Expat Tech Series

Expat Travel Technology: Watch Hulu, Sports, Movies, Live Streams Abroad

Missing some of your favorite shows back in your home country? We’re not huge TV fanatics (we didn’t get cable or DirecTV hooked up the moment we landed in Uruguay, but I sprung for rabbit ears at the grocery store US$3) however we like to watch a few things like 30 Rock, House and an occasional sporting event in the States and elsewhere. The best access to these shows and many others is video stream via your computer. To access most video streams you have to be in the country where the program airs. Hulu, NBC.com, Fancast, CBS.com, and NFL.com all require that you live in the US to watch their broadcasts. Shows are typically available within 24 hours of their original air date. The problem is their websites know where you live; they will pick up your computer's IP address and say “Hey, wait a second, you don’t live in America. You don’t help pay the bills through buying from our advertisers.” I argue the contrary, but it will deny you access. What you need is a solution to convince Hulu and others that you are in the US or UK, Canada, even if you're in South America, Europe, Asia or Timbuktu.

StrongVPN

The solution is StrongVPN. Love it! I can establish a virtual connection to the States, in our case. Currently, we’re "in" Washington D.C. I’ve found that it has the best/fastest connection for the best video streams. After following a quick step by step tutorial from StrongVPN you will automatically be able to connect with one click any time you want to stream video. It will slow down your connection a little bit but generally it's fantastic.

The plan I recommend for most users is the 3 City Special PPTP US$55/year plan. It gives you access to San Francisco, New York & UK. I use the Lite Open and PPTP plan. It’s US$90 per year. It just gives me access to more cities and connection options. If you have a connection that’s not particularly fast one day to can switch to another. You’re allowed to change cities/servers 3 to 5 times per month without charge. You can also upgrade and downgrade without extra setup fees.

I have watched: various TV shows, NFL games (just caught the Giants/Dallas game) US Open Golf (it was a perfect Live stream in near Hi Def quality) The British and US Tennis Opens and many more.

Connect to StrongVPN and go to Hulu.com, NBC.com or where ever your program is available. Most of the video sites look like Tivo or YouTube. Use Firefox 3 as your browser. I’ve tried with Google’s Chrome and Internet Explorer 8, but Firefox is the best. Once you queue up your show, let it buffer for a little bit. Definition: Give the “Internets” a little time to load the show into the viewer. For Hulu, you will see a buffer gauge of one to five bars just like your mobile phone. The more bars the better. Once it gets to about 3 or 4 bars you’re usually safe to hit play. Sometimes you need to wait to 5 bars to get a good uninterrupted quality video stream. Hulu, Fancast, etc. usually run a 15-30 second ad every 10 minutes or so--a lot fewer commercials than you find on TV. The commercials are almost worth watching, since the advertisers don't have the FCC breathing down their neck on the Internet. The ads might screw up the buffer, so you may need to pause the show for a minute. Once you’re buffered up again, you're ready for your TV enjoying experience.

Quick Recap of what you need:

  • A computer with XP, Vista or Mac (Sorry don’t know about Linux)
  • Good internet connection. (i.e. not dial-up)
  • A web browser. Firefox 3 has worked best for me.
  • StrongVPN, Pick your plan.
  • Hulu, Fancast, or other site that is otherwise blocked for foreign users.
  • Enjoy!

StrongVPN: Other Cool Stuff

Pandora

Get Your Music Fix. Another little bonus is streaming music from Pandora.com. It's closed outside the US, but thanks to my US IP address; I'm able to listen to 30 hours free per month. There is an alternative, Last.fm. It's US$3/month to stream music without a US IP address. Although very much like Pandora--Pandora has a better mix of songs in my opinion. There are also some radio stations for both talk and music that are only available to US listeners. The stream quality of music is excellent and there is no notable difference compared to my experience in the States.

US Website Access

The reason I first looked into StrongVPN was to convince regular websites that I’m in the States. Since I operate a travel company, I need to shop the competition. I can’t have Expedia or Priceline thinking that I’m in Uruguay when I want them to believe I’m in the US. The sites are different abroad and you can’t always select a US version. I’ve also heard reports from Expats of rejected transactions by Amazon, PayPal , etc. even though their billing address is in the US provided through Earth Class Mail, family, or other residence. By using StrongVPN these sites always assume I’m in the US. It’s been great and is a small cost of doing business.

Email:

My email messages are less likely to go to spam folders when sent from a US IP address. It's kind of important that my clients receive my emails. ¿No?

Poor man's solution:

I do have a workaround, which is particularly helpful for live events that are not available online. I like to watch the Vikings. I can't find a free stream online, so I've had my Dad fix his webcam on a TV in his office where we usually Skype. We start a Skype Video call and I am able to watch the whole game. The quality isn’t perfect, but last week I was able to watch Brett Favre rip his old team the Packers on Monday Night Football. It was glorious.

I’ve tried several solutions and StrongVPN has been the best and serves the purpose of both business and pleasure. I’d love to hear any other solutions people have for watching their favorite shows while living or traveling abroad. Please add your comments.

Expat Travel Technology: OMG! My Hard Drive Crashed! Now what?!

Well, if you don't want to answer this question- Get Mozy!  It's a small application that will back up unlimited data from your computer to an off site server in the USA.  You schedule a backup time and it  does it's thing. You don't have to think about it ...unless you want to. I've been using this service since Mozy launched

Expat Travel Technology: VoIP Phone Solutions

Lisa and I both need an inexpensive and simple way to speak with family and clients in North America and around the world.  The fantastic thing about this is that we didn't have to change anything to do it.  We have been using Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) for several years.  It's a phone system that uses the internet to carry conversation rather than regular phone lines.  There are countless

Expat Travel Technology: How do I get my mail?

As we know there are many challenges to moving abroad. One of those is what to do with your postal mail. Should you have it forwarded to your new home in your far flung land? Maybe your 90-year-old mother will take care of it for you. Maybe that shifty-eyed cousin? For the most part, thanks to technology, you can eliminate most of your postal mail

Expat Travel Technology: An Introduction

Get Your own Toll Free Number

There are many challenges in moving abroad.  One is technology.  What do I bring? How will it work?  Will it work at all?  Do they sell that in Timbuktu? If yes, do I have to give up my first born to get it?  The answer to that last one is...maybe.  Technology abroad--for the most part--is expensive.  

expat-technology-helpTech--as it's always been--is a blessing and a curse.  There are an incredible number of options, but at least we have options.  I give Lisa's mom a hard time for coming over on "the boat" in the '50s from the Netherlands.  They actually flew with several stops, including one in Greenland. Either way, it was no picnic.  So even if my computer crashes or my VOIP goes down...I did not have to come over on "the boat".  Again, options. We can communicate locally and internationally even if that means I have to walk down to the nearest restaurant or McDonalds with WiFi (wireless internet) if my Internet crashes.  WiFi is even available in the parks here in UY and some buses  I'll have to try that albeit discreetly --if that's possible-- as I don't want my computer to be relieved from my possession.  You can even sit down at the McCafe and have a "meeting" across the table via webcam.  So you can continue those Starbucks-style meetings if you like.

One challenge involves staying in contact with your "home" country.  For some this may not be an issue if they are severing ties to the homeland.  In our case, we need to work with clients in the United States to allow us to maintain our expat lifestlye and keep up with family.  Thankfully it has never been easier to maintain this connection as an expat.   Even three or four years ago this transition was far harder than it is today.

There are many issues to consider: receiving postal /snail mail, personal and business phone, computer hardware, backing up your computer, power supplies, what technology to bring, watching your favorite TV shows from home, hiring developers or independant contractors. Fortunately there is a tool, a download, a website, or a physically piece of equipment that can address all of these issues. Even if you're a baby boomer retiring abroad and technology is not your best friend, there are still many tools that are worth the small investment.  I will provide information on several of the travel technology tools that I use everyday in Montevideo... many of these we were using well before the move because they're just great services. The technology we use untethers us from a physical location and thereby is perfect for a traveler on the go or an expat...well...that's flat out gone. 

I'm sensitive to you Mac folks...I have not yet joined your ranks, but most of these tools play nice with Mac...probably better.  

I will also talk about some of the challenges of limiting the interuption to my business while navigating the set up process in a foreign country.  There have been pleasant surprises and of course headaches.  I will share it all here.  I may not be able to wait until Monday...there's so much good stuff!!!

Stay Tuned: New Technology Feature

In the coming weeks, we will be featuring a new six part weekly technology series by Brad to be released on Mondays. This coming Monday will be the intro feature with the description of the topics to follow.  We're also working on an extensive list of baby items that we brought with us- along with a few items that we wish we had.  This will be released in the coming days.