We saw this question asked a lot on Reddit and Quora, and also got it from many of our readers: should you use VPN servers in your country?
See what we mean?
So we can’t just offer one simple answer and call it a day. Instead, we’ll try to answer that question from different perspective, and answer related questions too. Feel free to use our Table of Contents to skip to the topic that interests you.
- Physical VPN Servers vs. Virtual Locations
- Should You Use VPN Servers in Risky Regions?
- I Don’t Live in Risky Regions – Should I Use VPN Servers in My Country?
- When Should You Use VPN Servers in Other Countries?
- What’s the Best VPN for the Job?
- Have Any Tips You’d Like to Share with Us?
Physical VPN Servers vs. Virtual Locations
Before we start, let’s clear the air – there’s a big difference between physical servers in a country and virtual locations:
- Physical VPN Servers – In this case, the provider has both a registered IP address and an actual physical server in the country. So if you’re connecting to a server in Iran, your IP address is from that country and the VPN server is located there.
- Virtual VPN Locations – In this situation, only the registered IP address matches the country. The actual VPN server is in a different country, one where the provider doesn’t have to put up with restrictive laws. So using a VPN server in Iran means the IP address is from that country, but the physical server could be in the UK, for instance.
Virtual locations tend to get a bad rep. Many people say they’re “fake” locations, and VPNs that use them are lying to you. But they make sense if the provider doesn’t have the resources to afford a huge infrastructure of physical servers around the globe.
Also, virtual locations are extremely useful if a VPN provider wants to offer servers in certain countries, but doesn’t want to put up with laws that would force them to violate user privacy.
So if a provider has virtual VPN locations (servers) in a country that censors the web or forces companies to track user behavior and share it with the authorities, using them should be safe (as long the provider doesn’t keep logs). There should be no way for the government to seize them or force providers to hand over data.
Should You Use Physical VPN Servers in Risky Regions?
What do we mean by risky regions, exactly?
Basically, countries with oppressive regimes. Places where you can get in trouble with the law if you visit the wrong site or say the wrong thing. Or places where you have to put up with online censorship.
So countries like Russia, China, Iran, the UAE, Oman. You get the picture.
If the provider only offers physical VPN servers and no virtual locations in those places, should you use them? Whether you live there, are traveling through those regions, or just want an IP address from those countries, are there any risks if you do that?
It depends. If you really value your privacy, and want to make sure government agencies don’t strong-arm VPNs into handing over logs with your usage data, you have to be very, very picky with the services you use.
We put together a list of questions you need to ask before you use a VPN provider with servers in risky parts of the world. If the service passes these requirements, it should be safe to use.
Are They State-Approved VPNs?
A state-approved VPN is a service that complies with the government’s restrictive laws. A third-party company that meets the government’s regulations could run it, or a branch of the government could take matters into its own hands and offer their own VPN (like in Iran).
Sometimes, you don’t really have a choice because state-approved VPNs are the only option. The Chinese government, for example, started blacklisting commercial VPNs back in 2018.
Overall, a state-approved VPN will obviously log your data and share it with the authorities. That’s why it was approved in the first place. So it definitely won’t protect your privacy.
The only safe option is to use a privacy-focused commercial VPN that offers obfuscation. That way, you can disguise your VPN traffic and bypass your government’s VPN blocks.
Of course, if the VPN you want to use is already blocked, you’re pretty much out of luck. You could use a state-approved VPN to sign up for it and download its apps, but that’s pretty risky. A safer alternative would be to use a free online proxy to unblock the VPN site.
Do They Keep Logs?
Logs are basically data about how you use the VPN service. If you’d like an in-depth look at them, check out our guide right here. If you’re okay with a quick summary, you should know VPN logs fall into two categories:
- Usage logs (also called activity logs) – They contain data about everything you do with the VPN: what sites you visit, what files you download, what web apps you use, etc. They also store your IP address.
- Connection logs – They seem pretty harmless because they mostly contain technical information (how often you connect to a server, when you do it, how long you use the server, etc.). But, sometimes, connection logs can also contain your IP address.
If the VPN mentions they “keep some logs,” “use connection logs to troubleshoot their services,” or anything like that, stay away. Even a single log is bad for your privacy in this situation.
Because you never know when government authorities could seize the provider’s servers or use legal means to force them to hand over user data.
Sure, the same could happen to a no-log VPN (like it happened to ExpressVPN). But guess what? The government wouldn’t be able to get any data that way. There’s isn’t any to begin with.
Were They Involved in Any Privacy Scandals?
You can’t really expect a VPN to protect your privacy if they previously put user data in danger.
For instance, PureVPN (a pretty popular VPN provider) claimed they didn’t keep any logs. But, in 2017, it was revealed that they didn’t just keep them. They also willingly shared them with the FBI.
Here’s another example – Hotspot Shield (another big name on the market) had an FTC complain lodged against them in 2017. Initially, they claimed they didn’t keep or track any logs of their users’ activities. However, it seems they actually used third-party tracking libraries. Also, they redirected users’ eCommerce traffic to partnering domains.
Here’s one more – Hola, a very popular VPN in 2015. Apparently, the service was hijacking user bandwidth and selling it to third-parties. The VPN’s network was reported as the origin of several DoS attacks, meaning the users were unknowingly added to a botnet.
So basically any scandal like that.
Sure, maybe the service reformed since then (PureVPN did, for example), and they’re much better equipped to offer real privacy now. Maybe that would be an okay compromise if you lived in a relatively free country where you don’t need to worry about Tweets or Google searches landing you in jail or resulting in a huge fine.
As it stands, though, you can’t take such a risk. Research the provider in-depth to make sure there are no skeletons in their closet. If you’d like to hear about some no-log VPNs that didn’t keep their promise (and some that did), we recommend reading this article.
Can They Prove They Don’t Keep Logs?
Great, but can they prove they don’t? You’ve only got their word to go on that way, after all. How willing are you to put your freedom at risk with only their word as proof?
Obviously, we’re not saying all VPNs lie when they say they don’t keep logs. But, then again, remember PureVPN? They made all those claims, and still kept logs behind their users’ backs.
So how can a no-log VPN prove they actually are log-free? Here are a few examples:
- Any legal documents that clearly state the provider doesn’t have any logs. PIA has court documents that back up their no-log policy, for instance.
- An independent third-party audit is always nice evidence. VyprVPN has one, for example.
- They could open-source their software (like PIA and ProtonVPN). Anyone can inspect it that way to check their no-log claims.
Events out of the provider’s control also qualify as proof.
For example, ExpressVPN’s servers getting seized by the Turkish authorities was a very unfortunate event. But it does work as proof that they don’t keep logs since the authorities couldn’t find any useful data.
Similarly, one of NordVPN’s servers getting hacked is good proof they don’t keep logs either. The breach showed there weren’t any at all.
Can They Prove the Data Centers They Use Don’t Keep Logs?
Not all providers can afford to run their own VPN servers, so it makes sense they’d rent VPS (Virtual Private Servers) from data centers.
Here’s the problem, though – the VPN provider might have proof they don’t keep logs, but how do you know the data center doesn’t do that?
It sounds like nitpicking, but it’s something that can happen. Take EarthVPN for instance. They said they didn’t keep logs, but one of the Dutch data centers they used apparently kept IP transfer logs without them knowing.
Unfortunately, we can’t offer any specific examples of VPN providers acquiring any form of legal proof demonstrating the data centers they use don’t keep logs.
Ideally, the provider would run their own servers and not use data centers in this case.
If they use data centers, however, you’ll have to talk with the VPN provider’s support reps about them. Ask them in-depth questions, and try to look into the data centers yourself.
It’s a lot of hassle, we know. So we’re not saying you shouldn’t use VPN servers in oppressive countries if the provider can’t prove the data centers don’t keep logs. Just please keep in mind there’s always a risk something might go wrong, so be careful what you do online.
I Don’t Live in Risky Regions – Should I Use VPN Servers in My Country?
Well yeah, there’s nothing stopping you from doing that. Don’t use them to unblock geo-restricted content from other countries, though. It won’t work.
In our experience, it’s best to use a VPN server in your country when you want to protect your data and privacy on the web. So anything from online shopping, online banking, and regular browsing applies.
Why use a VPN server in your country and not another region?
Because you’ll get faster speeds. You’re much closer to the VPN server, so it’ll take less time for data packets to travel between the VPN app on your device and the server.
Also, it’s less likely that packets will be lost in transit between the app and the server. So your VPN connection won’t be as likely to drop.
When Should You Use VPN Servers in Other Countries?
Here are some situations when you might want to do that:
If you want to unblock content from a different country, you’ll obviously need a VPN server in that region. If you don’t have the “right” IP address, the website will just block your connection or redirect it to a different landing page or site.
So let’s say you want to watch content on the Canadian Netflix library. You’d need to use a Canadian VPN server to unblock it. If you use a server in your country, Netflix will just redirect you to your region’s content library.
Circumvent Government Censorship
If your government forces ISPs to block various websites, you can’t bypass those restrictions with a server that’s in your country. You’ll need one from a different place – any place, really.
As long as you’re browsing the web with an IP address that’s not from your region, you won’t deal with firewalls. Those restrictions only apply to IP ranges in your country.
Get Better Prices
You might have heard you can actually use VPN servers to get awesome discounts.
Well, we have good news – that’s completely true!
Not many people know this, but online prices can vary depending on your IP address.
Because your IP address is tied to your geo-location. And online merchants often display different prices based on that. They normally due it for profit, but they also have to use geographical price discrimination because:
- Taxes and import duties are more expensive in certain countries.
- Shipping the items to you costs them a lot.
- Legal barriers (like immigration restrictions, for example) drive the prices up.
Since a VPN hides your IP address from eCommerce sites, you should be able to get some pretty nice discounts.
If you see steep prices in your country, you normally need to use a VPN server from a country with a lower cost of living. Though, sometimes, you might get better deals with IP addresses from other more expensive regions.
It’s all about trial and error, really.
But don’t just take our word for it. We’ll show you an example of this in action.
For this test, we used a British and Brazilian server from Surfshark. We also tested the price for Red Dead Redemption 2 on the Microsoft store.
Here’s the price we got with a British IP address: £59.99.
And here’s the price we saw with the Brazilian server: R$249.00. If we convert that to GBP, we get around £37.54. So a cool £22.45 discount!
Lower Lag and Ping when Gaming
Online gaming can be tons of fun, but not when you’re constantly dealing with high ping and lag.
Unfortunately, that’s often the case when you game on a server that’s too far away from you (like on a different continent). Your traffic route just makes too many “stops” on its way to the gaming server, causing high ping times and lag spikes.
However, if you were to use a VPN server that’s in the same country where the gaming server is, you might get a smoother experience. The VPN routes your traffic directly to the gaming server, so it should lower ping and lag.
What’s the Best VPN for the Job?
If you’re using physical servers in risky countries, the provider obviously needs to meet all the requirements we mentioned at the start of the article. Besides that, they also need to:
- Be 110% leak-proof.
- Offer Kill Switches.
- Offer powerful encryption (like AES).
- Provide PFS (Perfect Forward Secrecy).
- Accept crypto payments (here’s a list of VPNs that do).
If you just need a VPN for regular browsing, or can use virtual locations in risky regions, it helps if the service has tons of servers. You get better speeds that way and more geo-location options. Ideally, it should also offer user-friendly apps on the most popular platforms, 24/7 support, and favorable refund policies.
Besides that, the VPN should also meet basic security standards – no logs, no leaks, and secure protocols (OpenVPN, preferably). If you’re really obsessed with privacy, make sure it meets all the requirements we mentioned above.
The easiest way to find such a VPN is to read our ultimate guide to the best services on the market.
Have Any Tips You’d Like to Share with Us?
Know other requirements physical VPN servers in dangerous regions should meet to qualify as secure? Or other good reasons people might want to use a VPN server outside their country (or, why not, in their own country)?
Go ahead and tell us about them in the comments. We’re all ears!