How to get around internet geo-blocking

Geoblocking – 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 geoblocking? I’ll talk all about it in this post.

Table of contents

    What is geoblocking?

    Geoblocking is the way platforms/websites block or restrict access to content and services based on your location. They’ll monitor your IP address and check where you’re logging in from. They’ll then either authorize or deny access to certain sites. So, what’s the point of geoblocking?

    A lot of it comes down to licensing, copyright, and some red tape around jurisdiction. Gambling sites may block regions they don’t operate in. Streaming platforms may exclude some of their content for certain countries, or a large online retailer may have prices that are only available for region X, etc. 

    That said, there’s a simple way to bypass geoblocking for good. But before we get into that, here are a few examples of geoblocking that you may have already experienced. 

    What are some geoblocking 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. 

    Live Sports 

    If you want to kick back and watch the game on a Sunday afternoon, you may find your access restricted. Some companies will secure exclusive broadcast rights to big events, meaning you’ll be dealing with restricted content and pesky paywalls.

    How does geoblocking work?

    Most geoblocking — 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, 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 geoblocking based on this information.

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

    Despite attempts at geoblocking, 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 geoblocking

    1. Use a VPN

    A VPN is the most effective way to safely and privately bypass geoblocking. It masks your real IP address and substitutes it with another based in a different country. This changes your location online and bypasses geoblocking.

    How VPNs help bypass 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 their VPN on Chrome and Firefox, Linux, FireTV, AppleTV (+ other smart TVs), Xbox, and Playstation.

    Pros
    Cons
    A good VPN overcomes all geoblocking
    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 in addition to geoblocking
    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 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.

    2. Use Proxy servers

    Use Proxy servers

    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.

    Pros
    Cons
    Runs in the browser. Doesn’t need installing
    Only works for the browser and not the rest of your device
    It changes your IP by routing traffic through its own server
    Free options are limited

    3. Use the 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 a .onion site, meaning that if you want to read the newspaper anonymously, you can do so through Tor.

    Pros
    Cons
    It’s free to use
    No choice of server. Bad for unlocking country-specific content
    It’s easy to navigate
    The Tor browser can be very slow
    Traffic gets routed through 3 separate servers
    Large parts of the network have recently been 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 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.

    Pros
    Cons
    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.

    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!

    Strike back against unjustified geoblocking

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    FAQ

    What does geoblocking do?

    Geoblocking 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 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?

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