5 Effective Ways to Unblock Websites
Ultimately, the best method for unblocking a website will depend on the type of block in place and the reasoning behind it.
After testing 20 different methods, we’ve summarized the best methods for unblocking websites, along with their strengths and weaknesses, in the table below.
|Ease Of Set Up
|Privacy & Security
|Free or Paid?
|Free or Paid
Overall, we found that using a VPN is the most effective way to unblock websites at home, at work, or in high-censorship countries.
A VPN is also the most reliable tool to access geographically-restricted content from outside of your country.
However, a VPN won’t be the best option in every situation.
For example, if you’re in a hurry, then the quickest way to unblock a website is to use a free web proxy. If anonymity is your priority, it might be better to use the Tor browser.
Ultimately, the best way to unblock websites depends on how it is blocked and what your priorities are.
In the rest of this section, we’ll take a more detailed look at each method.
1. Virtual Private Network (VPN)
|Bypasses every type of website block
|Good VPNs charge a monthly subscription fee
|Encrypts your web traffic
|You need to sign up and download the software before you can unblock a website
|Offers a wide range of server locations
|Small impact on connection speeds
|Protects all traffic going into and out of your device
|Low-quality VPNs may log your activity
|Often includes dedicated customer support
A virtual private network (VPN) is a type of software designed to improve your privacy, security, and freedom online. According to our tests, it is the most effective and reliable way to unblock websites.
VPN apps are available on a range of different devices, which means it’s also the most versatile method. You can use a VPN to access restricted content on your phone, computer, or even your Smart TV.
VPNs work by encrypting your web traffic and routing it via a remote VPN server. This has the effect of hiding your IP address and geographic location from the websites you visit.
It also prevents your internet service provider (ISP), government, and Wi-Fi administrator (e.g., at home, at work, or on public Wi-Fi) from being able to monitor your browsing activity.
VPNs are the most effective tool for bypassing website blocks for three main reasons:
1. VPN encryption unblocks websites that are blocked by URL or domain name.
ISPs, governments, and network administrators often block websites using a ‘blacklist’ of specific URLs or domain names. VPN encryption prevents these systems from seeing the websites you’re connecting to, which means they cannot block your connection.
VPNs are therefore excellent for unblocking websites at work and for bypassing online censorship in countries like China or Russia. Often, top VPNs come with obfuscated servers designed specifically for unblocking websites in restricted countries.
2. By hiding your IP address, a VPN unblocks geographically-restricted content.
Some websites host content that is restricted to certain geographic regions. When you visit these websites, they use your IP address to determine your location and then block you accordingly.
When you connect to a VPN server in a different location, you temporarily replace your IP address and spoof your geolocation. This lets you unblock websites that aren’t typically available in your region.
This allows VPN users to unblock geographically-restricted websites like HBO Max, BBC iPlayer, or Hotstar. You can unlock additional streaming material on sites like Netflix or Disney Plus, and bypass copyright restrictions on YouTube and Twitter
3. VPN apps can be downloaded onto almost any device.
You can easily use a VPN to unblock websites and streaming services on a laptop, cell phone, or tablet. Dedicated VPN extensions are also available for specific browsers, meaning you can quickly access restricted content on Chrome, Firefox, or Edge.
The main downside to using a VPN to unblock websites is the cost. A subscription to a good-quality VPN tends to cost around $4.00 per month. Free VPNs do exist, but they are often extremely limited, or even unsafe.
VPNs may not be the best option for unblocking websites quickly, either. The process of signing up and installing VPN software onto your device can take a few minutes, which isn’t ideal if you’re looking for immediate access to a restricted webpage.
EXPERT ADVICE: You may not have permission to install a VPN app if you’re using a public computer or a work device. In these cases, using a VPN is not the best way to unblock websites. Try using a web proxy or Smart DNS service, instead.
Unblocking Sites with a VPN: Step-by-step Instructions
Below are step-by-step instructions on how to use a VPN to unblock websites:
- Choose a trusted VPN, like ExpressVPN (our top-rated VPN of 2024).
- Select your preferred payment plan. The longer the plan, the cheaper the monthly fee.
- Install the VPN. For most devices, you can set up a VPN by simply downloading the corresponding application.
- Open the VPN application. You may have to verify your account the first time you open it up.
- Choose a server location. Find a VPN server in a location that will unblock the website you’re after.
- Press connect. Your connection will now be routed through that VPN server. You’ll be able to unblock websites and browse privately.
Should I Use a VPN to Unblock Sites?
Use a VPN if you are:
- Unblocking websites on a long-term basis (e.g. traveling).
- Bypassing geographical restrictions (e.g. on streaming platforms).
- Unblocking websites on a mobile device.
- Generally worried about your online privacy and security.
Don’t use a VPN if you are:
2. Web Proxy
|Extremely simple to use
|Does not work for streaming content, including YouTube and Netflix
|Requires no setup or manual installation
|Most proxies are unencrypted, so ISPs and network administrators can still see your activity
|Free to use
|Won’t protect any activity outside of the browser tab you’re in
|Works to unblock geographically-restricted, text-based content
|Known to inject adverts and sometimes even malware into your browsing session
|Good proxy providers let you choose a server location
|Website owners and network administrators sometimes block web proxy sites
|Slower than VPNs due to congestion
The fastest way to unblock a simple website is to use a web proxy. To do this, you simply enter the URL you want to unblock, press enter, and the restricted content should appear.
Like a VPN, a web proxy works by routing your web traffic through a remote proxy server on its way to your desired website.
This has the effect of temporarily replacing your IP address with the IP address of the proxy server, effectively hiding your physical location from the website you’re visiting.
You can therefore use a web proxy to unblock websites that are not available in your geographic region. Some web proxies even let you choose the proxy server’s location, much like a VPN.
Another benefit is that you don’t need to download or install anything to use a web proxy – just navigate to the proxy website in your browser and enter the URL.
This makes using a web proxy the most viable option for unblocking websites on public computers, such as at work or in a public library.
Web proxies tend to be free to use, too. Unfortunately, this means they often come with some operational drawbacks that you should be aware of:
- No Encryption: Most web proxies do not encrypt your connection. This means that governments, ISPs, and network administrators can monitor your activity and block your connection, if they choose.
- Protection In One Tab Only: Unlike a VPN, a web proxy won’t redirect any traffic from outside the browser tab it’s being used in. That means you need to navigate to the web proxy URL every time you open a new tab.
- Privacy & Security Issues: Some web proxies track your activity and sell that information to advertisers and other third-parties. Many also insert adverts into your browsing session, and some have been known to infect users with malware.
- No Multimedia Content: A web proxy rarely gives you access to video or audio content. In our tests, we could not find a single proxy that unblocked restricted streaming material on Netflix or YouTube.
EXPERT ADVICE: It’s quicker to unblock websites with proxies because they do not require the installation of third-party software. However, don’t confuse this with faster connection speeds or load times. Our tests show that, on average, a VPN will load restricted content much faster than a web proxy.
Unblocking Sites with a Web Proxy: Step-by-step Instructions
Here are step-by-step instructions on how to unblock websites using a web proxy:
- Navigate to a web proxy site in your browser. Popular options include hide.me.
- Type in the URL you want to unblock.
- Select a proxy location. Pick a country where the website you’re trying to access is unrestricted.
- Click ‘visit anonymously’. The website should appear unblocked on your screen.
Should I Use a Web Proxy to Unblock Sites?
Use a Web Proxy if you:
- Are trying to quickly access a blocked text-based webpage, such as a newspaper article or Wikipedia page.
- Don’t have permissions to download software or browser extensions on the device you’re using, such as on public PCs, work computers or school Chromebooks.
Don’t use a Web Proxy if you are:
- Are sharing personal or sensitive information.
- Want to access blocked multimedia content, such as video streaming websites.
- Don’t want your work or school WiFi administrator to see what you’re doing online.
- Are worried about your privacy and security online.
3. Proxy Browser Extension
|Weaker encryption than a ‘full’ VPN service
|Convenient to use after the initial setup process
|Some proxy extensions display adverts
|Can sometimes unblock streaming content
|Only protects your browser traffic
|A range of server locations to choose from
|Extensions are not available on mobile devices
|Available in Chrome, Firefox, and Microsoft Edge
A proxy browser extension is essentially a midpoint between a VPN and a web proxy.
Rather than downloading software directly onto your device or navigating to a web proxy’s URL, a proxy browser extension involves installing an extension or add-on into your browser. You can then use the browser extension to access geographically-restricted websites.
Proxy browser extensions work in much the same way as a web proxy or a VPN. When turned on, your browser activity is routed through a remote proxy server, which has the effect of hiding your true IP address from the websites you visit. This unblocks sites that block you based on your IP address or physical location.
A proxy browser extension is therefore not as simple or as quick to set up as a web proxy, but we found them to be generally more effective and reliable at unblocking websites. For example, we found that most proxy browser extensions let you stream geographically restricted YouTube videos, whereas most web proxies do not.
On the other hand, proxy browser extensions are not as safe or secure as a VPN. Most proxy extensions use HTTPS encryption at the very most, which means the domains you visit may still be visible to third parties.
Moreover, many browser extensions are only free to use because they make their money by selling your browsing data or by injecting adverts into your session.
Google claims to vet all of its Chrome extensions, but unsafe add-ons regularly slip through the net – such as the Hola VPN Chrome extension.
We therefore advise you not to use a proxy of any kind for sensitive activity that involves sharing financial, medical, or otherwise personal information – you can never be sure who’s watching.
That said, good-quality proxy browser extensions are available on Chrome, Firefox, and Edge. However, be aware that mobile users cannot download Chrome extensions. iOS users cannot get Firefox add-ons, either.
Unblocking Sites with a Proxy Browser Extension: Step-by-step Instructions
Step-by-step instructions on how to unblock websites on Chrome with a proxy browser extension:
- Open Chrome on your device.
- Tap the More icon. On Mac, it’s the three vertical dots in the top-right corner.
- Under More Tools, click Extensions.
- Click the Hamburger icon. On Mac, it’s in the top-left corner.
- Select Open Chrome Web Store.
- Type in the name of the proxy browser extension you want to download. We recommend CyberGhosts’ and PIA’s Chrome proxies.
- Click Add to Chrome.You will then have to confirm the installation.
- Once it is downloaded, you can open the proxy browser extension by clicking on its icon in the browser. This should be next to your address bar.
- Choose a server location. You may need to register with the service before doing this.
- Turn the proxy on. This will connect you to the proxy server.
- Navigate to the blocked website. It should now be unblocked.
And here are instructions on how to unblock websites on Firefox with a proxy browser add-on:
- Open the Firefox browser on your device.
- Go to the Mozilla Add-Ons library.
- Search for a proxy browser add-on. We recommend Surfshark’s Firefox Proxy.
- Click + Add to download the add-on.
- Once it is downloaded, open the add-on by clicking its icon in the address bar.
- Choose a server location. You may need to register with the service before doing this.
- Turn the proxy on. This will connect you to your chosen server.
- Navigate to the blocked website. It should now be unblocked.
Should I Use a Proxy Browser Extension to Unblock Sites?
Use a proxy browser extension if you are:
- Unable to download VPN software onto your device, e.g., on Chromebooks or work computers.
- Unblocking websites on a more long-term basis, such as when traveling.
Don’t use a proxy browser extension if you are:
- Particularly concerned about privacy and security online.
- Bypassing censorship measures in highly authoritarian countries.
- Sharing personal or sensitive information.
- Using Firefox on iOS or Google Chrome on a smartphone.
NOTE: We don’t recommend using a proxy browser extension to unblock websites on Safari. Apple offers limited support for third-party extensions. As such, most of the safe proxy extensions are not available to Safari users.
4. The Tor Browser
|Works unblock websites in highly-censored countries
|Extremely slow speeds
|Free to download and use
|Not available on iOS devices
|Decentralized network maximizes user anonymity
|Can’t be downloaded on public PCs or work devices
|Uses very strong encryption
|Associated with criminal activity
The Tor browser is a free, open-source web browser that was built to maximize users’ anonymity online. It is available to download on Windows, macOS, Linux and Android devices.
Tor works by encrypting your internet connection and then routing it through multiple volunteer-run servers or “nodes”, known as the Tor network.
Using Tor ensures that websites cannot see your real IP address or geographic location. Instead, they see your connection as coming from the location of the exit node.
You can therefore use Tor to unblock geographically restricted websites, provided the exit node is located in a country where the content is accessible.
Sadly, choosing the exit node’s location is not always straightforward. The browser offers some degree of control, but not as much as you get with a VPN, web proxy, or Smart DNS service.
We therefore don’t recommend using Tor to unblock streaming content, such as on Netflix or HBO Max. Not only is Tor incredibly slow, streaming typically requires much more precise geo-spoofing than the Tor browser can provide.
Instead, you should use the Tor browser to unblock websites if you’re trying to bypass censorship restrictions imposed at the government-level, or to maximize your anonymity online.
Tor is designed with journalists and whistleblowers from authoritarian countries in mind. The airtight encryption and decentralized network architecture mean that governments, police and ISPs cannot track your browsing activity and so cannot block you from accessing certain information and websites.
In short, Tor is the most anonymous way to unblock websites that are blocked by your government.
Although using the Tor browser will almost certainly let you access websites blocked by your employer, you should be aware that your network administrator will see that you’re using the Tor network (even if they can’t see what you’re doing on it).
They may not approve of this, due to concerns about the safety of Tor. Indeed, some workplaces, colleges and schools actually block users from downloading the Tor browser on the local network. It’s also banned in certain countries, including China and Russia.
Unblocking Sites with Tor: Step-by-step Instructions
Step-by-step instructions on how to use the Tor Browser to unblock websites:
- Go to the Tor Project’s download page. You can download it onto any Windows, Linux or macOS computer. There’s also an Android smartphone app.
- Select your operating system and download the corresponding .exe file.
- Open the file and select your language using the drop-down menu.
- If you’re happy with the recommended settings, press connect. Tor will set-up and you’ll be able to unblock websites and browse anonymously.
It’s important to remember that using Tor comes with risks. If you don’t configure your browser properly and modify your behavior, it’s incredibly simple to reveal your identity.
Should I Unblock Sites Using Tor?
Use the Tor browser if you are:
- Primarily concerned with anonymity.
- Accessing information censored by your government.
Don’t use the Tor browser if you are:
- Unblocking streaming content, or anything requiring fast connection speeds.
- Trying to access sites restricted to a specific geographic region.
- Unblocking sites at school or work.
- Using an iPhone or iPad.
5. Smart DNS
|Specialized for unblocking geographically-restricted streaming content
|Doesn’t hide your IP address
|Very fast connection speeds
|Won’t encrypt your web traffic
|Works on a huge range of devices, including Apple TV and games consoles
|Requires a subscription fee, although it is usually cheaper than a VPN subscription
|Setup can be complicated for beginners
Smart DNS is an effective tool for accessing websites blocked or restricted in your region. It is cheap, compatible with a wide range of devices, and commonly used to unblock streaming services due to its extremely fast connection speeds.
Smart DNS works by rerouting your DNS (Domain Name System) requests through a proxy server in a country of your choosing. It therefore differs from proxy and VPNs, which redirect all of your traffic through the proxy server.
By only rerouting your DNS requests, Smart DNS services are able to achieve much faster speeds than a VPN or a web proxy.
Speed is prioritized over security, however. Unlike Tor or a VPN, a Smart DNS tool will not encrypt your traffic or even hide your IP address.
This lack of encryption means employers, ISPs and governments can see which websites you visit, and therefore can still block you whenever they want. It also means personal IP address bans will still be enforced.
In this sense, Smart DNS services are only really useful for unblocking geographically restricted websites or changing your Netflix region. We don’t recommend using Smart DNS for bypassing censorship or accessing restricted websites at work.
For unblocking streaming content, however, Smart DNS is often an excellent option. Smart DNS is usually cheaper than a VPN, offers faster connection speeds, and is compatible with a wider range of devices.
Unblocking Sites Using Smart DNS: Step-by-step Instructions
To unblock websites with a Smart DNS service:
- Subscribe to a Smart DNS service. Popular ones include MediaStreamer , Control D, Smart DNS Proxy, and Unlocator.
- Register your IP address with the provider. Your chosen provider will have instructions for how to do this on their website.
- Find the DNS server addresses for your desired server location. These should be under ‘My Account’.
- On your device, go to Network Settings > Advanced > DNS Settings.
- Enter in the Smart DNS server addresses. Click confirm.
- Restart your device. Your traffic will be routed through the Smart DNS service once you reconnect to the internet.
Should I Use Smart DNS to Unblock Sites?
Use Smart DNS if you are:
- Only interested in unblocking streaming services, such as Netflix, HBO Max, BBC iPlayer.
- Streaming on a device that doesn’t support VPN apps, such as an Xbox One or PS5.
Don’t use Smart DNS if you are:
- Trying to access non-streaming websites.
- Concerned about your privacy and security online.
- Reluctant to make manual configurations on your device.