Virtual private networks let you access different regions’ streaming libraries. Unsurprisingly, Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services aren’t too enthusiastic about VPN users unlocking all this extra content and have put up countermeasures. How effective are they, though?
Well, the short answer is that, in May 2022, using a VPN you can get into Netflix relatively easily. Hulu puts up a bit more of a fight, while Amazon Prime Video is the toughest of the three main streaming platforms. Streaming is still very much possible with a VPN, but which VPN you use definitely plays a part. Luck with finding the right VPN server definitely matters, too.
The History of Netflix and VPNs
Netflix hasn’t always been so concerned about VPNs. In the first few years after people discovered that you could “hack” Netflix regions by using a VPN to connect to different countries, you did so undisturbed.
Connecting to the United States and watching its much—much—better selection of TV shows was almost routine for a large number of users outside of the country, while American viewers would use a VPN to connect to European countries and their better selection of movies. For example, until the rise of Disney+, you could watch almost all Marvel movies on Netflix in Europe.
It was a good system for everybody: For a reasonable sum of roughly $200 per year (Netflix and a VPN all rolled into one, though you could go a little cheaper,) you could watch pretty much whatever you wanted. It also worked for Netflix, because people from all over the world signed up knowing that they could—if they were willing to sign up to a VPN—also watch stuff from other countries.
If all this sounds like a golden age, that’s only because it was: Netflix had virtually no competition—Hulu was around, but still pretty small—and thus had a massive library of high-quality shows and films. If you wanted to watch British shows, you used your VPN to access BBC iPlayer for free. For a pretty reasonable sum, you could watch all the entertainment you’d ever want.
Jumping the Shark
However, at some point, this ended. As with most “ages,” it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when the change happened. But, somewhere in 2017 or 2018, it started becoming harder and harder to access Netflix with a VPN. More and more often, you were met with some form of the dreaded “you seem to be using an unblocker or proxy message.”
The exact reasons why Netflix started cracking down aren’t clear, but they likely have to do with pressure from publishers, who negotiate with different outlets to see who broadcasts what and where. If you’re a TV station that just paid millions for a show, but then people are using the Netflix-and-VPN combo to watch it somewhere else, you’re not going to be too happy and complain to the publisher who sold you the rights.
What likely also didn’t help was the rise of other streaming services, who slowly started to nibble away at Netflix’s empire and, more importantly, its library. In a bid to guard what was theirs, all streaming services started to make it harder for users to use a VPN.
Hulu, for example, doesn’t like anybody outside the U.S. watching, while Amazon Prime Video has a very limited selection outside of the States. Equally protective is Disney+, which from the very outset made VPN use almost impossible, as people find out when trying to access the service’s pilot service in the Netherlands.
The Situation in 2022
Throughout all this, you could still access these services with a VPN, though it became a lot more hit and miss. Hulu and Amazon Prime Video, especially, were known as tough customers. Netflix was a little easier to access, though—at least until 2021, when Netflix cracked down so hard on VPN users several observers, ourselves included, figured the days of watching Netflix with a VPN were over.
However, just a few months later, it seems VPN providers have found ways around these blocks. Right now, in May 2022, you can crack Netflix’s VPN detection system using any of a number of VPNs. We had the best results with NordVPN and ExpressVPN, in that order, though even little Mullvad, not a service known for its Netflix cracking abilities, did okay.
Though not every server worked, we rarely had to reconnect to a different server more than once, which is a lot better than things were even six months ago. While our findings are mostly anecdotal, our experience is that UK Netflix was a little easier to get into than the U.S. library, and that NordVPN did a tiny bit better than ExpressVPN did—which is a reversal of how things were a few years ago.
We also tested Mullvad, which definitely had a harder time than the two VPN behemoths, but still got through to both UK and U.S Netflix, though we had to cycle through a lot of servers before we found one that worked.
Hulu and Amazon Prime Video
However, we didn’t do so well with another streaming giant, Hulu. Mullvad and ExpressVPN didn’t get through on any server we tried—we gave up after about five each time—while NordVPN did slightly better, letting us through twice after about the same five tries. However, unless you have a U.S.-based form of payment, you can’t sign up to the service, making the point somewhat moot.
The last of the big three, Amazon Prime Video, seems nigh uncrackable, though: none of our three VPNs could get through. A quick survey of the How-To Geek newsroom also showed that nobody outside the U.S. could get through Bezos’ fortress.
Still, though, even just Netflix is pretty great with a VPN. We suggest you make the good times roll: After all, you never know when Netflix will start another crackdown.