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What to Do When a Streaming Service Blocks Your VPN

ExpressVPN Android app running on a Google Pixel 6A
Justin Duino / Review Geek
If a streaming service blocks your VPN, start by choosing a new server location. Then, test some alternative VPN protocols, and consider getting a dedicated VPN. Note that these steps require a premium VPN service---a cheap or free option won't cut it.

We use VPN services to stream geo-restricted content and protect our privacy. But some streaming services, particularly Netflix, make a concerted effort to block VPNs. Thankfully, there are several easy steps you can take to get around VPN blocking.

How Do Streaming Service Detect a VPN?

Before a streaming service can block your VPN, it needs to detect that you’re using a VPN. And this is rarely a difficult task. Most VPN providers own just a handful of servers, which are shared by hundreds or thousands of users. Detection is often a simple case of looking at IP addresses.

Of course, changing your VPN server (and, by extension, your IP address) may not be enough to get past a block. Streaming companies can take some dramatic steps to identify a VPN connection, and advanced prevention methods are often achieved through anti-fraud services like IPQualityScore.

Here are some ways that streaming services can detect a VPN connection:

  • Basic IP Blocking: If a website sees a ridiculous amount of traffic from a single IP address, it can assume that this IP address is associated with a VPN.
  • VPN Port Blocking: Some websites use a firewall to block the UPD and TCP ports that are commonly utilized by VPNs.
  • Deep Packet Inspection (DPI): An app or website can use DPI to observe data as it travels through a network. A VPN will encrypt your data to prevent DPI spying, but DPI can still identify the protocol (WireGuard, OpenVPN, etc) utilized by your VPN.
  • Location Tracking: If your GPS location doesn’t match that of your IP address, a website or app can tell that you’re using a VPN. Not all streaming platforms require GPS location data, though.

Most of these detection methods are fairly straightforward (and relatively easy to get around). But Deep Packet Inspection can be a bit tricky. Premium VPN providers are the best at getting around these detection methods.

I should clarify that blocking VPNs is usually a matter of security. Websites may block VPNs to prevent bad actors from performing DOS attacks or anonymously hijacking other peoples’ accounts. But streaming services are also concerned about their relationships with studios, distributors, and internet service providers. These industries want to observe your web activity, and they do not want you spoofing your location to get around geo-restricted content.

Use a Premium VPN Service

Believe it or not, but premium VPN services cost money because they’re good. Cheap and free VPN providers give you a nice layer of privacy, but they are rarely equipped to handle advanced tasks. They usually don’t let customers select a VPN location, for example, and don’t always take the necessary steps to avoid being blocked.

Most of the suggestions that I make in this article require a premium VPN service, which may cost anywhere between $3 and $20 a month. Before going forward, I strongly suggest that you check our list of the best VPN services. If you don’t feel like reading our list, just know that ExpressVPN is the most hardcore when it comes to streaming access.

I should also note that VPN providers need to make money. Otherwise, they can’t own or operate their servers. If you aren’t paying your VPN provider in cash, there’s a decent chance that they’re selling your data. For this reason, I don’t suggest using a free VPN unless it’s bundled with something that you’ve paid for (such as a Google One subscription).

The Best VPN Services of 2023

Best Overall VPN
Private Internet Access
Best Budget VPN
Private Internet Access
Best VPN for Windows
Best Free VPN
Proton VPN
Best VPN for iPhone
Proton VPN
Best VPN for Android
Best VPN for Streaming
Best VPN for Gaming
Best VPN for Torrenting
Best VPN for China
Mullvad VPN
Best VPN for Privacy
Mullvad VPN

Changing Your VPN Server Is Usually a Quick Fix

Person using their phone with the arzopa-g1-game
Jason Montoya / Review Geek

In most cases, identifying a VPN is a simple matter of blocking suspicious IP addresses. If a hundred users visit a website from the same IP address, it’s safe to assume that the IP address is associated with a VPN.

A good VPN provider will regularly refresh its servers’ IP addresses. And it may use multiple IP addresses for a single server location, thereby reducing the number of people on each address. But cheap and free VPN providers don’t always take these measures. Not to mention, popular server locations will always have a large number of users, so they will always be somewhat easy to identify.

So, if a website is blocking your VPN, your first step is quite simple—change your VPN server location. Cheap and free VPN providers don’t always offer this functionality, but most paid VPN services do. If you’re trying to access geo-restricted content, this is an essential feature.

Just bear in mind that popular VPN servers are often the easiest to identify, as they have the largest number of users. Because your distance from a VPN server affects your speed, most people will connect to a server that’s near their home. So, you may need to avoid servers that are located in highly-populated areas or coastal cities, such as Atlanta or New York.

Change Your Protocol or Use an Obfuscated Server

ExpressVPN running on a Windows 11-powered gaming PC
Justin Duino / Review Geek

Along with IP blocking, streaming services may block the UPD and TCP ports that are commonly used by VPN providers. Most VPN providers will automatically select your VPN protocol (and, by extension, your port) to get around this kind of problem and ensure the best possible speeds. Still, manually selecting a VPN protocol may help you get around a VPN block.

Premium VPN providers will usually let you select your protocol, though this feature isn’t guaranteed with free or cheap options. Manually selecting a protocol should take no more than a few seconds—just open your VPN app, go to settings, and choose the protocol you want to use.

I suggest that you try WireGuard first. From there, choose OpenVPN, IKEv2, and L2TP. If you’re using ExpressVPN, you should also try its Lightway protocol, and NordVPN has its NordLynx protocol. (Avoid the PPTP protocol entirely, or at the very least, don’t use it when performing private or sensitive tasks.)

If you continue to have problems after changing your server location and VPN protocol, Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) may be to blame. Websites and ISPs use DPI to inspect your web activity, and although a standard VPN server will encrypt your data (to prevent actual spying), only an obfuscated server can hide the tell-tale signs of a VPN in your data stream (although it won’t always be successful at doing so).

Obfuscated servers exist to help people get around hardcore firewalls (such as those employed by governments, schools, and sometimes, streaming services). Using an obfuscated server will make the web slower, and it will increase your CPU usage. But if your VPN provider offers obfuscated servers, and you can’t get past a streaming service’s VPN block, it’s worth a shot.

Get a Dedicated VPN Server

Cyberghost VPN running on an Apple MacBook Pro computer
Justin Duino / Review Geek

When all else fails, you can try using a dedicated VPN server. Instead of sharing a VPN server and IP address with a ton of people, you get something more private, which reduces detectability.

The problem with a dedicated server is that it can decrease your web privacy. Because there are fewer people using the IP address, websites have a better chance at associating it with your online habits and accounts. (Of course, if you’re just using a VPN to spoof your location and watch Netflix, privacy isn’t the biggest concern.)

Anyway, a dedicated VPN server (also called a static IP address) is exclusive to a single user. Some VPN providers, such as Surfshark, offer static IPs for free. But NordVPN and others charge a monthly fee for dedicated access. (ExpressVPN, which we recommended earlier, doesn’t offer dedicated servers).

You can also build yourself a personal VPN server, though this option usually isn’t worth the trouble. Not only do you need to pay for server space and a static IP, but you need to set everything up yourself. It’s cheaper and easier to pay a VPN provider for their service.

Andrew Heinzman Andrew Heinzman
Andrew is the News Editor for Review Geek, where he covers breaking stories and manages the news team. He joined Life Savvy Media as a freelance writer in 2018 and has experience in a number of topics, including mobile hardware, audio, and IoT. Read Full Bio »