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VPN use around the world

Verified by Molly Dyson

VPN use around the world map graphic
Independent Advisor

In the UK, you would typically consider downloading a global virtual private network (VPN) to stream something from another country or cover your IP address when using public wifi, but generally speaking, the reason will boil down to more internet freedom and security. 

Over the past few years, notably since the pandemic and the start of the Russia-Ukraine war, VPN downloads have skyrocketed and there has been more awareness of how important protecting your online activities can be. 

In a study on 85 selected countries, Atlas VPN reported a sharp 183 per cent increase in the number of VPN downloads – 277 million in 2020 surging to 785 million in 2021 – while there were still 353 million VPN downloads in 2022. 

From protecting journalists to giving people internet freedom all over the world, VPNs are big business. According to a 2022 Statista report, the global VPN market grew to US$44.6 billion last year and is predicted to increase to $77.1 billion in 2026.

What are the main causes of growth in demand for VPNs?

Generally speaking, security and privacy when browsing the web are the main reasons people download a VPN, both at home and at work. In the US, a Statista report noted a 63 per cent increase in VPN usage at work in 2022, and with a bigger percentage of people now working from home and other remote locations comes an uplift in VPN downloads for want of better online security. 

There is also a clear trend in VPN download increases following internet censorship, such as governments blocking social media or news platforms in the lead-up to or wake of political protests. It’s important to note that internet censorship can be used for good – such as to remove unlawful and harmful content – however, it can also essentially stop free communication, and autocratic regimes often use it to suppress ideas that are not aligned with theirs. This is notably seen surrounding political protests and military conflicts.

In the UK, we have relatively few internet restrictions, and VPN usage is typically for those who want to mask their IP address for general security reasons and for more freedom when streaming content. Europe also has a good amount of internet freedom, which may explain why Statista highlighted it had one of the lowest VPN uptake rates in 2018, with only 21 per cent using one over a one-month period, according to Global World Index. Note that because the cyberworld is volatile, there are always movements in restrictions. Italy, for example, saw a 400 per cent increase in VPN downloads following the government’s decision to block ChatGPT over privacy concerns.

Where is VPN use banned?

VPNs are currently fully banned in Belarus, North Korea, Iraq, and Turkmenistan; according to a Surfshark study, 3.7 billion people have been affected by VPN restrictions – nearly half the global population. Surges in VPN downloads in some of the countries mentioned are usually driven by a desire to evade higher censorship rates from governments and to access more content. 

VPN use in India 

Although VPN use is not banned in India, the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) imposed new restrictions in April 2022 whereby VPN providers must log user data – including names, email addresses and IP addresses – for five years, which caused notable VPN providers such as ExpressVPN and Surfshark to change how they provide services to customers in the country. 

VPN use in Russia

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there has been more and more digital censorship in Russia and therefore a significant increase in VPN downloads; 25 per cent of the population installed one in 2022 following a ban on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, as well as news platforms, including the BBC and Russian student magazine DOXA. Consequently, Roskomnadzor (Russia’s media regulator) blocked some 20 VPNs as of March 2022, including ExpressVPN, and the situation is unprecedented.  

VPN use in China

China has very limited internet freedom, with social media sites and popular media outlets sites like Instagram, Wikipedia, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times all blocked in recent years. This has seen people turn to VPNs to get around what is often referred to as the Great Firewall of China, wherein the government – which owns all internet services in the country – blocks IP addresses of sites it sees as damaging. This includes search engines like Google (blocked in 2012) and Yahoo (search function blocked 2018). A 2017 survey by Statista showed 31 per cent of internet users in China had used a VPN in the past month. It’s worth noting that VPNs must be approved by the Chinese government. Last year, there was concern around a free VPN in China called Airplane Accelerates, with a report noting that some 5.7 billion data entries may potentially have been exposed because of the unsecured service.

Is a VPN worth it?

Although you may not feel exposed when surfing the web, hackers and cybercriminals are using increasingly more sophisticated methods to access information from others, so it does pay to cover your back. When you’re using different devices, working across a variety of systems, you could be exposing key information about your location and the content you’re working with. Particularly if you work from home (or a location with a public wifi network, such as a coffee shop) or are a digital nomad, a secure VPN can be worth it for more freedom and peace of mind when browsing. Some providers offer a free VPN, but in our experience, you’ll benefit the most from purchasing a subscription from a reputable company. There are several providers offering cheap VPNs that don’t compromise on security and privacy. Many of the best VPN providers offer military-grade encryption, nodding to the fact that people want to elevate their online security no matter where they are in the world.

Cam is an experienced writer and editor who has been creating content for more than 10 years. She studied English Language and Italian at The University of Manchester, where she started out blogging and copywriting on fashion and travel.

She’s worked for Groupon and its partnerships – including <em>The Guardian</em> UK and US, the <em>HuffPost</em>, and</i> – and has covered a plethora of topics, from kitchen design trends to the best ways to score a good deal on home insurance. S

Swifty tapping into her love for everything home decor-related, she moved into the interior design space and edited, part of Future plc, for three years, where she worked with a tonne of DIY and renovation experts.

She currently lives in North London and is passionate about helping others perfect their surroundings with stunning interiors and functional home additions, whether they own or rent.

Molly Dyson


After growing up with a passion for writing, Molly studied journalism and creative writing at university in her home country of the United States.

She has written for a variety of print and online publications, from small town newspapers to international magazines. Most of her 10-year career since relocating to the UK has been spent in business journalism, writing and editing for admin professionals at PA Life magazine and business travel managers at Business Travel News Europe and representing those titles at conferences around the world.

Now an Editor at the Independent Advisor, Molly is an expert in a broad range of consumer topics, that include solar panels and renewables, home improvements and home insurance, and consumer technology such as home security and VPNs.

In her free time, Molly can usually be found exploring the outdoors with her husband and their young son or gardening.