Let's get this out of the way real quick. A top-quality provider should offer strong data protection no matter what VPN server you connect to. This means:
- Your true IP address will be masked. Websites and other third parties can see a local IP address, but it'll be the VPN server's IP instead. As such, your approximate location (which can be revealed through your IP) is still kept under wraps.
- Your online data will be encrypted. VPN encryption doesn't magically stop working just because you use a VPN server in your own country. Your data will be safe from hackers, greedy ISPs, and government surveillance, just as if you've connected to any other area.
Another advantage of using a local server is that you can get the fastest possible speeds your provider is capable of. That's because your data doesn't need to travel very far before it reaches the server.
Now, security-wise, there's a better question you should ask yourself.
How Safe Is Your VPN?
Everything mentioned in the beginning implies that your VPN provider has implemented the best security features available. If privacy and safety is your concern, here's what qualities you should look for in a VPN.
1. A Kill Switch
Basically, the VPN kill switch is the emergency 'off switch' in case you're having connectivity problems with the VPN server. To prevent IP and data leaks, the kill switch disables your Internet connection until your VPN connection can be properly restored.
Despite its scary name, this feature is pretty much a life-saver in cases where the user needs data protection 24/7. It's also a great way to prevent your ISP from throttling your connection if you use torrenting clients. Even though there are many legal uses for torrents, ISPs tend to frown upon their usage due to being associated with illegal downloads.
2. No Logging Policy (or 'Zero Logs')
ISPs sell user data, and it's a pretty lucrative business for them. Anything you do online can be logged and sent to the advertisers your ISP works with, for a profit. They can use your online profile to serve you personalized ads - some can even influence your voting behavior, judging from the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal.
By encrypting your data with a VPN, you can prevent your ISP from seeing what you do online. They can still know that you're using a VPN, but your traffic will look like garbled gibberish. Probably not very useful to advertisers (or hackers, for that matter).
However, your VPN provider can still see your unencrypted traffic. You're putting your trust in the VPN company not to sell or otherwise mishandle your data. As such, you need a VPN that keeps no logs of your activity if you're to remain truly safe. There's a good example of this scenario in the next section.
3. Based in a Country With Strong Privacy Laws
Let's preface this with a reminder: a VPN should technically protect your data no matter the location. Private Internet Access is a US-based VPN that has proven this twice before, by protecting its users' privacy - all thanks to their no-logging policy. Seeing as the US is one of (if not the) worst examples of mass surveillance in the West, you can see how VPN jurisdiction might be irrelevant.
Still, it doesn't hurt for a country's legislation to be in favor of privacy. That way, you don't have to worry about clashes between your VPN provider and the people in charge. At the very least, you should avoid providers based in heavily restrictive countries like Russia, China, and so on. In those cases, your provider (and consequently, your data) is more than likely monitored by the government.
You can learn more about mass surveillance and its relation to your VPN privacy in our article about the 5, 9, 14 Eyes intelligence gathering alliances. We've also included 29 different VPN providers from 14 different privacy-friendly locations, so it's worth checking out even if you're just interested in some VPN options.
4. VPN Obfuscation
If you live in a heavily restricted area, or in one of those countries where VPNs are banned, it can be dangerous to use a VPN. At best, you risk a hefty fine - at worst, you're looking at a few months (or years) in prison.
For your safety, we generally advise against using a VPN in those scenarios. However, you can still hide the fact that you're using a VPN from your ISP if your provider offers VPN obfuscation. It's exactly what it sounds like. Your VPN traffic is masked and made to look like normal HTTPS traffic - the kind you use every day while browsing secure websites.
Keep in mind that this feature isn't bulletproof. If your provider doesn't implement VPN obfuscation correctly or your government employs much more advanced spying tactics (such as browser fingerprinting), you can still be discovered. Despite that, you should still use it to maximize your VPN privacy.
Which VPN Is the Safest?
Get a provider with those four qualities, and you have nothing to worry about. Yes, even if you connect to a VPN server in your own country. Not sure where to look? Our list of the best VPN services is a good place to start.
All providers tick every box, except two of them (Private Internet Access and Mullvad), which are based in one of the 5/9/14 Eyes countries. Still, PIA has already proven that they can protect your privacy in spite of that (with two court documents, no less).
As for Mullvad, they appear to be some of the most minimally invasive providers when it comes to what sign-up data they collect. They even allow you to pay with cash for maximum anonymity. Check out our Mullvad review for the full details.
With that out of the way, let's move on to another concern of using a VPN server from your own country.
What You Can't Do While Using a Local VPN Server
Aside from the privacy and security benefits, VPNs are pretty flexible in what they can do. Here's what you can miss out on if you use a local VPN server - depending on where you live.
1. Access to Geo-Blocked Websites
Websites and other online services can deny you access based on your IP address. A VPN server located in your own country would have an IP in a similar range to yours. As a result, the same geo-restrictions apply as if you weren't using a VPN in the first place.
For example, if you live in an EU member state that needs to enforce GDPR, you might not be able to access a lot of US news publications. You'd need to connect to a VPN server from the US for unrestricted access. The same applies if you're trying to unblock US Netflix or any of its other libraries.
2. Bypassing Censorship
This is an extension of the section above. If your government censors platforms like Facebook, Twitter, etc., connecting to a VPN server in your own country won't solve anything.
Your VPN is subject to the same restrictions as you are, so you're better off connecting to a different region.
3. Combating Price Discrimination
Hotels and airlines are notorious for offering inflated prices to people that live in "affluent" countries. What they don't consider is that a powerful stock market doesn't always translate to a good quality of life for the citizens. Now, this isn't The Economist, so we'll spare you the boring finance details.
What matters is that you can get better deals in both cases by using a VPN. Here are some great guides on how to do it:
Both these guides' gist is that you need to connect to a VPN server in a country with a less powerful economy. That way, you'll be shown prices adjusted to that location's perceived buying power. Of course, this can take a bit of trial-and-error, along with some other techniques to avoid location tracking. As such, we recommend the guides above for the best chances of success.
Aside from the concerns above, it should be perfectly safe to use a VPN server located in your own country. A top-notch VPN provider will have no trouble protecting your data.
If you want to use your VPN for more than data safety, you should obviously use a server from a different region. For more details, check out this guide on how to choose the best VPN server location.