“Why do you need Netflix when you’re travelling abroad? Can’t you just do what regular tourists do and enjoy the local experience? Fine dining? Museums? Meet new people?”
You have a point, but no. When you visit the same city for the 20th time for business purposes, you just want to spend a quiet evening watching your favourite show in your hotel room. Not every evening, but working abroad is often an information overload, so you want to just calm yourself down and do things that you normally do at the end of a busy day, you know? And to do that, you need the help of a VPN (What is a VPN?) to access any content as if you were at home.
The use of a VPN has several benefits but for me, the main reason is to bypass country-specific streaming restrictions. To start with, if you google “How can I watch British (American, Japanese, etc.) Netflix abroad?”, you’ll see a bunch of sites that recommend VPN services.
Depending on local laws and regulations, streaming services may not always be accessible. Not just Netflix and not just while you’re travelling abroad. For example, I can’t watch Anderson Cooper (CNN) here in London, but I just have to flick my VPN on. So I’m not a frequent traveller and I only need a VPN occasionally, but I still see it worth paying a few dollars every month just for that purpose to start with.
When You Don’t Want Local Information
Search engines are usually tailored to local interests, so it’s ok when you’re looking for the best pizza in town or things to do in the evening. But it’s pretty frustrating when you are working abroad - all you get is the local information every time you google.
For example, you are from the US and you want to find out Federal law restrictions on your particular business activities. If you search while traveling the UK, you’ll get all the UK law advisory sites.
Well, you can get around it by adding the word “USA” or the state name in the keyword, but SERP will still be filled with a lot of UK sites which are irrelevant to you.
That’s another reason you want a VPN connection, so you can search as if you’re in your home country.
When You Want To Know How Much Exactly…
Here’s another one. Many digital services kindly tell you their pricing plans in your local currency. But some not-so-kind ones only show your local currency. Once I tried to explain the complex pricing plan of a marketing service to my US client, I needed the prices in US Dollars.
But the service site “conveniently” kept directing me to the UK pricing page, showing GBP. I had to contact the helpdesk and ask for the full pricing plan in USD. I didn’t have a VPN at the time, but it wouldn’t have been a problem if I had.
I don’t suppose you encounter a problem like this often (i.e. you want to pay something in your home currency while you’re abroad but you can only access the local currency.) But when it happens, it’s annoying!
Let's recap what a VPN is. When you connect to a Virtual Private Network, you’re in the encrypted “internet tunnel” and your geographic location is in disguise.
So there are two benefits; one is that your data is protected from anyone who tries to intercept it. The other one is you can pretend to be somewhere else.
Most VPN services let you access blocked access by your chosen location. So if you are a US resident but you want to join a Brazilian discussion group that’s only accessible by Brazilian residents, you can switch on your VPN and choose São Paulo or whatever Brazilian city to access the group.
As for a data privacy/security issue, it’s better safe than sorry nowadays.
“I’ve got nothing to hide. I don’t care much about my privacy, to be honest. As long as nobody steals my bank account…”
It may have been ok until 10 years ago, but if you follow the news on TV and social media, you know it’s definitely not ok now. Your ISP can see everything you do online to start with - the websites you visit, the searches you conduct, and all the stuff you download. So a VPN is a way to block hackers and psychopaths.
Using a VPN Abroad
You want to make sure you’re happy with a particular VPN service, so you want to sign up, set it up on all your devices, and give it a try before you leave your country.
Setting up is pretty easy - you’ll be provided with a step-by-step manual, and you just need to download an app on your device and log in. Occasionally, I’ve seen some minor VPN companies that don’t have a smartphone app - I would avoid those.
If you intend to watch Netflix while you’re travelling, you might want to try that on your VPN before you leave, too. I understand that Netflix doesn’t block countries, but blocks certain IP addresses. It means that certain IP addresses (server locations) provided by your VPN may already be blocked by Netflix.
Try several IP addresses to make sure they work. Most major VPN companies have multiple (hundreds of) server locations across the world, so you shouldn’t have a problem.
Countries Where VPNs Are Illegal
Due to strict censorship laws, there are some countries that block VPN traffic. And the use of VPN is officially illegal in some countries - when a friend of mine visited Turkmenistan, and he had to sign a declaration form before entering the country. And one of the clauses was to confirm that he had no VPN connection on his devices.
Other countries include China, Russia, Belarus, North Korea (pretty obvious so far), Turkey, Iraq, Oman, and Uganda. UAE. None of these countries, perhaps except Turkey, is exactly a vacation destination.
The governments impose such a restriction to prevent criminal activities such as terrorism, spying, or money laundering. So you wouldn’t visit there only to do what you normally do at home, anyway. When visiting a politically volatile country, you have plenty of other things to worry about.
VPN and The Speed Issues
A VPN can slow your internet connection down. It’s because your data has to travel through layers of the encryption process. So I don’t think you should really watch streaming via wifi-hotspot or mobile dongle. It’s fine in your hotel room abroad, so long as a decent internet speed is provided by the hotel. Privacy and security over speed, that’s the main thing, after all.
Using a VPN: Pros and Cons
So to summarize, here are the advantages and disadvantages of using a VPN.
Use VPN Abroad and Enjoy The Internet Like You're At Home: Final Words
Well, I just said it, these are the final words. You could say a VPN is a must-have for any traveller looking to stay connected, secure, and safe while browsing the internet. It lets you access websites from other countries as if you were at home and keep your private data out of hackers' hands.
Enjoy an uninterrupted online experience wherever you travel (except in a few countries!)
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