A simple trick to access Netflix or iPlayer when abroad

How a VPN easily outsmarts geo-blocks and censorship

When living abroad, there are some things we all miss from back home. When you’re feeling homesick, sometimes a good cure can be listening to your favorite music, watching a classic movie, or catching up with your favorite show. If you’ve ever tried accessing any of the streaming services from abroad, such as BBC iPlayer or Netflix, you’ve surely noticed messages saying something along the lines of ‘the service can only be accessed from the US’. These websites are using what is called a “geo-block” by capturing your IP address to identify your country, and blocking you if your country is a restricted region.
It may sound daunting to get around these geo-blocks, but luckily, nowadays there are many solutions that even a non tech-savvy person can use to get access to any geo-blocked website in less than a minute.

Why websites are blocked abroad

Streaming sites such as Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, BBC iPlayer and others are blocked abroad due to copyrights. These services only have limited broadcasting rights to the media available on their sites. Pandora for example is, at the time of writing, just available in the US, Australia and New Zealand.
There’s also the case of government imposed censorship or bans on websites. Common examples of such are Twitter in Turkey and Facebook in China. The list of websites  - usually including social media networks - that are banned by governments can be very long in some countries. If you’ve tried and failed repeatedly to access a website and just get a message saying ‘This webpage is not available’, the odds are high that the government is blocking your access to it.

The solution to geo-blocks

If you’ve experienced geographic blocks on websites and would like to access content from abroad, there’s a very simple solution.
Originally created as a way to safely connect to the office network from afar, Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) have today become a mainstream consumer product used by millions of people allover the world to get a new virtual identity.
All devices connected to the internet get an IP address assigned to them, and it’s thanks to IP addresses that your physical location can be determined.
By connecting to a VPN, you create an encrypted connection between you and the VPN provider, that serves two functions. First, it prevents others from reading your data, which can then stop government imposed blocks on websites since they then can’t see what you’re doing online. Second, you get a new IP address from the VPN server’s location, making it seem as if you were located there. Together, the encryption and new IP address are what lets you unblock any website you want from anywhere in the world.

How to choose your VPN service

Today, VPN tools are so easy to use and have become so efficient that you won’t even notice it’s there because you get such a fast internet and streaming experience with just the single click of a button. A good VPN service such as SaferVPN will offer you apps on all devices, so you can enjoy the full functionality on whatever device you’re using, whether it’s Windows, Mac, iOS, Android or any other.
When you choose a VPN provider, there are a few factors you want to think about that are especially important to you as an expat. These include server locations, mobile functionality, price, ease of use, and speed.
It’s essential that your VPN provider has servers in your home country because that’s how you’ll be able to access your home country’s websites and servers as if you were there.

Chances are also that you’ll want to use your VPN service on your handheld devices to get unrestricted access to sites and services like Pandora, Facebook and Hulu, so make sure your provider has apps available for smartphones and tablets.
Price is naturally a factor to consider too. Pricing structure varies by provider, but yearly plans usually saves you around 35% which is a great deal if you’re living abroad for the long-term. If your entire family will be needing the VPN you should also get a plan that supports multiple devices connected simultaneously, instead of each one of you signing for a plan.
You’ll want your VPN service to work flawlessly without any downtime and be easy to use. When you’re sitting there tuning in your favorite shows, you want to connect immediately without tinkering with any settings.
If you’ll be streaming a lot of media you’ll also need a very fast VPN service. Otherwise your movies will buffer forever and never load.

How to use a VPN to unblock websites

Let’s say you’re an American physically located in China but want to use the internet as though you’re in the US. Once you’ve signed up for a VPN service, and then downloaded and installed their client, you just run it and select your server location - in this case the US. When you connect to a VPN server in America, it will appear as if you are browsing the web from USA instead of China. If you’re connecting to Facebook or Netflix, which are otherwise blocked in China, you’ll notice that you can now access them without any issues. You’ll be using the internet just as if you were back home!
SaferVPN is a VPN provider focusing on serving expats a lightning fast and super easy-to-use service. You can start by trying the free VPN trial for 24 hours.

Author bio

André Elmoznino Laufer writes for SaferVPN. Originally Swedish, he has travelled and lived as an expatriate in Ghana, Israel and the US for the past 2.5 years. André deals with the challenges of being an expat on a daily basis and he loves helping others solve similar issues.

~ article published in July 2015

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