6 Best VPNs for Saudi Arabia – Bypass Censorship

There are over 30 million residents in Saudi Arabia – a country where internet penetration has rapidly significantly over the past few years. In June 2014, it reached over 77% of households, becoming the second highest rate in the Middle East, next to Bahrain which boasts 80%. Moreover, the Kingdom has become one of the countries with the highest smartphone penetration at an overwhelming 79%, surpassing technologically advanced nations such as Singapore and South Korea.

As a result of the enormous amount of people using smartphones in the Kingdom, local networks Etisalat and STC rolled out their 4G coverage in most cities including its capital Riyadh – home to the largest national ICT hub.

Despite having a significant upper hand within the realms of technology, even compared to some European states, Saudi Arabian citizens are all too familiar with the major prevalence of internet censorship that has plagued net freedom to the present day. With many social media sites as well as VoIP services inaccessible over local networks, citizens and expats are swiftly taking matters into their own hands, and the most popular solution for privacy and unblocking web content is VPN.

Summary

Provider Features Price Links
1 ExpressVPN
  • Torrent-friendly
  • Custom apps
  • 256-bit keys
  • Zero logs
  • Live chat
$8.32
/month
Visit Provider
Read Review
2 PureVPN
  • Torrent-friendly
  • Custom apps
  • 256-bit keys
  • Smart DNS
  • Live chat
$9.95
/month
Visit Provider
Read Review
3 ibVPN
  • Torrent-friendly
  • Zero logs
  • Smart DNS
  • Custom apps
$7.95
/month
Visit Provider
Read Review
4 IPVanish
  • Torrent-friendly
  • Custom apps
  • 256-bit keys
$10
/month
Visit Provider
Read Review
5 Le VPN
  • Torrent-friendly
  • Custom apps
  • 256-bit keys
  • Smart DNS
$9.95
/month
Visit Provider
Read Review
6 VPNArea
  • Torrent-friendly
  • Custom apps
  • 256-bit keys
  • Live chat
$9.90
/month
Visit Provider
Read Review

Quick Links


Internet censorship in Saudi Arabia

Internet censorship in the Kingdom is particularly comprehensive and widespread when. Just eighteen months following the introduction of the internet to the mass public in 1999, the government had already managed to ban access to some 200,000 websites.

This number significantly increased through the years, and by 2004, authorities blocked access to more than double that amount of web domains. Officially, the heavy censorship is said to have been implemented in order to protect local culture and values espoused by the national religion of Islam.

Saudi Arabia Social Media
Social media is more popular than ever in Saudi Arabia, but is heavily monitored by authorities

Saudi Arabia is able to implement internet censorship easily because of KACST or the King Abdel Aziz City for Science and Technology. The KACST is the only institution that offers internet service in the entire Kingdom. As a result, the government can easily censor access to, and monitor, certain websites.

Moreover, a well-known group of computer technology experts has offered to provide the Kingdom with techniques and equipment on how to prevent online users from accessing certain websites that the government considers inappropriate for its people.

The primary engines for internet censorship in Saudi Arabia include the King Abdel Aziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) and the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC). Albeit dubbed an ‘independent’ organisation, KACST reports directly to the Saudi Prime Minister, and is responsible for providing internet services throughout the Kingdom in cooperation with the Saudi Telecommunication Company and other private ISPs.

In fact, KACST is also responsible for all technological policy making, data collection, patent administration, and is overall an all-round science powerhouse that launches satellites into space. And although the blocking of web content may seem like a small part of their day to day activities, it unquestionably affects each and every online user.

The Kingdom’s primary efforts with internet censorship target websites with anti-government sentiment, pornography, dating platforms, access to gambling and a host of selected pages and communities from Facebook and Wikipedia. Similarly to the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority  in the UAE, CITC apply sophisticated firewall technology, elements of which are imported from China.

Ironically, though, the government successfully encourages certain groups of its own netizens to help with reporting suspicious content. Reportedly, many of those involved in monitoring the internet are students and religious organisations.

Blocked website Saudi Arabia
Access Denied: Blocked website in Saudi Arabia

However, it’s not just ‘morally objectionable’ websites that find themselves in the blacklist. Other web destinations banned by CITC and KACST include social media and VoIP services like Skype, Whatsapp, Viber that allow people to freely message or make phone/video calls over the internet.

Furthermore, several large VPN sites have also found themselves in the blacklist, as the government does its best to crackdown loopholes to get around the restrictions.

Although it was officially announced last year that Skype was finally to become available to legally download and use in the country, many users still find that they’re not able to make any actual calls via the service. Most other VoIP providers remain essentially blocked due to limits on their use.

The only way to utilise VoIP services is by acquiring a license from KACST, yet, as expected, the license isn’t easily obtained by members of the public. At present, only large telecommunications companies like Etisalat and STC have a VoIP license, but much like in the UAE, apps such as Skype and Viber are blocked on the network in order to protect business revenues.

Battle with social media

Social media is a hit among the Saudis, with almost a third of the population active on Facebook. Twitter is also highly popular, but both of these sites are nowadays used with caution and often under aliases.

Cases such as the recent imprisonment of three lawyers in Riyadh for criticising the monarchical justice system and “disobeying the ruler” demonstrate that freedom of speech in Saudi Arabia is cannot be practised in comfort, and that social media is being openly monitored for similar dissent. Since the introduction of the controversial Anti-Cyber Crime Law in 2007, many online forums (social media included) have become unsafe for voicing opinions and much of the online world has become subject to persistent tracking.

It doesn’t stop there either. In 2014, the Saudi government looks to amend the Anti-Cyber crime law in order to initiate legal proceedings against the likes of Facebook and Twitter for hosting accounts and content that promotes adultery, homosexuality and atheism.

Such amendments to the existing law could potentially obligate sites to block access to blacklisted pages within that country, and it looks like the government of Saudi Arabia will soon possess even tighter control of the web traffic passing through domestic networks.

Nevertheless, even in the most uncertain internet landscapes, people are able to find working solutions for unblocking the web and protecting their privacy.

Using a virtual private network is key to regaining online freedom in Saudi Arabia, and you can use it for several functions, including hiding/changing your IP location and unblocking websites and VoIP services like Skype and Viber.

But the most important feature of a virtual private network is its ability to encrypt your web traffic, making your online data unrecognisable to your ISP. This means that whatever you do online will remain undetected, leaving you with a safer web surfing experience.

How to choose a good VPN

Before you make a decision on a VPN service for Saudi Arabia, it is important to ensure that your chosen provider can offer the following factors.

The first is to check whether the provider offers strong encryption. Without it, your ISP has a better chance to track you and monitor activity. Using OpenVPN or SSTP encryption protocols will securely scramble your data before it reaches your ISP’s servers. OpenVPN is the more commonly used protocol out of the two, especially as SSTP uses a much higher encryption rate, which plays a big part in significantly slowing down your speed.

On the other hand, OpenVPN is still just as ideal for security but can offer much faster speeds to accommodate your VPN connection.

In order to get around content restrictions, you would simply need to connect to a VPN server outside of Saudi Arabia, which will automatically change your IP address and virtual location.

To get the most out of your VPN in terms of speed and performance, it’s better to find the closest possible international VPN server, because the closer you are to the server, the faster your downloads will be. Additionally, several of the services listed below actually offer anonymous VPN locations within Saudi Arabia.

It’s also worth trying to connect to these servers as this method may also work for unblocking sites and apps.

Lastly, you are likely to want to use your VPN on your smartphone or tablet. Therefore, choosing a service that has its own custom-built Android and iOS apps will make your life that little bit easier.

That said, if the service that you want does not yet offer a mobile app for your device, you can always configure the VPN manually or even download the OpenVPN client app, which is available from both iTunes and Google Play stores.

If your VPN covers all of the above, your online activities in Saudi Arabia will be much more secure than without one. Out of the variety of our VPN service reviews, we’ve ensured to select only the most suitable companies for your location, taking each of the previously mentioned factors into account.

In our list of recommended VPNs we also mentioned which nearby international servers are available to connect to. Here is our list and we hope that you have a safe browsing experience.

Best VPN services for Saudi Arabia

Provider Features Price Links
1 ExpressVPN
  • Torrent-friendly
  • Custom apps
  • 256-bit keys
  • Zero logs
  • Live chat
$8.32
/month
Visit Provider
Read Review
2 PureVPN
  • Torrent-friendly
  • Custom apps
  • 256-bit keys
  • Smart DNS
  • Live chat
$9.95
/month
Visit Provider
Read Review
3 ibVPN
  • Torrent-friendly
  • Zero logs
  • Smart DNS
  • Custom apps
$7.95
/month
Visit Provider
Read Review
4 IPVanish
  • Torrent-friendly
  • Custom apps
  • 256-bit keys
$10
/month
Visit Provider
Read Review
5 Le VPN
  • Torrent-friendly
  • Custom apps
  • 256-bit keys
  • Smart DNS
$9.95
/month
Visit Provider
Read Review
6 VPNArea
  • Torrent-friendly
  • Custom apps
  • 256-bit keys
  • Live chat
$9.90
/month
Visit Provider
Read Review
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