How to Access Websites Abroad with a VPN

By - January 11, 2013 (Updated: December 24, 2014)

How a VPN works in a business situation

How a VPN works in a business situation

Missing your BBC iPlayer? Can’t access Facebook? Expats and travellers often can’t log on to websites and services they use back home. A Virtual Private Network, or VPN, can help you reach those sites wherever you are in the world.

When you access a website, your computer is identified by an IP address made up of numbers, like This numbering roughly identifies where you are in the world, based on your internet provider. So in Belgium, the IP address would identify if you are a Belgacom, Telenet, Voo, Numericable, or other customer. This information tells a website which country you are surfing from.

A number of websites use your IP address to restrict content to people living in a particular country. This practice has become more frequent since our arrival in Belgium 7 years ago. For instance, music websites, Pandora and Spotify, use this type of restriction because of their license agreements with recording studios. The BBC restricts access to their iPlayer, because the content is owned by the UK license-fee payers.

But what if you’ve paid for the service in your home country but you’re now living abroad or travelling? A Virtual Private Network (VPN) service, like PureVPN, provides you with a workaround.

What is a VPN?

A VPN is most commonly associated with businesses. It allows a computer outside the office, like a laptop, to access resources inside the office securely. Once connected to the VPN, your laptop appears as if it is connected directly to the office. However, a VPN is simply a way to join multiple computers together.

Setting up a VPN is like building a pipe between your computer and another computer somewhere in the world. Consider the pipe analogy: if you open a faucet, the water falls into the sink. The drain catches the water and funnels it into a pipe which then carries the water out of the house.

A VPN is exactly the same (minus the water). It is a pipe between your computer and a second computer. When you are using a VPN, your computer funnels all of your internet traffic into a secure pipeline which passes the information to this second computer. The other computer then forwards your internet traffic to the website.

This is key – the website now believes your location is that of the second computer. Because your internet traffic was sent via the second computer, the IP address seen by the website is the IP of that computer, not yours! Thus if you’re in Belgium and you’re using a VPN to the US, a website restricting content based on US IP addresses will think you’re coming from the US and give you access.

What else can a VPN offer?

Beyond giving you access to content-restricted websites, using a VPN can also provide security. If you use a service which encrypts the connection, as PureVPN does, then the security will also prevent your internet provider from spying on you.

It is also useful if you travel to parts of the Middle East or Asia in which content is restricted. For instance, if you visit China, you’ll need a VPN to be able to gain access to sites like Facebook.

Which VPN Do I Choose?

Pure VPN Review

We choose Pure VPN for their service, security and flexibility

We’ve been using PureVPN for a few years now. There are many other options out there, but I decided on PureVPN for a few reasons:

  • Paid service has money to invest in their business, meaning better connections, faster computers, and more options.
  • Many VPN destinations, including Canada, US, and UK.
  • Even a particular country may have multiple options, giving you the ability to find one that offers the best performance.
  • Secure connections.
  • Unrestricted speed (some services throttle your speed based on your plan).

We’ve been happy with the service and support from PureVPN. It was nice to be able to watch the Olympics with familiar broadcasters and watch ice hockey on occasion since it’s hard to find here in Belgium.

If you’re interested in using a VPN, we’d appreciate you using our PureVPN affiliate link to do so. It helps us keep the lights on around here at CheeseWeb HQ!

Have you experimented with VPN services? Share your recommendations in the comments below.

Looking for more resources for living in Belgium? Check out our Expat Resources page.

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Web Strategist & Developer at RockFort Media
Andrew is our resident tech-geek and is normally found lurking behind the scenes on CheeseWeb doing things with code that Alison finds mysterious. He comes out of hiding occasionally to write about history and technology. He loves castles, driving on narrow, twisty mountain roads and relaxing with a glass of peaty Scotch. Follow Andrew on Google+
- 2 weeks ago


  1. Comment by Mark Drinan


    Mark Drinan January 11, 2013 at 08:31

    Will keep PureVPN in mind.

    I use at the moment, works well so far.

    Get to watch skysports & ESPN on my ipad which is great for the english premiership.

    They have setups for ipads, iphones, android, apple TV, boxee, PS3 Xbox, and more, and provide servers in 64 countries.

    • Comment by Andrew


      Andrew January 11, 2013 at 13:45

      Thanks, Mark! I haven’t used overplay, but will keep it in mind as an alternative.

  2. Comment by Someone


    Someone January 11, 2013 at 13:37

    I live in Belgium . I have been using Overplay vpn for my various TV watching for a long time.

    I don’t have Teledistribution as they call it here (cable). I have a yearly subscription to a vpn service which offers servers in a myriad of countries. All of the servers are pretty fas too.

    I watch French , Danish , UK , US etc etc etc… shows on a regular basis . I am able to watch them earlier than they would show them on local cable , and I am mostly able to see them on demand. The overplay client is easy to use , and makes it easy to switch countries. I have tried others , like vpnuk , hidemyass , bestvpn, before , but overplay is best.

    My main reason for using a vpn has always been BBC iPlayer mainly , and hulu second. But I can tell you I was pleasantly surprised with what the BBC made available during the Olympics !! I could watch _every_ event when I wanted , as many times as I wanted. It was fantastic. Stuff they would never show on local television. I even bought a month’s worth of vpn for 2 households in my family just for that.

    Here’s a pic of my desktop You can see the overplay client, and a list of countries I have TV channels for that are being broadcast live over the internet. My list is actually twice as long as what you can see there.

    Where regular vpn usage is concerned. I have an openvpn server running on a linux machine at my house that connects my lan , my parent’s house’s lan , 1 uncle and 2 aunt’s houses and my sister. there are old computers in all those places that serve as firewall/ vpn server and run ubuntu server. We are all on the same subnet. We can share folders , drives , containing whatever we wish to share. All traffic on udp ports 67 and 68 is immediately dropped when it tries to come over the vpn. That way we can have a bridged network without having to worry our respective dhcp servers are going to serve us IP’s belonging to the other people’s pools. I’m sure in time this kind of setup will be standard for all large families .

    Apart from a fixed connection to work this is the long and the short of it where vpn is concerned . It’s a lovely tech . It is especially convenient for ex-pats. Consider setting something up with your families over the pond. If you share your lan with the family , and know all your computers are on the same network , it generates a feeling of home and closeness . It’s strange that computers can be the source for a filling like that as well.

    Friendly regards.

    • Comment by Andrew


      Andrew January 11, 2013 at 13:48

      Thanks for commenting! I agree that VPN services offer a lot of possibilities to travelers and expats. I’ve not used overplay, but it looks like it will do the trick too.

      I like your thoughts around a VPN setup between family. Although it is a bit advanced for most people, it can provide some flexibility for sharing and avoids using 3rd party services like dropbox.

  3. Comment by Amy


    Amy January 11, 2013 at 16:11

    Thanks for the very informative and clearly written article, Andrew! I have been wanting to look into something like this so Mathieu can watch French TV, and so I can watch American shows on sites like Hulu. Here’s a question though – we currently have Netflix Canada, which is the streaming version through our Wii. Do you think we’d be able to switch to Netflix US and still stream through the Wii? If I understand correctly, we don’t actually need a second computer somewhere else to use a service like PureVPN, right? Or did I get that all wrong?

    • Comment by Andrew


      Andrew January 11, 2013 at 17:03

      Hi Amy, Thanks for commenting! So, to clarify, you are using an application on your Wii to access Netflix? In this case, there is no way to setup the VPN on the Wii itself, but you can use other methods.

      First, you can connect your Wii directly to a computer running the VPN software via network sharing.

      Basically what you need to do is:

      1. 1. Set up a PC to connect to the internet over WiFi./li>
      2. 2. Use that connection to setup the VPN (e.g. PureVPN).
      3. 3. Then you share that VPN connection (as described in the article) with the LAN (ethernet) port on your PC.
      4. 4. Then you plug the Wii into the PC. The PC acts as a bridge between the Wii and the internet. You may also need to manually configure the IP address in the Wii.

      A second option (and probably the easiest) is to set up a proxy service on a PC running the VPN.

      1. 1. Set up a VPN on a PC in the network
      2. 2. Set up a proxy service on the PC
      3. 3. Configure the Wii to use the Proxy service on the PC

      In this scenario you don’t need to change any of the cabling… you just need to be running the PC with the proxy software and a VPN connection.

      Hope that helps!

      • Comment by Amy


        Amy January 11, 2013 at 17:07

        Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions! I’m going to have to study all of that, but your explanation helps already. 🙂

    • Comment by someone


      someone January 11, 2013 at 17:59

      Have a look at this too :

      Overplay has a service called smartdns, that “spoofs” your location based on where you surf to . When you visit US sites that stream media only to locals it will make sure the sites think you are located in the US , if you surf to sites in France it will pretend to be french. I know this MOSTLY works ok… I personally use the more elaborate way of connecting to the remove vpn servers manually every time I want to pretend to be in another country. The Smartdns is a one size fits all solution aimed at people who just want stuff “to work” without needing to know what’s happening under the hood.

      The best thing about it though is the fact it can be installed on some routers ! You will have to read up on that though. Once it is installed on your router and is running , it should work transparently for every device on your network, wii , ps3 , computers , pads and phones.

      Installing SmartDns on a router is advertised as not being too hard to do. However if you decide to try it grab the collar of the nearest computer geek that you know is good , promise him some food and have him do it.

      Country by country as explained in Andrew’s article can also be installed on a router. expand the dd-wrt compatible and DrayTek routers parts.

      Good luck.

        • Comment by Someone


          Someone January 11, 2013 at 18:16

          MumbleMumble I meant wireless router not modem ..

          • Comment by Andrew


            Andrew January 14, 2013 at 13:32

            Thanks for all the info! I’ve used DDWRT in a couple places (using ASUS routers) and it offers a lot of powerful features. As you suggest, best to solicit the services of your friendly neighbourhood geek if you need something a bit more complicated 🙂

            I’ll take a look at the TP Link. I’m contemplating a dual WAN load balancing set up and considering what kit to buy. Thanks again!

  4. Comment by Dracaena


    Dracaena January 31, 2013 at 00:03

    Nice article about VPN’s, Andrew. I’m working out some “network” ideas atm, and maybe you can help with some questions.

    I’m also living in Belgium and testing a tunnel service so i can use IPv6. If i would use PureVPN, do i still need that other service for IPv6?

    Is PureVPN secure?
    Just got an articale about critical flaws in Universal Plug and Play (UPnP).
    Any comments or known problems on that?

    Looks to be good for streaming tv, how does it mix up with online gaming?

    Looks like it opens alot of options and ideas towards networking don’t you think?

    Thanks for the articale on PureVPN.

    • Comment by Andrew


      Andrew February 23, 2013 at 20:44

      Hi, thanks for commenting! I’ll try to answer your questions.

      Looking at PureVPN’s support, they aren’t offering IPv6 services yet. So you’d still need to look at that separately.

      I hadn’t heard about the UPnP vulnerability but I’ll look into it.

      Online gaming depends on what you are playing and how much bandwidth is necessary. Just like streaming TV, you may want to experiment with the different end points in the VPN service to see where you get the best speeds.

      Hope that helps!

  5. Comment by Bradley


    Bradley March 7, 2013 at 11:48

    Been using Happy VPN for more than a year and quite happy about it (pun intended 🙂 ). I heard some things about Pure VPN also, so I’m looking around for alternatives, just in case 🙂 Cheers

    • Comment by Andrew


      Andrew March 7, 2013 at 12:32

      Thanks for sharing, Bradley! I’ve not used them, but I’m happy you’re happy with Happy VPN 🙂 There are different solutions out there, so it’s good to hear what is working for others. Thanks!

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