You might think that anything and everything on the internet is accessible to anyone, but unfortunately, that’s where you’d be wrong. The digital world has more boundaries than you may think, and this geoblocking guide should help you understand it all.
While many countries suffer from harsh censorship, other blocks and restrictions are implemented around the world, too, perhaps without you even realizing. Georestrictions can be found in the form of a blocked website, streaming service or even a particular piece of content, such as a YouTube video.
Geofilters are one of the biggest forms of internet blocking across the globe. Whether we like it or not, our location dictates what we can and cannot see online. Some countries, such as the U.S. and the UK, get access to a ton of content, but others have only a small amount of content that’s accessible.
Whether you’re familiar with geoblocks or not, you’re most likely wondering why and how the websites and online services can know where we are in the first place. Well, we’re going to explain all that and also tell you how you can circumvent the restrictions.
What Is Geoblocking?
Geoblocking is a technique used by companies that restricts people’s access to content based on their geographical location. It prevents people in one country from accessing the content of another.
How Does Geoblocking Work?
Websites and online services are able to tell where you are because of your IP address. An IP address may just look like a bunch of random numbers to you, but it holds a lot of information. IP addresses are allocated to ISPs, which then allocate them to customers.
Every time you try to visit a site or use an online service, your IP address is sent with the request so that the server knows where it has to send the content back to. That’s how websites and online services can identify your location.
When you hit a geoblock, you can either be completely blocked, redirected or given partial access. You may see an error message stating that the content is not available in your country, or you may not even notice that you’ve been directed to the correct version. Either way, there are several reasons why they exist.
Examples of Geoblocking
Geoblocking has been present for years. DVD region codes are essentially a form of it, even if it is hardware based. You may not have realized, but geoblocks are imposed by online stores, too. The price you pay can be based on where you’re located.
Many companies are guilty of discriminating when it comes to price, but you may also find that your means of payment is not accepted or that you can’t register with the website or service.
This type of geoblocking is getting noticed more, and the EU has led the way in promoting fair practices. In 2015, the Digital Single Market Strategy was implemented to see the end of geographic-based restrictions between EU countries.
Plus, in 2018, the Geoblocking Regulation was enacted, which prohibits certain types of geoblocking among EU member states, including denying access or rerouting without first asking for permission, and refusing payment because it’s from another EU member state.
Geoblocking is particularly common when it comes to streaming services. Some companies are able to operate only in particular countries or regions, so they implement a geo filter to hold back visitors from elsewhere.
Licensing and copyright agreements restrict what companies can stream to different markets, and geoblocks are the easiest way for companies to keep in line with those restrictions.
A good example is the BBC, the British public-service broadcaster available to all UK residents. The BBC began broadcasting in 1922, so there were obviously no online services then. To keep up with the times, though, the BBC launched its streaming and catch-up service, BBC iPlayer, in 2007.
BBC iPlayer includes live TV, sporting events, on-demand shows and movies, as well as exclusive content, all online, but it’s only available to people in the UK. If you try to access it from outside of the region, you’ll be greeted with a message that says the content is only available within the UK (our best VPN for BBC iPlayer roundup can help, though).
The same goes for other streaming platforms, and it can be annoying to find that if you’re on vacation, you can’t access the service that you’re paying for.
Geoblocking in the EU
EU regulation requires that online content providers — such as Netflix or Amazon Prime (read our best VPN for Amazon Prime Video piece) — deliver the same extent of services even if a customer is temporarily in an EU country that’s different from where they specified when signing up. That’ll vary for other users around the world, though.
YouTube video creators are given the option to place geoblocks on their content, too, so you may find a YouTube video is blocked. Some countries block YouTube altogether, but it’s easy to work out how to watch blocked YouTube videos in your country.
Plus, Youku — China’s version of YouTube — has some great Chinese content, as well as some English shows and movies. It can’t be accessed outside of China, though, which isn’t surprising given China’s stance on censorship and its restrictive Great Firewall. If you want to get access, our how to unblock Youku guide can help.
Netflix’s complex geoblocking doesn’t just mean you can’t watch the odd movie or show, it has a different content library for every country it is available in. The streaming service is available in 190 countries, and the majority of what’s available is produced by other companies.
Those companies get to say where that content is shown, and because they often have deals in place with other networks, Netflix might be restricted from showing something in the same country. Plus, although Netflix is producing more and more of its own content, some of it is only viewable in certain locations.
Netflix U.S. has the largest library, so it’s understandable that many people would want to access it. For example, even though it’s only across the border, geoblocking in Canada makes the content on its own version of Netflix different from that of the U.S.
There are plenty of Netflix articles to get your teeth into at CommQueR.com, but our piece on how to beat the Netflix VPN ban should help you understand all of the geoblocking malarky a bit better. Plus, although Netflix is not the only streaming service to have region-based restrictions, it provides an extra hurdle to overcome, which we’ll get to in a minute.
How to Bypass Geoblocking
It’s not hard to bypass geoblocking, and those in the know have probably already figured it out. Because Netflix provides content based on the location that your IP address shows, changing your IP address to your desired country will get you around such restrictions (we have lots of IP address articles that will point you toward a country-specific VPN).
An easy way of doing that is with a proxy. It masks your real IP address with its own, fooling the receiving server into thinking you’re based somewhere else. However, although it may be an easy way to get around regional restrictions, it’s not the best way.
Proxy servers are a poor choice when it comes to safety and security. Although it’ll look like you’re in another location, your true IP address can be revealed through basic route tracing. You can read more about that in our VPN vs. proxy vs. Tor guide.
Even if you’re not looking to change your location and just want to use a proxy for PornHub, it’s a bad idea. You won’t be protected from the hoards of malicious pop-ups that those sites conjure up. If you’re after some solo action, you should check out our best VPN for porn piece.
A safer choice is to use a virtual private network. A VPN will not only allow you to spoof your location at the click of a button, it’ll also encrypt your connection. You’ll be tunneled through a private network that hides your IP address and provides protection from other online dangers, too, such as cybercrime.
VPNs are a great choice if you find yourself behind regional blocks or other hurdles, such as if you’re blocked on Snapchat or if you need to unblock Instagram (read our best VPN for Snapchat piece).
Any VPN is capable of changing your IP address to that of another location. Some have a larger number of server locations to choose from than others.
ExpressVPN, which is one of the best VPN options you can invest in, has servers in 94 countries. HideMyAss has even wider coverage, with servers in 190 countries, but it’s not the best choice overall.
That’s because HideMyAss is not as secure as ExpressVPN, nor does it excel in other features that are included. With ExpressVPN, you can change your location easily, as well as protect yourself from any online nasties you encounter.
You can read our ExpressVPN review to see just how good it is and our HideMyAss review to see why locations alone just don’t cut it.
Getting into Netflix
When it comes to accessing Netflix, you’ll have to jump through some more hoops. In theory, it should work the same way as bypassing any other geoblock, but Netflix has put one of the most sophisticated VPN detection systems in place, making it a much harder process.
Distributors that Netflix had partnered with realized that they were losing money because people were watching the shows on Netflix. They put pressure on Netflix to prevent people from using VPNs to access certain programs and movies. In January 2016, Netflix announced that it would be blocking VPNs, and thus its VPN barrier was born.
From then on, users found themselves stuck behind the Netflix proxy error, meaning they couldn’t watch Netflix at all unless they turned off the VPN. In turn, that meant they couldn’t access another country’s library anymore.
Thankfully, some VPNs have found their way around Netflix’s VPN radar, and our best VPN for Netflix piece has some good choices.
Now you know what geoblocking is and why the technique is used. Many companies implement regional restrictions, and although Netflix’s are a little more complicated, it’s not hard to circumvent them. All you need is a decent VPN that has a good server coverage to get around most blocks. Just keep in mind your security when you pick one.
Considering its server locations, security and ability to get into Netflix, ExpressVPN is your best option. It covers more than 90 countries, has excellent security and can easily get into Netflix. Plus, it has other useful features, making it worth the investment. A 30-day money-back guarantee is in place, too, in case you change your mind.
Let us know about your experience with geoblocks — and how you got around them — in the comment section. While you’re here, take a look at our VPN articles and entertainment articles, too. As always, thank you for reading.