Why you need a VPN, and how to select one
It sounds arcane and technical, but we recommend that every expat and traveller become familiar with using a VPN service while overseas. VPN stands for "Virtual Private Network" and below we try and describe what it does, and why we strongly believe you "should not leave home without one."
What is a VPN
For our purposes, a virtual private network (VPN) is a network that uses the Internet to provide individual expatriates with secure access to a private network. By encrypting all data you effectively establish a "tunnel" through the Internet to your designated server - with data within the tunnel unable to be accessed. These designated servers will often be outside your country of residence, and you will have the flexibility to choose the most appropriate server.
Why bother - what are the advantages of a VPN?
In a normal situation, your ISP has access to details regarding all your Internet browsing. Strict privacy laws in many developed countries protect this data, but in many developing countries true privacy does not exist. VPN encrypts all your data traffic and provides additional privacy, with your local ISP unable to see anything except that you are connecting to an overseas server. Note however that your browsing history may be retained on your designated VPN server and you should consider the privacy laws of the country in which it is located when determining what server to use.
Many countries, for a variety of reasons - including censorship and security - will block certain websites and activities. Some examples include access to Skype in parts of Middle East and website restrictions currently in place in China. The use of a VPN will often avoid these restrictions, although you must have regard to local laws and regulations.
3. Wireless Security
Expatriates and travellers will often use (poorly secured) wireless broadband available in public places, such as hotels. That can be dangerous and using a VPN increases your security in such a situation.
4. Watching TV/Geographically Blocked services
It is quite common for a variety of services to only be available in certain geographical areas - for example, you may not be able to access certain Australian, UK or US television programs unless the server, looking at your incoming server address (IP number), believes you are resident in Australia, the UK or US. Effectively, by choosing one of a number of servers located around the world, you can appear to be in these countries for the purposes of these services.
Within Australia two major news networks, Fairfax and News Limited, now operate paywalls on their newspapers. Limited access may be available to a certain number of free articles every month but at least one network has taken the approach of providing less free access to expats than Australian residents. We would have liked to have seen quite the reverse apply, with expatriates not being penalised for trying to retain a connection with the country.
Choosing a VPN Provider
We do not claim to be experts in VPN technology, but the factors we think are important in selecting a VPN provider are:
1. Supporting your platform - ensure that the provider supports your operating system, for example, Windows/Mac/Linux.
2. Durability - ensure the provider as a solid history, remembering that VPN's are still a relatively new offering.
3. Geographical scope - that the provider offers a range of available servers in different countries.
4. Service - provides prompt and knowledgeable response to chat or e-mail inquiries, and
In some countries we believe that a VPN is an absolute requirement for reasons of security. For your reference, as an organisation, we currently use PureVPN and have no hesitation in recommending their services.