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Inconvenient Internet Access
Governments worldwide have been increasing internet surveillance and censorship for a variety of reasons in recent years. With some states taking rather extreme action to prevent people from accessing the information they would consider sensitive or provocative material, such as the Great Firewall of China. These measures thrown up by some governments can make it increasingly hard to access services such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter, which can cause many problems when trying to keep up with friends and family around the world.
Many countries monitor the majority of their internet traffic. However, for most travellers and expats, it will be the restrictions on internet usage and browsing that will be most bothersome. The map below shows just how pervasive internet censorship is around the world, with many travel destinations heavily affected, especially across Asia.
VPNs to the Rescue
When travelling abroad in the 21st century, whether it be for work or holiday, a stable and secure internet connection is one of the most common requirements that many of us have. Whether it’s because you’re worried about security, or just addicted to social media and Netflix, VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) can provide the answer.
“Since moving to China I have found a VPN crucial to maintaining my normal browsing habits due to the extensive censorship of a wide variety of websites here. Otherwise, it can be quite hard to keep up with friends from back home with access to Facebook and other social media sites blocked. The multinational company I work for actually provides them for employees, because they know how important they are for the expats in the workforce and security in general.”
Maggie – US expat in Guangzhou, China
VPNs enable you to access any part the internet while hiding your identity, location and which content you’re actually browsing from anyone monitoring your connection. Anyone attempting to look at what your computer is doing from the outside would only see data passing back and forth from your device to the VPN server and nothing else. Being able to make your computer appear elsewhere to external connections is what allows VPN users to bypass local web filters and access movie and television content meant for other countries, for example, BBC iPlayer or Hulu.
I decided to use a VPN provider when moving back to Sweden mainly because I wanted to keep up with my favourite British shows. Being able to watch my soaps makes me feel connected to the UK in a way which is hard to put in words. Last time we lived in Sweden, I didn’t have access to UK television and certainly felt a lot lonelier and more alienated from the UK. Just tuning in really has helped me still feel a part of home and what is happening there.
Tracy – UK Expat in Sweden
Our Top VPN Picks
Following on from our rundown of some of the most popular VPN sites last year we’ve taken it upon ourselves to hunt through over 70 of the current offerings from around the web and globe, to give you an easy guide to the most versatile and cost-effective VPN solutions out there. Just check out the tables below and read through our top picks to find the best option for you.
Remember that although a VPN will hide your identity and location, they are currently outlawed in some countries, including China, Iran and North Korea.
PrivateInternetAccess – 3253 Servers – 25 Countries
With a massive 3253 servers across 25 countries around the world, no other VPN service can offer anywhere near the versatility of PrivateInternetAccess. They also offer ad and malware blocking, and instant setup services to get you online and secure quickly. Your bandwidth will also be unlimited, meaning that you can stream to your heart’s content.
HideMyAss – 940 Servers – 190 Countries
Although HideMyAss has less than a third of the servers of PrivateInternetAccess, they are based in nearly eight times as many countries, meaning that you can surf the world like a local wherever you are. If you just really need to stay up to date with your favourite obscure Kazakh murder-mystery series, this is the one for you.
VPNLand – 400+ Servers – 12 Countries
With over 10 years of network management experience, the Canada-based VPNLand has cheapest 12-month service we could find, coming in at a solid $35. If you’re just after a cheap solution to get around internet censorship in your current location and you don’t really care about anything else, this is probably the answer for you.
PureVPN – 750+ Servers – 141 Countries
Not only do PureVPN come in cheap, but they’re also great on privacy, based in Hong Kong and run a huge number of servers across the globe. In fact, with tighter security and over 750 servers in 141 countries around the world Pure VPN is only $0.40 more expensive than VPNLand for an entire year. Additionally, five concurrent logins from a single account are allowed, meaning that you can browse on your laptop, phone and tablet at the same time if that’s something you’re going to need.
ExpressVPN – 100+ Servers – 94 Countries
Although VPNLand and PureVPN both offer cheaper services and PrivateInternetAccess has around 35 times more servers, the king of VPNs, ExpressVPN, just has to be mentioned. Hailed by many as the most comprehensive and professional service out there at the moment, with their 30-day money back guarantee, excellent customer service reputation and support of nearly all operating systems and devices currently on the market (sorry Windows Phone users). The only significant downside is the cost, with a 12-month deal sitting at $99.95, making ExpressVPN one of the more expensive services currently on offer.
– Data on internet censorship around the world was provided by the OpenNet Initiative under a Creative Commons licence.
– Information on Google content removal requests was taken from their Transparency Report.
– VPN Scoring and additional information were taken from VPNList.