Satellite phones are a fantastic tool for travelers that break away from the usual tourist routes and want to stay in touch or just want that all important way to call for help in emergencies, but there are some countries in the world that don’t take quite as kindly to the devices.
If you don’t properly prepare yourself beforehand, you could face several inconveniences and even penalties ranging from having your phone confiscated to being arrested and detained.
Overview of Satellite Phone Restriction
Satellite phones differ from regular phones in that they don’t receive their signal from land-based towers, but instead get their signal from satellites that are orbiting around the Earth. Even though satellite phones are specifically designed for world travelers, there are some countries that restrict their usage or even completely ban them. A country may restrict satellite phone usage to combat terrorism or because oppressive regimes have less control over their citizens if satellite phones are allowed. Even if a country once restricted or banned satellite phones but has recently changed the law, it’s a good idea to know what the law used to be in case local law enforcement isn’t up-to-date with recent changes and are proving difficult.
Countries With Satellite Phone Restrictions
Possessing a satellite phone is illegal in Bangladesh and can lead to jail time. Contact the Embassy of Bangladesh with any questions.
It’s illegal to have a satellite phone in China, and many other GPS devices are also deemed suspicious. If you’re traveling to China, consider using your regular phone – cell phone service and Internet access are both good in China, even in remote areas, and you can easily order a China SIM card before your trip. Note that many websites you usually use may be blocked, like Google and some social media platforms. Contact the Chinese Embassy with any questions.
Many electronics are forbidden in Cuba, including satellite phones. You cannot bring or ship a satellite phone into Cuba unless you have a permit from the Cuban Ministry of Informatics and Communications. Cuba restricts the use of satellite phones because they’re seen as tools for subversive purposes; being caught with one can lead to arrest, time in prison, or an espionage charge.
In India, only satellite phones using the Inmarsat network are allowed, and you must get permission before your trip from the Department of Telecommunications. If you’re caught with an unapproved satellite phone, you may be arrested.
In 2011, Libya banned satellite phones made by the Thuraya company; if you’re caught with one, you could be arrested for espionage. Currently, though, the law is unclear and subject to circumstance, so it’s best to contact the Embassy of Libya for more information.
Myanmar (formerly called Burma) had a long period of unrest under a military government. In order to prevent information leakage, most communication means were disabled. After the military ruling was replaced with democratically-elected leadership, many reforms were made to those restrictions. For the most current satellite phone laws, contact the Embassy of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar before traveling.
Satellite phones were banned in Borno after militants were found using their phones to plan attacks. Currently, the law about satellite phones throughout the rest of the country is unclear. It’s best to contact the Consulate General of Nigeria with questions.
Satellite phones are banned in North Korea, and a number of devices are subject to monitoring and search, as there is no right to privacy in North Korea. Note that the United States government has posted a travel warning against North Korea. Find more information about traveling to North Korea here.
Republic of Chad
This landlocked country in Central Africa is undergoing a constant threat of terrorism, which has caused satellite phones to be deemed illegal. If you’re found with a satellite phone, confiscation of the phone as well as an arrest are possible. Nobody is able to get a permit for a satellite phone under any circumstances. Contact the Embassy of Chad with any questions.
While Russia allows satellite phones, you have to get approval ahead of time and you also must register your SIM card. SIM card registration will be active for six months. Contact Roskomnadzor for more information.
Journalists and other media personnel can have their equipment, including satellite phones, cleared in advance. A license from the Sri Lanka Telecommunications Regulatory Commission is required.
A majority of electronic devices are restricted in Sudan, so it’s best to ask specifically about satellite phones when applying for your visa. Also be prepared for your devices to be taken by customs and held indefinitely for inspection.
Before traveling to any foreign country, including the ones listed above, it’s important to research the most current laws regarding satellite phone usage. A country’s current political situation or a state of unrest can affect communication laws, and restrictions can change frequently.