Netflix content is geographically distributed. This means that content available in one country may not be available in another. Because of this, Netflix generally doesn’t play nice with VPNs or any other location-spoofing tech.
Some VPN providers claim their service can circumvent Netflix’s VPN ban, making the streaming service available over VPN. Surfshark makes that claim. And we put that claim to the test.
Does Surfshark work with Netflix? We answer that question below.Visit Surfshark and save 83%!
The Netflix VPN Ban
Netflix blocked VPNs from accessing its service in January 2016. Content creators and distributors impose geo-restrictions on their content, that Netflix is legally obliged to enforce. This is what motivated their VPN ban.
Geo-restrictions are largely a legacy carry-over from the old days of physical distribution: tape-based projectors in theatres and VHS tapes & DVDs.
There are still region blocks built into DVD and Blu Ray players, even today. But once digital distribution and streaming services became the norm, they stopped making sense anymore.
And it was trivial to bypass these geographic restrictions.
One simply had to connect to a VPN server based in the region from which they wanted to appear. A few seconds later, you’d have instant access to Netflix U.S., from Germany (or anywhere else in the world that’s outside the U.S.).
How Does Netflix Ban VPNs?
By analyzing the headers of your requests and the traffic patterns typically associated with VPNs, they can be detected.
There are different ways of detecting VPN traffic. Here are some of the more common methods here.
IP Address Identification
The IP addresses of VPN servers are public. Normally, when you connect to a VPN server, you, and every other user connected to that server, share the same IP address.
This is a security benefit because by sharing the same IP address, the traffic of all the users behind that address is mixed together. That makes it harder to identify any individual user.
But many services compile lists of known VPN server IPs. With these lists, they can then block traffic originating from those IP addresses.
Fully Encrypted Traffic
When you access the Internet without a VPN, your browser typically downloads both encrypted and unencrypted elements.
For example, your connection to example-website.com may be encrypted, but the site also downloads images from a third-party, unencrypted.
This is in contrast to using a VPN. When using a VPN, every packet is encrypted and that is what can reveal the use of a VPN.
IKEv2 and OpenVPN are probably the most common VPN protocols used by commercial VPN providers. They are both very secure and flexible VPN protocols.
One of their security features is their support for Perfect Forward Secrecy (PFS). PFS ensures that the keys used to encrypt your traffic are periodically regenerated. The process of generating a new key pair also discards the old keys.
This safeguards your data. Because if anyone ever got a hold of your keys, they could only decrypt a small portion of your past traffic. None of your subsequent traffic could be decrypted with those keys.
However, the key regeneration process runs at fixed intervals and generates exactly the same number of packets in exactly the same sequence. This can also reveal the use of a VPN.Visit Surfshark and save 83%!
Can the Netflix VPN Ban be Bypassed?
Yes, the VPN ban can be bypassed. And many VPN providers marketing materials highlight their ability to bypass the streaming service’s VPN ban.
How do they do this? Well, like most companies, VPN providers aren’t too keen or revealing what’s in their secret sauce. But the most obvious approach to unblock Netflix would have to be rotating server IP addresses.
By periodically changing the IP addresses of their servers, they can stay one step ahead of the VPN server blocklists.
Eventually, the new server IP will also be blacklisted. At that point, the server will stop working for Netflix. And that server’s IP will need to be rotated again. Surfshark acknowledges this method in their support documentation.
This is why many VPN providers warn that Netflix support on a given server cannot be guaranteed 100% of the time. And many providers offer alternative methods to access Netflix if you’re having difficulties.
Surfshark is no exception.
However, Surfshark appears to be more confident than other VPN providers, in their ability to access Netflix over their network. In the Surfshark support document, linked above, we find this:
“If you already use a VPN service with another company, one of two things is happening. They aren’t able to unblock Netflix at all, or Netflix has identified the VPN IP address as a proxy IP and blocked it. There are several VPN providers out there who have had their IPs blocked by Netflix. One way around this is to cycle out new IP addresses, but this costs money and is a lot of work that other providers aren’t able to keep up with. We have our head in the game. You get access to Netflix’s global content library because it’s one of our top priorities. Surfshark customers can enjoy any regionally restricted content no matter where they are in the world”.
While the word “guarantee” is not used, this pretty much sounds like a guarantee to me. Let’s see how it works out in the real world.
Streaming Netflix Over Surfshark
On their website, Surfshark explains how to access Netflix over their service.
There is one, very simple, set of instructions to unblock Netflix. And these instructions are valid for any supported device, as stated in step 2.
This worked for me without any complications to watch Netflix U.S. from Canada while connected to a VPN server located in the United States.
What To Do If Streaming Netflix Over Surfshark Doesn't Work?
Now, while Surfshark comes close to guaranteeing Netflix access from their network, they also acknowledge that some attempts may fail sometimes.
Not to worry, they have a backup plan, which is detailed in another Surfshark support document.
The document lists certain error messages you may encounter and offers possible solutions. The solutions generally include:
- Refreshing the page in your browser
- Clearing your browser cache
- Uninstalling & reinstalling the Netflix app
- Connecting to a different VPN server
- Changing DNS server on your router
- Switching from the IKEv2 protocol (Surfshark’s default) to OpenVPN over UDP
You can look at the document for yourself for more details.
Surfshark also thoughtfully states at the bottom of the document, that if you still have issues after trying these backup solutions, you can simply contact Surfshark support (who they humorously name the Customer Success Sharks). And they will (apparently) get you all set up.
This is in line with their Netflix access “guarantee”. But we had no issues whatsoever and had no need to contact support.
So, does Netflix work on Surfshark? Yes, it definitely does.
You’re almost guaranteed to access Netflix with Surfshark. In fact, Surfshark may be one of the best VPN providers, in regards to Netflix access.
They seem to be ahead of the blacklisting server IPs game. They may also be using some secret sauce to defeat certain deep packet inspection (DPI) techniques that could be used by Netflix and other services, to crack down on VPN use.
Whatever the case, we tested it. It was easy. And it worked flawlessly (no buffering issues). And we can recommend Surfshark for Netflix access just as easily.
If you’d like more information on DPI, check out our What is Deep Packet Inspection? article.
Wondering if Surfshark is safe? You might want to have a look at our Is Surfshark Safe? article.
For more information on Surfshark’s service, head over to their website.
Does Surfshark Work With Netflix?
By Marc Dahan
Last updated: April 30, 2020