If you’re trying to view the latest Netflix show while traveling overseas, or you want to watch a show that’s only available on Netflix in other countries, you’re in for a tough time. But with a VPN service and a bit of persistence, you should be able to see most of what you want to watch, no matter where you are.

Your Netflix Is Not My Netflix

It’s easy to assume that the video streaming services we use every day are the same everywhere on earth, but that’s simply not true. What’s available on streaming services, in particular, can be wildly different from country to country. That’s true not only of Netflix, but also of Amazon Video, Hulu, and Sling.

That’s because streaming services like Netflix make agreements with other media companies to supply movies and TV in specific markets. A great example is Star Trek: Discovery. In the US and Canada, you need a CBS All Access account to boldly go where no one has gone before. Most of the rest of the world, however, can enjoy Discovery without signing up for yet another streaming service because it’s easily available from Netflix.

That might feel like a bit of a raw deal for Netflix subscribers. They’re paying for a subscription, so shouldn’t they get all the sweet, sweet video content that Netflix provides? But that’s just not the case. As Netflix explains in section 4.3 of its terms of use, you’re only entitled to the shows in the country where you created your account.

4.3. You may view Netflix content primarily within the country in which you have established your account and only in geographic locations where we offer our service and have licensed such content. The content that may be available to watch will vary by geographic location and will change from time to time.

Writing this article, I tried to focus on a particular scenario: You’re traveling overseas and can’t watch a show you were already watching on Netflix. That’s a real problem, but I imagine a good many readers are perhaps more interested in accessing Netflix content that’s unavailable in their home countries.

This raises a thorny question of ethics. Using a VPN to watch something isn’t piracy in the way I’ve come to understand it, but it still feels like cheating, somehow. I have often been told to vote with my wallet and support the content that I enjoy and that’s why I do have an All Access account specifically so I can watch Star Trek: Discovery. Even though I would still be paying to access Discovery if I watched it over Netflix, via VPN, it still feels selfish to me. I want there to be more seasons, and I feel compelled to follow CBS’s rules in order to make that happen.

You might feel differently and see no issue in using a paid service in ways (slightly) beyond the intent of its creators. That’s up to you. If you’re using a VPN to watch Netflix inside the region you’re paying for access to, you’re probably not breaking Netflix’s terms of service. But pretty much any other use of a VPN with Netflix probably does break the company’s terms of service. We at PCMag are not lawyers, nor are we ethicists, but we definitely advise you to think carefully before you break any terms of service.

VPN: The Master of Unblocking

One way a company, website, or service can determine whether or not you should view content available only in certain markets is by looking at your IP address. IP addresses are assigned geographically, and sometimes with alarming precision. If you’re connecting to the internet from the US, the UK, or the Vatican, you’ll have pretty different IP addresses at each location.

Other pieces of information, such as your MAC address, cookie data, or specific browser settings may also communicate something about your location. On a mobile device, an app might simply request access to your GPS data. But IP addresses are readily available for inspection, and generally don’t require special permissions or tricks to get ahold of.

This is where VPNs come in. A VPN, or virtual private network, does two things: first, it enshrouds your network traffic with encryption that prevents any observers from being able to see what you’re up to. Second, it tunnels your information to a remote server operated by the VPN company, effectively hiding your true IP address and making it much harder to correlate online activities directly to you.

There are lots of reasons why you need a VPN, but if you need to appear as if you are in a wildly different location from that of your home country, it’s indispensable. For one thing, you don’t have to worry about acquiring or reconfiguring your computer or mobile device to use a foreign IP address—the VPN company manages a fleet of servers with numerous IP addresses available. For another, VPN apps make it extremely easy to switch from one location to another. Just click, and your traffic is rerouted.

Here’s how it works: if you’re from the UK and have been watching a Netflix show at home, when you arrive in the US, you may not be able to continue watching your show. Just set up a VPN, connect to a server near to your home, and you should be able to pick up viewing where you left off.

Of course, you might want to sample the forbidden fruit of foreign Netflix without the above pretense. If you’re in the US and want to watch something that’s only available on Netflix in another country, just connect to a VPN server in the appropriate country.

It sounds so simple in theory, but in practice, it’s a bit more complicated.

Netflix Loves to Block VPNs

In order to enforce its regional requirements for some Netflix content, the company makes an effort to block VPN use. That’s a bit unfair for folks who aren’t trying to sneak around digital borders. In fact, I’ve found that Netflix will block me even when I’m connected to a VPN server within my country of origin. If, say, I’m watching Netflix in a coffee shop over Wi-Fi, using a VPN is just good sense.

VPN companies, on the other hand, work hard to keep their customers connected to Netflix, partly out of convenience but no doubt because they understand that unblocking content is a major draw for VPN customers. Likewise, Netflix and other streaming services work hard to block VPNs. It’s like a Cold War-era submarine movie, with adversaries slowly circling each other with deadly intent.

Travel the World by VPN

Thankfully, your humble reporter has done the legwork of finding a VPN that works with Netflix in overseas conditions for you. Now, bear in mind, that these tests were performed before this story was published. By the time you try out the service for yourself, Netflix may have already blocked it. Still, reading the rest of this story should give you an idea of what’s required to find a Netflix-friendly VPN on your own.

To do this testing, I installed 11 VPN services one at a time, and attempted to access Netflix while connected to different servers. In these tests, I looked at VPN servers in Australia, Canada, Japan, and the UK. In each instance, I attempted to run an episode of a TV show. When possible, I attempted to use a series I knew was not available in my specific Netflix market.

If you’re in the US and aren’t interested in overseas streaming, what follows probably won’t be useful. You’ll be better served by my look at the best VPNs for Netflix article. For that piece, I tested Netflix availability using only US-based servers.

The following chart breaks down the results. All testing was performed in PCMag’s Manhattan, NY, office, connecting to a distant VPN server, and using a Netflix account associated with the US. Your individual experience, particularly if you are outside the US, may vary. 

NordVPN came out the best in this testing, with three out of four successful connections. The one failure—connecting to Netflix via a Japanese server—wasn’t blocked outright, but simply didn’t load. Not everyone can be the best, however. Tunnelbear VPN, TorGuard VPN, Golden Frog VyprVPN, and ProtonVPN were completely defeated.

This testing revealed some interesting trends. Access to UK Netflix is apparently of great concern to VPN companies, as it works in all but four of the tests. Conversely, accessing Netflix via Japan is not possible using any of the services I tested. Despite its close proximity to where I performed these tests (New York City is a short drive from the border), accessing Netflix via Canada was surprisingly difficult to achieve. Also, while Australia is the most distant location I tested, the connection did not time out in my tests; when it was blocked, it was definitely blocked. Australian connections did, however, appeared to have more trouble maintaining an HD stream—not surprising, considering the distances involved.

But What About Speed?

Streaming video can take up some serious bandwidth, especially if you want HD quality or better—which you should, because this is the 21st century, after all. Speed, in case you’re new here, is just the other side of the bandwidth coin. With a faster connection, you can get more data, and therefore better resolution, for your video. My previous testing found that TorGuard VPN was the fastest VPN we tested, with low latency and the least impact on download speeds. Unfortunately, it was blocked in every one of my overseas Netflix tests.

The following chart shows VPN speed test scores as of May, 2018. Note that relevant speed data is not available for all of the VPNs used in the overseas streaming tests. I’m in the process of speed-testing VPNs right now for 2019 and I’ll update this article when the tests are complete. 

Comparing between the two lists, IPVanish is a strong overall contender if you’re balancing speed and Netflix availability overseas. It had the second-best download score, and was available in the UK and Australia. NordVPN and Private Internet Access also look very good, with more Netflix availability and comparable download scores.

Is That All I Can Do?

If your favorite VPN is blocked by Netflix in a configuration that you really, really need, there are a few more options available to you.

Netflix allows you to download some TV shows and movies for offline viewing. However, I have seen some anecdotal accounts that downloaded files won’t work if you travel to a different geographic region. So, if you download at home and go online in Kyoto, you might not be able to watch your shows. You may be able to work around this is you aren’t connected to the internet when you watch your shows, but I can’t guarantee it.

Some VPN services include specialized servers for streaming video, and sometimes those servers are targeted at specific geographic markets. CyberGhost, for instance, has a server expressly for accessing the BBC iPlayer from outside the UK. It also worked for streaming Netflix in my testing. Poke around your VPN and see if there isn’t something similar.

Different servers have different IP addresses. If your VPN allows you to view the individual servers within a particular region, try different servers and see if you have better luck. Perhaps the London servers will be blocked but the Yorkshire servers will work fine with Netflix. Many VPNs let you favorite specific servers, so make use of this feature if you find one that works.

Many VPN services will sell you a static IP address. This means that instead of having your IP address changed to whatever IP address has been assigned to the VPN server, you’ll have the same IP address every time you switch on your VPN. The downside is that you’ll lose some anonymity. The static address is yours and only yours; savvy observers will have an easier time correlating online activities to you directly. But Netflix and other services may not block static IP addresses. These can be pricey, so it’s a bit of a risk if you only are concerned about streaming online content.

You can also try to evade the blocks on known VPNs by setting up a roll-your-own VPN service. Jigsaw, which is part of Alphabet which owns Google, has a VPN product called Outline VPN. It requires that you bring your own server, or rent one, in order to use as a VPN server. Outline is smart enough and simple enough that I was able to set it up without any knowledge of renting cloud infrastructure.

Watch Anywhere…Probably

If you’re patient and willing to do some poking around inside your VPN client (and maybe try more than one VPN service), there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find one that lets you watch your Netflix shows and movies from regions in which they are blocked. For more Netflix hack and tricks, you could also read our story on the best Netflix tips to boost your binge watching.

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