Isn’t it ironic that VPN connections get blocked? After all, a VPN is the very thing that helps you bypass various restrictions online, and the fact that your ISP, government, or even a website can block it might leave a sour taste in your mouth.
Luckily, VPN companies have come up with a lot of ways of how to bypass VPN blocks, making VPN connections virtually undetectable. Read on to find out everything you need to know about VPN blocking and the best ways to fix it.
Best VPNs for bypassing blocks
If your VPN got blocked, you might want to try another one. The following VPN providers are known for being able to get around various VPN blocks. This is due to various technologies from obfuscated servers to integrated proxies.
- NordVPN – includes obfuscated servers
- Surfshark – supports the Shadowsocks proxy
- IPVanish – regularly rotates IP addresses
- Private Internet Access VPN – has an enormous fleet of servers
- CyberGhost – allows you to buy a dedicated IP
Why are VPNs blocked?
There are lots of reasons why a website, your ISP, or the government might block VPN connections. Here are the most common ones:
1. School and workplace policy
It’s no secret that some schools, universities, or even offices block certain pages like Facebook, Twitter, or Youtube for productivity reasons (if that actually makes people more productive is another question). And as a VPN is one of the ways to bypass these bans, your workplace or school might block VPN connections as well.
Another reason for banning VPNs at school or at the office is the possibility to supervise internet traffic, as VPNs make it impossible for ISPs and network admins to access your browsing history.
To prevent you from using a VPN to access blocked websites, your ISP or network admin can use firewalls or other network filtering measures.
Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and other streaming platforms are unintentionally responsible for a huge chunk of the world’s VPN sales. And the reason behind this drive for VPNs are geographical licensing restrictions.
For example, you might have noticed that your country’s Netflix library doesn’t include certain movies and shows available in other regions of the world. That’s because the platform didn’t buy the licence to distribute these shows in your country.
As a result, streaming services have to ensure that their content can be accessed only in the regions it is licensed in. Unfortunately, this simply means blocking VPNs and proxies.
3. Fraud prevention
Some websites that deal with money don’t allow VPN usage in fear of money laundering. For example, you may not be able to do any transactions via PayPal if you’re connected to a VPN server. Even worse, you might get locked out of your account when trying to do so.
4. Legal issues
Remember – using a VPN doesn’t make an illegal activity legal. A good example is playing at online casinos. As some countries deem gambling illegal, many gamblers use VPNs to be able to play real money games that would otherwise be inaccessible in their region.
However, some casinos block VPN connections and might even terminate your account (together with all the winnings) if VPN usage is detected.
5. Political reasons
Even though it’s really, really unfair, there are many countries that use online censorship to limit the information that reaches their citizens. For example, China doesn’t allow any access to Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, and even Pinterest or Wikipedia. For this reason, VPN usage is widespread in China among natives and tourists alike.
However, it’s rather difficult to find a VPN that works in China due to strict regulations. And even if you find one that bypasses the Great Firewall of China, you may get fined if the government finds out about that.
Also, keep in mind that some countries ban VPNs entirely. Don’t try using one in Russia, Belarus, Turkmenistan, Turkey, or (oh, the shock) North Korea if you don’t want to risk your freedom.
Types of VPN blocks
Unfortunately, there exist tons of different ways to block unwanted VPN traffic. Below, I described the most common ones and explained how you can bypass them.
One of the simplest ways of VPN blocking is blacklisting the VPN’s IP addresses. Sites like Netflix and Hulu simply find the lists of IP addresses belonging to a VPN (unfortunately, these are sometimes available publicly) and block their access to the website.
It’s also possible for a service to notice unusual traffic associated with a certain IP address. Normally, an IP address is used by a single device. However, if the same IP gets shared by thousands of people, it becomes clear that a VPN might be involved here.
Solution: connecting to a different server; buying a dedicated IP
Deep Packet Inspection
To enforce censorship, some countries might use a technique called Deep Packet Inspection (DPI). But how does it work?
Well, first of all, you should know that all the data that you transfer online (be it a text message or a visit to a website) is divided into data units that are called packets. A packet consists of two parts: the header and the payload.
Regular packet filtering examines only the header (which includes things like your IP address), however, deep packet filtering is a much more advanced technique that can also examine the payload – which allows detecting VPN traffic.
Solution: using a different encryption algorithm; picking a different tunneling protocol; connecting to an obfuscated server/using stealth mode; using a proxy
Some networks may try to block VPN connections by blocking common connection ports used by VPN protocols. For example, OpenVPN uses either TCP Port 1194 or 443 by default and blocking these ports will prevent a VPN from connecting to a server.
Solution: switching to a different tunneling protocol; changing the default ports used by your VPN protocol; connecting to an obfuscated server/using stealth mode
Aside from Deep Packet Inspection, the government of China might also use a technique known as QoS (Quality of Service) filtering. In short, it slows down unwanted traffic to the point where the connection times out and you’re left with a blocked VPN.
Solution: using an obfuscated server or tunneling protocol
How to get around VPN blocks
Newton’s third law, which claims that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, is true even in the world of VPNs. There exist numerous methods to kick censorship’s ass and bypass VPN blocking. Let’s look at some of them in more detail.
Switching to another server or VPN
It goes without saying that simply trying another server (and getting lucky!) is the easiest way to get your VPN up and running. Usually, a VPN provider offers hundreds of different servers (often having multiple in the same country), so trying to reconnect might just be the thing you need to get around the VPN block.
It’s especially simple with services like ExpressVPN that rotate their IP addresses regularly. You can also try connecting to another country if the server location is not that important to you.
However, if you can’t seem to find a server that works, you might just ditch your current VPN altogether and try a new one. The best thing about that is the fact that you can do it for free, as most major-brand VPNs offer a 30-day money-back guarantee that lets you try out service after service until you find the one that unblocks everything you need.
Changing the tunneling protocol, encryption, or port
This is yet another simple way to bypass VPN blocks. For a variety of reasons, your VPN might be blocked only when using a certain tunneling protocol. You might fix this by picking a different one in the Settings menu of your VPN application. It can be especially helpful to use new and less popular VPN protocols, as they may have not been blocked yet by your network or in your country.
You might get around VPN blocking by using a different encryption algorithm. Luckily, some VPNs let you pick a preferred type of encryption manually.
Alternatively, you can try selecting a different port used by a tunneling protocol. As an example, even though the default ports of OpenVPN are 1194 and 443, it doesn’t mean that this protocol can’t use entirely different ports – you just need to select them manually.
Sometimes, it’s possible to do this directly on the app, however, you might need to do this manually as not all applications have such selection options implemented directly.
Using obfuscated servers
Sometimes, connecting to an obfuscated server (or using a “stealth mode” or “stealth protocol”) will be the only way to get you out of a VPN block. This is especially relevant for people who live in places like China where ISPs perform Deep Packet Inspection to detect VPN traffic. Such servers help because they often connect through ports that are usually used by email providers, websites, and other essential services, and thus aren’t usually blocked.
To use obfuscated servers, you firstly need to pick a VPN that offers them. I can recommend ExpressVPN, Surfshark, and NordVPN as a few of the services that have continuously proven to bypass VPN blocking thanks to this technology.
Once you’ve downloaded and installed the VPN of your choice, connecting to an obfuscated server is super easy – for example, if you use NordVPN, you simply need to switch on the toggle that says “Obfuscated servers”.
You can also try using an obfuscated tunneling protocol. For example, VyprVPN offers the Chameleon protocol, which is said to bypass various restrictions imposed by countries like China and Russia. These features are often interchangeable.
Getting a dedicated/static IP address
If the reason behind your VPN block is the plain old IP range blocking, then getting a dedicated IP address might solve the problem. That’s because you’ll be the only person using it, which means that it will draw less suspicion.
Many VPN services allow you to buy a static IP (which usually costs a couple of dollars a month), which is well worth the money when you consider its usefulness.
Switching to mobile data
Believe it or not, enabling mobile data on your phone can instantly help you bypass VPN blocks if VPN connections are banned by the network of your school or workplace.
Sure, you won’t be enjoying free wifi anymore, but you’ll be able to use the VPN of your choice. Just keep an eye on your mobile data limit if you don’t have an unlimited data allowance.
Changing the DNS settings
You might not be able to access VPN servers due to the blocks set by your ISP. Luckily, tweaking your DNS settings has a decent chance of setting things right. You can consider some of the most popular DNS providers like Cloudflare (220.127.116.11, 18.104.22.168), Google (22.214.171.124, 126.96.36.199), and OpenDNS (188.8.131.52, 184.108.40.206).
Tweaking your DNS settings can also work instead of using a VPN (assuming a website you want to access is blocked at the DNS level). However, keep in mind that this method works differently than a VPN. Your traffic won’t be encrypted – you’ll simply unblock the websites banned by your ISP.
Setting up a manual VPN connection
When your VPN gets blocked, a manual VPN connection might be your best solution. You can try setting up a VPN connection manually on your device (for example, it’s possible on Windows 10) via inbuilt VPN functionality or an app like OpenVPN Connect or strongSwan.
Setting up your own VPN server is also a way to go, but it can be a time-consuming, challenging, and expensive endeavor. On the bright side, it almost guarantees that websites won’t be able to detect that you’re using a VPN (especially if you use your own hardware and network to set it up).
Other ways to unblock content
If you don’t have the time to go through all of our suggested methods to unblock your VPN, you’ll appreciate the following alternatives that will give you the opportunity to access blocked websites.
SOCKS5 proxy (Shadowsocks)
Even though much more limited than VPNs, proxies are one of the more reliable ways to unblock the pages you need. Just keep in mind that the level of security won’t usually be the same as with a VPN. It’s also likely that you won’t be able to unblock everything you need – for example, a proxy might not let you watch geo-blocked Netflix content.
Keep in mind that it’s generally better to use a SOCKS5 proxy than an HTTP proxy. It is much more flexible in terms of types of traffic (HTTP is only for web traffic, whereas SOCKS5 can also be used on your torrent app, for example).
Shadowsocks is particularly powerful and may even get you over the Great Firewall of China.
And the best thing – some VPN providers allow you to use a proxy without the need for manual configuration.
Using Tor won’t unblock your VPN, but it can serve as a pretty good alternative. It is an open-source browser based on a network of volunteer servers, which protects your anonymity by hiding your real IP address and encrypting your data.
However, even though Tor will unblock a fair share of websites, it’s very slow. Also, you can’t choose the country you want to connect through.
SmartDNS (or a DNS proxy) is available as a feature by many VPN providers like NordVPN, Surfshark, and ExpressVPN. It helps you access streaming sites like Netflix or HBO on devices that don’t support VPN connections. These include smart TVs and gaming consoles.
How do I know a site has detected VPN use?
For a variety of reasons, a website can block your VPN, not allowing you to see its content. Usually, the reason behind such VPN blocks is a geographical one, and thus you’ll see yourself unable to access streaming giants like Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, and DAZN when connected to a VPN server.
And it’s really easy to know when a site blocks your VPN – you’ll see an error message stating that you seem to be trying to bypass geo-restrictions:
Luckily, disabling your VPN will turn things back to normal, as Netflix and other streaming platforms don’t ban your account for trying to trick them into showing you geo-blocked movie libraries.
However, sometimes things can become a little more complicated. For example, online casinos and even some online wallets might terminate your account entirely if VPN usage is detected, so you have to be extremely careful and always read the Terms of Service of a particular platform.
The bottom line
Even though there exists an enormous number of methods to block VPN traffic, don’t get discouraged from getting a VPN if you still don’t have one.
Using quality services like NordVPN will mitigate the risk of getting blocked in the first place. And even if you get the dreaded proxy error while watching Netflix, you can try one of our suggested ways of how to bypass VPN blocks and set things right.
Does my ISP see when I use a VPN?
It depends. ISPs can see what IP address you’re connected to, but don’t necessarily know it corresponds to a VPN server. Even if they do, they don’t have the access to your browsing activity while you’re connected to a VPN server.
Is it illegal to use a VPN?
It depends on the location. Even though in most countries VPNs are completely legal, some countries strictly regulate VPN usage or have even banned VPNs altogether. For example, VPNs are illegal in countries like Belarus and North Korea, and strictly regulated in China, Russia, and elsewhere.
Is it legal to bypass VPN blocks?
If VPN usage is legal in your country, it’s also legal to bypass VPN blocks. Sure, it might be against the Terms of Service of some platforms (like Netflix), but usually, you won’t face any consequences for doing so. However, it depends on the service – for example, most online casinos will terminate your account for using a VPN.
Can Netflix ban you for using a VPN?
No – Netflix doesn’t ban accounts for VPN usage, even if it goes against their Terms of Service. However, this might change in the future (even though it’s highly unlikely), so keep an eye on their ToS just in case.
What to do when my VPN is blocked?
There are many different things you can do depending on the type of block you encounter. The easiest solution is simply trying another server or switching to another VPN service entirely.
Can a firewall block a VPN?
Yes, it is possible for a firewall to block your VPN. Luckily, it’s also possible to bypass this block with the help of obfuscated servers. However, most firewalls don’t block VPNs by default – a firewall will usually block VPN connections only if it was configured to do so.