Best VPN services

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) have become a common tool in the digital world. Most internet users are at least familiar with them and the benefits they offer. From protecting your privacy to accessing restricted content and ublocking video streaming services, a VPN is a powerful and useful tool to own.

To arrive at our decision for the best VPNs in 2022, we have run over 5,000 tests across 300+ VPNs. We check each VPN’s security and privacy credentials. We then see how well it works with popular streaming services like Netflix, Prime Video and BBC iPlayer. We perform daily VPN speed tests from various locations around the world. We’ve even read the small print of over 140 VPN logging policies so you don’t have to!

You can read more here on how we test VPNs and our full methodology later in the article, but to give you a quick overview, we have selected the best VPNs based on the following criteria:

  • Security and privacy
  • Speed and reliability
  • Ability to access region-locked content (Netflix, Amazon, Disney+ etc)
  • Usability
  • Customer support
  • Value for money
  • Device compatibility

We’re confident we’ve covered every base. So whether you’re looking to regain access to the full Netflix library, torrent privately or log into Facebook from a place like China, we’ve got you covered.

We’ve put together a comprehensive review of each of the best VPNs below, but there are two VPNs that really come out on top at the moment: NordVPN and Surfshark. If you want to see how the top two providers stack up, you can checkout our NordVPN vs. Surfshark article, where we put them in a direct head-to-head.

Best VPNs of 2022

Here is our quick list of the best VPNs in 2022:

  1. NordVPNBest all round VPN. Fast speeds. Great for streaming, lots of servers, and strong security. Minimal logs.
  2. Surfshark: Best budget VPN. The cheapest VPN on this list. Unlimited simultaneous connections.
  3. ExpressVPN: A speedy VPN. Unblocks region-locked content, works in China, fast speeds, no logs, and impeccable security.
  4. CyberGhost: Best streaming VPN. Another good budget VPN. A great option for novice users who want all the benefits of a powerful VPN, including speed, security, and unblocking for a low cost.
  5. IPVanish: Best VPN for Kodi. A security-focused provider that ensures you can access any app or website safely and privately.
  6. PrivateVPN: Best VPN for privacy and security. A new VPN with great speeds. It excels at accessing streaming content including Netflix.
  7. Hotspot Shield: Best free VPN. A secure VPN that’s good for streaming with free and paid plans.
  8. Private Internet Access: Best Linux VPN. Great for users who like to fine tune their VPN to their needs.
  9. VyprVPN: Best VPN for torrenting. A secure, no-logs VPN with an option for extra stealth.
  10. Windscribe: Best VPN for beginners. Paid users can use Windscribe’s novice-friendly apps to stream, torrent, and browse securely on an unlimited number of devices.

Best VPNs: Detailed comparison

1. NordVPN

NordVPN Jul 2022

Apps Available:

  • PC
  • Mac
  • IOS
  • Android
  • Linux
  • Background FireTV

Website:  www.NordVPN.com

Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS

NordVPN is known for its strong security offering, using powerful encryption and a true zero-logs policy to keep your activities private. However, thanks to its blazing fast servers in 60+ countries, it’s also an excellent everyday choice, suitable for securely chatting, torrenting, or gaming. With up to six simultaneous connections on a single low-price subscription, NordVPN offers one of the best value plans on the market.

Great for streaming

Most VPNs struggle to access more than a handful of streaming services. That said, NordVPN works with just about every one we’ve tested from BBC iPlayer to Hulu. It was even capable of accessing the British and American Netflix libraries, among many others. Best of all, this service has apps for all major platforms, so you’ll be able to watch no matter where you go.

Advanced privacy tools

NordVPN uses effectively-uncrackable encryption and protects against IPv6, DNS, and WebRTC leaks. It also boasts a customizable kill switch that lets you decide which apps get cut off in the event of a disconnection. There are two even most impressive features NordVPN offers, though: its Dark Web Monitor (which lets you know if your details have been leaked online) and Threat Protection (which scans for malware, blocks trackers, and prevents you from visiting malicious websites).

Speedy, secure servers

Our tests show NordVPN averages 369 Mbps per second, making it one of the fastest VPNs we’ve reviewed. This is partly due to the service’s custom WireGuard-based protocol, NordLynx, which is faster and lighter than OpenVPN.

It’s also worth noting that NordVPN servers run entirely on volatile memory (RAM) so that no data remnants are left behind upon rebooting, and that the server software has not been tampered with. If you’d like, you can even connect to servers designed for tasks like browsing the dark web, encrypting your data twice, or bypassing online censorship.

Pricing

  • 2 year plan $95.76 ($3.99 per month)
  • 1 year plan $59.88 ($4.99 per month)
  • 1 month plan $11.99

Pros:

  • Zero logs policy
  • Strong security
  • Fastest VPN we have tested
  • Works with Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, Disney+, HBO
  • Six simultaneous connections allowed
  • 5,000+ servers in 60+ countries

Cons:

  • A few unreliable servers
  • Suffered a data breach in late 2019

BEST VPN: NordVPN’s simple interface hides its trove of tweak-able options and features so you can customize your experience. Great for streaming. Try it risk-free with its 30-day money-back guarantee.

Read our full NordVPN review.

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2. Surfshark

Apps Available:

  • PC
  • Mac
  • IOS
  • Android
  • Linux

Website:  www.Surfshark.com

Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS

Surfshark is a newer provider that competes with its more-established rivals at nearly every level. For instance, it’s extremely fast and excels at securely accessing stubborn services like Netflix and HBO Max. This VPN is continuously improving its security offering too, and now includes a wide array of privacy tools.

Very user-friendly

This provider makes things as simple as possible. First off, it allows an unlimited number of simultaneous connections. What’s more, Surfshark supports every major operating system and offers free 24/7 support over live chat. We’ve tested it with dozens of streaming services and never had any problems. On that note, any server will work with Netflix, with any from unsupported regions simply redirecting you to the US version.

Anonymity-boosting features

Surfshark is based in the British Virgin Islands, a location with no mandatory data-retention laws. It also follows a strict zero-logs policy which means that it does not record your online activities or any metadata that could personally identify you.

Surfshark doesn’t leak data over IPv6, DNS, or WebRTC, and has a kill switch that halts all traffic if the VPN connection drops for any reason. It now routes your data through multiple servers by default and just recently introduced an IP rotator feature that changes your IP address periodically, making you even harder to track. Users can even pay in cryptocurrency to remove another link between them and the VPN.

A strong all-rounder

With an average speed of over 300 Mbps in our latest tests, Surfshark is suitable for just about any task. As if that wasn’t enough, this VPN has no bandwidth limits and allows you to torrent as much as you like. It even works in countries with extreme online censorship, which is something not many providers can say. Plus, as you might expect, helping users stream Amazon Prime Video is child’s play for a service that’s able to bypass China’s Great Firewall.

Pricing

  • 2 year plan $59.76 ($2.49 per month)
  • 1 year plan $47.88 ($3.99 per month)
  • 1 month plan $12.95

Pros:

  • Unlimited devices
  • Works in the UAE and China
  • Access Netflix, Hulu, and BBC iPlayer
  • Keeps no logs whatsoever

Cons:

  • Relatively small server network
  • Occasional slow server

GREAT LOW COST VPN: Surfshark is a great budget VPN and an all-round strong performer

Read our full Surfshark review.

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3. ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN

Apps Available:

  • PC
  • Mac
  • IOS
  • Android
  • Linux

Website:  www.ExpressVPN.com

Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS

ExpressVPN stands out for having far more server locations than most other VPNs. Currently, it operates servers in 94 countries and boasts average speeds of over 100 Mbps. In other words, it’s an ideal choice for anyone hoping to stream live TV from back home while on vacation.

Works in China

China’s government blocks most foreign VPNs outright, but ExpressVPN works flawlessly on the mainland. You don’t even have to tweak any settings or activate a stealth mode, and there’s a separate version of the site that’s still accessible in China (though you’ll have to ask support staff for the URL before you arrive).

Server choice

If you’re looking for a server in Laos, Bhutan, or Macau, ExpressVPN is one of your only options. Naturally, it has servers in higher-traffic locations too, and all of these run entirely in RAM, with no data left on hard drives after a reboot. This makes the server software more difficult to tamper with and doesn’t leave any remnant user data behind.

So why does this matter? Well, having more servers means there’s likely one nearby, which is important for torrenting since closer servers tend to be faster. Additionally, lots of supported countries means a wider range of geo-restricted content is within your grasp. For instance, we’ve tested ExpressVPN with platforms like Netflix, ITV Hub, Stan, Crave, and Hulu and had no problems streaming, even while traveling.

Secure and trustworthy

ExpressVPN protects your privacy with 256-bit encryption, leak protection, a kill switch, and a no-logs policy. It also boasts its own Lightway protocol which can keep your data secure even while switching from wifi to mobile data. These security tools are available in every version of the app, as well as in ExpressVPN’s custom router firmware.

One of the best things about this service is that it’s been independently audited to prove that it’s as secure as it claims. Users who wish to stay anonymous can pay with cryptocurrency and sign up through a dark web .onion site. If you need help with this (or just have a quick question you’d like answered), live chat is available around the clock.

Pricing

  • 1 year plan $99.95 ($6.67 per month).
  • 6 month plan $59.95 ($9.99 per month)
  • 1 month plan $12.95

Pros:

  • Strong security
  • Fast speeds
  • No identifying logs
  • Unblocks Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, etc
  • Easy to use
  • 24/7 live chat support
  • Works in China

Cons:

  • Slightly more expensive
  • Doesn’t always work with BBC iPlayer

BEST FOR SPEED DEMONS: ExpressVPN excels on every front whether you’re an advanced power user or a novice just getting started.

Read our full ExpressVPN review.

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4. CyberGhost

CyberGhost

Apps Available:

  • PC
  • Mac
  • IOS
  • Android
  • Linux

Website:  www.Cyberghost.com

Money-back guarantee: 45 DAYS

CyberGhost checks off every box when it comes to security and privacy. Not only that, but it’s newcomer-friendly, extremely fast, and incredibly versatile. With more than 7,000 servers in 90+ countries, you should have no trouble getting a speedy, low-latency connection, wherever you are in the world. You can even connect up to seven devices at a time.

Task-specific servers

Usually, you’ll have to try several servers to find one that meets your needs. CyberGhost removes all of the guesswork by outright stating which of its servers are best for torrenting, browsing securely, or accessing a particular streaming service (like Netflix, Hulu, or BBC iPlayer, among many others). It also offers a Smart DNS service that can help you access US and UK-only apps on games consoles or other devices without full VPN support.

No-fuss security

CyberGhost boasts a zero-logs policy and promises not to record your online activities, IP address, or other identifying information. Its apps are available for all major operating systems and include a wealth of security tools including 256-bit encryption, a kill switch, leak protection, and the ability to connect via a random port (which might help you use networks that otherwise block VPN traffic).

That’s not all: CyberGhost also offers perfect forward secrecy, meaning even if your current session’s encryption key is compromised, it can’t be used to decrypt past or future sessions. It recently added WireGuard support too, which is easier for security experts to audit, meaning there’s less chance of an unpatched vulnerability being abused to reveal your activities.

Industry-leading performance

This VPN is currently the fastest on the market, with an average download speed of over 500 Mbps. That’s fast enough for several users to stream Netflix, torrent, and video call at the same time with no noticeable issues. There are no monthly bandwidth or speed limits, so once you’ve signed up, you never have to browse unprotected again.

Pricing

  • 3 year plan $89.31 ($2.29 per month) + 3 months free
  • 2 year plan $78 ($3.25 per month)
  • 1 year plan $51.48 ($4.29 per month)
  • 1 month plan $12.99

Pros:

  • Fast, streaming-optimized servers
  • Connect up to seven devices simultaneously
  • Kill switch on all apps and keeps no logs
  • Apps are great for beginners

Cons:

  • Doesn’t reliably work in China or UAE

GOOD ALL-ROUND VPN: In addition to all of CyberGhost’s great features, speed, and security, it also comes with a 45-day money-back guarantee, longer than any other provider on this list.

Read our full CyberGhost review.

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5. IPVanish

Apps Available:

  • PC
  • Mac
  • IOS
  • Android
  • Linux

Website:  www.IPVanish.com

Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS

IPVanish has roughly 2,000 servers in around 60 countries. Unlike most of its rivals, it owns these outright, which makes for better optimization and privacy overall. This US-based company follows a strict no-logging policy and sports a top-tier security suite, as well as user-friendly apps for a wide range of devices.

No connection limits

Most VPNs limit you to five or so simultaneous connections. IPVanish, on the other hand, is happy for you to secure every device you own. It’s also possible to manually install this VPN on your router, which can help you protect devices that don’t normally support VPN apps (like games consoles). These two features ensure that you’ll never have to browse unprotected again.

Fast and functional

IPVanish lets users torrent as much as they like without fear of throttling. This VPN also works with several major streaming platforms (including Netflix) and online games, so it’s a great choice for people who like to do a bit of everything. Best of all, IPVanish boasts incredible speeds, averaging well over 400 Mbps in our latest testing.

True zero-logs policy

With no traffic or activity logs kept, IPVanish can’t reveal what you do online under any circumstances. It bolsters your online privacy with a kill switch, WireGuard support, DNS and IPv6 leak protection, and uncrackable 256-bit AES encryption. There’s also a scrambling feature that obfuscates traffic so your internet provider can’t tell that you’re using a VPN (though this only works with OpenVPN connections at the moment).

Pricing

  • 1 year plan $47.89 ($3.99 per month)
  • 3 month plan $15.96 ($5.32 per month)
  • 1 month plan $10.99

Pros:

  • Fast speeds
  • Great security
  • No logs
  • Huge server network
  • Great for Kodi
  • Unlimited simultaneous connections

Cons:

  • Blocked in UAE
  • Blocked in China
  • Doesn’t unblock as many streaming services

FAST VPN: We run hundreds of automated speed tests every day, and IPVanish routinely scores highly.

Read our full IPVanish review.

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6. PrivateVPN

PrivateVPN

Apps Available:

  • PC
  • Mac
  • IOS
  • Android
  • Linux

Website:  www.PrivateVPN.com

Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS

PrivateVPN has a relatively small network compared to others on this list, but that hasn’t stopped it from offering a highly-competitive service. In fact, there are several areas in which this VPN is near untouchable, from privacy to streaming ability. On top of this, it comes with a generous 10-connection limit – twice what most other providers allow.

Privacy anywhere

PrivateVPN owns and hosts its entire network, as well as acting as its own internet service provider. In other words, no third parties ever have access to user traffic. What’s more, every connection is protected by powerful encryption, a kill switch, and leak prevention.

As you might expect, this VPN follows a zero-logs policy to keep your activities private at all times. Better still, it has a toggleable stealth mode that lets you browse safely, even in places like China where online surveillance is rife. For even greater anonymity, you can choose to pay in Bitcoin.

Great for TV

We test a lot of VPNs here but haven’t seen many that are as well-suited to streaming as this one. PrivateVPN has no issues accessing services that cause its rivals trouble, so whether you’d like to watch Netflix as you travel or catch up on the latest Prime Video shows, you’re in good hands. Our tests showed that this VPN was fast enough for uninterrupted 4K streaming (though your base connection has a part to play here), and most importantly, these speeds are pretty consistent.

Novice-friendly but customizable

PrivateVPN has two modes (simple and advanced) that let you decide how many options you’d like to see. Further, with apps for MacOS, Windows, Android, and iOS, it can be quickly and easily installed on most devices (though manual setup is needed for Linux systems and routers).

If you’d like to dig a little deeper, users can specify which apps to halt traffic from when the connection drops, change the level of encryption, or connect to a server that’s specially optimized for torrenting. Live chat is available almost 24/7 in case you need any help.

Pricing

  • 3 year plan $72.00 ($2.00 per month)
  • 3 month plan $17.99 ($6.00 per month)
  • 1 month plan $8.99

Pros:

  • Fast speeds
  • Great at accessing Netflix, Hulu, etc from abroad
  • Strong security
  • No logs
  • Works in China

Cons:

  • Small server network
  • Live chat not 24/7

SMALL VPN, BIG PERFORMANCE: PrivateVPN is an up-and-coming provider that performs on a level we normally expect from serious veterans.

Read our full PrivateVPN review.

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7. Hotspot Shield

Hotspot Shield

Apps Available:

  • PC
  • Mac
  • IOS
  • Android
  • Linux

Website:  www.Hotspotshield.com

Money-back guarantee: 45 DAYS

Editor’s Note: Hotspot Shield is owned by Pango, Comparitech’s parent company.

Hotspot Shield is a solid option for people who want a VPN that just works. It’s quick, easy to use, and versatile, with tasks like streaming and torrenting as simple as they could possibly be. Up to five simultaneous connections are permitted and there’s no bandwidth or speed limits on paid plans.

Servers for any task

Users have plenty of server choice, with around 2,000 to choose from across 80+ countries globally. All of these are suitable for torrenting, and there are even some that are optimized for gaming. Likewise, Hotspot Shield has servers designed to securely access a huge range of British and American streaming services. We’ve tested these with BBC iPlayer, Hulu, and HBO Max among others, and haven’t had any problems.

Anonymity abroad

It’s hard to overstate how important digital privacy is, and this is even more true if you’re traveling. Luckily, Hotspot Shield provides 256-bit encryption, protection against DNS, IPv6, and WebRTC leaks, and a kill switch, plus a no-logs policy, meaning your activities are hidden from anyone who might be watching.

This service also has its own protocol, Catapult Hydra, which hides the most common indicators that you’re using a VPN. This is helpful if you’re somewhere like China, where VPN traffic is blocked by default. An added bonus is that Hydra has proven significantly faster than OpenVPN, both over short and long distances.

Stress-free setup

Hotspot Shield has its own Windows, Android, iOS, MacOS, Fire TV, and Linux apps. These are streamlined and well-organized, but if you’d rather install the service on your router, support staff can walk you through it (just get in touch using the 24/7 live chat service).

Pricing

  • 3 year plan $107.64 ($2.99 per month)
  • 1 year plan $95.99 ($6.99 per month)
  • 1 month plan $10.99

Pros:

  • Good speeds
  • 80+ server locations
  • Works in China
  • Unblocks most streaming services

Cons:

  • Only Windows app has a kill switch
  • Leaks IPv6 and WebRTC
  • More expensive than rivals

BEST FREE VPN:Hotspot Shield is a solid VPN with both free and paid plans. The latter comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Read our full Hotspot Shield review.

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8. Private Internet Access

Private Internet Access

Apps Available:

  • PC
  • Mac
  • IOS
  • Android
  • Linux
  • Background FireTV

Website:  www.PrivateInternetAccess.com

Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS

Private Internet Access, not to be confused with PrivateVPN, is a veteran player in the VPN space with a sterling reputation when it comes to protecting its users’ privacy. It boasts lightweight, highly customizable apps that let you adjust encryption and network settings. PIA keeps no logs and can handle most day-to-day tasks without any issues.

P2P-friendly

This VPN has several features that make it ideal for torrenting. First off, there are servers in over 80 countries, so no matter where you are, there’s likely one nearby. The desktop apps have port forwarding options built in and the split tunneling feature lets you encrypt P2P traffic while allowing specific apps to pass through unencrypted.

Flexible security

PIA has a vast array of security and privacy tools, including a kill switch, leak protection, and an ad-blocker. Users can customize their encryption level, the ports used, DNS settings, and even add a proxy if they’d like. There’s also a snooze function that disconnects the VPN for a few minutes, which is an unusual but interesting addition. PIA doesn’t keep any logs either, so there’s no need to worry about your activities being traced back to you.

Very easy to use

This provider has apps for all major operating systems (including Linux and Fire TV), so getting started is easy. You’ll have to follow manual setup instructions to get it running on routers but support is on-hand over live chat should you need it. Up to 10 devices can be connected at once.

Pricing

  • 2 year plan $56.94 ($2.19 per month) + 2 free months
  • 6 month plan $45 ($7.50 per month)
  • 1 month plan $11.99

Pros:

  • Strong, customizable security
  • No logs
  • 10 simultaneous connections allowed

Cons:

  • Doesn’t reliably work in China
  • Doesn’t unblock some major streaming services

TORRENT SAFELY:Private Internet Access is a lightweight, customizeable VPN with strong security. It comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Read our full Private Internet Access review.

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9. VyprVPN

VyprVPN

Apps Available:

  • PC
  • Mac
  • IOS
  • Android
  • Linux

Website:  www.VyprVPN.com

Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS

VyprVPN is a Switzerland-based provider with strong privacy and security standards. The company owns, rather than rents, its servers, and maintains a no-logs policy. It’s long been a favorite of expats in China who want to access western news, social media, and streaming services.

Stream TV anywhere

It’s rare to find a VPN that can access more than a handful of streaming sites. However, our team had no issues using major platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, or Disney+ while connected. VyprVPN has no rules against torrenting either, and refuses to limit your speeds or bandwidth in any way. Customer support is available 24/7 over live chat.

Protection for any device

This VPN permits up to 30 simultaneous connections, which should be more than enough. If not, you can manually install it on supported routers. There are apps for all major operating systems, including a command line-based interface for Linux. VyprVPN even natively supports Apple’s new M1 chips.

Proven no-logs policy

VyprVPN is one of the few providers to have undergone an independent audit proving that it keeps no logs. Its other security tools include 256-bit AES encryption, leak protection, a kill switch, and a feature that’ll connect you automatically whenever you use an unsecured network.

This service also offers its own protocol, named Chameleon. This scrambles your data in an attempt to hide the fact that you’re using a VPN (which helps in places like the UAE or China). Alternatively, you can connect via WireGuard, IKEv2, or OpenVPN.

Pricing

  • 12 month plan $100.00 ($8.33 per month)
  • 1 month plan $15.00

Pros:

  • Privately owned servers and data centers
  • No logs
  • Works with Netflix

Cons:

  • Average speeds
  • Smaller server network
  • No Linux app

PRIVATE NETWORK:VyprVPN ensures speed and security through its self-owned servers and data centers. It comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Read our full VyprVPN review.

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10. Windscribe

Windscribe

Apps Available:

  • PC
  • Mac
  • IOS
  • Android
  • Linux

Website:  www.windscribe.com

Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS

Windscribe is a Canada-based VPN provider with free and paid plans. The free version gets you 10GB of data per month and access to servers in 11 countries. The paid version offers 60 countries and unlimited data. Whether you’re a free or paid user, Windscribe won’t record any identifying logs and keeps your data safe with strong encryption.

Free browsing forever

Finding a decent free VPN, let alone one with a high monthly data cap, is extremely rare. Windscribe raises the bar even higher by being one of the few providers to work reliably in China – something plenty of paid services fail to do. If you’re looking for a little more bandwidth, you can increase the limit to 15GB by tweeting about the company. You will have to do this every month (but this can be automated with the right tools).

Steady speeds

This isn’t the fastest VPN on the market. That said, our latest testing revealed an average download speed of around 55 Mbps so you should still be able to stream, torrent, and video-call without too much trouble.

We were particularly impressed by the server offering. Windscribe is one of the few providers to offer free servers in locations other than the US, and its paid plan is the only one we’ve seen with servers in Ghana. If you’re looking to access services from less in-demand countries, this VPN is well worth a try.

Exemplary security offering

Windscribe’s settings menu is a bit cluttered, but it does offer a huge amount of control over your connection. There’s automatic wifi protection, split tunneling, LAN traffic blocking, and a whitelist feature built-in, plus users can set up a proxy gateway to route traffic from devices without full VPN support.

As you might expect, Windscribe uses 256-bit encryption, DNS and IPv6 leak protection, and a kill switch. It doesn’t log any personally identifiable data and can even block ads automatically. Users can turn on the stealth protocol to browse freely in places with strict online blocking, or switch to WireGuard for faster speeds everywhere else.

Pricing

  • Basic plan: Free
  • 1 year plan $49.00 ($4.08 per month)
  • 1 month plan $9.00

Note: Additional cost for static IPs priced between $24.00 to $96.00 per year.

Pros:

  • Works with Netflix and some other streaming sites
  • No logs
  • Strong encryption
  • Works in China

Cons:

  • Doesn’t unblock some popular streaming services like BBC iPlayer
  • Limited mobile app
  • No 24/7 support

UNBLOCK FOR FREE:Windscribe can unblock many streaming services on both free and paid plans. The latter comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Read our full Windscribe review.

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Why do I need a VPN?

Connecting to a VPN, or virtual private network, achieves two things:

First it encrypts your internet traffic and then it tunnels it through an intermediary server in a remote location.

Most people don’t really care exactly how a VPN works – they simply want to know what it can do for them. Well, this encrypted ‘tunnel’ has several useful applications, most of which are centered around unblocking content and improving privacy.

The primary benefits of a VPN are:

Let’s dig into these benefits one by one…

Regain access to the web

In many countries and certain environments, the web is censored. Nationwide censorship is especially prevalent among autocracies in Asia and the Middle East, although they are far from the only countries to block websites, apps, and other online content.

In countries like China, Iran, and the UAE, VPNs have become commonplace, especially among expatriates, as a reliable means to bypass censorship systems and access the web normally. A VPN allows someone in Beijing to use Facebook or someone in Dubai to make Skype calls, for example.

VPNs can also uncensor the web in government or corporate settings, such as offices and schools where firewalls and blacklists prevent staff and students from accessing restricted content.

Unblock region-locked content

Due to an archaic content licensing system, many of our favorite movies, TV shows, video games, and music are fragmented by country. Netflix might stream a show in the US that it is not allowed to stream in the UK, for example, because a different company owns the distribution rights to that show in England. Some streaming services like Hulu and HBO Now are not available outside the US at all, even if you are just traveling outside the country for a few days.

These rules are extremely frustrating for customers and can often seem arbitrarily unfair. But a VPN can help.

When you connect to a VPN, you are assigned the IP address of the server you connect to. Most apps and websites determine your location according to this IP address. So by connecting to a VPN, you can “spoof” your location and access content available to whatever country or region the server is located.

VPNs can unblock:

Note that while unblocking a region-locked streaming service is not illegal, you might be breaking the streaming company’s terms of service, although that’s rarely enforced.

Some companies have taken action against VPN users by blocking connections from known VPN servers. Only a handful of VPNs still work with Netflix and Hulu, for example.

As more and more events are live streamed online, regional blackouts are another problem VPNs can help with. A blackout occurs when a live event is unwatchable online because a local alternative has purchased exclusive broadcasting rights. This is often the case with sports, to the outrage of fans who can’t stream the games they want to see most–those played by their favorite local teams. By connecting to a VPN server outside of the blackout region, however, blackouts can be bypassed.

See also

Stop ISP snooping

All the data you transmit and receive online goes through infrastructure owned by your internet service provider, or ISP. That means your ISP can know more about what you do online than any other entity. If it so wishes, your ISP can monitor every web page you visit, item you purchase, message you send, video you watch, and file you download. It is not uncommon for ISPs to collect this information and sell it to advertisers and data brokers.

The situation in many countries has recently become more invasive. In the US, ISPs can now sell this data without restrictions to third parties without your consent. ISPs are also known to work with law enforcement and government intelligence agencies to spy on both citizens and non-citizens alike, even if they are not suspected of any wrongdoing.

A VPN effectively nullifies ISP snooping. By encrypting all your internet traffic before it leaves your device, your ISP cannot decipher it and see your online activity. Nor can it determine where you go online because it can only see that data is travelling to a VPN server, not the final destination.

Secure Wi-Fi connections

When you connect to the internet at a cafe, hotel, or airport, you’re doing so either on an open network or at least a network that a stranger knows the password to. This means the network is effectively unsecured. Hackers can take advantage of this vulnerability and use it to capture traffic sent by other users over the internet. That means the hacker can monitor and log anything you do online that isn’t encrypted.

Not only can hackers view your data; they can modify it. In a man-in-the-middle attack, a hacker can intercept data and change it for nefarious purposes. This could be used to direct you to malware-infested websites or change the contents of messages before they are received, for example.

By encrypting all the internet traffic going to or from a device instead of just some of it, a VPN secures connections made on open wi-fi networks against hackers.

Anonymous torrenting and streaming

If you download files via torrent or stream content from unsanctioned sources, then a VPN is your best friend. Torrenting and streaming content from certain websites online are often frowned upon by ISPs. As a result, ISPs can throttle your bandwidth or even suspend your internet service.

BitTorrent and other P2P services like Acestreams also open you up to a number of security vulnerabilities by disclosing your ISP to anyone else downloading or uploading the same content. This can create a possible attack vector or allow you to be targeted by copyright trolls, who send threatening settlement letters in order to pressure downloaders into forking over large sums of cash.

By assigning you an IP address that’s shared with dozens or even hundreds of other VPN users, a VPN makes you effectively impossible to trace without the explicit help of the VPN provider. Because most reputable VPN providers don’t keep logs of who does what when, this isn’t a problem. And since all your traffic is encrypted, ISPs can only see that data is being downloaded, but not what that data contains or where it is coming from.

Methodology: How does Comparitech test VPNs?

Comparitech evaluates VPNs using a series of empirical tests as well as first-hand experience in day-to-day activities like streaming, web browsing, and torrenting. Our research analyzes each VPN’s speed, security, and usability, among other factors.

Comparitech VPN reviewers assess VPNs on the following criteria:

Privacy

We prefer VPNs with no-logs policies, that are based in countries without data retention laws or invasive government surveillance, and that accept anonymous signups and payment methods.

Ideally, VPNs should not store any identifying logs, including logs of your online activity, IP address, or connection timestamps.

Example of a simple VPN logging policy.

We’ve analyzed 140 VPN logging policies as part of our research.

Security

VPNs must meet a minimum set of criteria for VPN protocols, encryption, and leak prevention, among other factors.

We evaluate each VPN’s encryption on a number of factors, including encryption strength, authentication protocol, key length, perfect forward secrecy, and leak prevention.

Even with those protections in place, many VPNs still leak data. Every VPN we review is tested for IPv6, DNS, and WebRTC leaks.

Example of a WebRTC IPv6 leak in our tests. Note that NordVPN has since patched this leak.

The VPN must use a secure protocol, such as Wireguard, OpenVPN, or IKEv2. Kill switches that halt internet traffic when the VPN disconnects are also welcome.

Speed

We test every VPN’s speed when connected to a range of servers around the world. The faster, the better!

We publish average global download speed test results for most VPNs we review. Each result in the graph below is the average of nine tests: three times of day staggered at least four hours apart, and across three locations. Our test machine is in the United States, from where we test connections to VPN servers in North America (nearest), Europe, and Asia.

Speed is measured on a minimum 1 Gbps connection using the Ookla Speedtest.net desktop app, using the fastest available secure protocol for each VPN.

In addition to those tests, we also try out bandwidth-intensive day-to-day activities like 4K streaming, video conferencing, and competitive online games.

Access to region-locked streaming services

Most streaming services are region-locked, meaning they can only be accessed from a specific country. We test each VPN’s access to major streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, Disney+, HBO Max, and BBC iPlayer. This ensures our readers can choose a VPN that allows them to access their favorite streaming services while travelling abroad.

Our tests pit each VPN against both the desktop website and mobile app of each streaming service to find out if the VPN can unblock them from overseas. In the case of Netflix, we also test access to several international libraries.

Sometimes we also test VPN access to live events and sports.

Censorship

We prefer VPNs that can bypass web censorship in countries like China. Because of China’s advanced Golden Shield Project, a.k.a. The Great Firewall, much of the web is censored. Authorities also block access to most VPN services, so China is usually a good bellwether for whether a VPN works in other countries that censor the web, such as the UAE and Russia.

If the VPN can bypass censorship and detection in China, it can work anywhere.

Servers

We assess the number of locations available, whether servers are physical or virtual, and the use of virtual locations.

VPNs typically have servers in somewhere between 20 to 100 countries. The total number of servers isn’t strictly important as performance is more determined by server capacity and the number of active users.

Some VPNs use virtual locations, which entails a VPN server with an IP address from one country that’s physically located in another country. The practice might be good or bad depending on how it’s used.

Customer support

We contact each VPN’s customer support as a normal user would to find out how quickly support responds and how knowledgeable they are. We test live chat, support ticket, and email support systems for each review.

Apps

Support for more simultaneous connections and more types of devices is always welcome. Most VPNs make apps for Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android.

Less common are apps for Amazon Fire TV, Linux, and wi-fi routers.

We use and test at least one desktop and one mobile app for each VPN review, taking into account design, features, and responsiveness.

Most VPNs put a limit on how many devices you can connect at one time. The standard is five, but many go higher and a couple even allow unlimited simultaneous connections.

Check out this overview of our VPN testing process for more details.

Should I use a free VPN?

Be weary of free VPNs. Of course, everyone’s favorite price is “free”, but you usually end up paying with something else.

Running a VPN is expensive so you need to ask yourself: “Why is this company offering its product for free? What are they getting in return?”.

It’s common practice for free VPNs to monitor and record user activity, insert tracking libraries and persistent cookies to gather data for advertisers, and even inject advertisements into your web browser. Free VPNs can also contain malware that will infect your system. A 2017 report (PDF) published by a group of researchers from several institutions including UC Berkeley and CSIRO showed that 38 percent of the Android VPN apps on Google Play contained malware or malvertising, 84 percent leaked users’ web traffic, and 18 percent didn’t encrypt data at all.

Many free VPNs lack sufficient encryption to keep your online activities private from third parties. Worse yet, they might well keep logs of your online activity and identity, which can be sold to third parties and/or used to target you with ads. That pretty much defeats the privacy-preserving purpose of a VPN.

Free VPNs tend to offer fewer servers and are much slower than paid counterparts. Their servers get quickly congested with users. Most set strict data caps or bandwidth limits. They are not well suited to unblocking streaming sites.

In short, we recommend sticking to paid VPNs. If you really need a free VPN, we recommend a few trustworthy products in our FAQs at the bottom of the article.

VPN usage and statistics

Whether they’re used for privacy, streaming, or bypassing censorship, VPNs are catching on worldwide. Here are some key statistics showing how the VPN trend is shaping up:

  • The shift to remote work, spurred by the pandemic, increased VPN usage by 27.1 percent in 2020
  • 31 percent of internet users worldwide have used a VPN as of 2022, according to Surfshark
  • The Middle East and Africa have the highest rate of VPN use at 35 percent
  • 22 percent of VPN users use their VPN to unblock streaming services
  • 51 percent of users connect to VPNs so they can enjoy better privacy
  • VPNs are banned or restricted in 10 countries
  • The VPN market is expected to be worth $107.5 billion by 2027

See our full list of VPN statistics

How does a VPN work?

VPNs use a variety of authentication measures, encryption, and protocols, but here’s a broad overview of how a VPN works when visiting a website:

  • Your device (a smartphone, laptop or PC) requests a connection to a VPN server. The user might choose this server from a list in their VPN app.
  • An encrypted connection is set up between the VPN server and your device. By default, all of the internet traffic going to and from the client is now encrypted and routed through the VPN server.
  • When the user visits a website, web app or service, the client encrypts the request, and then sends it to the VPN server.
  • The VPN server receives the request, decrypts it, and sends it to the website.
  • In response, the website sends the web page back to the VPN server.
  • The VPN server encrypts the page and sends it to the client.
  • The client decrypts the page and views it in their web browser.

Note that encryption is only in place between the client and VPN server. The VPN does not encrypt data between the second party (website) and the VPN server.

VPN privacy limitations

A VPN can greatly improve your online privacy and security, but it’s just one of a few tools in your arsenal.

A VPN protects you from:

A VPN does not protect you from:

With that in mind, you can combine a VPN with a few free tools and features to maximize your online privacy. These might include:

  • Incognito or in-private browsing modes
  • Ad and tracker blocking browser plugins
  • Tor browser
  • Signing up with an fake personal information
  • End-to-end encrypted services, such as chat apps and online backup
  • Disabling location services or using a GPS spoofing app

How to hide or change your IP address with a VPN

Every device on the internet has an IP address. IP addresses are all unique, so if someone knows your IP address, they could reasonably identify your device and location. Using a VPN replaces your IP address with one that belongs to the VPN company.

VPN FAQs

What's the best VPN?

The best VPN depends on what you intend to use it for. Our testing found NordVPN to be the best all-round VPN, Surfshark the best value for money VPN and ExpressVPN the most secure VPN. The other VPNs listed in this article are all strong performers.

Is using a VPN legal?

Using a VPN is 100 percent legal in almost every country, with a small handful of exceptions such as Iran and possibly the United Arab Emirates. Even though many countries censor the web, accessing censored content through a VPN does not constitute breaking the law.

Note, however, that what you do while connected to a VPN is a completely different matter. If you use a VPN to do something that is illegal in your country, such as pirating copyrighted material or accessing online gambling sites, those are activities are still illegal. A VPN can hide such activity from your internet service provider and authorities, but we advise against doing anything illegal and expecting the VPN to shield you.

In some countries, even though there are no laws against using a VPN, it may be illegal to operate a VPN. This is the case in China, where a recent regulatory notice made it illegal for VPN providers to operate in the country without a license. Other countries, like the UK, have implemented mandatory data retention laws that require VPN providers to log the activity of their users. This defeats the privacy purpose of a VPN, so be wary of VPNs that operate servers or are incorporated in these countries. Be sure to read privacy policies before signing up.

Should I pay for a VPN? How much does a VPN cost?

Paid VPNs typically cost between $3 and $10 per month, with lower rates for longer subscription terms.

We strongly recommend avoiding free VPN services, which lack the privacy and security of their paid counterparts, don't unblock streaming sites like Netflix, don't allow torrenting and won't bypass censorship like China's Great Firewall. Many free VPNs harvest user data and sell it to advertisers, which defeats the purpose of using a VPN for privacy.

Finally, free VPNs tend to have data caps, bandwidth limits, and long queue times.

Can I use a VPN to access streaming sites like Netflix from abroad?

Yes, but not every VPN will work. Check out our list of the best VPNs for Netflix.

With a VPN you can change your IP address, which is how most websites and apps determine your location. For example, if you live in the UK and would like to access the US Netflix catalog, you can select a US-based server and browse freely from there. Similarly, you can do so if you live in a country where Netflix is not yet available. You will still need to purchase a subscription.

In early 2016, Netflix started blocking many VPNs, but most of the VPNs we recommend still work.

Will a VPN slow down my internet speed?

Yes, but it might not even be enough to notice.

Some VPNs are faster than others, but assuming you can max out your available bandwidth, expect your download speeds to slow down about 10 percent.

There are other factors to consider, such as your CPU speed, distance to the VPN server, and congestion on the network.

Will a VPN work in China?

It will depend on the VPN provider that you choose. Check out our list of the best VPNs for China. Those VPNs will allow you to access western social media, news sites, and streaming services, among others.

Some VPN providers have been blocked or banned, including both their servers, their websites, and the app stores where users can download VPN apps.  This makes it difficult to access the means to download the software. If you travelling to China and would like to use a VPN while there, we recommend downloading it before you leave.

How does a VPN differ from Tor or a proxy?

Tor is a volunteer-run decentralized network of computers that anyone can connect to for free. Tor is designed for anonymity, so it’s almost impossible to track a user’s activity back to them. When you connect to Tor, your connection is routed through several of these computers, called nodes, in a random sequence.

While Tor has its uses, it’s much slower than a VPN. It’s not suitable for torrenting or streaming. Many websites block connections from the Tor Network, and depending on where you live, connecting to Tor might raise eyebrows at your ISP or local law enforcement. Tor is used to access websites on the dark web, and is often associated with criminal activity.

VPNs usually only route your connection through a single server operated by the VPN provider. Using one requires you to trust that the VPN provider is properly securing data and not snooping on your internet traffic. But you can be more specific about the location that you’re connecting to, and speeds are much faster. Your IP address remains hidden from everyone except the VPN provider, and your ISP can’t decrypt the contents of your internet traffic.

Other types of proxies like SSL proxies, HTTPS proxies, SOCKS proxies, and DNS proxies are similar in that they route internet traffic through an intermediary server. But they might be limited to specific apps or types of data, and they don’t offer the same level of security as an encrypted VPN. They can be useful for unblocking a website or app, but if you want full protection for your entire device with fast speeds to boot, stick with a VPN.

How do I set up a VPN?

All of the providers we recommend on our site make their own VPN apps. Getting set up is a simple matter of downloading and installing the app, inputting your username and password, and hitting the Connect button. Configurations for all of the servers come built in, so selecting a location is as easy as browsing through a list.

Some VPNs do not make apps, however, and require manual configuration. Many operating systems have built-in VPN settings, but setting up a VPN this way is much more tedious and doesn't offer the additional security benefits that come with good VPN apps.

What should I look for when choosing a VPN?

There is no one-size-fits-all best VPN for everyone, but neither are all VPNs created equal. Finding the VPN that best suits you depends on a variety of factors and how you intend to use it. Here are some things you should consider when looking for a VPN:

  • How much speed and data do I need?
  • Is it important that I hide my identity and online activity?
  • How much do I want to pay?
  • What, if any, streaming services do I need to unblock?
  • Do I need to bypass censorship in places like China and UAE?
  • What devices do I need to run the VPN on? How many devices in total?
  • Are you a novice? Consider getting a VPN with good customer support.

What is the best free VPN?

Here are some of the top free VPNs we recommend:

  • Hotspot Shield
  • Windscribe
  • ProtonVPN