VPN services have been popular in recent years. While their main purpose used to be to protect themselves from surveillance on public wireless networks, today they are mainly used as a way to circumvent geographical restrictions on streaming services. For example, many people want to watch Netflix content that is only available in another country, or want to access a service from abroad while on vacation.
VPNs are incredibly useful, but they can also be expensive. One solution you may not have considered is accessing lower prices for services that cost different amounts in different countries. Many companies adjust their prices according to purchasing power, with lower prices in countries where the average income is lower.
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Today, the best VPN prices are often found in Argentina, India, Turkey, and Ukraine. Brazil, Egypt, Pakistan, Nigeria, and the Philippines can also be good. Sometimes the lowest price can be in a country where it’s hard to find a VPN, and some services have different requirements in different countries, so it’s not always possible to take advantage of the best price. In this case, just move on and try the next country on the list.
From super-simple to complicated
In practical terms, how you take advantage of lower prices in other countries can vary greatly from one service to another. Sometimes all you need is a VPN connection, while in other cases it can be so complicated that it’s not worth the effort.
The latter is particularly true for some companies that only accept payment cards issued in the country in question and not international cards or PayPal. Sometimes it is possible to get around with, for example, a virtual card from a service like Wise. Another potential solution is to find and buy gift cards specifically for that country, but the labor involved quickly outweighs the cost savings.
At the other end, it could look like this: I was recently in Mongolia and went to the Codeweaver website to look at the new version of Crossover Mac (an application for running Windows applications on the Mac), and saw that the price was a fraction of what I expected.
I hadn’t thought about geographical pricing and thought it was a sale, so I went for it and only later realised that the low price was due to my IP address. I used my usual home address to place the order, so as you can see, the only thing many shops do is set the price based on the IP address.
Is this legal and are there any risks?
The use of VPNs is legal in the United States and there are no specific rules for any type of activity, so using it to bypass geo-blocking and watch Netflix while abroad, for example, is not illegal. However, it can violate companies’ user agreements, which may have clauses that allow the company to cut off access to what you have purchased if you are found to have cheated on your geographical location via VPN.
There is uncertainty as to whether it is even a criminal offence. And then the next step that you would be prosecuted in the United States, where the risks must be assessed as very small, says Daniel Westman, legal informatics researcher at Stockholm University to SR.
Daniel Westman also points out that geoblocking is already very unpopular among users, and that companies like Netflix are therefore not trying too hard.
In fact, it is sometimes more than just legal. On the contrary, in the EU it is illegal for companies to not allow EU citizens to buy products and services in any EU country. Valve, for example, has learnt this when it was fined nearly €20 million for preventing users in other EU countries from activating Steam codes purchased in countries where prices were lower. That ruling was made as recently as September 2023, so if you find a lower price in the EU, you’re definitely in the clear.
So the biggest risk is that the company discovers what you are doing and closes your account. This doesn’t seem to be a common occurrence, but of course, it depends a lot on the goodwill of the companies and could change, for example, if the number of users taking advantage of geographic price levels increases significantly.
Because of that, my recommendation is not to use this method to get a lower price on something you really need and that would be difficult to rebuild with a new account. It can also be risky if you pay too far in advance and not month by month. Here you can check the user agreement and see if the company gives itself the right to suspend your account without compensation if you breach the agreement.
This applies to two things in particular: non-subscription digital products and long-term use cloud services such as Microsoft 365 (Onedrive), Apple iCloud, and Google One, where even if you got a refund for unused time, you would be upset to lose access to the content in your account.
Digital products are games, books, films, and other items that you would normally expect to never lose access to. Here, losing the account can be disastrous, although most companies today are not so drastic and would force you to change countries if they discover you are paying another country’s lower prices.
The website omvpn.se also points out that several game publishers such as Activision Blizzard can suspend players in competitive games such as Call of Duty if they use VPN. This is because many people who have had their accounts suspended for, for example, threatening and harassing other players try to get back into the game with a new account via VPN.
My recommendation before getting something from another country in this way is to ask yourself: If the account is suddenly shut down one day, would I still think it was worth it? Would I create a new account via VPN and do it again?
Can work one day but not the next
Companies often change their prices, product offerings, and procedures, so something what works today can suddenly stop working. This is just like using VPNs to access content on streaming services in other countries, but it’s not dependent on the VPN but on the company you’re buying from. So if it stops working, there is nothing to do but enjoy the situation.
Examples of lower prices in other countries
Of course, it is not possible to list all services and products that have geographical pricing. They are far too numerous, unknown to most people, and have prices that change. But here is a short list of some popular examples:
Adobe Creative Cloud and Acrobat
Games on Steam and Epic Games Store
There are many more, of course, so if you’re planning to buy a digital subscription, it’s always worth trying to connect via a VPN in one of the typically cheaper countries.
Airline tickets and hotel rooms are often cited as typical examples, but this kind of price difference seems to have been more common in the past and less so today. However, if you’re booking a big trip, it may be worth a try — it doesn’t take long and even if the prices are only a few percent lower, the savings can be significant. But it is more important to check different price comparison sites and don’t forget to check the price directly from the airlines.
How to do it: Example with YouTube Premium
As an example of how it can be done, I tried to get YouTube Premium — an increasingly popular service since Google started its war against ad blockers — for cheaper via VPN.
After checking the prices in different countries, I started by trying to get the service from Turkey, but after several attempts via both the YouTube app on my mobile phone and the browser on my computer, I had to give up. For example, it was not possible to pay directly with my card or via Google Pay. This shows how companies can counteract the behavior, and reports on Reddit show that as late as mid-2023 it worked for many, but that Google has since added smarter blocks.
The next attempt was with Ukraine, where things went better. I started by connecting to a VPN server in Ukraine. Then I created a new Google account and set Ukraine as my country. Next, I went to payments.google.com where I first added a Ukrainian address (I took Google’s own address) and then my regular payment card. The next step was to go to youtube.com/premium and buy the service. I got my usual question from the bank about authorizing online purchases and then it was done.
Other products and services work in a similar way. Some require an address in the country, but far from all. Adobe, for example, has no such requirement, and some companies, as I said, price based solely on the visitor’s IP address and don’t bother with any further checks.
Google Pay can work where other avenues are closed
On Reddit, user Michinmigugin points out that several services that cannot be obtained via VPN directly on the company’s website can be purchased more cheaply via the associated app and Google Play. One example he gives is Pokémon Go, where the game’s virtual currency is significantly cheaper in Turkey (it’s still awfully expensive compared to buying a Pokémon game for Nintendo Switch and never having to make any in-app purchases, but that’s another discussion).
In cases where it simply won’t work without a payment card registered in the country in question, there are two possibilities. Either you can try to get a prepaid virtual card from there, or a gift card issued for that market. The latter is easier but some companies require regular card payment for subscriptions, such as YouTube.
This article was translated from Swedish to English and originally appeared on pcforalla.se.