Guide to Streaming Using a VPN

Updated on: 17 September 2019
Updated on:17 September 2019

Why would you ever want to use a VPN for streaming videos online? Aren’t streaming services available online for anyone? Well, technically yes, but as you may or may not know the videos or movies some streaming services provide are not available in every country.

Even some YouTube videos are not available in certain countries. Not to talk about the content offered by subscription based streaming services.

Read this guide to find out why and how to use a VPN for streaming.

What is a streaming service?

There are two categories of streaming services available on the web. First is that of free streaming services, such as YouTube. The second is that of paid subscription based streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and HBO Go.

There are also many streaming services for national and international sports events, such as the NFL, FIFA, UEFA, Premier League, etc.

The huge advantage of such streaming services is that you have the possibility to watch different movies whenever you feel like and not when they are being broadcasted on television. You will be able to open the streaming library of a particular service and select the movie you want to watch and it gets streamed right away on your device.

You also don’t have to download the movie onto your device.

Why do I need to use a VPN for streaming?

The “problem” with streaming services is that they provide different kind of content for different countries. Many popular movies usually only appear in North America first and then they get later added for other countries as well.

So, even if you use a service such as Netflix, you may not see all the latest movies and TV shows if you are not located in the USA, for example.

Sometimes the differences in the content provided can be huge. A significant number of newly released movies or TV shows are usually not available at first (or maybe even ever) in many smaller countries.

The same is valid for sports streaming services too. For example, USA sports events are regularly only being live-streamed in the USA only. So if you are connecting from a non-US IP you will not be able to watch the sports event live.

This is why VPNs come in so handy. You can use a VPN service to bypass these content limitations by country.

For example, you can use a VPN and switch to a USA IP address and then load Netflix and be able to watch USA Netflix and all the movies and shows that are available only in the US. The same goes for other streaming services as well such as Hulu and HBO Go.

You may not even have access to US sports streaming services if you are located outside of the US. With a good VPN you can overcome this obstacle too.

Is it legal to use a VPN for streaming?

Yes, it is legal to use a VPN to use streaming services. There are no laws in place that make using a VPN for streaming illegal.

Obviously, streaming services do not like this, because they put content restrictions into place for a reason – usually contractual obligations regarding the streaming of a certain movie in a particular country.

However, there is nothing illegal about using a VPN to watch USA Netflix, for example.

The most a streaming service can do is that once it detects an IP address to belong to a VPN it blocks the respective IP address. However, a good VPN provider will quickly replace that IP address and it’s business as usual.

How to use a VPN for streaming?

First, you will have to select a VPN provider that suits your needs and sign up. Then, you will have to download the VPN client to your device and install it. After this, you launch the VPN client and select the country you want your IP to be from.

Once you are connected to the VPN, you head over to your web browser or streaming app and open or reload it (if you have already accessed the streaming site). It should now show you the content library of the country you have selected.

If you have selected USA and are using Netflix, you are now able to view US content library of Netflix. That’s it.

Won’t using a VPN make streaming slow?

Not in 2018 and not if you use a top-of-the-line VPN service. VPNs may have been slow in the past but this is definitely not the case anymore.

A high-quality VPN service will perhaps make your internet connection slower with around 10%. But this is hardly noticeable even if you are streaming in HD or even 4k.

A quality VPN provider has many data centers in many countries and has latest-generation hardware and servers, which ensure that you will only see minimal decrease in loading speeds.

Can I use a free VPN for streaming?

You can, but you should not.

The issue of free VPN’s a tricky one, especially when it comes to streaming. This is because, as explained above, streaming services do not like VPNs and if they discover an IP belonging to a VPN they will block it.

Now, this is not an issue when it comes to high-quality subscription based VPNs, because such companies will immediately remove that IP and add a fresh and new one. You may even not notice any interruption of service because a banned IP will get replaced just a few minutes after it was discovered to have been banned.

This, however, is usually not the case when it comes to free VPNs. Them being free usually means that their owners don’t necessarily have real budgets and real staff to constantly provider customer support. So, if one of their IPs gets banned, it many not be replaced for several days and often times ever.

So, if you choose a free VPN for streaming, you may not even be able to use it at all because it’s very likely that all their IP addresses are already banned by streaming service such as Netflix and it make take a very long time (or never) for them to be replaced.

But there are other issues as well, such as free VPN services being extremely slow. Since they are offered for free, they probably were not created with commercial intent, as such, they haven’t invested much into servers and hardware. Having several professional data centers with high-quality servers if very expensive.

So, even if a streaming service hasn’t yet banned the IP’s belonging to a free VPN, the image quality and buffering times using such a free service will most of the time be horrible.

There is also the issue of security. Some free VPNs may have been developed and offered up for free with the intention of intercepting your data for malicious reasons. They may want you to use their free service so that they could steal your Netflix passwords, email account passwords or even worse, your banking details.

This is never the case when it comes to renowned and reputable VPN services that are run by legitimate companies. Their servers will always be fast and they will never steal your data. Yes, they do involve a small cost but it’s absolutely worth it.

Best VPN for streaming

When it comes to streaming you will have to choose very carefully what VPN provider you choose, even from among the paid subscription-based VPN services. While a VPN may be excellent for one service, it may not be suited for another.

This is what you should be looking at when trying to decide which VPN to use for streaming:

2. Do they offer IPs for a large number of countries?

As pointed out above, streaming services such as Netflix, have different content libraries for different countries. Even if you are in the US – which has the largest content libraries – many movies or shows are only available in the UK or Canada, for example. Some even in more “remote” countries, such as New Zealand or Ireland.

You would want to choose a VPN service that has servers and IP addresses in a very large number of counties, because you want to have unrestricted access to content from all around the world.

Many VPN providers – even a lot of the higher ranked premium ones – only have servers in a key number of countries. This is because running servers in many countries is very expensive.

The best VPN in this category is ExpressVPN. ExpressVPN is especially recommended for streaming because it has high-speed servers in a huge number of 94 countries (the average VPN has servers in around 10 countries only!).

2. Do they regularly update their banned IPs?

I have explained above that streaming services usually ban an IP address once they detect it to belong to a VPN. But this is not a problem for a VPN that is specialized for streaming. They will immediately replace the banned IP address with a new and clean one.

But if the VPN you use was not created with streamers in mind, they may not update their banned IPs for a very long time, or ever. Some VPNs have been developed with different users in mind rather than streamers, so they won’t care so much if for example Netflix bans one of their IPs.

Again, I can only highly recommend ExpressVPN. I watch Netflix daily and so does my girlfriend, both using ExpressVPN (which can be installed on up to 3 devices – so you can share it with friends and family too) and we have never ever had any issues with IP’s being banned.

I have read on some online forums – Reddit to be more precise – that some people have encountered banned IP’s by Netflix with ExpressVPN but such service interruptions usually only last around 5-10 minutes until ExpressVPN adds a new IP (and you can always switch to a new servers immediately too, so there will be literally no interruption). However, this seem to be happening extremely rarely.

Keep in mind that even top-of-the-line VPNs will have their IP addresses banned once in a while by a streaming service. This is unavoidable. The question is, how many alternative IPs does the VPN have and how fast it replaces the banned ones. Again, in my personal experience ExpressVPN is the best one in this regard.

3. Do they have fast servers?

Almost all streaming services now provide content in HD and even 4k. You obviously can’t be using a VPN that will make your internet connection slower, so that you can only watch movies in low resolution and only after waiting minutes before it loads.

The VPN you use for streaming should be able to allow you to watch streamed movies without any loading times and using the highest resolution offered by the streaming service, even 4k.

Essentially, you should not even be noticing that you are using a VPN while you are streaming.

This is again also why you will have to use a paid VPN instead of a free VPN. A free VPN is almost always guaranteed to offer poor quality streaming with low resolution and long loading times. This is because free VPNs don’t have the resources to invest into high-end servers and data centers.

Again, it’s ExpressVPN that comes to my mind. I always watch Netflix in HD or 4k very single time and I have never had any issues whatsoever with the visual quality of the streamed movies. In fact, I was recently in Rome, Italy and was watching US Netflix from my cheap hotel room. The internet connection wasn’t that great at all there, but I didn’t even notice I was using a VPN even for a second while I was watching the move.

This is always how it should be. You should never compromise on quality, especially when you are paying for such a service.

And this is it for this guide guys and girls. Please check out my additional articles if you want to learn more about VPNs.

Written by: Elizabeth March

Advanced ITSEC Specialist Based in Cambridge, England, Elizabeth has held notable positions for a range of high-profile vendors and clients in the European IT Security and Communications Sector. As a former IT Trainer, Technical Specialist, and Product Manager; she transitioned into the role of an expert IT Copywriter in 2015. Since then, her works have been published globally, and she continues to help people easily decipher complex technical challenges and make informed decisions about their digital lives.

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