The Internet is supposed to be a global network that links the entire world, but many websites are confined to specific countries. Unsurprisingly, piracy is higher in countries where content isn’t legally available.
These are the ways people around the world are actually accessing that geo-blocked content today. If you live outside the US, this will get you a lot—and even US residents might want to access BBC iPlayer or a similar service sometimes.
The Best Option: Use a VPN
VPNs are the best option for accessing content that is blocked in your own country because they allow you to tunnel your traffic through an encrypted connection and come out on the other side. For example, if you wanted to access US-based services, you’d need a server based in the US with enough upload and download bandwidth for you. That’s what a VPN server is. Some VPNs may offer free services that are throttled to work very slowly or limit you to a certain amount of bandwidth, but those won’t work too well if you’re using them to watch Netflix, so you’re going to need to spend a little bit of money, but VPNs are very cheap these days.
There are lots of VPNs out there to choose from, but for bypassing geographic restrictions and allowing you to watch something from another country, we’ve had the best luck with these two VPNs, which we’ve tested extensively for watching streaming media and services from another country:
ExpressVPN is fast, easy to use, and cheap. Many of us here at How-To Geek have used and trusted it for years. We highly recommend it.
StrongVPN isn’t quite as user-friendly as Express, but since it’s less well-known and is also blazing fast, we’ve had very good luck using Strong to bypass geographic restrictions and watch content.
Both of these clients have easy ways to switch between countries, can connect with a single click, and they’ve both got 30-day money-back guarantees, so if one of them doesn’t work for the particular service you’re trying to get to, you can get your money back and try the other one.
Those are our favorites, but feel free to search around and look for the best VPN provider for you. If you’re a geek, you can always create your own VPN server on a hosting service, which could save you a bit of money. Or, if you have access to an SSH server in the country you want to access the service from, you could potentially use SSH tunneling instead of a VPN.
When you activate the VPN, all your Internet activity will be sent through it. It’s best to activate it only when you need to use a service that’s blocked in your country and leave it disabled the rest of the time.
Update: At this point in 2018 things have changed, and DNS tricks don’t work for bypassing most services anymore, and most of the solutions out there are either gone or cost the same as a VPN that offers you much more for your money.
Some services work through some DNS wizardry. Change the DNS server on your computer—or home router, if you want to change it network-wide. When you access a geo-blocked site like netflix.com, the DNS server will redirect some of your traffic through a tunnel. In short, the remote server thinks you’re accessing it from the appropriate country and it will just work.
The nice thing about this type of solution is that will work for all devices on your network (if you enable it on your router). Better yet, it’s not something you have to flip on and off. It just works when you go to access a geo-blocked website and doesn’t do anything to the rest of your traffic.
Tunlr was a popular free option here, but it’s been shut down—turns out it’s expensive to run such a free service for everyone on the Internet who wants in! UnoTelly’s UnoDNS and Unblock-Us work similarly, but cost about $5 a month.
If you’re a geek, you can set this sort of thing up on your own as long as you have a server based in the appropriate country—probably the US. Use the netproxy Docker image or check out tunlr-style-dns-unblocking for a real do-it-yourself solution.
UPDATE: Hola was caught doing some very shady things. Please don’t use them.
Hola was one of the most popular ways to access geo-blocked websites, and there’s no sense in ignoring that. This is primarily because it’s free and easy-to-install. Hola, formerly known as “Hola Unblocker” and now known as “Hola Better Internet,” is available in a variety of forms. It offers browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox, and these can be easily installed with a few clicks. After, just click the Hola icon on your browser’s toolbar and select a country. It’ll route your browsing activity through IP addresses in that country. This means you can access the US Netflix library from your current country, or the UK-based BBC iPlayer website from USA, for example.
A caution: We’re not the biggest fans of invasive browser extensions here, or software that sends your web browsing through other servers. Hola also uses your computer’s idle bandwidth to help other users—that’s how it’s free. You’re sharing bandwidth with other people. But there’s no getting around this sort of thing if you want to route your browsing activity through other locations and you don’t want to pay anything. Just be sure to disable Hola when you aren’t using it. If you’re particularly worried, you could install Hola in a separate browser or browser profile. For example, if you use Chrome for most things, you could install Hola in Firefox and use Firefox only for this sort of thing.
Netflix works very well with these solutions. if you have a Netflix account from any country, you can access it from the US using one of these services and get instant access to the US Netflix library. Services that don’t require any sort of sign-up should work similarly well. Some services may require a US-based payment method to sign up—that can give you more trouble.