Nowadays, having access to Netflix is a must for serious entertainment fans, with the streaming giant hosting hundreds of original TV shows and thousands of movies. In just a few years, the company has gone from relative obscurity to dominating online entertainment.
In the process, they have expanded across the world, and their business has changed accordingly. When they were a small outfit, Netflix offered a uniform selection of shows and films wherever users were based. But as their user base expanded and the choice of media grew, they changed their approach.
By segmenting their audience and offering tailored selections in different jurisdictions, Netflix found ways to keep their costs low while maximizing revenues. And they were also prodded in the direction of fragmenting their service by international copyright law. Thanks to the way rights are policed, multinational streaming services have to set up national divisions which buy rights on a country-by-country basis.
However, this has led to some obvious problems for customers. Because of the way Netflix segment their services, users found that their favorite shows may be available in Houston, but not in London, and vice versa.
Sometimes, a show may have been sold to a different channel or streamer in Belgium, meaning that Netflix customers there can’t watch it. But users in France could still have access, making it handy for Belgians to log onto a French Netflix server.
This has angered many customers, especially those who travel regularly and know how much Netflix products vary from country to country. It came to the stage where wherever users were, it seemed like they weren’t getting access to the entire Netflix portfolio – so tech minded TV fans took action.
How VPNs became a vital tool for Netflix fans
VPNs quickly became the weapon of choice for Netflix users who wanted to work around the streaming company’s geoblockers, and the reason is fairly simple. VPNs can hide your IP address and fool websites into thinking you are accessing their servers from elsewhere.
In theory, a Netflix VPN workaround should have allowed global users to watch US Netflix, and for Americans to see the shows they love wherever they travel. But things haven’t worked out quite like that.
In 2017, Netflix and VPN became a hot topic, as the company started to crack down on VPN users. Industry experts tend to believe that this wasn’t the streaming firm’s own initiative. Instead, they were stung into action by rights holders whose work appeared on the Netflix platform. But in any case, the results were dramatic. Suddenly, region locked content was back in its digital jail, and finding a VPN that works with Netflix became a crucial question.
How does Netflix detect VPN users?
Instead of logging onto Netflix with their VPN and seeing region-specific content available for streaming, users were now met with “streaming error” notifications. They could see everything that was available, but when it came to streaming – they were out of luck.
How did they achieve this new level of security? Well, we don’t know for sure, but there are probably several methods in operation. Firstly, Netflix use what are known as GeoIP databases. These databases are compiled by third parties and sold to digital rights platforms like Netflix, and include known addresses of VPN servers.
At the same time, Netflix can work out when the same server is being used to access their services. If multiple IPs are coming from the same source, they tend to see this as evidence of illicit connections and ban the users as a result.
VPNs tend to work by bundling IP addresses together and making them impossible to separate, which is a strength from a cybersecurity perspective, but a problem when it comes to bulk access to streaming platforms. So, to an extent, there’s a trade-off at work. Do VPN users want the highest standards of anonymity, or the best shot at accessing services like Netflix?
There’s also another problem related to how lower-quality VPNs work. Sometimes, their collection of surrogate IP addresses have been purchased in bulk. This saves cost but has the effect of creating patterns of users accessing Netflix servers. Netflix has enlisted algorithms which can easily discover those patterns, and they are happy to bulk-block clusters of similar IPs.
Finally, it seems that Netflix have an additional weapon when it comes to detecting VPNs on smartphones. That’s because many smartphone apps break the connection between IP addresses and DNS servers. Netflix checks that a user’s IP and DNS match up, and if they don’t the result is often a “streaming error” notification.
These problems haven’t gone away, meaning that how to watch Netflix with a VPN is still a crucial question. But the tools used by Netflix to detect VPN usage aren’t watertight. As soon as they were encountered by VPN users seeking to get American Netflix from abroad, developers began to seek a Netflix VPN workaround, and there’s been some impressive progress over the past year or so.
Which VPNs have been affected by the Netflix ban?
It’s important to note that not all commercial VPNs have been affected by Netflix’s recent security measures. In fact, due to the diverse ways that VPNs operate and the slightly clumsy way that Netflix operates its blocking practices, VPNs vary significantly in terms of how well that can deliver a Netflix VPN workaround.
However, it’s still handy to know which VPNs have documented issues with Netflix connectivity, so here’s a quick list to refer back to:
- Kaspersky Secure Connection
- Private Tunnel
- F-Secure Freedome
- Avast Secureline VPN
- Hoxx VPN
- Anonymous VPN
- Hide My IP
- Ivacy VPN
- Ra4W VPN
This list includes some of the most reputable VPNs around (such as Tunnelbear), as well as some relatively little known providers. If you’re wondering how to watch Netflix with a VPN, none of them will be the best option.
However, this list changes regularly, and VPNs can find workarounds (or fall foul of Netflix banning systems). The situation is fairly fluid, and developers introduce updates all the time. So if you have a particular VPN in mind and it’s on the banned list, double check their website and recent reviews, as they may have announced a new solution for Netflix users.
How to watch Netflix with a VPN
If these VPN providers fail to offer a solution for Netflix lovers, how can privacy-conscious users work around the entertainment giant’s geoblockers and access the shows they love?
The simplest option is to choose a VPN which has found a Netflix VPN workaround and has a strong reputation for providing regular updates. There are plenty of popular VPNs around which are winning the battle against geoblockers, including major names like NordVPN, ExpressVPN and LiquidVPN. To help you find the right provider, we’ve compiled a list of the best VPNs for Netflix users, so feel free to try some of those services until you find one which works for you.
These VPNs work by creating a spoof IP address which appears to originate in the same country as the Netflix servers. As we noted above, Netflix has created a powerful suite of detection technologies to root out these IP addresses, but some VPNs still fall through the cracks and have done so for over a year.
What is the secret of VPNs which allow you to get American Netflix in Japan, or Czech Netflix in Mexico? In some cases, it seems like Netflix simply haven’t got around to targeting specific VPNs. The way they handle VPNs is on a case-by-case basis. Each VPN tends to create a cluster of related IP addresses and servers, which need to be separated from legitimate users (who may have similar identities). So Netflix doesn’t just indiscriminately ban huge numbers of users. It needs to be sensitive and methodical, leaving room for smaller VPNs to slip through.
In other cases like NordVPN, the VPN seems to be one step ahead of the detection processes. This may be due to the way they treat each VPN user, taking more care to provide them with a credible, unique but anonymous identity. So when they come to access Netflix, users of these VPNs appear more legitimate.
Another strategy is to use VPNs which offer a static IP address (one which isn’t bundled in with all of the other server users, and which Netflix won’t find it easy to block). When you browse VPN sites, you might see this advertised as a “dedicated IP” as well.
These static IP services will often come at a slightly higher price, as you are paying for a bespoke security package, but that extra cost may well be worth it for Netflix fans. However, security issues can arise when using static IPs. Remember that VPNs ensure anonymity by making many IPs seem identical. If you use a unique IP, it’s much easier to link it to an unprotected identity. It’s still difficult, but much easier than with fully anonymized services.
Can setting up a VPN on my router provide a Netflix VPN workaround?
There’s another possible answer for people who need to know how to use Netflix with VPN protection: setting up a VPN on your home router, instead of using a VPN client installed on your desktop or smartphone.
This is a slightly more technical solution than using simple VPN software, but it has a high success rate at breaching Netflix’s geoblockers. Installing a VPN on your router also makes it easy to add Netflix to extra devices, such as Smart TVs.
However, there’s a catch. Many routers supplied by ISPs aren’t set up to host VPNs and won’t be compatible with firmware like OpenWRT, Tomato or DD-WRT. So check with your manufacturer, as it might be necessary to update your router before continuing.
After that, you’ll need to “flash” the firmware onto your router. Usually, this isn’t too complex. With manufacturers like Netgear, you can just load up the router admin software and choose the “upgrade” option, then select DD-WRT or OpenWRT. They are both open source, so there’s no extra cost. Alternatively, you can just purchase a pre-flashed router with all of the firmware you’ll need pre-installed.
When that’s done, you’ll need to purchase access to a VPN which is compatible with home routers. ExpressVPN and NordVPN are good examples here. Both have clear setup instructions on their websites, which will lead you through the process of flashing the VPN firmware onto your router.
The end result should be a reliable way to access Netflix and other streaming services. The only downside is that it’s not much use for streaming fans who travel the world. For those users, finding a standard VPN that works with Netflix is the way to go.
Things to remember when choosing a Netflix VPN workaround
That pretty much covers everything regarding Netflix and VPN usage, so let’s recap some of the things to keep in mind when trying to defeat the streaming company’s geoblocking strategies.
- First off, don’t expect miracles from cheaper VPNs. Beating Netflix isn’t easy for VPN developers, and some companies have effectively given up, choosing to focus on offering cheaper services for general web users or torrenters. If you absolutely need a bargain VPN, be prepared to shop around and try some free trials before finding a solution.
- In general, premium VPNs do a better job of allowing users to watch American Netflix abroad. But be careful here, too. Not all expensive VPNs have a great track record on Netflix access. Consult reviews, check customer feedback and explore free trials. Don’t just trust the claims made by VPNs on their websites.
- Above all, it’s important to stay in touch with developments. Overnight, VPNs can stop allowing users to watch US Netflix in Europe, when the day before the stream was perfect. The situation changes all the time. So you might want to think about short-term contracts if you are wondering how to use Netflix with VPN services. No-one wants to pay for a whole year or more of VPN protection, only to find that Netflix is offline a month into their contract period.
The good news is that VPN developers won’t stop seeking an effective workaround, whatever Netflix do. So if you’re struggling to watch American Netflix during a vacation abroad, don’t worry. There should be a solution out there.