An employee of an international animal conservation group was detained at a police station in New Dehli, India, for illegally bringing a satellite phone into the country. A senior executive for the organization contacted the U.K. and U.S. embassies as well as a local law firm that specializes in this type of case. Fortunately, the organization and its employees are members of Global Rescue and an official for the company immediately contacted our security operations experts for help.  

“Satellite phones are illegal for foreigners to bring into India, but they are legal in India if registered and licensed by the government,” said Harding Bush, a former Navy SEAL and senior manager for security operations at Global Rescue. 

He should know. Years ago, Bush was in a similar jam in Jordan. He flew into the country on a military aircraft to provide protection for the prime minister of Iraq. But his departure was on a commercial flight. While he was on his way out, customs officials stopped him. 

A Global Rescue operations team member uses a satellite phone to make a call at elevation in the high mountains.

“I had two-way radios in my carry-on,” he said, which are usually illegal to have in that country. “I was sent to a small secondary room and questioned. Luckily, I was working with the Jordanian secret service and had the business card of the King’s security detail leader as proof. Without it, I probably would have been sent to jail.” 

The animal conservation employee was fortunate, too. Guided by security intelligence from Global Rescue, input from local legal specialists, and assistance from the embassies, local police released him from detention after he paid a fine for bringing a satellite phone into the country. The employee returned to the U.K. the next morning and the case was resolved.  

[Related Reading: Satellite Phones – The Basics] 

“When civilian travelers arrive in a country with an item that is illegal to have there, it could be confiscated. The individual also could be slapped with a fine, arrested, expelled and even jailed,” Bush said. 

India has specific regulations regarding satellite phones. “That’s because satellite phones circumvent India’s cellular phone system and are difficult for the government to surveil or track,” Bush explained.   

It has been illegal for foreigners to bring satellite phones and devices into India for many years under the Indian Telegraph Act. And, after the Mumbai terror attack in 2008 was coordinated with satellite phones, stricter regulations around these devices were put into place. It is also important to note that the use of satellite phones in India can raise suspicion among authorities, particularly in sensitive areas or regions with ongoing conflicts. The Indian government has previously banned the use of satellite phones in various regions, including parts of Jammu and Kashmir. 

Satellite phones are regulated by India’s Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and require a special license to operate. The DoT regulates the use of satellite phones to ensure that they do not pose a security threat or interfere with the country’s communication networks. 

If you are traveling to remote regions in the country, satellite phones can be e-registered and licensed with the Department of Telecommunications.“You should check with your guide or tour service regarding cellular phone connectivity, and if they have satellite phones themselves for emergency communications,” Bush said. 

Satellite phones and devices are also illegal or strictly regulated in China, Cuba, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nigeria, North Korea, Chad, Russia, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Pakistan.Here’s a rundown by satellite communications providers on why certain countries ban or restrict satellite phone use. 

  • In China, satellite phone use has been banned for more than 25 years. The Chinese government has taken several steps to prevent the use of satellite phones, including the installation of jammers and the blocking of satellite phone signals. 
  • Many electronics are forbidden in Cuba, including satellite phones, according to a Canadian satellite communications provider. 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. 
  • Possessing a satellite phone is illegal in Bangladesh and can lead to jail time.  
  • 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 Burma) had a long period of unrest under a military government. To prevent information leakage, most communication means were disabled. After military rule was replaced with democratically-elected leadership, many reforms were made to those restrictions. For current satellite phone laws, contact the Embassy of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar before traveling. 
  • Satellite phones were banned in Borno, Nigeria, 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 many devices are subject to monitoring and search, as there is no right to privacy in North Korea. 
  • Chad is a landlocked country in Central Africa and is undergoing a constant threat of terrorism, which has led authorities to ban satellite communication devices. If you’re found with a satellite phone, confiscation of the phone, as well as an arrest, is possible. Nobody can get a permit for a satellite phone under any circumstances. 
  • Russia blocks access to certain satellite phone companies and imposes restrictions on their use. The Russian government is concerned that satellite phones could be used to transmit information to hostile foreign powers. In addition, satellite phones are seen as a threat to national security, as they could be used to organize protests or public gatherings without the knowledge of the authorities.
  • Satellite phones are banned in some areas of Pakistan, such as tribal regions, due to fears that they could be used to contact militant groups or to transmit sensitive information. 
  • In Sri Lanka, journalists and other media personnel can have their equipment, including satellite phones, after they are cleared for use in advance. A license from the Sri Lanka Telecommunications Regulatory Commission is required.  
  • Most 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.  

How Do You Prep Your Satellite Phone for Travel? 

Practice with the phone or device before taking it on a trip. Understand the dialing instructions and pre-load essential phone numbers in the contacts. Be familiar with how to send and check text messages. Know how all the charging equipment, external antenna and other accessories work. 

[Related Reading: Quick Start Guide – How to Use Your Global Rescue Membership] 

“You should be familiar with the use and features of your satellite phone or messaging and tracking device before taking it on any trip. An emergency is not the time to learn how to use a satellite phone,” Bush said. 

Just as you store the essential contact information in your smartphone, the same information should be stored in satellite messaging devices, especially for the models with standalone messaging capability, which means you can use the device to send a custom message. 

A Global Rescue operations team members uses his satellite phone for a call from out in the field.

Practice making calls, sending text messages and e-mails, and activating the tracking feature, if there is one. Ensure essential emergency contacts recognize calls or messages from the phone or device.   

You should review the instructions regarding your device’s SOS features and procedures. Understand who receives the SOS message signal when it is sent and what services the SOS monitoring service provides. 

When you register and set up your device, there is a section for SOS information. In this section, you’ll provide specific information that may be helpful when organizing a rescue, including any medical conditions and emergency contacts. If you are a Global Rescue member, you should include Global Rescue’s phone number and your membership number. You can configure your device to send an email to or to contact our operations team directly in the event of an emergency. You are welcome to send a test email at any time.