Ever since Netflix launched in the UK I’ve become a huge fan of using VPN services to enjoy US content. The sad fact of it is that Netflix in the UK is a pale imitation of the US version, which has infinitely more choice and a far broader category of content – including, in my case, no end of ridiculously good music documentaries.
Virtual Private Network (VPN) services, in plain english, route your connection so that you appear to be in a different country (among other things – they can also be used to secure your connection when on public WiFi, tunnel you back to your office’s network and more).
In the context of my usage though, these VPN services make me appear to be in the USA, thus circumventing the “sorry, this content is not available to your in the UK” error messages that you can often run into on anything from Songza to Hulu. Setting these up is a actually a doddle, so I thought I’d document the process here so you can try it for yourselves. Frankly, its worth it for Netflix alone, though god knows its also great for the aforementioned Songza among others.
So how easy is it? Well, this easy:
1. Go to Unblock US and register an account (free for the first month – about £3.50 per month thereafter)
2. Change the DNS settings on your device of choice (this works on anything – laptop, phone, tablet, Xbox, PS3 etc)
3. Restart and load whatever service you’re looking to run.
Let’s got through this step-by-step though. I’ll do this on my Mac laptop, purely because its what I’m typing this article on. If you’re on Windows, click here for a further guidance.
1. Just to prove this is working, click here to visit Songza. If you’re outside the USA, you will see this screen:
As you can see then, Songza is blocking you because you are not in the USA.
2. Now go to Unblock US and register an account. Its as simple as giving your email address; from there Unblock US will make a note of the IP address of your ISP connection and connect that to your account.
3. Next, go to System Preferences > Network. In there, you will see your WiFi connection. You may need to click on the padlock icon at the bottom-left to unlock the settings so you can change them. If it is showing as unlocked, you’re good to continue.
4. Click on “Advanced…” and in the next window that opens, click on DNS. If there are any entries in there (its usually blank so your laptop can use the DNS of whatever network you’re connected to), make a note of them and then click the “minus” button at the bottom to remove them.
5. Now, click the “plus” button and add in the Unblock US DNS servers as shown below:
6. Once you’re done, click on Apply. The window will close and you’ll be back at the Network window. Click Apply again and your network settings will be changed with the new DNS setting.
7. If you had Songza still open in a browser tab, close it. Then type in www.songza.com again to reload it afresh. You will now see that the geo-block has been lifted and you can now use the service:
So – as you can see, its pretty simple to do. If you are a Netflix user, just fire that up in your browser and you’ll also now see US content.
But what about other devices? Well, its as simple as just editing the network setting on whichever device you like and changing the DNS settings to the Unblock US ones. There is a full guide for all platforms on the Unblock US website. To enjoy the best of both worlds, I have my Xbox using the US version of Netflix, and my Apple TV using the UK one.
The one thing to bear in mind with this is that your connection is being routed via the US when the Unblock US service is being used. Consequently, if you were to try and watch BBC iPlayer for example, it would not work because that service is only available to UK users. Similarly you may find on music services that certain content is no longer available. This is why I don’t make the DNS change on my router; if I did, all traffic would be routed via Unblock US which could cause all kinds of problems (App Store on iPhone/iPad/Mac loading the wrong country for one).
So how do you get around this? On devices like the Xbox, its not so simple; you’re going to have to change the DNS each time, which could be a pain (personally I leave mine on the US setup and just use the Apple TV for UK content). On my iPhone and iPad though, one trick I realised what that you could create a text shortcut for the different DNS settings. If you go to Settings > General > Keyboard, you can create typing shortcuts. On my iPhone and iPad, for example, typing “fb” suggests “Facebook”. So, all I did was set up “DNSUK” to type out my UK DNS settings, and “DNSUS” to type out my Unblock US settings. That way I don’t have to remember the two sets of numbers and can switch from one to the other really easily.
On my Mac, I only learned recently that you can easily set up different locations in the Network section, allowing you to have different network profiles that you can use. So, I now have a UK profile and a US one, and to switch to the Unblock US setup all I do is change profile.
Do to this on your Mac, go to System Preferences > Network and at the top of the window, click on the Location drop-down menu and select “Edit Locations”:
Then in the next window that appears, click on the “plus” sign to add a new location. It will ask you to name it; I just called mine “US DNS”. Then just click “Done”. The Network settings will now be exactly the same as your current ones. So, all you now need to do is change the DNS settings to your Unblock US ones as per the instructions above and you’re good to go. You should now have two locations: one most-likely called “Automatic” (the default Network config) and the other called “US DNS”.
All you have to do to switch from your normal UK DNS setup to your US-friendly one is change location to “US DNS”, click “Apply” and you’re good to go.
I should also mention that Unblock US has a switching function on it, so that it can actually deliver Netflix as experienced in the US, UK, Ireland, Mexico, Brazil, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland. So, if you’re a Swede spending time in the UK for example, you can still enjoy the localised content from your homeland.
Hope that proved useful!