When the ban first came down in 2013, the Saudi government made no mention of why the communication apps were being restricted. The country’s media speculated that the reason was twofold: to protect local telecom companies from losing revenue and to punish the apps for refusing to let the government monitor messages and calls. This was a major downturn for the roughly 10 million foreigners calling Saudi Arabia home – about one-third of the country’s population. For residents from India (2.45 million), Syria (2.5 million), Pakistan (1.5 million), and The Philippines (1.5 million), this was a major change in the ability and the cost to communicate with relatives back home. The same was true for foreign-based businesses. With the country’s strategic oil reserve hailed as the second-largest in the world, a massive amount of Western companies have offices in Saudi Arabia that were not allowed to use any VoIP providers for that stretch of time.

Telegram Ban Lifted with a Twist

Telegram is a cloud-based VoIP and instant messenger service built as open-source software. Both messages and media are encrypted on the client side, and there is end-to-end encryption for voice calls, along with so-called “secret chats” between two online users. Telegram received its ban from Saudi Arabia in 2013 over fears that the encrypted service would make it easy for protestors and terrorists to plot against governments. Telegram refused demands from the Saudi government to provide access to user data as well as individual communications. The amount of users who are comfortable calling friends, loved ones, and business associates knowing full well that the Saudi government could be listening in, looking for behavior or materials that go against its other censorship policies.  For this reason, travelers to Saudia Arabia have looked for alternative ways to safely access Telegram without “Big Brother” looking over their shoulder.

The VPN Solution for Telegram Users

The best way to safely access Telegram while in Saudi Arabia is to use a virtual private network (VPN) to utilize the software. A VPN is an app that connects your Internet-capable device with a remote server in another country. Using encryption, your requests for Internet usage are sent to the remote server, which sends them on to the Internet. When you open your VPN software, you can pick which server you wish to connect to. Make sure and pick one outside of Saudi Arabia’s jurisdiction as well as making sure it does not fall in another country that censors VoIP services. If you want to maximize the number of servers available to choose from, consider a company like ExpressVPN which is constantly adding them, and has more than 3000 in 94 countries. Once connected, the link between your Internet-capable device and the remote server can be best represented by a roadway that turns into a tunnel. An ISP would know you are accessing the Internet through the tunnel but cannot see what information you are sending or receiving. If you want to make sure your personal data is safe from third parties and prying eyes, you’ll want a VPN that is serious about security. A good example is IPVanish, which uses 256-bit AES encryption and does not record your user logs. When the server receives your data for using Telegram, it decrypts it and sends it on to the Internet using a new IP address according to the country the remote server is in. As you get responses and files back from your contacts, they travel first to the remote server, where they are encrypted and sent back to you for decryption. If you want to test out one of the fastest VPN services at no-risk for 30 days, give ExpressVPN a try. It has functionality for every platform and servers in 94 countries.

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