Netflix shocked the tech world (and excited investors) with an unprecedented global expansion into 130 countries yesterday. That move means that the video streaming service is now available in 190 countries, so the chances are that you, dear reader, are eligible to access it right now — unless you happen to live in China, North Korea, Syria or the Crimea.
Netflix’s original content — which it is ploughing billions of dollars into — is available worldwide, but the exact catalog for users varies based on their country. That’s because licensing deals are different from market to market, and Netflix also curates its content based on what it thinks locals will like.
That can be pretty frustrating, particularly since Netflix regularly pulls popular programming to keep its content fresh. But, in actual fact, the global expansion has literally opened a whole new world of opportunity for Netflix users — if you’re prepared to invest a little money on some special software.
If you buy a VPN — software that allows you to access the Internet while appearing to be in another country — then Netflix’s differing global catalog is an invitation to sample a range of programming beyond what is available where you live.
For example, in Thailand, where I am based, the local catalog doesn’t include some blockbuster content from the U.S. and UK. Having a VPN allows me to jump that barrier by making Netflix think I am in the U.S.. That gives me access to content that nobody in Thailand can view on the service.
But it works two ways. There are many classic films or shows that have long been removed in the U.S. and other Western markets, but are accessible in these new Netflix launch countries. Or perhaps you specifically like Korean dramas or other country-specific content.
There’s always a risk of a clamp down, since VPNs breach licensing agreements. But Netflix has, to date, been fairly sympathetic to VPN users. I’ve had a U.S.-based account for two years without problems thanks to a VPN, despite using a credit card in Thailand to pay my bill. That gives me hope that it will continue keep this option open for VPN users. (Famous last words I hope not.)
So which VPN should you use?
They are generally less than $10 per month, but will be cheaper if you pay for a longer period upfront. It’s best to pay for a VPN, by the way. After free VPN Hola got hacked, its users were manipulated to direct DDOS attacks. While Hola and others claim to uphold user privacy, I’d advocate paid software as being a better bet.
There are numerous good quality options on the market, but I can speak to those that I know.
I personally use TunnelBear — which has a neat VPN extension for web browsers, and is Verge editor-in-chief Nilay Patel’s pick — but Astrill, ExpressVPN, Vypr, and Private Internet Access are others that I have used in the past and can vouch for. TorrentFreak has a comprehensive list of others if you want to assess further options.
A VPN, which costs little more than the price of a lunch or a couple of coffees each month, isn’t just useful for surfing Netflix’s global catalog. In the post-Snowden era, they help keep your Internet browsing and activities more secure. So let Netflix be the excuse for getting into VPN software in 2016. You won’t regret it.