Private Internet Access, or PIA for short, is a veteran among VPN providers. It brands itself as the “world’s most trusted VPN,” and as the name implies, it emphasizes privacy above all else.
But all VPNs claim to protect your privacy these days. What makes Private Internet Access stand out? Can it do anything that NordVPN, Surfshark or ExpressVPN can’t?
In my 2023 Private Internet Access review, I dug into the latest versions of PIA apps on both mobile and desktop to find out:
- How fast is PIA?
- Does PIA work with popular apps and websites (Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video, etc)
- Is PIA as safe and private as it claims to be?
- Does PIA work in China?
- Is it better than the alternatives?
I’ll discuss all of that and more in this review.
Over the last few weeks, I used Private Internet Access to torrent, stream, secure public wi-fi, and prevent my internet service provider from seeing what I do online.
I summarized my experience with PIA below, but you can read the full review for an in-depth look into what makes this VPN service such a hit with customers.
You can also read more on the criteria I used to test PIA and our broader VPN testing methodology here.
Private Internet Access Summary
Private Internet Access is a lightweight VPN that users can extensively customize to their needs. It offers excellent security and decent speeds, but falls a bit short when it comes to streaming region-locked content or bypassing government censorship in places like China. I recommend it to torrenters and other users who use a VPN to maintain privacy rather than those who want to stream video and unblock content.
Private Internet Access Key data
|OVERALL RANK: #7 of 76|
|Average Speed*:||117 Mbps|
|Video Streaming Support:||4K, HD video conferencing|
|Other Streaming Services:||BBC iPlayer, Disney+|
|Encryption Type:||Up to 256-bit AES|
|Log Policy:||No logs|
|Value for Money||
|Lowest Monthly Cost:||$2.19|
|Money Back Guarantee:||30 days|
How does Private Internet Access compare to other popular VPNs?
Here’s how Private Internet Access compares to two of the most popular and highly rated VPNs out there, ExpressVPN and NordVPN. You can see a more detailed breakdown here of ExpressVPN and NordVPN.
|No value||Private Internet Access||ExpressVPN||NordVPN|
|Website||PrivateInternetAccess.com||ExpressVPN.com||NordVPN.com||OpenVPN data encryption||256-bit AES||256-bit AES||256-bit AES||Kill Switch||Desktop only||Allows Torrenting||Connection logs||Some aggregated data||Unblocks Prime Video||Unblocks Hulu||Unblocks BBC iPlayer||Money back guarantee||30 days||30 days||30 days||Overall rating||7||9.3||9.7|
|Best deal (per month)||$2.03|
SAVE 83% on the 3 yr plan + + 4 FREE months
SAVE: 49% + 3 months free
SAVE up to 69% + 3 months FREE
Private Internet Access pros and cons
Here’s a summary of what I liked and didn’t like during my time with Private Internet Access.
- Strong security
- Zero logs
- Tons of customization
- Connect unlimited devices at once
- Fast servers
- Doesn’t work with some major streaming services
- App design is somewhat lacking
- Doesn’t reliably work in China
- Some outdated info in forums and support documentation
I’ll go into more detail about each of these points below.
Speed: Is Private Internet Access fast?
PIA is above average in terms of download speed. I was able to stream 4K video and video conference in HD when connected to nearby servers. I never had issues with poor quality video or buffering.
Private Internet Access doesn’t say exactly how many servers it operates, but we know that it has a presence in 84 countries. That’s no small feat considering most paid VPNs only support around 60 different locations.
I was impressed to find out that PIA has streaming-optimized servers in places like Finland and Denmark. Usually, if these are available, they’re only located in the US or the UK. To the best of my knowledge, the only other VPN with streaming servers in these places is CyberGhost, so PIA is certainly in good company.
Across all locations and times tested, PIA averaged 117 Mbps download speed.
We tested international servers in North America, Europe, and Asia. Here are the average speeds for servers in each region:
- North America (nearest): 93 Mbps
- Asia: 200 Mbps
- Europe: 58 Mbps
Nearby servers were suitable for online gaming without adding too much ping time. The nearest servers have a latency of about 20-25 ms, which when gaming isn’t a detrimental amount. This is dependent on where the nearest server is, but I was able to play fast-paced games like Brawlhalla and Rocket League without crippling lag.
Note that these tests can only serve as a general indication of the performance you might see and cannot be considered definitive. The inherent volatility of the internet adds a significant factor of randomness. Users with faster connections will likely see larger discrepancies in speed.
See also: Fastest VPNs
Apps: What devices work with Private Internet Access
A single subscription allows me to connect unlimited devices at once. PIA makes apps for the following devices:
Web browser extensions are also available for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera.
The apps are very lightweight, meaning they work well even on low-powered devices.
Servers can be ordered alphabetically or by latency (ping time). You can “heart” your favorite servers or find them through the search bar.
PIA is one of the only VPN providers to offer a full app for Linux users, complete with a graphical user interface. The few other providers that even bother making Linux apps usually settle for command-line interfaces.
Users can customize the layout of their apps. Elements of the interface can be reordered or removed entirely. There are also dark and light themes to choose from.
While the PIA’s app design could be easier to navigate, it does boast a few cool features that you won’t find on many other VPNs. These include:
- A snooze function to temporarily disconnect the VPN for a few minutes (not available on iOS)
- A “private browser” for iOS and Android. This is a more secure and private browser than the stock Chrome and Safari browsers that come built into smartphones. It must be installed as a separate app.
- A built-in ad blocker (which, on iOS, only blocks ads in Safari; it is not system-wide)
- Plenty of security and network customization options that I’ll get into later in this review
Manual setup without an app is also possible. You can get OpenVPN configuration files directly from PIA’s website. This is handy if you want to set up the VPN on a device that doesn’t have an app, such as a wi-fi router – which PIA does support.
Though not very explicit through its website’s marketing, digging through its support section reveals that PIA supports OpenVPN on the following routers:
- pfSense (which means it should also work on OPNsense)
If you’d like more information on setting up a VPN connection on a router, check out our guide on VPN routers.
Streaming, Netflix, and Kodi
Does PIA work with Netflix?
Yes, I used Private Internet Access to stream Netflix US and UK. I was also able to access BBC iPlayer over a UK server.
So PIA isn’t the most adept at accessing region-locked content, but it isn’t terrible.
For Kodi users, PIA works on both Android boxes and OpenELEC devices. It’s compatible with all Kodi addons.
You can check out our recommended VPNs for streaming.
Does Private Internet Access allow torrenting?
Yes, it does. PIA has long been a favorite among torrenters. The apps include several features that P2P filesharers will find useful.
- Port forwarding allows you to bypass NAT firewalls and connect with more peers in a torrent swarm
- A kill switch cuts the internet connection to protect your data and IP address from being exposed if the VPN connection unexpectedly drops
- Split tunneling allows me to tunnel my torrenting app’s internet traffic through the VPN while using a normal, direct connection for other activities
You can have a look at our recommended VPNs for torrenting.
Security, privacy, and logging
After signing up, PIA sent me a username and password in an email. This is separate from the email address and password I used to register my account. This can be a bit inconvenient—it’s one more password I have to remember, and I don’t get to choose what it is—but it adds a layer of privacy. If my VPN login details are somehow compromised, it won’t affect my account.
In the apps, PIA’s security can be customized to a great extent, which is not something you’ll find in many VPNs these days. In addition to the kill switch, ad blocker, and private browser options discussed above, some other notable tweaks include:
- Adjustable data encryption: By default, it’s set to 128-bit AES-GCM, but I can raise it to 256-bit encryption or even remove encryption entirely (not recommended). Although many VPNs boast 256-bit AES, 128-bit is just fine for the vast majority of users, and it takes less of a toll on performance.
- Adjustable handshake: Similar to data encryption, I can decide what level of encryption is used to secure and exchange the data encryption key.
- VPN protocol: OpenVPN UDP is used by default. OpenVPN over TCP is another option. Wireguard is also available, which is a more lightweight and typically faster alternative. The speed tests for this review were done using the WireGuard protocol.
- Remote port: If a network admin has blocked traffic on the standard OpenVPN port, I can choose a different one.
- DNS: Most users will want to use PIA’s own private DNS servers to hide website lookup and request data from their ISP, but I can also opt for my ISP’s DNS servers, custom DNS servers, or even a fancy new peer-to-peer DNS system called Handshake.
- Allow LAN traffic: Disabling this will prevent devices on my local network, such as printers and smart home devices, from accessing my device’s local IP address.
- Multi-Hop: I can add an extra hop to my VPN connection through an additional ShadowSOCKS or SOCKS5 proxy.
Private Internet Access is based in the USA, which might discourage some users wary of spying by national intelligence agencies.
PIA keeps no logs of what you do while connected to the VPN, though, nor any metadata such as timestamps and IP addresses. Minimal personal information (email address and payment details) is collected when you sign up for service and billing purposes.
IP Test – Without VPN
IP Test – With VPN
DNS Test – Without VPN
DNS Test – With VPN
I found no IP, DNS, or WebRTC leaks when connected to PIA. That means my real IP address is never revealed to third parties.
Does Private Internet Access work in China?
PIA does not work reliably in China. Furthermore, it was temporarily blocked in Hong Kong in September 2019. If you’re looking for a way to bypass the Great Firewall while in mainland China, I would look elsewhere. The same goes for other countries where VPNs are often blocked, like the UAE and Iran.
ExpressVPN is a good alternative. To learn more about connecting to a VPN from China, have a look at our recommended VPNs for China.
Is Private Internet Access customer service any good?
It took about thirty seconds to connect to a live chat support agent through PIA’s website on a weekday evening. The agent responded quickly to my questions, though the initial answer I got was wrong and the agent quickly issued a correction when I typed in a follow-up question. I asked whether the snooze feature was available on iOS as I couldn’t find the setting in the app. All things considered, the support I got was fine.
Private Internet Access has a blog and plenty of support materials to help you troubleshoot issues and keep up to date with the service. It’s also one of the only VPN providers to run its own forum where customers can post questions and comments to the developers and other users.
On the downside, much of the material in the blog posts and forums is out of date. That made it difficult in some cases to find clear and accurate answers to my questions.
A debug logging mode in the apps can be useful when troubleshooting connection issues. Instead of trying to describe the problem to customer support, I can enable this mode and then hand over the debug log so technicians can quickly pinpoint the issue. Just remember to turn it off when you’re done to prevent unnecessary logging.
Private Internet Access pricing
PIA has a single service tier with three different subscription lengths:
- One month for $11.99 per month
- Six months for $45 ($7.50 per month)
- Two years + 2 FREE months for $56.94 ($2.19 per month)
Every plan comes with a 30-day risk-free money-back guarantee.
PIA accepts several forms of payment including credit cards, PayPal, Amazon Pay, and several anonymous cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin, Litecoin, and Ethereum. You can even use gift cards from Starbucks, Walmart, Best Buy, and more.
Private Internet Access coupons
Do I recommend Private Internet Access?
If you use a VPN more to protect your privacy and less for streaming, PIA is a solid choice. It’s great for torrenters, Linux users, and securing unprotected wi-fi hotspots. I wouldn’t recommend it for people who want access to a lot of different streaming services or those living in China.
Private Internet Access alternatives
PIA is well-suited to privacy-conscious, tech savvy users who want to be able to customize their VPN security and network settings. But it’s not for everyone.
NordVPN is another great option with excellent security and faster speeds. It’s great for unblocking region-locked streaming services and also works in China.
ExpressVPN offers comparable security, faster speeds, and better unblocking capabilities. It supports a wide range of devices and works in China.
Methodology used for testing
Below you’ll find the criteria used to assess the VPNs we review. It’s essential to be consistent across the board so that our reviews are reasonably objective and that we’re not comparing apples to oranges. For that reason, we want to publicize our criteria.
- Speed – Speed will always be one of the most crucial factors for any VPN. Aside from being annoying, slow speeds can prevent you from streaming or even browsing the web. To ensure we address this issue, all of our recommended VPNs scored very high in our most recent speed tests.
- Apps & ease of use – More people than ever are using VPNs today than ever before. Hence, app design and ease of use going to be critical. We look at the client apps’ UI, features, supported operating systems, and complexity.
- Streaming services – It isn’t always easy to access streaming sites over a VPN. But many VPN providers claim to work on streaming sites – with varying degrees of success. Before recommending a VPN provider for streaming, we test VPNs against various popular streaming services, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, HBO Max, Disney Plus, Hulu, etc.
- Torrenting – File-sharing is a popular activity among VPN users. But not all VPN providers allow torrenting over their network, while others go as far as providing dedicated P2P servers. We look at each VPN’s policy around torrenting and run tests on those to see how well they handle file-sharing.
The above represents a high-level view of our methodology. If you’d like more details, have a look at our full VPN testing methodology. This data-driven approach helps us better understand the services to recommend the right VPN to the right users.