Whether you want a VPN for streaming, torrenting, or all-encompassing privacy, understanding how different countries handle online privacy can make or break a VPN service.
What to look for in the best country for VPN
- Strong privacy laws
- Strong democracy
- Existence of reputable VPN Service providers
- Non-aggressive towards P2P file sharing
- Freedom House Assessment Score
These six countries meet these criteria best:
After all, if you’re worried about privacy, then the last thing you want is a VPN that legally has to hand over their data when requested. And it’s perfectly understandable to be concerned about using a VPN service based in a country that heavily regulates VPN use.
So, let’s dive into the best countries for VPNs and what makes them the best jurisdictions for online privacy.
Criteria of the Best Countries for VPN
When you’re looking for a VPN provider, then you should have a basic understanding of how each jurisdiction operates in terms of data retention, data protection, and the legality of torrenting. With that in mind, here are the criteria we use when we look at the best countries for VPN providers.
Strong Privacy Laws
The first thing you need to look at is how online privacy is protected by law in that country, both by that country’s government and any wider governments they’re a part of. Key things to look out for are mandatory data collection, enforced handing over of data when requested by law enforcement, and laws that allow for a user’s privacy to be invaded by third parties.
For example, Switzerland protects online privacy under the constitution, and authorities must eventually disclose any secret order of surveillance to the individual involved. In comparison, the UK allows for the mandatory removal of encryption and mass collection of browsing history under the Investigative Powers Act.
As ISPs, social media networks, and other Internet corporations are increasingly using their money to influence politicians around the world, and there’s been a significant increase in lobbying for a weakening of Internet privacy laws. In the US, for example, ISPs can legally sell your browsing history to third parties.
That’s why you want to find a VPN based in a company with a strong democracy that defends its citizens’ rights over corporate interests. This is another area where countries like Switzerland, Iceland, and Malaysia come out on top.
Reputable VPN Providers
A significant green flag for a country is that it already has at least one reputable VPN provider that operates under its jurisdiction. The best VPN providers are known for their dedication to protecting their users’ privacy and actively seeking to locate themselves in countries with robust privacy laws and a strong democracy that isn’t swayed by corporate lobbying.
Countries like Panama, the British Virgin Islands, and Switzerland have a wealth of reputable VPN providers under their jurisdiction. In contrast, less privacy-friendly countries like the US only have a handful of controversial VPN providers.
Non-Aggressive towards Torrenting
Filesharing is often one of the biggest reasons why people consider a VPN, mainly as your IP address is easy to find when you’re torrenting. However, torrenting and filesharing is often a legal gray area. As much as it can be used to share copyrighted material, it can also be used to distribute material covered by fair use laws.
Switzerland is an excellent country for VPNs that allow torrenting, with their government arguing that the money saved on copyrighted filesharing is often spent on other entertainment. However, you can be subject to legal action if you’re found to be torrenting copyrighted material in the US.
Freedom House Assessment Score
The Freedom House publishes an annual report assessing every country for the rights and freedoms its citizens enjoy in the real world, and not merely those that are written in the legislature. Countries are scored not only on their protection of citizens’ online freedom but also on the freedom of their democracy, economy, civil liberties, and more, to produce a score out of 100.
Switzerland currently stands at the top of this list where VPNs are concerned, scoring 96/100. In comparison, Malaysia scores 52, and as the British Virgin Islands is a British Overseas Territory, it has no score of its own.
The Best Countries for VPN
Before we get started looking at the best VPN countries, it’s worth considering that we’re thinking of these countries regarding the criteria we’ve listed above. Regardless of what you’re planning to use your VPN service for, you should always consider where a VPN is based, so you know what legal obligations they have.
- Freedom House Score: 96/100
- Data Privacy Laws: Federal Data Protection Act (DPA)
- VPNs: ProtonVPN, VyprVPN, PerfectPrivacy
Based on the criteria above, it’s safe to say that Switzerland is the best jurisdiction for a VPN provider.
Switzerland isn’t part of the European Union, and while that means the GDPR data protection laws do not cover it, it’s also not obliged to share user data with other countries. Plus, as part of the DPA, law enforcement legally has to disclose their collection of user data within a certain period, and users can challenge this in court if they believe it’s unlawful.
Not only that but whenever you’re asked to provide personal data, you have the right to request the data collector why that data is being collected and for what purpose. All sensitive personal data can only be collected with your express consent, and the disclosure of that data to third parties can result in fines for the data controller.
Torrenting in Switzerland is also completely legal with the provision that you don’t make a profit, regardless of if you’re sharing copyrighted material or not. This quickly makes Switzerland the best VPN country for torrenting, and overall, the best country to use for VPN.
- Freedom House Assessment Score: 100/100
- Data Privacy Laws: Personal Data Act (PUL)
- VPNs: Mullvad, PrivateVPN
Sweden is a strong contender for the best country for VPN servers, particularly when you consider Julian Assange trusted a Swedish ISP with Edward Snowden’s whistle-blowing documents. Sweden has long been a defender of free speech and expression and famously refused to implement the EU’s Data Retention Directive before the European Court repealed it in 2014.
As part of the PUL, users must give express consent for their personal data to be used, and this can be revoked at any time. Plus, given that Sweden is part of the EU, users are covered by GDPR. So, legally, websites have to ask for consent before users receive tracking cookies, and any user has the right to have their personal data deleted when they request it.
However, it’s worth noting that Sweden isn’t as torrent-friendly as Switzerland, with a 2018 report stating that fines and penalties for infringing copyright through torrenting weren’t harsh enough.
British Virgin Islands (BVI)
- Freedom House Assessment Score: N/A (British Overseas Territory)
- Data Privacy Laws: Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA)
- VPNs: ExpressVPN, Surfshark
The British Virgin Islands are a popular choice for VPN providers, as not only are BVI outside of the European Union, but they’re also covered by English Common Law, meaning that it’s up to the courts to determine the law around confidentiality and privacy. However, the region of BVI is covered by PIPA, which is largely similar to GDPR, except for a few key areas.
Unlike under GDPR, PIPA does not allow Internet users to revoke consent and request their data erasure by any given organization. Instead, personal data can only be erased if it’s proved that storing that personal information has harmed the individual. Plus, the BVI Business Companies Act requires that businesses retain personal data related to transactions or business relationships.
Despite this, VPNs like ExpressVPN can effectively bypass these laws by requesting as little personal data as possible from its users. Both ExpressVPN and Surfshark only ask users for an email address on signup, and while they store payment information, both services allow you to pay with cryptocurrencies.
- Freedom House Assessment Score: 84/100
- Data Privacy Laws: Bill No.665
- VPNs: NordVPN
Panama has long been infamous for its extensive laws regulating offshore jurisdiction’s effects, which makes it a great location for VPN providers. Online privacy is protected under Article 29 of Panama’s constitution, which states that private communications can’t be intercepted without a warrant.
Not only that, but Bill No.665 is set to provide a legal framework for online privacy. As it stands, this bill requires any parties holding personal information to delete it within ten days of the person it pertains to submitting a request. Panama also allows anyone under its jurisdiction to obtain access to public files with their personal information if requested, as well as information about why that data was collected.
It’s for these reasons that Panama is widely recognized as one of the best jurisdictions for online privacy and why VPNs like NordVPN are particularly popular with users that need robust online security.
However, it’s worth noting that filesharing copyrighted content is illegal in Panama, and can land torrenters with fines and legal action. So, if you’re looking for a torrenting-friendly country, you’re better off using a VPN in Switzerland.
- Freedom House Assessment Score: 84/100
- Data Privacy Laws: General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
- VPNs: CyberGhost VPN
Romania isn’t often thought of as a safe haven for online privacy, particularly given that it’s a European Union member. However, this does mean that GDPR covers it on top of its other robust data protection and online privacy laws. Notably, Romania also has a National Supervisory Authority for Personal Data Processing, which guarantees that the right to privacy and personal data protection are respected.
Not only that, but Romania was also one of the few countries that refused to implement the EU’s Data Retention Directive in 2006, as they were ruled unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court of Romania.
Torrenters also have some degree of protection in Romania, as copyright infringements are considered a low priority by Romanian law enforcement. Plus, as Romania doesn’t have as robust copyright laws compared to the rest of the EU, it’s a good jurisdiction for VPNs that focus on torrenters.
- Freedom House Assessment Score: N/A (British Overseas Territory)
- Data Privacy Laws: Data Protection Act (DPA)
- VPNs: IVPN
Gibraltar is also another country that largely goes unconsidered for VPN providers because it’s currently part of the European Union. Many VPN users actively avoid VPNs in British Overseas Territories because of the Investigative Powers Act. However, it’s worth noting that Gibraltar is a self-governing BOT and, as such, is not forced to live under UK law.
Saying that Gibraltar’s Data Protection Act is mostly similar to that in the UK and GDPR, meaning that users have the right to request their personal data is deleted, and personal data can only be maintained with a users’ consent.
Given the robust data protection and online privacy regulations of the countries listed above, Gibraltar isn’t the best VPN country on this list. However, a VPN based in Gibraltar will still be a better choice than countries like the UK, USA, or Singapore.
Potentially Good Countries for VPN
VPN users don’t often consider the following list of countries. However, they still offer decent online privacy through local laws and regulations. With that being said, they certainly don’t provide the same protections as the countries we’ve listed above, which is why we’d recommend being cautious about VPNs in these countries or servers based there.
- Freedom House Assessment Score: 95/100
- Data Privacy Laws: Equal Access Act (EAA)
- VPNs: N/A
Iceland is also the right choice for VPN services, particularly given that the country has multiple laws and regulations in place to guarantee online privacy. The EAA, for instance, is extremely similar to the US’ previous Net Neutrality Act in that it prevents ISP companies from restricting or throttling access to online services for all Iceland citizens.
While they’re not part of the EU, they’ve also written GDPR into Iceland law through the Data Protection Act, giving users greater control over their personal data and how it’s stored. Iceland is also a staunch defender of freedom of speech and expression, which was written into law during the Wikileaks controversy in 2010.
However, the biggest drawback of a VPN located in Iceland is that any telecommunications company, by law, has to maintain records of user data for up to six months. While these records are only requested and used in instances concerning public safety and criminal cases, data retention laws aren’t typically favored by VPN users.
- Freedom House Assessment Score: 52/100
- Data Privacy Laws: Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA)
- VPNs: Hide.Me VPN
Many people don’t consider Malaysia when they’re wondering what the best country for VPN anonymity is, but it’s a surprisingly decent option. Despite having poor freedoms compared with the other countries on this list, Malaysia has strict privacy laws that don’t just protect Malaysian companies and citizens, but anyone connecting to Malaysian servers.
The PDPA ensures that your data is protected and kept safe from third party use, making it one of the most robust online privacy laws in the world.
Unfortunately, Malaysia lacks in many other areas related to online privacy, so it’s not often recommended for VPN use. Compared to the countries we do recommend, Malaysia doesn’t have a strong democracy nor strong safeguards against corruption, so there’s nothing to say that Malaysia’s online privacy laws will be as strong as they are in the future.
- Freedom House Assessment Score: 72/100
- Data Privacy Laws: Data Protection Act (DPA)
- VPNs: N/A
Seychelles is one of the best-known tax havens, so it’s not surprising that it also offers relatively strong online privacy protections. The Seychelles constitution contains a guaranteed right to privacy, and the DPA gives its citizens additional protection when it comes to processing personal data.
Because of this, Seychelles has no mandatory data retention laws, making it a great place to locate a VPN service. However, Seychelles also has a major drawback in that anyone can incorporate a business in that location, regardless of if they live there or not. So, it’s impossible to know if a VPN that says it’s based in Seychelles is truly located there.
With that in mind, Seychelles is potentially a good country for a VPN. However, we can’t recommend it above the other countries we’ve listed in the section above.
The Best Countries to Connect Your VPN To
However, it’s not only worth considering a country’s strengths in the online privacy sphere when you’re looking for a VPN provider. In some countries, their legislation doesn’t only cover its citizens’ privacy, but also of any user connecting to a server based in that country. So, here are the best countries to connect your VPN to based on what you’re planning on using those servers for.
We rarely recommend using a VPN based in the USA because of the lack of online privacy protections. However, if you’re looking to stream content that’s not available in your country, then connecting to a VPN server based in the USA is your best bet.
The USA has access to more streaming services than any other country in the world, making it a great place to connect your VPN if you want to unlock additional content. Plus, even if your country already has Netflix, VPN servers in the US can typically unlock their USA library, which is one of their most extensive lists of content.
However, we recommend only using US servers for streaming content. If you’re looking for enhanced privacy while you’re browsing or torrenting, you’re better off connecting to servers in other countries.
Switzerland is at the top of our list for the best country to connect VPNs to when you want to torrent. Not only is torrenting legal in Switzerland, but the country has enhanced online privacy and data protection laws that make it the best option for torrenting.
Iceland is also a great option, particularly as its Equal Access Act prevents ISPs from throttling data depending on its source. However, it’s worth noting that Iceland does have mandatory data retention laws, but these are only used for criminal cases and in matters of public safety. Torrenting is illegal in Iceland, but Icelandic Reddit users report that this isn’t usually enforced except for some torrenting websites being blocked.
With that in mind, both Switzerland and Iceland are good options to connect your VPN for torrenting.
Switzerland is, by far, the best place to connect your VPN for enhanced privacy and security. Of all of the countries we’ve covered in this article, Switzerland offers the most comprehensive online privacy laws and protections. Its strong democracy almost guarantees that these protections will be here to stay.
Not only that, but Switzerland is well known for having no mandatory data collection and retention laws, and all data collectors must ask for consent before collecting sensitive data. For all other personal data, users have the right to ask data collectors why they need that data. And, if your data has to be collected by law enforcement, they legally have to notify you within a certain period, and you can challenge that decision in court.
The other option for protecting your privacy is using a double VPN feature, or essentially connecting through at least two different VPN servers to further mask your online traffic. Each server encrypts your data, so this can result in multiple layers of encryption.
So, if you want to ensure that your data is obfuscated as much as possible, we recommend using a double VPN. However, because this can significantly reduce your speed, depending on the servers’ location, connecting your VPN to a server in Switzerland can offer the same enhanced protection of your personal data without compromising your speed.
Countries to Avoid picking a VPN
When discussing the best countries for online privacy, we also need to talk about the countries with a bad track record of user privacy.
As we mentioned earlier, it’s completely legal in the USA for your ISP to sell your browsing history to third parties, meaning that ISPs can access information about everything you do online. Not only that, but the government is known to be using surveillance technology.
The UK isn’t much better, particularly given the introduction of the Investigatory Powers Act in 2016, which gives every law enforcement office the ability to gather and store personal Internet history. It also allows for real-time online surveillance and hacking of Internet-connected devices by the government.
China is, as you would expect, one of the worst countries for online privacy. VPNs are illegal in China, and the Great Firewall prevents Chinese citizens from accessing any non-authorized content. Some VPNs can get around the Great Firewall, which is useful if you want to connect to servers in China, but in general, it’s not a good choice for maintaining privacy.
If you value privacy and avoiding surveillance, then you’ll also want to avoid India. India’s known to use NETRA surveillance technology, which analyses data and Internet communications for specific keywords. However, it doesn’t appear to have many safeguards in place to identify between people using keywords within a harmless conversation vs. users with malicious intent, meaning it’s easy for innocent people to be reported to law enforcement.
Whether you’re considering signing up for a VPN service or you’re wondering which VPN servers you should connect to, you need to understand the basics of how each country deals with online privacy and user data protection. During our research, we found that while some countries had a stellar reputation for online security, others that were typically considered to be privacy havens were more mixed in the protections they offered.
Switzerland came out as the best country for VPN providers and servers by far, given the extensive legal protections in place to protect personal data and a user’s right to privacy. Plus, with torrenting being legal for personal use, it’s a safe haven for both privacy and filesharing.
The best country for streaming with a VPN remains the USA, despite that the government is known to use surveillance technology on its citizens, and ISPs can legally gather data without a user’s knowledge. So, we’d only recommend using a USA-based VPN or servers if you want to access streaming libraries that aren’t available in your country.
Surprisingly, we found that Panama isn’t as safe for torrenters as we thought, and torrenting copyrighted material, whether for personal use or profit, can land the user fines or even legal action. Given that NordVPN is one of the largest VPN providers on the market, it’s worth bearing this in mind if you use a VPN for torrenting.
In short, for enhanced privacy and security, we recommend using a VPN based in Switzerland, Sweden, or the British Virgin Islands. However, unless you don’t have any other choice, we wouldn’t recommend providers or servers in Gibraltar or Malaysia, and we’d advise you to avoid using a USA or UK-based VPN service.