What’s a VPN and Why Should Expats Have Them?

Worldwide communication technology lets you connect. A VPN lets you connect safely from anywhere.You’ve done all the work of moving to your new country, wrestled all those pesky details to the ground, and now you’re ready to enjoy getting acquainted with your new home as an expat.

You fire up your newly connected internet, and decide to check your bank balance back in your home country — and you can’t connect. Your bank won’t let you access the website. What’s going on?

It’s your IP address. . . your bank recognizes that someone’s trying to log in from Panama, or France, or Ecuador, or Malaysia and they block you.

You, my new expat friend, need a VPN.

Last year, just before my trip to Panama, I got myself a VPN (virtual private network) so I could access all the US websites I normally do business with. Many shopping and banking websites only allow access from users within their own country, and I wanted to be able to go online to check my balances, etc.

I also wanted to be able to use Google Voice, since that’s the phone number I use for my business.

There are lots of reasons businesses block browsers from outside the country. Some involve security, some deal with laws governing commerce, some are just arbitrary restrictions — but all can complicate an expat’s life.

Fortunately, there’s an easy solution.

Sign up for a service that gives you a VPN. It has some great benefits for expats and travelers and it also protects your data from snooping — great if you’re online in a public place.

Think of a VPN as a virtual tunnel between your computer and the internet router. The provider routes your internet requests through its servers, and most give you a choice of servers in different countries.

If you choose a US server, it generates a US IP (internet protocol) address. This means, when you log into your bank’s website, or Amazon, or any other site in the US that might block browsers from another country, it looks like you’re in the US.

A good VPN can help you get around the restrictions of what some travelers call the “great firewall of China,” which blocks social media sites, among others.

Essentially, though, a VPN simply allows you to access the sites you’re used to doing business with in your home country. (More about what a VPN lets you do here.)

Which VPN Should You Choose?

First, look for recommendations and reviews of VPNs with a strong presence in your home country. You want one that’s US-centric, or England-centric, or Canada-centric, because it will do a better job of helping you get through to websites back home.

(Hint: If you’re already living overseas, check with other expats. They can point you to a service that does a great job where you are.)

Here are a few that I’ve found.


This is the one I currently use. They offered me a free trial subscription so I could write about their service, and after reading their website I agreed. They provided the information I needed to set it up, so I disabled the VPN I had been using and installed theirs.

“VPN Made Simple” is their website tagline, and I’ve found that to be true.

The process to download and install the application was straighforward and uncomplicated. Once installed, I took a look at the interface.

Here’s one immediate difference between VPN4All and other VPNs I’ve tried: choosing the IP server to connect to is as simple as checking a dropdown box.

Here’s another difference: this one allows you to connect to P2P networks. Most don’t. (If you’re a P2P user, you know what I’m talking about.)

Get more information about VPN4All here.


Claiming to be the world’s fastest VPN, VyprVPN (aff) will give you a secure virtual network connection on your computer (Windows, Mac or Linux) as well as your iPhone or Android phone. No limits on uploads or downloads, and available in a Basic version, starting as low as $6.67/month, Pro ($8.33/month) and Premier ($10/month). They offer a 3-day free trial.

Choose from servers in 38 countries, including the US, Australia, Netherlands, France, UK, Germany, Singapore and Thailand.

Personal, fast and secure VPN — find out more.

Hotspot Shield

This is the one I started with. On my exploration visit to Panama I used a free version, which forced me to put up with advertising and was a bit slow. Later I switched to the paid version, which was much better in terms of speed, but still occasionally kicked me off the paid network to the free-with-ads network.

I chose Hotspot Shield because they were recommended by PC Magazine, and their cost is reasonable — $44.99 annually, or $4.99 monthly. You can even get a plan where you pay $0.50 per day — good if you only need it a few days at a time throughout the year. Their website isn’t very fancy, but the service is good.

Pure VPN

PureVPN offers a trial account for $2.50. There are three different plans, with varying access to services. Prices range from $4.16/month to $9.95/month. They offer a money-back guarantee, but only for three days.

Hide My Ass

Yes, I kid you not, that’s its name. They pretty much refer to themselves as “HMA.” Anyway, HMA offers a 30-day guarantee. They offer service at a monthly fee of $11.52, or you can purchase a six- or 12-month package at considerable savings, $50.66 or $78.66 respectively. They point out that they don’t have any bandwidth limitations and you’re not restricted to a single server.

Strong VPN

Strong has several different plans, with prices starting at $55/year. Their service looks a bit more complicated than some of the others, but they get rave reviews for their customer support. They seem to do an especially good job getting around the firewalls in China.


Overplay only has one price, $9.95/month. You can access any of their servers, and there’s no bandwidth restriction.


Witopia’s plans start at $49.99 annually. However, that service may not get through all barriers,, so if you want better security and your browsing to be speedier, go with the $69.99 annual fee program.


Securitales emphasizes that you can access social media from any country with their service, but of course you can connect with any site. They have a free trial — for a whopping 10 minutes, then a 30-day guarantee. The annual fee is $72, slightly more if you pay every two or six months.

There are many other VPN services, and you should be able to find one that meets your needs without any difficulty. Get more information about VPNs for tablets and phones.

Do you already use a VPN? Which one, and what do you like/dislike most about it? Let us know in the comments.

All information is accurate at time of publication.


  1. VPN4ALL is a superior VPN provider, especially for foreign travel. They have a unique Anchor IP feature that allows me to choose a specific IP for the duration of my trip. Sites (like PayPal) can actually suspend or block your account if you try to login from multiple IPs in a short period of time. Plus they have a free trial period to check it out. http://www.vpn4all.com.

  2. I’ve been using VyperVPN since we moved to Panama. It’s an add on service of $5 or so from the main service we have with the company Giganews (for Usenet). There are 2 servers in the US, and some in the UK, France, and somewhere in the far east too. I loved them until I started having problems watching some our favorite tv shows via local US sites (like hulu). The speed wasn’t enough to keep the videos streaming smoothly. I’m not sure if it’s on our end or if a lot of people are on the servers, slowing the service. We do have high speed internet with CableOnda though.

    Do you ever use your VPN for video streaming? How are your phone calls using Google Voice with the VPN?

    • I’ve not tried to use it yet for video streaming, although I’ll be checking that out when we move in a few months. 🙂

      When I was in Panama, I did use it with Google Voice with no problems. Calls were good quality.

  3. Does anyone know if you wuold still be able to use things like Netflix then overseas through VPN? As it is now, they block foreign IP’s, but I guess with something like this, it wouldn’t, right?

    • Hi Marianne, how are you? haven’t heard from you in a while 🙂

      Yes, with a VPN you should be able to use streaming Netflix, hulu, etc. while overseas as long as you’re set up with a US IP address.

  4. I have been using HideMyAss for over 2 years now and I love it! I tried quite a few other providers, but I always go back to HMA 🙂

  5. Hello –
    My husband and I are planning to move to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam for a year in November. We need to get online to access our American bank accounts, email and we would like to have access to American TV and be able to surf the internet as needed. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Which VPN would you suggest we use? Thank you!

    • There are plenty of good VPNs out there. I personally use VPN4All. I was also quite happy with EarthVPN when they gave me a trial subscription to check out and review. HMA is also very popular. (Note that these are affiliate links — if you select one of these VPNs from my link, I’ll earn a small commission but you don’t pay a penny more.)

      What I particularly like about VPN4All and EarthVPN is they do not keep logs of your activity — makes your browsing more private, because they can’t provide information they don’t have.

  6. letsmaybeLP92 says:

    I currently use Securitales since it convinced me with its free trial. I don’t have to worry about switiching ports since the proxy service does it for me. (personally I don’t care enough to use Netflix or Hulu, though BBC would be nice sometimes I admit) It is a bit on the pricey side. But hey that’s cheaper than a plane ticket to get back to the States 😛

  7. I reading this post for the first time and I am wondering if it is still updated info. I’m looking for interesting information to post on my facebook page for expats. Can you let me know if this is updated?

  8. Matt Alfs says:

    Before I travelled to Shanghai last year I signed up to VPN.ac. This guide shows which providers’ websites are blocked in China: http://www.bestvpnz.com/best-vpn-for-china/

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