Doctor Who and Star Trek: Discovery are regular Netflix fare in much of the world, but not in the United States or Canada. The U.S. version of The Office is on U.S. and Canadian Netflix but not the Netflix service in many other countries. Japanese Netflix has lots of anime you won't find elsewhere; Netflix in the United Kingdom has classic British cop shows like Prime Suspect.
If you feel like you're missing out on all that delicious Netflix content that you can't get in your home country, you might want to try using a VPN on your computer to make Netflix think you're somewhere else. Your regular Netflix account will still work, and you won't be charged extra. (It's a lot more work to get a VPN to work on a set-top box, in case you were wondering.)
Our top choice for streaming Netflix from every country, at least part of the time, is Mullvad, which costs $6 per month or $72 per year.
Our favorite VPN to stream Netflix from the U.K. and the U.S. is Windscribe, and its dedicated "Windflix" servers worked every time we tried. Windscribe costs $9 per month or $49 per year. It’s also got a great free service, but its Windflix servers aren't part of that.
How We Tested
In Toms Guide’s tests, using 19 different VPN services to reach Netflix in six different countries. We were blocked from streaming content a bit over half of the time. (The front page of the Netflix site was almost always reachable.)
Some VPN services always connected to Netflix in specific countries, but no single VPN service connected to Netflix everywhere, every time we tried. And there's no guarantee that a connection that works well one day will still work the next.
In some cases, if one server failed to work, we could jump to another server run by the same VPN service in the same country and get that to stream properly. However, many VPN services have only one or two servers in most countries.
We tested access to Netflix servers in Australia, Brazil, France, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S. from New York in mid-October 2018, using Google Chrome 70 on a mid-2015 MacBook Pro with a 15-inch Retina display and a 2.2GHz Intel Core i7 CPU and 16GB of RAM running macOS 10.14 Mojave.
The easiest version of Netflix to access using VPNs was the company's U.S. content, followed by Netflix in the U.K. and in Brazil. (Several VPN services have specific servers optimized for accessing U.S. and U.K. Netflix.) Netflix content in Japan and Australia was the most difficult to access, although the distance from New York to those countries might be a factor.
There are a couple of caveats here. First of all, using a VPN or other kind of proxy service to access Netflix in other countries may violate Netflix's terms of service (the actual language is kind of vague).
If so, then Netflix would be within its rights to terminate your account. Using a VPN for this purpose may also be illegal in certain jurisdictions, and it's not something we can endorse or condone.
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Second, Netflix tries to identify and block VPN and proxy servers, with mixed results. The company didn't always do this, but it's now under pressure from Hollywood studios and other content creators to block cross-border streaming. This may seem harsh, but if you can recall the devastating legal settlements that ordinary file-sharers had to pay record companies in the early 2000s, you might appreciate this approach. You'd probably rather be blocked than sued.
We reached out to Netflix for further clarification, and were directed to a company blog post from early 2016.
"We have a ways to go before we can offer people the same films and TV series everywhere," the post reads. "In the meantime, we will continue to respect and enforce content licensing by geographic location. ... We look forward to offering all of our content everywhere and to consumers being able to enjoy all of Netflix without using a proxy."
Best VPN for Netflix Overall: Mullvad
This was a surprise. Many flashy VPN services run online ads touting their streaming abilities, and some designate servers to accessing U.S. and U.K. Netflix. Not Mullvad: It's a low-key, inexpensive, extremely privacy-conscious Swedish provider with a simple user interface, and it doesn't seem to advertise.
But Mullvad was the only VPN service we tested that streamed Netflix successfully in every country we tried at least some of the time. (NordVPN sort of could, but its Australian, Brazilian and French connections went to the U.S. version of Netflix. Private Internet Access got to all but France, but only after lots of failed tries.)
The downside was that Mullvad didn't always work on the first try with the in-demand U.S. and U.K. Netflix servers. Many other services did. We often had to try out different Mullvad servers. Mullvad did always stream successfully to Brazil, however.
Still, if you want to experience the breadth of Netflix offerings around the world, then Mullvad is a good option. It costs about $6 U.S. (€5/about £4.50) per month or about $72 U.S. (€60/about £53) per year.
You can pay online with credit cards or Bitcoin, or you can mail Mullvad cash. Because your account number is randomly generated on the Mullvad website, the company never has to learn your name or email address.
Best VPN for U.K. Netflix: Windscribe
For most U.S. Netflix users, the British version of Netflix is probably the most desirable overseas service to access. Five of the VPN providers we tried managed to get U.K. Netflix to stream every time we tried.
The cheapest among those is Windscribe, and it's also among the easiest to use. You just connect to its Windflix U.K. server and you're in. Windflix also had solid success with BBC iPlayer, the U.K.-only streaming service that has new episodes of Doctor Who and many other BBC shows.
Windscribe costs $49 U.S. (about £38) per year. If you want to pay by month, that's $9 or 7 quid, which is more than Mullvad costs but less than most other VPN services charge.
Best VPN for U.S. Netflix: Windscribe
The rest of the world wants to watch U.S. Netflix because it simply has the most content, and VPN providers try to make sure U.S. streaming works for them. Nine of the 19 VPN services we tested streamed U.S. Netflix all the time, and six more did sometimes.
But once again, Windscribe is the cheapest among those that always connected. As with the U.K. service, there's a dedicated Windflix server for the U.S.
A runner-up to Windscribe in connecting to both U.S. and U.K. Netflix was F-Secure Freedome, which costs just a buck more than Windscribe a year for three computers. (Windscribe gives you five connections at once.) Freedome is also simple to use, but you can't pay for a month at a time; you've got to pony up the $50 U.S. or £39 for the year all at once.
Best Netflix VPN for Cheapskates: Opera VPN
Finally, one service streamed Netflix from overseas all the time, in every country we tried, and it's completely free and very easy to use: Opera VPN, which comes built right into the Opera browser. (It's really just a browser proxy service. and won't protect other internet-using applications.)
There are a couple of catches, however. Opera has proxy connections in only three locations, vaguely designated as "Americas," "Asia" and "Europe." And the connections were not great, with the video looking very fuzzy most of the time, as if we were watching an often-copied-over VHS tape.
Using online tools, we tried to figure out exactly which countries housed Opera's servers, but we got puzzling results. When we logged out of Netflix, however, we could see from the browser URL that "Americas" and "Europe" were actually Sweden, and "Asia" was actually Singapore — at least on the days we tried.
So, you'll be able to use Opera to stream Doctor Who, Star Trek: Discovery and other shows that aren't on U.S. Netflix but are common Netflix fare in the rest of the world. But you won't be able to see stuff that's available only in the U.S. and Canada, like the U.S. version of The Office, or British exclusives like Prime Suspect.
Still, if you're just dipping your toe into this whole overseas-Netflix thing and you don't want to pony up for a paid VPN service, you could do worse than trying out Opera's "VPN" service.