Let’s face it, the USA has the best TV in the world. As an American, one of the biggest challenges you face when travelling is access to decent TV shows. Even in the UK or other English-speaking countries, access to the latest and greatest American content is limited. Most places in the world get US TV shows one season behind the latest US release, if they get them at all. US entertainment is exported all over the world, but in foreign-language countries the audio is often dubbed over. So, if you don’t fancy lipreading reruns, you need to tool up.
We’ll discuss each of the best VPNs for US expats in more detail, but if you don’t want to stick around, here are our picks:
- ExpressVPN Blazingly fast speeds. Unblocks US Netflix and most of the major US TV networks. Best-in-class security and privacy features. 30-day money back guarantee included.
- NordVPN Best budget VPN without skimping on speed or security features. Unlocks most US streaming content.
- CyberGhost Low cost performer that unblocks most US streaming sites. Good security features.
- IPVanish Scores highly for speed. Very popular with torrenters and Kodi users but a less reliable choice for unblocking Netflix.
- PrivateVPN An increasingly popular service with fast speeds. Good for streaming.
Fortunately, almost all US TV stations put their content on the internet. You can watch live TV channels like ABC and CBS or browse on-demand video libraries from streaming sites like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Sling TV, HBO, and Hulu.
Unfortunately, US TV streaming channels block access to internet users outside the country. So if you’re outside of the US for your vacations and still want to access your favorite shows you need to deploy technology in order to keep the entertainment flowing. To get around those restrictions, we recommend using a VPN. If you want to know how to watch Hulu in China or how to get Netflix USA in France, read on.
“VPN” means “virtual private network.” You don’t need an IT degree to use one. The supporting technology is a little complicated but all you need to know is that when you install a VPN you appear to be in a different country to websites, apps, and services on the internet. There’s a wealth of VPNs to choose from, but only a handful can reliably bypass geographic restrictions and unblock US TV shows.
5 Best VPNs for US expats
Our list of the best VPNs for US expats to watch TV abroad is based on the following criteria:
- High speeds for streaming
- Location cloaking capabilities
- Unblocks the USA library of Netflix
- Multiple US locations to dodge sports blackouts
- Strong security measures for use in repressive countries
Here is our list of the best VPNs for expats to watch US TV from abroad:
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
ExpressVPN is regarded as the best VPN for streaming video over the internet. This service can unblock Netflix USA when overseas and can access online video from all the major US TV networks. Not all of ExpressVPN’s US servers work with every US streaming outlet, however; be sure to ask the 24/7 live chat support which ones to use with a particular service.
You may notice that ExpressVPN is a little pricey. However, you will need the extra-strength encryption and cloaking methods of ExpressVPN if you go to places such as China or Iran where advanced censorship stops most VPNs working. Very few VPNs offer sufficient protection in China, so if that’s where you are headed, you will find that ExpressVPN’s price is worth every cent. The Chinese authorities regularly scan internet traffic and try to block VPN-protected connections, but ExpressVPN consistently stays one step ahead.
If you subscribe to sports channels in the USA, it is important to have a choice of locations to connect through. ExpressVPN lets you choose a city, not just a country, when you connect to the service. The company has servers in 18 US cities, including a location in Los Angeles that routes through Hong Kong.
Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, Linux, Kindle Fire devices, and certain wifi routers. If you have a device that doesn’t support VPN apps, ExpressVPN subscribers can use the included MediaStreamer smart DNS service to unblock content instead, but without the security provided by a VPN.
- Servers in 18 US cities can unblock geo-restricted content from almost anywhere
- Superfast server network is great for streaming and downloading
- Unblocks sites like US Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and Amazon Prime with ease
- High-end security features with good privacy protection
- Provide 24/7 live chat support
- Not as cheap as some other providers
BEST VPN FOR US EXPATS:ExpressVPN is our #1 Choice. A fast and reliable choice which unblocks all major streaming services including US Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and Amazon Prime. Great privacy features and keeps no logs. Try it risk-free with the 30-day money back guarantee.
Read our full review of ExpressVPN.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
NordVPN is another good choice if you go to a country with strict government controls on internet access. This service works well in China and it can get you into most US TV networks over the internet. It can also get you into the US library of Netflix from abroad. The company has 1,592 servers in the United States. However, you aren’t allowed to specify a city when you connect, so that might get you trapped by a blackout when you want to watch US sports, such as MLB.
NordVPN has some interesting security features. You can connect to the Tor network through specialized NordVPN servers. The company offers “double hop” routes that pass your traffic through two servers in different locations and places double encryption on your connection. Another feature offered by NordVPN is extra DDoS protection that is particularly useful if you are into online gaming and are likely to get attacked by an opponent.
As an added extra, you can choose to have your own dedicated IP address. This means that whenever you connect to the service and wherever you connect from, you will be represented by the same substitute IP address out on the internet. The company offers dedicated addresses in four locations. To access US sites, you would need to ask for a dedicated IP address from Buffalo. Getting a dedicated IP address will let you run your own media server, such as a Plex Server. That means you can store movies and documents back home and then access them all from a storage-limited mobile device when abroad.
The main security method used by NordVPN is OpenVPN. The company’s implementation uses AES encryption with a 256-bit key to protect data, and session establishment is protected by RSA encryption with a 2048-bit key.
You can download and install a NordVPN app on Windows, Mac OS X, macOS, Android, and iOS. The system can be installed manually on Linux computers, set top boxes, and routers. If you just want to get your browser covered by the VPN, try the extensions for Chrome and Firefox.
NordVPN offers an allowance of six simultaneous connections to each customer.
- Over 1,500 servers in the US can unblock just about anything
- Offers secure, encrypted connections at all times
- Great-value option for torrenting and streaming
- 24/7 customer support via live chat
- Automatic server selection may not suit all use cases
BEST BUDGET CHOICE:NordVPN is a good value choice. A good all-rounder that also works well with US Streaming content. Solid security and privacy features and accommodates up to 6 devices. Includes 30-day money back guarantee.
Read our full review of NordVPN.
Money-back guarantee: 45 DAYS
CyberGhost offers good speeds for streaming and you can preset the VPN client at the beginning of a session to optimize it for watching videos online. The system can get around access blocks on most US TV channels’ websites and also Netflix USA. The company runs over 600 servers in the USA and these are located in 19 cities.
The security measures included in the VPN service are excellent and the company offers free extras to its customers, such as an immunizer against ransomware attacks. CyberGhost primarily uses the OpenVPN protocol. CyberGhost employs very strong session establishment encryption by giving its RSA cipher a 4096-bit key. Data exchanges are protected by AES encryption with a 256-bit key.
The account management procedures of CyberGhost are designed to provide total anonymity. The company doesn’t collect payment itself and you are only identified on the CyberGhost computers by an account number. All the company knows about you is the date that your account will expire. When you want to subscribe for another period, you load up your account with more credit over at the payment processing company. If you want even more privacy, you can opt to pay with Bitcoin, which means you can’t be traced through your bank account.
Apps are available for Windows, Mac OS X, macOS, iOS, and Android. You can set up the VPN manually on Linux and some routers and set-top boxes. You are allowed to connect to the service seven times concurrently. This is a stylish piece of software and the company is so confident that you will enjoy using it that they offer a 30-day money-back guarantee.
- Over 600 servers in the US get around most geo-restrictions.
- Some of the fastest servers we’ve tested
- Kill switch on all apps and keeps no logs
- Apps are great for beginners
- Torrenting and P2P might not work on all servers
VALUE & PERFORMANCE:CyberGhost has a simple set up. Great privacy, zero logs and DNS leak protection. Can struggle with some popular streaming sites. 45-day money back guarantee.
Read our full CyberGhost review.
Money-back guarantee: 7 DAYS
IPVanish is based in the United States and it offers good speeds for connections to the USA from anywhere in the world. Speed is an essential factor that you need from a VPN if you intend to stream video from back home while abroad. IPVanish can get you into US TV channel web services and it’s great for Kodi. This VPN service can also get you into Netflix USA from overseas.
You can choose a city location in the USA when you connect to the VPN service. IPVanish has a total of 418 servers in the USA spread across 17 cities. If you like to play online games while abroad, IPVanish could be your best choice. It has servers located very close to all of the major game servers in the USA, which means less latency. For example, IPVanish has 41 servers in Seattle, very close to Steam’s West Coast base, and 42 servers in Ashburn just a couple of miles from Steam’s East Coast HQ.
IPVanish operates a dynamic IP address system. When you connect to a server, you get allocated a new IP address to represent you for the duration of the session. While connected, you are the only person using that address. When you disconnect, that address goes back into the pool and someone else will use it. You almost never get allocated the same address twice.
The VPN service uses the protection of the OpenVPN system. This is implemented with a 256-bit AES cipher to protect data. Session establishment is carried out with a 2048-bit RSA cipher.
Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android. The VPN can run on Amazon Fire devices, but you have to set those up manually. You get an allowance of five simultaneous connections with IPVanish and the company gives a seven-day money-back guarantee.
- Over 400 servers in 17 cities throughout the US
- Particularly favored by remote control users with Kodi devices or Fire TV Sticks
- Impressive 4K streaming speeds achieved during testing
- Not all servers unblock Netflix
- Apps don’t work in China
UP TO 10 DEVICES:IPVanish has a large network of servers. Handles several simultaneous connections well. Recommend for their high standard of privacy, but keep shopping if you want to unblock US Netflix. 7-day money back guarantee.
Read our full review of IPVanish.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
PrivateVPN is a good option for streaming video from US sites to overseas locations. The company offers good speeds on international connections and it can get around regional restrictions on most US TV websites. It can get you into Netflix USA and also the Netflix libraries for UK, Canada, Japan, Spain, Brazil, Italy, and France.
Although PrivateVPN is based in Sweden, all of its support staff speaks excellent English, so you won’t need to worry about language skills when you need to contact them for help. The Help Desk of PrivateVPN is one of its strong points and it is available online during Swedish business hours. If you aren’t so tech-savvy, the support technician can take control of your computer and fix the problem for you.
A second strong point of PrivateVPN is its commitment to privacy. The company was founded by torrenting enthusiasts and they still campaign against European laws that try to trace users or block downloading activities. The service keeps no logs at all and all payments are processed by a third-party. You are only identified on the PrivateVPN system by an account number.
The server network of PrivateVPN is not as large as those of the other VPNs in this list. However, it has servers in nine cities in the USA. All of the locations offer the option to connect using OpenVPN. However, the company recommends that those using the service in China opt for the L2TP VPN system because its OpenVPN connections get spotted and blocked by the authorities there.
PrivateVPN gives each customer an allowance of six simultaneous connections and you get apps for Windows, Mac OS X, macOS, Android, and iOS. You can also install the VPN on Amazon Fire devices, Linux, and manually on some set-top boxes and routers.
- Servers in 9 US cities achieve good streaming speeds
- Gaining popularity for their growing list of sites they unblock
- Can connect up to six devices simultaneously
- Has fewer servers in the US than other providers on this list
- Needs manual tweaking to work in China
- Kill switch only works on the Windows app
GREAT SPEED:PrivateVPN is a good family choice. Unblocks US Netflix and allows up to 6 devices on the same account. Small network of servers but fast connections. 30-day money back guarantee.
Read our full review of PrivateVPN.
How to watch US TV abroad
Using a VPN to access your favorite shows is simple.
Here’s how to watch US TV abroad:
- Sign up to your chosen VPN provider. We recommend ExpressVPN.
- Download the relevant app for your device from the VPN provider website or an official app store.
- Install the app and log in using your new credentials.
- Connect to a server in the US. The exact server location doesn’t matter unless you want to unblock channels restricted to a specific US region.
- Navigate to the stream you’d like to watch and enjoy!
If you run into any issues, you can contact your VPN’s customer support team for assistance.
What are the restrictions on video access in the USA?
It is great to have the option of accessing TV over the internet. Some premium entertainment systems, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, are only available over the internet. However, they aren’t available to everyone in the world.
Some websites require a subscription before they will let you access their content. However, payment is not the only requirement that they place on viewers. You also have to be in the right location. If you travel on vacation to Hawaii or Miami, you won’t notice these access controls. This is because the restrictions on access to video streams are imposed to enforce national boundaries. So, when you decide to travel abroad, you will suddenly find that all of those video sites you use at home don’t work anymore. This can be particularly irritating if you are trying to access a service that you have paid for.
Video access controls are known as “regional restrictions” or “geo-location restrictions.” All bona fide video streaming services use this method of control. That means, not only do video sites in the USA limit access to people who are in the country, but almost all video sites all over the world do it — except for pirate sites.
See also: Best VPN for UK expats
How do they locate me?
Every device connected to the internet has to have a unique address, called the IP address. In most residential cases, the IP address is allocated to a computer or mobile device by an internet service provider. Every IP address in the world can be traced to a physical location.
The IP address that you connect with probably isn’t registered to your home address, but it will be registered to your ISP. Your IP address will be locatable to your city. If you live in the countryside, your IP address will be traceable to the closest major city. Even though you won’t be traced to your door by the video service you access, the nearest city gives the video streaming server enough information to decide whether to send your computer the video stream.
So, if you access the ABC website from your home near Miami, the ABC website will let you browse shows in its library. When you click on a show to watch it, a video player will load and the content server will look at your IP address, see that you are in Miami, and load the video. When you travel to Paris and access the ABC website from there, you will be connecting with a different IP address, allocated to you by a French ISP. You will be able to browse through the library and when you click on a show, you will see the page for the video player. However, this time, when the content server checks on your physical location, it will discover that you are in Paris. Instead of loading the video stream into the player on the screen, the server will display an error message.
In most cases, the regional restrictions kick in at the point of video delivery. Premium services such as Amazon Prime and Spotify only let you use the service from the country that you signed up in. If you aren’t in that country, you can’t watch videos. Netflix is a little different because it lets you watch the service for the country that you are in, no matter where you subscribed.
Netflix has one web address all over the world: Netflix.com. When you access the site, the server detects your location and delivers you the library for that country. Netflix is very sophisticated because you also need to have an account in order to access the system.
When you log in, the website will be displayed in the language of the country that you signed up in and all of the videos shown in the library will also be in your native language. So it will seem that you got into Netflix USA from abroad. However, when you browse the library, you will see that much of the content you can access while at home is no longer available.
Netflix checks on your location twice: once when you log in to present the library that is permitted in your location, and again just before it loads a selected video.
How can VPNs help?
When you log into a VPN, you have to pick a specific server from a list. The list will show the location of each server. When you click on a server, the client software on your computer establishes a secure link to that remote computer. All of the traffic leaving your computer and returning to it will show that you are communicating with the address of that chosen server. This is useful if you are in a country, such as China, that tries to prevent people from within its borders from accessing certain sites outside the country. On this stretch, no one can see that you are really connecting through the VPN server to other addresses. The VPN encrypts all traffic between your computer and the VPN, even the address of the service that you are really connecting to, so anyone trying to read your activities cannot get in and see who you are communicating with.
When you connect to a US video streaming service from abroad, you need to select a VPN server in the USA. Once the request for a video arrives at the VPN server, it will remove the encryption and send the request on to the video server from its own address. When the video site’s content server checks on your location, it will see a US IP address, not the location you are actually in (Paris, for example). The US location means you are allowed to watch the video and so the server will send the code for the stream back to the VPN server.
The VPN server encrypts all of that data and sends it on to your computer. No one snooping on your traffic can see that there is a video coming to your computer and they can’t tell where it came from. The VPN client software on your computer captures the incoming data, decrypts it, and sends it to your video player.
Related: Stop your ISP from snooping on you
Can I use any VPN for US video streaming?
The location detection methods used by video streaming services are very sophisticated. Free and cheap VPNs don’t have enough money to invest in beating detection. So, you may see some free services out there, but they won’t help you get into TV from the USA when you are abroad.
Another issue you have to take into account when selecting a VPN for international video streaming is speed. All of the encryption, decryption, and traffic diversion add a delay to the delivery of video. Free services don’t have very good speeds. This is because, like ISPs, they have to pay carrying networks to get their traffic across the world.
Those intermediate networks have different levels of service with higher tariffs for faster connections. VPN services that need to cut costs opt for the slower, cheaper connection services, and that may make the delivery of video too slow to watch.
The location checks that video content servers perform also try to root out requests that have been submitted by VPNs. This is because video streaming services are obliged to restrict access to their content to people who are located in specific countries. They have to take all available measures to enforce that restriction and that includes blocking the assistance of VPNs.
Entertainment providers have to do this because they are bound by the contracts that they signed with the producers of that entertainment. For example, if ABC wants to show a movie, it only buys the right to show it in the USA. Another company will buy the right to show that movie in France and BBC will buy the rights for the UK. So, if you are in the UK and ABC lets you watch the movie from their server, ABC would be infringing on the BBC’s licensing rights.
So, when the content server is about to load a video into the web player, it checks to see where the request for the video came from and also tries to make sure that a VPN was not involved in the request. If it detects a VPN, it will post an error message instead of the video.
Some sites have stronger VPN checks than others. NBC doesn’t put in much effort to root out VPNs, but ABC and Netflix have very thorough VPN detection methods. Very few VPNs in the world can get you into those US video streaming sites.
You will notice that in our list of the best VPNs for streaming US video from abroad, not all of them can get you into Netflix USA. That shows how difficult it is to get around the VPN detection systems at that site. Free VPNs certainly won’t get you in.
Travel the world and make the most of work opportunities that take you abroad. Sometimes, it gets lonely being abroad where no one speaks your language and your jokes about baseball fall flat. Getting TV from the USA will help you keep in touch with events back home, and the comfort of being able to watch shows in your own language can really help remedy the sense of isolation that you get when you live abroad.
It is really annoying that video streaming services won’t let you watch from abroad. However, there are genuine legal reasons for those blocks — they aren’t being needlessly cruel. If you are only abroad for a short time, it isn’t worth canceling your home TV package or your Netflix and Amazon Prime subscriptions. However, while you are away, you are paying for those services without being able to use them. VPNs fix that problem.
Keep in mind that TV services use a lot of complicated technology in order to check for the origins of requests and block VPN activity. Very few VPNs are worth subscribing to because they won’t get you into US TV from abroad. That is why we wrote this review to steer you towards the VPNs that will work well and get you into USA TV channels over the internet while you are out of the country.
If you travel to countries that criminalize access to certain sites, then accessing US TV can actually get you in legal trouble. Some premium TV shows such as Game of Thrones are classified as pornography in countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia. Those countries impose severe punishments on people found to have viewed banned content. Many countries have invested heavily in detection technology to monitor all of the internet activities of people within their borders. So, if you don’t protect your connections with a VPN, you could get found out. Keep safe when you travel abroad and retain access to US TV by using a VPN.