Two hands holding a globe with a sad face on it and a chain wrapped around it.

Geoblocking is a digital practice of restricting your access to services and content based on your physical location. In practice, it has two major components: technological and legal. Both of them are fairly easy to understand, especially once you read this piece on what geoblocking is.

Table of contents

    What is geoblocking?

    Geoblocking is the way platforms/websites block or restrict access to content and services based on your location. Since the service intending to block you doesn’t know your location by default, they can use one or several technological means to find it out.

    The main and most important tool in their arsenal is checking your IP (Internet Protocol) address. It’s the address on the internet that lets data find your device among billions of others. It also happens to indicate the geographic area of the device as well. It doesn’t tell your exact location, like a street or house. However, for IP blocking purposes, knowing the country is enough.

    You can’t avoid submitting your IP address when you try to access a website or service — they have to know where to return the data you requested. So if the service is streaming video in the UK and the UK only, and it sees a request for a video coming from Bulgaria, it simply does not reply to it (if it does, you’re likely to be greeted with one of those annoying “not available in your region” messages).

    Lastly, the call may be coming from inside the house — that is, your country may block the website or service. Granted, that’s more censorship than geoblocking since it’s self-imposed.

    But why go through all the trouble?

    Why is geoblocking used?

    The reasons why you’re getting blocked can be various and depend on the platform in question. Here are some (in)famous examples:


    A lot of Netflix content isn’t produced by Netflix. As such, they have to sign agreements with whoever has the rights to the movie or TV series in question. However, those publishers may already have distribution agreements in certain countries.

    One could assume that Netflix wouldn’t care if you chose them over the local distributor. But the distributors care — and make it the original right holder’s problem. And they’re the ones who start raising a stink with Netflix, especially since they control the supply of content. The streaming service is then forced to carry out geo-blocking.

    As such, the differences in library sizes can be fairly noticeable: Slovakia has 8,427 titles available, while French users are treated to 6,842.


    Uploaders can make videos inaccessible in certain regions. Most normal YouTubers don’t do that since they have a vested interest in putting their videos in front of as many eyes as possible.

    In effect, this almost always means that some mean corporation has decided that you shouldn’t see a YouTube video because you’re in a particular region. This often has to do with license and distribution agreements.


    Airbnb may be a blight on affordable urban housing, but it’s an invaluable travel tool. However, it’s not accessible to everyone. As probably the most extreme example of geoblocking, the US economic sanctions placed on Iran means that Airbnb had to block access to their website in the country.


    Spotify is available in most countries of the world. However, just like Netflix and YouTube, it doesn’t produce music itself. It’s still up to the artists and their publishers to decide whether <insert your country> is worthy of their music. Or, more realistically, to remember whether they have contracts giving exclusive rights to publish their music in the country in question. 

    Live Sports

    If you want to kick back and watch the game on a Sunday afternoon, you may find your access restricted. No surprise there; licenses to broadcast sports are signed just like distribution rights for TV series and movies. So if the country already has a company that has exclusive rights to, say, NBA games, your live sports service is unlikely to be able to compete with them.

    How does geoblocking work?

    Most geoblocking relies on the IP address. It’s the one bit of data you can’t withhold. As you browse a service, every bit of data you receive — from the website design to content — has to be sent to your device. It wouldn’t be possible without knowing the device’s IP.

    But IPs are given out by ISPs (Internet Service Providers) and registered to them. And most ISPs don’t have global reach. Meanwhile, databases providing all sorts of IP-to-location data are available online. So, any service interested in geoblocking just has to compare your IP to their database and potentially refuse to send you the data you asked for.

    Or, to put it shortly.

    1. You go to a website.
    2. The website’s server checks your IP against an IP database.
    3. Your IP is discovered to come from an area that the website doesn’t want to service.
    4. The website doesn’t send you any data.

    That isn’t the only way to geo-locate and geo-block you, however:

    • DNS is the Domain Name System. It’s a dictionary your device pings when you enter a website’s address. For your smartphone, is unusable. However, — the IP address — is. But a website can check what DNS service you’re using. By default, it will be the one provided by your ISP. And since ISPs tend to be fairly local, your location is discovered.
    • WebRTC is a technology used to make your browser support VoIP (Voice over IP) and other cool services. Unfortunately, websites can also use it to gather some information about your device.
    • Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) is a very resource-intensive method that actually looks into the bits of data being transferred. It’s like opening a parcel in the mail. Since all sorts of data gets bundled into those packages to make them reach their destination, DPI can be used for geoblocking. It rarely ever is because, well, it takes a lot of resources.
    • Payment data location depends on the service determining where you are based on where your payment information states you are. Not very reliable since there are ways to get around it — and doesn’t block users who move outside of their payment region.
    • GPS data is something that your laptop, smartphone, or tablet is likely to broadcast to any service that cares to ask. The methods in which a service accesses them may differ, but it may be as simple as asking you for it via a browser or OS prompt. GPS data is also fairly hard to falsify.
    • Router hops, packet latencies, jitter — there are all sorts of deep technical data that one may look at to determine whether the data is going to the right geographical location. However, I asked a tech nerd, and they said that it’s resource-intensive even when compared to DPI, to the point where even the famously heavy-handed China doesn’t bother with it.

    Of course, no method is fool-proof or without workarounds.

    How to get around geoblocking

    1. Use a VPN

    A VPN is the safest way for travelers to reach their social media and bank accounts when under the effects of geoblocking. Most censorship-imposed blocks melt away when faced with a VPN. At the same time, the encrypted connection ensures that your activities stay private. Most VPNs are compatible with iOS, Android, macOS, and Windows operating systems.

    For example, Surfshark offers a VPN extension for Chrome as well as Firefox, Linux, FireTV, AppleTV (+ other smart TVs), Xbox, and PlayStation.

    Data traveling from your computer through a VPN server where your IP is changed before reaching the internet.
    A good VPN overcomes all censorship
    The good ones aren’t free
    It covers all internet-using apps on your device
    The App requires admin access to install
    It offers a bunch of other features that improve your online experiences
    Switch your location
with Surfshark
    The safest solution to location changing

    How to get started with a VPN

    1. Go to your chosen VPN’s website or the app store on your device.
    Go to your chosen VPN’s website or the app store on your device.
    1. Download the app.
    2. Install the VPN by following the instructions.
    3. Create an account or log in.
    4. Choose a country (server) with access to the website you’re trying to reach.
    Choose a country (server) that will grant you access to the website you’re trying to reach.
    1. Connect to the server and enjoy the open internet!

    Disclaimer: Surfshark does not encourage using a VPN in any way that would potentially violate the Terms of Service of other service providers.

    Other VPN benefits you’ll enjoy

    But why stop there? Bypassing geo-blocks is not the only thing a VPN can do for you: 

    Unblock restricted websites

    I could sit here all day explaining how an ISP knows what you download, listing what’s blocked, where, and why, but one thing is clear: a VPN helps bypass government-induced censorship. In this case, a VPN not only plays a role in reducing internet censorship but also fully secures your data from prying eyes.

    Avoid price discrimination

    Did you know that your location can affect the price you pay for a product or a service? It’s called price discrimination. Luckily, you can save money with a VPN. When you use it, the website “thinks” you’re a different person (unless you log into your account). That makes the application of targeted pricing tactics more difficult. 

    Increase online privacy

    Your data is worth a lot of money to data brokers who will sell it in a flash. Marketers are the most obvious culprits and will use your information to push every product and service under the sun. However, with a VPN, the digital trail is obfuscated, meaning you get some much-needed privacy and peace of mind.

    1. Use Proxy servers

    An IP bar with question marks instead of numbers, with a hand holding a magnifying glass to it.

    A proxy server is an intermediary between you and the website you’re trying to reach. Every device that connects to the internet has its own IP address, and so does a proxy server. When you connect to the internet through a proxy, it grants you a different IP address before redirecting you to the website you’re looking for.

    Runs in the browser. Doesn’t need installing
    Only covers the browser traffic and not the rest of your device
    It changes your IP by routing traffic through its own server
    Free options are limited
    1. Use the Tor browser

    A laptop with an onion on a purple background on the screen.

    Tor (The Onion Router) is another way to bypass geo-restrictions. It works like any other browser — Chrome, Safari, etc. You can open all the regular websites, as well as special “.onion” sites that are only available on the Tor network.

    For example, The New York Times has a .onion site, meaning that if you want to read the newspaper anonymously, you can do so through Tor.

    It’s free to use
    No choice of server. Bad if your banking needs an IP from a specific country
    It’s easy to navigate
    The Tor network can be very slow
    Traffic gets routed through 3 separate servers
    Large parts of the network have recently been compromised
    1. Use smart DNS and DNS changers

    A Domain Name System (DNS) makes domain names, like Facebook, readable to your device. Imagine if every time you wanted to log in to Facebook, you’d have to type in a long sequence of numbers instead of a short, 8-letter name. You can thank DNS for making it easier.

    When you use smart DNS or DNS changers (a.k.a. DNS resolvers), they change DNS servers on your device from local ones to DNS servers based in a different country.

    It’s free to use
    It only bypasses the most basic of blocks
    It’s easy to navigate
    There is no added encryption
    It doesn't hide your IP address

    Is geoblocking legal?

    Yes. When it comes to accessing streaming services and content, it’s a matter of licensing agreements, and those are perfectly legal.

    The Council of the European Union only calls geoblocking a discriminatory practice when it prevents member states from purchasing goods from one another. For this reason, the Council banned unjustified geoblocking within the EU. However, the law holds no power over, say, the US, which is not an EU member.

    In 2018, when tackling the Digital Single Market, the EU made it necessary for paid content providers to offer a cross-border portability feature to subscribers based in the EU.

    EU citizens can now take their local digital media to other EU countries trouble-free.

    Currently, the ongoing fight is over Steam game codes. The EU fined Valve and five game companies in 2021 for geoblocking. In September 2023, the General Court of the European Union affirmed the finding that geoblocking activation of Steam keys by region is against the EU competition law. This, however, is unlikely to ever influence geoblocking for streaming services.

    As for blocking social media, countries are free to decide what’s legal and what isn’t inside their own borders. For example, some autocratic countries like China and Russia are making the geoblocking of social media sites entirely legal.

    The takeaway: it’s up to you how you deal with geoblocking

    History teaches us that what is legal is not always moral, but that’s a different topic for debate. It’s also fair to say that censorship cannot be justified. However, you now have a strong primer on both what geoblocking is and how to deal with it. The rest is up to you!

    Watch whatever you want to
    Strike back against geoblocking


    What does geoblocking do?

    Geoblocking blocks users from accessing websites and services based on where they’re connecting from. It also blocks users from accessing websites and services that a country they’re connecting from has banned.

    What is the Geoblocking Regulation?

    Regulation (EU) 2018/302 (Geo-blocking Regulation) mostly deals with price discrimination in the EU and does not apply to audio-visual content.

    Is bypassing geoblocking legal?

    It all depends on the country, the law, and the content in question. As far as we know, bypassing streaming geoblocking isn’t illegal but may go against the service’s terms and conditions. However, if you’re bypassing geoblocking to access illegal content, this can still be a crime.

    How do you beat geoblocking?

    You can beat geoclocking by obfuscating or changing your online location via methods like using a VPN, a proxy server, Tor, etc.