Selecting a VPN is hard enough without having to worry about jurisdiction. But given the continued erosion of online privacy and the passage of more invasive privacy laws around the globe, it’s become vital to know which country your VPN is based in.
If you care about your privacy, you’ll want to use a VPN located in a nation with strong data protection laws.
To help you out, I’ve spent days analyzing different countries, and the five in this list offer the best choice if you want to keep your data private.
Switzerland is by far the safest country to connect to. Its constitution guarantees the right to privacy, and there are strict laws and regulations to protect personal data.
Despite its location at the center of Europe, Switzerland is neither a member of the European Union nor the European Economic Area. As such, the country is not required to comply with EU laws like the Data Retention Directive (DRD).
Another thing I like about Switzerland is that it’s not part of the 14-Eyes alliance. And although the nation does have some data retention laws, VPNs are largely exempt.
The country is also one of the few where torrenting is protected by law. You can download any content via torrent as long as you don’t profit off it.
According to the Swiss government, “unauthorized file sharing is not a significant problem, and that existing Swiss law—which allows for downloading copyrighted content for personal use—is sufficient to protect copyright holders.”
Pretty safe, right? Besides privacy, Switzerland also has advanced IT infrastructure, which provides an excellent environment for VPNs.
Panama has long been a safe haven for VPNs. But until recently, the country didn’t have a comprehensive data protection law. Instead, it relied on isolated judicial code and criminal code to safeguard user data.
The general approach has always been that personal data should not be collected or revealed without your consent. Now with the enactment of Law 81 of March 26th, 2019, Panama has a complete set of rules protecting the right of its citizens to privacy.
The law states that data must be collected with prior, informed, and explicit consent of the subject. Additionally, it gives you the right to refuse to provide personal data.
There is no mandatory data retention law in Panama, so VPN providers do not need to store logs, which is perfect for privacy.
Panama does not belong to any spy alliance and is, as such, under no obligation to collaborate with foreign intelligence agencies.
Home to Hide.Me VPN, Malaysia has rock-solid data protection laws. The Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA), which was enacted in 2013, gives users a choice in who has their data and how long it can be retained.
But what’s really incredible about the PDPA, is that it restricts cross-border transfers of data from the country outwards. So, what you do while connected to a server in Malaysia stays in Malaysia.
Malaysia lies outside the 14 Eyes sphere of influence and does not have mandatory data retention laws. But when it comes to torrenting, this country is no Switzerland.
The Malaysian anti-piracy laws make it illegal to download copyrighted content regardless of the intention. As to whether these laws are effectively enforced, that’s a whole different discussion.
In 2019, Malaysians pirated over 84 million files from BitTorrent. However, there were no arrests, and piracy continues to be a low priority for the government.
Although a member of the European Union, Romania is surprisingly an excellent jurisdiction for VPNs.
Unlike the other 26 EU member states, the nation does not comply with the organization’s data retention and sharing requirements.
In 2009, the country’s constitutional court nullified the widely controversial 2006 EU Data Retention Directive. According to the court, the law violated the constitutional rights of privacy and confidentiality in communications.
While the Data Retention Directive was eventually annulled by the Court of Justice of the EU, it wasn’t before it gave us a sense of how far Romania is willing to go to protect its citizens’ right to privacy.
Romanian VPN providers are under no obligation to keep tabs on their users, enabling them to enforce strict no-logging policies.
Also, Romania is not a member of any surveillance alliance, like the 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, or 14 Eyes alliances.
A mainstay on the United States Special 301 Watchlist for copyright infringement concerns, Romania continues to have weak enforcement efforts against online piracy.
The Romanian government views copyright violations as “victimless crimes” and does not do much to stop it.
The British Virgin Islands (BVI) is another place with good privacy laws, too. Although it’s a British Overseas Territory, it does not belong to any of the several spy alliances that count the UK as a member.
The BVI is a self-governing country with its own legislature, an independent judiciary, and a code of laws.
The country does not have a formal data privacy law and uses the English common law as persuasive authority. Accordingly, the territory’s courts recognize the common law duties of privacy and confidentiality.
Its biggest draw is, however, its lack of obligatory data retention laws. As a result, VPN providers do not have to store logs.
Generally, your choice of server location will depend on your specific goal – either it’s streaming, unblocking content, or safe browsing.
If you’re concerned about your online privacy, then you will need to ask yourself the following:
Besides privacy, your choice of server location goes a long way in influencing the speed of your VPN connection. Usually, you’ll get the best performance by connecting to a server location near your physical location.
Why? Because it minimizes the distance data packets have to travel to reach the VPN server. To reduce latency and improve speed, it’s better to avoid servers located far from your current location.
In terms of average internet speeds, European countries like Sweden, Switzerland, and Denmark are among the fastest locations you can connect to. I was also impressed by Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, and the United Kingdom.
Yes, VPN server locations influence your overall internet experience. It doesn’t matter if you play games online, stream videos, or just desire to stay private. Generally, your server location will determine your download speed and latency.
Remember, a VPN can be incorporated in a privacy-friendly country, but have some of its servers located in a not so safe jurisdiction.
The rule of thumb is to select servers located in countries that do not have mandatory data retention laws. As long as your VPN provider has a no-logs policy, they’ll be able to implement it without interruption.
If you’re looking to stream HD content or download large files, speed should definitely be your top priority. Like I’ve mentioned above, choosing a faraway location will sap more of your speed.
However, that’s not the only consideration you should factor. If a country has poor IT infrastructure, you shouldn’t expect to get blazing fast connections.
According to a 2019 study, Yemen has the slowest internet with average speeds of 0.38 Mbps.
Switzerland is, by far, the safest country for torrenting. Unlike Romania, where the government simply views copyright crimes as “victimless crimes,” the Swiss law explicitly allows for downloading copyrighted content for personal use.
Connecting to a VPN server located in your own country is as safe as anywhere else. Your data will still be encrypted and hidden for prying eyes.
Ultimately, what matters are the privacy laws in the country where the VPN server is located. If your state has good data protection laws, I say go for it. You’ll get better speeds due to reduced latency.
However, if your country isn’t so great when it comes to privacy, I would advise opting for a VPN server located in a much safer jurisdiction.
VPNs offer a whole range of benefits for anyone using them. But while some people use them to gain something extra, some use best VPNs to gain the basic internet access that should be available to everyone.
These are people who live in countries where the internet is heavily censored and content is filtered on a large scale.
There are quite a few countries that fall in this bracket.
One of the worst places to be if you enjoy freedom on the internet is Saudi Arabia. People in Saudi Arabia don’t have access to a whole bunch of websites.
This includes many news websites and many streaming, IM, and VoIP services. The content on websites that are accessible is also regulated by the government.
Two lists are maintained to filter websites are content; one that is immoral (related to pornography and the likes), and one that supports Shia Ideology.
Anything that the State deems as harmful to its reputation or the peace of the country is blocked and censored.
China’s internet censorship is so extreme that it is famous by the name of the Great Firewall of China.
Almost all social media and IM services are blocked in the country. Many news websites and other such services are blocked as well, and the content that people share is monitored actively.
While it is better in respect to other internet restricting countries in that China has its own search engines and social networking sites, it makes using a VPN illegal to make matters worse for the people of China.
Censorship is a thing common in most countries that are under Muslim rule.
The only difference is how extensive that censorship is.
While the situation of internet censorship in UAE was never good for its citizens, the government, in 2015, made it illegal to use an IP-spoofing service to mask the IP address and indulge in criminal activities.
While one might argue that there’s more to using a VPN than indulging in crime, we can only wish you luck in trying to explain that to the UAE government.
There are other countries like Thailand and Vietnam where using the internet with any sort of freedom means you have to use a VPN.
While these countries require users to use a virtual private network the most, other countries like USA, UK, Australia have data retention laws and activity monitoring practices that warrant the use of VPNs as well.
While people think that VPN users are few and closely grouped together in the world, the true situation is quite different. It is reported that one in four people today uses a VPN for one purpose or the other.
This puts the average VPN user percentage as 25% of the world’s population, a figure reaching close to 2 billion people.
As for the most VPN users in a country, the country that tops this list is Indonesia. This is because despite the country’s history of having a liberal stance towards internet usage, some restrictions are now imposed.
Since the country doesn’t have its own alternative entertainment and informative services, the people have no choice but to use a VPN.
Around 36% of Indonesians use a VPN, while around 35% Vietnamese people use VPNs too. Other countries with high VPN user population are India, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and China.
Indian users, much like their western counterparts, use VPNs to access streaming and entertainment services like Netflix not available in their countries.
NordVPN is the best VPN for privacy in 2020. It is based in a privacy-friendly country and keeps neither connection nor activity logs.
NordVPN also comes with privacy and security features like military-grade encryption, DNS leak prevention, and an automatic kill switch.
ExpressVPN is arguably the fastest VPN service. Its servers are optimized for speed, and the VPN has a nifty built-in speed tester that makes it easy to spot the fastest connections.
NordVPN, Surfshark, and IPVanish also score well on speed. For a more comprehensive list, I recommend checking out our fastest VPNs guide.
The location of your VPN has a huge impact on the level of privacy the provider can offer. If you want to stay safe online, I recommend avoiding jurisdictions that have mandatory data retention laws.
After researching and analyzing hundreds of VPN locations, I found the five on this list to be the very best. On top of having strong privacy laws, all boast reliable IT infrastructure and are perfect for torrenting.
If you have any questions or want to share your experience with any of the countries I mentioned, please leave a comment below.