Does your employer restrict websites? Are you in a country that blocks social media services, news, or VoIP apps? Is your ISP blocking popular torrent sites? Or, do you simply want to access TV services from back home on vacation? If your answer is yes to any of these questions; you need to know how to unblock websites. The good news is that it’s easy to unblock websites using a VPN.
A VPN lets you connect to a VPN server in a remote location. As a result, any restrictions placed on a local network disappear. This lets you access the internet free of blocks at work or on public wifi. A VPN also lets you pretend to be in a different country. This lets you use web services blocked by the government or region-locked websites, such as TV streams.
VPNs also encrypt your internet connection. This prevents local network admins, ISPs, and government agencies from tracking you online. As a result, you can bypass blocks at work, or access websites censored by the government with complete privacy.
In this guide, we explain how to unblock websites using a VPN. To make your life easier we recommend the best VPNs for unblocking websites -from anywhere in the world.
The best VPNs for unblocking websites
- NordVPN: The best VPN to unblock websites. Super secure servers in 59+ countries. Apps for all devices. Strong encryption. Many advanced features that make it incredible value for money. Works with Netflix and other popular streaming services. 30-day money-back guarantee.
- Surfshark: The best cheap VPN to unblock websites. Allows unlimited connections with a single account. Super-fast WireGuard protocol is great for streaming and making VoIP calls. Works with Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max, and other popular services. 30-day money-back guarantee.
- ExpressVPN: A reliable VPN with strong encryption, obfuscation to conceal VPN use, and a robust kill switch. Works with popular streaming services and is fast thanks to its proprietary Lightway protocol. A bit pricey, but you can test it to unblock websites using its 30-day money-back guarantee.
- CyberGhost VPN: Fantastic for beginners. CyberGhost makes unblocking websites easy. It has a list of dedicated servers for popular streaming platforms so you can instantly unblock the one you need. Includes strong encryption and a no-logs policy. Generous 45-day money-back guarantee.
- IPVanish: This VPN has servers in 20 cities across the US. This makes it particularly good for unblocking websites from the US while abroad. Works with Netflix US, but not all other streaming services. Strong security features and a 30-day money-back guarantee.
- AtlasVPN: A fast VPN that implements WireGuard by default. Can bypass blocks with ease from anywhere in the world. Has strong encryption, a kill-switch, ad blocking, and malware filtering. Works with popular streaming services. 30-day money-back guarantee.
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How to unblock websites from anywhere with a VPN
VPNs might seem a little intimidating but they’re actually quite easy to use. Setting up a VPN takes only a few minutes and then you will have access to apps and websites from all over the world.
Here’s how to unblock websites from anywhere:
- Start by choosing a suitable VPN. We particularly recommend NordVPN but Surfshark and ExpressVPN are also fantastic alternatives.
- Download and install the VPN software, making sure to get the right version for your device.
- If you’re trying to access a region-locked service, connect to a VPN server in the required country. You’d use a British server to unblock BBC iPlayer, for instance, or a US server for Sling TV. If your chosen service is available worldwide, any server will do.
- Finally, try accessing the blocked app or website.You should be able to use it as normal, but if there are any issues, try clearing your cache and cookies before trying again.
- If problems persist, we’d recommend contacting your VPN’s customer support team for further help. It may be that there are specific servers capable of unblocking your chosen service.
How do website blocks work?
Generally speaking, you will face website blocks either because the local network you are using has blocked them, because the government has asked your ISP to block them, or because the website you’re trying it access has purposefully restricted its service in your region (geo-blocks).
Fortunately, a VPN will let you unblock websites no matter which of these is the culprit.
1. Network-level blocking
Network-level blocking is used by many establishments and workplaces to block access to particular sites. Public wifi hotspots such as coffee shops, restaurants, malls, airlines, and public transport impose often impose blocks to save on bandwidth. As a result, you may not be able to stream on YouTube.
In addition, many networks, including workplaces, schools, and public hotspots block inappropriate websites. This could be to stop employers from playing games, using social media, or watching TV at work. Or could simply be to prevent access to adult content in public spaces, for example.
Network-level website restrictions are usually enforced using a blacklist; whenever a user attempts to visit a site, the address is checked against a list of blocked addresses. If the site is on that list, access is denied.
Countries like China and the UAE use similar technology, although on a larger scale. This kind of country-wide censorship is significantly more advanced and usually includes some form of keyword-based filtering as well as proxy-detection features.
Even in countries without overreaching censorship, it is common for some websites to be blocked. For example, western countries often block torrenting websites such as The Pirate Bay for copyright reasons.
2. User-based blocking
User-based blocking is used to prevent a specific user from accessing a website or service. This usually happens when a user has broken a website’s terms of service or has broken the website’s code of conduct.
When this happens, the user will have their account blocked and may also have their IP address, GPS location, or other device-level identifiers tracked in order to prevent them from accessing the service.
3. Location-based blocking
This type of blocking is most commonly seen with online streaming services. YouTube TV and Hulu, for instance, are only available in the US and users from other countries are prevented from signing up.
Other services such as national TV platforms, bookies, online casinos, and internet banking services also impose location-based blocks, either to comply with licensing agreements, to comply with legal requirements, or for security reasons.
Location-based blocking is usually enforced by tracking the user’s IP address to determine their country or even state of origin (as is the case when US TV services enforce blackout NFL or MLB games, for instance). GPS may also be used in conjunction with cookies and other trackers to help determine the user’s location.
The good news is that it is usually easy to bypass these kinds of location blocks with a VPN. The only consideration is that you may need to clear the cookies and cache in your browser to ensure you aren’t being tracked using other means.
It is also worth noting that when you access foreign services, you could still need a local form of ID, a local phone number, or a local payment method in order to sign up for those services. So, while a VPN can easily make you appear to be in a different country, using specific services may require these things.
Can I unblock websites without a VPN?
While VPNs are the most reliable way to access geo-restricted content, there are a few other tools you can try. Note that these methods are less likely to work against stubborn location-detection systems, but they’re still worth a shot.
Proxies reroute your traffic through a server somewhere else in the world, helping you beat site-blocking software and online limitations. However, these services usually don’t encrypt your data, meaning whoever owns the proxy can see your original IP address and everything you do on the site.
Normally, people use the Tor Browser to access the dark web, but it’s actually capable of visiting clearweb sites as well. Further, because it sends your traffic through a series of remote nodes, it’s capable of beating location-specific restrictions. The only problem is that you can’t select a specific country like you can with a VPN, meaning this method isn’t suitable for streaming.
Smart DNS services
Let’s say you’re abroad and trying to access a service that’s only available in the US. Usually, your local DNS servers would give away your location, preventing you from watching. Smart DNS services redirect your traffic to DNS servers in other locations (most commonly the US), sidestepping this issue entirely. What’s more, because no additional software is required, you can easily take advantage on games consoles or older Smart TVs.
Obfuscate the site you’re trying to visit
If you’re trying to beat web-filtering systems like those employed by schools and offices, there are several steps you can take. First off, try typing a site’s IP address into the URL bar (there are tools designed to help you find this out). Alternatively, you can use a URL shortener to replace the website’s URL with something unrecognizable, which might prevent some blockers from realizing your true intentions.
How to unblock websites – FAQs
Will a VPN let me access blocked sites when in China?
China has some of the most advanced internet restriction technology in the world, collectively known as the Great Firewall. Additionally, the government and local ISPs have specifically targeted VPN providers, meaning the majority of services won’t work.
There are a few VPNs that still work in China, but as their websites are inaccessible from the mainland, you’ll have to install them before arriving. We’d also recommend saving manual installation instructions, just in case you run into connection problems when you’re in China.
There’s no publicly-available list of every website that’s banned in China. That said, you can use our Great Firewall tool to find out if a particular site or service is accessible or not.
Can I use region-locked services with a free VPN?
We advise against using free VPNs in general. To begin with, these services are often the first to be blacklisted by major services, meaning there’s no guarantee they’ll work. Further, they often have more users than their networks can support. As a result, even if your VPN unblocks a particular service, you’ll likely find your browsing speeds too slow to use it. This is a real problem if you’re looking to stream since slow speeds result in choppy playback and frequent buffering.
It’s also worth mentioning that free VPNs pose a real security risk. In fact, one study found that almost 40 percent of 280+ surveyed apps contained malware. As if that wasn’t bad enough, 18 percent used no encryption, so they provided no privacy whatsoever. This means that unless you’re especially lucky, there’s a real chance of you infecting your device (and possibly your employer’s whole network) with malware.
The best way to unblock services and browse anonymously is to use a reputable, privacy-conscious VPN that follows a no-logs policy.
Why isn’t my VPN unblocking a certain website or app?
Unfortunately, given the sheer variety and complexity of blocking systems, there will always be some services that your VPN cannot unblock. However, every website and app is different; for instance, a local TV station’s website will probably have less-stringent restrictions than an internationally renowned household name like Netflix.
Don’t worry if you still can’t unblock a particular service. It might be that only certain servers are able to bypass the VPN-detection on your chosen service, or perhaps you just have to change the connection protocol. Either way, a lot of the time, your VPN’s support team will be able to help. Most major VPNs now offer 24/7 support over live chat so you can start fixing the problem in seconds.
What kind of services can I access using a VPN?
With a VPN, there are very few limits on what you can access, even if you’re in a country with strict online censorship. Below, we’ve listed some of the types of content you can unblock abroad or at work using a VPN:
- Social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter)
- Streaming services (Netflix, BBC iPlayer, ESPN),
- Messaging services (WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram)
- Gambling and gaming sites (William Hill, Bet365, BetNow)
- Impartial news websites (CNN, The Guardian, Washington Post)
- Dating services (Tinder, Grindr, Bumble)
- Privacy-focused websites (Comparitech, OpenVPN, ExpressVPN)
Do I need a fast VPN to unblock websites?
If you want to watch HD streams, play games, download torrents, or make private video calls, you will need a fast VPN. Many VPNs have sluggish servers that cause lag and buffering, and, as a result, they are not good for doing data-intensive tasks.
The VPNs we have recommended to unblock websites all have fast servers and VPN protocols that make them suitable for accessing streams on vacation, and bypassing blocks that require fast connections.
Can I unblock VoIP services with a VPN?
Yes. If you are in a country that blocks VoIP services, you can easily use a VPN to regain access. A VPN will let you access a foreign app store to download and install VoIP messenger services and will let you make calls privately and without being tracked by your ISP or the government. As a result, you can use VoIP services in the UAE, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, or in any other country where they are blocked.