Online services like Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, Spotify, Steam and many others have changed the way millions of people access media. They’ve brought upon an era of instant, on-demand digital media consumption in a world where linear programming, bundled content, and physical formats no longer fit many people’s lives.
Unfortunately this is a revolution not everyone can partake in (not yet or not as easily, at least) as such services employ region locks to limit access from specific countries. More often than not it’s not actually their fault, they just need to abide by archaic license agreements enforced by the actual content owners.
In this article we’ll offer you three alternatives to get around these restrictions. Each has their advantages and disadvantages and whichever route you choose will depend on the services you need to access as well as the devices you need to access them from — not to mention whether you are willing to pay or not.
Most likely you’ll only need one of these options. Here’s a brief explanation of what you can expect from each of them, so you can jump to the one that better suits the task and quickly get on your way.
|Quick and simple way to bypass websites’ geographic restrictions.
Many free proxies available, but most don’t allow streaming.
Solid free alternative but limited to Hulu, YouTube and Grooveshark.
Paid proxies start at ~$5 per month (pay as you go).
Easy to configure on browsers, but not always on other apps or non-PC players (consoles, streaming box, etc.)
|Access and stream from any region-blocked website.
Encrypted connections, better privacy overall.
Few free options available, with speed and data limitations.
Paid VPNs start at ~$7 per month (cheaper when bought yearly).
Easy to configure on PCs, but not always on other non-PC players (consoles, streaming box, etc.)
|Access only supported region-blocked websites (most popular services are covered).
Few free options available
Paid alternatives start at ~$5 (pay as you go).
Paid services offer fast speeds, encrypted connections.
Easy to configure on PCs, easiest to configure on non-PC players (consoles, streaming box, etc.)
Alternative #1: Proxy
Using a proxy is a quick and simple way to bypass websites’ geographic restrictions. There are many public proxies freely available on aggregators like proxy.org, this database at Hide My Assupdated in real time, or via a simple Google search ([country name] free proxy). Ideally you’ll want to look for a “high anonymity” proxy, which doesn’t reveal your IP to the remote host or identifies itself as a proxy when connecting to websites.
To start using a proxy as an intermediary for your web requests simply enter the information in your browser:
Firefox: Tools > Options > Advanced > Settings > Manual proxy configuration.
Chrome: Settings > Network > Change proxy settings > LAN settings > Use proxy server > Advanced > HTTP.
IE: Tools > Internet options > Connections > LAN settings > Use proxy server > Advanced > HTTP.
Opera: Tools > Preferences > Advanced > Network.
As with almost anything that comes for free, though, there are a few caveats. For starters, most free proxies don’t allow streaming, so you’ll have to dig around. You may also need to change proxies frequently which is a bit cumbersome in the long run compared to a VPN. Lastly, since these are public proxies we’re talking about, there are really no guarantees of a secure connection, so you don’t want to leave them on all the time.
Another free alternative is ProxMate, a simple extension for Chrome and Firefox that unblocks region-specific content from YouTube, Hulu, and Grooveshark. Currently it’s limited to those services, but promises to add more in the future and also lets you set up your own proxy servers to automatically get around any country-specific blocks. Plus, you can conveniently enable or disable it straight from the browser toolbar.
After installing ProxMate you’ll see a link to unblock videos on Hulu
If you’ll be using a proxy frequently, consider a paid service like FoxyProxy, which offers access to high-speed proxies in many countries and access to a VPN for $8 per month, or $4.50 if you buy the whole year.
Alternative #2: VPN
Proxies are okay for getting around region blocks occasionally but they are far from ideal if you want permanent, reliable access to media streaming services from your PC — plus they only work with applications that actually support proxies, like browsers. Virtual Private Networks are a safer bet and you can even find some free alternatives, albeit with some limitations when it comes to speed and bandwidth caps.
Basically a VPN creates a connection between your computer and a server in a host country, which will assign you an IP and route all Internet traffic through that connection. This means your actual IP will be hidden and to any site you visit it will look like the request originated in the host server country.
Most VPNs offer some level of encryption for added privacy and security and some offer a choice of server locations; so if you want to watch Hulu, for example, you can connect to a server in the US. Switch to a UK server and you can access BBC’s iPlayer. Others even advertise total privacy packages with servers in the Netherlands or safe P2P downloads through servers in Lithuania, Ukraine, Russia, Estonia. But I digress.
HotSpot Shield is arguably the most popular free VPN service; it requires downloading a special app and you’ll be able to stream US-based content in no time, but you’ll have to put up with ads while browsing and very often with slow connections. Also, services like Hulu have been known to actively block HotSpot Shield.
My preferred free alternative and the one I’d recommend to anyone just getting started with VPNs is called TunnelBear. It works with a standalone app on OS X or Windows and it’s extremely easy to use. There’s no configuration involved, just install it and sign up for an account. Within the TunnelBear interface you’ll be able to turn the VPN connection on or off with a single click and switch between US or UK servers just as easy.
The only caveat (there’s always one with free services) is that you are limited to 500MB of data per month. On the upside, there are no ads, and you can always upgrade to a paid account with unlimited bandwidth for $5 monthly or $50 for the whole year, which is actually quite competitive. TunnelBear uses 128-bit and 256-bit encryption for its free and paid services, respectively, and doesn’t log any of your web activities.
Other paid alternatives I’ve tried ranging in price from $5 – $10 a month include StrongVPN andBlackVPN. Both are reputable services with their own advantages and disadvantages. Be sure to read their logging and privacy policies — TorrentFreak ran a survey that gives you the gist of it on these and several other VPN services. In any case, for the purpose of this article which is getting around geo-blocks, you shouldn’t be too concerned about it. No one’s coming after you for streaming an episode of Parks and Rec overseas.
Setting up these paid VPN services is not hard but requires a little more effort. We won’t go into details as you’ll find specific instructions for the service you choose — something like this:BlackVPN or StrongVPN.
#3 DNS redirector, Subscribing to paid services
Alternative #3: DNS redirector
Although VPNs make up for the best region-cracking solution they aren’t without their drawbacks. For one thing, they require a middle man, which can result in speed loss for those with super fast connections. They are also easy to setup on a computer and some mobile devices but not so much if you want to use it to route Internet traffic from any device in your house — Xbox 360, Apple TV, and whatnot. It’s not impossible but you’ll need to hack your router with custom firmware or buy a preconfigured one to run your network with.
If you don’t want to go through all that hassle then DNS redirectors pose an interesting alternative. Basically you’ll be able watch locked content on multiple devices — even simultaneously — simply by changing the DNS server settings on your computer, console, router, or a number of supported devices.
DNS settings in Windows 7 – you’ll need to configure these on each device/player you want to use
It’s not entirely clear to me how it works (the explanations I’ve read from these services include the words “magic” and “secret sauce”) but in a nutshell they create a network tunnel from your location to a remote server usually in the US or UK, so it appears that requests actually originate from those countries.
It’s one of the easiest solutions I’ve come across and it works. The main disadvantage is that it only works for a set of supported services and players. The good news is that the list of supported services and players is usually pretty extensive and new ones are added if there’s enough demand for them.
For a free alternative try Tunlr. It supports close to 30 services, including most of the popular ones like Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, and BBC iPlayer. Supported players include Mac and Windows computers, as well as the Apple TV, iPhone, iPad, Android devices, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 consoles. Their service will remain free, they don’t log your internet activities, and though it works well they’re not aiming to provide a professional 24/7 service. “Tunlr is up when it’s up, and is down when it’s down,” reads their FAQ.
For paid services, Unblock-us and UnoDNS are popular choices, and both offer free trials. I’ve only tried the latter which advertises faster than VPN speeds, no bandwidth caps, 256-bit encryption, among other things. From my experience it does work quite fast and it has a huge list of supported ‘channels’ offered in a premium ($4.95/mo.) or gold ($7.95/mo.) plan. They support many different devices and work on a pay-as-you-go basis.
Subscribing to paid, region-locked streaming services
Any of the alternatives we’ve presented you with will let you get around region blocks and start streaming content regardless of your geographic location. It should be noted that none of these will enable free access to paid content, however. Some services like Hulu and Spotify offer free, ad-supported tiers in addition to a premium option while others strictly require a paid subscription in order to use them.
Unfortunately, most — if not all — for-pay services also require that the credit card you are using to subscribe is issued in the country you’re spoofing. So even if you want to pay the monthly subscription for Hulu Plus, for example, and you’ve gone through the extra effort and expense of setting up a VPN account, you still won’t be able to give them your hard earned money. You need to jump through a few more hoops.
A prepaid Entropay virtual card can help you with that. It’s like a regular Visa except you charge it upfront using your credit card and can only spend whatever funds you have available at the moment.
Here is what you need to do:
- Sign up for an Entropay account and choose the desired currency from the drop down menu in the process (e.g. USD if you need an US-issued card). Under Country, enter your actual country, so that it matches the billing address in file for the card you’ll use to fund your Entropay account.
- On the next screen fill in the details of the credit card you will use to fund the virtual Visa card. The charge up fee is 4.95% of the total amount and the minimum charge up amount is $20.
- That’s it! Entropay will generate a virtual prepaid Visa for you to use with the amount funded. You’ll get a working card number, expiry date, name, and security code just like a regular Visa. In some cases Entropay may follow up to verify your details by asking for a photo ID and a credit card statement.
So there you go, you can now access region locked services and also pay for a premium subscription with a working Visa. All in all, it will cost you a bit more but your other options are moving to another country or wait it out until content owners decide to join the new millennium and work out international licensing.
It’s worth noting that you’ll still need to enter a valid country-specific physical address when registering with some services. Usually, any valid address will do, so just look up a commerce or something and use that.
Lastly, please note that, knowing of this loophole, some services have decided to stop accepting Entropay, so do some research before funding your virtual card. Netflix and Hulu Plus are among those sites, but people have reported it’s still possible to work around that extra hurdle by signing up for a US Paypal account, linking it up to your Entropay account, and then use Paypal as the payment option. Easy peasy!