Internet providers, governments, and big tech companies throughout the world are now blocking access to various types of websites, for many different reasons. And you are here because you’re looking for solutions.
You want to increase your online freedom and get access to any website, from any source, anywhere in the world. You know, like the internet used to be in the good old days….
So who is blocking websites and why?
The answer to this question is complex and there are many different factors at play, but here’s a breakdown:
- Governments: Many governments, particularly in China and the Gulf Arab States, block websites that contain information politicians consider false, dangerous, or simply unflattering for the country or its current leader.
- Media companies: Many streaming media companies block access to websites from outside a specific geographic area. A publisher can license their content to a streaming media company that serves a specific geographic region. One of the terms of the license is usually a requirement to limit distribution of the content to a certain geographic area.
- Big Tech – Big Tech is in on the game too. Whether it’s Google and YouTube (which is owned by Google) or Facebook and company, these companies are increasingly blocking websites and restricting content. Twitter does the same. So do various other social media type sites.
Website blocking is a big and growing problem for anyone who believes in free access to information.
In this guide we will show you how to quickly, safely, and easily unblock websites. We’ll first examine how websites get blocked, then we’ll run through a big list of tricks and techniques you can try if you want to unblock a particular website. We’ll wrap up this guide with an Unblock websites FAQ.
Are you ready to do battle against Internet censorship? Let’s go.
WARNING: The Internet is ripe with dangerous unblock proxy websites that promise to help you unblock the site you are interested in, often free of charge. In the majority of cases, using one of these sites is a really bad idea.
In 2015 security expert Christian Haschek examined over 400 different proxy services for unblocking websites. He found that 79% of them were dangerous for one reason or another. Other researchers have found similar levels and types of risks with free VPN services.
As Tim Cook, former CEO of Apple, said a few years ago,
…when an online service is free, you’re not the customer. You’re the product.
Or in many of the more egregious circumstances, the victim.
Unblock website guide – Table of Contents
In this guide we will cover the following topics:
- How website blocking works
- Why VPNs are the best tools for unblocking websites
- Our recommendations for the best website unblocking VPNs
- Other tricks and techniques to unblock websites
- Unblock websites FAQ
- Unblock websites conclusion
Let’s talk about…
1. How website blocking works
The secret to blocking websites is the Internet Protocol address (usually called the “IP address“). Everything on the Internet has an IP address assigned to it. That address uniquely identifies every device connected to the Internet, including the physical location of that device.
Note: While it is often said that an IP address uniquely identifies every computer or other device connected to the Internet, that isn’t actually true. For example, your home router is assigned a unique IP address, but the individual Internet-connected devices in your home have addresses that are relative to that node. For simplicity, we too will treat each device as having its own unique IP address, since that simplification won’t impact the explanation that follows.
Because each device’s IP address includes the general location of the device, it can be used to block your device’s access to a website based on where in the world you are located.
When you try to connect to a geoblocked website, the site examines your IP address to determine whether you are allowed to make the connection or not.
2. Why VPNs are the best tools for unblocking websites
A VPN (virtual private network) protects your privacy by hiding your actual IP address from the world. When you connect to a VPN server, one of its functions is to strip your actual IP address from the messages you send, and replace it with the IP address of the VPN server. This works great for protecting your privacy, hiding your location and ISP-assigned (real) IP address.
But you can use this VPN privacy function another way. Since you have control over which VPN servers you connect to, you can choose to connect to a server located inside the geoblocked area before trying to connect to a blocked website. This is known as geo-spoofing, or “spoofing” your digital location.
When the geoblocked website checks your IP address, it will think that you are located inside the blockade, and should unblock the website for you.
In addition to helping you defeat geoblocking, using a VPN can help you in the case where the censorship is caused by your local internet service provider (ISP). A VPN does more than hide your real IP address from the outside world. It also keeps your ISP from knowing what you are doing.
A VPN uses powerful encryption and other techniques to create a connection that acts like a tunnel from your device, through the Internet, to the VPN server you are connected to.
This encrypted tunnel prevents any outside observer, including your ISP, from knowing what websites you are visiting. All they can tell is that you are connected to a VPN, not what websites you are visiting through the VPN. This leaves the ISP, governments, and other third parties no way to know if and when it should block your website access.
Please keep in mind that this was a highly-simplified explanation but it does illustrate why using a VPN is your best bet for access to blocked sites.
What if VPNs are blocked?
In some cases, VPNs can be blocked. For example, VPNs are largely blocked in China, and in some cases, on certain school or work networks. Fortunately, in these cases, there are some good solutions that allow you to get around VPN blocks. The key is obfuscation, which is when the VPN obfuscates (hides) VPN traffic to appear as regular HTTPS encryption.
The obfuscation technique is the key if you need a VPN for China or anywhere that VPNs may be blocked.
3. Our recommendations for the best website-unblocking VPNs
At this point you are probably wondering which are the best website unblocking VPNs. Based on the research and testing we did while conducting in-depth VPN Reviews, these are the top services you should consider:
- ExpressVPN – This VPN service is based in the British Virgin Islands and remains our top VPN in our testing. [Three months free coupon here]
- NordVPN – This is a Panama-based VPN that does very well in many categories, including unblocking sites, streaming, and it also offers lots of privacy and security features.
Here is a quick overview of each service, from the perspective of unblocking websites:
#1 ExpressVPN – Best VPN for unblocking websites
|Based in||British Virgin Islands|
|Logs||No logs (audited)|
|Support||24/7 Live chat|
ExpressVPN has earned a reputation as perhaps the best all-around VPN service in the world. Between its first-class performance, excellent apps, an impressive range of features, and top-notch customer service, this VPN leads the field in virtually every category. See our test results in this ExpressVPN review.
Another plus for ExpressVPN is that it is based in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), one of the best locations in the world for a provacy-oriented service.
But what about unblocking websites?
Yes, ExpressVPN excels at this too. Long known as the best VPN for unblocking Netflix, ExpressVPN also does a great job of unblocking BBC iPlayer, YouTube, and other streaming services. Torrenting is also supported here, with ExpressVPN’s strong security and privacy features helping you to stay hidden when necessary.
- User-friendly apps for all devices and operating systems
- Highest security standards and encryption
- Great speeds throughout the server network
- Split tunneling feature for Windows, Mac OS, and routers
- Works with Netflix and many other streaming services
- Verified no logs VPN service (audited)
- Located in a safe privacy jurisdiction
- 24/7 live chat support + 30 day money-back guarantee
- More expensive than some competing VPNs (but see coupon below)
#2 NordVPN – An affordable VPN for unblocking websites, with lots of extra features
|Logs||No logs (audited)|
|Support||24/7 Live chat|
Our other top recommendation is NordVPN. Based in Panama (another good location for a pro-privacy service), NordVPN offers a range of advanced security and privacy features, including double-hop VPN servers, Tor-over-VPN servers, and CyberSec, a technology that blocks ads, malware, and assorted other evil crud from getting onto your system.
NordVPN is a great choice for unblocking websites. It can unblock Netflix libraries from many parts of the world, and delivers high-speed streams from most content sources. NordVPN also earned our pick as the best VPN for torrenting, due to their fast performance in our most recent testing.
Speaking of fast, NordVPN just got even faster. They have integrated the new WireGuard VPN protocol into all their clients, further boosting their speed whenever you connect to one of their specialized WireGuard VPN servers.
You can get all their privacy and security features, along with access to their worldwide network of nearly 6,000 servers, at the excellent discount price of only $3.71 per month.
If you want more information on NordVPN’s advanced features, or want to see those speedy test results for yourself, check it all out in our NordVPN review.
- User-friendly and reliable apps
- 30 day money-back guarantee
- Double-hop VPN servers; Tor-over-VPN servers
- 24/7 live chat support
- Verified no logs VPN
- Works with Netflix and other streaming services
- Competitive price at $3.71/month
- CyberSec ad-blocking feature
- Large server network around the world
- Big discounts only available for long-term subscriptions
4. Other tricks and techniques to unblock websites
While we are adamant that a top VPN service is the best way to unblock websites, there are other techniques you can try if you aren’t ready to spring for a VPN subscription. Here are several tips and techniques you can try for unblocking that website that is driving you crazy. We’ve arranged these options roughly in order of ease. That is, the ones at the top of the list are generally easier/faster to try than the ones at the bottom of the list.
So here’s the easiest trick to try:
Change your IP address
The idea here is that your current IP address is blocked, but other ones from the same region may not be. Most ISPs use dynamic addressing. This means that the ISP assigns an IP address assigned to your router, and that this IP address changes periodically. Your currently-assigned IP address could be blocked because of bad behavior by a previous user or various other reasons. But you aren’t stuck waiting around hoping that your ISP assigns you a different address soon. You can force the issue.
Changing your assigned IP address is easy: simply unplug your router for a minute, then plug it back in again. In most cases, your router will be assigned a new IP address while it is powering up and reconnecting to the system. Once it does, you can try that pesky blocked website again.
Another thing you can try here is to set up your phone as a mobile hotspot, then use its Internet connection to try the blocked site. This can get you around site blocking by your ISP, – unless of course your phone company is also in on the website blocking game.
This trick won’t help you if you are trying to connect to a geoblocked resource like BBC iPlayer or Netflix. That’s because they only unblock access for IP addresses in their geographic area. If you are not in that area, changing to a different IP address won’t get you one in their area; it will just get you another one in your area.
Connect using the IP address instead of the URL
This technique relies on the fact that there is more than one way to tell your web browser what website you want to visit. The way we normally do it is we enter the URL of the site. URLs are human-readable forms of a web address, such as RestorePrivacy.com, or ExpressVPN.com. When you enter a URL like this, it gets passed to a particular DNS (Domain Name System) server, which turns the URL into an IP address, which is the machine-readable form of the Internet address. The IP address is what the Internet uses to connect you to the website you want.
One way to block you from visiting a website is to tell the DNS Server not to return a valid IP address when someone enters the blocked URL. Whoever is doing the blocking may only have set things up to block the URL, and not the IP address. If this is the situation, and you enter the IP address of the website into your browser, you should be able to connect directly to the blocked website.
The technique you use to find the IP address of a website varies depending on which operating system you are using. In Microsoft Windows, you would open the command prompt and enter tracert websitename.com (for example tracert restoreprivacy.com) to find the IP address of that site. In the following screen capture, the set of numbers in the square brackets 18.104.22.168 is the IP address of RestorePrivacy.com.
Other operating systems have similar commands for finding the IP address.
And speaking of Windows, if you want more privacy on this operating system, then see our Windows privacy guide.
Try a URL shortener
This trick also looks to bypass your ISP’s DNS Server. In this case, the technique is to use a URL shortener site to evade any blocking in the DNS. Don’t worry about the length of the URL that the shortener site creates. Its length is not important for this trick. This may or may not be shorter than the URL of the site you want to unblock. That doesn’t matter. All you are trying to do is come up with a URL that gets past the censors to unblock the site you want to visit.
Here’s how you do it:
- Connect to a URL shortener site such as Bitly, or TinyURL.
- Enter the URL of the blocked site into the shortener and generate a new URL.
- Paste the URL generated by the shortener site into your web browser. With any luck, this will unblock the site for you.
Try the Wayback Machine
If the website you want to unblock is relatively popular, and you can live with a recent copy of the site, rather than a live connection to the actual site, this trick could be your salvation.
The Internet Archive Wayback Machine is an archive of much of the content on the Internet. With over 425 billion pages archived there is a good chance that copies of at least some of the pages of the blocked website you are interested in will be available here.
The Wayback Machine is super easy to use, too. Just go to the site, and enter the URL of the website you are interested in.
Once you get these results, you can hover the mouse over one of the circled dates to see how many snapshots the Wayback Machine took on that day. Open a snapshot by clicking on the time of day that the snapshot was taken. The Wayback Machine displays a copy of the site.
This approach doesn’t unblock the website for you, Instead, it gives you access to whatever copies it made at the date and time.
Let Google Translate make the connection
Here’s a technique that can come in real handy if you are fluent in some language other than the one the blocked website is written in.
As its name implies, Google Translate is an automatic translation tool from Google. Censors may not think to block Google Translate’s access to websites that are unreachable through normal means. Here’s how you can take advantage of this mistake.
- Go to the Google Translate web page.
- On the left side, select the language the blocked website is written in. On the right side, select a language you know well that is not the same as the language of the blocked site.
- On the left side of the translate window, enter the URL of the website you want to unblock.
- On the right side of the window, click the Translate icon circled in red in the following screen capture.
- With a bit of luck, Google Translate will display the translated version of the website.
Keep in mind that no machine translation is perfect, and translating a blocked site in this way will introduce translation errors.
Look for an RSS feed
Are you old enough to remember using RSS feeds? Me either! Seriously though, RSS feeds may give you another way to effectively unblock websites.
RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, or Rich Site Summary, or RDF Site Summary, depending on who you ask. Regardless of what RSS stands for it does is provide information from websites in a standardized form known as a feed. Most websites generate feeds automatically, and there is a reasonable chance that whoever is blocking the website you are interested in didn’t block access to the RSS feed from that site.
RSS readers are (not surprisingly) apps that read and display feeds. The trick here is to enter the URL of the blocked website into an RSS reader, and see if it finds an unblocked feed. Here’s an example of an RSS feed displayed in Feedly, one of the most popular RSS readers:
Note: RSS feeds only show recent updates to a site, so even if this trick works, it won’t give you full access to the blocked website.
Use a different DNS
As we discussed earlier, your DNS can be used to block websites. There we dealt with the problem and unblocked the website by entering the IP address of the website and bypassing the DNS Server entirely. For “once-in-a-while” website unblocking, that approach is fine. But if you have a lot of blocking problems, it might make more sense to switch to a new DNS Server, one which hopefully won’t be in the business of blocking website access.
Typically, your router is hooked up to your ISP’s DNS Server. This is less than ideal from every perspective. Depending on which ISP you are using, their DNS Server could (and probable will) be slow, unreliable, and busy recording every website you visit. Oh yes, and it could also be set up to block many of the websites you might want to visit. What can you do about this?
Your ISP may not like it, but you can stop using their DNS Server, and instead connect to one that is faster, more reliable, doesn’t log your activities, and isn’t forced by your local authorities to block certain websites. Making this kind of change is more difficult than the ones we have made so far, and the details of doing it really require a separate article like this one.
If you are prepared to go so far as to change the DNS Servers your computer connects to, you really should consider investing in one of the VPN services we covered earlier. They will give you access to safe, fast, unblocked DNS servers, along with all the other privacy and security benefits of using a VPN.
5. Unblock websites FAQ
Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about unblocking websites:
Why do websites get blocked and How do they block websites
We covered these at the top of this article.
What is georestricted content?
Earlier we talked about geoblocking, the process of preventing anyone from outside a specific geographic area (as determined by their IP address) from getting access to Internet content. Georestricted content is any content that is protected by geoblocking.
Is it legal to unblock websites?
Unfortunately, we can’t give a guaranteed answer on this one. Even if we were intellectual property lawyers, it would be impossible for us to keep up with the laws in all 200+ countries of the world. In some repressive countries like China, Russia, and Iran, it may be illegal to unblock certain websites. In most places, it is probably completely legal. On the other hand, unblocking a site to gain access to georestricted content might violate the Terms of Service of whoever published that content.
This is again where a VPN comes into play because it encrypts and anonymizes your internet activity. If in doubt, connect to a VPN server for safety and privacy.
6. Unblocking websites conclusion
There are lots of reasons you might need to (or simply want to) unblock websites that you might otherwise be prevented from visiting. There are also many techniques for (possibly) unblocking a site or sites. Still, the most reliable, secure, and private way to unblock sites is to use a VPN. More specifically, the best, most flexible way to unblock the most sites is to use one of our recommended site unblocking VPNs.
So what does the future hold for online freedom and unrestricted access to content?
Unfortunately, it’s not looking good.
Censorship is only getting worse throughout much of the world, even in Western countries that regularly tout their “freedoms” and liberties. Media companies are also tightening the screws on where and how content can be distributed. But fortunately, there are solutions to this problem too, such as using a VPN for torrenting and P2P transfers.
If you have any other tips or recommendations for unblocking websites, drop a comment below!