How to get around internet geo-blocking

Geo-blocking – whether carried out by a corporation or a government – can affect anyone. The dreaded  “This content is not available in your country” message is always just around the corner. What do you do in such situations? Is there a way to bypass geo-blocking? I’ll talk all about it in this post.

What are some geo-blocking examples?

YouTube

Uploaders can make videos inaccessible in certain regions. This almost always means that some mean corporation has decided that you shouldn’t see a video because you’re in a particular region. 

PornHub

Just like on YouTube, PornHub creators can geo-block their videos. However, most people want to unblock PornHub because they live in countries that have banned it, like Egypt and Pakistan. 

AirBnB

AirBnB may be a blight on affordable urban housing, but it’s an invaluable travel tool. However, it’s not accessible to everyone – for example, US sanctions mean that it’s blocked in Iran.

Spotify

The reason why you might be looking for a way to unblock Spotify is that certain artists and songs might be unreachable in your region – or the app itself might be banned.

Pandora

Want to listen in on this radio and music platform? Not in Europe you can’t, as it’s geo-blocked in the entire region. 

How does geo-blocking work?

Most geo-blocking—especially when a company does it and not a country—is done by checking your internet protocol (IP) address. In simple terms, your IP address is like your real home address – it gives away your location. 

This is how it goes:

  1. Your laptop, phone, and each device connected to the internet have IPs, which are provided by your internet service provider (ISP). Therefore, your ISP knows where you are (kind of unavoidable, you signed a contract), what devices you use, what you do online, and when you’re online or not. 
  2. When you visit a website, your IP is sent to the server, so it knows where it has to send the content you requested.
  3. Using specialized software, it is possible to determine the approximate geographical location of your device. This is how a site “knows” from which country you are connecting.
  4. Then, the software set up by website administrators applies geo-blocking based on this information.

As your IP changes when you travel, an American visiting France will only be able to access the content available in France due to his now-French IP address.

Despite attempts at geo-blocking, there are ways to access the free and open internet. What are they, and what do you need to do? Read on.

How to get around geo-blocking

1. Use a VPN

A VPN is the most effective way to safely and privately bypass geo-blocking. It masks your real IP address and substitutes it with the one that’s based in a different country. This, in effect, changes your location online and circumvents geo-blocking.

Getting a VPN is easy and usually inexpensive. Most VPNs are compatible with iOS, Android, macOS, and Windows operating systems. For example, Surfshark also allows you to download the VPN on Chrome and Firefox, Linux, FireTV, AppleTV (+ other smart TVs), Xbox, and Playstation.

Pros
Cons
A good VPN overcomes all blocks
The good ones aren’t free
Covers all the internet-using apps on your device
Apps require admin access to install
Offers other features besides geo-blocking avoidance
Start unblocking websites today

Get a VPN

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 installation instructions.
  3. Create an account or log in.
  4. Choose a country (server) that will grant you 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!

It’s that simple.

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 it 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.

Other ways to bypass geo-restrictions exist, but they’re not as good as having a VPN. 

Increase online privacy

Your data is worth a lot of money to data brokers who will sell it left and right. Marketers, of course, are the most publicly visible of those who can use information about what sites you use and when for their own goals. However, with a VPN, a lot of that digital trail is obfuscated, reclaiming a bit of privacy you deserve. 

2. Use Proxy servers

Use Proxy servers

A proxy server stands in between you and the website you’re trying to reach, acting as a kind of a “middleman” (or a separate computer). Since every device that’s connecting to the internet has its IP address, 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 trying to access.

Pros
Cons
Runs in the browser, doesn’t need installing
Only unlocks stuff for the browser and not the rest of your device
Changes your IP by routing traffic through its own server
Free ones are terrible

3. Use Tor browser

Use Tor browser

Tor 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 an .onion site, meaning that if you want to read the newspaper anonymously, you can do that through Tor.

Pros
Cons
Free
No choice of server - bad for unlocking country-specific stuff
Easy to use
Very, very slow
Traffic routed through three servers
Large parts of the network have been recently compromised

4. 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 go to Facebook, you’d have to type in a long sequence of numbers instead of a short, 8-letter name. You have to 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.

Pros
Cons
Free
Only bypasses the most basic of blocks
Easy to use
No encryption
Doesn’t hide your IP address

Is geo-blocking 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 geo-blocking a discriminatory practice when it prevents member states from purchasing goods from one another. For this reason, the Council banned unjustified geo-blocking 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 also made it necessary for paid content providers to offer the cross-border portability feature to the subscribers who are in the EU. The EU citizens now can take their local digital media to other EU countries trouble-free.

As for blocking social media, countries are really free to decide what’s legal and what isn’t inside their own borders. For example, some less-than-democratic countries (such as China, Russia) are making geo-blocking of social media sites entirely legal.

It’s up to you how you deal with geo-blocking

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 geo-blocking is and how to deal with it. The rest is up to you!

Strike back against unjustified geo-blocking

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FAQ

What does geo-blocking do?

Geo-blocking either:

  1. Blocks users from accessing websites and services based on where they’re connecting from.
  2. Blocks users from accessing websites and services that a country they’re connecting from has banned. 

What is Geo-blocking 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 geo-blocking legal?

It all depends on the country, the law, and the content in question. As far as we know, bypassing streaming geo-blocking isn’t illegal but may go against the service’s terms and conditions. 

However, if you’re bypassing geo-blocking to access illegal content, this can still be a crime. 

How do you beat geo-blocking?

By obfuscating or changing your online location via methods like using a VPN, a proxy server, Tor, etc.