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.)
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.
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.
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 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.