Looking to access geo-blocked (i.e., region-restricted) websites and videos? A VPN or Smart DNS proxy will both do the trick. But they're not the same. We've compiled a quick list of key differences between a Smart DNS proxy and a VPN to help you decide what's best for you.

What is a Smart DNS proxy?

A Smart DNS proxy is a type of server you can connect to which spoofs your location so you can access content that’s normally restricted in the region you’re actually in.

How does a Smart DNS proxy work?

Smart DNS proxies change your Domain Name System (DNS) settings so websites you visit think you’re in the right location to access their content. The DNS is the bit that translates human addresses like www.google.com into internet protocol (I.P.) addresses computers can understand, like “8.8.8.8”. It’s handled by specialized DNS servers that are usually run by your Internet Service Provider. Normally, the location of the DNS server you use helps to pick a company server (in this case Google) that is nearby so you get better speeds and relevant services — but it can also be used to stop you from accessing a service. A smart DNS gets you around that. Here’s a handy diagram to explain how:

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instead of getting that address from a local DNS server, a Smart DNS proxy will connect you to a DNS server that appears to be local and will trick a service into unlocking for you.

A Smart DNS doesn’t actually change your own IP address, however. For that, you need a VPN or a regular proxy service (but make sure it's a proxy that protects your privacy).

What is a VPN?

A VPN, or virtual private network, is a service that allows you to connect to the Internet via a server run by a VPN provider. All data traveling between a VPN server and your computer, phone, or tablet is securely encrypted, so not only can you access global content from anywhere, your privacy is also protected from hackers, snoops, and your Internet service provider. This encryption also makes it safe to use otherwise vulnerable public Wi-Fi networks.

How does a VPN work?

Basically, a VPN serves as a ‘go between’ for connecting you to the Internet. Anything on your computer that connects to the Internet will do so through the VPN: games, email, music apps, whatever. It’s all encrypted and routed through the VPN. It looks a little like this:

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  1. When you go online using a VPN, you’ll connect to one of the VPN provider’s servers. These servers can be anywhere in the world. And that’s the point, because...
  2. Whichever server you connect to will make it look like you’re in that location. (Thanks to that server’s unique IP address.)
  3. Your real location will be hidden, and you can begin accessing previously blocked websites, videos, and other content in that location.

Want the full lowdown on how a VPN works? Check out our Ultimate Guide to VPN for all the details.

Already convinced you need one?

Try AVG Secure VPN

What’s the difference between a Smart DNS proxy and a VPN?

The main difference is privacy. Both will allow you to access geo-restricted content, but only a VPN will encrypt your Internet connection, hide your IP address, and protect your online privacy while you’re accessing all that worldwide content.

If you’re not concerned about your online privacy (FYI you really should be, because have you SEEN the world today?!) but are more geared toward accessing geo-blocked videos and other content, a Smart DNS Server should be fine.

If you also want to protect your online privacy, you need a VPN.

Let’s break down with some easy-to-read facts, shall we?

Use a Smart DNS proxy if:

  • You want to access geo-blocked content
  • You want to stream a wider range of shows from your paid video-streaming subscription
  • You are not concerned about your online privacy or data

Use a VPN if:

  • You want to access geo-blocked content
  • You want to stream a wider range of shows from your paid video-streaming subscription
  • You want to bypass government censorship
  • You want to safely use open Wi-Fi networks in cafes, airports, etc.
  • You want to protect your online privacy and data

But wait, what about the risks?

Well, if you’re using a shady Smart DNS service then you’re basically agreeing to being DNS hijacked — an attack method that forces your online traffic to redirect to fake websites, often without you knowing about it. A few passwords later and boom you're hacked, your personal data’s wide open for the taking and you find yourself funding cyber criminals. Yup.

Same goes for VPN. Not doing your research on what trusted provider to use can leave you wide open to a man-in-the-middle-attack. You know, where you think you’re communicating with a website, server person but actually there’s someone in the middle getting involved and feasting on all your info? That kind of thing.

So whatever service you choose, being reputable is key. Do your research, read the reviews and check out the privacy policies before you sign up.

Are Smart DNS proxies and VPNs legal?

Yes! Using a Smart DNS proxy or a VPN service is perfectly legal as long as you do not use them for illegal activities. On occasions governments have been known to restrict the usage of VPNs so, while they’re not illegal as we go to press, we always recommend you check country-specific laws on using these services before you travel.

How to choose the best Smart DNS proxy or VPN?

Basically, you should choose the one you trust. And, in general, avoid free services. It costs a lot of money to run and maintain either service. If a company is offering theirs for free, you should ask why. They’re most likely profiting off your private data.

No matter which you choose, there are a few things we suggest you check when choosing a Smart DNS proxy or VPN.

  • A clearly visible and coherent privacy policy. If they have nothing to hide, then they should always give this info so you know what they can and can’t see about you
  • A stable infrastructure. You don't want your connection compromised with unstable speeds. Check out their reviews and see how it’s worked for others
  • Visible contact info. If you have a question or an issue you need to be able to get in touch
  • A great support team. If something isn’t working, you’ll want on-hand experts to help

How do I set up a Smart DNS proxy or VPN?

A Smart DNS proxy and a VPN service can work on a multitude of devices, from computers and smartphones to smart TVs and game consoles. Setup will differ depending on your device, but a reputable provider will walk you through the steps to get you started. Just follow their instructions for the device you need, and you’ll be up and running in no time.

Our recommendation? AVG Secure VPN

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We’re obviously tooting our own horn here, but AVG Secure VPN really is one of the easiest solutions out there. There’s no complicated setup. Just click a single on/off switch, and you’re good to go. It works on PC, Mac, iPhone, and Android, and there’s even a free, no-risk trial. Best of all, it’s from AVG, one of the largest security companies in the world, so you know you can trust it. AVG Secure VPN lets you:

  • Stay protected on any network — We encrypt everything you do online with tough-as-nails 256-bit AES encryption, so you can safely use any Wi-Fi network.
  • Avoid online censorship — Wherever you travel, you’ll always have access to your emails, social media accounts, and other services.
  • Access geo-blocked content — Connect to one of our hundreds of servers in over 29 locations around the world to access websites, videos, and other content in those areas.
  • Stream unlimited videos — We don’t cap your data, so use it as much as you like!

Sound good? Then we suggest you try AVG Secure VPN for free.

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