Does a VPN slow down your internet?

Ever wondered if using a VPN slows down your internet? If you’re looking for a VPN to access regional streaming platforms or game servers, you’re not alone, but not all VPNs are created equally! Many VPNs save money by renting cheap servers or using old protocols, leading to slow speeds. With a bit of knowledge, you can subscribe to the fastest VPN and learn how to get the best speed possible.

It’s a common misconception that a VPN can speed up your internet. This myth, often perpetuated by cowboy VPNs, can lead to confusion. We will set the record straight—with one notable exception: a VPN might actually boost your internet speed.

In this guide, you’ll learn how a VPN works and the reasons it can potentially slow down your internet. We will provide transparent internet speed benchmarks to help you understand the necessary base speeds needed for optimal VPN performance. We’ll also explain how to get the best VPN speed by changing a few simple settings.

Why does a VPN slow down your internet?

To protect you online, a VPN must encrypt all your internet traffic on your device and then decrypt it when it gets to the VPN server. Similarly, when data is returned from the website to you, the VPN must encrypt it before sending it back to you. Data is being encrypted and decrypted twice in each direction, which is part of why your internet is usually slower when using a VPN. The performance hit caused by a VPN becomes even more noticeable if the device you are using has very little processing power and is thus unable to encrypt and decrypt your data quickly enough.

The other part of a VPN that slows down your internet is routing. Both incoming and outgoing data goes through the VPN server, instead of directly to the website, app or service. If you use a VPN server in the Netherlands to access an American website, for example, your traffic must go from UK > Netherlands > USA and then USA > Netherlands > UK. This causes your traffic to slow down, and your ping (latency) to increase.

Your connection will suffer if the VPN server lacks processing power or is overwhelmed because of server congestion. Congestion occurs when too many users connect to the same VPN server.

Some VPNs are much slower than others. They cut corners and rent the cheapest servers available. They also take on more subscribers than they can handle to increase their bottom line.

How can I prevent slowdowns caused by a VPN?

You can get the best VPN speeds by:

  • Connect to a VPN server that is close to you or the service you are accessing
  • Select the WireGuard protocol if available (we compiled a list of VPNs with Wireguard)
  • Check that your device has enough processing power and memory to run a VPN connection without issues
  • Consider your VPN provider carefully and choose a reputable provider that invests in the best infrastructure
  • Check that your baseline internet speeds are good enough to run the VPN you have chosen.

The best VPNs have servers located all around the world. They allow you to get better speeds no matter where you live or what websites you are visiting.  In addition to having many locations, the best VPNs use Tier-1 servers. These high-quality servers have plenty of processing power and tons of bandwidth.

Market-leading VPNs have multiple servers in each location, and these servers usually perform automatic load balancing to ensure they don’t reach capacity and suffer from congestion.

See also: The fastest VPNs

What can I do to make my VPN run even faster?

In addition to looking for a decent provider that has plenty of fast servers, it is also a good idea to subscribe to a VPN that offers specific VPN protocols.

The protocol is the part of the VPN that offers encryption. This is needed to ensure the VPN can give you watertight privacy and security. However, some protocols are faster than others, and you can benefit by switching the protocol in the settings menu of your VPN.

The best VPNs usually come set to a fast protocol right out of the box. However, to ensure you are getting the best speed available, we recommend that you open your settings and try the protocols listed below:

  1. WireGuard: This is the fastest VPN protocol currently available. If your VPN offers it, we recommend that you try it out. It does not always come enabled by default, so you may need to switch to it in the settings menu. It is a modern protocol that is built for speed and security. It protects your data with robust ChaCha20 encryption.
  2. OpenVPN UDP: This is a fast and reliable VPN protocol that is known for providing fast speeds. Market-leading VPNs implement it with robust AES-256 encryption, which means it is suitable for sensitive tasks, like working remotely. Note that there are two versions of OpenVPN (UDP and TCP). We recommend checking that you are set to UDP to get the best speeds for streaming.
  3. Custom protocols: Some market-leading VPNs have a custom protocol that is designed to give their users faster speeds. We recommend opening the menu and asking your provider whether it has a custom protocol using the live chat support. If it does, try switching to this protocol and give it a try to see if it performs better for you.

Besides choosing a fast protocol, we also recommend that you try connecting to a VPN server that is placed in the best possible location. If you live in the UK and want to get an IP address in the US, connect to the East Coast, such as New York. If on the other hand, you are living in Japan, connect to a server on the West Coast to get the best speeds.

Can a VPN make my internet faster?

A VPN must encrypt your data and route it to its final destination via a proxy server. This means your data must go through encryption, decryption, and travel a further distance in both directions. As a result, a VPN will usually slow down your internet. The fastest VPNs are so-called because they ensure that this drop in speed is as imperceptible as possible.

VPNs can speed up your internet under specific circumstances. Many ISPs around the world throttle bandwidth when you stream, game, or torrent. Bandwidth throttling caps your download speed.

If your ISP is discriminating against a specific type of traffic (e.g. BitTorrent) or a specific destination (e.g. Netflix), then a VPN can hide these activities so that your ISP doesn’t throttle them, thereby increasing your speed.

However, if your ISP is throttling all of your internet, then a VPN won’t help. If you reach your monthly data cap, for example, then your ISP might cap your internet speed for the remainder of the month. A VPN can’t speed things up in those circumstances.

Does a VPN slow down your internet? FAQs