You’ve done all the work of getting yourself 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.
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.
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 your life when you’re traveling or living abroad.
Fortunately, there’s an easy solution.
Sign up for a VPN service. 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.
And, best of all, it lets you do so in private. No need to worry about bad-guy snoopers if you’re using public wifi. The VPN encrypts all your traffic.
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 $4.98 for the first month. After that, it’s $9.95/month. Or go with the Pro version ($12.95/month after the first month). They offer a 3-day free trial.
Choose from servers in over 70 countries, including the US, Australia, Netherlands, France, UK, Germany, Singapore and Thailand.
They also have apps for all your devices.
Personal, fast and secure VPN — find out more.
PureVPN offers a trial account for $2.50. If you go for a two-year plan, pricing starts at only $2.87/month. There’s a money-back guarantee during the first 7 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. Sign up for 12 months at a monthly fee of $7.99, or $95.88 annually. They point out that they don’t have any bandwidth limitations and you’re not restricted to a single server.
They have servers in 190 locations, and you can use them on any platform.
Strong has several different plans, with prices starting at $69.99/year for the annual plan. 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 offers two services: SmartDNS and SmartDNS plus VPN.
SmartDNS mainly helps you with your entertainment needs, allowing you to stream US TV programming abroad, for example. If you sign up for their VPS plan, you get SmartDNS as well.
They don’t keep traffic logs, and their servers are located in 50 countries. A 12-month plan that includes DNS is $99.95.
Witopia’s VPS plans start at $3.06/month, but you need to sign up for three years to get that price.They offer a 30-day guarantee.
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.
This article was updated on April 24, 2018. All information is accurate at time of publication.