Apart from the nonstop, my-Instagram-life-is-photogenically-superior-to-yours adventuring, there are the myriad prosaic technical details to being expatriated. Where do I shop for food? Who will cut my hair? How do I talk my way past a mooching transito?
Among the more pressing of expat life’s mundane questions, it always seems, is how to receive geoblocked North American content in Ecuador.
You read it all the time in those infernal Facebook groups. Someone from somewhere posts a directive like, “Best VPN for streaming MLB in Ecuador. Go!” And the rest of us are expected to jump to it with our recommendations. As if the whole point of retirement in a new culture is to sit all day by your computer for a chance to offer free home networking advice. Or free immigration advice. Cheap bastards.
I have no desire to answer technical support questions for the remainder of my days in this fine country. Believe it or not, there are many more interesting things to do.
Instead, allow me to describe my personal setup. If it inspires you to a similar arrangement, then we both shall be blessed with compelling content and I the merrier for helping. How Shakespearean.
Before we begin, a backgrounder. I spent the first 15 years of my career in tech. Specifically, in digital imaging, networking, analytics, enterprise automation, and two years pointlessly marketing products called Java beans. You pick up a thing or two doing shit like that.
Chantal and I cut the cable in 2013 and went full stream ahead, well before the curve. I’ve had close to seven years to perfect my kit. It’s as flawless as you might expect, given the limits of the technology – even today and especially in Ecuador.
Paid Subscription Services
Over the years, I have tried pretty much everything: various and sundry VPNs, unblocking services, pleading fealty to our content overlords. I keep coming back to Unblock-us.com.
(In late 2020, StrongVPN of Ziff Davis Inc. acquired Unblock-us.com and integrated it into the company’s VPN service offering.)
For those unfamiliar, a regular VPN encrypts every one of your outbound and inbound data packets, which throttles your Internet service. This is a particular problem in coastal communities, where speed is already limited to about 10Mbps or under. Mostly under. Netflix requires a minimum 3Mbps for standard resolution streaming, and 5Mbps for HD. Forget 4K.
Unblock-us.com, on the other hand, is a “smart” VPN. Enter its DNS settings into your router, and it’ll kick in only when you access a specific library of content servers. You can select which content servers you want it to unblock, and which service regions you wish to spoof. It never throttles your connection speed.
You can also disable DNS for individual services, like Netflix. This is helpful. Netflix has some kickass detection smarts; it knows – I mean, infallibly – if you’re using a VPN. Rather than to disable your router’s manually applied DNS every time you want to watch Chef’s Table, you can set-and-forget Unblock-us to ignore Netflix.
Which means you have to binge Netflix Ecuador, in English. Trust me: there are worse things in life. Netflix doesn’t have the same licensing arrangements in Ecuador as it does in Canada and the USA. There’s content here that you won’t find anywhere else. Like Better Call Saul, available the same day it airs on AMC.
Of course, if you absolutely must have Netflix US, Unblock-us.com will accommodate you. Its only proviso is that you watch from a web browser and not your TV. Don’t ask me why.
Unblock-us.com includes free “regular” VPN service, in case you’re one of those QAnon weirdos who thinks the lizard people are reading your brain waves.
I didn’t have a choice in modem, and my provider wouldn’t give me the admin backend password so I could modify its WAN DNS settings. So, I passed its Internet connection through to my much-more-powerful ASUS tri-band router and set it up for Unblock-us.com instead. From my router, I ran standard ethernet wires to the Samsung Smart TV and Nvidia Shield, and connected the TV and Shield with an HDMI 2.0 cable.
Here’s a map, for you visual types:
Sure, you can use the so-called “smarts” in your TV to stream content. If your idea of fun is to uninstall and then reinstall your apps before every use, I say have at ‘er cowboy. Samsung can go straight to Hell in that department.
My preferred brand of streaming device is one you’ve probably never encountered: Nvidia. This company is known for its whiplash-fast gaming graphics adapters. Nvidia also makes an Android box called the Shield.
The Shield is awesome. It’s better than Chromecast (although it has Chromecast built in). It’s better than Roku. Yes, it’s better even than your sainted Apple TV. Far better. And better supported, too.
Nvidia constantly updates Shield firmware, so you’re always getting the latest and greatest feature sets. (My Shield is three years old and still relevant.) It comes standard with a Plex server and Netflix built in. You can connect it to a network storage device, and you can use it as a virtual assistant. It’s a gaming console. It’s a file server. It’s a voice-activated smart home hub.
Not bad for under two hundred bills.
I am not an affiliate for any of the services or hardware to which I link. My advice comes, gratis, from the bottomless good that is my everlasting soul.
Every one of my devices (above) is Wi-Fi enabled. I prefer hard ethernet connections, even for the TV.
You can apply Unblock-us.com DNS settings to the Shield, or even the TV. I prefer the router. This extends my unblocking service to the entire household network.
No, I don’t know how to get professional sports for free. Man up and pay for a subscription.