We’ve written plenty of posts about the importance of traveling with a VPN, but one thing we haven’t yet addressed is exactly what you should look for in a good VPN; what type of features are the most important for international travelers.
A Virtual Private Network is the most important thing to have for internet use while traveling. It encrypts your traffic and sends it through a secure server, which can be in a country of your choosing.
For instance, you could be logging on from Peru, but as far as your browser is concerned, you’re accessing the internet from Australia. This is great for getting around internet censorship in countries such as China, but also means that your connection is totally private.
You’re able to browse the internet securely and anonymously, and no-one can hack you to steal data like they could on an open, public network (think free internet in airports, cafes, and hotels).
But not all VPN services are created equal. So, when evaluating your options, you should make sure you get the following functionality and services.
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How to Find the Best VPN for International Travel (What to Look For in a Great VPN)
Server Locations in Your Home Country
Media licensing, international copyright rules, and other factors determine whether content is available in a particular country. I’m sure I’m not the first person who’s attempted to access Netflix, and realized my catalog that is up to 90% smaller because I’m traveling.
Region locking refers to when content is locked to a particular location, and is not accessible in any other countries. Nothing can be more frustrating than trying to keep up with your favorite shows, only to be thwarted because that content isn’t available in your region.
Before deciding on a VPN, you should as such make sure that it offers server locations in your home country. But you should do this even if you’re not a binge watching Netflix user.
Banks and email providers freeze accounts all the time if you’re logging in from somewhere unusual. Your account gets flagged, and while banks are a lot better at restoring access, you might have an uphill battle when it comes to restoring your email account.
To prevent this from happening, use a VPN. Connecting to the internet via a server in your home country means you’re effectively able to trick your streaming service, bank, or email provider, into thinking that you’ve never left the country.
Easy to Use Mobile App
The simple fact is, that in today’s world we no longer only use our laptops to connect to the internet. In fact, some people don’t use laptops at all while they’re traveling.
Smartphone browsing overtook laptop and desktop surfing back in 2017, and travelers in particular use their phones for all kinds of tasks, from using Google maps to navigate through cities, to booking hotels, checking the weather, and keeping on top of your flight details.
So you should make sure the VPN you choose has an easy to use mobile app (all good VPN’s do), and allows you to login using multiple devices (meaning you can use it on your laptop, phone, and any other devices that connect).
While your phone’s physical safety is important, it’s equally as important to protect the data you have stored on it; everything from your passwords, to credit cards numbers, and bank account details.
Keep in mind that while most popular versions of mobile operating systems are supported, you may run into trouble if you’re using an older device with an outdated system.
Before selecting a VPN service, confirm that the operating system is supported and that the app will work with your phone. The company should detail the minimum operating system version that gets access to the software.
24/7 Customer Support
When you’re traveling across the globe, having access to support that is only available during business hours is essentially the same as not having support at all.
‘Business hours’ could be the middle of the night in some locations, which makes it unworkable during international travel. In that sense, companies that have reps available 24/7 are essential for less hassle.
If you run into problems with the VPN setup, configuration, or connection while in a foreign country, support can address it immediately rather than playing phone tag for days. And something that offers a strong set of self-service support resources is particularly useful if you’re self-sufficient with a bit of technical know-how.
Keep in mind that while there are free VPN’s you can easily download, support is only something you’re going to get from a paid subscription. As is our next recommended feature …
When you’re traveling extensively, you may find yourself using more internet than you’re used to.
You could be streaming shows more often because you’re constantly on long haul flights, uploading high-res photos to social media, or constantly using Instagram stories / Facebook live.
Most free VPN’s will have a limit on the data you can use before they prompt you to upgrade and purchase their paid version for unlimited browsing. If you’re using the internet daily we recommend you do this from the get go.
Singing on for a VPN that offers unlimited data from the start of your vacation means not having to pay close attention to a usage meter throughout your trip, and not having to worry about organizing an upgrade while you’re traveling.
If you hit your data limit and your VPN stops working, you’re not protected anymore, and this can be incredibly risky. Anyone using the same network can access your information; they can see data like your usernames, passwords, and credit card numbers.
So make sure you find a VPN that offers unlimited data; this also means that you can make good use of it when you’re back home (VPN’s aren’t exclusively a good idea for travelers, they’re also a very good idea for home internet useage).
No Borders Mode
This type of mode promotes a free and open Internet, without government censorship that blocks access to critical content and web resources. The most common example of a government controlling the internet is China.
The Great Firewall of China, as they call it, blocks everything that the Government doesn’t want its citizens to access. This includes anything that goes against the approved political message, as well as American companies such as Google or Instagram.
That’s right – most popular social media sites you use are blocked in China. As are news sites like the NY Times. Here is a list of blocked websites in China.
China has its own versions of popular websites, and encourages people to use these instead. But if your VPN has a No Borders mode, you’ll be able to break this barrier because it routes your internet through a server in a different country, which doesn’t have any censorship.
There are many other countries where the Government restricts the internet, including Belarus, Cuba, Iran, Libya, Nepal, the Maldives, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, the list goes on. But the best VPN for your travels should cover every potential location.
Reporters Without Borders, who fight for a free and open internet, commonly provide reports and informations about which countries are, in their words, enemies of the internet (meaning they censor).
Sometimes websites or governments will identify VPN traffic and block it from working correctly. They are obviously aware that travelers to their countries use VPNs, and do everything they can to stop it.
This means that there are certain VPN’s that work better in certain countries. The ISP may have a filter in place to prevent well known VPNs from using their connections, or websites may try to dissuade people from using VPNs on them.
Regardless of the cause, a camouflage mode makes it almost impossible for a web service to detect that a VPN is in use. People can use this feature to access websites without any trouble, and to avoid the VPN traffic getting rerouted or throttled in the process.
As far as anyone is concerned, you’re connecting with a standard internet connection. Sometimes though, no matter how well the camouflage works, it could raise red flags on banking websites and other sensitive online resources.
In these instance, whitelisting options means you don’t need to turn off the VPN simply to get to that website.
There are many opportunities to have your data get stolen while traveling, and opportunitistic hackers tend to gravitate toward tourist traps and business centers to try to catch people who aren’t careful about their security measures.
Criminals have been known to stake out public Wi-Fi sources and other vulnerable locations to stage their attacks. And the problem is that even if you’ve logged off, you might not realize that you’re still transmitting data.
Most mobile apps utilize a remote API to transfer and pull data for a user account, so travelers will unknowingly transmit data from mobile apps that run in the background. Any time you connect to the Internet and transfer data on public Wi-Fi, you introduce a level of risk to your privacy.
If you’re not using a VPN to encrypt your data, hackers can steal sessions and browser cookie data allowing them to impersonate you and log into your web accounts; this includes accessing your social media, getting into your bank accounts, having the ability to mess with your flights etc.
And to top it off, all of this would be invisible and without any warning – you would have no idea that your data had been stolen until something weird started happening. Until they started actually using it.
The VPN you choose should have encryption that is equal to that of the typical bank. If this level of protection is good enough for financial institutions, it’s good enough for protecting your internet browsing.
Support for Streaming
Whether you’re going on a trip for business or pleasure, you may want to wind down by watching Netflix, Hulu, or another streaming media service.
Keep in mind that not all VPNs can support streaming services, so it’s essential to look for this feature.
Slower VPNs will mean you experience a lot of buffering when you’re trying to watch a video, while some may be automatically blocked by the streaming service itself.
If possible, pick up a free trial of a VPN to test it out and confirm that it’s capable of keeping up with online video streaming needs in advance. If that’s not possible, read through user reviews from several sources to determine whether it has a strong potential to meet the need for this feature.
What happens if there’s an interruption and the device can’t access the VPN server that it’s running traffic through?
There’s a risk that this traffic ends up being exposed and the person’s location revealed in this situation, which can lead to major problems depending on what part of the world you’re in and what you’re doing. But that’s the purpose of a kill switch.
A kill switch monitors the VPN connection for any interruptions and disconnects the traffic from the Internet in the event that it’s unable to reach the VPN. This method protects the user’s information and allows you to control your connection with a full understanding of whether or not you’re protected by the service.
VPN’s are one of those things that have quickly become essential for a life of travel. It’s the best way to protect yourself against cyber security threats, and countries / Governments who censor free speech and online content.
And you can also keep access to your Netflix!