Picture this, you’re scrolling through a website and see a video that piques your curiosity. You click on it, only to be greeted by the words – “This video is not available in your country” – bummer.
That, friends, is what we call a classic case of geo-blocking. While it’s done for a good reason (more on that later), it’s understandably frustrating to be kept from enjoying content that’s clearly accessible to others.
Fortunately, like much else on the Internet, there’s a workaround for this roadblock.
Here’s what we’ll be covering on geo-blocking:
What Is Geo-blocking?
In layman’s terms, geo-blocking is the act of restricting access to Internet content based on one’s geographical location.
Not only is it legal, but it’s usually done in the interest of complying with legal terms set between websites that host the content and copyright holders of said content.
Countries also have the right to enforce geo-blocking on specific content or entire social media sites.
Why Is Geo-blocking Implemented?
Geo-blocking is most commonly put in place by companies like Netflix and YouTube to comply with the terms of licensing agreements for media content.
When platforms and websites acquire the rights to stream content, they may only be allowed to do so in certain countries or regions.
Licensing rights aside, streaming sites may also geo-block for business reasons if the cost of acquiring the rights to make certain content available in a location doesn’t justify the profits earned.
Additionally, governments can geo-block websites or platforms they deem illegal or believe to contain sensitive or inappropriate content.
In the US’s case, Internet Service Providers (ISP) may block specific websites to comply with state or federal law or to help regulate traffic or distribute broadband, according to AVG.
How Does Geo-blocking Work?
Every device on the Internet or a local network has its own Internet Protocol (IP) address, and that address can be used to check where you’re logging in from.
Your IP address comes from your ISP, which uses it to figure out where you are, what device you’re on, what you do online, and whether you’re online or offline.
Here’s what it looks like. Interesting how a simple set of numbers can give away so much of your online activity, isn’t it?
By detecting your location from your IP address, a website or platform can then either permit or deny you access to that content. Similarly, when you’re in a different region and using a new ISP, your IP address changes along with it.
This explains why you may see a whole new set of content or be able to access the content you weren’t able to before when you log in to your favorite streaming site or platform while abroad.
Here are two of the most common geo-blocking examples: Netflix and Youtube.
How does Netflix use geo-blocking?
Since companies have their own terms regarding the availability of their content, Netflix libraries will vary depending on where you log in.
For starters, each country has its own lineup of locally produced shows which aren’t available to foreign streamers.
Copyright holders can also limit their shows to be streamed in only a handful of countries or pull them off the platform for certain countries once the licensing agreement expires.
As such, you might find that a TV show on Netflix in Europe is not available in the US, or that it is only available in the US up until a certain time.
How does YouTube use geo-blocking?
If you’ve ever clicked on a video where the only thing you see onscreen is the message “The uploader has not made this video available in your country,” that’s geo-blocking on YouTube.
Similar to YouTube, copyright holders call the shots on where their content can be viewed.
As long as a content uploader owns the videos they post, they get to decide which regions’ viewers get access to them.
If someone else uploads the video without authorization, said uploader can also file a copyright claim and have the video taken down.
Benefits of Bypassing Geo-blocking
Based on what we just talked about, the most appealing upside to bypassing geo-blocking is of course, the ability to unlock a treasure chest of content that wasn’t available before.
If you’ve ever seen a friend’s Instagram story of a show they’re watching and wondered if something was wrong with your subscription when you couldn’t find it, chances are they found a way to bypass geo-blocking.
That’s not all it’s good for, however.
If you want to add a layer of security and privacy to your online activity, bypassing geo-blocking can help hide your IP address and, by extension, your location.
This can also come in handy for those of you who handle and work with sensitive information that cannot risk being compromised.
How To Bypass Geo-blocking
Now, let’s get to the answers you’ve been waiting for.
The arguably most popular way to get around geo-blocking is to use a trusted Virtual Private Network (VPN). On top of keeping your online activity private by concealing your IP address and encrypting your connection, a VPN can get you past geographical content restrictions.
If you want to access the Netflix library from, say, the USA – you can easily do so with a US-based server offered by a VPN service.
Alternatively, you can use a proxy server based abroad, which helps you access information or content from the country it’s based in. Proxy servers keep your online activity safe to a certain extent, as anonymous proxy servers are capable of hiding your IP address. However, do proceed with caution as they do not encrypt your data.
Lastly- a secure browser like Tor also works for geo-blocking by connecting to its very own Tor network and using a connection method called onion routing. Onion routing works by routing your connection between its network and the site you’re visiting.
As it goes through multiple layers of encryption, your online activity and data stay hidden and secured.
The downside? Tor takes longer than other browsers to access the site you want due to the extra time needed to get through those layers. To find out more about Tor and other browsers, take a look at our list of secure browsers.
Out of these three, VPN is the most viable option as it checks all the boxes – effectiveness, security, and ease of use.
How Does Bypassing Geo-blocking With VPNs Work?
In a nutshell, a VPN bypasses geo-blocking by routing your traffic through a server in another country.
By doing so, it hides your IP address by replacing it with another. It essentially gives you a new online address that opens doors to content and websites limited to a certain country.
VPNs typically come with servers from a wide variety of countries, so you can pick and choose depending on which country’s content you want to see.
As a bonus, it doesn’t take much tech know-how to set up, as a VPN can be installed like any other software on your device.
Once installed, it can be as simple as keying in your username and password. From there, you can select your server of choice in the region that you’d like to unlock the content of.
For example – below, we’ve used SurfShark’s desktop app to connect to a server in France. Once connected, we should now be able to access this region’s content on platforms such as Netflix.
Some VPNs also give you the option of selecting a security protocol such as IKEv2 or WireGuard, as different protocols have their individual benefits. Some protocols prioritize delivering data at a higher speed, while others have stronger data encryption.
Our Favorite VPNs To Beat Geo-blocks With
Upon Googling ‘VPN’, you might find many options out there – too many, in fact.
While you might see some free VPN out there, the best VPNs usually aren’t.
Investing in a reputable one will truly overcome all geo-blocking and cover all apps on your laptop or phone that use the Internet.
Free VPNs often have smaller networks than their paid counterparts, which means platforms can block their IP addresses more easily. As a result, you might find that you still can’t access certain content and websites with a free VPN’s servers.
Security-wise, their protection usually extends to your browser traffic only. Hence, anything else you do on your device with Wi-Fi is still at risk of exposure.
Our top two picks for the most reliable VPNs are ExpressVPN and Surfshark. ExpressVPN boasts a whopping 3,000+ servers, lets you connect to five devices, and military-grade data encryptions. For all the details – head to our ExpressVPN review.
As for Surfshark, it has access to 1,700+ servers, an ad and tracking blocker, and no cap on the number of devices you can connect to.
While its security features pale in comparison to ExpressVPN, its highly affordable subscription fee of $2.21/month makes it a steal, next to its rival’s $6.67 monthly fee. Furthermore, an ad blocker may be able to help you speed up your Internet.
Make Geo-blocking a Thing of the Past With VPNs
A whole world of new content, improved security, and an overall better web-browsing experience await you once you get past geo-blocking.
Many people now rely on VPNs as an effortless way to get around these blocks once and for all.