ZDF is a popular German television channel showing everything from kids’ shows to sporting event coverage. It is also available live online, so streamers can watch on-demand and live content on a computer or smartphone.
Just one problem: ZDF will only let you watch its video stream if you are in Germany. So, unless you have a German IP address, trying to view ZDF content will land you on an error page.
Thanks to VPNs, you don’t need to go to Germany in order to get a German IP address. A VPN will do this for you, making it appear that you are in Germany, so you can watch ZDF from the UK, Canada, the USA, France, or Australia. It doesn’t matter where you are, a VPN can unblock ZDF and allow overseas viewers to stream live its live content.
The best VPNs for ZDF
You can read more about how VPNs work later on in this guide. However, first, take a look at the best VPNs for ZDF. A good ZDF VPN needs the following qualities:
- High speeds for uninterrupted video streaming
- A server in Germany
- The ability to evade detection
- Easy to use
Taking these factors into account, we have compiled a list of the best VPNs to allow you to watch ZDF from anywhere.
Here’s our list of the best 5 VPNs for ZDF:
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
The speeds of ExpressVPN are good and you can watch uninterrupted video streams. Speed is important because VPNs need to process every segment of data, adding delays to the transmission. Fortunately, ExpressVPN is able to do all of the packaging, diverting, and decrypting work so quickly that it hardly has any impact on the speed of delivery.
The VPN installs itself. Once you have paid for the service, click on the download button for your operating system. ExpressVPN provides apps for Windows, Mac OS X, macOS, Android, iOS, and Linux. You can install the VPN on routers and also Amazon Fire TV, Amazon Fire stick and Kindle Fire tablets. The company also provides browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari.
ExpressVPN is very good at dodging detection and it can get around regional restrictions and VPN blocks at just about every video streaming service in the world including Netflix USA and ZDF in Germany.
If you want to stream ZDF from countries that censor the web such as Saudi Arabia or China, rest assured the snooping authorities won’t be able to block your communications or even know what sites you visit thanks to ExpressVPN’s strong security. The system encrypts every packet using the OpenVPN system. This sets up an encryption key that is shared between your computer and the VPN server in Germany. This key distribution is protected by 4096-bit key RSA encryption, while regular data exchanges are protected by AES encryption with a 256-bit key.
ExpressVPN has 148 servers in 94 countries, including four servers in Germany. The company is headquartered in the British Virgin Islands, a territory that has no rules enforcing data retention on VPN companies.
The company gives each customer an allowance of three simultaneous connections and new customers benefit from a 30-day no-quibble money-back guarantee.
BEST VPN FOR ZDF:ExpressVPN is our #1 Choice. Reliably unblocks ZDF content from Germany and most streaming services with exceptional speeds for buffer-free HD viewing. Total security and privacy. Try it risk-free with the 30-day money back guarantee.
Read our full review of ExpressVPN.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
NordVPN offers really good value for money. The three-year plan gives you the service for less than $3 per month and you get an allowance of six simultaneous connections. NordVPN is based in Panama. The VPN company does not keep any records of customer activity and so your privacy is assured.
The app is very attractive. The main screen shows a map of the world with markers in each country where there is a service. The company runs 4,438 servers in 62 countries. That includes 259 servers in Germany. To connect, just click on one of the markers, such as the one in Germany to start streaming ZDF.
The interface provides a second method to select a server, which is available in a list format. This list includes extra options, not just a straight selection of locations. These are a connection through to the Tor network, double hop paths that route through two servers and include double encryption, and you can also add on DDoS protection for free.
An extra privacy feature called CyberSec filters out malware in web pages. It will also strip out ads, block pop-ups, and prevent communication with botnet command and control servers.
You can install an app from NordVPN on Windows, Mac OS X, macOS, Android, and iOS. Browser extensions are available for Chrome and Firefox. The system can be installed manually on routers and the Linux, Blackberry, and Raspberry Pi operating systems.
NordVPN uses the OpenVPN system, employing a 2048-bit key for its session establishment RSA protection. Data is secured by AES encryption with a 256-bit key.
You can try out the VPN with a 30-day quibble-free money-back guarantee.
BEST BUDGET VPN:NordVPN is a good value all-rounder. A great value option that is a solid ZDF performer. Connects up to 6 devices simultaneously. Also works well with most popular streaming services and achieves consistently good speeds. 30-day money back guarantee.
Read our full review of NordVPN.
Money-back guarantee: 45 DAYS
CyberGhost is based in Romania. The government there has invested heavily in internet infrastructure and the legal system there blocks all attempts by the EU to impose data retention rules. The service provides excellent speeds, making it ideal for video streaming.
When you log into the app, you first see an activity screen. Choose the unblock streaming option to display a list of online streaming services to choose from. ZDF is near the top of the list. If you click on the ZDF button, CyberGhost will open a tab in your default browser and load up the ZDF Live TV page.
CyberGhost offers very strong security, which makes it a good choice for countries where the government blocks or monitors internet activities, such as Pakistan or China. CyberGhost uses the OpenVPN protocol. The session establishment and key distribution procedures of the VPN are protected by RSA encryption with a 4096-bit key. The established connection is protected by AES encryption with a 256-bit key.
When you sign up for CyberGhost, you make your payment to a separate company. This set up enables CyberGhost to give its customers near-total anonymity. The company doesn’t keep any personal information about its customers. Each customer is identified by an account number and the only information held on file is the account’s expiry date.
The company gives each customer a 30-day no-questions money-back guarantee. Each account is entitled to seven simultaneous connections.
CyberGhost is very stylish and easy to use. The app will run on the Windows, Mac OS X, macOS, Android, and iOS operating systems. You can install the VPN manually on routers and Linux computers.
GREAT VALUE:CyberGhost is a great value choice. Strong on privacy, fast speeds and reliable with ZDF. We found it easy to set up and use. Works well with most streaming sites but not Amazon Prime. 45-day money back guarantee.
Read our full CyberGhost review.
Money-back guarantee: 7 DAYS
IPVanish has an entirely private infrastructure. It manages its system in-house and no services are outsourced. That gives the company more control over its service and ensures the delivery of a quality VPN with very high speeds. This VPN will get you into ZDF from outside Germany and ensure constant service without pauses for buffering.
The company is based in the United States. This could be a problem for confidentiality because US law enforcement agencies are known for using secret court procedures and outright threats to force cooperation from US-based businesses. However, IPVanish does not keep any records of its customers’ activities, so there would be no information for the authorities to seize.
The app for IPVanish is very easy to use and it installs itself. The company provides free apps for Windows, Mac OS X, macOS, Android, Amazon Fire TV, and iOS. You can also install IPVanish on routers, but they are not provided with an app.
You get an allowance of 10 concurrent connections. IPVanish operates more than 1,000 servers spread across 60 countries. That includes 57 servers in Frankfurt, Germany.
The IPVanish VPN uses RSA encryption to protect session establishment and that has a 2048-bit key. Data is protected by AES with a 256-bit key.
IPVanish gives a 7-day money-back guarantee with a new subscription.
LARGE NETWORK:IPVanish is great for families. Solid with ZDF and generally good at unblocking most geo-restricted content. Recommend for their high standard of privacy. Could do with a live support option. 7-day money back guarantee.
Read our full review of IPVanish.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
PrivateVPN was founded by privacy activists in Sweden. The company has very strong privacy protection procedures, including account anonymity. Each customer record is identified by a number, but no personal information is stored. Sweden used to have tough data retention laws, but these have recently been thrown out by the European Courts of Justice. That ruling allows PrivateVPN to guard the identities and activities of its customers, and it does not keep any activity logs.
PrivateVPN has 100 servers in 56 countries, including three servers in Germany.
The app for PrivateVPN installs itself after you download the setup program from the website. The app runs on Windows, Mac OS X, macOS, Android, and iOS. You can install the VPN manually on Linux computers and routers. PrivateVPN can also be installed on Amazon Fire TV, Amazon Fire stick and set-top boxes. The company allows each account to connect six devices simultaneously.
VPN connections are protected by RSA encryption with a 2048-bit key, and data in transit is protected by Blowfish with a 128-bit key or AES with a 256-bit key. Processing all of this encryption doesn’t slow down connections too much and you will still get all the speed you need to stream live video from the ZDF website. The company reports its services don’t do too well in China. If you intend to go to the People’s Republic, you should manually set up a connection to the L2TP VPN system of PrivateVPN.
PrivateVPN offers all new customers a 30-day money-back guarantee on its subscription services.
GREAT SPEED:PrivateVPN is a good family choice. Unblocks ZDF. Good privacy and security. Allows up to 6 devices. Could do with more servers and lacks 24/7 support. 30-day money back guarantee.
Read our full review of PrivateVPN
Can I use a free VPN to watch ZDF?
Unfortunately, free VPNs are not very good. The basic operations of a VPN service are relatively easy to set up. However, because of the challenges that VPNs now face in order to deliver their services successfully, it actually takes quite a lot of money to run a VPN service these days.
VPNs are supposed to obscure the real destination of a connection and protect data in transit so that it can’t be read. However, maintaining up-to-date protection measures is expensive and free VPN services cut costs by implementing poor encryption and security, or none at all.
Getting into video streaming sites from abroad is particularly difficult for free VPNs. Streaming services blacklist known VPN servers to ensure their content is only delivered to viewers in the same country. The extra work that goes into bypassing these regional restrictions is too expensive for free VPNs. The VPNs we recommend can get into video sites and all of the services on this list have been tested with ZDF.
Free VPNs utilize alternative methods to generate income. Many free VPNs are ad supported. They will delay your connections and display ads in the app while you wait. Other free services are even trickier. They inject adverts right into the web pages that you view.
Poor quality VPNs often don’t implement very good encryption. If the encryption is weak, it can easily be cracked. The low-quality encryption used by free VPNs leaves your information exposed as it passes over the internet. Without strong encryption, hackers, security agencies, data thieves, and repressive governments can watch everything you do on the internet. Many so-called free VPN services don’t even bother to encrypt connections, which means that they aren’t VPNs at all.
Speeds for streaming from ZDF
Video streaming requires large amounts of data to be transferred over the internet. Sufficient bandwidth is necessary in order to stream video. VPNs add extra processing and distance to internet data transfers, so they can slow down the delivery of video, causing buffering and other playback issues.
Note that live streams require significantly more bandwidth than on-demand video. Live video is not compressed as much as on-demand video, so more speed is necessary.
Free VPNs invariably are too slow to deliver video at watchable speeds. Many impose bandwidth restrictions and monthly data usage limits.
A slow VPN will cause your video stream to pause for buffering. Dropped connections force you to refresh and scrub through the video to get back to where you were. Another consequence of slow or badly written VPN services is that the picture may break up with large pixelation and bizarre color blobs appearing instead of the proper video frames. Also, poorly performing VPNs can cause the picture and sound to go out of sync.
The VPNs in our list all deliver video from ZDF in a continuous stream without pauses, glitches, blurring or sound problems — we tested them all.
Why does ZDF block me?
You can get into the ZDF website from anywhere. However, when you try to stream video from outside Germany, a message informs you that the content is not available in your location. The message reads “Aus rechtlichen Gründen kann dieser Beitrag nur in Deutschland gezeigt werden.” This translates into English as “For legal reasons, this contribution can only be shown in Germany.”
The block on access to videos from abroad is standard in the industry. TV stations have to buy in content from production companies and they only pay for the right to show that entertainment in their home country. So, one movie will be sold many times over, with different broadcasters getting the rights for individual territories. The broadcaster signs a contract that obliges them to limit their display of the content to the territory that they paid for the rights to.
Limiting viewing by the traditional method of transmitting video is relatively simple because the TV station just sets the strength of its transmitters so that the signal won’t reach beyond the country’s borders. However, limiting the reach of broadcasts over the internet is a little more complicated. Video streaming services, including ZDF, check on the location of the computer that requested a video.
Every device that is connected to the internet has a unique identifier called an IP address. This address can be traced to a specific location. So, when you connect to ZDF and press the play button on the video player, the content server first checks the IP address of the device. If that address is traced to a location outside of Germany, the server returns an error message. If the address is within the borders of Germany the ZDF content server sends the stream for the video.
A VPN masks your real IP address so that ZDF and all other websites only see the VPN server’s IP address instead, allowing you to bypass geographic restrictions on content.
How do VPNs work?
A VPN is a type of service that is a called a “proxy,” in which another computer stands in for your computer. That other computer is the VPN server.
When you install a VPN, you are actually just installing the client software and an interface that enables you to set up one side of a VPN connection. That connection establishes a link to the VPN server. The VPN client software takes over your network card and captures all outgoing messages before they leave your computer. The software then packages those messages up in encryption and sends them on to the VPN server. The server decrypts the messages and forwards them on to the destination they were originally heading for. Responses to those messages go to the VPN server first. They are encrypted and sent on to your computer. The VPN client on your computer receives those arriving messages and decrypts them.
The encrypted connection to the VPN server, called a tunnel, protects all of your internet activity from snoopers. Not only does the tunnel protect the contents of data as it travels across the internet, it also obscures metadata like the destination website. Obscuring header data prevents internet services providers from reporting on your activities or selectively blocking or slowing your traffic.
The intervention and forwarding performed by the VPN server mean all of your communications eventually arrive at their destinations with the VPN server’s address on it as the origin and not yours. The benefit of that diversion means websites cannot trace you by your IP address, and so detection systems that use the IP address to block or allow through content will not see your true location. When you use a VPN to connect to a server in Germany, the content server at the ZDF website will see a German IP address and send your computer the data for the video.
Accessing live TV with ZDF
The access process for ZDF is very straightforward. You don’t need to set up an account and no payment is involved. Once you connect to a VPN in Germany, all you need to do is go to the ZDF Live TV page and click on the play button imposed on the player panel.
The ZDF site offers a catch-up service that lets you see programming from earlier in the day and the past week. A “boxed set” section of the website includes content from even further back in time. You do not need to log in or identify yourself in order to access any of these features.
Choose a VPN
Now you know why ZDF blocks viewing from abroad and how a VPN can get around those blocks. It is also important to remember that not all VPNs can get you access to videos at the ZDF website. Many have been blacklisted, so choose from our list of the best VPNs for ZDF above to ensure free access and smooth playback.
You can connect to ZDF through a VPN server in Germany from anywhere in the world, as long as you have access to the internet. The VPNs on our list all offer great speeds for streaming and they can evade the regional restrictions on plenty of video streaming sites, not just ZDF.
The VPNs on our list all have apps for mobile devices, so you can connect and watch on the go. This is great news if you want to watch ZDF while taking lunch in a café, or traveling on a train or a bus that offers wifi to passengers.
Besides unblocking video streams, VPNs prevent hackers and government snoopers from interfering with your internet activity. You get better protection from hackers and your ISP won’t be able to block or slow down your traffic based on how you use the web.
The money-back guarantees of the VPNs in our list give you the opportunity to try them out risk-free. You could even try one or two and cancel the service that you like the least, getting all of your money back.
Do you use a VPN to watch video from overseas? Are you a regular viewer of ZDF? Tell us about your experience by leaving a message in the Comments section below.