Isn’t it frustrating when you’re blocked because of your location from accessing your favorite streaming shows, thrilling sports events, immersive gaming experiences, or exciting gambling platforms? You’re not alone. Most premier online platforms have region-locked content, leaving many globally-minded users in the cold. Worse still, countries like China have intensified the digital divide by placing extensive restrictions on universally popular platforms.
But what if we told you there’s a proven, secure way to this geo-restricted content?
We’ve found the powerful tool of a Virtual Private Network (VPN) through exhaustive research and rigorous testing. VPNs reroute your online footprint through international servers, seamlessly replacing your original IP address (a key factor in geo-location) with a new, region-specific one. This tricks most platforms into believing you’re in a ‘permitted’ location.
But there’s more. With rising concerns about online surveillance, VPNs are also your armor against prying eyes. They encrypt your digital activities, ensuring they remain invisible to employers, governments, and your ISP. This is particularly helpful if you’re in a country with strict internet censorship.
How to avoid geo-blocking with a VPN
With the right VPN, it’s easy to access region-locked services abroad. Just follow the steps below.
Here’s how to get around geo-blocking using a VPN:
- Start by signing up for a suitable VPN. We particularly recommend NordVPN but Surfshark and ExpressVPN are two versatile, high-performance alternatives.
- Download and install the VPN app, taking care to get the right version for your device.
- Connect to one of your VPN’s servers in the appropriate country. For example, you’ll need to use a British server to unblock BBC iPlayer or a US one for Hulu.
- Log in to your chosen service and play previously geo-blocked content. In most cases, it should start immediately, but if not, clear your browser’s cache and cookies, then refresh the page.
If you continue to experience issues, it’s worth contacting your VPN’s support team directly to see if there’s a particular server you should use.
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How does geo-blocking work?
Geo-blocking works by restricting access to internet content based on the user’s geographical location. In a geoblocking scheme, the user’s location is determined using internet geo-location techniques, such as checking the user’s IP address against a blocklist or allowlist. Also, GPS location data can be used in the case of a mobile device.
Geo-blocking can also be implemented via various technologies, including internet addresses, credit card numbers, and other electronic identification means. It enables rights holders and intermediaries (such as Netflix) to segment the internet into different markets, provide access to different content based on copyright contracts, charge different prices, or offer different services to consumers.
When might I encounter geo-blocking?
There are two main situations in which you might experience geo-blocking. One is when you try to use a service like Netflix, BBC iPlayer, or ESPN abroad. Some streaming platforms have different content libraries for different regions, while others are completely inaccessible from outside of their required countries. Sling TV, for instance, prevents you from even viewing its website abroad, saying “We’re sorry. Sling TV is only available in the US.”
This is because streaming services usually only have the right to show their content in specific countries. Other types of sites geo-restrict their content, too. For example, betting websites typically only serve people located in specific countries.
Another situation in which you may encounter geo-blocking is when trying to access content that’s restricted, banned, or against the law in your current location. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re up to no good; some countries just have different values, leading them to block things like gambling, dating, and social media sites.
Depending on where you are in the world, you might find that you can’t even use services that could be considered essential, like WhatsApp, Skype, or FaceTime. All three of these and more are blocked in countries like China and the UAE, which can make it difficult to communicate with friends and family back home.
How can websites and services tell which country I’m in?
Most of the time, services rely entirely on the user’s real IP address to tell where they are in the world. However, more advanced platforms often employ additional verification measures. They could cross-reference your IP address with GPS location data if you’re using a mobile device, for instance, or check your IP address against a list of known VPN servers.
Sometimes, it isn’t even the website you’re trying to access that blocks the connection, it’s the government. For instance, China’s Great Firewall has an expansive list of blocked websites and monitors domestic traffic for specific keywords and recognizable VPN traffic patterns to see if you’re trying to access a blocked website.
Can I bypass China’s Great Firewall with a VPN?
It’s especially difficult, although not impossible, to bypass regional restrictions in China. You can’t just install a VPN and start browsing, though, as the government has tried exceptionally hard to block all access to privacy-focused services, including VPN websites. As a result, there are only a few VPNs that reliably work in China.
If you’re planning a trip to China (or any country that restricts access to VPNs), you’ll have to download and install the VPN beforehand. We’d also recommend making a note of any mirror sites your VPN might operate, as well as instructions on how to manually configure the service. This information should be kept in a password-protected file and saved locally on your device since countries with strict online censorship tend to block access to cloud storage platforms.
Not sure if a particular website is blocked in China? You can check before arriving by entering a URL into our Great Firewall tool. Remember: the Great Firewall is updated all the time, so even if a site is accessible right now, it might not be when you get to China.
Can I beat geo-blocking with a free VPN or proxy?
Free VPNs tend to struggle when it comes to unblocking services. They often have smaller networks than their paid rivals so it’s easier for platforms to blacklist all of their IP addresses, and with fewer resources, it’s more difficult to find a workaround whenever new VPN-detection features are introduced. Free proxies have similar performance issues and to make matters worse, they only protect your browser traffic, meaning anything you do in an app will still be visible.
These services usually have huge numbers of users, so you’ll almost certainly experience slow speeds. Even if a free VPN or proxy unblocks your chosen service, you’ll likely have to contend with long buffering times and laggy playback.
Free VPN services have a poor record when it comes to privacy. A survey of more than 280 free VPN apps discovered that almost 40% contained malware and over 80% leaked personal information over IPv6.
Worst of all, nearly one in five used no encryption whatsoever, meaning their users were no safer than when browsing the web normally. We’ve even seen major players in this space use shady business tactics, such as when Hola was caught selling its users’ bandwidth to facilitate a botnet.
Why isn’t my VPN unblocking a particular service?
Some platforms have stricter geo-blocking than others. For instance, a local TV live stream likely won’t have advanced geo-restriction and VPN-detection features built-in. However, Netflix, an international network that’s worth billions of dollars, absolutely does. This is why some users encounter errors like “You seem to be using an unblocker or proxy” when accessing geo-blocked services with a VPN.
Even if you see an error, it’s possible that your VPN is actually capable of unblocking your chosen service. Sometimes you’ll find that not every server works, so trying a different server is often all it takes. If you’re having problems, you can ask your VPN’s support team for help directly. The best providers offer 24/7 live chat, so you can often be up and running in a matter of minutes.
What services can I access abroad with a VPN?
With the right VPN, you can access a huge variety of geo-blocked sites and services from anywhere in the world. Below, we’ve listed some of the types of geo-restricted content you can unblock:
- TV streaming sites (Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video)
- Sports streaming sites (ESPN, beIN Sports, Sportsnet)
- Social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram)
- Gambling and gaming sites (Bet365, SkyBet, Steam)
- Messaging services (WhatsApp, Telegram)
- Dating services (Tinder, Match, PlentyOfFish)
- News websites (NYTimes, Washington Post, The Guardian)
- Privacy websites (NordVPN, Comparitech, OpenVPN)
Can I bypass VPN blocks to watch US shows?
If you’re an American who’s traveling abroad, you could well find yourself unable to keep streaming your favorite US TV shows. Luckily, despite most streaming platforms cracking down on VPNs, there are still a few providers that excel at beating regional restrictions. Note that while many VPNs prioritize the ability to access US streaming services, they usually also work with platforms from the UK, Canada, Australia, and other countries, at least to some extent.
What VPN allows me to watch Hotstar India?
There are actually quite a few VPNs that work with Hotstar India (also known as Disney+ Hotstar). These include NordVPN, Surfshark, and ExpressVPN, but in our experience, most major providers with Indian servers have worked. If you’re having trouble using this service, we’d encourage you to contact your VPN’s support team and ask if there’s a specific server that can unblock Disney+ Hotstar.
Is it legal to bypass geo-blocking?
Most countries don’t specifically have laws against using a VPN to access geo-restricted content. After all, VPNs are legitimate privacy tools used by millions of people every day; criminalizing everyone who inadvertently tried to watch TV while connected would be madness.
It’s worth noting that using a VPN is against most streaming platforms’ terms of service. Still, even if a service detects that you’re connected (which isn’t guaranteed), there are no real consequences. You’ll usually just be asked to disconnect, rather than banned.
Disclaimer: While we’ve researched this topic extensively, we are not legal experts and cannot account for every country’s laws. As such, nothing we’ve said above should be considered legal advice.
Our Methodology: Choosing the right VPN to get around geo-blocking
Unfortunately, you can’t just use the first VPN you stumble across if you’re looking to securely access geo-blocked services. First off, there’s no guarantee that your provider will be fast or secure enough. Further, geo-blocked platforms have gotten very good at identifying VPN traffic, so most services just won’t work. Here are some of the main qualities a suitable VPN should have:
- An expansive network: The more countries there are to choose from, the wider the range of platforms you can (theoretically) access. We also look for VPNs with lots of servers in high-traffic areas like the US, since this helps prevent network congestion during peak times.
- Quick and reliable speeds: Your VPN could be the best at bypassing geo-restrictions but if it’s too slow, it’s useless. Our team regularly tests providers to see which VPNs are fastest, and crucially, we look at consistency as well. This way, there’s as little trial and error as possible.
- Versatility: We prefer VPNs that work with lots of services. If a provider is blocked by popular platforms like Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max, or Disney Plus, we probably won’t recommend it. Additionally, our top VPNs must allow torrenting, since there’s really no easy way to do so safely otherwise.
- Powerful security tools: 256-bit encryption, leak protection, a kill switch, and a no-logs policy are non-negotiable. These provide a solid level of protection against snoopers, but we welcome any additional tools that may be included.
- A seamless user experience: The best VPNs make it as easy to get connected as possible. Ideally, they’d offer multi-platform support, 24/7 live chat, and well-designed apps. Some even include task-specific servers while others have scrapped connection limits altogether.
This isn’t everything we look for in our top VPNs; to find out more, read our full VPN testing methodology post.
How to remove geo-blocking FAQs
Will TOR help unblock geo restricted content?
Yes, changing your location with Tor is as simple as editing a single file. However, the Tor network is particularly slow, which means it’s not exactly ideal for data-intensive tasks like streaming.
Instead, we’d recommend trying out a VPN. Plenty of these pride themselves on their ability to fly under the radar, and the top providers have been in a kind of arms race to prove that they’re the fastest lately. Set up is easier too, and you can use a VPN on just about any device, whereas Tor is predominantly focused on desktop systems.
Should I buy a VPN for just geoblocking?
That really depends on how badly you want to access the content.
Here’s the thing about VPNs: they can actually help you in lots of other ways as well. For instance, their encryption keeps your activities hidden from your service provider and stops public hotspot owners from seeing what you get up to (or blocking you from certain sites).
Because your IP address changes when you connect, hackers can’t use it to pin down your location or ISP. This makes a VPN extremely helpful when torrenting, playing online games, or blogging in a country with strict online surveillance.
Why does Netflix use geoblocking to maintain different libraries?
Netflix doesn’t own the rights to broadcast titles in every country around the world. Instead, it will buy the rights to show a specific TV show in select regions. Naturally, if it broadcasts these shows in countries not covered by the agreement, it could end up in hot water, which is why the service has tried so hard to block VPN users in recent years.
The problem is that this approach prevents users from streaming their usual content while traveling. Moreover, regional Netflix libraries are not equal. American subscribers, for instance, normally have access to almost 6,000 titles, but if they decide to visit Croatia, their Netflix library will shrink to roughly half that.
How can I watch a geo-blocked video?
A VPN can be used to change your IP address so that it appears as if you’re located in another country. This will allow you to circumvent geo-blocking measures and watch the video.
Is geo-fencing the same as geo-blocking?
No. Geo-blocking prevents an individual from accessing a website or content based on their geographical location. Geo-fencing, on the other hand, uses technology to create a virtual geographic boundary around a specific area. Once someone crosses into that area, they are then able to access certain content or blocked websites.
How are proxies and VPNs different?
While you can hide your IP address by using either a proxy or a VPN, the main difference is that only a VPN encrypts your internet traffic. As such, a VPN better protects your privacy and makes it harder for you to be tracked by your ISP or the government. Furthermore, a VPN sends all of your traffic through the VPN server (if you’re using an app as opposed to a browser extension) while a proxy typically only routes the traffic of your browser or a specific app.
Is there geo-blocking within the EU?
Yes, geo-blocking within the EU does exist. Geo-blocking is a form of territorial discrimination whereby customers from certain countries are blocked from accessing online content or services based on their geographical location. This can take various forms, such as preventing access to websites, applications or other digital services and restricting the sale of goods and services within the European Union (EU).
Geo-blocking is used to protect copyright applied by right holders to prevent access in specific Member States.