Mullvad is a smaller, niche player in the consumer VPN space. The privacy-minded have embraced Mullvad as one of the best VPN providers on the market today. It offers a strong feature set, with both security and convenience features, with a very simple pricing structure.
But is Mullvad better than the big-name providers? Can it compete with larger providers like NordVPN, ExpressVPN, and PIA?
I’m going to review Mullvad’s VPN service and, in doing that, will answer the following questions, and more:
- How fast is Mullvad?
- Which VPN protocols does it support?
- What is its logging policy?
- Can Mullvad unblock geo-restricted streaming sites, such as Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and Amazon Prime Video?
- Is its customer support any good?
I tried Mullvad a while back when I was having issues getting WireGuard to work with my day-to-day VPN provider. I wanted to see if my setup would work using a different provider. And it did.
Mullvad worked so well that I decided to renew my membership, and have ever since. I now use both and I enjoy having a backup VPN provider.
Mullvad worked very well for me and that’s why I decided to remain a customer. But let’s see how well Mullvad does with more formal testing.
Mullvad Key data
|OVERALL RANK: #18 of 45 VPNs|
|Average Speed *:||89 Mbps|
|Video Streaming Support:||No|
|Other Streaming Services:||Amazon Prime|
|Encryption Type:||256-bit AES, BF-CBC|
|Log Policy:||Zero logs|
|Value for Money||
|Lowest Monthly Cost:||$5.50|
|Money Back Guarantee:||30 days|
Mullvad pros and cons
- Very good speeds across most servers
- Only supports secure VPN protocols (OpenVPN and WireGuard)
- IPv6 support
- Strict no-logging policy
- Multihop servers (Bridge)
- VPN kill switch
- Works in China (Bridge/Shadowsocks)
- Customer service isn’t great
- Doesn’t unblock most streaming services
- Certain features require relatively high technical knowledge to enable (split tunneling, custom DNS).
- No ad blocking
- Website could be more informative
Speed: Is Mullvad fast?
I performed some basic speed tests while connected to Mullvad’s servers. And they went quite well. Though, as expected, the speeds decreased as the servers I connected to were farther away. But realistically, unless your home internet runs at over 100 Mbps, most of the time you wouldn’t notice the speed hit – which is inevitable, to some degree, on any VPN.
Testing was done using OpenVPN over UDP. Here are the average values per region:
- North America (where I am located): 157 Mbps
- Asia: 34 Mbps
- Europe: 77 Mbps
Having set up Mullvad on my router (I use pfSense), I was able to connect devices that don’t natively support VPN or have any compatible VPN apps available, like my PS4 (we’ll discuss Mullvad and routers later). So I was able to test Mullvad’s performance when gaming online.
I booted up my PS4 and tried them out with the only two games I ever play: Diablo3 and Mortal Kombat 11 (sorry, I’m not a huge gamer…). Nonetheless, Mullvad performed very well with online games. I didn’t experience any lag or freeze-ups.
Because online games require low latency, it’s usually recommended to connect to a server that’s relatively close to your actual location. And I was. But I also tested Mortal Kombat by playing against random people from around the world. And aside from a few minor hiccups here and there (which may or may not be caused by the VPN), the experience was very smooth.
See also: Best VPN for online gaming
Mullvad provides apps for every major operating system:
Mullvad doesn’t provide browser extensions. But to be honest, I’ve never really understood the benefit of browser extensions. I’ve always felt it was better to use the VPN system-wide rather than only in your web browser. But that’s just me. So no browser extensions from Mullvad.
One thing that grabbed my attention was that its Linux app has a full GUI, just like its macOS and Windows counterparts. Most other VPNs either don’t make a Linux app or only offer a command-line version.
Mullvad’s pricing structure is very streamlined and simple. There is only one plan: the monthly plan. It costs €5/month, or roughly 5.50 USD, which I would consider middle-of-the-road pricing.
That’s already quite different from most VPN providers’ pricing structure. But what’s really unique is the account setup process. Typically, a VPN provider will ask for some personal information from you in order to set up your account. At the very least, usually, a valid email address is required.
Not so with Mullvad. Mullvad doesn’t ask for anything from you (other than a payment method) and it won’t provide you with a username and a password. Instead, Mullvad generates a 16 digit account number, and that’s it. Your account number is your username and your password. If you purchase a subscription, it will renew automatically until you cancel it. You can also choose to generate a new account number every month if you like, by making a one-time payment (see above screenshot) and regenerating an account number when your current account runs out of time. This setup is one of the reasons privacy advocates typically love Mullvad – and we understand. It’s a pretty cool (and private) way to set up accounts.
Your payment options for a subscription are credit cards and PayPal, which make sense for auto-renewal. And for one-time payments, Mullvad accepts the above, plus bank wires, Swish, Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, cash, and vouchers. Mullvad sells voucher cards in Europe that can be used for one-time payments.
We always like to see VPN providers accept anonymous payments via cash or Bitcoin.
Each subscription or one-time payment allows you to connect up to five devices simultaneously. And they both come with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
All of Mullvad’s mobile apps use the WireGuard protocol. There are no other protocols available in their mobile apps. You can set up an OpenVPN connection on mobile, but you’ll need a third-party app, such as OpenVPN Connect, to do that.
Mullvad’s desktop apps give you the option of using either OpenVPN or WireGuard.
Mullvad was the first commercial VPN provider to go all-in with WireGuard. WireGuard has been available on Mullvad since 2017 – as a test service at first, with full adoption soon after that.
Mullvad’s desktop app (macOS) is well-designed and easy to use for most things. Even if you’ve never used a VPN client before, you shouldn’t have any difficulty using this one to select and connect to the VPN server of your choice. However, some of the settings exposed in the Advanced menu, for example, could be intimidating to some, as we’ll see in the Security section of this review.
Let’s take a look at their client app.
Upon the first launch, you’re greeted with a login page, where you need to enter your account number, that was generated when you created your account.
The app’s main page displays minimal but useful information on the state of your connection. It displays the name of the city you’re connected to and displays it on a map. It also gives you the name of the server you’re connected to as well as the server’s IP address (In) and your new public IP address (Out). You also have a button to switch locations, another one to disconnect, and at the top right, you have a gear menu, which takes you to the app’s settings.
Clicking Switch location displays the list of countries. And clicking a country lets you drill down to the available cities.
In the Preferences section, you can decide whether the app should launch and/or auto-connect at startup. You can also enable or disable local network sharing. This means allowing or disallowing access to your local LAN network while connected to Mullvad. The rest of the settings are pretty self-explanatory.
Mullvad and routers
Mullvad provides detailed setup guides for all of its supported routers. These are:
- pfSense (will also work on OPNsense – I tested it)
- Asus Merlin
There are two pretty huge benefits to setting your VPN on your router and that is that any device – even those that don’t support VPN natively or via an app – can have its traffic routed through the VPN, by simply connecting to the router. And, doing so enables you to bypass the limit your VPN provider puts on simultaneous connections. This is because your router will only count as one connection, regardless of how many devices are connected to the router and using the VPN.
Streaming and Netflix
In January of 2016, Netflix started banning VPNs from accessing its service. This was of course to respect the geo-restrictions imposed by content creators and distributors. Netflix must comply with these measures as a matter of law. Whether their response needed to be as extreme is clearly debatable, but it resolved their problem.
Lately, however, according to TorrentFreak, Netflix has relaxed its VPN policy a little bit. It seems that Netflix may be allowing VPN users to access content that isn’t geo-restricted. This typically means shows produced by Netflix itself. So in order to test whether a VPN really works with Netflix, one needs to search for geo-restricted content to see if the full Netflix library is available or only a subset. If only a restricted library is available to you, you didn’t unblock anything, Netflix granted you that access.
Mullvad doesn’t make a big splash about streaming services in its marketing. And, in my tests, I was only able to access the full Netflix library from a U.S. server out of all of the countries I tried. These include the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia, Brazil, Japan, France, and Spain. My colleague also struggled to get Netflix to work with Mullvad when conducting tests earlier this year.
So I would say that your odds of unblocking Netflix with Mullvad are slim. If that’s your main reason for using a VPN, Mullvad may not be the best option for you. I would say Mullvad is more geared towards “privacy enthusiasts” with a bit of technical knowledge.
Mullvad and streaming services don’t appear to play very nicely together.
Does Mullvad allow torrenting?
Mullvad allows P2P file-sharing on all of its servers. No need to hunt for dedicated P2P servers. Just connect your VPN and launch your torrent client.
In my experience, torrenting over Mullvad’s network was fast and smooth. I experienced no issues whatsoever.
See also: Best VPNs for Torrenting
Does Mullvad support Split Tunneling?
Split tunneling or selective routing enables you to choose which traffic is sent through the VPN and which traffic uses your ISP connection. So, for example, you could choose to only send what you deem to be your critical traffic through the VPN while sending the rest of your traffic out via your ISP connection. Split tunneling is generally quite flexible and can accommodate pretty much any scenario.
While Mullvad does support split tunneling, it’s rather technical to set up. It only works with OpenVPN. And you need third-party software to pull it off. Mullvad does provide clear instructions on how to configure split tunneling, but it’s just not very user-friendly and could easily intimidate newer users.
This is an opportunity for improvement, in my book.
See also: Best VPNs for split tunneling
Security, privacy, and logs
The Advanced section of Mullvad’s app where you can set more, well… advanced settings and fine-tune your security-related parameters.
From here, you can choose to enable or disable IPv6 (Mullvad is one of the few commercial VPN providers to fully support IPv6), and set the VPN to always-on. This setting works in conjunction with the kill switch that is enabled by default (and there is no way to disable the kill switch). When you enable “Always require VPN”, the VPN will automatically connect as soon as packets try to exit your device. It will also automatically try to reconnect if the connection ever drops. In both cases, the kill switch blocks any packets from exiting the device until the connection is properly established.
This is also where you can choose your VPN protocol, your port, and enable or disable Bridge mode. (Bridge mode is Mullvad’s name for multiple server hops – more on that later). When set to “Automatic”, failing to connect to a VPN server three times enables Bridge mode.
From the Advanced menu, you can also fine-tune the MSS (Maximum Segment Size) setting for OpenVPN and the MTU (Maximum Transmission Unit) setting for WireGuard. If you don’t know what any of those things are, that’s OK. Just leave the settings as they are and you should be fine. But that’s what I’m talking about when I say that some settings may intimidate newer users.
Lastly, you can generate your WireGuard keys from here as well.
Mullvad is based in Sweden. Sweden is part of the 14 Eyes Alliance. That means that the Intelligence agencies of the participating countries share intelligence (including surveillance data) with each other. And that makes some VPN users uneasy.
However, I believe that a VPN provider’s logging policy is much more important than jurisdiction.
First, if your VPN provider logs your activities, you still lose, even if your provider is based outside of the 14 Eyes nations.
Second, If your VPN provider doesn’t log (and have set up their infrastructure not to log), even if law enforcement comes knocking at their door for user data, it would have nothing to share. As was the case for Private Internet Access, a U.S.-based VPN provider that was served a subpoena by the FBI, requesting customer data. PIA successfully made the case that it had nothing pertinent to share, because of their no-logging policy.
It’s one of the clearest privacy policies I’ve seen. It contains no Legalese and is smartly laid out, making it very easy to read.
Reading through it we see that Mullvad doesn’t log your internet traffic, your DNS requests, connection timestamps, used bandwidth, IP address, or account activity, except for the total number of simultaneous connections per account, which are limited to five.
Just like iVPN, which I also reviewed recently, Mullvad includes examples of the payment information it stores for all of the different payment methods they accept. Below is a screenshot of what it stores if you choose to pay by credit card.
Turning to encryption, for OpenVPN, Mullvad uses the following configuration:
- 4096 bit RSA certificates (with SHA512) are used for server authentication
- 4096 bit Diffie-Hellman parameters are used for key exchange
- DHE is utilized for perfect forward secrecy
- Several data channel ciphers on all ports are offered, including AES-256-GCM (default), AES-256-CBC, and BF-CBC
- re-keying is performed every 60 minutes.
What Perfect Forward Secrecy does is regenerate the encryption keys at fixed intervals. The current keys cannot be used to decrypt past sessions even if compromised.
This is Mullvad’s WireGuard configuration:
- ChaCha20 for symmetric encryption, authenticated with Poly1305, using RFC7539’s AEAD construction
- Curve25519 for ECDH
- BLAKE2s for hashing and keyed hashing, as described in RFC7693
- SipHash24 for hashtable keys
- HKDF for key derivation, as described in RFC5869
- Noise_IK handshake from Noise, building on the work of CurveCP, NaCL, KEA+, SIGMA, FHMQV, and HOMQV.
Running leak tests shows that Mullvad isn’t leaking information.
Everything displayed here comes from Mullvad.
As most commercial VPN providers do, Mullvad assigns its users a shared IP address – which is what you want for privacy. Mullvad also runs its own in-tunnel, no-logging DNS servers.
While it’s always recommended to use your VPN provider’s DNS servers, there can be situations in which you’d like to set a custom DNS server – one that can resolve custom domains or block ads, for example. But you can’t easily change the DNS servers with Mullvad. In fact, Mullvad “hijacks” the DNS server setting to always re-route it to the in-tunnel DNS servers.
However, it is possible to use a custom DNS server with Mullvad. But again, it’s a relatively technical and convoluted process. You need a third-party OpenVPN client, and you have to connect to Mullvad’s OpenVPN servers on ports 1400 UDP or 1401 TCP, for it not to hijack your DNS servers.
That means that if you want to use a custom DNS server while connected to Mullvad, you need to download the OpenVPN configuration file from Mullvad, modify it to connect on port 1400 UDP or 1401 TCP and connect using your third-party client.
This is another example of Mullvad requiring a higher level of technical skill in order to achieve something many non-technical users may want. Like with split tunneling, custom DNS is another opportunity for improvement for Mullvad.
As expected, a DNS leak test shows me using Mullvad’s DNS servers.
Bridge or multihop servers
Mullvad supports multihop VPN servers through a feature it calls Bridge. Bridge routes your connection through two VPN servers.
The second hop adds an extra layer of encryption to your connection, making you significantly harder to identify.
Bridge can also help you bypass restrictive firewalls. If your jurisdiction is blocking internet access to the US but you want to access content only available in the US, for example, you could connect to an allowed location with your first hop and then to the US location with your second. All your censors will see is your first connection.
When you activate Bridge mode, in the Advanced menu, you’re then prompted to select your entry server and your exit server when selecting your location.
Do bear in mind that using the Bridge feature will slow down your connection, compared to a single hop VPN server. Also, not every server on Mullvad’s network can be used as a bridge server. However, enabling Bridge mode removes the non-Bridge servers from the list of available servers.
Servers are an interesting one with Mullvad. The information it provides on its servers goes beyond what is given by most commercial VPN providers.
On Mullvad’s Servers page, you not only get the server addresses and their status (online/offline), but Mullvad also displays whether each server is owned or rented. And according to Mullvad’s “About our servers” page, its rented servers are managed by third-parties, while the servers it owns are fully under its control. We can appreciate that level of transparency.
Indeed, Mullvad, like most VPN providers, rents at least a portion of the servers in their network. Owning your servers (and having them under your control) is preferable from a security perspective, as it limits third-party access to the server.
Renting servers, on the other hand, greatly simplifies their deployment and scales better. In an ideal world, each provider would own 100% of its infrastructure. But then, offering access to more than 7000 servers, as some providers do, would be unfeasible.
You can also filter the list by protocol (OpenVPN, WireGuard and, Bridge), hostname, country, city, provider, and ownership.
As far as virtual locations go – a virtual location is a VPN server providing you with an IP address from one country while being physically located in another – Mullvad has this to say on its “What is a VPN?” page:
“For maximum security, we use physical, bare metal servers (no virtual servers) that are administrated and either owned or rented by us in carefully selected data centers. Our rented servers are not shared with others. We put a lot of effort into hardening servers and following best practices”.
Sounds good, but sometimes “virtual servers” is used to denote “virtual locations” while other times “virtual servers” simply mean servers running on a virtual machine.
Turning to TorrentFreak’s anonymity guide, when asked if Mullvad has any virtual locations in its network, the answer was:
“We don’t have virtual locations”.
Does Mullvad work in China?
The answer to that question is maybe. But before I explain that answer, I have to say that Mullvad’s website isn’t the most informative I’ve seen for a VPN provider. Most of the features aren’t listed on its website’s main pages. And you have to dig through support pages in the Help section for information and many times the information isn’t very clear or simply isn’t there… And Mullvad doesn’t make the claim that it works in China in its website’s marketing.
Also, in early October, my colleague tested a large number of commercial VPNs to see if they worked in China. Mullvad was among the providers tested and in those tests, Mullvad did not work from China (see the complete lists at the bottom). However, others have reported it working. So that’s why I’m answering this question with a “maybe”.
Access from China would appear to be hit and miss with Mullvad. Certain servers may work one day and then stop working the next. In any case, from what I gather, when Mullvad does work in China, it does so by using a Shadowsocks proxy.
With Bridge mode enabled (set to Automatic or On), after your connection to the first VPN server, you’re routed over a Shadowsocks proxy, adding another layer of encryption to your connection in an attempt to evade the Great Firewall. And then your connection is forwarded to another “regular” VPN server (without the Shadowsocks wrapper). As we wrote earlier, the second VPN server in a Bridge setup is invisible to your censor.
How good is Mullvad’s customer support?
I wanted to try and clarify how Mullvad is able to work in China. And so I figured that this was an excellent opportunity to see how good its customer service was. And unfortunately, it wasn’t great.
So I had gone through the support pages on the Bridge feature and on using the Shadowsocks proxy. But the information wasn’t very helpful. It just spoke in general terms about “protecting your privacy” or “adding security”, but nothing specific.
So I sent Mullvad support an email explaining that I was trying to understand how it is able to circumvent Chinese censorship. I also detailed how I thought it was pulling this off and asked if I was correct or plain wrong.
All I got back was a generic message with a link to the unsatisfactory information from their Help section, which is what prompted me to write to support in the first place…
And there’s no live chat on Mullvad’s website.
Do I recommend Mullvad?
Yes, I do. But…
Mullvad is a great VPN provider. Its commitment to privacy is top-notch. But it wouldn’t be my first choice for novice VPN users. Or, to put it another way, if I was writing a “Consumer VPNs for Dummies” book, I probably wouldn’t mention Mullvad in there.
Mullvad is a fantastic VPN for privacy-minded and more technical users out there. Privacy-minded, because Mullvad is much more geared towards user privacy than anything else. And I say “more technical users” because doing things like split tunneling or setting a custom DNS server on Mullvad requires technical knowledge. It isn’t simply about enabling a toggle or two in their app.
And the client app, while well-designed and pretty easy to use, has certain settings exposed that may intimidate greener users. Things like setting the MSS for OpenVPN or the MTU for WireGuard are rather technical parameters that most users wouldn’t know what to do with. Don’t get me wrong, if you’re an advanced user, it’s great to have these options, so it’s not a “bad” thing at all. It just makes Mullvad a less obvious choice for new VPN users.
ExpressVPN is a big name in the commercial VPN space. It has excellent privacy and security practices. All of the VPN servers run from volatile memory (RAM) and are booted from read-only disks. This hardened configuration can simply be rebooted if a vulnerability is ever discovered. Once the server is rebooted, it’s back to factory spec, and the vulnerability that was there is gone. ExpressVPN isn’t the cheapest, but it’s fast, secure, and it unblocks streaming sites and works in China.
Surfshark is another provider to look at. It’s the cheapest VPN service I’ve seen, with subscriptions for as little as $1.99/month. Surfashark has a strict no-logging policy, only supports secure protocols and also unblocks streaming services and works in China. Plus, Surfshark allows an unlimited number of simultaneous connections.
How does Mullvad compare to other VPNs?
Here’s a table comparing Mullvad to two extremely popular and highly rated VPN providers, NordVPN and ExpressVPN.
|Average speed *Average speed in Mbps||89 Mbps||135 Mbps||115 Mbps|
|Encryption TypeType of encryption e.g. 256 AES||256-bit AES, BF-CBC||256-bit AES||256-bit AES|
|Kill SwitchDoes it have a kill switch?||desktop only|
|Records Identifying Logs|
|Unblocks Netflix US|
|Unblocks Amazon Prime|
|Unblocks BBC iPlayer|
|Lowest monthly cost||$5.50 per month||$6.67 per month||$3.30 per month|
|Money-back guarantee||30 days||30 days||30 days|