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Best VPN for streaming: Unlock Hulu, Netflix, and more

Some VPNs can unblock streaming services. But depending on the device and where you want to stream, it may not be a straightforward process.

This is a sensitive topic. Owners of entertainment content go to great lengths to control the distribution of their wares, especially when it comes to international markets for movies and TV, and even local regions for black-out sporting events. By contrast, VPN vendors go to great lengths to make the case that you can use their services to bypass all those restrictions. 

But there are times when, legally, you might want to use a VPN to watch a movie or video. If you're traveling, you can VPN back to your home country and use your home streaming service account to watch your favorite show. That said, it is, at best, a legally gray area.

VPNs and set-top boxes and streaming sticks don't all work together well. The exception to this is the Amazon Fire TVs and Fire TV Sticks, and any Android TV box. But, if you're using a Roku, an Apple TV box, or any smart TV not running Android TV, you're forced to jump through a bunch of hoops, connecting your router up as a VPN, or connecting your TV as a client to your Mac or PC and using that machine's VPN-protected network.

Honestly, if you want to watch streaming TV through a VPN, just get a Fire TV stick and be done with it. It's the easiest and least expensive path.

Pros & Cons
pros
  • Huge server network
  • Compatible with an extensive list of devices
  • 24/7 live chat support
cons
  • Expensive
  • Only five connections at once
More Details

ExpressVPN features: Native Streaming Apps: Fire TV, Android TV, Nvidia Shield TV | Simultaneous Connections: 5 | Kill Switch: Yes | Platforms: A whole lot (see the full list here) | Logging: No browsing logs, some connection logs | Countries: 94 | Locations: 160 | Money-back guarantee: 30 days

ExpressVPN supports an extensive number of platforms and devices, and has an exceptionally large network of servers. These factors help make it an ideal VPN for streaming. 

Also: How does ExpressVPN work? Plus how to set it up and use it

ExpressVPN allows you to access a host of streaming services, including Disney+, Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, and many more. ExpressVPN is also one of the fastest VPNs, coming in 4th place in our recent testing and only reduced download speeds by 37%. So you should be able to avoid issues with buffering while you're watching your favorite show. 

Read our review: ExpressVPN review: A fine VPN service

ExpressVPN doesn't keep activity logs of your browsing history, IP address, or traffic destinations, but it does keep some connection logs, according to its privacy policy. When you login to the service the date (not the time) you connected, the amount of data transferred that day, and the VPN server location are all recorded.

Exclusive offer: Get 3 extra months free.

Pros & Cons
pros
  • Unlimited simultaneous connections
  • Wide range of useful features
  • Fast connection times
cons
  • Slower download speeds
More Details

Surfshark VPN features: Native Streaming Apps: Fire TV, Android TV, Nvidia Shield TV | Simultaneous Connections: Unlimited | Kill Switch: Yes | Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, Fire TV, Firefox, Chrome | Server locations: 137 | Logging: No activity logs | Money-back guarantee: 30 days

Surfshark offers a solid product at an excellent price. In our Surfshark VPN review, we found no DNS leaks, and the service has a strong security focus. Although Surfshark VPN was one of the fastest VPNs in previous testing, its performance was middle of the road during our latest speed tests and reduced download speeds by 54%.

Surfshark should work with all of the most popular streaming services, such as Netflix, HBO Max, Hulu, and Disney+. Just keep in mind that if you're having trouble streaming, you may need to try out a different server. 

AlsoExpressVPN vs. Surfshark vs. NordVPN: Which is best?

Pros & Cons
pros
  • Unlimited connections
  • Ultra-fast connection speed
  • Very flexible product, with a wide range of protocols as well
cons
  • No two-year plan, price increases after only a year
  • Slower speeds in recent testing
More Details

IPVanish VPN features: Native Streaming Apps: Fire TV | Simultaneous Connections: Unlimited | Kill Switch: Yes | Platforms: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, Chrome, plus routers, Fire Stick, and Kodi | Logging: No activity logs | Servers: 2,000+ | Locations: 75 | Money-back guarantee: 30 days

For those folks who love the Kodi media player (and I'm one of them), IPVanish is the VPN for you. IPVanish has full, detailed setup guides for using Kodi with many of the more popular streaming devices. Of course, you don't have to use Kodi, but if you haven't spent any time looking into this awesome open source home theater system, you should.

IPVanish is a highly configurable product, its native apps are intuitive and the user interface has excellent performance graphics. It's easy to see the current status of servers, so you can connect to locations where the server load is less likely to impact your streaming experience.

Read our review: Our IPVanish review

In terms of performance, IPVanish had fast connection speeds in our most recent testing. However, download speeds lagged behind other VPNs, cutting transfer speeds by 73%. 

Pros & Cons
pros
  • Great download speeds
  • Extensive server network
  • Easy-to-use apps
cons
  • Only six concurrent connections
More Details

NordVPN featuresNative Streaming Apps: Fire TV, Android TV | Simultaneous connections: 6 | Kill switch: Yes | Platforms: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, Android TV, Chrome, Firefox | Logging: None, except billing data | Server locations: 80+ | Servers: 5,000+ | Money-back guarantee: 30 days

NordVPN has the performance you'll need to stream your favorite content. It only cut download speeds by 32% in our latest tests, which is consistent with the 28% speed reduction we found in our previous testing. Not only does NordVPN perform consistently well, it also has exceptionally fast connection times. 

Read our review: Our NordVPN review

NordVPN works with all of the major streaming services, such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Disney+, and BBC iPlayer. There are FAQ articles detailing how to securely stream with most of these services. And if you run into problems, or are unsure which is the best server to connect to for unlocking a specific service, there is live chat and email support. 

Also: How does NordVPN work? Plus, how to set it up and use it

What is the best VPN for streaming?

ZDNET's best VPN for streaming is ExpressVPN. It has top-tier speed, a massive global network of servers, and supports an exceptionally large number of devices. Regardless of what you're streaming on and where you want to stream, it's likely that ExpressVPN will have you covered.

Best VPN for streamingPriceServer locationsLoggingSimultaneous connections
ExpressVPN$6.67/mo w/1-year plan + 3 free months160No browsing logs, some connection logs5
Surfshark$2.05/mo w/2-year plan + 2 free months137None, except billing dataunlimited
NordVPN$3.69/mo w/2-year plan + 3 free months80+None, except billing data6
IPVanish VPN$3.19/mo w/1-year plan75None, except billing dataUnlimited

Which is the right streaming VPN for you?

To find the right VPN to meet your streaming needs, you'll need to do some hands-on testing. Sometimes only specific servers can unlock certain services. You want to be sure you can stream where you want to stream and you can stream through a VPN server that has the performance to support video. 

Choose this VPN for streaming...If you want...
NordVPNTo unlock Netflix
ExpressVPNNative device support and a huge server network
SurfsharkThe most affordable option
IPVanish or SurfsharkUnlimited connections
IPVanishA VPN for streaming with Kodi

How did we choose these VPNs for streaming?

In addition to having the capability to unlock streaming services, each of the VPNs on our list has to meet a few basic standards.

All of these VPNs are secure and do not track your browsing activities. They all also have essential features, like a kill switch, which cuts off your internet connection if the VPN connection drops. This ensures that your connection is never accidentally exposed without you knowing about it. Lastly, to be a useful VPN for streaming, there is a minimum level of performance that has to be there.

Do I need a VPN for streaming?

A VPN is not required for streaming movies, games, or TV shows, however, it can change your location to unlock certain services or products in other countries. The tradeoff is that a VPN will slow down your connection. This is because the distance to the server, encryption process and protocol can create a lag in your internet speed.

If you find that streaming with a VPN is unbearably slow, try connecting to a different server or you may need to try a different VPN service altogether. Lag can oftentimes be unnoticed with better VPN services such as ExpressVPN.

Which set-top devices have native VPN apps?

Basically, Android TV is a version of Android. That means most apps in the Google Play store will run reasonably well on Android TV -- including VPN clients. Most VPN vendors slightly recode their Android handheld apps to have a wide-screen UI for the TV and put those apps into the Play Store. Since Amazon's Fire TV is basically a skinned version of Android TV using Amazon's app store, VPN vendors didn't have to do too much technically to make it work -- and Amazon is, of course, a huge market. So you just go to the app store and install the app. Easy peasy.

Unfortunately, there aren't native VPN apps for Apple TV, Chromecast, or Roku devices. You can still take advantage of a VPN security, but you'll need to set up a VPN on your router or PC network. The same process applies if you want to stream with Xbox, Playstation, or Switch.

How do I set up my PC as a router to use its VPN?

If you don't have a set-top box or router that's compatible with VPNs, you can connect your TV to your PC or Mac as a network client, use that computer's VPN client, and then go out over the network. It's janky as heck, but the VPN vendors generally have clear instructions on their FAQ pages. But, by the time you're doing all that, it'll probably be much easier to simply buy a $20 Fire TV Stick and be done with it.

Are there Alternative VPNs for streaming worth considering?

If our best VPNs for streaming aren't the best choices for you, no problem. You can try Proton VPN, IPVanish VPN, or Cyberghost VPN. All are secure and reputable services that could meet your needs.

Editorial standards

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