Have you ever tried accessing your favorite website only to be greeted by an annoying "This site is restricted in your region" message? Or perhaps you couldn‘t use an app abroad that you regularly use back home? Geographic internet censorship is unfortunately still a big problem globally.
Luckily there‘s an easy fix – virtual private networks, or VPNs for short. By connecting to a VPN, you can unblock websites and apps with just a few clicks, no matter where you are located.
In this comprehensive guide, we‘ll cover everything you need to know to bypass internet blocking and access restricted content by masking your location with a VPN.
What Exactly Are VPNs and How Do They Allow Access to Blocked Sites?
VPNs, or virtual private networks, are services that establish an encrypted tunnel between your device and a server in a location of your choice. This tunnel obscures your real IP address and instead assigns you one from the server‘s region.
Websites and apps that check your location only see the VPN server‘s IP address, making it seem as if you are accessing the internet from that country or city, instead of your actual physical location. This allows you to bypass geographic restrictions and access blocked content.
When your traffic passes through the secure VPN tunnel, it remains completely encrypted, shielding your online activity from prying eyes. This prevents snooping by hackers, broadband providers, governments or anyone else trying to monitor your internet usage.
VPNs route your traffic through an encrypted tunnel to change your virtual location
Let‘s take the example of someone in Turkey wanting to access Wikipedia. The site gets frequently blocked there by court orders. By connecting to a VPN server in the US or Europe, our user‘s IP address now shows a location from that region. Wikipedia sees the foreign IP and grants access since restrictions don‘t apply there.
This is how VPNs allow you to easily circumvent internet censorship based on geographic location. The encryption also keeps your browsing private from third-parties.
The Scale and Impact of Global Internet Censorship
Internet censorship remains rampant across the world in 2022. Authoritarian regimes frequently restrict access to information, often using advanced firewalls and blocking systems. Even in developed countries, certain sites get blocked by corporations, schools or service providers.
According to VPN service provider Surfshark‘s Global Censorship Report 2021, the 10 most censored countries in the world are:
- Saudi Arabia
The most commonly blocked categories worldwide are social media, search engines, news, communication apps and political sites.
Blocking extends beyond just websites too. Many countries now restrict mobile apps related to communications like messaging, Voice over IP calling and even VPNs themselves! Games, dating apps and anything considered objectionable also faces frequent blocking.
|Blocked Site/App Category||% of Countries Where Restricted|
|Human rights sites||14%|
Table showing percentage of countries that block popular site and app categories (Source: Surfshark 2021 Report)
As you can see, internet censorship is rampant globally. But thankfully VPNs allow us to regain access to blocked content by changing our virtual location.
The encryption also gives us greater privacy, anonymity and data security in an increasingly digitally vulnerable world.
Why Should You Use a VPN Beyond Just Unblocking Sites?
While circumventing internet censorship is one of the biggest draws of VPNs, they provide many other important benefits:
Enhanced Privacy – VPNs prevent snooping by governments, ISPs, hackers and even websites themselves by hiding your IP address and encrypting traffic.
Secure Public Wi-Fi Access – Unsecured hotspots carry huge risk of intruders stealing your data. VPN encryption protects you.
Safer Torrenting – Legally gray torrenting exposes your IP address. VPNs mask it to let you pirat^H^H^H^H^Hshare files more anonymously.
Stream Sports and Media – Gain access to blacked out events and location restricted content on platforms like Netflix with a VPN.
Bypass Work/School Firewalls – VPN tunneling lets you safely access blocked social, entertainment and messaging sites.
Mask Online Activity – VPN IPs hide your location, usage and other metadata from websites for greater privacy.
Access Censored News – Read restricted state-banned news and information from around the world.
Evade Price Targeting – Sites show different prices based on location. VPNs can display regional pricing.
Enhance Gaming Experience – Reduce lag by using VPN servers closer to distant game servers and friends.
As you can see, there are plenty of use cases beyond unblocking sites. The privacy, security and anonymity benefits make VPNs an essential internet tool in the modern age.
How to Pick the Best VPNs for Unblocking Geo-Restricted Sites and Apps
Not all VPN services are created equal when it comes to circumventing blocks and blackouts. Several factors determine how well a provider can evade internet censorship globally:
Server Locations – More server locations, especially in high censorship regions, increase ability to mimic that country.
Internet Speeds – Look for consistently fast connections to avoid buffering when streaming.
Reliability – Choose a service with robust infrastructure instead of one that gets frequently blocked.
Premium Networks – Higher-end providers offer better speeds as they own and manage their own servers.
Unblocking Track Record – Check tests and reviews on their effectiveness in restricted regions.
Device Support – Apps for all major platforms like Windows, macOS, Android, iOS etc.
Our current top recommendation is ExpressVPN thanks to their blazing fast speeds, air-tight privacy standards and proven ability to unblock just about anything. They own 3,000+ servers in over 160 locations globally, covering 94 countries.
Here‘s a comparison of how some top VPN services stack up:
|VPN Service||Server Locations||Connection Speeds||Reliability||Price|
|NordVPN||60 countries||Very fast||Rare outages||$$|
|CyberGhost||87 countries||Decent||Occasional blocks||$$|
|Private Internet Access||78 countries||Fair||Frequent blocks||$|
Step-by-Step Guide on How to Set Up and Connect a VPN
The good news is that getting connected to a VPN is a quick and easy process across all major devices and platforms. Here‘s a simple walkthrough:
On Windows and MacOS:
Sign up for a top VPN like ExpressVPN and download their desktop app.
Launch the app and log in using your credentials. This only needs to be done once.
Click Connect and pick a server location – try less restrictive locations to unblock geo-blocked sites.
The VPN will initiate the encrypted tunnel within seconds indicating you are connected.
On iPhone and Android:
Install your VPN‘s app from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.
Open the app, log in to your account and tap the Connect button.
Choose a server location and the mobile VPN will fire up securing your connection.
On Media Streaming Devices:
Platforms like Fire TV, Apple TV, PlayStation and Xbox allow installing VPN apps just like smartphones. Download, login and connect to unblock geo-restricted content.
Access your router management page and navigate to settings.
Check your hardware guide and install VPN client software like DD-WRT or Tomato.
Input your VPN credentials and set your desired server location.
Connect devices to the router‘s Wi-Fi and all traffic will tunnel through the VPN.
Pro Tips on Choosing Locations to Unblock Specific Sites and Apps
Choosing countries strategically is key to accessing blocked apps and websites with a VPN:
Social media – US and European locations unblock networks like Facebook and Twitter blocked in China, Iran etc.
Streaming sites – Connect to servers within that platform‘s approved regions. Example – US for Netflix, India for Hotstar etc.
News outlets – UK and Europe based servers access BBC, Al Jazeera, NYT and others restricted locally.
Sports streaming – Connecting to a server near the event location bypasses blackout restrictions.
Google services – American locations open access to search, Gmail, Maps, etc. where Google gets blocked.
Mobile apps – Downloading geo-fenced apps like banking and ride sharing from Play Store/App Store requires matching server location.
It takes some trial and error to figure out which server locations work best for circumventing specific app and website blocks. Top providers like ExpressVPN make switching locations easy until you unblock what you need.
Advanced VPN Features and Settings to Improve Unblocking Capabilities
Beyond just connecting to a VPN, you can tweak these additional settings for better results unblocking sites:
VPN Protocols – Try switching between protocols like OpenVPN, L2TP/IPsec, IKEv2 or WireGuard® for improved stealth.
Obfuscated Servers – Use obfuscation features to masquerade VPN traffic as regular HTTPS traffic for extra stealth.
IPv6 and DNS Leak Protection – Prevent any traffic slipping past the VPN tunnel and exposing your IP address.
Encryption Level – Choose strongest protocols like AES-256 bit and SHA-512 hash for uncrackable VPN connections.
Disable VPN Traffic Filtering – Some providers block access to torrents, streaming sites etc. Turn this off.
Split Tunneling – Set which apps use the VPN tunnel while others access the internet directly. Helpful when VPNs slow down certain sites.
Toggling these privacy and security settings takes a bit more technical know-how but can really boost your ability to unblock restricted content. Our Advanced VPN Guide covers them in greater depth.
Unblocking Popular Geo-Restricted Websites and Apps with Ease
To give you a better idea, here are some real-world examples of unblocking popular internet services that frequently get blocked:
Social Networks – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others are restricted in China but connecting to a US VPN server easily unblocks them.
Video Streaming – Sites like YouTube, Netflix and even pornographic content can be unlocked by switching VPN server locations.
Live Sports Streaming – Blackout restrictions on platforms like ESPN, DAZN and Premier League Pass are bypassed by using VPNs.
News and Media – Outlets like BBC News, New York Times, Bloomberg get limited by governments but VPNs grant access.
Communication Apps – WhatsApp, Skype, Telegram and other messaging apps are blocked in various regions but VPNs keep them open.
Google Services – Search, Gmail, Maps and other Google offerings face routine blocking in China but VPNs provide availability.
Mobile Apps and Games – Region-locked apps on iOS and Android app stores can be downloaded by switching VPN countries.
As you can see, VPNs allow you to gain unfettered access to the open internet no matter where you are located.
Final Thoughts on Unblocking Restricted Content With a VPN
Hopefully by now you have a good understanding of how VPNs provide an easy and effective way to bypass geographic internet blocking and censorship. They truly unlock the full possibilities of the internet.
When choosing a provider, select one that offers plenty of worldwide locations, consistently fast speeds, watertight privacy protections and a proven track record of unblocking sites and apps.
Apps for all your devices make VPN setup straightforward. And features like one-click location switching let you easily experiment and find what works best for evading blocks on your desired apps and websites.
So what are you waiting for? Sign up for a top-rated VPN service like ExpressVPN today and say goodbye to annoying internet censorship and blocks!