6 reasons to use a VPN when streaming

A grid of streaming service apps (Sling, Prime Video, Paramount Plus, Peacock, Netflix, AMC Plus, HBO Max, Pluto TV, Apple TV) open on a phone
(Image credit: Tom's Guide/Henry T. Casey)

Years ago, the best VPN services were generally only used for staying private online, and for staying safe when torrenting. However, in the past decade or so one of the most common VPN uses has become unblocking streaming content from other countries.

In fact, when we surveyed our readers, over 50% of those who use a VPN used it for streaming, with a hefty 10% saying they favor a VPN for streaming over any other function – privacy included.

However, plenty of people still don’t know the power of using a streaming VPN – and, for those not hugely familiar with the software, that’s perfectly understandable. So, here we’ll run down a handful of top reasons for using a VPN when streaming – and, spoiler alert, it’s not all about getting access to more content. 

NB: Using a VPN to access restricted content is very often against streaming services' T&Cs. While unlikely, you may be at risk of having your account terminated if you're detected.

1. Watch geo-restricted sites like BBC iPlayer

While some streaming services are available globally, there’s a huge amount that are geographically locked to just one country – such as BBC iPlayer, Hulu, and many more.

Some are free-to-watch while others are paid-for, but if you’re outside of the service’s covered region, the result will always be the same – access blocked. For those on trips abroad, this can be a real pain, especially when you’re paying for a service.

This simplest way to get around this is to virtually change your location by using a VPN. 

Just connect to a server in the country where the streaming service is available, then head to the website (or open the app). The site should think that you’re in your country of choice, and you’ll be able to stream whatever you want, wherever you are.

However, it's well worth noting that some, if not all VPNs can have problems accessing streaming sites at times – and many can't unblock anything at all. This is a large part of  our testing in our VPN reviews, so make sure to fully research your VPN of choice before buying. And, quality support is essential if you find access being blocked.

Netflix account sharing

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2. Watch Netflix content from other countries 

Netflix is something of an outlier when it comes to streaming sites, as the same service is available just almost everywhere in the world. However, what’s available to watch varies widely depending on your location.

For example, if you’re in Europe you won’t be able to watch the best US-only Netflix shows because they’re just that – only available in the US. Use your Netflix VPN to connect to a US server though, and you’ll be able to watch exclusive content anywhere.

The same goes for when you’re abroad, too. If you’ve been bingeing a series that’s only available in your country and you’re abroad, simply select a server back at home and tune in.

Again, access for Netflix can be troublesome for even the very best services – so make sure to read up, and take advantage of any 30-day money-back guarantees you're offered if it turns out your selected service can't perform.

3. Watch exclusive live events from around the world 

If you’re a big sports fan, you’ll know the sky-high cost of specialist subscriptions and pay-per-view events. However, with a little research and a VPN you might be able to watch anything you want for less, or even for free.

As an example, F1 fans in the US need to subscribe to a TV service that offers ESPN. For casual fans that don’t already have access, that can be a pricey commitment. However, some countries like Austria broadcast every race for free, and other select races are available for free in the host countries.

With a VPN, you can tap into these free broadcasts by – you guessed it – connecting to a server in the correct country.

Other major free-to-air events that we’ve seen unlocked with a VPN are Glastonbury Festival, Meghan and Harry’s Oprah interview, Euro 2020, the Olympics, and the Champion’s League final. That’s a pretty tasty roster – all costing just a few dollars a month for your VPN.

Testing streaming Sticks in Hotel Rooms

(Image credit: Henry T. Casey)

4. Avoid network throttling 

Having access to a huge amount of content is all well and good, but if your internet connection is running at a snail’s pace you won’t be able to enjoy it. If you find your internet slowing to a crawl when you’re streaming – or undertaking another high-bandwidth activity like gaming – you might be a victim of network throttling.

Throttling is when your Internet Service Provider (ISP) slows your connection due to your activity to ensure everyone else in your local area isn’t affected by your high-bandwidth usage. 

Network throttling won’t affect everyone, but if you find yourself stricken by slow-down, then you’ll want to do something about it.

That something is to use a VPN. By encrypting your activity, your ISP will be unable to see what you’re using the Internet for, and subsequently be unable to make the decision to slow down your connection.

5. Stream on restricted networks  

Some networks – like schools, offices and Wi-Fi on public transport – limit usage to browsing only. If you want to watch some Netflix or even listen to music on Spotify, you may well find any and all apps blocked. 

By using a VPN, you can hide your activity from the ISP, and access anything you like, anywhere. We’re not necessarily advocating watching Netflix at work, but with a VPN you’ve certainly got the option…

6. Stay more private when streaming 

If you’re on holiday, a lengthy train journey, or just taking five in your favorite café, it’s quite likely that you’ll be connecting to a public Wi-Fi hotspot. While many are now password-protected, it’s still not unusual to find unprotected networks. 

Despite their convenience, unprotected networks can be dangerous – especially if you’re inputting sensitive details like logins or bank information. And, one of the most common reasons for connecting to a public network is to stream on the fly.

By using a VPN, you can stay protected no matter what network you’re connected to and still get all the streaming delights you're used to back at home.

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Mo is VPN Editor at Tom's Guide. Day-to-day he oversees VPN, privacy, and cybersecurity content, and also undertakes independent testing of VPN services to ensure his recommendations are accurate and up to date. When he's not getting stuck into the nitty-gritty settings of a VPN you've never heard of, you'll find him working on his Peugeot 205 GTi or watching Peep Show instead of finally putting up those shelves.