Last updated: 23 August, 2016
While as travelers we can easily pass through borders these days, it’s funny that it’s so hard for our entertainment to do the same. Due to odd region-based media contracts from years gone by (and potential lost advertising revenue), sometimes an online video you watched at home might be unavailable when you’re in another country.
That’s a bit of a problem for a frequent globetrotter who spends a bunch of time abroad and wants to relax and watch some TV.
In the past, we’ve talked about why you should be using a VPN (virtual private network) when you travel to secure your data. Today, we’re going to talk about an easy way to bypass content restrictions thanks to a browser plugin called Zenmate.
Why You May Want to Bypass Content Restrictions
Ever tried to watch Hulu outside of the United States, or use the BBC iPlayer when you’re somewhere other than the UK? Chances are, you won’t get far.
Licensing agreements mean that the TV series you were watching on Hulu won’t work when you visit Vancouver on your next business trip. As soon as Hulu sees that you’re in Canada (they can tell where you are by your IP address), no more TV for you.
(This is where the internet says you are right now. A little freaky, right?)
BBC’s iPlayer is another prime example. It’s no problem to watch the best of BBC programming while you’re in the UK, but when you leave the Queen’s watchful eye for a trip abroad, you’ll be cutting the invisible cord that allows you to watch offbeat British comedies too.
These are two common ones, but you may find that your local TV stations, online music services, or other media providers online are locking you out for being in a different part of the world as well. The block on many Youtube music videos in Germany is just one example, and catching sporting events in a country with a broadcasting blackout is another.
How Zenmate Works
Zenmate works by encrypting your browser data, and diverting it through one of its servers in another part of the world. This is better than a proxy server, which typically won’t encrypt your data.
Or in slightly less nerdy speak, the company scramble your datas and send it through its servers around the world, so that no one “in the middle” can see your information.
In the case of Zenmate, you can pick from the USA, UK, Germany, Switzerland, or Hong Kong.
Installing and Using Zenmate for Chrome
Installing Zenmate is a snap. Click here to head to the site, find the right version for your browser, click install and it’ll be available in seconds. Next, follow the prompts and create an account. It all takes about 2 minutes.
You can start with a free account to test things out, although you’ll get access to more server locations and faster speeds with the premium service.
Now you’ll see a new icon in your chrome browser that looks like a grayed-out shield. Click that and click the “off” switch in the bottom right corner to start Zenmate. Bam, that’s it. Click the large icon in the center to change the country you’d like to be routing through if you wish.
If you had a tab open in your browser, you may need to refresh (F5) for it to recognize your new “location.”
To access content restricted to the USA such as Hulu, Comedy Central etc, choose the the United States server. Likewise, if you’re looking to watch BBC iPlayer, connect to the UK-based server. To bypass the YouTube restrictions in Germany, connect to any other server than the German one. Simple!
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Why Zenmate Isn’t as Good as a Standalone VPN Software
In case you may be thinking that the Zenmate plugin can be your be-all-end-all VPN choice, there are a few catches. The biggest of them all is that Zenmate only encrypts your browser traffic.
That means that any other internet traffic from e-mail software (Outlook, Mac Mail, Thunderbird etc), unsupported browsers (Safari, Internet Explorer), or any other program you use on your computer will not be encrypted. The plugin is not a replacement for your VPN software!
Zenmate does offer a VPN as well. It’s part of the premium service, so if you’re getting enough value from the browser plugin to pay for it, definitely download and use the VPN as well. If you’re using your computer for work or potentially for research in countries which might be known for surveillance, censorship, or filtering internet traffic, a VPN is a much better bet than any browser plugin.
If you’re just looking for a way to access content from another country, though, Zenmate might just be your new best friend.
Bonus tip: If you have a Chromecast, you can use Zenmate to watch a program on your computer, then use the “Cast Tab” feature in Chrome to send it to your TV. Now you can have BBC on your TV too, just like Austin Powers.
What content do you miss when you’re abroad, and wish you could catch up with online? Does Zenmate (or similar software) work for you? Let us know in the comments.