What’s the best VPN for Canada and which should you stay clear of? Whether you want a VPN for accessing content such as Netflix or Hulu or for protecting your privacy from snooping internet providers, hackers and governments we round up 5 top options and explain why others should be avoided.
When we think of online surveillance, the first image that comes to mind is probably an American one. Ever since Edward Snowden uncovered the National Security Agency’s PRISM program and other covert operations, the US has been at the center of the debate around topics like mass surveillance, bulk interception, encryption, and government-backed online spying.
The US is prominent in this debate because it got caught and because it’s a big country with a lot of economic and military power. But it’s far from the only country to employ the sorts of surveillance that toe–and sometimes cross–the line between national security and overreach into the lives of ordinary citizens a la 1984‘s Big Brother. One of those countries is Canada, thanks in large part to the 2015 Anti-Terrorism Act that allowed intelligence agencies to gather and share information in much the same way as the NSA.
Canada is a member of the Five Eyes, an intelligence alliance also comprised of the USA, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. If you’re being monitored in Canada, there’s a good chance whatever information is collected about you is accessible to intelligence agencies in those other countries.
The underlying problem with these laws and surveillance programs is that they gather information on people regardless of whether that person is a criminal or not, and they disproportionately affect certain groups of people such as reporters, activists, Muslims, and immigrants.
If you feel your privacy is being infringed upon, one of the best remedies is to start using a VPN. Short for Virtual Private Network, a VPN encrypts all of a device’s internet traffic and routes it through an intermediary server in a location of your choosing. This prevents hackers, your ISP, and, yes, the government from monitoring what you do online.
But not every VPN is trustworthy. In this article, we’ll review the best VPNs for Canada based on the following criteria:
- The VPN provider is not incorporated in any Five Eyes country
- The VPN must not log any identifying information about how you use the service, including online activity and your real IP address
- Strong, up-to-date encryption standards
- Fast, reliable speeds
- DNS leak protection
ExpressVPN is incorporated in the British Virgin Islands which, in case you were wondering, is an independent country not within the UK’s jurisdiction. It boasts best-in-class security standards including 256-bit AES encryption, 4,096-bit RSA keys, SHA256 authentication, and perfect forward secrecy. It logs some non-identifying metadata like what date (not time) you used the service and how long you used it for, but does not record what you do online or your IP address.
ExpressVPN servers are all optimized for maximum speed, and there are a lot of them–over 1,500 in 94 countries. It also comes packed with a kill switch–dubbed “network lock” in ExpressVPN parlance–and DNS leak protection.
Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, Linux, and certain wifi routers.
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Read our full ExpressVPN review.
NordVPN boasts a true zero-logs policy, meaning it doesn’t even record metadata about how you use the service. It also features military-grade encryption, DNS leak protection, and a kill switch that halts all internet traffic in the event of a dropped connection. The company is incorporated in Panama, which has no mandatory data retention laws. Law enforcement has even confiscated NordVPN servers in the past to no avail–there was nothing there to find.
NordVPN sports a large network of over 1,100 servers around the world. It isn’t always the fastest but it should offer more than enough bandwidth to stream video and download large files. You can also choose from servers specialized for certain scenarios, including double VPN, Tor over VPN, anti-DDoS, and ultra-fast streaming.
Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android.
Read our full NordVPN review.
PrivateVPN is a small and young newcomer to the VPN scene, but it can square off with the big boys when it comes to both speed and security. The company is based in Sweden, which does have some mandatory data retention laws, but is not a part of the Five Eyes. In any case, the company adheres to a no-logs policy to ensure that it has nothing to hand over in the event of a court order to do so. The level of encryption depends on whether you use the TAP or TUN interface with OpenVPN. TAP uses 128-bit AES and TUN uses 256-bit; both are effectively uncrackable but the latter is technically more secure. You’ll also get perfect forward secrecy, a kill switch, and IPv6 and DNS leak protection baked right in.
The number of countries is a bit limited right now but growing rapidly. Download speeds were excellent in our tests.
Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android.
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Read our full PrivateVPN review.
CyberGhost was originally developed in Germany and later relocated to Romania. Recently, however, CyberGhost was acquired by an Israeli firm registered in the UK, a member of the five eyes. This might be cause for concern for some users, but the company says it plans to remain a standalone company in Romania. On top of that, it maintains a strict no-logs policy. Even registration details aren’t registered, and new subscribers are instead given an anonymous user ID.
CyberGhost Pro is the paid version of the free CyberGhost tier. It offers a much larger and faster selection of servers, and there’s no waiting queue as with the free app. The VPN utilizes 256-bit AES encryption and SHA256 authentication. DNS and IPv6 leak protection ensure that web requests are not sent outside the VPN tunnel. A kill switch can be enabled to halt all traffic in case the connection unexpectedly drops. Users can enable a selection of other useful features as well, including HTTPS redirect, tracker blocking, and app binding.
Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android. Subscribers can connect up to five devices at the same time.
Read our full CyberGhost Pro review.
SaferVPN is based in Israel, which has close ties to the US but is not officially part of the Five Eyes. The company recently improved the privacy of its service, adding DNS and IPv6 leak protection and foregoing the collection of users’ real IP addresses. It now only logs the IP address of the VPN server connected to, connection timestamps, and the amounted of data transmitted, but nothing that can be used to directly identify a user. You’ll also get 256-bit AES encryption, but no perfect forward secrecy. We should also point out that while most locations use SaferVPN’s own DNS servers, others use a public DNS service like Google, so be sure to double check that if it’s a concern.
Download speeds were excellent in our tests. SaferVPN unblocks US Netflix in a browser, but does not unblock the Netflix app for iOS and Android.
Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, Android, and iOS.
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Read our full SaferVPN review.
Can I unblock Netflix, Hulu, and HBO with a VPN?
Besides privacy and security, VPNs offer another useful benefit: unblocking geo-locked sites and services. Whenever you connect to a VPN, your real IP address is masked by that of the VPN server. An IP address is a unique string of numbers and decimals that can be used to identify specific devices and their approximate location. So by changing your IP address to the US, for example, you can access content that’s normally restricted to US residents.
That includes the US catalog of shows on Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, HBO Now, BBC iPlayer, and Amazon Prime Video. Unfortunately, many of these providers have caught onto this tactic and now block VPN connections. Only a handful of VPN providers are still able to unblock Netflix and Hulu in particular. From the list above, ExpressVPN, NordVPN, PrivateVPN, and CyberGhost Pro will unblock US Netflix and Hulu as of time of writing. You may need to contact the VPN provider’s customer support to ask which specific servers to use, as not all of them will circumvent the VPN ban.
Are VPNs legal in Canada?
Yes, VPNs are 100 percent legal in Canada. There are no laws barring VPN use in any Canadian province.
It should go without saying that what you do while connected to the VPN is still your responsibility. We do not encourage or condone illegal or harmful behavior.
Can I use a free VPN?
We generally advise readers to avoid free VPNs. If security and privacy are a concern to you, consider that free VPNs still need to make money somehow. To do this, they often record usage activity, insert advertisements into web pages, and inject tracking cookies into web browsers. This defeats the purpose of a VPN when it comes to privacy.
Free VPNs also tend to have a much more limited selection of servers, waiting queues, data caps, and bandwidth limits.
In some cases, shady free VPN apps have been known to spread malware. Some are expected of being honeypots for intelligence agencies and law enforcement.
VPNs that Canadians should avoid
There are a lot of VPNs out there and we can’t cover all of them, but you may have come across a few in your search that should definitely be avoided.
PureVPN recently came under heavy scrutiny after the Hong Kong-based VPN handed over logs to American authorities that led to the arrest of one of its users. While we don’t condone the man’s behavior–he was charged with stalking–we also don’t condone logging from a supposedly logless VPN. PureVPN says it only handed over IP addresses and timestamps to authorities, not actual records of activity, but it was enough to land a user in jail. None of the VPNs we recommend above log users’ real IP addresses.
Hola VPN isn’t a normal VPN. Instead, it uses a peer-to-peer browser extension with few centralized servers. That means your internet passes through other people’s households. A few years ago, Hola hijacked its users computers without their consent to create a massive botnet army. It went on to use that army to carry out distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks and distribute pirated media.
Hotspot Shield is a US-based VPN that recently fell into hot water when privacy advocates filed a complaint with the FTC alleging that the provider has been hijacking HTTP requests. When users attempted to go to certain ecommerce websites while connected to Hotspot Shield, the VPN would redirect them instead to affiliate sites where it stood to make a buck if a sale goes through. Hotspot Shield has also been known to inject tracking cookies into users’ browsers, then sell the information those cookies collect to advertisers.
When it comes to free VPN services, TunnelBear is among the best. But because it’s incorporated in Canada, Canadians ought to avoid it. While the law is unclear as to whether VPN providers qualify as internet service providers, it’s best not to take a chance. The company could be forced to hand over customer data by law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Torrenting is also prohibited on TunnelBear servers.
SurfEasy and Opera VPN
For the same reason we can’t recommend TunnelBear, we also suggest Canadians avoid SurfEasy and Opera VPN. SurfEasy is based in Canada and thus possibly subject to government demands for user information. The Opera browser now comes with a built-in VPN that was created by SurfEasy. Furthermore, SurfEasy has not entirely transparent with us about its encryption standards.
Torrenting in Canada
Torrenting copyrighted material is illegal in Canada.
Under the Copyright Modernization Act, Canada utilizes a notice-and-notice system that primarily targets people who torrent copyrighted movies, TV shows, books, and music. The law requires ISPs send notices to copyright violators on their networks. The recipients’ identities are stored on ISP servers for six months.
Damages are capped at $5,000, however the policy is generally regarded as more educational than punitive.
Comparitech does not encourage or endorse copyright violation, but using a VPN will prevent ISPs and copyright trolls from monitoring P2P filesharing activity and tracing it back to you.