We have already detailed the use of a VPN and reviewed many VPN services (including free ones) in a previous article. In this article, we just want to quickly list 5 good reasons why an expatriate should use a VPN service.
A VPN (known as Virtual Private Network) is a kind of tunnel that secures your connection between your computer, mobile phone or any other terminal, and the website that you are trying to access. The tunnel is an encrypted path that means that not only the destination site won't know who and where you are but that nobody else will be able to know any information you are sending. Although many people will find interest in using a VPN service, expatriates, people living abroad or travelling will find an even bigger interest.
When you live abroad, you become familiar with the message "This content is not available in your location". Either because you are trying to access that good TV programme that your mother recommended or because some friends posted a link on a social network... but you cannot see it, and it's very annoying. Of course, sometimes, this is due to tax reasons : you live in London and are not paying French TV licence and therefore should not access it. However, if you are on holidays in Paris and want to watch the BBC that you pay through your tax, you cannot either, because you get the "not in the right country" message. In addition, many streaming services such as Netflix or Hulu offer different content depending on your Country. Therefore if you live in Germany and want to access Netflix US where you previously lived, you will need a VPN.
With a VPN you can decide to appear located in the country of your choice (where the VPN service has got servers, which usually cover more than 50 different countries in the world - see the list of locations before you choose, South America and Africa having often a very limited offer !) and therefore access all the content of that country.
Especially with the current pandemic and the possibilities of lockdown, a lot of expatriates consider also the opportunity to access educational content provided by other countries (for example the website Lumni, provides school programs displayed on French TV, but most of its content is only available when located in France).
A lot of countries are blocking a large part of the Internet. Therefore when you live in those countries a VPN is absolutely necessary. China comes in mind immediately with the Great Firewall of China (in analogy of the Great Wall of China to prevent invasion around 220 B.C), which is a combination of laws and technologies enforced by the People's Republic of China to regulate the Internet domestically. All the websites that you probably use every day or every week such as Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, and Wikipedia have all been blocked. And China has probably the most sophisticated monitoring system with some search being totally removed such as the Tiananmen Square Massacre.
In the list of the worst countries in term of Internet access you will find also Cuba, Iran, Syria, Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Vietnam, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Eritrea and of course North Korea (where the vast majority of the population is cut off from the Internet and only the political elite have some tightly controlled intranet/internet access).
In all the countries cited above, the Internet traffic of its citizens is closely monitored to prevent any criticism of the regime. In addition, in many other countries the Internet is monitored at some level and it is often banned to promote free speech and human rights.
You may never know what is or not censored where you live unless you use a VPN service that allows you to hide your real location and access the content from other countries. Iceland for example is the world’s best protector of internet freedom in 2019, registering no civil or criminal cases for online expression, according to the organisation FreedomHouse.
In addition, if you browse the Internet with a public Wi-Fi access (either a library, a cafe, an airport...) you may want to protect yourself and secure your connection.
When you use a VPN, your traffic is encrypted in both direction and the IP address (which is your identity on the Internet) is shielded from the site you are visiting. It may prevent the website to collect information about you such as your location, the type of computer or mobile device you are using, even softwares you have installed.
Even more, your ISP (Internet Service Provider) might spy on you and decide to sell your data for marketing purposes. They might also use a technique called throttling, which means limiting your connection speed based on what program or service you're using at the time.
You have probably heard that some hotel or flight booking websites are detecting your location to offer specific prices or offers. It means that you may pay more where you are than if you book exactly the same thing, but accessing the website from another country.
Now you have goods reasons to choose a VPN service. It costs only a few dollars or euros per months, and offers many advantages. You will find a deep analysis of many VPN providers in our previous article: VPN options for an expat.
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