VPNs are an important privacy measure, preventing sites from tracking your online movements and logging identifying information. They scramble a user’s IP address, encrypt all traffic, as well as mask service providers and geographic location, making them a good option for staying private online, and securing data and internet connections in public places.
Yet these privacy tools don’t always play nice with Netflix.
Not all VPNs work with Netflix
Because Netflix purchases licenses for particular TV shows and movies by country, the selection of content in Netflix libraries across the world varies wildly – the U.S. Netflix library contains 1326 TV shows and 4339 movies; the UK has about half that, with 542 TV series and 2425 films; while Netflix has licensed just 178 TV shows and 480 movies in Singapore.
Tech-savvy users across the globe keen on that vast library of U.S. flicks have long accessed the full breadth of American Netflix by using VPNs, which can be set to display a U.S. location in order to binge-watch shows that aren’t licensed for other countries.
Some U.S.-based VPN users want to access international libraries too – or of course, access their own Netflix while abroad.
However, Netflix tends to look unfavorably on this crossing of geo-restricted content boundaries.
Though the streaming giant has been repeatedly linked to a decrease in movie piracy across the world, the shift of viewers from live TV to streaming services has meant a drop in advertising revenue for traditional media companies. Licensing content has increasingly become a major factor in a media company’s bottom line. What’s free to watch in one country can be a lucrative exclusive for another country’s TV channel – or a bust if viewers can stream them free somewhere else.
For example, some U.S. TV shows are only available on Australian pay TV channels – but Aussie Netflix users could easily watch them for free by accessing the U.S. Netflix library via a VPN.
Streaming services like Netflix may be bound to show that they are trying to protect traditional media’s revenue streams by geo-restricting content so that it can only be watched by people in the country where Netflix has paid for the license.
“We license a piece of content, like to Canada we have Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and we’re only playing to Canada,” Reed Hastings, Netflix CEO told BuzzFeed News. “It’s not really fair of us to make it available to the world, without us paying for it.”
However, watching Netflix is only one reason for people to use VPNs. A survey by VPN review site VPNMentor found that less than a third of VPN users use it for accessing the streaming service. Others may use VPNs to improve streaming speeds throttled by their internet service providers.
Unfortunately, the fact that some VPN users do access geo-restricted Netflix libraries means that the company has ramped up efforts to block such usage – and evolving technology means it’s more effective at blocking a wider range of VPNs. A provider that works one week, may be blocked the next.
How to keep your VPN and watch Netflix
Numerous VPN services are confident they can dodge the geo-restrictions via various proprietary measures (which they’re understandably not making public).
It’s important to note that using a VPN service is legal; what’s against Netflix’s terms of services is accessing geo-restricted content. Simply traveling abroad and logging into Netflix would afford access to that country’s media library – adding another shade of gray to the whole thing.
If you’re a privacy-concerned Netflix user, here how you can use a VPN and still watch Netflix.
1) Create an account at a Netflix-friendly VPN provider.
As of publishing, these providers were able to access Netflix.
Best all-around NordVPN
NordVPN has over 5148 servers in 61 countries and is regarded for its high-speed and unlimited bandwidth—just what you need for video streaming. And you can connect up to six devices at the same time, so multiple family members can stream from one account. 24/7 technical support is also available if you run into any issues. Its zero-logs policy and military-grade encryption secures your traffic from your ISP and other snoops.
Price: $11.95/month ($6.99 if one-year prepaid, $2.99 if three-year prepaid), 7-day free trial, 30-day money-back guarantee
Platforms: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux
High performance ExpressVPN
This full-featured VPN for smartphone and computers offers the largest server network, covering 94 countries with ultra-fast speeds and consistently stable internet connection. A feature called MediaStreamer DNS allows you to access Netflix on devices that don’t support VPNs (such as smart TVs and game consoles), while there’s also an app for the Amazon Fire Stick. Its privacy credentials are top-notch, with a ‘zero-logs’ policy on saving your internet traffic, and a ‘kill switch’ that cuts your internet connection in case the VPN connection drops – thus protecting your computer’s identity. However, with only three simultaneous connections, it may not be sufficient for a family with multiple screens.
Price: From $6.67/month (yearly subscription), 30-day money-back guarantee
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android
Good for larger households ##########
This budget-friendly choice spans 60 countries with servers optimized for streaming high-definition video. Its average download speeds are fast and online privacy is secured as the provider doesn’t log your internet traffic. Along with support for computer and smartphone, there’s a dedicated app for the Amazon Fire Stick to stream Netflix to any TV with an HDMI port. The ability to connect up to seven devices makes it ideal for households where family members might have multiple screens each.
Price:$2.75/month (18-month subscription), $7.99/month (6-month subscription) or $11.99/month, 45-day money back guarantee
Platforms: Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, Linux
2) Log into your VPN account
Log into your VPN, select the country you want to appear to be from, and head to Netflix, or whatever country-specific site you want to hit up. If you want to be extra-scrupulous, you can ensure that your VPN routes your traffic through a local server so you access only your local Netflix.
3) What about VPN routers?
For family households with multiple screens, a VPN-friendly router may be a better – and more economical – bet. These beefed up Wi-Fi routers support installation of VPN software to protect any and all devices on the local network, along with providing Netflix access of course. This allows you to pay a single subscription fee for several protected connections – which can be a good option if you want to use a VPN such as ExpressVPN that offers only three simultaneous connections.
A VPN router also protects other devices like smart TVs and games consoles that can’t normally install VPNs. And of course, you don’t need to install a VPN client on a swathe of screens – you can simply get online and have access to VPN protection.
However, choosing a provider with high performance is crucial. Because all devices in a household will be getting online via the VPN – including any smart home devices – all this traffic is going to be funneled through the VPN and the bandwidth it offers. What’s more, it may be more than a matter of simply finding the fastest VPN – you’ll need to make sure the VPN has high speeds in your area, as these numbers can fluctuate depending on the number of servers the provider has in a region. (That said, the top-rated VPNs tend to offer consistent high speeds thanks to a widely distributed server networks – but it’s a concern worth keeping in mind.)
Though you can install a VPN on a router that supports it, this is less straightforward than installing a VPN client on a user-friendlier device like a smartphone or computer. The easiest option is to get your router preconfigured with a VPN.
Replace the router from your ISP with your new VPN-enabled router and voila – encrypted internet for your whole household. If your wireless router is built into the box that also houses the modem your ISP provided, you can plug the router into an available Ethernet jack.
What if Netflix still doesn’t work?
If Netflix – or other geo-restricted content – stops working, try clearing your cookies and cache in the privacy settings of your browser, or try using a new browser. You can also check your IP address at sites such as whatismyipaddress.com to confirm you’re actually appearing to be where you want to be. If not, you may not be connected to your VPN, and you’ll need to get in touch with your provider. Failing that, Googling a new, Netflix-friendly VPN may be your final resort.
Will Netflix cancel your account if you use a VPN?
So far, there have been no reports of people losing regular access to Netflix accounts due to using a VPN, though its terms and conditions do give Netflix the right to cancel the accounts of users found to violating content boundaries, without specifically mentioning VPN use.
It’s possible that using a VPN service for privacy or speed reasons, while watching the Netflix content available to your country, would not count as a violation (though access to Netflix may be blocked). However, Netflix could potentially shut an account down if the account used a VPN to watch content from another country’s media library.
Netflix does not ask whether an account is being used at home or while traveling, so using a U.S.-registered account while abroad – or for a child to use it, say, in their dorm room – is within the user’s rights. (That said, the terms of service say content should be viewed “primarily within the country in which you have established your account.”)
Updated on 2/24/2019
[Image credit: Netflix on tablet via BigStockPhoto, Netflix]