Terminator got it wrong. It was 2016, and not 2017, that Skynet went online and Judgement Day came. That is, if you’re a Netflix user.
For Netflix subscribers, the year 2016 resulted in a lot of hair-pulling because they could no longer Netflix and chill with ease, as the network decided to start blocking Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) from their network and prevent people from accessing other countries’ Netflix (the media services company has a different library of movies and TV shows for every country that it is active in).
A cat-and-mouse game began as smaller VPN and smart Dynamic Name System (DNS) companies’ servers started failing due to the block. Still, there are workarounds. Here are some of the best services we can use right now.
Photo: Nathan Ng
ExpressVPN is the gold standard of VPN services. It is reliable and stable with some 3,000 servers in 94 countries that you can select from. In the United States, it has 32 locations so you can always unblock Netflix. And if there’s a chance that Netflix has blocked ExpressVPN’s servers, their customer support is available 24/7 for assistance and usually very quick to respond. Its reliability extends into China where it holds up very well against the Great Firewall of China. I personally use ExpressVPN during my China trips and was always able to connect to external services. ExpressVPN is available on Windows, Mac, Android, iOS and even Linux, and supports consoles such as Apple TV, PS4 and Xbox One through its smart Domain Name System (DNS) service, MediaStreamer.
All these bells and whistles come at a premium. ExpressVPN is the most expensive service out of all providers at S$9.02/month (15-month plan with three months free) compared to $1.80/month with Ivacy. If you’re undecided, they have a 30-day money-back guarantee policy, no questions asked, so you can try out the service for free. Another minus – you can only connect up to three devices simultaneously, compared to five or more which is the industry standard. Moreover, if you’re concerned with malware and ads, there is no added security layer present.
Price: $9.02/month for 15 months with three simultaneous connections
Netflix libraries it can access: United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Germany, Japan
Simultaneous connections: Three
Surfshark is a relatively new entrant to the VPN scene and that probably explains the attractive price for their plan. But don’t let that fool you because Surfshark is one of the hottest VPN providers now. At just S$2.68/month for a 24-month plan – that’s 70 per cent lower than ExpressVPN – and with an unlimited number of connections (which is the best out of all the VPN services mentioned here), it gives the most bang for buck.
Top tip: you can share the plan with your closest friends to bring down the monthly price. To pile on the goodies, Surfshark throws in features such as split tunnelling (for apps or webpages to bypass the VPN), a double VPN service to mask your location even further, and a CleanWeb feature that blocks ads, trackers and malware. Like ExpressVPN, it is available on Windows, Mac, Android, iOS and Linux. It also comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Surfshark’s only shortcoming is the limited coverage compared to the big boys – it has 500 servers in 50 countries. This also means that for you wouldn’t be able to access Netflix sites for some countries – you would automatically be redirected to the US version.
Price: $2.68/month for 24 months with unlimited simultaneous connections
Netflix libraries it can access: United States, United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, India, Japan
Simultaneous connections: Unlimited
NordVPN is another old name in the business that’s popular in the West. It’s a mid-range offering that comes with most of the bells and whistles of ExpressVPN but is priced lower. A three-year plan will set you back by just $4.04/month while a two-year plan goes for $5.39/month. In terms of connections, NordVPN lets you connect up to six devices simultaneously. You can also connect to your smart TV and your router but not your gaming consoles. Its servers are also optimised for streaming videos. And with more than 5,300 servers in 62 countries, it can also unblock geographical limitations on country versions of Netflix and other popular platforms such as Amazon Prime Video or even Hulu. Like Surfshark it comes with its own suite of security software that blocks ads, malware and suspicious sites, giving you peace of mind.
However, NordVPN’s Windows app is a little clunky and sometimes slow to respond. Its server connections are also a tad slower than ExpressVPN. It’s not the slowest out there but it’s definitely not the fastest either. It’s worth noting that NordVPN will only unblock six country versions of Netflix, just like Surfshark. But these countries are the ones with the highest usage of Netflix and region-exclusive titles so you may likely have everything that you need.
Price: $4.04/month for 36 months with six simultaneous connections
Netflix libraries it can access: United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Australia and the Netherlands
Simultaneous connections: Six
Photo: Nathan Ng
For the VPN providers in this list, Singapore-based Ivacy is the only one with a five-year plan and therefore, the steepest discounts at $1.80/month. This works out to $108 over five years, which is cheaper than ExpressVPN’s 15-month plan. Being a Singapore-based VPN provider may sound paradoxical but the terms and conditions clearly state that the company does not keep any tracking logs. Ivacy’s servers would be able to unblock Netflix US but you’re not in luck if you’re looking at other countries. It offers over 1,000 servers in 100 countries. It may look to be a small number but the download speeds are still excellent.
Ivacy’s user interface is modern and aesthetically pleasing — different from the usual “press-and-connect” types found à la ExpressVPN. There is the option to first decide on your activity – such as unblock streaming – and the app will choose the best server for you.
Like most VPNs listed here, if you see Netflix’s dreaded error message, just approach the 24/7 online customer service and they will resolve it for you. Their chat response however, didn’t feel as quick as ExpressVPN. Nevertheless, it should do at this price point. You also get split tunnelling and five simultaneous connections.
Price: $1.80/month for 60 months
Netflix libraries it can access: United States
Simultaneous connections: Five
Like Ivacy, CyberGhost has a pleasing design interface. Instead of traditionally focusing on the country and connection, it’s task-oriented. To watch Netflix, you just need to choose Netflix in the Unblock Streaming section like Ivacy and it would select the best server for you. However, there are no servers for other countries’ Netflix libraries.
CyberGhost has a larger network at over 3,500 servers worldwide and up to seven simultaneous connections, compared to Ivacy’s five. Download speeds are generally fast and reliable.
Price: $3.37/month for 36 months
Netflix library it can access: United States
Simultaneous connections: Seven
Photo: Nathan Ng
Windscribe is another no-frills VPN provider that became popular last year for its Black Friday and Cyber Monday offerings on lifetime subscriptions. The Windows app is compact and simple to use. It also comes with malware and ad blocking software. There is a free option that gives only 10GB of bandwidth but there is no Netflix to be found there. If you want to stream Netflix, premium is the way to go at $5.51/month for 12 months.
It’s a relatively small network at over 600 servers in about 50 countries, just a tad larger than Surfshark, so the focus is predominantly on the United States’ and United Kingdom’s Netflix libraries.
Price: $5.51/month for 12 months
Netflix libraries it can access: United States, United Kingdom
Simultaneous connections: Unlimited for personal use
By Nathan Ng, March 2019
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