(Pocket-lint) - VPNs are really useful things. We’ve used them for catch-up TV when we’re travelling, to ensure that we’re safe when we use public Wi-Fi and to help prevent tracking networks from building up too-detailed pictures of our browsing history.

But if you’re new to VPNs you might not know how to use the features that matter to you, or what to do if the performance isn’t as good as you need it to be. So we’ve provided the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions right here.

1. How can I access content that’s geoblocked?

One of the most common reasons to use a VPN is to be able to access content such as streaming video when it’s geoblocked. For example, you might be travelling for work and want to watch Netflix – but your Netflix account is for the country you live in, not where you are right now. Many VPNs enable you to change your apparent location so the streaming service thinks you’re somewhere else. You’ll usually need a paid-for VPN that supports streaming.

2. Are there other kinds of blocking I can get past?

VPNs can be handy on airplanes, which often provide very limited Wi-Fi that stops anybody from streaming. A VPN means the network doesn’t know what kind of site or service you’re accessing.

3. I’m an ex-pat. Can I use a VPN to access iPlayer?

You shouldn’t access the UK iPlayer if you aren’t a UK licence fee payer. But technically speaking, yes you can.

4. What do I do if the server’s sluggish?

Switch to another one. This might not be an option with a free VPN, or you may have a limited choice of servers to choose from. But paid-for VPNs have access to thousands of servers, so if your connection seems a bit crap you could try connecting to other servers or servers in other countries.

5. What do I do if I’m blocked by a site for using a VPN?

You could try switching servers again. Unfortunately some sites do operate an ongoing whack-a-mole operation against VPN providers, shutting down access whenever they discover new servers.

6. How do I protect all my devices at once?

Many VPN services have apps for all kinds of things, but on a home or office network you can protect everything you connect by installing your VPN at the router level rather than on individual devices. It’s important to remember that this only works when the devices are using the router; for example if one of them is your smartphone and you go out, you’re no longer protected if you don’t also have an app on your phone.

7. Can a VPN stop my boss knowing what I’m doing online?

Whether you’re whistleblowing or talking to a recruitment firm, it’s wise not to use your work PC for anything you wouldn’t want the boss to see. The very act of installing a VPN on the office PC is a pretty clear sign you’re doing something the boss won’t like.

But if your home internet connection is provided by the company you work for – something that’s fairly common in the US, where some tech or academic organisations provide housing for the people who work there – then you might want to encrypt what you’re doing or use a VPN to evade whatever filtering is on that network.

8. How can a VPN deliver better video or torrents?

Some ISPs look for specific kinds of data traffic, such as video streaming or BitTorrent, and restrict its speed to reduce the demands on the network. A VPN can help you evade such restrictions by encrypting all your traffic so your ISP has no idea what it is.

9. Can I get my VPN to switch on automatically?

That depends on the app. Some services do have apps that’ll automatically detect new networks and turn the VPN on to protect you; others, particularly free ones, may require you to do the switching on and off manually.

Writing by Carrie Marshall. Editing by Dan Grabham.