Living the tech nomad lifestyle? Be ready with your VPN!

What About When the Internet Requires You to be in the USA?

Blunt Jackson
Nov 23, 2018 · 4 min read

I quickly came to realize my problem was more like a porn problem than a tech problem.

I was traveling abroad, and one of my domains was due to expire. I use Google domains, which is about ten million times better than any other domain registrar — but it so happens they don’t want you to travel.

So, I’m here in Sydney, Australia, and my domain is about to expire, and my attempts to renew it are thwarted by the message:

“The country associated with your Google Payments account is not supported for making this purchase.”

That link to “Payments Settings” is just a tease: you are not allowed to add a country to your payment settings, you are required to create an entirely new payment account, with god-knows-what consequences to everything else you use Google to pay for when you are not traveling. I didn’t go down that road.

Surely, I thought, this is a solved problem.

Google search itself did not help me. Terms like “google domains outside usa” or “manage google domains while traveling” gave me lots of wonderful sites about how to use google maps while traveling. (By the way, google maps outside the USA is extremely hit or miss: watch out for roads that are actually stairways, and dirt-road “highways” that wind their way through cocaine fields lined with guys carrying automatic weapons.)

Anyway, back to the main point. I want to renew my domain.

There’s an easy answer: the VPN.

With a VPN, your trusty laptop can connect to an IP address in the USA that relays your http requests on your behalf. But here’s the thing: this is not normally used for bypassing Google’s misguided domain-security policy. VPN-to-the-USA appears to be primarily used by people who really value their privacy, anonymity, and untraceability. I’m guessing these people have use cases in mind other than administering their dns settings.

Most people have dipped their toes into waters like these at some point, for one reason or another. Maybe you wanted to download your pastor’s sermon off youtube, or maybe you wanted to access sexually explicit materials that are not legal in your jurisdiction. No judgement. To each his own.

But if so, you know the drill:

The software is crap, it’s loaded with malware, it’s going to pop ads in front of you that you really don’t want to see, most of it doesn’t work from the get-go, and probably never did. This is the world in which russian hackers take over your laptop and use it to hack Minnesota's county election commissions. If you’re unlucky, they will also freeze your computer and sell it back to you for $50.

Still, with a certain amount of suitable caution, the problem can be solved.

If you actually want to do this on a regular basis, there are perfectly legitimate private virtual network providers that are completely professional and charge you $50-$100 per year. If you want to conduct highly-secure internet business overseas, or if you live in Singapore and want to watch naked people do naked-people-things, this is probably a great investment.

But I, personally, don’t want to spend $50 in order to spend $12 on a domain renewal.

Long story short, many runs through the advanced network settings on my mac, and four or five disastrous downloads of deceptive or non-functional apps, and one or two more promising forays that Google appeared to block in any case, I finally found my answer.

Tunnel Bear!

Ok, this is November, 2018, and Tunnel Bear worked for me. Process:

  1. Create your account.
  2. Download the app.
  3. Install & run the app.
  4. Give it the keys to your kingdom, and cross your fingers that it is not secretly installing the anti-Minnesota software.
  5. Close your browser.
  6. Open your browser, and go back to Google.
  7. Turn on freaking auto-renew like you should have done last month.

But odds seem to be pretty reasonable that Google will catch on to this tunnel bear thing and shut down the loophole, in which case you are back to the drawing board.

Here’s what I did to find tunnel bear:

  1. Search “Free VPN USA”
  2. Check out which result seems (a) recent, (b) is up front about the compromises you must make, and (c) has done some modicum of safety research.
  3. Actually read the article.
  4. Cautiously try a few.

Tunnel Bear was neither the first, second, nor third options I tried.

The first one simply didn’t work at all. The second one creeped me out with the ads it started to throw at me. The third one appeared to work, but Google payments still didn’t work. Only then did Tunnel Bear work.

Remember! Delete everything that you don’t want to keep, reboot your computer, and hope for the best.

Or, better yet, just turn on auto-renew!

So, there you are, drinking pinot grigio on your tropical veranda, contemplating the infinite beauty of the universe, and you realize: I need “beautiful-universe.guru” RIGHT NOW. Better have that VPN handy!

Blunt Jackson

Written by

Building web applications since 1992. Crikey, that’s a long time.

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