Packing up and moving abroad can be at once exhilarating, transformative, intimidating, and terrifying. When you add it all up, the overwhelming feelings of uncertainty that come with moving to a foreign country can be incredibly powerful. Maybe you don’t know the language, maybe you’re not sure how you’ll handle adjusting to a new culture, customs, and food, and maybe you’re just not sure how you’ll be able to keep in touch with your family and friends back home.
Any way you shake it, the expat life is a hell of an adjustment at first, and it takes time to get to the point where you feel like you can really be in your element in your new (foreign) surroundings. Even so, it’s good to know there are ways you can help ease that adjustment. It’s not just knowing where the nearest McDonald’s is, and it’s not just getting active in the expat networks in your new city – though there’s no doubt both are important. You’ll need something beyond that, something versatile and high-tech to help you fully thrive as an expat while still staying in touch with the comforts of the home you left behind. As an expat, you need a VPN.
As an expat myself, I’m well aware of what it means to move your life abroad, to trade the familiar for the unfamiliar, and what a massive adjustment it all really is. And I can tell you right now that using a VPN as an expat is a lifesaver, it’s an indispensable piece of technology that can help you in so many ways. I use a VPN every single day, and so should you. And I want to explain why.
What is a VPN?
Basically, a VPN (short for virtual private network) is a piece of software that routes your internet connection through an encrypted tunnel to a secure server in a remote location of your choosing. When you connect to a VPN server, your online activity is secured and made private via encryption and your true IP address is hidden, effectively changed to that of the remote VPN server you’re connecting through.
If you’re an expat who already uses a VPN, then great, you know how versatile the software can be. But read on and you may come across something about VPNs you may not have thought of before. If you’re new to VPNs and have no idea how they can help you as an expat, then that’s totally fine too. I’m here to give you a full rundown of what VPNs can do and why you would need a VPN as an expat.
The Privacy Benefits of Using a VPN as an Expat
First off, VPNs are primarily designed to give you privacy online; privacy from your internet service provider wanting to know every website you visit, privacy from government authorities attempting to spy on what you are doing online, and privacy from hackers trying to steal your sensitive personal data. Because the VPN software will encrypt your internet connection, neither your internet service provider nor any government intelligence agencies, hackers, network administrators, nor anyone else looking to snoop on your online activity will be able to see what you are up to online when you are connected to a VPN server. All of your online activity will be kept completely hidden from everyone but you when you use a VPN.
This means that when you use a VPN when connected to a public Wi-Fi hotspot, for example, hackers will not be able to spy on your activity and will not be able to intercept the personal data you’re transmitting during your online session. One of the reasons using a VPN is essential for expats is because access to secure private Wi-Fi networks is not always a given when you’re living abroad.
Information like your private messages, online account passwords, financial information, health information, and so on will be kept safe and out of the hands of criminals when you use a VPN. This is why it’s so important to always use a VPN whenever you connect to public Wi-Fi, especially considering how notoriously unsecure public Wi-Fi networks typically are and how easy of a target they can be for hackers.
How a VPN Can Help Expats Bypass Censorship
Depending on where you’re living out your expat experience, you may also find your VPN’s ability to bypass restrictive firewalls a godsend. In China and in other countries where the internet is severely censored, internet users are entirely blocked from accessing many of the websites and services so many of us use every day without a second thought. Authoritarian governments use firewalls (probably you’ve heard of the Great Firewall of China already) to censor the internet and block sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google, and Instagram, as well as news sites like the BBC and the New York Times.
But when you fire up your VPN, you can easily access all those sites because the VPN will effectively bypass the government firewall by tunneling your internet connection through a different country while encrypting it and concealing your online activity. You’ll be able to update your Facebook status, retweet all the hilarious memes you come across scrolling Twitter, share photos of your lunch on Instagram, and watch all the YouTube videos you want as though you’re back home, and not actually sitting behind a repressive government firewall.
Government firewalls like China’s GFW also block access to vital communication applications like Skype, WhatsApp, Viber, and Facebook Messenger. As an expat, you know you can’t live without services like this, so if you want to easily keep in touch with your family and friends back home, you’ll need a VPN to virtually tunnel your way into another country to bypass the firewall.
And it’s not just bypassing firewalls you have to deal with if you’re an expat in a country with strict internet censorship and where widespread internet surveillance is the norm. Some governments love to monitor every detail about what citizens are doing every minute of every day, including what they’re up to when they hop onto the internet. If you’d rather not have some curmudgeonly government imp watching your every click and keystroke as you surf the web, you’ll need to wield the encryption powers of your VPN to hide your activity from anyone looking to snoop on what you’re up to.
There’s no doubt that VPNs are a powerful tool for protecting your online privacy, but they’re useful for so much more than just that. Since your VPN can route your internet connection through servers in other countries and change your IP address to the VPN server you’re connecting through, you can unblock all kinds of geographically-restricted content from all over the world.
For all intents and purposes, your IP address is what broadcasts your location to the websites you visit, which helps websites and online services provide localized suggestions based on where you are. It’s what also helps websites restrict certain content to certain geographical locations.
Let’s say you’re an American expat living in the EU, how many times have you tried to watch a video online on an American site only to be greeted with a message stating that the content you’re trying to access is not available in your area? It’s frustrating, I know, because it used to happen to me all the time.
When I was living in the US, I had my Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video services that I watched all the time, and I got used to cycling through the three of them without a second thought. It wasn’t until I moved to Europe that I realized that I had taken such luxuries for granted. I couldn’t access the US Netflix library, I found my Amazon Prime Videos library was severely limited, and I couldn’t access anything on Hulu at all. But when I found out that I can use a VPN to watch Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu as if I were back in the US, it was life-changing.
As an expat, regardless of how long I’ve been abroad or how well I’ve assimilated into my local culture, I often pine for the comforts and familiarity of home. With my VPN, I can hold on to that sense of being back home, at least virtually. All I have to do is connect to a VPN server located in the US and I can easily access Hulu, the entire US Netflix library, all of my favorite content on Amazon Prime as if I were chilling on my couch back in Ohio.
Not just that, I can use my VPN to tunnel into the US and access all my local TV stations. This means I can even watch any Cleveland Browns, Indians, or Cavs game live and in full HD – from across the Atlantic Ocean. Sure, that sometimes means I’m up from about one or two until five in the morning if a particularly important game is being played at night in the US. But it’s worth it if you’re a die-hard sports fan like me.
How a VPN Can Help You Get Cheaper Flights Back Home
Of course, just because you’re living abroad doesn’t necessarily mean you’re never going home to visit. But you know as well as I do that booking those plane tickets can hit your wallet like a right hook from Muhammad Ali. Even if you just want to take a quick flight to another nearby country for a long weekend, the airline fares can add up.
One of the best life hacks I learned as an expat is that you can use a VPN to find the best airline deals on the web. You see, airline ticket prices can vary quite a bit from country to country, so you can use your VPN to connect to a different country to find where the best deals are. Yeah, this can mean that your search may take a little while longer, but if doing it saves you a couple hundred bucks, then I’d say it’s time well spent.
As you can see, there are plenty of reasons why an expat would need a VPN. There are so many ways your life will change when you move abroad, and although you’ll need to embrace those changes to thrive as an expat, it never hurts to have some help along the way. A VPN will help you stay in touch with the people you care about back home; a VPN will help you access geo-restricted content from home and from all over the world; a VPN will help you travel cheaper; a VPN will help keep you safe and secure online wherever you connect from; and a VPN will help you unlock the full potential of the internet – the way it was always supposed to be: free, open, and unrestricted.