There are a few reasons your VPN isn’t hiding your real location, such as IP leaks, cookies, and browser fingerprinting.
Luckily, there are also solutions.
And today, I’m going to share the best solutions I’ve discovered while working in the VPN industry over the years!
Let’s get started.
1. Problem: Your VPN Leaks Your IP Address
There are three ways a VPN can leak your IP address:
- An IP leak happens when your VPN connection is interrupted, exposing your real IP address and location.
- DNS queries are how devices and servers communicate, translating website addresses into their IP addresses and back again. If your VPN isn’t properly configured, it can expose these DNS queries.
- WebRTC is a browser-specific setting that allows you to communicate over the web in real-time. You need to disable it in your browser to prevent WebRTC leaks.
Solution: Test for IP Leaks (and Solve Them)
If a website knows your real location even though you’re using a VPN, the first thing to do is a test for IP leaks.
I like to use BrowserLeaks.com, as it lets you test for IP leaks, DNS leaks, and WebRTC leaks – plus many others.
So, what if you find a leak?
- Open your VPN app and make sure the kill switch is enabled. It’s usually found in the Settings tab.
- Install your VPN’s browser extension and use it together with the VPN app. The browser extension should be included in your VPN subscription and have a setting that lets you disable WebRTC.
- To block WebRTC consistently, use the browser extension uBlock Origin.
You might also need to consider upgrading to a better VPN – especially if you’re currently using a free one. NordVPN and Surfshark are two industry leaders I can confidently recommend!
2. Problem: Websites Use Tracking Cookies
No IP leaks? That’s great!
It also means the website probably knows your real location because of the tracking cookies they use. Unfortunately, even the best VPN can’t help you here.
This is because the website stored a tracking cookie on your device (or browser) on a previous visit. So even though you’re using a VPN to hide your IP address, the cookie or cookies are telling them where you really are.
Solution: How to Cut Off Tracking Cookies
Luckily, this is another easy fix.
Log out from the website, clear your browser history (including cache and cookies), close the browser, and then start again. You should ideally be doing this at the end of every browser session.
Read Also: How to Disable Cookies in Your Browser?
But if it sounds like too much work, an even easier fix is to use a browser add-on like Cookie AutoDelete.
As the name implies, it automatically deletes all of the cookies installed by websites. By default, it does so every time you close a browser tab. You can also set it to wait until you close your browser instead, but I prefer the default.
When you use Cookie AutoDelete, websites can’t track you across the internet.
Now the only thing you need to remember is to use a different tab each time you open a new website!
3. Problem: Your Browser Geolocation Is Used
Most browsers use the W3C geolocation API, which lets them see your real location – even if you’re using a VPN.
To make a complicated story simple, W3C doesn’t reveal precisely how their API works. But we know it relies on any combination of:
- Available WiFi networks and their signal strength
- GSM/CDMA cell IDs
- IP address
No IP leaks mean at least one of these methods is thwarted by your VPN!
But you still need to disable the geolocation API on your browser, as a VPN won’t prevent it from using any of the other methods.
Solution: How to Disable Geolocation on Your Browser
Ideally, you should be using Firefox, as it strikes the best balance between user friendliness and online privacy by default.
But just in case you’re not ready to switch browsers, I’ll walk you through how to disable geolocation on the five most popular browsers.
- Type about:config into your URL bar
- Type enabled into the search bar
- Double-click on the geo.enabled preference to disable Location-Aware Browsing
- Open the Chrome Menu (the three dots in the toolbar, top-right)
- Click on Settings to open it
- Click on Advanced
- Under Privacy and Security, open Site Settings
- Click Location and change it from “Ask before accessing” to “Blocked”
- Open the Apple Menu and choose System Preferences
- In the window that opens up, click Security & Privacy
- Click Privacy
- In the lower-left, you’ll see a padlock icon. If it’s locked, click it and enter your Admin name to unlock it
- Click Location Services
- Uncheck Safari
- Type “about:config” into your URL bar
- Expand the Geolocation section in the Preferences Editor
- Uncheck Enable geolocation
- Hit the Windows button on your keyboard and open Settings
- In the Privacy tab, under Location, toggle it to Off
4. Bonus Solution: Try a Different VPN Server
Sometimes, especially with streaming services like Netflix, it isn’t that your VPN isn’t hiding your real location. Instead, the website knows you’re using a VPN.
There are a few ways they can do this, but usually, it’s as simple as recognizing the IP address you’re using belongs to a VPN. I talk about this in more detail in my recent post, Can You Be Tracked With a VPN? (7 Privacy Tips).
One way to fix this problem is to connect to another VPN server in the same location. This might take some trial-and-error, though typically, it’ll work by the time you’ve tried three servers. If not, you need a new VPN.
It also only works if the VPN has enough servers to compensate for having some of their IP addresses blacklisted.
Another option is to use specialized servers, for example, those your VPN app marks as “Netflix Servers.” If you can’t see anything like that, look for an obfuscation setting instead.
Luckily, NordVPN offers nearly 5,500 servers in 59 countries worldwide – and many are optimized for special use cases (like streaming), plus they have an obfuscation setting you can enable!
5. Bonus Solution: Change Your GPS Location
This one is more for when you’re using an app on your smartphone that requires permission to access your location – for example, Google Maps or dating apps like Tinder.
These apps don’t use your IP address, so a regular VPN won’t help hide your location. Instead, they use GPS to track you down.
Luckily, some VPNs include a feature in their mobile apps that will change your GPS location.
My personal favorite is Surfshark – though the feature is only available for Android users at the moment. They also happen to be one of the best VPNs for privacy and even give NordVPN a run for their money!
Read Also: Surfshark vs. NordVPN Comparison
6. Bonus Solution: Always Use HTTPS
Another reason websites might see your real location even when you’re using a VPN is because HTTP connections can leak your IP address.
I already covered the IP leaks issue, but IP leak tests use the more secure HTTPS connection and aren’t likely to clue you in if HTTP is to blame for any leaks.
Luckily, this one has an even easier fix – one you should be using anyway because HTTPS is the strongly preferred, more secure option.
Install the free HTTPS Everywhere browser add-on by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). It forces your browser to only load HTTPS websites by redirecting to them from the HTTP version, throwing up a big error page if a webpage doesn’t have an HTTPS version available.
How to Hide My Location With a VPN?
I covered all the ways a VPN might not be hiding your location and provided the best solutions. Now let’s flip that question on its head and talk (briefly) about how you can use a VPN to hide your location.
As you’ve probably picked up by now, the most common way for websites to discover your location is through your IP address.
If you look at the image above, you’ll see the first several digits of an IP address called the “network part.” This identifies your network, including your country and ISP. The last section is the “host part,” which identifies the device you’re using.
Websites use the network part to determine your location.
When you use a VPN, your IP address is replaced by the VPN server’s IP. This means the network part reveals the VPN server’s location instead of yours.
So, how do you use a VPN to hide your location?
- Create an account with a reliable VPN, like NordVPN, and pay for a subscription. You can use this link to unlock a special discount!
- Download and install the VPN app on your device.
- Launch the app and log into your user account.
- Make sure the kill switch feature is enabled in the settings tab.
- Use the Quick Connect button to automatically connect to the fastest server or choose your preferred location from the app’s server list.
Does a VPN Hide Your Phone Location?
Yes, a VPN hides your phone location while you’re using your mobile browsing app. Some other apps use GPS to discover your location, though. Only a few VPNs, like Surfshark, can change your GPS location.
How Does Google Know My Location When I’m Using a VPN?
Google knows your location when you’re using a VPN because they use tracking cookies and browser fingerprinting.
You can get around this issue by using the Firefox browser and DuckDuckGo search engine instead, together with extensions like Cookie AutoDelete and CanvasBlocker.
My VPN Is Showing the Wrong Location, What Should I Do?
If your VPN shows the wrong location when you run an IP leaks test, close and reopen the VPN app. Make sure the kill switch feature is enabled in the app settings, then try reconnecting and running another IP test. Contact your VPN provider if the problem persists.
How Do I Hide My Location Without a VPN?
You can hide your location without a VPN by using proxy servers. Oxylabs is a premium residential proxy service provider, which works better and is more secure than free proxies like the Tor Browser.
Your VPN can’t always hide your location, as websites often use other methods that VPNs aren’t typically equipped to combat.
But now you know what those methods and their solutions are!
Of course, the first step is always using a trustworthy VPN like NordVPN.
Grab your discount here and take your online privacy to the next level!