How to find and watch a movie online (legally) if you’re not in the U.S.

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On my blog, I recommend a lot of movies, and I’ve been gradually going back to add “where to watch” links for all the movies I’ve talked about.

However, many of the links that I’ve found are only for U.S.-based viewers. So what to do if you’re located outside of the U.S., like I am?

1) Find out where the movie is available to stream in your country

To find out where the movie (or TV show, because this works for TV shows too) is available to stream, rent or buy online, I use this website called JustWatch. It gives you information for many countries, so it’s more likely than not that you’ll be able to find “where to watch” info for yours. So far, it’s been accurate for all the movies I’ve checked.

Disclaimer: Unless you’re watching a movie that’s being released day-and-date in cinemas and on demand, the steps in this article are only for movies that have ended their theatrical run — i.e. they’re no longer showing in cinemas. For instance, you’re not going to find Wonder Woman 1984 online on opening weekend (at least, not legally). Give it about three or four months after the movie has opened in cinemas. That’s when it’ll be out online, legally, on video on demand (VOD) and on DVD and Blu-ray.

Search for the movie title in the search bar on the top right. It should automatically be able to detect your geo location and give you the relevant results; but if not, there’s an option to choose the country you’re looking for above the video service listings.

How to find and watch movies online outside the US - How to choose your country option

Found your country? Good, you’re settled. Stream, rent or buy the movie from the available services and enjoy watching!

2) What if the movie isn’t available online in your country?

Sometimes though, nothing pops up in the search bar, even when you’re searching for a movie that exists. This usually means that the movie hasn’t been made available online legally in your country, which was the case when I was searching for Knives Out in June 2020.

How to watch movies online outside the US - When a movie isn't available in your country
JustWatch was able to detect that I’m doing my search from Singapore, where Knives Out hasn’t been made available online, hence no results appear in the dropdown box.

Or you may have landed on another country’s results page, but when you try to choose your country from the options, it’s not there.

How to watch movies online outside the US - When a movie isn't available in your country 2
Even when I found Knives Out on the U.S. results page and tried to change the country, Singapore doesn’t appear on the list of countries.

a) Look for where the movie is available to stream online in other countries

This is where a Netflix and an Amazon Prime Video subscription comes in handy, because both have the widest reach around the world. Netflix is now available worldwide except in China, North Korea, Crimea and Syria; and Amazon Prime Video seems to be the same. Which means as long as you’re subscribed to either or both, you can access them no matter where you are (except in those restricted countries).

The content on each service in each country varies, depending on whether the streamer has licensing rights for that territory. If it doesn’t, the service provider blocks the content in that particular country, even though it may be available on the same service in another country. This is called geo-restrictions, or geo-blocking.

To find out where in the world the movie is available on Netflix, you can try this Unofficial Netflix Online Global Search (UNOGS). It’s a database of Netflix’s global catalog that’s updated daily, and even allows you to filter your results based on which VPN you’re using (more on that later). While Netflix has a lot of movies, it doesn’t have everything, so it shouldn’t be your only resource. Also, UNOGS isn’t an authorised source by Netflix, so in case the website is taken down one day, JustWatch is a great fallback.

In addition, you don’t always need to have a Netflix or Amazon Prime Video subscription to watch a movie. Some movies may be available to stream for free online (though usually with ads). You’ll be able to tell which streaming services these are, because they’ll say “Ads” at the bottom of the button on JustWatch.

JustWatch - Free streaming options with ads

You don’t have to look through the results for every single country. What I do is I start from the major English-speaking countries that consume content — the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia etc. — and then slowly go down the list. Usually I would have found what I was looking for in the first few results.

b) Get a VPN to bypass geo-blocking

A VPN is a virtual private network that encrypts your connection and hides your internet protocol (IP) address, giving you anonymity and thus enhancing your cybersecurity. Though not cheap, you can use VPNs for many things. One of it is to bypass the geo-blocks on a country.

After doing some research, I decided to go with NordVPN, because it has great reviews, is one of the most widely used, and seems reliably consistent in being able to get around geo-blocking from popular streamers like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu and BBC iPlayer. It had a security breach in 2018, but has taken steps to shore up its security since, and major tech sites whose reviews I read before making my decision seem willing to trust them again.

Check if you can get your VPN cheaper through a cashback service

NordVPN costs US$125.64 for 3 years, which makes it US$3.49 per month, but with the cashback services that I’m signed up with, the final cost makes it the cheapest among all the VPNs that I’ve narrowed down my evaluation to, which is why I went with it in the end. At the time I bought it, NordVPN was offering US$3.49 per month for 2 years only, which makes it US$83.76. I managed to get 80% cashback with Shopback too, so that makes it US$16.75 for a 2-year VPN subscription. Not bad, huh? ?

The base cashback rate for NordVPN on Shopback is 28%, but it can go up to 85% depending on the type of promo that Shopback is having at the time. If Shopback isn’t available in your country, Rakuten (formerly known as Ebates) offers at least 20% cashback, which again varies, depending on when they suddenly decide to have a promo. (The best promos are usually during Black Friday, but there’re surprise promos all year round.) Just remember to activate your cashback before your purchase!

If using Shopback, the safest way is to download the Shopback app from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store on your phone, search for NordVPN on the app, and then make your purchase directly from the app, because when I bought it through my web browser the first time round, the Shopback browser extension didn’t track the purchase. Good thing NordVPN has a 30-day money-back guarantee (most of the VPN services do), so I could refund my initial purchase and then try again, this time on the app. When I did my refund, I lost some money due to the currency conversion differences on my credit card, but I ended up saving more money with the cashback I got back, as opposed to no cashback the first time round.

Without these cashback services, I would have gone for CyberGhost which costs US$99 for 3 years, or US$2.75 per month. (Shopback also offers cashback for that, but the amount of cashback is much lesser than for NordVPN.) I read great things about ExpressVPN, but at over US$8 per month on a 1-year subscription, it’s too expensive for me.

However, you don’t have to take my word for it. Do your own research and pick the best VPN for yourself, but do make sure that they allow you to bypass the geo-blocks on Netflix and other streaming services. These streaming services have wised up to people using VPNs to bypass their geo-blocks and are constantly trying to clam down on people doing it, so make sure that whichever VPN service you choose can reliably get past these hurdles.

After signing up for your VPN, install it on your devices, choose the country where the movie is available to stream for free or with your Netflix or Amazon Prime Video subscription, and then open up the app/website to enjoy.

How to find and watch movies online (legally) outside the U.S.
Photo by Dan Nelson on Unsplash

Is it legal to use a VPN to bypass geo-blocks?

It’s legal to use a VPN (except in a select few countries), but is it legal to bypass geo-blocks? That’s a grey area, where the only thing that seems to be sure is no one’s going to jail for it. (Mainly because it’s too ridiculous a punishment to fit the “crime” — which it isn’t — unless you happen to be in a dictatorship where the government will use any and every excuse to jail its opponents. However, I’m no legal expert, so what I say must not be treated as legal advice. And if you do happen to be in a dictatorship, please stay safe and do your due diligence before doing anything!)

Unlike piracy, where no one gets any money, the producers of the film are still getting paid by the streamers for the rights to air the movie in the country you’re pretending to be in by using a VPN. As long as the movie producers are being paid, they have better things to do than to quibble over where you’re watching the movie and whether you’ve paid the local licensor to watch the movie. So the only one getting stiffed here is the rightsholder for that movie in your country.

Unfortunately for them, the local rightsholders don’t have much recourse, since there’s no law that explicitly states that bypassing geo-blocking is illegal. And since the percentage of people doing so isn’t significant, these companies also have better things to do that will yield more profit than hunting down those few people and asking them to fork over $15 each or something for viewing the film while physically being in Singapore or wherever you are.

But who knows, your local rightsholders may one day get so fed up and amass enough money and power to get your government to do something about people who bypass geo-blocks. So don’t quote me on that.

3) What if the movie isn’t available to stream for free in other countries, and you’ll need to rent or buy the movie online?

As the major entertainment conglomerates are increasingly coming up with their own streaming services, such as Disney+, HBO Max, Peacock and more, it’s expected that they’ll gradually reclaim their content rights so they can air them exclusively on their own services, like Disney is doing with all their Disney, Pixar and Marvel films for Disney+. Which means you won’t find them on Netflix or Amazon Prime Video anymore, and will have to wait till the specific streaming service comes to your country, which may take a while.

There are also certain movies which either open in select theatres and have a day-and-date VOD release, or skip theatres entirely and opt for a digital release. (These used to be known as straight-to-DVD releases.) One example is Endings, Beginnings by Drake Doremus, which didn’t get its chance in theatres due to COVID-19, and therefore is depending solely on VOD rentals and purchases to recoup its money.

In which case, tough luck. For many of these countries (I don’t know about all, but I think it’s likely), in order to rent or purchase digital movies (or other intellectual property like TV shows, eBooks and audiobooks), you’ll need a credit card that has been issued from a financial institution from that country.

This is an inescapable fact that I’ve not been able to get around. My Singapore-issued credit card simply does not allow me to rent or buy movies from the U.S. This means no Audible purchases, no Disney+ subscription (until it comes to Singapore), no iBooks, zilch.

So what do you do when you don’t have a credit card issued from that country? You have several options.

Disclaimer: For any of the below steps to work, you MUST have a VPN first. Or a Smart DNS set-up. I’ll let you read up on the difference yourself, but from what I gather, it seems that a Smart DNS will allow for faster connections when accessing geo-blocked content, but doesn’t encrypt your connection like a VPN does.

Option 1: Find a friend who has a credit card issued from that country

You can search heaven and earth for someone who has one, and who’ll trust you with their credit card details. Tada! Problem solved. (In more ways than one, because you now know you have exceptionally dependable and trusting friends who’re willing to give you their credit card info. Lucky you!)

Option 2: Find a friend who’s willing to share their streaming service subscription with you

Alternatively, you can ask a friend who’s subscribed to the streaming service that has the show you want to watch if they can share their account with you, just for that short period of time until you’ve finished watching whatever you want to watch. They can then change their password to that streaming service afterwards. This is much easier and safer than giving you their credit card details.

Option 3: Purchase a gift card for the service that offers the movie you want to watch

Buying intellectual property from other countries is a no-go, but apparently gift cards are perfectly fine. You can buy electronic gift cards for digital entertainment services like FandangoNOW, Hulu, the U.S. iTunes store, Google Play Store and CBS All Access at Walmart and other places. (They also sell physical gift cards in retail stores, but I’m guessing you’re most likely not within the U.S. right now.)

Note: Disney has gift cards too, but currently, you can’t use a Disney gift card to buy a subscription for Disney+. ☹️

Try buying these electronic gift cards with your international credit card not issued by a financial institution from that country. If it works, great! You can use your e-gift card to rent or buy the movie from the service you bought the gift card for. Happy watching!

If it doesn’t work, keep reading.

Option 4: Purchase a physical copy from Amazon, or any other online retailer that sells DVDs/Blu-rays

Note: This option (and the rest below) doesn’t work if you want to watch a show that’s exclusively on a streaming service that hasn’t yet come to your country, like the Hamilton musical that’s streaming exclusively on Disney+. Hamilton: The Musical won’t ever be found on any other streamer, online video retailer, or on DVD and Blu-ray, so your only choice is options 1 & 2. Possibly option 3, if Disney ever comes up with a gift card that can be used on Disney+. Or option 6, if you really want to risk it the security of your computer.

Amazon U.S. hates your money if you want to rent a movie on Amazon Prime Video with your non U.S.-issued credit card, but physical goods like DVDs or Blu-rays? No problem. They’ll gladly accept any credit card, and rip you off with high international shipping fees that are about, if not more than the cost of the DVD or Blu-ray you’re buying.

I find it ridiculous. I would understand geo-restrictions if the rightsholders in, say, Singapore, want to prevent people in Singapore from buying the movie from other places and therefore not giving their money to the Singaporean rightsholders. But it should be the same across the board, isn’t it, for the physical items too? Because if we’re able to import them from overseas, we’re also not giving our money to the local rightsholders. But no one’s rejecting your money to import goods from elsewhere. What is with this double standard??? ?

Make sure that you own a multi-region Blu-ray or DVD player first!

Before getting the DVD or Blu-ray, do be sure that your DVD or Blu-ray player can play multi-region discs. DVDs and Blu-rays that are imported from different parts of the world are usually region specific — e.g. North America is Region 1, Europe is Region 2, Asia is Region 3 and so on — and some DVD or Blu-ray players are region-specific. Say you bought your Sony Blu-ray player in Southeast Asia, and Sony locked their players sold in Southeast Asia to play only Region 3 discs. All your American bought Blu-rays therefore won’t work on it.

So before buying any DVD or Blu-ray player, research it thoroughly and read all the reviews online to ensure that it can play discs from all regions! Or your DVDs and Blu-rays from other unsupported regions will languish on your shelf as white elephants.

Option 5: Support local — Rent or purchase a physical copy from your local video store

This works only if you (still) have local video stores, and only if it carries the movie. Which in the case for Endings, Beginnings, is most likely not the case, because it was newly released on digital in North America in May, and there’re no rightsholders in many countries yet.

(Some movies also never have local rightsholders, because it’s just too expensive or unprofitable to bring the movies into their respective countries for various reasons.)

How local DVDs or Blu-rays get made — at least in Singapore — is that local video companies will get the rights from the local licensors to manufacture the DVDs and Blu-rays, go through the proper government censorship rating channels, and then release it into the market. Since there are no rightsholders for Endings, Beginnings in Singapore yet, it of course isn’t available in your local video stores. Unless they also import it from a North American supplier, and then go through the government censorship rating channels, but the cost is likely going to be prohibitive for them too, and the price won’t differ from Amazon by much. Buying straight from Amazon may probably even be cheaper for you.

Option 6: Go the dubiously legal route

There are tons of free streaming websites out there, which are supposedly “legal” — in the same way that it’s “legal” for financial institutions to rip you off and get away with causing the subprime mortgage crisis, leading to the Great Recession in 2008, and get an economic bailout with barely a slap on the wrist afterwards. You can do a Google search for such free streaming websites to see if they have the show you want to watch.

To be honest, I wouldn’t trust them. They sound really sketchy, and their quality is probably not the best — unless the movie is already out on VOD, but I still wouldn’t trust them. If you’re really desperate though, just remember to switch on your VPN for privacy reasons before frequenting those websites!

Conclusion

To sum up all the steps on how you can find and watch movies online legally, even if you’re not in the U.S. and your options are limited:

  1. Find out where the movie is available to stream in your country.
  2. If the movie isn’t available online in your country,
    1. Look for where the movie is available to stream online in other countries.
    2. Get a VPN to bypass the geo-blocks.
      • Check if it’ll be cheaper through a cashback service before making your purchase.
  3. If the movie isn’t available to stream for free, or on Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, and you need to buy or rent the movie online even in other countries,
    • Option 1: Find someone who has a credit card from that country.
    • Option 2: Find a friend who’s willing to share their streaming service subscription with you.
    • Option 3: Purchase a gift card for the service that offers the movie.
    • Option 4: Purchase a physical DVD or Blu-ray from Amazon (but make sure you own a multi-region DVD or Blu-ray player first).
    • Option 5: Purchase a physical DVD or Blu-ray from your local video store.
    • Option 6: Access the movie through dubiously legal means.

With the comprehensive guide above, it’s entirely possible to not resort to piracy to watch a movie online. You just need to find out where it’s available. (Unless you really don’t believe in paying the copyright holders, but that’s not a grey area anymore, that’s just illegal.)

I wish you luck! ?

How to Find and Watch Movies Online (Legally) Outside the U.S. (Pinterest image)

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