured for merely liking or commenting on posts that might be construed as damaging to the state.
Pro government websites and publications are routinely patronized by the state – with generous assistance provided to such journalists. On the flip side, any hint of criticism is meant with severe financial pressures with the government doing its best to restrict the publication’s source of revenue.
To browse the web safely and securely in Saudi Arabia, we recommend you use a VPN.