Do I need a VPN at home?

A VPN is arguably more useful at home than anywhere else. It will improve your online experience and reduce the likelihood of succumbing to external online – and sometimes offline – threats. A VPN will squeeze more content out of your streaming subscriptions, negate the consequences of DDoS attacks while gaming, and give you privacy while torrenting.

What is a VPN?

We will start with the basics. What is a VPN? A virtual private network (VPN) is software that allows users to connect to the internet through any server in the VPN provider’s network. These networks can be very large. Some providers have servers in more than 100 countries. When connected, the VPN software creates an encrypted “tunnel” between the user’s device and the VPN server using a special tunneling protocol.

Your data passes through the encrypted tunnel to the VPN server, after which it is decrypted and sent on to your destination website, app, or service. To the wider internet, it appears as if the user’s data originates from the VPN server. This has several practical uses, as we’ll see below.

Why a VPN is useful at home

VPNs were originally almost exclusively used by businesses but have surged in popularity among home users in the past two decades. This is partially due to an increased public awareness of surveillance capitalism i.e. the data collected about us while we’re online and monetised by companies like Google and Facebook. It also coincides with the mass adoption of streaming services such as Netflix.

According to research by Forbes, one-third of all internet users now use a VPN. The VPN market – which was worth $53.23 billion in 2023 – is predicted to grow to $135 billion by 2030. So what is all the excitement about? Let’s look at why you might need a VPN at home.

Hiding your online location

VPNs provide an easy way to hide your virtual location, as represented by your IP address. An IP address is a string of numbers and decimals assigned to your device by your Internet Service Provider. It allows other computers on the internet to find you. When you use the internet while connected to a VPN server, websites can only see the server’s IP address rather than yours.

This prevents your ISP, the government, websites, ad networks and search engines from tracking your IP address while browsing. It also prevents cybercriminals from targeting your home network. If, for example, a disgruntled gamer launched a DDoS attack based on your IP address, this would target the VPN’s server rather than impacting your own router. Using a VPN prevents anyone from using your IP address as a jumping-off point for finding your home address.

Accessing geo-restricted content

Popular streaming platforms such as NetflixAmazon Prime VideoDisney+, and Apple TV don’t have the same content available in every country. If you travel abroad, you may not be able to watch the same movies and TV shows as you would while at home. Unless, that is, you connect to a VPN server in your home country first. Doing this means that you can access all the online content you could when you were physically present at home.

It also means you can access content normally absent from your current searches. If you’re in the UK and want to access online services in the US, all you need to do is connect to a VPN server in the US. If you decide you’d like to access Australian online services instead, you just need to connect to an Australian VPN server. Server-hopping around the world is incredibly easy with a VPN.

In terms of streaming, it’s important to be aware that relatively few VPNs work with big-name streaming platforms like those mentioned above. These companies have caught on that people are using VPNs and they’re duty bound to try and stop them. They’re very successful at doing this, which makes it important to choose wisely if streaming is a priority. We list VPNs that are good for streaming later in the article.

Note that a VPN does not affect your GPS location or other location services. It only hides your IP address, which is the most common way for apps and websites to determine a user’s location.

Bypassing internet censorship

Governments can compel ISPs to censor the content available to their citizens. Some prefer to carry out the censorship themselves. The extent to which this happens varies between countries. Torrent sites are frequently banned, while some countries also choose to ban pornographic, social media or political sites. Asia is the most heavily censored region, with North Korea, China, and Iran particularly engaged in restricting online content.

The better VPNs use obfuscation to disguise VPN traffic. Obfuscation disguises VPN traffic so it can pass undetected when examined using techniques such as Deep Packet Inspection. If you live in a country where censorship is an issue, a VPN provides the best way to access the free internet.

Torrenting safely

Downloading and uploading files through the BitTorrent network is inherently risky. ISPs take a dim view of those downloading illegal content. Even those who don’t torrent copyrighted material risk publicizing their location to peers, who are essentially anonymous and may not have users’ best interests at heart.

Many VPNs are torrent-friendly, with dedicated servers and the necessary privacy and security features in place. These include keeping no logs of user activity and basing their operations in privacy-friendly countries. The best VPNs ensure fast download speeds and some allow port forwarding for more efficient seeding and leeching.

Good torrenting VPN apps come with a kill switch. A kill switch cuts off your internet connection if the VPN connection is disrupted for any reason, ensuring your data never travels unprotected.

Avoiding ISP bandwidth throttling

ISPs such as ComcastT-Mobile, or AT&T may throttle user’s bandwidth to reduce congestion, discourage users from torrenting or streaming, or to limit consumption when a data plan has been exceeded.

By using a VPN to encrypt your connection, the ISP is unable to analyze your internet traffic and discriminate accordingly. The additional routing to the VPN server prevents ISPs from determining the source of the data, further limiting their ability to target individual users.

Note that a VPN can only help with bandwidth throttling if your ISP or admin is targeting a specific website, app, service, or type of traffic. If your ISP is throttling all connections, such as when you exceed your monthly data cap, then a VPN won’t help.

Blocking ads and malware

Ads are annoying, and malware is often dangerous. You can reduce your exposure to both by using a VPN – many of which come with the ability to block ads, malware and trackers. These blocking mechanisms work by comparing the location of visited sites (and any locations called upon by them) against lists of sites associated with ads or malware.

The best VPNs for using at home

There are a bewildering number of VPNs available, many of which make promises they can’t fulfill. Having spent hundreds of hours testing VPNs, we know which to trust. We’ve summarized our top choices below.

Recommended VPNs for use at home:

  1. NordVPN: The best VPN for using at home. Robust security and privacy features, thousands of fast servers, great for streaming and comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
  2. Surfshark: The best budget VPN. Reasonably priced subscriptions, access to servers in 100+ countries, and unlimited device connections. Works with all major streaming platforms and can bypass restrictions in countries like China.
  3. ExpressVPN: Solid security and excellent anti-censorship features. Servers in 105+ countries and can easily be used with home routers. Consistently fast connection speeds and ability to access popular streaming platforms.
  4. CyberGhost: Superb for streaming, with servers labeled for individual platforms. Very fast speeds, and 11,600+ servers available in 100+ countries. Protects user privacy and has good value long-term subscriptions.
  5. IPVanish: Company-owned server network, plenty of privacy features, and easy-to-use apps. Connection speeds are fast enough for intensive gaming and streaming 4K video. Plans come with unlimited device connections.
  6. PrivateVPN: Excellent customer service and a strong commitment to privacy. Works great for streaming and torrenting. A stealth mode enables connections in restrictive countries such as China and the UAE.
  7. Atlas VPN: Impressive connection speeds and streaming ability. Intuitive apps with no limit on simultaneous device connections. It uses 256-bit encryption and keeps no logs of users’ online activity.

How to use a VPN at home

VPNs are surprisingly easy to use. It takes seconds to connect, and the majority of apps can be navigated without any previous experience. If you’d like to get started with a VPN, follow these simple instructions:

  1. Sign up to one of our recommended VPNs. We recommend NordVPN.
  2. Download and install the relevant app(s) for your device(s).
  3. Open the app, log in, and choose a server from the country list.
  4. Click or tap “Connect”.
  5. Wait for confirmation that the connection has been established.
  6. Use the internet as you normally would.


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FAQs for home VPNs

Do I need a VPN for streaming?

A VPN isn’t strictly necessary for streaming unless you’re in a country where the streaming platform isn’t supported. For example, Hulu is only available in the US, while BBC iPlayer is only available in the UK. If you want to access either of these services outside of these countries, then you’ll need a VPN. You’ll also need a VPN if you want to stream content from your home country while traveling abroad.

When should you not use a VPN?

There are relatively few instances when you need to disconnect from a VPN. Examples include needing to connect to a device on your local network – such as a printer; or accessing a website that might work less well when connected to a far-flung destination – such as a banking app. Some VPNs have a pause button that will give you time to complete any tasks before it automatically reconnects.

Are VPNs expensive?

You pay for what you get with VPN services. Using a subscription-based service is a must if you want your base internet connection speed maintained, a large choice of servers, and robust security and privacy. Free VPNs typically lack all of these.

The VPNs in our recommended list are subscription based, though their prices vary depending on how long you’re willing to commit for. Rolling monthly contracts tend to be relatively pricey – typically costing between $10 and $12 a month. However, if you’re willing to sign up to a two-year plan, you can pay as little as $2 a month. All of our recommended VPNs’ plans come with at least a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can test them out without risking anything financially.