Traveling abroad with Roku

When we go on vacation we generally take our Roku. It's especially useful for the selection of kids shows on Netflix. But this only works when we're traveling in the US. Trying to use Netflix or Amazon Video on Demand from Canada or the UK doesn't work. The services detect your IP address and blocks the programming. Something to bear in mind, especially if you've bought a lot of movies and TV shows on Amazon Video on Demand, and then travel abroad for a period of time.

But for those people just temporarily traveling out of the US, there is a way around this that will let you use your Roku to watch Netflix and Amazon Video on Demand. It involves setting up a router with a public VPN service. There are simpler approaches if you are willing to watch the programming on your laptop. But this is the only way I've found that will work if you want to use a Roku, or other dedicated streaming device like an Apple TV.

Here are the the high level steps to setting this up

  1. Buy a router compatible with DD-WRT (e.g. Linksys E2000)
  2. Install the DD-WRT bootloader
  3. Daisy chain this new router off a spare LAN port on your existing router
  4. Signup for a VPN service (e.g. StrongVPN)
  5. Configure the VPN login and password in the DD-WRT admin screens
  6. Configure your Roku to connect to this new router
DD-WRT (http://www.dd-wrt.com) is a free linux based open source firmware. It has a lot of features, but the one we're interested in here is VPN. If you've used VPN before - to connect to your employer's network perhaps - then you're probably used to running some kind of VPN client on your laptop. But since Roku connects directly to your router, you need the router to establish the VPN connection. This will result in every device or computer that connects to the router being "inside" the VPN, and appearing to the rest of the internet as having an IP address from the other end of the VPN connection - in this case in the US.

Fortunately DD-WRT is compatible with a lot of routers. I recommend buying a dedicated router for this purpose. This will give you the flexibility of connecting devices and computers to your "local" internet connection through your existing router, or to the VPN connection to the US through the new router. It also means that if anything goes wrong while you're intsalling DD-WRT you're not left without an internet connection. 

The full list of devices supported by DD-WRT is in their router database. I went to my local Walmart and bought a Linksys E2000 for $99, but there's plenty of cheaper options. The router database provides links to instructions for each supported router. Follow those steps to load the DD-WRT firmware without worrying about VPN for now. Connect the "internet" port on this new router to any available LAN port on your existing router. Setup wifi on this router with a different ssid, and test that you can connect to it from your laptop.

So far so good. We've done steps 1-3. Now we need to signup for a VPN service and configure the router to use this. There are several services out there, but the first one I found which seemed to have decent reviews was StrongVPN. I've found it to be a good service, and I've recommended it to others that have also been happy with it. I signed up for their PPTP-Lite service which was just $21 for 3 months. To sign-up, visit StrongVPN.com (disclosure: signing up at this link will result in my receiving a referral payment).

StrongVPN publish good instructions for setting up the VPN connection in DD-WRT, including videos. Here are the steps for setting up PPTP on DD-WRT. Once that is done you can connect your laptop to the router and visit strongvpn.com to check that the banner at the top shows the US flag. If it does, then you have been successful. Now just point your Roku or Apple TV to this router and you're good to go.

2 comments:

  1. VPN is good if you want to hide your real location. However, about content streaming, I prefer the DNS option. Currently, I am using UnoTelly and have no speed loss, which allows me HD streaming with my 10mbps connection.

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