Whether you’re working remotely, trying to access a favorite Netflix show that isn’t available where you live or travel, or simply want to keep your browsing habits private, subscribing to a virtual private network (VPN) is a great idea.
A VPN encrypts data that passes between you and the internet, allowing you to connect to public WiFi without worrying about a third party monitoring your every keystroke. A VPN can also allow you to watch your favorite Netflix show no matter where you are in the world by masking your location. There are numerous VPN services on the market today, and choosing the right one can be a challenge. We’ve reviewed the top players in the market to produce a list of the best VPN providers.
— Best Overall: ExpressVPN
— Best for Gaming: NordVPN
— Best Free: ProtoVPN (Free)
— Best for Netflix: ProtonVPN (Paid)
— Best for iPhone: Surfshark
— Best for FireStick: CyberGhost
— Best for Android: Private Internet Access
How We Picked the Best VPNs
We’ve all been there, connected to that public connection at the library or local Starbucks, wondering whether it’s safe to check the balance on our checking account or even sign into our email account. And who hasn’t been frustrated when they can’t watch the hit Netflix show that a friend in another country has been raving about because it’s blocked in your location? And it’s so annoying when your ISP penalizes you by slowing your connection to a snail’s pace when the entire family’s online.
A VPN — which stands for Virtual Private Network — can circumvent all of these problems; it’s a service that maintains your privacy while online. To create this list of top VPNs, we considered our own experiences using public internet hotspots as well as the challenges we’ve faced watching streaming television or enduring throttling from our ISP.
Speed: A VPN isn’t much use if it slows down your connection so much that it becomes difficult to browse the Web, game, or view streaming content. We only chose VPNs that could provide security while having minimal impact on internet download and upload speeds.
Security: A VPN is only worth its salt if it can prevent third parties from reading the data it’s encrypting. We stuck to those that use top security protocols, such as OpenVPN, IKEv2, Wireguard, and ShadowSocks. We avoided VPNs that continue to use Point-Point Tunneling (PPTP), which is an outdated and mostly obsolete protocol. We also favored VPNs that offered additional security features, including kill switches. Finally, we only included VPNs with a proven record of not keeping any customer logs that could compromise user information should the VPN’s server be confiscated or hacked.
Accessibility: We looked at what VPNs would best hide a user’s IP address, preventing geoblocking for streaming services such as Netflix, Youtube, and Hulu, while protecting user usage data from ISPs. We leaned toward VPNs with higher success rates at getting around these blocks.
Cost: While cost was not a major factor, we did take into consideration which services offered the best bang for the buck for the subscription fees they were charging.
The Best VPNs: Reviews & Recommendations
Best Overall: Express VPN
Why It Made The Cut: Express VPN nails just about every important characteristic of a good VPN, making it the easy choice for best VPN.
— Supports OS: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Linux
— Maximum Devices: 5
— Servers: 3,000 plus
— Jurisdiction: British Virgin Islands
— Top-notch security features
— One of the fastest VPNs around
— Superior ability to bypass geo-blocking
— A little more expensive than other VPNs
— Limited to five devices at one time
Features, security level, and a superior ability to bypass geo-blocking make ExpressVPN the clear choice when it comes to VPN networks. Security is the primary function of any VPN and ExpressVPN dominates with the long list of security features it offers. These features include a kill switch that cuts off Internet access to avoid leaks in the event the VPN cuts off. It also offers split tunneling, allowing you to run some applications through the VPN for enhanced security while operating others through direct Internet access for services that work best when your Internet connection is known.
ExpressVPN also leads the industry when it comes to encryption DNS leak protection and has a proven track record of adhering to its zero-logging policy (a fact the Turkish government learned when they seized an ExpressVPN server in 2020 and found no user data). The company also dominates when it comes to streaming performance. It routinely unblocks most areas restricted by Netflix and also works well with Amazon Prime, Video, and Disney+. All of this security and ability to bypass geo-blocking wouldn’t amount to much if the VPN’s service slowed your connection to a crawl. ExpressVPN barely impacts internet speed, thanks to a 30,000 IP count and more than 3,000 servers. If there’s something to gripe about with ExpressVPN, it’s the fact that its plan is a little more expensive than other VPNs and that it limits usage to five devices at one time. Still, that’s a small trade-off for the performance and features ExpressVPN offers.
Best for Gaming: NordVPN
Why It Made The Cut: We couldn’t find a service that offered the raw speed that NordVPN does, making it the obvious choice for the best VPN for gaming.
— Supports OS: Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android
— Servers: 5,200+
— Jurisdiction: Panama
— Blazing fast VPN speeds for gaming
— Excellent reliability
— High-end security feature
— Not as good at evading geo-blocking as other services
— Price jumps up after a year
While you may have one of the fastest gaming PCs money can buy, it means little if your internet connection is dogged by a slow VPN. Spending hundreds of dollars on a high-speed gaming router or drilling holes in your wall to run an ethernet cable to your gaming lair are two options. A better one is to sign up for a subscription to NordVPN.
While VPNs typically lower your internet speed a notch or two, some, such as Nord, can actually improve it. How does it accomplish such a feat? Gamers are often the target of throttling, a questionable practice many ISPs employ on heavy data users (gamers) in which they intentionally slow your Internet connection without telling you to lighten the load on its servers. By rerouting traffic through a VPN, you can bypass this slowdown. And since Nord boasts more than 5,100 servers, it’s well equipped to keep your internet speed high.
NordVPN also offers protection while gaming. By hiding the user’s IP address it wards off a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack by another player that will temporarily prevent your computer or gaming console from accessing the network. Nord supports Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android, so you can use it for gaming across a wide range of platforms. As with other VPNs, you can install NordVPN on a router, allowing you to use it with PlayStation, Xbox, and other gaming consoles. While NordVPN is one of the fastest VPNs on the market, it does have drawbacks when you attempt to use it for streaming services. Its ability to bypass geo-blocking for Netflix is spotty although it performs fairly well with Disney+, Hulu, and other popular streaming services. NordVPN costs $4.92 per month when an entire year is purchased at once or $11.95 per month when paid monthly.
Best Free: ProtonVPN (Free)
Why It Made The Cut: Of all the free VPNs out there, none offer the data use and security features that ProtonVPN does making it the best free VPN.
— Supports OS: Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android
— Maximum Devices: 1
— Servers: 3
— Jurisdiction: Switzerland
— Unlimited data
— Advanced security features such as leak protection, and split tunneling
— Good streaming performance
— Speeds can lag based on traffic
— No Secure Core or P2P support
Going with a free VPN is fraught with peril. Given that VPNs are charged with providing security for your computer, a free service can give you a false sense of security, leaving you vulnerable to attack. Of the many free VPNs you’ll find on the Internet, only a handful are quality services. And of those, ProtonVPN is the best. That’s partly because ProtonVPN offers unlimited data, eliminating the need for you to constantly monitor your data usage to ensure you don’t surpass your data limit and lose your VPN protection. ProtonVPN also offers features not found on most free VPNs, including leak protection and split tunneling.
It’s important to keep in mind that a free VPN has its limits and Proton is no exception. Its free service will give you access to just three server locations (far fewer than the thousands that the premium pay VPNs offer), and you can only connect one device to the service at a time. You’ll be able to watch some restricted content with ProtonVPN, but don’t expect to access regional Netflix content (you can get through to Netflix Originals). You should also expect speeds to vary as you’ll take a backseat to ProtonVPN’s paying subscribers when things get busy. It also offers no protection for P2P networks. And ProtonVPN’s Secure Core, a feature that protects IP data as it exits the VPN on its paid services, isn’t supported on the free version. That said, it’s hard not to like the level of protection ProtonVPN offers for nothing.
Best for Netflix: ProtonVPN (Paid)
Why It Made The Cut: Of the VPNs we reviewed, ProtonVPN hands down does the best job of circumventing Netflix’s geo-blocking efforts to provide access to its users making it the best VPN for Netflix.
— Supported OS: Windows, Mac, iOS, Linux, and Android
— Maximum Devices:
— Servers: 1,500+ servers
— Jurisdiction: Switzerland
— Works in numerous regions for Netflix
— Good speeds for streaming video content
— Works well with other streaming services
— Netflix access requires a Plus plan
— No round the clock support
While Proton VPN offers a worthy free service for those looking for a VPN service on a very limited basis when you upgrade to its paid services you unlock one of the best tools for unblocking Netflix around the globe.
While there are plenty of VPNs that can allow you to access Netflix from restricted regions, few can grant the global access of ProtonVPN, which allows you to access restricted Netflix content from the U.S., Canada, and Australia among other places. Proton has even been able to keep those access lines open despite new VPN-blocking efforts by Netflix that have thwarted some of the better-known services in the business. And Netflix isn’t all that ProtonVPN has a knack for accessing. You can also add Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Hulu, and BBC iPlayer to that list. Proton VPN’s ability to offer this scale is due largely to its efforts to expand its servers, as it operates more than 1,500 servers in 63 countries. ProtonVPN is also known for its free service; however, you’ll have to pay for the company’s Plus plan to access its Netflix unblocking capabilities. Proton VPN’s services are also useful for other VPN needs thanks to its use of WireGuard and OpenVPN connections and security features such as Secure Cores, which routes your traffic through its secure servers. Its subscription fees are in line with other VPN services at $8 per month.
Although Proton VPN excels at getting around geoblocking restrictions, its service is lacking in some areas. Its device compatibility doesn’t include Amazon Fire TV Stick or Apple TV, and it’s one of few of the better-known VPNs that doesn’t offer 24-hour customer service support. If you’re looking for another option, IPVanish also provides access to Netflix and works on many platforms.
Best for iPhone: Surfshark
Why It Made The Cut: A user-friendly interface, useful security options, and advanced features for getting around geoblocking makes this the best VPN for iPhone users.
— Supports OS: Windows, Mac, iOS, Linux, and Android
— Servers: 3,200
— Jurisdiction: The Netherlands
— User-friendly interface
— Advanced protection features
— Excellent customer service
— Not as fast as other VPNs
While some may not consider a VPN when thinking about their iPhone, it’s crucial if you plan on using public WiFi while checking your bank account balances at the local coffee shop. A slick interface and numerous features make Surfshark one of the best options for maintaining your privacy on iOS devices, thanks to a four-tab design that makes it easy to review its list of privacy tools or choose from its multi-hop connection options and its compatibility with iOS 14 widgets. You can also choose from the main VPN protocols, including WireGuard, OpenVPN, and Shadowsocks.
In terms of protection, Surfshark offers ad and malware protection and split tunneling that allows you to select which apps and websites can connect via your VPN and which can connect to the internet directly. Surf Shark is also one of a few providers that offer a dedicated kill switch on the iPhone, cutting connectivity for certain apps and Web sites in the event the VPN goes down. The VPN also excels at customer service with its 24/7 support via live chat. Surfshark also offers some pretty nifty features for getting around geoblocking. In addition to its multihop feature that sends the ISP through multiple countries to mask the location, it also offers a Camouflage Mode that masks VPN activity so your ISP can’t tell that you’re using a VPN, as well as a NoBorders Mode that lets you use Surfshark in restricted regions. Just keep in mind that using these features is illegal in certain countries.
Best for FireStick: CyberGhost
Why It Made The Cut: With an app designed specifically for Firestick and an ability to unblock streaming services, Cyberghost is the logical choice for the best VPN for Firestick users.
— Supports OS: Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android
— Servers: 7,500+
— Jurisdiction: Bucharest, Romania
— Offers a dedicated App designed for Firestick
— Effective at unlocking most streaming services
— Very low fees if using one of CyberGhost’s longer plans
— Struggles with Netflix geoblocking
One of the greatest advantages of Amazon’s Firestick is its ability to take your streaming TV with you simply by plugging the Firestick into a hotel room TV once you arrive at your destination. Of course, that only works if the streaming service you’re trying to connect with grants you access from that locale. When that doesn’t happen, CyberGhost is one of the best ways for circumventing the geoblocking technology that’s preventing you from keeping up with your favorite streaming shows while on the road.
CyberGhost offers a dedicated Fire TV Stick app, available on the Amazon app store, that does a masterful job of unlocking Hulu, Amazon Prime, Disney+, and YouTube no matter your location. It’s important to note that it does struggle with Netflix; however, that’s pretty much the case with most VPNs these days thanks to Netflix’s increased efforts to block VPNs. Those with security concerns can rest assured that CyberGhost offers ample protection, thanks to protocols that include IKEv2 and OpenVPN. And, like other major VPNs, CyberGhost also does not keep any user logs. CyberGhost is one of the most affordable VPNs when you purchase an extended contract. CyberGhost also has a 45-day money-back guarantee, giving you plenty of time to test its mettle against all your favorite streaming services.
Best for Android: Private Internet Access
Why It Made The Cut: Private Internet Access quite frankly makes one of the most robust customizable VPN Android apps that’s also surprisingly easy to use making it the best VPN for Android users.
— Supported OS: Windows, Mac, iOS, Linux
— Maximum Devices: 10
— Servers: 35,000 +
— Jurisdiction: USA
— Use friendly interface
— Numerous security options and functions
— Supports up to 10 devices at once
— Not as fast as top-end VPNs
Not only is Private Internet Access’ Android app among the most user-friendly for Android users, but it’s also loaded with options and settings that allow you to customize how you want the VPN to function. Among those options are a kill switch, auto-connection, and favorites lists along with port forwarding, custom encryption, and various protocol settings. It also provides a full slate of connection status information that allows you to monitor your VPN use. Even with all these settings and options, Private Internet Access remains almost absurdly easy to use on Android with its large on/off button that sits squarely in the middle of the screen. Although Private Internet Access lags behind the top VPNs when it comes to speed, it should be able to handle most functions on an Android phone without noticeable lag.
Since Android users will likely be using the VPN for more than just their smartphone, it’s nice to know that Private Internet Access offers support for up to 10 devices at a time. Its pricing is also quite competitive. We should add that Private Internet Access, based in the U.S., is located in a 14-eyes country, which technically means the company could be compelled to give up its data to the government. While that may seem like an issue, PIA insists that it isn’t since the company has a clear no-logs policy and therefore has no customer data to give. In fact, the company says that of the 17 court orders, subpoenas, and warrants it has received, it’s produced zero logs.
Things to Consider Before Buying a VPN
When it comes to an Internet connection, speed is paramount. A VPN adds another piece through which your information must travel before it gets from point A to point B, which means it has the potential to slow your Internet connection down. A good VPN will slow it down as little as possible. A VPN s with more servers and a larger number of IP addresses are more likely to offer higher speeds.
One of the two main purposes of having a VPN (we’ll get to the other in a moment) is to create a safe connection that will keep your sensitive information safe as you conduct online banking, trade stocks, pay your electric bill, and play Fortnight. A good VPN will use hard-to-beat encryption, such as OpenVPN, IKEv2, WireGuard, and Shadowsocks. A VPN should also have a strict no user log policy with protection features that include kill switches, and IP hiding.
One purpose of a VPN is to keep your connection secure as you explore the Internet. The other is to make you invisible so you can access blocked content that you may not otherwise be able to access due to geoblocking such as streaming content from Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, and YouTube. If you’re looking into whether you can work around content in a destination, look carefully at the availability of the VPN by country.
If you’re going to pay a monthly fee for a VPN, you’ll want to make sure you can use it on more than one device. The average American household has 10 devices. A good VPN should have multi-device capability for at least five devices. The VPN should also support a variety of platforms, including Windows, iOS, Linux, PCs, iPhone, and Android. Make sure to check a VPN’s compatibility and compare it with your household’s collection of devices.
Q: What is a VPN?
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. A VPN serves as a shield between your PC or mobile device and the internet, encrypting data to hide your IP address, keeping your identity safe while online. With a VPN, a third party can’t spy on your online activity. In fact, even the ISP you’re using for Internet access can’t track you.
Q: How does a VPN work?
When a VPN is set up with a service, it routes all traffic through an encrypted data tunnel that hides the IP address you use while on the Internet. This makes your location invisible to everyone, including third parties and even the ISP you’re using to access the Internet. A VPN protects you from attacks that could allow others to access sensitive information, including usernames and passwords for bank accounts. It also prevents streaming services such as Netflix from identifying your geographic location, enabling you to circumvent geo-blocking that would otherwise prevent you from accessing censored content.
Q: Why use a VPN?
A VPN serves two main purposes. It protects data you send out over the Internet, preventing others from reading it, and it disguises your location, so services can’t geo-block you. By encrypting the data you send out, the VPN prevents would-be hackers from reading sensitive data you may be communicating via the Web, including social security and driver’s license numbers, bank information, and usernames and passwords. VPNs are especially useful when you’re using public WiFi that lacks the protections the router on your home network is equipped with.
And, since a VPN disguises your location, you can access content you might otherwise be blocked from viewing. This is particularly useful in countries that censor access to certain content and services. When you’re traveling abroad a VPN lets you connect to a country in which it has a server, allowing you to appear as though you’re somewhere else. A VPN is also capable of unlocking blocked sites while using a network at school or work.
Q: Do I need a VPN?
Whether you need a VPN or not depends on how you access the Web. if you do the majority of your internet use from a home network, chances are you’re using the protections that are built into your router. If you’re out and about and plan on using public networks to access sensitive information, such as when online banking, you absolutely need a VPN. If you’re accessing your bank using free WiFi at the local Starbucks without one, you’re an easy target for hackers lying in wait. Even if you’re at home, there are still good reasons to have a VPN. Your ISP (Internet Service Provider) is allowed to sell data about users based on their online activity. They can also subject you to throttling, cutting the speed of your connection if they determine you’re using too much data. A VPN prevents them from doing either.
Q: How much is a VPN?
Rates vary depending on the service and how much you’re willing to pay upfront. Most VPNs cost around $11 to $12 per month. If you’re willing to pay a year or even two in advance, most VPNs will cut their monthly fees in half. For example, ExpressVPN, one of the top VPNs, charges $12.95 for monthly subscriptions, or $6.67 per month when you play for an entire year in advance. CyberGhost, which charges $12.99 on a month-to-month basis, charges just $2.15 per month if you pay upfront for three years of service.
Final Thoughts on VPN
If you often use public WiFi, travel to locales that limit access to your favorite streaming content, or are sick and tired of your ISP throttling you during an intense gaming session, then it’s time to consider getting a VPN that will protect your sensitive information while allowing you to circumvent geo-blocked sites. We recommend what we consider to be the gold standard in Virtual Private Networks: ExpressVPN, which offers fast speeds, unrivaled security, and an uncanny ability to thwart geo-blocking. Gamers and others looking for VPN protection while preserving the high download and upload speeds required for online play should consider NordVPN and its more than 5,100 servers.
This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.