Best VPN for expats

This guide explains the benefits of using a VPN abroad and which VPN is the best VPN for expats. Many American companies restrict their online access to devices located inside the U.S. borders, blocking expats out. In this article, you will learn what a VPN is, how it works, which one to pick and how to use it.

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What is a VPN?

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. A VPN is a piece of software that encrypts your data and disguise your internet address. You use a VPN on devices with internet access.

Benefits of using a VPN as an expat

A VPN is particularly adapted to life abroad because it can bypass geographic restrictions. The main purpose of a VPN for expats is to make it look like you are browsing the internet from a device inside the United States.

Using a VPN is very similar to using a Google Voice number to fake calling from the United States when you’re abroad.

VPNs make your online activity safe

As an expat, you may have to use free Wi-Fi in public places before you get settled. The use of a VPN is highly recommended when using public Wi-Fi because someone could easily steal your username and password on an insecure network.

When using a VPN in France, your credentials are encrypted before they are sent over the internet. Encrypting your data means that all your online activity has now become private. Ready to go incognito?

VPNs give you access to restricted U.S. websites

As an American living abroad, you probably noticed that you don’t have access to the same online content from overseas. The reason is that some American companies don’t let people access their servers from abroad.

Once you’re ready to transfer money to purchase your dream house in France, you don’t want the amount you can transfer to be restricted because your bank has detected that you’re accessing your account from abroad. A VPN very conveniently hides your location.

Some companies will not only restrict your access but they will flat out prevent you from accessing their website from abroad.

VPNs let you stream American series and movies

Some American streaming service companies like Netflix don’t offer the same catalog depending on their subscriber’s region. Using a VPN in France lets you access Netflix U.S. catalog from your new home.

Using a VPN does not exempt you from paying streaming service subscriptions but it changes the selection you have access to.

Note that you need to have a Prime subsription in the United States to access the U.S. catalog. Your Amazon Prime European account is a completely separate account. Netflix on the other hand lets you use one single account worldwide.

Some streaming services like Hulu or HBO Now do not let you subscribe from outside the United States.


VPNs let you watch American TV channels

Many American TV programs are available for free on your computer when you are in the United States. To learn how to watch US channels, read American TV in France.

Try watching abc from abroad for instance and you will receive this unpleasant message instead.

Your access to abc shows is restricted from abroad

You will get the almost exact same error message when you try to watch any of the American TV channel online.

Using a VPN in France, you can access some of abc shows for free. You are not allowed to watch the most recent shows or live TV but some content is available. For instance, if you’re into American Idol, the latest episode is not available but you are allowed to watch the one from last week, check it out.

Using a VPN unlocks access to some abc shows

To summarize, this is how a VPN can enhance an expat’s life abroad:

  • access to American catalog on your existing streaming subscription (Netflix , Amazon Prime)
  • ability to watch American TV shows
  • unlimited access to geo-blocked internet content
  • subscription to geo-blocked streaming services (HBO Now, Hulu)

How does a VPN work?

The purpose of a VPN is to increase your security and protect your privacy online.

In simple words, a VPN creates an extra security layer between a device and the internet. Instead of sending your data directly accross the internet, a VPN will disguise your data as well as the sender and the origin of the data. Once it is unrecognizable, your data travels safely on the internet.

With a VPN, no one knows:

  • what the data is (because it is encrypted)
  • who sent the date
  • where it was sent from

A VPN company owns servers all around the world and it changes your IP address to an IP address on one of their servers. Picking a server in the United States gives you access to American programs as if you were physically browsing the internet from the United States. You need an internet conection to benefit from a VPN.

Can you use a free VPN in France?

There are lots of free VPNs out there. I don’t like to pay for something that I could get for free but at the same time, I firmly believe in “You get what you pay for”.

When it comes to security or privacy, I think it is a smart and safe choice to pick a premium VPN. Paying a company for a VPN means that the company will not sell your information to other companies in order to make money.

Which VPN is the best VPN for expats?

Googling VPN will take you to a lot of web pages that compare different VPNs feature by feature. Since my goal in this article is to show you how to use a VPN in France without being too technical, I picked the most popular and reliable VPN, which is NordVPN.

NordVPN is the best VPN for expats in terms of reliability and speed. It’s also very affordable and I’ve been happily using it for the past few years.


One NordVPN account lets you connect up to 6 devices simultaneously. If you are not sure about using a VPN, NordVPN offers a 30-day money-back guarantee policy. Why not give it a try?

How to install NordVPN on your computer, tablet or phone

Purchase NordVPN and install it on your phone, your computer or tablet as a start. We’ll see later how to use NordVPN on your TV.

If for some reason, you don’t want all internet access to go through your VPN on your computer, you can setup NordVPN as an internet browser extension. When using NordVPN as a browser extension, you can possibly have Chrome with unlimited internet access to U.S. content and IE with French internet access on the same computer.

Once NordVPN is installed, you immediately get the following screen asking you to pick a country for your server.

greatest advantage of a VPN for expats is that you can change your internet location

Pick a server located in the United States and NordVPN makes it look like your device is seating at that location. As you can see, I’m back in Los Angeles, kind of.

greatest advantage of a VPN for expats is that you can change your internet location

You can use NordVPN simultaneously on six devices.

Use NordVPN with a smart TV

A Smart TV is a TV that can access the internet via a cable or a wireless connection. If you own an Android-based TVs (TVs with a Google operating system), you can install NordVPN directly on your TV. For non-Android-based TVs, pick one of the following options.

Use NordVPN smart DNS feature

NordVPN has a smartDNS feature that lets you set up unrestricted access to streaming content on your smart TV. You need to activate the smartDNS feature in your NordVPN account and manually change the DNS address on your smart TV. Follow the instructions from NordVPN. You’ll probably need your TV user guide as well.

Redirect your computer screen to a TV

If you have a PC, you can install NordVPN on your PC and watch your PC screen on your TV. On Windows 10, you can easily achieve this by connecting to your TV from your Windows 10 Notification control area.

In Windows 10, redirect your PC screen to a smart TV from the notification center

With a Mac, you can mirror the screen of your Mac in the same manner, provided your TV has an AirPlay function.

Use NordVPN on a non-smart TV

If you don’t want to purchase a smart TV, there are ways to turn your dumb regular TV into a smart TV. You can purchase a third party streaming device such as an Amazon Fire TV stick or a Chromecast dongle. Amazon Fire TV stick and Chromecast dongle both have a one time fee and no monthly subscription.

NordVPN with Amazon Fire TV Stick

Amazon Fire TV Stick (also called Amazon Firestick) converts your regular TV into a smart TV. Simply plug the stick into the HDMI port of your TV. Amazon Firestick doesn’t come with a subscription to Amazon Prime.

Follow these instructions to install NordVPN on your Firestick.

NordVPN with Google Chromecast

Google Chromecast is a media player from Google that lets you stream on your TV wirelessly from a phone or a computer. You plug your Chromecast dongle into your phone or computer and you redirect the streaming onto your TV. With a Chromecast dongle, any service that has Chromecast support can be redirected to a TV. You control your TV from the device where the Chromecast dongle is plugged, not from your TV remote.

Install NordVPN on the same device where your Chromecast dongle is plugged.

Can you install NordVPN on a French internet box?

Your French internet Box (Livebox, Freebox or SFR box) is an actual router. Installing a VPN on your internet router would mean that all your online activity benefits from your VPN.

Unfortunately, internet service providers don’t want users to modify their internet box. French ISPs prevent the installation of any VPN on their internet box. The alternative is to purchase an extra router and setup NordVPN on it.

If you want to know more about French ISPs, read Internet providers in France.

Install NordVPN on a router

When it is not possible to install NordVPN directly on your TV or when you want all your internet connections to go through a VPN, you can install NordVPN on a separate router.

Installing NordVPN on a router counts as one device even though all the devices benefit from the VPN.

Change your location server

American streaming services don’t like the fact that expats access their U.S. servers from abroad with a VPN. Every once in a while, they will detect that you are using a VPN and they will block your (fake) IP.

In that case, either NordVPN transparently handles it and change your (fake) IP or you can manually swich to a different server in your NordVPN account settings. NordVPN owns over 1,970 servers in the United States and switching to a different server is fast and easy.

You may be wondering if VPNs are legal in France. VPNs are legal in both Europe and the United States. The usage you make of them can be against the law, the same way that owning a fast car is legal but going over the speed limit is not. Regarding streaming though, you won’t be troubled for using a VPN in France.

Now that you understand how a VPN hides your internet location, you might be interested in learning how a Google Voice number can hide your phone location abroad as well.

Who would have thought an expat life would call for so much disguise?

Nathalie Nahmani

About Nathalie Nahmani

Nathalie is the creator of ma French Life. She moved back to France after living in Los Angeles for 20 years. She writes practical articles to help expats in France. Nathalie lives with her family in the French Alps near Grenoble.

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8 thoughts on “Best VPN for expats”

  1. Hi Nathalie! Thanks for this article. I switched from Windscribe to Nordvpn a few days ago and got 70% off for two years. It is working great so far and I even switched from Dashlane to Norpass for my password manager.

  2. Should I buy my VPN now or wait until closer in time for my travel? I have never used one but after being in France last year for 6 months, I know I NEED one.

  3. I fully agree with you Nathalie in terms of VPN. I have tried and used many including free VPN but they are not worth it because the free one are filled with malware and viruses.
    I have used NORDVPN for over 2 years: Reliable, easy to use, multiple device and very affordable .
    Thanks for always bringing up relevant subjects like this.

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