A virtual private network, or VPN, can help you disguise your IP address when accessing the internet and can be a useful, legal tool. However, you might find that while protecting your online privacy, you also struggle to do some of the more fun things online. Watching TV shows and movies on Netflix for one.

Whilst we advocate using a VPN for all of your online activity, it's worth noting that there are limitations imposed by some service providers. And that means you might not be able to access some services, such as Netflix, with a VPN switched on.

Luckily, there are some workarounds, as we discuss below.

The internet may be global, but contracts often aren’t. That means you’ll often find a service streaming one lot of movies and TV shows to customers in one country and a different selection in another country. So what happens if you live in country X but want to access the stuff Netflix streams in country Y?

The official answer is: you put up with it, because if Netflix doesn’t have the rights to stream a particular film or show to you then that’s just one of those things.

However, the unofficial, it’s against the T&Cs, here be monsters proceed at your own risk answer is that you can get around the problem with a VPN.

Netflix has implemented a VPN ban across its servers in a move that looks to appease copyright holders' interests. It is clamping down on users from different regions accessing content that is not licensed in that territory.

Whilst some may say that this is a sledgehammer approach to crack a nut, it is a relatively easy fix for Netflix to implement.  What it does do is inconvenience those users who are not looking to do anything illegal, but still wish to use a VPN.

A VPN is a Virtual Private Network. It’s essentially a private tunnel between you and the site or service you’re accessing. Where things get interesting is that the tunnel can appear to be somewhere that it isn’t, so for example, you might be in the UK but you may appear to be connecting from the US. That’s good for evading censorship, and it turns out to be a pretty effective way of getting around geographical restrictions too.

The reason it works for Netflix is because Netflix checks your IP address when you connect. If the IP address appears to be from the US, you’ll see US content. Simple. In theory at least.

The ban works by banning certain IP addresses from accessing content from Netflix servers. And as many users of a given VPN service will be allocated the same IP address, which is great for anonymity, it also makes it simple for Netflix to spot which IP addresses that are being used for VPN access and block them.

Once an IP address is associated as coming from a VPN service, it is banned from streaming content. Netflix also may utilise network monitoring tools that detect VPN protocols on their network and thus flag these up as coming from VPN providers.

The short answer is: you can’t. But you can find one that isn’t being blocked right now, and that doesn’t appear to be in Netflix’s sights. However, if you’re planning to sign up to a service purely to access Netflix then it might be wise not to sign up for a lifetime contract. Look for plans that don’t tie you in too long or that offer money-back guarantees if your chosen content suddenly becomes blocked.

Some VPN providers may have a relatively low number of users, allowing them to appear under Netflix's radar. They may also use alternative methods to cloak the fact that they are providing VPN services.

The battle between Netflix and the VPN providers is an ongoing one, and thus it is difficult to provide a list of VPN providers that are guaranteed to give unfettered access to your favourite shows via their VPN services.  Some VPN services currently work when accessing Netflix via a web browser, but do not work through the Netflix app.

No. Most VPNs have their own dedicated apps that do everything for you, and some offer Chrome and Firefox plugins for effortless switching between VPN and normal browsing. All the good VPN services offer extensive how-to advice and good technical support too.

Different people will have different criteria, so, for example, some VPN users are really keen on services that don’t record any of their visits while others couldn’t care less. But for most of us the main issue is going to be speed. Without a good, reliable data speed streaming video – especially when it’s HD or better – quickly becomes swearing video as the quality takes a nosedive or stutters or stops altogether.

Let’s look at some of the best candidates.

ExpressVPNWhat’s the best VPN for Netflix image 3

From $6.67 per month (15 months up-front) to $9.99 per month (six months up-front).

This would be our choice, not just because it’s exceptionally fast and solid – although it is – but because it covers all kinds of devices, including ones that can’t run VPN apps. That’s thanks to its MediaStreamer service, which provides DNS servers you can use to access Netflix from devices such as the Apple TV and games consoles as well as computers and mobile devices.

Join ExpressVPN

vyprWhat’s the best VPN for Netflix image 2

Currently £2.72 per month (12 months up front) or £3.59 for Premium

With apps for everything from Android to Blackphones, smart TVs and routers you should be able to get VyprVPN up and running on anything. It’s screamingly fast, not least because it can defeat ISP throttling, and there are no caps or fees to worry about. The free trial isn’t very long at just three days but that should be more than enough time to see if it does what you want it to do.

Join VyprVPN

NordWhat’s the best VPN for Netflix image 1

$2.75 per month (36 months up-front) to $11.95 per month (billed monthly)

NordVPN is particularly strong on protecting users’ privacy, and with support for six simultaneous device connections, it’s well suited to busy households as well as censorship evaders. It works across Windows, Mac, iOS and Android as well as many other platforms (Raspberry Pi, routers etc) and with more than 4,000 servers worldwide it delivers speedy performance on a wide range of sites.

Join NordVPN

As new IP addresses that the VPN companies use are discovered and blocked by Netflix, new ones are popping up, so it's a movable field when it comes to your access.

Our recommendation would be to try one of the free Lite services that VPN companies offer and only if it's working consider subscribing to the full service.