The Internet was meant to connect people. Unfortunately, many governments, corporations and Internet providers don’t necessarily feel the same way. Depending on where you live and what you’re trying to access, attempting to access certain websites will give you a black screen, a warning message, or an error page. Fortunately, a VPN can help solve this problem.
Specifically. a VPN can help you in two ways. First, by giving you an IP that helps you unlock foreign content and bypass censorship filters. Second, by using encryption to pierce any firewall, even China’s, giving you access to the open web. In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know, including important VPN features, why some websites are blocked, and why free VPNs are to be avoided. But first, we’ll go over the basics ,and show you some of the best VPN deals on the web.
Important features for unblocking websites from a PC
There are several reasons why websites may be unavailable to you. We list them further down – but for now, make note of the specific features that can help you unblock web access.
- Encryption protocols – encryption protocols like SSTP and PPTP can help you overcome hardcore censorship blocks. If you’re in a country like Pakistan or China, look for cryptographic technologies that can pierce national filters. This will help make sure you can unblock websites from your PC.
- Server network – the more servers a provider has, the more international IPs you can spoof. This is handy, because some websites are locked to be available in one or several countries (e.g. Pandora.com is only for US residents). This is another helpful feature if you’re looking to unblock websites.
- Bandwidth limits – if you run out of bandwidth while using a VPN, you won’t be able to unblock any more websites. Look for providers that don’t cap speed, bandwidth or server switches for the best possible experience.
- Ease of use – top VPN providers have apps that make it easy to install a service and get started using it. Free VPN providers often have poor apps or require you to set up your VPN manually. Unless you’re an advanced user, you’ll want to avoid the latter.
Our VPN recommendations
For users looking for solid security solutions on their PCs, we present the top 5 VPN providers on the market:
ExpressVPN is our overall top pick for PC users, and here’s why. For starters, this really is the fastest service we’ve tested, just as the name suggests. This is, in part, thanks to an exceptional server network with 2,000+ nodes in 94 countries. Whether you’re looking to stream videos, listen to music, make calls, browse or download large files, ExpressVPN will get the job done. As an added benefit, there are no speed caps or bandwidth limits – and each user gets up to 3 simultaneous connections. This means you can use the service at full speed, on several devices, without ever worrying about running out of traffic or experiencing any slowdown.
In addition to being fast, ExpressVPN is also easy to set up and install for users of all skill levels. The lightweight software is available for a variety of devices, including all common desktop operating systems: macOS, Linux and Windows. If you happen to use another operating system, you can set up ExpressVPN manually by following a simple set of instructions. Once you do, you’ll find that the app has a number of useful features. One is a built-in speed test that helps make sure you’re not experiencing slowdown with the service. Another is an automatic kill switch that protects your data from leaking when your VPN connection drops.
Check out our ExpressVPN review where we cover security features, speed, and more.
NordVPN is a security-first VPN service with a number of features useful for unlocking content. First, 5,200+ proxy servers in over 62 countries make it easy to get virtually any IP you want and access local content libraries. Whether you want to stream from Netflix, watch CBC, or access any other national content, you can use IP spoofing to do it. In addition to this, NordVPN has a number of specialty servers for you to use in specific situations. For example, you can use obfuscated servers to hide your VPN usage from oppressive governments or get a dedicated IP address so you don’t fall prey to shared IP blacklists.
In addition to helping unblock websites, NordVPN is strong on security and anti-censorship measures. A selection of cutting-edge encryption protocols, including OpenVPN’s UDP and TCP, keep your data protected. If you live in a country with strong censorship laws (like China), you can use SSTP to access the free internet. A strong no-logging policy means that nothing that can be traced back to you or your device is stored on NordVPN’s side. Moreover, NordVPN’s holding company is based in Panama, meaning that the service is virtually immune to takedown requests from hostile corporations and governments. There are even cyber sec features (ad blocker and malware shield), making NordVPN an all-around excellent choice for security-minded users.
To learn more, check out our NordVPN review.
CyberGhost is a powerful VPN that combines a generous array of features with ease of use. While most VPNs ask you to configure your connection manually, CyberGhost works a little differently. First, you install the service on your device using one of many apps compatible with all common devices, from video game consoles and routers to desktops and smartphones. Once you’ve done that, you’re presented with 6 configuration profiles. Two – unblock basic websites and unblock streaming – are specifically geared to help you access the Internet freely. Using them, PC users can unblock virtually any website they want.
Despite being easy to use, CyberGhost is rich in features. For starters, each configuration profile can be customized with a number of simple toggles including “block ads”, “data compression” and “extra speed”. Depending on what you’re doing online, you can customize your connection to work whichever way you need it to. In addition to having these extra features, CyberGhost is strong on fundamentals. With 2,700+ nodes in 60 countries, the server network is one of the biggest in the industry. Encryption is 256-bit AES, meaning it’s military-grade and virtually uncrackable. Last but not least, the logging policy is immaculate and doesn’t even store your e-mail address.
Check out our CyberGhost review where we cover speed, security, and more.
PureVPN is focused on giving you the most bang for your proverbial buck. While many other VPNs charge you extra for advanced features, PureVPN comes with a large number of free extras. One is split tunneling, which lets you choose which data goes through your ISP, and which – through your VPN. There’s the proprietary Ozone feature that protects your device and identity, even when you’re offline and logged out of PureVPN. There’s even a built-in ad blocker to make sure you’re protected from malware and advertisements.
In addition to the above, PureVPN is also strong on fundamentals. It has 2,000+ servers in 140 countries, with many servers in locations other providers can’t offer. This means you can get virtually any IP in the world and access any national content libraries you want. Even better, each and every server is equipped with a 1 Gbit connection. Since PureVPN is P2P friendly, this means you can use the service to stream, torrent, play video games, and engage in other demanding online activities that require speed and low latency. As an added bonus, PureVPN even gives you 5 simultaneous connection so you can connect all your household devices without having to log out.
PrivateVPN is another service that can unblock virtually any website on the web. Its server network may be a little smaller than those of the other providers on this list, but each node is powerful and equipped with a high-speed connections. This means that, despite a network that looks small on paper, PrivateVPN can help you get any IP and bypass virtually any censorship restriction. Of particular help is the PPTP protocol, which is compatible with virtually all desktop devices and capable of overcoming censorship restrictions. PrivateVPN also supports SOCKS5 technology, which can pierce even the great firewall of China to give you access to the websites you want.
In addition to helping unblock websites, PrivateVPN is strong on a number of features. Encryption is extra tough, with 2048-bit keys that have more possible combinations than there are atoms in the known universe. Bandwidth, speed and server switches are all unlimited, meaning you can use the service as much as you want without ever running out of anything. Last but not least, there’s a free remote installation service that helps you get set up with PrivateVPN quickly and easily.
You can learn more in our PrivateVPN review.
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There are several reasons that websites appear as unavailable to PC users. The first is something called geoblocking. This is when a business chooses to make some of its content available to users in specific countries, and block it for everyone else. Notable examples include Netflix and Hulu. To watch the full content libraries of these services, and many others, you have to be located in the US. However, the fact is that even open-access websites like Google give users in different countries different, unique experiences. If you want to use Google US, for example, you may find it impossible to do so from your current country of residence. This can be said to be another form of geoblocking.
Another reason is government censorship. Different countries enforce it for different reasons, but the end result is the same: PC users’ inability to use a service. In China, most of the Internet is blocked off for state ideological reasons. The Great Firewall of China – an array of hardware and software technologies – blocks off every popular website and service we take for granted, from Instagram to SnapChat to YouTube to Google. Other countries’ technologies are weaker, but you’ll still have a hard time accessing the free Internet from states with communist ideologies (Cuba, China), Sharia-based laws (Pakistan, the UAE) and other restrictive philosophies.
The final reason you may see a website as unavailable is a shared IP. Many websites ban internet addresses spanning entire neighbourhoods, cities and countries if a single user is doing something malicious (e.g. engaging in a botnet attack) in the area. This means that you can get in trouble and lose access to a service even if you did nothing wrong.
How can a VPN help?
A VPN can help you restore access to blocked websites in two ways:
- By giving you a new IP in your country (if available) or another country. This can help you bypass geoblocking by making it appear as if you’re in a country where access to a website or service is unrestrcited. For example, you can be in Guatemala, but so long as you have a VPN, you can get an Internet address from a country like the USA or Germany.
- A VPN can help you beat both censorship and IP bans. With censorship, a VPN can help by using encryption to let you bypass any Internet filter, including China’s. Your connection may experience some slowdown, but you’ll be able to browse the free Internet no matter where you happen to be. One protocol that’s especially excellent at overcoming censorship blocks is SSTP, and PPTP is close behind.
What about free VPNs?
Free VPNs can be excellent from a technological viewpoint. However, they come with some downsides. The first is that with a free VPN, you’re unlikely to get a wide choice of IP addresses. In fact, you’re likely to be limited to just several. The reason is that free VPNs don’t have much money to pay for servers, meaning they can’t give you a broad list of countries and servers to choose from. Another is that most free VPNs really want you to upgrade to a paid version. Limiting the features and servers you can use is their way of making sure you do.
Another problem with free VPNs is that they often resort to unsavory ways of drumming up money from their users. The most common scenario is when a free VPN service uses ads or upgrade prompts to get money. This can be obtrusive, but isn’t malicious in and of itself. A bigger problem is that some VPNs use illegal means to make money. Specifically, they sell your data to third parties – especially corporations and governments – to turn a profit. Some have even sold users’ processing power to criminals for use in botnet attacks. This is all obviously unwanted, and it can land you in trouble with the law. For all these reasons, the standard advice is to stay as far away from free VPN services as possible.
What if I have multiple devices?
As a rule, you can set up any VPN service to work on any device – at least if you’ve signed up to the paid version. Even better, all of the VPN services on this page have multiple versions. Every service is available for macOS, iOS, Windows, Android, Linux as well as modern routers and video game consoles. Moreover, most services have some number of simultaneous connections, meaning you can connect yourself to as many devices simultaneously without worrying about running out of speed, bandwidth or server switches.
Now you know how to unblock websites on your PC. You also know why you may want to avoid free services, and how a VPN helps you get access to virtually any website on the web. What are you going to use your VPN for? Leave a comment below and let us know!