Unfortunately, your online activities aren’t kept private. In fact, at the very least, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) can see exactly what you do on the internet. Your traffic might even be monitored by the government, depending on which country you’re in. However, if you buy a VPN (Virtual Private Network) your data online is encrypted and becomes completely meaningless to anyone without the correct decryption key.
VPNs also provide you with a temporary IP address from the country your chosen server is in. Most region-locked platforms rely entirely on the user’s IP address to determine their location, so VPNs make it trivially simple to access geo-restricted content from abroad. This means you’ll be able to do things like stream your favorite shows while on vacation or access social media in countries where your usual sites are blocked.
Don’t have time to read the full post? While we’ll cover each in more detail later, you can find an at-a-glance guide to the best VPNs to buy in 2023 below.
Best VPNs to buy in 2023:
- NordVPN: Our #1 pick! Has more than 5,000 high-speed servers and unblocks many streaming platforms abroad. Boasts several advanced security features and a no-logs policy.
- Surfshark: Best budget option. This zero-logs VPN has 800+ servers in over 50 countries. It unblocks popular services abroad, includes strong security features, and even works in China.
- ExpressVPN: Offers high speeds, a wide range of security and privacy protections, excellent unblocking ability, and over 3,000 servers in 94 countries.
- CyberGhost: With beginner-friendly apps, strong unblocking potential, and almost 4,000 servers in 59 countries, CyberGhost is perfect for those who are new to VPNs.
- IPVanish: IPVanish offers strong security, a no-logging policy, multi-platform support, a high connection limit, and access to over 1,300 servers in 60+ countries.
- PrivateVPN: PrivateVPN is very fast, keeps no logs, and puts your security first. It can also unblock some of the most popular streaming services from abroad.
- Hotspot Shield: A speedy, versatile provider with a solid set of security and privacy features, plus impressive unblocking abilities.
Choosing the best VPNs to buy
Choosing which VPN to purchase can be difficult, given the sheer number of services available. Further, some prioritize security, while others claim to be faster or better at unblocking geo-restricted content abroad. To make things as simple as possible, we’ll only be recommending you buy a VPN that meet all of the criteria below. This way, you’re guaranteed to get a versatile, well-rounded service instead of one that excels in one particular area.
Criteria for selecting the Best VPN
- Has a large network of servers spanning dozens of countries
- Offers high enough speeds for HD streaming
- Includes effectively uncrackable encryption as well as more advanced security features
- Provides apps for all of the most popular devices and operating systems
- Logs no personally identifiable information (or better still, keeps no logs at all)
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Best VPNs to buy in 2023
Below, you’ll find our ranked list of the best VPNs to purchase in 2023:
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
NordVPN is our top pick for 2023. It has a larger network than any other major provider. With over 5,000 servers in 60 countries, it’s easy to get a reliable connection. NordVPN is particularly good at bypassing stubborn geo-blocking: you can use it to access Netflix US, BBC iPlayer, and more from anywhere in the world, and it even works in China. With up to six simultaneous connections permitted, you can protect all of your devices with a single account.
This VPN offers a wide range of security features including 256-bit encryption, automatic ad-blocking and malware-scanning, obfuscated servers, an app-specific kill switch, and protection against DNS, IPv6, and WebRTC leaks. There are even special obfuscated servers for use in countries with strict online censorship. NordVPN keeps no logs and accepts cryptocurrency payments, so your privacy is in good hands. Live chat-based support is on-hand 24/7 in case of any issues.
NordVPN apps are available for Linux, Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android. Manual installation is required for network routers.
- Over 5,000 high-speed servers across 60 countries
- Excellent unblocking ability
- Excellent security and encryption standards
- Zero-logs policy
- 24/7 support
- Desktop app sometimes takes a while to connect
BEST VPN YOU CAN BUY:NordVPN is our first choice. It’s a high-speed service with a no-logs policy and second-to-none security. 5,000+ servers around the world. Unblocks major streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and BBC iPlayer. There’s also a risk-free 30-day money-back guarantee.
Read our full NordVPN review.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
Surfshark is the best option for anyone on a budget. This low-cost VPN has around 3,200 servers in over 60 countries and provides extremely high speeds. Further, it doesn’t restrict user bandwidth and can reliably unblock some of the most popular streaming services like Hulu, Netflix, and BBC iPlayer abroad. However, Surfshark’s biggest draw is that it allows you to connect as many devices as you’d like, without any added fees or limitations.
This service keeps you safe using 256-bit AES encryption, a kill switch (in every version), DNS, IPv6, and WebRTC leak protection, as well as ad-blocking, split-tunneling, and malware-scanning features. It even has a NoBorders function which lets you bypass country-wide blocks, like those used by the Great Firewall. Surfshark is a zero-logs provider. Need help? You can reach support via live chat, 24/7.
Surfshark has apps for MacOS, Linux, Windows, Android, and iOS. It has to be manually installed on wireless routers, however.
- Allows unlimited devices
- Steady, reliable speeds
- Great at unblocking popular streaming sites like Netflix, Hulu, and BBC iPlayer
- Very strong on security and privacy
- Customer support could be better
BEST BUDGET VPN:Surfshark is the best budget option. Connect as many devices as you like. With advanced security features, strong unblocking ability, and fast, reliable connections, it’s ideal for streaming securely. A 30-day money-back guarantee is included.
Read the full Surfshark review.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
ExpressVPN currently has more than 3,000 servers in 94 countries including the US, the UK, Canada, and Australia. Its connections are blazing fast and enable you to watch HD video without any noticeable buffering or lag. With unlimited bandwidth, you’re free to stream as much as you like. Best of all, ExpressVPN can unblock major platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and fuboTV abroad.
This service places a major emphasis on the user’s security. It uses 256-bit AES encryption, perfect forward secrecy, and IPv6 and DNS leak protection to keep your traffic private at all times. There’s also a kill switch that automatically kills your internet connection should you lose your VPN connection suddenly. ExpressVPN doesn’t log any information that could identify you, but you can pay with Bitcoin for extra anonymity if you’d like. Customer support is available 24/7 over live chat.
ExpressVPN has apps for Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android, and iOS devices. There’s also custom firmware to make installing this VPN on a router as easy as possible.
- Substantial network across 94 countries and with over 3,000 servers
- Unblocks Netflix US, UK, and others
- Comprehensive security and privacy features
- Pay anonymously with Bitcoin
- Slightly more expensive than other providers
GOOD ALL-ROUNDER:ExpressVPN is a strong choice. It’s a fast, security-conscious VPN with over 3,000 servers globally. ExpressVPN keeps no traffic logs, unblocks platforms like Netflix abroad, and includes a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Read our full ExpressVPN review.
Money-back guarantee: 45 DAYS
CyberGhost is a strong choice for anyone new to VPNs. It has around 7,000 servers in 90 countries and offers one-click unblocking for some of the most popular streaming services including Netflix, Hulu, and ESPN. Further, as CyberGhost allows you to connect up to seven devices at once, you can stream safely whether you’re at home or on the go.
This service is about as user-friendly as they come. You can connect to a server in a single click and all of the security features (including 256-bit encryption, an ad-blocker, a malware-scanner, a kill switch, and DNS and IPv6 leak protection) are enabled by default. If you need help, you can reach customer support 24/7 over live chat. CyberGhost doesn’t log any personally identifiable information, so your activities can’t be traced back to you.
CyberGhost provides Windows, Android, MacOS, Linux, and iOS apps. It must be manually configured to work with internet routers.
- Apps are easy to install and use – a good option for beginners
- All security features enabled by default
- Fast, reliable service
- Doesn’t work in China or UAE
VERY EASY TO USE:CyberGhost boasts beginner-friendly apps, excellent unblocking potential, pre-configured security settings, and a network of almost 7,000 servers globally. It even comes with a 45-day money-back guarantee.
Read our full CyberGhost review.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
IPVanish offers access to over 1,600 servers in 60+ countries around the world. This service is ideal for people who stream frequently, thanks to its strong multi-platform support, high speeds, and decent unblocking ability. Additionally, IPVanish permits any number of simultaneous connections (most VPNs allow between three and six), so it’s an excellent choice for large households.
Despite its lightweight apps, this VPN offers several advanced security features. These include 256-bit encryption, a kill switch, and DNS and IPv6 leak protection. There’s also OpenVPN obfuscation designed to help hide the fact that you’re using a VPN in the first place. IPVanish has a strict no-logs policy, meaning it couldn’t reveal details of your activities even if asked to. This service is very easy to use but if you run into any problems, you can contact customer support 24/7 via live chat.
IPVanish offers apps for MacOS, Windows, iOS, Amazon Fire, and Android devices. It works on Linux-based platforms and home routers too, but must be installed manually.
- Allows you to connect all of your devices at once
- Very fast speeds
- Strong on privacy and security
- Struggles to unblock larger streaming platforms
NO CONNECTION LIMIT:IPVanish has over 1,600 high-speed servers, apps for all major operating systems, and no connection limit whatsoever. It also offers several advanced security features, a no-logs policy, and a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Read our complete IPVanish review.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
PrivateVPN might have a slightly smaller network than some other VPNs (around 200 servers in 60 countries) but it provides great speeds. This, combined with its excellent unblocking capabilities, makes it a fantastic choice for streaming. In fact, PrivateVPN even unblocks services like Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and Amazon Prime Video abroad, and with six simultaneous connections permitted, you’re free to watch on whichever device you prefer.
With 256-bit encryption, a kill switch (Windows only), and protection against DNS, IPv6, and WebRTC leaks, PrivateVPN makes it easy to browse the web safely. You can sign up almost completely anonymously using Bitcoin and a disposable email address, but PrivateVPN doesn’t log any personally identifiable information, your privacy is guaranteed either way. Support is available over live chat most hours of the day and with your permission, the staff can even remotely install or configure the service for you.
PrivateVPN apps are available for Windows, Android, MacOS, and iOS. It can be manually installed on home routers and Linux-based systems.
- Very fast speeds
- Unblocks Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and BBC iPlayer
- Keeps no logs whatsoever
- A small number of servers
- Doesn’t have 24/7 live chat
HIGH-SPEED BROWSING:PrivateVPN is a no-logs service with very fast connections, powerful security and privacy features, and the ability to unblock platforms like Netflix from anywhere. There’s also a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Read our full PrivateVPN review.
7. Hotspot Shield
Money-back guarantee: 45 DAYS
Editor’s Note: Hotspot Shield is owned by Pango, Comparitech’s parent company.
Hotspot Shield offers access to around 1,800 servers in 80+ countries, and provides the ability to use all kinds of geo-restricted services abroad. Whether you’re looking to unblock Netflix, BBC iPlayer, or Peacock, this VPN has you covered. Up to five simultaneous connections are permitted, so you’re free to protect all of your favorite devices at once.
This VPN keeps your activities hidden from snoopers with a blend of 256-bit encryption, protection against DNS and IPv6 leaks, and a kill switch. It can also be configured to connect automatically any time you use an unsecured network. Most importantly, Hotspot Shield doesn’t keep any logs that could be used to identify you. If you’re having problems, customer support is available 24/7 over email and live chat.
Hotspot Shield apps are available for iOS, Android, MacOS, Linux, and Windows. Further, this service can be manually installed on select routers.
- Fast, reliable speeds
- Unblocks major streaming services
- Good range of security settings
- Some past privacy concerns
- Users can’t sign up anonymously
FAST AND VERSATILE:Hotspot Shield can handle almost anything from streaming to torrenting. Crucially, it offers all of the security tools needed to do these things safely. All plans come with a 45-day money-back guarantee.
For more information, check out our full Hotspot Shield review.
Can I use a free VPN instead?
Although free VPNs claim to offer all of the benefits of paid services, they have several significant disadvantages, which is why we don’t recommend using free VPNs at all. They tend to have more users than paid VPNs, yet fewer servers to share the load. This results in painfully slow speeds and will likely prevent you from watching anything online. Additionally, free VPNs are usually the first to be blocked by streaming services, so you probably won’t be able to access any region-locked platforms.
Many free VPNs use an ad-supported business model and some offer higher speeds for a monthly fee. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this; the problem is that some services resort to shadier methods of making money. They might even store tracking cookies on your device so they can monitor your activities, then sell this information to advertisers.
There’s also the question of whether your free VPN is actually safe to use. Recently, researchers tested over 280 VPN apps and found that nearly 40% contained malware. Just as worrying, more than 80% leaked data over IPv6, and 18% used no encryption at all. Unfortunately, even well-known services come with risks, as we found out when Hola was caught selling user bandwidth to help run a botnet.
How to browse and stream safely with a VPN
Don’t worry if you’ve never used a VPN before; unblocking region-locked content is easy once you know how. Follow the steps below to access your usual services anywhere in the world.
Here’s how to set up a VPN for the first time:
- First, sign up for one of the VPNs above (we recommend NordVPN).
- Download and install the correct version of the app for your device.
- Decide which service you’d like to unblock.
- Connect to a VPN server in the appropriate country. You’d use an American server to unblock Hulu, for instance, or a British server for ITV Hub.
- Try playing a video on your chosen site. It should work flawlessly but if you’re still having trouble, clear your cache and cookies, then reload the page. If the problem persists, contact your VPN provider for further assistance.
VPNs: Frequently Asked Questions
Will a VPN slow down my connection?
A VPN may reduce your network speeds to some degree, but with most of the top providers, the speed reduction should be barely noticeable, if at all. If you’re experiencing very slow speeds, there are a few things you can do to improve matters.
Usually, the further away you are from your server, the higher your latency, so using a server that’s closer to your location could increase your speeds. Additionally, if a server is under heavy load, your speeds may suffer. In cases like these, switching to a different server should fix the problem. Some VPNs include information about latency and load within their server lists to help you make the right server selection.
See also: Fastest VPNs
Can I get in trouble for using a VPN?
VPNs are not illegal, except for in a handful of countries. In fact, businesses use them all the time so that remote workers can access the company network. As long as you don’t do anything illegal online, there’s no reason you’d get into trouble simply for using a VPN.
However, if you use the internet to commit crimes, a VPN isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card; investigators may still be able to cross-reference your IP address with user information stored by the sites you visit.
When might I need a VPN?
If you’ve ever tried to access your online banking service from abroad, you might be familiar with automated fraud prevention alerts. These are designed to protect you, but sometimes end up locking you out of your accounts. If you connect to a VPN server in your home country before logging in, however, it’s likely these services won’t be able to tell that you’re actually abroad, allowing you to use them as normal.
Also, some countries block access to particular news, gambling, or social media sites, which can be particularly frustrating to deal with. As VPNs route your traffic through servers in another country, they allow you to easily bypass this kind of blocking and access your usual services from anywhere. This is why VPNs are so popular in China.
Finally, when you’re abroad, you’re more likely to rely on public wifi networks. These are rarely as secure as they should be, and as such, are a prime target for hackers. When connected to a VPN, though, your traffic is encrypted and your real IP address is hidden. This means that even if someone is monitoring your activities, they won’t be able to tell what you’re doing online.