VPN services don’t usually cost an arm and a leg but we understand that there are many users out there on a tight budget looking for cheap, reliable options. Free VPN services don’t cut it because they’ll usually skimp on speeds and encryption standards. Opting to use a VPN is an excellent choice in the first place, so in this article, we’ll take you through our list of the ones that are inexpensive, reliable, and deliver the most bang for your buck.
Our ranking is predicated on the following factors:
- Value for money
- Reliable speeds and encryption standards
- Varied server network
- Unlocks geo-restricted content (such as Netflix)
- Apps for Android, iOS, Windows, and MacOS
- Number of simultaneous connections
- Suitable for torrenting
NordVPN is considered to be a veteran in the VPN space because it’s been around for over ten years. It has tons of customizable options and will appeal to both beginner and power users looking for a wide array of use cases.
Nord continues in the vein of storing zero user data. This means it simply declines to retain information pertaining to browsing habits, timestamps, or choice of servers. This policy should appeal to privacy advocates – NordVPN has, in the past, received official requests to hand over customer data from nosy government agencies. However, it was simply unable to do anything about it due to the fact that there was nothing on its servers. It’s also headquartered in Panama – completely out of the reach of any data retention laws or jurisdiction of western courts.
NordVPN operates 976 servers in 56 countries – with options to select specific ones based on things like stringent privacy, video streaming, anonymity, or dedicated IP.
The service works with a number of online streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, and BBC iPlayer without any problems. Torrenting is permitted.
Encryption standards are top-tier – NordVPN uses the 256-bit AES protocol encryption standard by default coupled with 2,048-bit SSL keys. DNS leak protection is enabled.
There is support for Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android. The service allows six devices to connect at one time.
Here’s our full review of NordVPN.
IPVanish is a fantastic choice for the discerning user who’s looking for a fast VPN that doesn’t compromise on encryption standards or privacy either. It’s completely logless – meaning the company doesn’t retain any user data whatsoever.
IPVanish uses 256-bit encryption on the OpenVPN protocol by default, SHA512 authentication, and a DHE-RSA 2,048-bit key exchange with perfect forward secrecy. The latter feature means that even if hackers break into your account, it’ll be impossible for them to decrypt past session data to figure out what you’ve been doing on the web. Hence there are multiple layers of security.
The company includes an internet kill switch, which means traffic will be temporarily halted if the connection drops. Servers are optimized for speed, stability, and security – with over 850 of them spread across 60 countries.
The provider isn’t able to escape the Netflix ban on VPNs or unlock Hulu but is a worthy choice for BBC iPlayer.
There are apps for both iOS and Android as well as desktop support for Windows and MacOS. Five devices can connect with one account and torrenting is permitted on all servers.
IPVanish is popular with Kodi users because it allows them to download the Android APK directly to their device. The interface is also remote control friendly for Kodi devices that lack a keyboard and mouse.
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Read our full IPVanish review.
Cyberghost Pro is an excellent option for beginner users on a budget that want a plug-and-play option without many frills or customizable options.
The company is headquartered in Romania – out of the reach of any mandatory data retention laws. It adds an additional layer to this fact with a stated policy of not logging user behavior of any nature. Having said that, it was recently acquired by an Israeli firm headquartered in the UK. So far this hasn’t changed the logging policy but we’ll keep our readers updated if we notice anything.
Server locations are adequate for an inexpensive VPN. There are over 850 of them spread across 27 countries. Cyberghost Pro adds that more are being added constantly so you can expect a wider range soon.
The service doesn’t unblock Netflix but does work with BBC iPlayer.
Encryption standards are robust enough to propel it within the top-tier of VPNs. It leverages 256-bit AES encryption on the OpenVPN protocol by default along with 2,048-bit RSA keys and MD5 HMAC authentication.
There’s also an internet kill switch included, which means web traffic will be halted if the connection drops unexpectedly.
Apps are available for both Android and iOS as well as desktop support for Windows and MacOS. A maximum of five devices can connect simultaneously. Torrenting is permitted on most servers except those located in the United States, Russia, China, and Singapore.
Read our full review of Cyberghost Pro.
PrivateVPN is a relative newcomer in the industry and doesn’t offer the expansive server network that’s a hallmark of players like NordVPN and IPVanish. But the service is cheap, easy-to-use, and packs a punch when it comes to speed and stability tests.
The company is headquartered in Sweden which imposes mandatory data retention laws. But PrivateVPN says it stores zero data of any kind about its users so privacy advocates should breathe a sigh of relief.
The service offers DNS leak protection, an internet kill switch, and IPv6 protection as standard. It’s generous when it comes to simultaneous use – with up to six devices allowed using a single account.
Currently, there are only about 60 server locations to choose from but users should be heartened by the fact that it circumvents the Netflix ban on VPNs.
Encryption standards are also tough. PrivateVPN uses 128-bit CPC encryption for TAP and 256-bit AES for TUN on the default OpenVPN protocol. 2,048-DHE keys provide perfect forward secrecy.
There are apps for Android and iOS as well as desktop support for Windows, MacOS, and Linux. Torrenting is permitted and one user can connect up to six devices at any time.
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Here’s our in-depth review of PrivateVPN.
Private Internet Access (PIA) doesn’t come across as a flashy service because of a strange design but it’s powerful and does the job well.
The default encryption protocol is OpenVPN with options for PPTP, L2TP/IPSEC, and SOCK5 Proxy. However, OpenVPN is considered to be a pretty robust protocol so that should satisfy all user requirements. An internet kill switch is included which means PIA will temporarily halt web traffic if the connection ever drops.
A user may connect up to five devices with a single account. PIA supports Android, iOS, Windows, MacOS, and Linux. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work with Netflix.
PIA offers a pretty diverse range of server locations – there are 3,272 of them spread across 25 countries including many in the Western hemisphere. Torrenting is permitted on all servers.
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Read more in our review of PIA.
Will free VPNs do the job?
Users short on cash might be tempted to go for a free VPN service. They’re present on the internet and don’t require you to fork over your credit card details – luring and enticing users who think they’re getting the real deal.
We recommend you proceed with caution. Many such ‘free’ services have been caught indulging in fairly abhorrent practices such as forcefully injecting tracking cookies, mining your data, and selling it to third-party advertisers. It’s a handy reminder of the fact that when the product is free, usually you end up being the product.
Other VPNs might be freemium which means that even if they don’t steal your data, they’ll definitely subject you to download caps, bandwidth throttling, and a small selection of servers (usually only one or two). They’re not bothered with robust encryption either, so there’s a continued risk of being exposed.
After all, such companies are registered businesses too. They need to make money to pay for salaries, office space, and server maintenance. Our recommendation is to avoid these traps to stay safe. Cough up a few dollars each month – it’ll be worth it.
Some VPNs to avoid at all costs
No matter what you pay for when you sign up for a VPN, it’s essential to trust the company and rest assured that your private data will never be at stake. All the VPNs mentioned in this list have upheld this principle, but there are a few unscrupulous ones lurking around that don’t think it’s as important. We recommend that you leave them alone.
Here are two such cases:
Israel-based Hola, which once had a sturdy userbase of almost 50 million, duped its community and turned it into a massive botnet. This meant that some of your bandwidth was illegally bifurcated for things like distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks and distribution of copyrighted content. We think it’s best if you avoid Hola.
2. Hotspot Shield
Hotspot Shield, a notable free VPN provider, ran into trouble last month after a privacy advocacy group filed a complaint against it. The complaint maintained that Hotspot Shield inserted tracking cookies in user data and sold it to advertising companies. It didn’t stop at that either – another assertion was that it “redirects ecommerce traffic to partnering domains”. In layman’s terms that means forceful navigation towards affiliate sites.
A decision on the matter is still pending, but the overall nature of the complaint does follow a certain trend. Our recommendation is to avoid Hotspot Shield for now and until they are exonerated.
We don’t condone using VPNs to break laws by expecting that your identity will remain hidden. At the same time, we do think that VPN providers have a moral responsibility to be open and transparent to users. When that principle isn’t upheld, we feel it’s a major red flag.
What exactly is a VPN?
For the uninitiated, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a software that helps you stay safe and secure on the web. The service works by encrypting all the web traffic to and from your account and routing it via an intermediary server of your choice. This helps keep nosy surveillance agencies and hackers at a distance and also makes it seems like you’re accessing the internet from a different location.
The latter feature makes it possible to unlock geo-restricted content on streaming services. That’s one of the reasons why foreign expats find a VPN to be an excellent choice for staying in touch with content from back home.