How to Access Region-Restricted Websites From Anywhere on Earth

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.

VPNs

VPNs are a great option. These 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. These are generally paid services. 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.

There are lots of VPNs out there. Most of them don’t offer fancy interfaces and apps, forcing you to use the tools built into your operating system to connect to them. Some do offer slicker interfaces — like StrongVPN, SurfEasy, and TunnelBear, all of which offer an app that allows you to easily connect to the VPN and switch between different countries using a dropdown box.

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.

strongvpnclient

DNS Services

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.

Hola

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.

Image Credit: NASA

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.