Does My VPN Work With Netflix?
When it comes to safeguarding your privacy and personal information online, a virtual private network, or VPN, is a valuable security and privacy tool. A VPN can ensure that your data is safe from snoops and advertisers, but these aren’t the only enemies of VPNs. With an eye toward maintaining control of what content users can see, and from where, Netflix, Hulu and other streaming video services devote considerable effort to blocking VPN users. Thankfully, there are some VPN services (listed above and below) that work with everyone’s favorite video streaming platform: Netflix.
Note that these VPN services worked with Netflix when we last tested them, but that functionality is subject to change at a moment’s notice. The services here may stop working with Netflix one day, and then start working again the next (or vice-versa). If streaming Netflix is your primary VPN concern, don’t sign up for a yearlong subscription to a VPN service. Instead, you should go month-to-month. This will give you the flexibility to cancel, should you find that Netflix has blocked your VPN of choice.
Editors’ NoteEditors’ Note: IPVanish is owned by j2 Global, the parent company of PCMag’s publisher, Ziff Davis.
What Is a VPN and How Does It Spoof Your Location?
When you activate a VPN, it encrypts all your web traffic and routes it to a remote server operated by the VPN company. No one can monitor your activity, not someone on the same network as you, not even the person operating that network. Neither can your ISP monitor your activities, which is handy, because Congress has given companies the green light to sell customers’ anonymized metadata.
Once your web traffic reaches the VPN server, it exits to the public internet. Because your data is emanating from the VPN server, not your home computer, anyone watching will see the server’s IP address instead of your own. It effectively spoofs your location.
When computers attempt to divine your physical location on the internet, they typically do it by looking at your IP address. These identifiers are divvied up by geographic location, and can be remarkably close to where you are actually sitting when you use the web. Thus, routing your traffic to a remote VPN server makes it appear as if your computer is wherever the VPN server is located. Think of it as astral projection for the internet.
There are other ways to find someone’s true location. When using a mobile device, an app might simply request your GPS location. Companies can also look at cookies or the specific combination of device and browser settings on your machine—a process sometimes called “browser fingerprinting”—to track you across the web and gain more information about you. Law enforcement and intelligence agencies have access to more exotic methods, such as advanced timing attacks that compare activity on a target computer with observed traffic out on the web. A VPN won’t necessarily defeat all these techniques, but it is a simple and extremely effective way to improve your online privacy.
VPNs have also been used around the world by activists and journalists working in countries with particularly repressive internet policies. VPNs can unblock censored websites by routing traffic past government censors, and protect dissident transmissions, too.
That ability to route your traffic to another country can sometimes cause problems when you want to access certain sites and services. A bank’s fraud detection system might think it’s unusual to have a US-based customer suddenly logging in from Europe.
Why Does Netflix Block VPNs?
Spoofing your location can be particularly handy if you want to access region-locked video content on Netflix. Far from being a monolithic repository of film and television, Netflix has different content available depending on your location. It all has to do with licensing deals. At one point, for example, Netflix had licensed Game of Thrones, but only in Australia. Such licensing deals are likely the reason that Netflix has begun blocking VPN users.
Being blocked from Netflix is a bummer, but it’s especially annoying if you’re from the US, and you want to watch a show in the US, but you’re on an insecure network. Using a VPN would be the sensible thing to do, if you’re concerned about your privacy (as you should be). Unfortunately, even in this case, where you’ve paid for the right to watch everything that’s locally available, Netflix will still do its best to block you if you connect with a VPN.
While most people will likely want to spoof their location in order to access content they wouldn’t normally have access to, that’s not always the case. Let’s say you’re from Baltimore and you’re watching your favorite show on Netflix. If you travel to the UK and try to watch it, you might discover that you cannot, unless it’s also available in the UK. With a VPN, you could conceivably keep watching as if you were back in the US.
Whatever your situation, just remember: Netflix considers the use of a VPN to be in conflict with its terms of service. You are forewarned. If you need to access Netflix in another country via VPN, you need to read our story on how to unblock Netflix with a VPN.
Which VPNs Work Best With Netflix?
The truth is, Netflix and VPNs are locked in a cat-and-mouse game. A VPN may find a way to avoid being blocked today, and Netflix will pounce and cut off access again tomorrow. There’s no guarantee that a VPN that plays nice with Netflix today will do so tomorrow, or next week.
All the testing for this story was done from the PCMag offices in New York City. In most cases, the VPN client software connected me to a VPN server in the New York City area. You may have different results depending on where you are. Netflix may have also moved to block any of these services since we evaluated them. We will occasionally retest VPN servers in the same manner at a later date and update this story.
The VPNs listed here were selected by taking our list of VPNs that successfully streamed Netflix from a US-based server, and then moving down list in order of score. In situations where multiple products had the same score, products were arranged alphabetically. Our list here was limited to just nine products, but 15 products total successfully streamed Netflix in testing. See our individual reviews of VPN products for more on Netflix streaming performance.
Will Netflix Block My Favorite VPN?
If you already have a VPN that you like, or you don’t like any of the Netflix-friendly ones we’ve listed above, take heart. Just because your preferred service didn’t work with Netflix when we tested it doesn’t mean it never works with Netflix. Here are some tactics you can try that may get Netflix working with your VPN of choice.
Be persistent. Most VPN services have multiple servers in a given country, with different IP addresses at each. If you find yourself blocked at one VPN server, switch to another in the same country. Some VPNs will let you view all the available servers in each location, making the process easy. If your VPN doesn’t do this, try toggling the VPN on and off to try and get a new IP address.
Use every tool. VPN companies understand that many of their users are interested in streaming video, and some have worked to meet that demand. Your VPN may include specialized servers just for streaming, perhaps streaming in specific regions. Your VPN may also include a “stealth mode” or unblocking mode that aims to disguise VPN traffic. Familiarize yourself with all the tools available, and use them all. Your VPN almost certainly has FAQs on how to stream content, so be sure to read those.
Be flexible. Is the content you’re trying to stream available in just one country, or several? Try other locations, you may have more luck.
Be patient. VPNs are frequently looking for new ways to sneak past Netflix, and Netflix is frequently finding new ways to stop them. If you’re not able to access Netflix wait a few hours, a few days, a few weeks. You might have better luck some other time.
Buy a static IP address. Some VPNs offer static IP addresses for an additional fee. When you use a static IP, your data will always appear to have the same public IP address. Sometimes these addresses are private to the user, and sometimes shared with a very small number of other people. Either way, it looks more like normal internet traffic and may not be blocked by Netflix. These are generally sold geographically, so you can pick an IP address in the country of your choice. Note that there is no guarantee that a static IP address will work, so be careful before you purchase.
Netflix and Free vs. Paid VPN
You don’t necessarily have to open your wallet in order to get a VPN. There are several excellent free VPN services out there, although most place some kind of limitation on your use. Generally, a free VPN limits the number of devices that can connect at once, the amount of data used per day, the number of available VPN servers, or all of the above.
ProtonVPN is our pick for free VPNs because it places no limit on the amount of data you can use while connected. That’s critically important, especially if you’re streaming video. It does, however, limit your choice of servers. That could make spoofing your location difficult, and means you are competing with many other free users for limited bandwidth on the designated Free servers.
Of the services on this list, only Hotspot Shield VPN offers a free subscription tier.
A perennial concern when using VPNs is sacrificing speed. When a VPN reroutes your data it has to pass through more machines and tubes, all of which serves to slow down internet connections. For Netflix streaming, this is a recipe for stuttering audio or even your video dropping from HD to blocky low-res. Netflix’s own documentation outlines how much data the service needs: “Netflix uses about 1GB of data per hour for each stream of standard definition video, and up to 3GB per hour for each stream of HD video.”
In general, you’ll see an increase in latency when a VPN is in use. You’ll also see a decrease in upload and download speeds. The following chart shows speed test results from the fastest VPNs we’ve reviewed at PCMag. Results are shown as a percent change.
January 14, 2021