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If you are a fellow Netflix lover, you may have had the following experience. You are on a business trip overseas. After a gruelling day of travel and work, you finally make it back to the hotel for some rest. The ideal opportunity to make headway on that show you’ve been watching. You fire up Netflix, login, and unfortunately, the show is gone! You search frantically, but can’t find a single season or episode. Where is your show? The answer is that Netflix only offers that show in specific countries, and you are no longer located in one of them. If you have actually ever been locked out of Netflix content while travelling, or seek to access content from another country, you have probably realised how vexing the problem can be. But fear not! This guide is here to help. It will explain the background behind Netflix’s policy of geographic restrictions and the solution; access via VPN. A detailed comparison of the top five Netflix-enabled VPN’s will give you everything you need to make an informed choice.
Netflix licenses a majority of the content it offers on its service. Each country where Netflix operates has its own set of copyright laws, and therefore its own set of copyright holders. This means that the company which owns the rights to a show in the US, may not own the rights in France, Germany, or Japan. So, every time Netflix wants to provide access to specific content in a new country, it has to negotiate licensing rights with the owners in that country. Sometimes, there are issues. For example, rights holders in one country might want to withhold granting a license to Netflix, because they want to make the content available on a proprietary streaming service. In another country, the license might be issued. The result is that Netflix offers different content in different countries. Users are granted access to content depending on their physical location. That is why you may be surprised to find that the show you’ve been watching for months in the US, disappeared when you got to Germany. Netflix has said that they aim to provide all of their content globally at some point. In the meantime, unfortunately, we are left with this messy country-specific configuration.
How does Netflix know where you are when you log on? Are they spying on you? Definitely not! Every device which accesses the internet is granted an IP (Internet Protocol) address. This number (which looks something like 123.456.78.90) is attached to every request your computer sends over the internet. It is the way internet servers know which device to send responses to. But here’s the thing; the IP address, is also a physical address. Each number can be correlated to the servers of your ISP (Internet Service Provider). Sometimes, your IP address can be used to track your location with a frightening degree of accuracy (search “IP location” in Google). When you access any website on the internet, your computer identifies itself with its IP address, and therefore also its location (at least the country). This is how Netflix filters content by location. Whenever you log on, the site gets your location information from your IP address and serves you the version of the service appropriate for that location.
So if Netflix always knows where I am, how can I possibly hope to access my beloved show? The solution is to trick the site into thinking you are somewhere that you’re not, by accessing it through a foreign IP address. This is done with a VPN or virtual private network. A VPN acts as a buffer between your device and the servers of the site you are trying to access. When you actually connect to a VPN, all of your internet requests are sent to its servers. These servers then reach out to the site you are trying to access and relay the response back to your device. This is useful for security purposes since it masks the identity of your device as you access the internet. The setup is also helpful in bypassing things such as Netflix’s geographic restrictions, depending on where the VPN’s servers are located. To illustrate; imagine you are in Azerbaijan and you log in to a VPN whose servers are in the US. When you try to access Netflix, the request is sent from your machine to the server in the US, then from there to Netflix using the US server’s US IP address. Since the request is coming from a US address, Netflix serves the US version of the site. This gets sent back to the VPN server, which then gets sent back to you. Hooray! Now you can access the US, or any other country’s, version of Netflix, as long as your VPN has a server located in that country.
This seems like a great solution for accessing non-local Netflix content, and it was, before 2016. Until then, Netflix had been fairly relaxed about people sneaking around its geographic restrictions. The VPN solution is a nice one, but it’s not a huge innovation. Anyone with basic IT knowledge would think of it, and you can bet Netflix did as well. But as Netflix gained popularity across the globe, and started producing its own content, pressure mounted to protect copyright holders in different countries. In 2016, Netflix announced its intention to crack down on VPN access to its content. It did this by adding a layer of VPN detecting software to the servers which serve the actual video content. All of a sudden, when you accessed Netflix through your reliable VPN, the site itself would appear as normal. But when you tried to open an actual video, you would get this message: “Streaming Error: You seem to be using an unblocker or proxy. Please turn off any of these services and try again.” No one knows Netflix’s precise methods for detecting which IPs are from VPNs and which are genuine. However, certain things are dead giveaways. For example, VPNs will often have only a handful of IP addresses per server. Netflix’s algorithms probably pick up on large numbers of requests coming from a single IP address and flag it as a VPN. Alternatively, VPNs sometimes use blocks of consecutive IP addresses. These can be flagged as well.
Netflix’s efforts to shut down VPN access were largely successful. A vast majority of VPNs can no longer access Netflix content. However, the number of VPNs doubled down and responded to the ban by coming up with even craftier ways of evading Netflix’s algorithms. Their goal was to continue providing non-local Netflix access as a key service to their customers. The result has created a game of cat-and-mouse. Netflix improves its filters and blocks out VPN servers, and the VPNs fight back with new tactics. The speed with which this game plays out means that Netflix-enabled VPNs are shutdown and pop up constantly. This means a fair amount of frustration for anyone who is trying to find a consistent Netflix-enabled solution. We have done this work for you. Below you will find a useful comparison list of the top Netflix-enabled VPNs which, at least at the time of writing, have been providing consistent access to Netflix content in several countries. We have compared these providers based on a series of factors; price, streaming speed, security, and consistency of Netflix access. Speed is an important factor in finding a good Netflix-enabled VPN. If you can access videos, but don’t have enough bandwidth to watch them, then you haven’t really found a working solution. We have rated the services in terms of ultimate usability.
The attempt to fool the Netflix servers into thinking that you are in a different location faces a further level of complication when using apps to access the service, as opposed to an internet browser. This is because of another component of internet access called DNS: Domain Name Servers. These are servers used to match up the names of websites (i.e. “www.netflix.com”) with the IP address associated with them. DNS servers also have a physical location. Typically, the server you use is provided by an ISP and is located in your own country. The DNS server used to connect to a website is also made known to that site. This means the site can compare the location encoded in an IP address and the location of the DNS server. If these don’t match, it indicates that something is amiss. If you try to access Netflix with an IP/DNS mismatch, you guessed it, you will be blocked. If you are using a VPN through a browser, this is not a problem. The VPNs have their own DNS servers which they use to prevent mismatches. But if you are using Netflix on a particular device, the app may force it to use the local DNS server. What this actually means is, that even if you a find a VPN which will allow you to access non-local Netflix through your internet browser, this doesn’t mean that you will be able to use Netflix apps over that VPN. There are technologies available, called smart DNS proxies, which can overcome this obstacle as well, but not all VPNs offer them. So, if having app access to non-local Netflix is a must, you need to confirm that the VPN service supports it. This is especially true for devices such as smart TVs and gaming consoles. All of the services on this list support Android and iOS Netflix, but not all of them support further devices. This has been indicated as needed.
Topping the list is ExpressVPN. This service has dedicated a lot of effort to allowing customers non-local Netflix access. At any one time, they have over 3000 servers in 160 locations worldwide and use 30000 IP addresses.
Coming a close second is NordVPN. Based in Panama, this service’s overall emphasis is security and privacy. Part of privacy means being able to access any site on the internet discreetly and anonymously, which means getting around geographical blocks such as Netflix’s. NordVPN runs over 5000 servers in over 60 locations.
SurfShark is undoubtedly a relatively new player in the VPN market, and, frankly, that’s the only reason it isn’t higher up on this list. The service currently has over 800 servers in 50 countries, but this number is constantly growing.
CyberGhost is a VPN service running out of Romania which has been around for a relatively long time. While there were some concerns about the level of security provided by the service in the past, these seem to have cleared up in recent years. The changes are likely due to new management put in place after the company was recently acquired. The service has also become specifically video streaming focused, and offers a targeted user interface for accessing streaming services. CyberGhost has increased its number of servers in recent years and now has close to 4000 in 60 different countries.
A smaller, but still serious contender in the VPN market is Sweden’s PrivateVPN. This network boasts over 150 servers in 60 countries. This doesn’t match the volume and diversity of locations achieved by some of the other entries on this list, but it is still sufficient to provide a high standard of service.
There are a lot of options for quality VPNs out there. This list details only five, which we consider the very best. Here are some runners-up which you can definitely check out:
There were many popular VPN services which were used to bypass Netflix blocks before 2016, which no longer work. Other VPNs successfully bypass the block, but whose speeds are too slow for effective streaming. Here is a list of services to avoid:
If you dig around online enough, you will find VPNs which offer their services for free. If so, why pay for a monthly service? Firstly, most of these services are not of high quality. This means that they are likely not Netflix-enabled and have low-speed connections. Even if you find a free VPN which will get you access to Netflix and/or related services, the biggest concern is security. Getting free VPN service sounds too good to be true because it is. Running a VPN is expensive. It involves maintaining quite a bit of infrastructure. People also don’t run VPNs as a public service, they are looking to make a profit. If the service is being provided for free, then where is all of this money coming from? The answer is the consumer. By their nature, VPNs require users to funnel all of their internet data through the system. The VPN administrators have access to all this information. Free networks monetise themselves by repackaging and selling user data. From a privacy and security standpoint, this is a disaster. For this reason, despite the temptations of free service, we strongly recommend steering clear of any free VPN.
We hope that one day soon, services such as Netflix will offer all of their content globally. Until that time, though, the cat-and-mouse game of Netflix blocking VPNs and the VPNs outsmarting those blocks will continue. Consumers interested in accessing non-local Netflix services will need to choose a VPN service carefully. This guide has tried to clarify the technical issues surrounding geographic restrictions and detail some of the best VPN services available. However, the playing field is constantly changing, so consumers need to stay updated and informed.