Updated on 12/20/2023 with the latest Netflix policies and VPN recommendations
VPNs, or virtual private networks, do a great deal to keep you safe online, hiding your IP address and encrypting your traffic so that your personal data is always secure. But VPNs can do more than protect your privacy: they can mask geographic location, giving you access to Netflix or other streaming services that may not be available in your area.
Why would you want to use a VPN to watch Netflix? Because most streaming services offer different content libraries depending on your location. Netflix's US catalog, for example, features over 5,000 titles, but that's only 37% of the content Netflix has licensed globally. This is due to licensing agreements, which may only give Netflix rights to stream certain content in certain countries. To access a different region's content, you must be in a different country – or at least have an IP address from a different country. That's where VPNs come in, masking your location to make you appear you're accessing Netflix from somewhere else, potentially unlocking thousands of new shows and movies.
But Netflix doesn't want you to use VPNs to work around the site's content restrictions, and it can be tricky to stream Netflix over a VPN. However, it's not impossible. Here's everything you need to know to watch the global library of Netflix content using a VPN.
Netflix Doesn't Support VPNs, But It Doesn't Prohibit Them
Officially, Netflix doesn't allow you to access content from other countries. This is from the Netflix Terms of Service agreement:
You may access Netflix content primarily within the country in which you have established your account and only in geographic locations where we offer your subscription plan and have licensed such content.
However, we've never heard reports of Netflix banning or canceling accounts due to VPN use. Instead, if Netflix sees you using a VPN, you'll get an error message or only have access to a limited library. Here's what the company has to say about streaming through a VPN:
While using Netflix through a VPN, we will only show you TV shows and movies we have worldwide rights for, like Squid Game or Stranger Things. If you don't see TV shows and movies that are available for your country, you may need to turn your VPN off.
Some VPNs will be good enough to trick Netflix into thinking you're elsewhere. However, Netflix is always trying to block VPN access to keep content region-locked, and there are no guarantees that your VPN will be able to access Netflix – even if it could yesterday.
Netflix's rules for TVs and streaming devices let you enjoy the service both at home and on trips, but you're limited to shows and movies licensed for your actual location. Traveling with Netflix is fine for up to 30 days, but using a VPN might give Netflix the impression you're constantly on the move or sharing your password.
If this happens, Netflix may require you to reset your 'home' location to the one your VPN shows. This could restrict you to only the content available in that virtual location, which might not be what you want.
Watching Netflix with a VPN can require patience to work around these issues. You'll likely have to try accessing Netflix from different servers your VPN provider offers to find one that works, and at times, you may not be able to access the global library.
The Best VPNs for watching Netflix
While you can find free VPN services, you'll need to pay a subscription fee if you want a VPN that's reliable and secure and will provide enough data bandwidth for watching streaming video. If you only want to subscribe for a month at a time, prices tend to run from $12 - $14 per month, but rates drop substantially when paid a year or two at a time, as low as $2 to $4 per month. If you use a VPN regularly – whether for streaming or security or both – it tends to be worth the investment.
However, the fact that these services offer the best deal for long-term subscriptions is an important reason to look for services that offer a money-back guarantee so you can get your cash back if it doesn't work out for you – all of the VPNs we recommend below have a 30-day money-back guarantee. Be sure to take advantage of that money-back guarantee to test out VPNs and be sure you can reliably access the specific content you want.
Essential VPN features to look for
Number of servers
You want a VPN that offers many servers in many countries. We've mentioned that Netflix can block VPNs, but the more servers a service has, the more likely one of them will work for Netflix. And the more countries a VPN has servers in, the more Netflix libraries you'll be able to access.
Faster speeds are better, particularly since VPNs can slow down your connection since you're going through an intermediate server from your VPN provider to secure your internet traffic. However, all services promise fast speeds, so this is hard to gauge without testing out the VPN for yourself to see how it performs for you.
The clients available for your VPN are also important, as having a native app for your platform makes it easier to stream content to them. Some devices – particularly smart TVs and streaming devices that don't use Android – aren't usually supported.
Number of simultaneous connections
If you intend to use your VPN for more than just streaming Netflix, you should pay attention to the number of simultaneous connections a service allows. The more connections, the more devices you can have on the VPN at once. Most VPNs only allow a limited number of connections, so you'll need to choose carefully which devices have access.
This feature allows you to access some content through your VPN and some content through your regular network. That can be useful if some sites or services you use don't play nicely with VPN (or play nicely with the country or server your VPN is currently set to) or if you need a faster connection for an application, without making the extra traffic hops required for a VPN. All of the services we recommend below support split tunneling.
VPNs can be tricky to set up, so you want to look for one with solid support that can help you set it up and use it. All of our recommendations except one – PIA – offer 24/7 support.
Now that you know what to look for when choosing a VPN, here are the best VPNs to use to stream Netflix.
Best All-Around VPN: NordVPN
NordVPN offers the perfect combination of features for the price, and it’s particularly good for streaming Netflix. With a large server selection, broad app support, fast speeds, solid security features, and a modest price (at least when paid annually), NordVPN is our top pick for an all-around VPN. The low-cost Basic plan is all you need if you’re only interested in streaming. Nord offers two higher subscription tiers with more security features, so be sure you aren’t paying for more than you need.
Price: Basic plan for $12.99/mo (or $4.49/mo when paid annually) on NordVPN
Servers: 5,994 servers in 60 countries
Simultaneous connections: 6
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, Android TV, Apple TV, Fire TV, Google TV, Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, Raspberry Pi, Chromebook, Chromecast, Fire tablet
Best Budget VPN: SurfShark
As long as you pay annually, SurfShark is the most affordable option on our list. While it doesn’t have as many servers or support as many platforms as the competition, it offers plenty to meet the average user’s needs. The fact that it allows unlimited connections is a standout feature, letting you connect as many devices as you’d like to your VPN for added security.
Price: Starter plan for $13.99/mo ($3.99/mo when paid annually) on SurfShark
Servers: Over 3,200 servers in 100 countries
Simultaneous connections: Unlimited
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, Fire TV, Android TV, Google TV
Best Server Selection: Private Internet Access
With any VPN, you may have to switch servers a few times to find one that works reliably with Netflix, and Private Internet Access has more servers than any other service. That means you’re more likely to connect to Netflix and other streaming services without interruption. Combined with unlimited connections, it is an excellent choice for streaming throughout your household. However, PIA can have slower speeds than other VPNs and doesn’t offer the 24/7 tech support you’ll find from our other recommendations, so you could run into issues using the service with limited help options. Be sure to test this one out before committing.
Price: $11.95/mo (or $4.17/mo when paid annually) on PrivateInternetAccess
Servers: Over 20,000 servers in 91 countries
Simultaneous connections: Unlimited
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, Android TV, Google TV, iOS
How to Stream Netflix on your VPN
Once you’ve selected your favorite VPN provider, using it to stream Netflix should be pretty simple:
- Download the service’s app (if available for your device).
- Log on to your account.
- Select a server in the country you want to access Netflix from.
- Try connecting via different servers in that country until you find one that works. Remember, Netflix regularly blocks access to VPN servers, so you may have to try several before you can watch what you want.
If you run into trouble, contact your VPN provider’s support – that’s what it’s there for!
[Image credit: Netflix on tablet via BigStockPhoto, Netflix]