Let’s face it, we’ve all come across sites that are blocked. Whether that’s because your country has restricted internet access or you just want to watch YouTube at school, it makes no difference – all you want to do is unblock sites and use the web like everyone else.
The quickest and easiest way to unblock sites at home or abroad is to use one of the best VPN services. With a VPN, your activity is encrypted and made anonymous. This means that who or whatever is blocking sites on your network can’t see what you’re looking at or searching for. In turn, that means they can’t make the decision to block what you’re viewing.
- More: Here's how to watch CNN anywhere
Which VPNs are best for unblocking sites?
It’s important to think about privacy, how many servers the VPN has, and whether it’s any good for streaming. Free VPN services can be useful, but for getting around Internet restrictions, none are truly good enough. So, unblocking sites is something we’d only entrust to a paid VPN like ExpressVPN or NordVPN.
We rate ExpressVPN as the #1 VPN on the market (opens in new tab), and it’s our first choice for unblocking websites. It has over 3,000 servers in 94 countries worldwide, meaning wherever you are you’ll get a strong, fast connection. It's great for streaming, and in countries with strict VPN policies like China it also uses special obfuscated servers to help get around those restrictions.
You’ll get apps for all your devices, and just about every server delivers speeds which are fast enough to stream HD content from Netflix, or any other service. The best bit? Tom’s Guide readers can claim three free months on any 12-month plan – and you’ll also have a 30-day money-back guarantee to make up your mind before you commit.
NordVPN is another great choice (opens in new tab) as a website unblocker VPN. With 5,000+ servers in 59 countries you’ll have plenty to choose from, and its powerful encryption will keep you safe. Speeds are good, it’s great for streaming, and also works in anti-VPN countries like China. At $3.71 a month, it’s pretty good value too, so it’s a decent alternative to ExpressVPN.
If you're looking for a cheap way to unblock sites on the web, we'd highly recommend Surfshark (opens in new tab). While it doesn't deliver quite such an in-depth experience as Nord or Express, Surfshark (opens in new tab) is incredibly affordable at just $2.49 a month. Plus, you'll also be able to use it on as many devices as you want, and you'll have a 30-day money-back guarantee to test-drive it.
Why are certain sites blocked?
Certain sites are blocked for any number of reasons. Many countries, including China, the UAE, Cuba, Russia and Turkey, censor what can be accessed online. While this isn’t ideal for residents, it can come as a surprise to holidaymakers or those traveling for business that this will affect them too.
However, even in countries that don't censor content online, website unblockers can still be useful if your internet is restricted – for example, at work or at school. These restrictions are usually put in place for productivity, but in reality they can affect how you learn or do your job, so bypassing them with a VPN can have great benefits beyond just watching gaming vids on YouTube.
Finally, if you enjoy watching TV online, you’ll know that there’s tons of content that’s not available where you are. Netflix shows different content in different countries, and services like BBC iPlayer and Hulu are only available in one country. Using a streaming VPN is the only way to get more content out of your paid services, and access geo-blocked free ones, too.
How to unblock Netflix and other streaming sites
One of the most popular reasons to get a VPN is to access blocked content on Netflix, and get access to region-restricted streaming services in different countries. For example, if you’re from the UK but on a trip to Spain, you won’t be able to watch iPlayer until you get home.
However, a good VPN can get you access to any streaming content wherever you are – just as long as you pay for it, in the case of Netflix, Hulu, and other premium providers.
So, if you’re in America and want to watch It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia on Netflix – it’s exclusive to Hulu in the US – you can connect your VPN to a UK server. Then you can head to Netflix and get watching. That’ll save you having to get a Hulu subscription just for one show.
Note: Using a VPN to circumvent streaming site blocks is typically against their Ts&Cs, so proceed with caution and make sure you know the risks before you do so.
- Check out the best Netflix VPN for accessing blocked content
How to unblock banned sites
Beyond streaming, a VPN is hugely useful for unblocking your daily sites when overseas. A great example is China – if you’ve travelled there for business or pleasure, you’ll notice sites and apps like Twitter, Facebook, Google, Gmail, Wikipedia and quite literally thousands more are blocked. If you think you’d like to access them, even once, you’ll need a VPN.
You need to choose a VPN that’s proven to work in the country of your choice – both ExpressVPN and NordVPN are reliable as a China VPN, Turkey VPN, UAE VPN, and in other restrictive states thanks to their obfuscated server tech. Then, you can connect to a server in a nearby country that doesn’t restrict internet use, and get browsing as usual.
Note: If you know you’re traveling to a country like China that restricts VPN use, make sure to sign up before you travel – downloading once you’re there can be difficult or even impossible.
How to unblock sites that are banned at work or school
If social media sites are blocked on your school or work Wi-Fi, or perhaps you live in rented accommodation which has restricted Internet, a VPN can help you unblock sites here, too.
All you need to do is switch on your VPN, connect to your chosen server, and head over to the blocked website. Your traffic will then be anonymized, and your ISP won’t be able to choose what you can and can’t access.
ExpressVPN will get you access to just about every blocked site on the web (opens in new tab), wherever you are – and it's the service we'd choose to use if we were heading to China or anywhere else that restricts the web. Tom's Guide readers can claim three months absolutely free on any 12-month plan, and you also get a 20-day money-back guarantee so you can try before you commit.