You’ve left home and moved to another country. Maybe it’s for work, maybe for school; maybe it’s by choice, and maybe your employer sent you; maybe it’s temporary, maybe permanent. Whatever the case may be, you’re officially an expat now. Embrace it, savor it, live it.
The expat life enlightens us and challenges us, and it’s up to you and me to acknowledge the challenges and make the most of our time abroad. A big part of doing so involves learning about and using certain invaluable tools to help you along the way. A VPN is one such tool. I use a VPN every single day and couldn’t imagine getting by as an expat without one.
In this post, I’ll explain what a VPN is and give you the top five benefits of using a VPN as an expat. Read on, my friend.
What exactly is a VPN?
A VPN (short for virtual private network) is an essential online tool that secures your internet connection and helps protect your privacy on the internet. Beyond that, it is a tool that can help you unlock the full potential of the world wide web as it was originally meant to be used. You’ll see how important that all really is for you as an expat.
The VPN’s encryption hides what you’re up to online from anyone who may want to snoop on your internet activity or steal the personal information you disclose on certain websites. When you connect to a VPN, neither your ISP, government agencies, hackers, nor anyone else will be able to see what you’re doing online. Nobody but you…complete online privacy.
Not just that, but when the VPN routes your internet connection through the remote server (located in a country of your choosing) your true IP address is hidden and the sites you visit will register your IP address as being that of the VPN server you’re connecting through rather than your actual IP. This means that the websites you visit will think you’re actually in the country where the VPN server is located. Why would you care where a website thinks you are? Well, because you can do all kinds of awesome things when you spoof your location and trick websites into thinking you’re somewhere you’re not. Read on, my friend.
5 benefits of using a VPN as an expat
Below, I’ve compiled for you a list of my top five main advantages of using a VPN if you’re an expat.
Unblock geo-restricted content
If you’re already abroad, it’s more than likely that you’ve already encountered a notice stating that the video you’re trying to watch isn’t available in your area. Probably, you’ve encountered this way more often than you would care to recall. But you can easily bypass geo-blocks like these with a VPN and watch any video that tries to tell you you can’t watch it just because you’re not in a country where the video is allowed to be shown.
As I mentioned before, your VPN will change your IP address to that of the VPN server you’re connecting through, and in turn, broadcasting to the websites you visit that you’re in the country where the VPN server is located. So if you want to unblock US Netflix from abroad, all you’d need to do is connect to a VPN server located in the United States and you’re all set to stream Netflix as though you’re in the US, even if you’re halfway across the globe. Same thing if you want to access other geo-restricted streaming sites like Hulu and Amazon Prime. If, on the other hand, you want to unblock BBC iPlayer or Sky Sports, you’ll need to connect to a VPN server in the UK. Point is, your VPN will allow you to virtually travel to any country of your choosing to unblock content restricted to viewers within that specific country. This is all thanks to the fact that, by changing your IP address, your VPN will trick the websites you visit into thinking you’re somewhere you’re not.
And if you’re like me, you have hometown sports teams you grew up rooting for that you miss watching while abroad as an expat. But with a VPN, you won’t have to miss out because you can connect to a VPN server located near your hometown and access local broadcasts to watch your favorite teams from wherever you are. FOMO? No mo’.
Stay safe and secure on public Wi-Fi
You may be surprised at how utterly unsecure public Wi-Fi can be. Network administrators running these hotspots can monitor what you’re up to online, and hackers often target public Wi-Fi networks to steal sensitive personal data from internet users using the networks. When you’re an expat, you know that you won’t always be able to connect to the internet through a secure private network and that you will often need to rely on public Wi-Fi networks.
What is it you need to do then to protect your privacy on public Wi-Fi? Yep, you guessed it, you need to fire up your VPN. Since your VPN will encrypt your internet connection, it will hide everything you do online from anyone attempting to look in and monitor what you’re up to. This means that network admins won’t be able to snoop on your activity and hackers won’t be able to intercept anything you send or receive online when connected. They won’t be able to swoop in and steal sensitive information like your logins and passwords, contact lists, emails, messages, credit card details and other financial data, health information, social security number, name, address, phone number, and more.
This is the type of information that hackers make a killing on reselling on the dark web; it’s exactly the type of information that can lead to your life savings being drained or you becoming a victim of identity theft. I’m assuming that’s not something you want happening to you, so if you’re not in the mood to hand over your sensitive personal details to a criminal enterprise, then you absolutely need to use a VPN whenever you’re connected to public Wi-Fi in a cafe, hotel, airport, library, wherever.
Bypass government firewalls to access VoIP services and social media
If you’re an expat in a country where heavy-handed internet censorship is the norm, then you know that you’re not able to access many of the sites and services online that you were used to using back home. China is probably the most notorious for its practice of censoring the internet within its borders with its “Great Firewall”. Repressive government firewalls like China’s GFW completely block access to sites and services like Facebook, Instagram, Google, Twitter, WhatsApp, Skype, Viber, Facebook Messenger, and more. So, basically the sites and services you’d be using to keep in touch with your family, friends, and colleagues back home. Without a VPN, you’d be left high and dry, entirely cut off… incommunicado.
But since a VPN will encrypt your connection, these governments will have no idea what sites or services you’re dialing up on your computer or on your phone, meaning their firewalls won’t be able to block your access to those sites, allowing you to use them freely and keep in touch with the outside world. The VPNs that are the best to use in China and other countries to bypass government firewalls are ones like ExpressVPN, NordVPN, and VyprVPN that offer obfuscation – stealth – technology that will disguise your VPN traffic as regular HTTPS traffic, so no one will know that you’re even using a VPN at all.
Just make sure you get your hands on a VPN before traveling to a country like China, because once you’re there, it gets exponentially more complicated to get a VPN since the government firewalls block VPN websites as well.
Access your home bank account from abroad
Especially if you’re only temporarily abroad as an expat, it’s likely that you’re going to have a bank account back home that you’ve kept open. But accessing your bank account from abroad can prove tricky without a VPN. This is because, for security reasons, banks will often block access to accounts if they detect that someone is attempting to access the account online from a foreign country.
As you know, though, you’ll be able to spoof your location with a VPN and trick websites into thinking you’re actually where the VPN server you’re connecting through is located. This way, you shouldn’t have any trouble getting into your bank account from abroad and taking care of your financial responsibilities as if you were back home. Just make sure your VPN has servers in your home country. Top-tier VPNs will typically have servers located in upwards of 100 countries or more, so it shouldn’t normally be an issue, but it’s important to check a provider’s server locations before buying nonetheless.
Find cheap airline tickets
As an expat, you’re probably going to be doing a lot of traveling. You’ll probably head home to visit family and friends relatively often, and you’ll probably do some exploring around where you’re living abroad as an expat. Of course, that often involves hopping on a plane to get from one place to another. I’m an American expat based in Hungary and I like to fly at least a couple times a year, whether it be back home to the US, or around Europe to destinations like the Netherlands, Ireland, Spain, or the Greek Isles. Whenever I look for airline tickets to wherever I’m headed, I always, always fire up my VPN in a quest to find the best deals on airline tickets.
How airfares are calculated is one of the great mysteries of our time, but one thing is certain, they’re not cheap and they can really add up if you travel a lot. What’s interesting, and what industry insiders know, is that airfares can vary significantly depending on what country they are being purchased from. This means that the same flight can be hundreds of dollars cheaper for someone purchasing it online from, say Bangkok, than it may be for someone purchasing it from Paris. Because of this, by using your VPN to virtually hop from country to country, you can find the best possible deals on airline tickets. Sure, it can make an already laborious process even more exhausting, but it’s worth it if doing so can save you stacks of cash. And, not to mention, you can totally gain some serious cool points by telling all your friends how you used a VPN to hack the system to score an awesome deal on your flight.
If you’re an expat, you know that it’s not the easiest thing in the world to pack up your life and move to a foreign country. There are challenges you must face and obstacles to overcome in your foreign surroundings. But you’ll find that a VPN can help you overcome all kinds of obstacles and enhance your expat experience in so many ways while helping you keep in touch with loved ones and helping you enjoy some of the comforts of home even if you’re oceans apart. I use my VPN every day, it’s become an indispensable part of my expat existence. I’m sure you’ll find it indispensable to yours as well.