Satellite phones are legal in most countries, but some have strict guidelines to using them. There are a handful of countries where satellite phones are illegal. In these countries, satellite phones are considered a security risk and the user can get in a lot of trouble.
In the United States and most of the rest of the western world, satellite phones are viewed as useful but somewhat antiquated communication tools. The reason for this is simple: Why bother to use a satellite phone in a world in which cells phones are ubiquitous, universally available, and relatively inexpensive by comparison?
For travelers, though, satellite phones can be invaluable. For starters, until cell phones, they work even in the most remote areas, which includes places where it’s nearly impossible to get a cell signal.
But satellite phones also have a dark side. It’s easy to assume that they’re universally legal, then end up in trouble with law enforcement due to the fact that they’re actually not in the country to which you’re traveling. This means that if you are going to travel with and use a satellite phone, you should always ask yourself this important question—are satellite phones illegal?
The Technology of Satellite Phones
To get a better idea of how all this works, let’s start with an overview of how satellite phone technology works, then delve deeper into why it’s illegal in many places. You’ll learn some things you most likely never knew, and the knowledge you gain could actually save you from restrictions and even imprisonment if you do end up traveling to a place that has these kinds of restrictions or bans.
Compared to cell phones, satellite phones are incredible tools. They work by getting their signals from satellites orbiting the earth, so there are no issues with towers being too remote, too far away or obscured by bad weather.
That means they’re a lot more reliable, which in turn means they can save lives in emergencies. They also help travelers stay in touch from some of the most remote places on earth, and that kind of reliable communication is a valuable and sometimes essential resource.
Now let’s talk about the downside. Some companies repress or ban satellite phones because of issues having to do with terrorism, while others led by oppressive leaders and regimes may ban them entirely to increase the level of control they have over their citizens.
Know Your legal Restrictions to using a Satellite Phones
Because of these issues, it’s important to know the law where you’re traveling when it comes to where your satellite phone is legal and usage is allowed.
Also, be aware that these laws may change on the fly in countries that are less stable, which means sometimes even a basic knowledge of the law may not be enough to keep you out of trouble.
With those factors in mind, here’s a list of what countries have bans or restrictions and what some of those restrictions are.
Satellite phones are illegal in China, and GPS devices in general are looked on with suspicion. On the other hand, cell phone service and web access is generally good in China, and if you buy a Chinese SIM card in advance you should be good to go when it comes to communication, even in remote areas of the country.
Your internet access won’t be great, though, as China has been known to block Google and some social media platforms.
Technically satellite phones are legal in India, but you must use the Inmarsat network and get permission to use them before your trip from the Department of Telecommunications. An unapproved satellite phone can get you arrested—enough said.
Amazingly, satellite phones are allowed in Russia, but once again you’ll have to get approval and register your SIM card, which will only be active for a six-month period.
Information about all this can be found on Roskomnxdzor, which is the federal service that “regulates” communications and media access in Russia.
Satellite phones are permitted for journalists and other media members, but they must be cleared in advance and a license from the country’s Telecommunications Regulatory Commission is necessary.
The country formerly known as Burma now functions under leaders who are elected via a democratic process, but you need to be up to date on laws that were enacted when Myanmar was ruled by a military government. To do this, contact the Embassy of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar
Other Danger Spots where Satellite phones are not fully Legal
There are at least a half dozen other countries that have restrictions or bans on satellite phones, including Bangladesh, Cuba, Libya, Nigeria, North Korea, the Republic of Chad, Sudan, and so on. Having a satellite phone in these countries can result in detention, arrest and even espionage charges, so if you do want to use your satellite phone there, make sure you know the current version of the law—exactly.