I happen to know an American in Paris. Expats have a wide range of specific problems that most people don’t really ever worry over, for example :
- how do you teach a child two languages (hoping the child won’t mix them up)
- do you have to declare/pay taxes in your country of origin ?
- which address do you give your bank counselor when opening your account ?
- how do you transfer money from your bank in country A to your bank in country B ?
Anyway, one of the problems expats might have is accessing websites who have an IP-based location check (ie bank account management site, checkout, etc).
Eventually, if the problem is recurrent, you can solve it permanently using a router and a VPN which will give you an IP based in the country of your choice. I tested this setup myself and hre’s what I learnt.
What you will need
- Get an account with a VPN provider such as strongVPN. I tested the Lite Open package (monthly fee).
If you only have one computer, the strongVPN account is all you need. Download the software they provide and you can have a foreign IP at will. If you have more than one machine or various devices you want to use with a foreign IP, read on…
- Buy a DD-WRT compatible router. Since strongVPN offers detailed tutorials for the Linksys ones, I tested one of them, the E3000.
- Download the quick config from your strongVPN customer area (it is a zip file)
Setup your network
If you already have a router (you probably do as most Internet boxes do create one for you), you will now have two. Basically, you will have two subnets. Depending on which network you use, you will or not have a foreign IP.
Here’s how it looks :
To achieve this, plug a network cable between your new router and your computer. Access your router configuration page, usually at http://192.168.1.1. Login using admin as a login and admin as a password. In the main section, change your router IP to something like 192.168.2.1 / 255.255.255.0 and enter 192.168.1.254 (or whatever your other router IP is) as the gateway. Setup the DHCP to assign addresses like 192.168.2.2 to 192.168.2.50 for example.
If you so desire, enable the wifi of your new router.
Restart your new router. Connect your old router to the new one using the WAN port on the new router and a LAN port on the old router. Now, if you connect your computer to the old router, your IP will be like 192.168.1.X and you must be able to access the Internet. If you connect your computer to the new router, your IP will be like 192.168.2.X and you should still be able to access the Internet.
If you got this step right, you can go ahead and flash your router firmware.
Configure your router to use the VPN
First, we must modify the router’s firmware to run DD-WRT. This is an open source firmware that aims to make router administration easy (and consistent) while enabling as many features as possible for each device.
If you did get a router listed for easy setup on strong VPN website, I advise you to download your firmware file from there.
If your device is not listed there, get your firmware file from DD-WRT database.
If you did get the Linksys E3000, here are the two files you will need :
Now, it’s time to flash the firmware. Login to your router administration page. Go to administration > upgrade firmware. Select the first file (the upgrade file) and click on start upgrade. Your router will reboot. Return to the same page, select the second file and click on start upgrade again. This time, after reboot, your administration page will look different as you are now running DD-WRT.
Login to your router administration using root as login and admin as password. In the Setup > Basic Setup section, enter the following for DNS servers :
Reboot your router and make sure that you can still connect to the Internet using this new router.
Now, it’s time to setup the router to use the VPN access. Go to Commands and enter the content of the quick config file (downloaded earlier) in the textarea. Click on Save Custom Script. The page reloads, type sh /tmp/custom.sh in the textarea and click on run commands. The page reloads again. Clear the textarea and click on Save Custom Script again. Reboot the router. Now, your router should use the VPN access. If you are using this router, whatsmyip.org should tell you that your IP appears to be in the country you selected when opening your VPN account. Instructions with screenshots can be found on strongVPN website.
Note: If your IP is still the same (your usual IP), you need to contact strongVPN support and ask them to make sure your VPN account is able to work with this setup. If it isn’t, they will adjust it in a matter of seconds.
Connect, either using a network cable or Wifi, your computer to the new router. Go to a website to get to know your IP such as whatsmyip.org and you should now see that your external IP is the one of your VPN provider (in the country of your choice). Hopefully, now, you can use your online banking site or whatever other site which was blocking you for being abroad.
If you’re having a problem, you could leave a comment on this blog but actually, your best bet is to check the DD-WRT forums. If you did go with strongVPN, you’re in luck, their support is awesome. They have what they call “Live Help” which means some of their support staff can anser you via online chat or even using Skype. Simply head over the Live Help page and find a DD-WRT guru. You will be given his Skype name and be told when he comes on duty. They are super nice and extremely helpful. You can also visit their forums hoping that someone runs the same hardware you bought.
It works, now what ?
Okay, so, besides using your connection to access your country of origin banking website and such, this is also a workaround to use country based restricted websites or applications such as Netflix, Hulu or Pandora. I have actually had the opportunity to test this setup and Netflix so, if that’s what you’re doing…
Netflix : two extra tips
- If it stops working on an AppleTV 2, hard reboot (unplug / replug from power source) the device
- If it doesn’t work on iPad, edit your network settings and use Google DNS servers (IP 184.108.40.206)