VPNs are designed to encrypt and obfuscate a user’s activity over the internet. They are useful for avoiding targeted marketing, bypassing regional content blocking, and establishing a secure connection while using public networks.
Read on to learn how you can find the best VPN service for you.
Our Top Picks for the Best VPN Services
- ExpressVPN - Best VPN Overall
- NordVPN - Best VPN for Torrenting
- Hotspot Shield - Best VPN for Mac
- CyberGhost - Best VPN for Streaming
- Surfshark - Best VPN for Gaming
- Windscribe - Best Free VPN
- Private Internet Access - Best VPN for Android
- VyprVPN - Best VPN for Travel
Best VPN Service Reviews
- One of the fastest VPNs on the market
- Large number of servers and server locations
- High level of encryption and advanced security features
- Compatible with many types of platforms and devices
- Plans are more expensive
- Limit of 5 simultaneously connected devices
- Some features only available on Windows, Mac and Linux
ExpressVPN uses top-notch security measures and provides ample features on both the server and user sides. Not to mention it’s one of the fastest VPNs on the market.
With over 3,000 servers in 160 locations across 94 countries, this ExpressVPN uses advanced technology independently audited to confirm essential privacy protections. Servers are run entirely on volatile memory, or RAM, which requires power to store data, meaning all information on a server is wiped every time it is powered off and back on again. This lowers the risk of leaks of sensitive information.
Performance wise, ExpressVPN is one of the most reliable and fastest VPNs today thanks to its proprietary Lightway protocol, which only uses about 2,000 lines of code. With fewer lines of code than other major protocols it’s easier to audit and maintain, runs faster, and uses less battery.
- Specialty servers for torrenting and for unique security features
- Over 5,200 servers across 60 countries
- Proprietary NordLynx technology provides high internet speeds without losing data privacy
- Strong apps with intuitive, simple layouts
- Split tunneling only available on Android and Windows
- More expensive than the average VPN
- Occasionally cramped interfaces
NordVPN excels for a number of reasons, including its specialty peer-to-peer servers that are optimized for torrenting only and support SOCKS5 proxy, which offers faster download speeds than other proxies on P2P platforms. This is complemented by the company’s in-house NordLynx technology that allows the WireGuard® protocol’s speed benefits without compromising user privacy.
NordVPN is also well-known for being a highly secure and privacy-forward VPN. The company implements a strict zero-log policy, has an automatic kill switch, uses AES-256-Bit encryption, and hosts specialty servers for Onion Over VPN, double VPN, and greater obfuscation. Moreover, its CyberSec tool can block dangerous websites, avoid botnet control, and skip unwanted pop-ups and ads.
Nord’s plans are more affordable than those of other competitors of the same brand popularity, and it features more than 5,200 servers — one of the highest counts on this list.
- One of the world's fastest VPN
- Free version does not require credit card information
- Affordable family plan allows up to 25 devices
- 45-day money-back guarantee
- Gathers a significant amount of data, albeit anonymously
- No third-party infrastructure audit and dated transparency report
- Only 5 simultaneously connected devices allowed
- Lack of protocol variety and transparency
Hotspot Shield is as straightforward as VPNs get, which can be helpful for iOS users who just want a service that’s fast, appealing, and easy to get running. Although the VPN lacks certain functionalities and customizability, a strong encryption scheme, a good amount of servers and high speeds more than make up for it.
Paid Hotspot Shield plans include spam-call blocker and 1Password manager integration. The call blocker will automatically tag calls as spam if they come from a suspicious number and report them to the FTC. 1Password can create unlimited passwords and pre-fill logins, and will notify users if their accounts logins and passwords are compromised. Hotspot Shield also makes for a great family VPN thanks to its affordable family plan, which allows each member of the family up to 25 simultaneously connected devices.
Hotspot Shield for iPhone is compatible with all phones running iOS 11.0 or later, which includes all models from iPhone 5S up to iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, iPhone 12 Pro Max, and iPhone 12 Mini.
- High number of servers
- Servers specifically designated for different streaming services
- 7-day free trial with no credit card required
- WireGuard® protocol supported across all apps
- Unintuitive app user interface
- Expensive monthly plan
- Servers for some streaming services can be unreliable
CyberGhost is a long-running Romanian VPN service that nearly tops the list for number of servers. CyberGhost The VPN features over 7,400 servers around the world, good security features, including a kill switch, IPv6 and DNS leak protection, and a malware blocker. It also allows up to seven simultaneous connections.
What puts CyberGhost ahead of other VPNs for streaming is their number of server countries — 94 in total — in combination with its large server network. The size of the server network ensures that users don’t suffer from bloating due to surges in traffic, whereas the number of server countries means users can access regional content from all over the globe.
CyberGhost also has specially designated servers for using specific streaming services, including servers for Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, and Disney+. You can also access streaming services not available in your country by setting up a VPN for your Amazon Fire TV or your Chrome browser.
Another of CyberGhost’s highlights are its NoSpy servers. These are managed by the VPN’s team end-to-end and integrate premium hardware with a dedicated uplink to provide extended bandwidth for data-intense online activities.
- Connect an unlimited number of devices at once
- Whitelister allows online gaming and other services without shutting down VPN
- Shadowsocks protocol to bypass internet censorship in restrictive countries
- Multi-hop feature maximizes connection privacy
- Split tunneling only available on Windows and Android
- Requires longer subscriptions to unlock its low prices
- No one-year plan
Surfshark’s affordable prices, extensive list of features and reliable connection speeds make it a powerful gaming VPN. The VPN consistently delivers low ping and latency numbers on most of its servers. Having over 3,200 servers also lowers the likelihood that users will experience drops in performance due to sudden bursts in traffic.
Setting up Surfshark for PC or mobile gamers is a simple affair; for console gamers, the VPN provides a guide on how to set it up on a router with OpenVPN or IKEv2. Users with a router that supports at least one of these protocols will have a much easier time with this process. If you’re on a PC or mobile device, there’s also a Whitelister function that can route your favorite games through a VPN so they don’t affect your other online activities.
Besides being a great VPN for gaming, Surfshark is also an excellent all-around privacy and security solution that doesn't keep logs of your activities. The service also features an automatic kill switch, Private DNS & leak protection, and a Camouflage Mode that masks the fact you’re using a VPN. Additionally, Surfshark places no limits on the number of simultaneously connected devices a single account can have and has multi-hop functionality.
- Unlimited number of simultaneously connected devices
- Free version grants access to nearly all features of premium plans
- Minimalist client interface, easy to set up and use
- 10GB/mo data usage limit
- Stores more data than other competitors to enforce usage limits
- Many features are only available on specific platforms
Windscribe is a powerful free VPN service that's simple and effective. It also comes with more features than other VPNs on the market and works well out of the box. The client interface has a minimalist design, you just need to open the VPN app to establish a connection.
Windscribe is a strong choice for computer users due to the interaction between its browser extensions and PC apps. Advanced features such as matching your timezone to the server you select, rotating your user agent, disabling WebRTC, and multi-hop (also known as double VPN) are available by using both clients simultaneously. Its firewall system — available on Windows and Mac — provides a superior solution to common kill switches by working proactively to avoid data leaks.
The advantage that Windscribe offers over other VPN services — especially over free VPN services — is that you can use the VPN on unlimited devices. The trade-off is that Windscribe stores your username, the server you’re connected to, and the amount of data transferred to make sure these are actually your devices and enforce its 10GB data limit. Nonetheless, this information is erased within three minutes of the session ending and Windscribe doesn’t store connection logs, IP stamps, or visited sites.
- Over 29k servers — the highest on our list
- Highly customizable applications and extensions
- Available anonymous payment options
- Up to 10 simultaneously connected devices
- No live chat support
- No app exclusion or whitelisting feature
- Cost for dedicated IP address is higher than other services
Private Internet Access (PIA) makes for an excellent Android VPN due to its easy-to-use app and long list of features. When opening the app, users can see a large, yellow button that, when pressed, turns green after the app establishes a connection to the best server available. The VPN features a kill switch, a snooze function, a favorites list, port forwarding, split tunneling, proxy support, and more.
Customization is a major highlight of PIA, which makes for a good pairing with Android given the system’s freedom of personalization. There is an abundance of options and settings users can tweak in the VPN’s client, including the level of encryption, conditions for establishing connections automatically, and even the look and feel of the app.
Another highlight: The number of servers. With nearly 30,000 servers in 106 locations across 78 countries, PIA's network is the largest among all VPNs we considered. The variety of servers is also notable, with specialized servers for streaming and P2P.
PIA only uses bare-metal servers for its VPN network for enhanced security and performance and they are compatible with the WireGuard® protocol. The VPN’s Android app supports all devices with Android 5.0 new and operating software.
- Protocol designed to bypass censorship, VPN blocking and geo-restrictions
- Support for a wide variety of protocols
- Affordable plans compared to its competitors
- Reliable for use in China
- Limited to 5 simultaneously connected devices
- Low number of servers compared to other major VPNs
- Does not work with some streaming services
VyprVPN has a valuable reputation for its ability to bypass geo-restrictions and government censorship in countries like China and Russia. The VPN has high security standards, implementing 256-bit AES protocols paired with SHA256 authentication, an automatic kill switch, a NAT Firewall, and DNS protection service. Its plans are also more affordable than its competitors.
The crowning jewel of VyprVPN is its proprietary protocol, Chameleon. Chameleon scrambles user metadata to combat VPN blocks and get around deep packet inspection so no one can detect you’re using a VPN.
What VyprVPN lacks in sheer quantity, it has in quality. Although it only features over 700 servers, it owns, engineers, and manages all of its servers in order to deliver faster and more reliable connections. The VPN has also greatly improved its logging practices by becoming a no-log policy service, which a 2018 Leviathan Security independent audit confirmed.
Other Companies We Considered
- Engaging and straightforward user interface
- Audited annually for security
- Low data usage limit of 500MB/mo
- Smaller than average server network
TunnelBear is a solid choice for novice VPN users: It’s free, employs a high level of security and is effortless to use. All paid plans are affordable and feature a generous degree of functionality, although the service could use more servers. Consumers who are more experienced with VPNs, need specialized solutions, or simply want more speed, connected devices or features should probably look elsewhere.
- Unlimited simultaneous connections
- Affordable subscriptions
- Unimpressive server network
- Lacks information regarding its features
ZenMate doesn’t stand out in any particular area, but it is simple to use and offers decent overall performance. It may not have the more advanced features, but it can still unblock the popular streaming platforms and uses industry-standard privacy features. Ultimately, a lack of information about the service and a lack of outstanding features kept ZenMate out of our top list.
- Can connect users to a server according to specific use cases
- Competitive pricing and a one-week trial
- No kill switch or split tunneling for iOS or macOS
- Poor choice of protocols compared to other VPNs
Ivacy prides itself on being the first VPN to bring the split tunneling feature to the market, which allows you to route some of your traffic through an encrypted tunnel, while other applications or devices have direct access to the internet. The VPN’s monthly and long-term subscriptions are reasonably priced, and its Smart Purpose Selection feature is a handy tool for streamlining the server selection process. However, due to its lack of functionality on Apple devices, we can only recommend it for Windows and Android users.
Best VPN Guide
VPNs are useful for a variety of purposes, and if you’ve ever asked yourself “Do I need a VPN?” the answer is that anyone who uses the internet regularly can benefit from one.
However, keep in mind that VPNs aren’t a magical solution for internet security or privacy, and are best used in specific circumstances.
What is a VPN?
A VPN, or virtual private network, hides your IP address and physical location when using the internet. VPN hosts redirect your online activity to servers in their network, which may be a few miles away or entire countries apart. By hiding your IP address, no one (else can tell who you are, where you are, or what you’re doing online — not even your internet service provider.
Hiding this information affords several benefits. For example, if you are concerned about internet service providers selling your data to advertisers, using a VPN will throw them off. A VPN can also help you bypass website censoring and allow you to access region-specific content on streaming platforms, such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.
VPNs also encrypt your data to deter malicious third parties from getting their hands on it. This is especially useful in the context of public Wi-Fi networks. When using a public network, such as hotel, cafe, airport, or mall Wi-Fi, others on that same network could be tracking your activity to steal your data. Using a VPN ensures that your information is safe while using these types of network.
VPNs are often offered as software that consumers can download onto their PC, smartphone, tablet, or even router. Once it’s up and running, users generally have two choices: connect to the server recommended by the VPN service or manually select a server. The user’s internet traffic is then routed through that server after a connection is established.
How does a VPN work?
VPNs work via misdirection. They create virtual tunnels that channel your data into their private network via tunneling or communication protocols. These VPN protocols use hashing algorithms, which is what allows them to provide encryption, safeguarding your data while it travels from your device to their servers.
The VPN host effectively replaces your internet service provider with a specially configured remote server as the source of your data. By the time a VPN service throws your data back into the public Internet, your activity appears under the IP address of the server you are using. If that server is in a different country, your traffic will show as if it’s coming from there.
How to choose the best VPN
To choose the best VPN, it’s important to understand the features you should be looking for. Some people will value a wider variety of server locations, whereas others will focus on price.
- Establish your budget. Most VPNs cost between $9 and $13 per month. This is relatively inexpensive, but you may be better off with a more affordable product if you don’t plan on using your VPN regularly.
- Identify your use case. Do you need a VPN because you often use public Wi-Fi, want to access Netflix content from other regions, or work in a field that could be perilous in certain regions or contexts, such as journalism or advocacy? Different VPN solutions are best suited for different tasks. We recommend that you get a VPN for all the devices you regularly use, including your laptop, phone, smart TV and even your Xbox.
- Check the server locations. Having a large number of servers is a good selling point for a VPN, but the location thereof is arguably even more important. This is especially true if you want to access servers in specific countries. Make sure these locations are covered by the VPN service.
- Assess the features you need. Many VPNs offer additional products on top of their regular services, such as ad blockers, antivirus, and password managers. They may even offer ID theft protection (we recommend you check our list of best identity theft protection services to see which ones are worth your time). If you would like a more comprehensive package for your online safety and privacy, consider VPN plans that include these products.
- Check for money-back guarantees. Even if the VPN you are considering seems perfect, there’s nothing like getting your hands on it and actually trying it out. Make sure that any VPN you are considering has at least a 30-day money-back guarantee, or better yet, a free version to test its features.
- Make sure your devices are compatible. Although most VPNs are available on a wide variety of platforms, you should always check that they are compatible with the device(s) you plan to use. Also, make sure that any specific features you need, like split tunneling and double VPN, are available in your chosen platform or device.
- DNS: The Domain Name System is a naming system for computers, services, and other resources connected to the Internet or a private network. It lets you connect to websites by matching human-readable domain names (like Money.com) to machine-readable IP addresses.
- DNS leak: A DNS leak is a security flaw that can occur while using anonymity or a privacy service, like a VPN. They happen when traffic leaks outside of the secure VPN connection established by the service.
- Encryption: Encryption is the process of taking information or data and scrambling into an unreadable format to prevent unauthorized access. This is done via hashing algorithms. A password or "key" is used to decrypt the information.
- Geo-blocking: Also known as geo-filtering, geo-blocking is the process that restricts access to Internet content based on the user's geographical location. People and organizations can tell your location based on your IP address. Geo-blocking is implemented by various entities for a number of reasons, but it’s most often associated with region-locked multimedia content, such as films and TV shows.
- IP address: An Internet Protocol address is a unique numerical label that is attached to a computer network. It’s similar to a mailing address, but for the Internet. Your IP address is associated with your online activity and is used to communicate with other computers and websites.
- Logs: Logs are records of incoming and outgoing connections to a VPN server. VPN hosts may keep this data to monitor the usage of their service, for example, to do troubleshooting or see how many devices are connected at a single time. Keeping logs of any kind is generally frowned upon by the VPN community due to the possibility of this information being leaked or shared with third parties.
- Network: A network consists of two or more computers, servers, mainframes, or other devices that are linked in order to share resources. These electronic devices use protocols to communicate with each other. When using a VPN, your local network sends data to the VPN host’s network and its designated servers.
- Protocols: Similar to language, a protocol is a set of rules, syntax, semantics, and other elements that allow two devices to interact. If two devices speak the same language, they may be able to communicate. VPNs currently use a variety of tunneling protocols, including PPTP, SSTP, L2TP, IKEv2/IPSec, OpenVPN, and WireGuard.
- Server: Servers are computer programs or devices that provide resources, data, services, or programs to another computer and its user — known as the client — over a network. VPN servers are located all over the world, and VPN hosts allow clients to access them.
The manual approach varies by operating system and is recommended for users who want more configuration options. After finding your VPN's address and available protocols, you'll have to look for a guide that shows how to set it up on your specific device.
How We Chose the Best VPN Services
The best VPNs are easy to set up, have high security standards, and feature a wide variety of servers and server locations. They also stay true to their word regarding customer support and their logging practices. The VPNs included in our list scored high in the following categories:
- Security - Security features are essential for a VPN solution, so we considered the variety of protocols they had available, the type of hashing they use for encryption, and whether they implement a kill switch or firewall failsafe. We highly favored VPNs that have been recently audited by independent firms.
- Features - We looked at the number of devices, the number of servers and server countries, the availability of dedicated IPs, and the server types that VPNs feature. We also considered if they had multi-hop and/or split tunneling functionality, as well as any additional products included with their VPN plans.
- Cost - We reviewed each service’s prices, but because most VPNs are similarly priced, we mostly focused on payment plan variety. We only considered VPNs that had a money-back guarantee, a free trial, or a free version.