When creating an untethered overseas life, you have to find ways to stay in touch “back home.” Of course you’ll want to talk with friends and family. You also need inexpensive and reliable ways to communicate with clients and take care of personal business in your home country.
Banking, credit card and shopping sites all provide useful portals, but many of them won’t talk to a computer that’s logging in from another country.
A free program called Hotspot Shield might be your solution.
Hotspot Shield was designed to protect you from cyber snooping in WiFi cafes and the like. It creates a VPN (virtual private network) tunnel between your laptop and a router at a WiFi hot spot. This protects your data. (It works with wired connections as well.) The program promises “private, secure and complete access” to the World Wide Web.
It also can allow you total access to sites (like your bank’s website) that might block sign-ins from a foreign network.
I’m writing this from a US perspective. There’s also a version, called Expat Shield, available for UK residents abroad.
A similar service, although I’m told it’s generally too slow to use for telephone applications, is Tor.
It Gives You Unfettered Access
I regularly use several websites that I might have trouble accessing from abroad. These include my bank and several shopping sites like Amazon.com.
When my daughter was in France last year, she was a bit frustrated when Google.com automatically redirected her to Google.fr.
I also use the Google Voice service. This is a free application which gives you an actual US phone number in the area code of your choice, allowing you to receive incoming calls at no charge. It’s got lots of nifty features and I use it quite a lot. You can set it up to:
- forward calls to a land line in the US or Canada
- forward calls to a cell phone
- forward calls to both at the same time
- screen your calls
- record voice mail, which you can play back on one of your phone devices or your computer or read as an email
You can place calls using Google Voice as well. Combined with the Google Call feature now available through GMail, making and receiving calls — for free — is a breeze. You can call anywhere in the US or Canada at no charge. International calls are billed at inexpensive rates (around two cents per minute).
Only trouble is, you can’t use Google Voice outside the US.
Unless you combine it with Hotspot Shield. Then, because Google can’t identify where your computer is hooked up, you’ll still have access.
Ditto with other sites.
With Hotspot Shield in place, I can still shop on Amazon and have goods shipped to a US address. I can continue using Google Voice. I can log into my bank’s website. And I’m protected from snoops.
What more could an expat want?
Have you used Hotspot Shield? What do you like or not like about it?
Has anyone who is abroad been successful using this software to access streaming audio or video from a website that blocks locations outside of the US from using it?
Good question, Julie, and one I’m anxious to get the answer to as well. When I visit Panama this spring I intend to try it out, including checking whether I can stream video from Netflix while I’m there. . .
marianney | A Life Set Free says
I had not heard of this before but it seems to be a very useful tool and my fiance were discussing the downfall of not being able to use Google Voice abroad. Thanks for sharing this Susanna. I looked it up on CNET’s download.com and the review was ok (concerns about banner ads and connection) but it was also the most downloaded Encryption Software downloads.
Marianne, I hope to have more hands-on practical information about it after my trip to Panama in the spring. I’ll definitely be reporting back on this one!
Alex Shaka says
I have been able to use HotSpot Shield to make calls from Gmail to the U.S. from Uganda successfully for a couple of weeks, that is, until two days ago. I think Google has me fixed for now. Sigh! Still trying to figure out a way around it.
Alex, thanks for posting. Let us know how it works out. I’m going to be trying it out in a couple of months myself, but any and all input from the “field” would be helpful. 🙂