Being able to watch what you want whenever you want to is one of the many benefits of the internet. There are more streaming services than ever before, so the choice of what to watch is huge. The problem is that you can't watch these services just anywhere.
Because of licensing rules, they all use region blocking to ensure that movies and TV shows can only be watched by people in certain countries. You can't watch HBO Max or Hulu if you're in the UK, for example, nor can you access BBC iPlayer from outside the UK.
Except, of course, you can. Which is the whole reason you're reading this right now. A VPN allows you to get around these regional blocks and watch content that's not currently available in your country as well as catch up on TV shows from your home country when you're abroad.
Do bear in mind that accessing any of these services from another country could violate their terms of service, and you risk losing your account, so proceed at your own risk.
What makes a good streaming VPN?
One thing to know about unblocking video services is that VPN services and streaming services play a cat-and-mouse game of blocking and unblocking each other. This means there could be times when you find you can't watch shows from, say, Netflix Japan when you could the previous day.
Often, this sort of hiccup is fixed by trying a different server in that country or by talking to your VPN's tech support to find out what to do. And that's why VPNs that have 24/7 live chat are very useful as they can offer help exactly when you need it.
As well as responsive tech support, you should also check the list of streaming services the VPN claims to unblock and specifically the Netflix regions you may want to use.
Beyond this, a fast, stable service is of course desirable, as are apps for the devices you want to watch video on, such as an Amazon Fire TV, Android TV and others.
Bear in mind that the Xbox, PlayStation and Apple TV don't support VPNs, so if you see a service advertising that it works with those devices, it's always a workaround and certainly not a quick and easy process.
If a VPN doesn't sound like the right option for you, it's worth considering the StreamLocator Hub. Instead of connecting to different servers, this Hub projects its own Wi-Fi network which you can connect to, and bypasses geo-blocked content automatically.
But for a low monthly price, a VPN is exactly what most people need to unblock streaming services. Here are what we consider to be the best options overall for watching TV and films online.
Best streaming VPN 2021
Surfshark is a great choice for unblocking streaming services. It doesn't do what a lot of rivals do and list the services it unblocks, but it does have thousands of 'streaming optimised' servers in 65 countries.
More importantly, we've found it reliably unblocks video from various streaming services in our tests, and have had no issues with iPlayer whenever we've tried to watch something.
It will also unblock 15 Netflix regions including Japan, plus lots of other streaming services besides.
The reason we've put Surfshark above others here is because it's such a great-value package: it doesn't put any limits on the number of devices you can use, supports WireGuard for very fast speeds and has a good selection of apps including Amazon Fire TV.
This is why it's such a good choice for many people: the two-year subscription works out at just £2.18/$2.49 per month.
Read our full Surfshark review for more details.
Some might argue that ExpressVPN is the best VPN for unblocking streaming services, but while it may well be, the much higher monthly cost means we can't quite recommend it over Surfshark.
However, ExpressVPN does have quite a few things in its favour for those who regularly need to stream blocked video from a variety of different services.
It says it tracks more than 200 platforms in multiple regions and claims to be the only VPN which will unblock Kayo, a service for live sports events.
As well as the VPN service, it also offers MediaStreamer DNS which you can use if you have any trouble unblocking while using the VPN app. This is a handy 'plan B' which has previously worked for us when we had trouble accessing iPlayer.
ExpressVPN also offers a router 'app' which is considerably easier to use than others, even making a way to change server without too much hassle. This allows you to unblock content on an Apple TV, Xbox, PS5 or any other device that doesn't support VPNs natively.
If ExpressVPN tickles your fancy, then we have a special offer to get 15 months for the price of 12.
NordVPN is another excellent choice for streaming thanks to a high server count, top-notch speeds and wide device support.
The service reliably unblocks Netflix in various regions as well as lots of other streaming services including BBC iPlayer in the UK. It's SmartPlay feature means you don't have to think about choosing the right server: you just pick the country and the apps will select the best server for streaming.
NordVPN apps are available for just about any device you could ever want to use for streaming (except those that don't support VPNs, as mentioned) and there's 24/7 tech support for help when you need it.
Using its NordLynx protocol, based on WireGuard, Nord's connection speeds are some of the fastest around and the apps are very easy to use.
It's not quite as inexpensive as Surfshark, and has a limit of six devices using the service at the same time, but if those aren't problems (and they won't be for many) then NordVPN is a top choice.
You can sign up for its current two-year deal which works out at £3.29/$3.71 per month.
CyberGhost is one of the VPN services that has the dedicated streaming servers which you can connect to when you want to unblock video. It doesn't mean other services are less good at unblocking, but it can mean you're able to watch what you want first time without having to try a different server in the same country.
Certain servers are marked up as being optimised for specific service (HBO Max, Hulu and Disney+ for example) so you can be sure they're going to work. Alternatively, you can manually choose from more than 6,000 servers across 90+ countries, and those numbers are constantly growing.
There are apps available for just about every device, too.
The only snag we hit when testing CyberGhost recently was that it wouldn't unblock iPlayer (which it says it can) and other UK services such as ITV and All4 were listed as "temporarily unavailable" on CyberGhost's support pages.
As we said, unblocking changes over time, so by the time you read this, it's entirely possible that all three services are fully available through CyberGhost.
The other benefit is the low monthly cost: CyberGhost's 3-year plan which was just £2.15/$2.75 per month.
Read our full CyberGhost review.
PureVPN is a well-established VPN service that has one big selling point: servers in more than 140 countries.
That means you're almost guaranteed to be able to find a server that will let you connect to your streaming service of choice with decent speeds, with a total of over 6,500 servers to choose between.
While it used to have a dedicated streaming mode in its apps, this is now gone in favour of simplicity. Yet, we found that unblocking worked just as well: every service we tried from Netflix and Amazon Prime through to BBC iPlayer and others all worked first time.
If you're wondering why it doesn't score as highly as the others here, it's because it's no longer as cheap as it once was, doesn't support WireGuard and - in our experience - tech support wasn't as good: despite 24/7 live chat, we still didn't get quick answers to the questions we asked.
Like several other VPNs, PureVPN has introduced a 7-day trial for 99 cents (about 75p) so you can check if it will reliably unblock and stream the services you want to use.
The best-value subscription at the time of writing was the two-year plan at $80. That’s $3.33 per month. For those in the UK, that’s around £60 and £2.40 per month.
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