Most folks who use a VPN do so for security purposes, but there are also some less serious, more entertaining perks of connecting to the internet using a virtual private network. Namely, you can use these tools to unblock geo-restricted content on streaming platforms like Netflix.
You see, Netflix’s media libraries aren’t the same in every region. If you’re connecting in Europe, you’ll have access to a different slate of movies and shows than if you connected in the U.S. We’ll get into the reasoning behind this in just a bit. For now, just understand that if you can make the streaming service think you’re in a certain region, you’ll have access to that region’s media.
Pro Tip: If you’re ready to start shopping for a VPN to unblock Netflix, a great place to start is the comparison guide of our two favorites. Check out our NordVPN vs. ExpressVPN matchup for more information.
Why would you want to do this? Two reasons come to mind. Sometimes there’s a movie or show you really want to watch that isn’t available in your region, or you might be traveling internationally and want to still have access to the creature comforts from back home. Either way, you can use a VPN to spoof your location.
Before we talk about that, though, it’ll be helpful to get a quick understanding of how VPNs work. If you’re already familiar, you can skip ahead to setting up your service, but if you’re a little lost, keep reading.
How Do VPNs Work?
Without getting too deep into the technical weeds, virtual private networks work by changing your IP address and routing your traffic through encrypted channels. You can learn more about VPNs in general with our VPN resource guide, or get a more detailed understanding by checking out our VPN how-to page.
Think of it this way – you’re driving your car from your house to the movie theater. Since your house is in the American Midwest, that movie theater is going to be showing the titles that are popular in that region. Now let’s pretend you could pick your house up and plop it down in Munich. When you drive to the local theater, you’re going to be watching whatever’s popular in Germany. It’s obviously an impossible metaphor, but this is exactly how VPNs work. By changing your physical (or digital!) location, you’ll have access to the media from that locale.
This begs the question, though: Why is certain media only available in certain areas?
Why Does Netflix Block Certain Movies and Shows in My Region?
The short answer is licensing. Different countries have different laws regarding copyright enforcement and royalty payouts, which means that certain intellectual property might not be available in certain regions. Studios also have a hand in where their content will and will not appear, mainly due to demand and return on investment.
The studios and Netflix negotiate terms to specific titles in specific countries. These deals differ from country to country, and depend heavily on what the streaming services and studios determine will be popular in one region versus another. Either party might determine that comedy that’s popular in Australia might not play to American audiences, so they refrain from negotiating its licensing in that region.
Netflix is available in over 190 countries, each with access to their own media libraries. If you don’t want the studios or the streaming service deciding what you can and can’t see, you’re going to need to use a VPN to level the playing field.
How Do I Set Up a VPN With Netflix?
So, I have some good news and bad news here. The good news is that it doesn’t take much to “set up” a VPN with Netflix. Once you select the provider you want to use, all you have to do is connect to a server in the region you’d like to appear in, and – presto – you should have access to that region’s media library.
One quick thing to note, though. Before you try and access a foreign media library, make sure you clear your cookies. If you don’t, you might complicate your connection and confuse things a bit, resulting in connecting to the local version of Netflix or having your connection not work at all.
That said, on to the bad news. Netflix (and other streaming services) kind of frown upon using a VPN for these purposes, and are actively discouraging this practice. We’ll get more into that in just a bit, but what this means is that you’re going to have to select a service that can get past Netflix’s firewalls. Here’s how to do that.
What Features Should I Look for?
Again – without getting too caught up in techno-jargon – Netflix actively searches for and blocks traffic from known VPN servers. This means if you’re using an old, static VPN with outdated protocols, you’re likely to get blocked.
Instead, search for a modern, dynamic VPN that offers up-to-date protocols like WireGuard, or at least OpenVPN (either flavor, TCP or UDP, should be fine). As long as your VPN’s server network is sufficiently sophisticated, you shouldn’t run into any problems. A great starting point for your search would be our list of the top ten best VPNs of 2021. We put all of these to the test, and each one worked well with Netflix.
You might also consider selecting a VPN with specific media optimizations. Some providers offer select servers that are tuned for streaming and are almost guaranteed to work well with your platform of choice. Check out our CyberGhost review if you’re interested; they’re one of the best in this regard.
You’re also going to need a VPN that won’t slow you down too much. By their very nature, you should expect to see some decreases in the speed of your internet connection when using a VPN. However, if you’re using a service that takes performance seriously, it’s unlikely that you’ll experience slowdowns that would result in interruptions to your streaming experience. Check out our NordVPN review if you’re looking for blazing-fast speeds – they’re one of the quickest we’ve seen.
Now that you understand how VPNs work and how they can unlock different streaming libraries, you might be second-guessing yourself a little. Are we talking about using a software tool to subvert copyrights? Is this all above board?
Is it Illegal?
Simply put – this is all perfectly legal. VPNs are only illegal in a handful of countries, and even then, I’ve never heard of anyone being prosecuted for using one. Simply watching content from a different region will not land you in legal hot water.
FYI: VPNs are technically illegal in China, North Korea, Russia, Belarus, United Arab Emirates, Iran, Oman, Turkey, and Iraq. You’d be hard-pressed to find an example of someone being arrested simply for using one, though.
However, what can get you into legal trouble is using your VPN to pirate copyrighted materials, or showing it in venues you’re not supposed to. As long as you’re not using your VPN to do something illegal, you should be fine. You’re not going to have law enforcement knocking on your door while you’re streaming “Canadian Trailer Park Boys” at your home in California.
That said, there is one gray area you should be aware of.
Are There Other Potential Negative Consequences?
Netflix is pretty explicit that using a VPN to access geo-restricted content goes against their terms of service, and they reserve the right to terminate your contract for doing so.
That sounds a little scary, but in my research I have found exactly zero instances of this happening. Netflix does not actively seek to curtail this practice – their buffers against it are far more passive – and they certainly don’t want to give paying customers the boot, particularly when you consider VPN use is exploding right now. It’s estimated that over 30 percent of internet users connect using a VPN; can you imagine if Netflix terminated the contract of 30 percent of its users?
FYI: Not all VPNs are created equal, particularly when it comes to streaming. Check out our guide to the best VPNs for Netflix if you want to make sure you can access everything the platform has to offer. Also, read our rundown of the top VPNs for streaming if you happen to use Hulu, Disney Plus, or other streaming platforms.
The absolute worst-case scenario is that your VPN protocol traffic is detected by Netflix, and you’re met with an error message that tells you to turn it off. That’s it.
So with all this in mind – is it really worth it?
Final Thoughts on Netflix VPNs
From a philosophical standpoint, it could be worth it. You’re paying for a Netflix subscription, so you should have access to everything they have to offer, right? If you want to catch up on your favorite show while you’re abroad for business, that should be your prerogative.
Principled argument aside, it’s also extremely easy to unlock Netflix’s geo-restricted content. Even though they say they don’t want you to, there is very little indication they actually care about their subscribers using VPNs. This might not always be the case, but for now the company seems to functionally be giving the green light to VPN users.
At the end of the day, you should be using a VPN for privacy and security purposes anyway. Why not have a little fun with it, too?
Yes, most modern VPNs are able to unblock Netflix’s geo-restricted content with ease.
No. VPNs are extremely simple to use. Once you download the software, most operate by simply flipping a switch.
No. While some of the top-ranked services in the industry might be a little pricey on a month-to-month basis, the vast majority of VPNs are extremely affordable.
While most modern VPNs work well with Netflix, some of the best are ExpressVPN, NordVPN, and CyberGhost.
Yes, ExpressVPN is one of the top-ranked VPNs in the industry and works seamlessly with Netflix.