The Best VPN Service

Contents

Bypassing censorship evaluates how well a VPN can circumvent web restrictions to access blocked websites, like Twitter in Russia and China.

The Best VPN Services of 2023

Simon Migliano is a recognized world expert in VPNs. He’s tested hundreds of VPN services and his research has featured on the BBC, The New York Times and more.

Fact-checked by JP Jones Additional Testing by Callum Tennent

The recommendations in this guide are tailored to readers in North America and the UK.

The best VPNs change and hide your IP address, bypass internet geo-blocks, and encrypt your web traffic, including on public WiFi.

What Is the Best VPN in September 2023?

Based on our tests of over 150 VPNs, the 10 best VPN services are:

  1. ExpressVPN: Best VPN Overall
  2. NordVPN: Most Secure VPN
  3. PIA VPN: Best VPN for Privacy & Torrenting
  4. Surfshark: Best VPN for GPS Spoofing
  5. PrivateVPN: Best VPN for Public WiFi
  6. IPVanish: Best VPN for Fire TV Stick & Kodi
  7. CyberGhost: Best VPN Free Trial
  8. Hide.me: Best VPN for IPv6 Connections
  9. Proton VPN: Best Free VPN
  10. Windscribe: Unblocks the Most Netflix Regions

The best VPN in 2023 is ExpressVPN, with an overall rating of 9.6/10. It’s fast, private, highly-secure, and it outperforms other top VPN services in almost every testing category. ExpressVPN excels at unblocking streaming services, gaming, and ease of use – although it is more expensive than its rivals.

Overall Comparison of the 10 Best VPN Services

The table below compares the 10 best VPN services based on their logging policies, average speeds, US Netflix access, torrenting policy, price, and more:

Our experts have tested over 150 VPN apps and reviewed 65 VPN services in detail to help you find a VPN with exceptional privacy, security, speeds, and usability. Only the VPNs that meet our standards are recommended.

The VPN apps we recommend in this list are the best available for desktop computers, laptops, phones, media streaming devices, and even games consoles.

With thousands of secure servers located around the world, they’re suitable for global internet users, including anyone in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia.

Why Trust Top10VPN.com?

We’re completely independent and focused on VPN software. We’ve spent 7 years and thousands of hours testing and reviewing VPNs using our unbiased VPN review process to recommend the best ones.

Here are some of our key VPN testing statistics:

VPN Apps Tested 150
Total Hours of Testing 30,000+
Weekly Speed Tests 3,000+
Streaming Platforms Tested Daily 12
Security Tests Performed 9,500+
How Much We’ve Spent On Testing $25,000+

DID YOU KNOW? You can add any VPN we recommend to our side-by-side VPN comparison tool. Simply tick ‘Add to compare’ to add a VPN to the Comparison Tool Preview in the lower right corner of your screen.

Top VPN Services by Category

We rate the 10 VPN services in this list very highly, but the best VPN for you will depend on your specific needs.

Do you want to unblock more Netflix libraries? Torrent anonymously? Or simply stay safe on public WiFi?

Follow the links below to see our VPN recommendations for popular purposes, including the best VPNs for different streaming services, devices, and countries.

Streaming & Gaming

Find the top VPNs for unblocking geo-blocked streaming and gaming content on popular platforms.

  1. VPNs for Streaming
  2. VPNs for Netflix
  3. VPNs for Disney Plus
  4. VPNs for BBC iPlayer
  5. VPNs for HBO Max
  6. VPNs for Prime Video
  7. VPNs for Hulu
  8. VPNs for Hotstar
  9. VPNs for YouTube
  10. VPNs for Kodi
  11. VPNs for Gaming
  12. VPNs for PUBG Mobile

Devices, Price & Speed

The right VPN depends on the device and OS you’re using. Find the top VPNs by device, price, and speed.

  1. VPNs for Windows
  2. VPNs for Mac
  3. VPNs for Linux
  4. VPNs for iPhone & iPad
  5. VPNs for Android
  6. VPNs for Fire TV Stick
  7. VPNs for Apple TV
  8. VPNs for Roku
  9. VPNs for Routers
  10. VPNs for Chrome
  11. VPNs for Firefox
  12. Fastest VPNs of 2023
  13. Best Cheap VPNs
  14. Best VPN Free Trials

Privacy & Torrenting

See our VPN recommendations for internet privacy, anonymous torrenting, and the Tor Browser.

  1. VPNs for Torrenting
  2. Best No-Logs VPNs
  3. VPNs for Tor & Dark Web

Countries

Discover the best VPN for bypassing censorship or connecting to a specific country.

  1. VPNs to Get a US IP Address
  2. VPNs to Get a UK IP Address
  3. VPNs to Get a Mexican IP Address
  4. VPNs to Get an Indian IP Address
  5. VPNs to Get a Japanese IP Address
  6. VPNs to Get a French IP Address
  7. VPNs to Get a German IP Address
  8. VPNs to Get an Italian IP Address
  9. VPNs to Get an Argentina IP Address
  10. VPNs to Get an Indonesian IP Address
  11. VPNs for Australia
  12. VPNs for Canada
  13. VPNs for China
  14. VPNs for Russia
  15. VPNs for Turkey
  16. VPNs for UAE
  17. VPNs for Singapore

Video Summary of the Best VPN Services

In the video below, we summarize our top-rated VPN services and why we recommend them in less than three minutes:

A quick video roundup of the 10 best VPN services of 2023.

Analysis of the 10 Best VPN Services

1 . ExpressVPN: Best VPN Overall

Our top-rated VPN for general use, and the best VPN for unrestricted streaming and gaming.
Ranked #1 out of 55 VPN services

ExpressVPN's new app on mobile devices

Rated 4.8 out of 5
1,849 reviews
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Pros

  • Consistently fast speeds across any distance
  • Unblocks 10 Netflix regions, Disney+, Hulu, Prime Video & more
  • No-logs policy, AES-256 encryption & RAM-only servers
  • Privacy-friendly British Virgin Islands (BVI) jurisdiction
  • Fire TV app, router app, Smart DNS for Apple TV & gaming consoles
  • Easy-to-use apps & 24/7 live customer support

Cons

  • More expensive than its rivals
  • No multi-hop or other advanced features
  • Does not support port forwarding
  • No split tunneling on macOS
  • No Linux graphical user interface (GUI)

Overall Rating: 9.6/10

This overall rating is calculated using the following nine category ratings. To learn more, read our VPN testing methodology.

ExpressVPN is our choice for the best VPN service of September 2023, as it excels in every single testing category. It’s highly-secure, consistently fast, and we didn’t encounter any issues using it on all of our test devices including iPhone, Android, PC, Mac, and Firestick.

In our experience, the VPN is particularly well-suited for fast HD/4K streaming, lag-free gaming, and anonymous torrenting. In fact, we experienced download speed losses of just 3% when connecting to a nearby ExpressVPN server.

ExpressVPN Windows and Mac Apps

The home screen of ExpressVPN’s Windows app (left) and macOS app (right).

On the rare occasion we incurred a technical issue, ExpressVPN’s excellent 24/7 customer support was knowledgeable and quick to help resolve the problem.

ExpressVPN isn’t the cheapest option available — its longest subscription plan costs almost double the initial price of competitors like NordVPN. However, it’s incredibly versatile and has consistently outperformed other VPN services for over five years.

Excellent for Streaming Geo-Blocked Content

After thousands of streaming tests, ExpressVPN remains our highest-rated VPN for streaming.

More specifically, it’s the best VPN to unblock US Netflix and 9 other Netflix regions.

The video below is real footage of our testing, showing you just how easy it was to access Netflix with ExpressVPN:

ExpressVPN’s US servers can unblock Netflix without any extra settings or features.

In addition to Netflix, we were pleased to see ExpressVPN bypass geo-restrictions on HBO Max, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, Disney+, and Amazon Prime Video without any issues.

You can also stream using ExpressVPN’s browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Edge. Unlike most rivals, these are full VPN extensions, and not simple proxies (which don’t encrypt your internet traffic).

ExpressVPN comes with a very good Fire TV app and MediaStreamer, its Smart DNS tool for use with Apple TV, Smart TVs, and games consoles. Together with its VPN app for routers, this makes ExpressVPN the most widely-compatible VPN service on the market.

A Highly-Secure & Private VPN for Torrenting

All 3,000 ExpressVPN servers allow P2P traffic. Importantly, the VPN doesn’t store any personally-identifiable data, like your IP address or DNS queries, either.

The VPN routes your data through secure VPN protocols (OpenVPN, IKEv2, and Lightway) using AES-256 encryption and diskless (RAM-only) servers, which means the service physically can’t log any activity data.

In fact, real-world tests – including server seizures and independent audits – have confirmed this fact several times.

The Lightway protocol in particular delivered an excellent download bitrate of 9.4MiB/s in our torrenting VPN tests. Only Astrill (10.0MiB/s) and PIA VPN (9.6MiB/s) registered faster torrent speeds.

Using ExpressVPN with the qBittorrent torrent client

ExpressVPN delivered excellent download speeds in our torrenting tests.

The VPN also has a wide range of additional security features, including a VPN kill switch, which prevented our IP address from leaking in the rare instances when our connection dropped.

Thanks to these security safeguards, we’re happy to confirm you can torrent safely with ExpressVPN without restrictions.

These features are kept neatly behind a menu icon in the app’s top left corner, which makes it incredibly simple to use — you can configure your settings to your preferences, or simply ignore them altogether, choose a server, and click ‘Connect’ to get started.

Expensive but Worth the High Price

ExpressVPN isn’t perfect, and its main drawback is its above-average subscription price.

At its cheapest, the VPN service costs $6.67 per month on a 15-month contract.

Despite the service being more expensive than many premium rivals, you get your money’s worth given its superior capabilities. It’s consistently fast, safe, and gives you easy access to IP addresses in 94 countries on a huge range of platforms.

For a quick overview of ExpressVPN’s best and worst features, watch our 60-second video review:

Who is ExpressVPN best for?

You should use ExpressVPN if:

  • You want to unblock streaming services. ExpressVPN unblocks most streaming platforms including HBO Max, BBC iPlayer, Disney+ and 10 Netflix libraries.
  • You want a well-rounded VPN. ExpressVPN performs exceptionally in most testing categories, including privacy, security, speed, streaming, and ease-of-use.

You should not use ExpressVPN if:

  • You’re on a tight budget. ExpressVPN’s cheapest subscription plan costs $6.67 per month over 15 months. This is more expensive than most competitors.
  • You’re a Linux user. While Linux-compatible, ExpressVPN’s client offers no user-friendly interface.
  • You need unlimited simultaneous connections. You can use a single ExpressVPN subscription with 8 devices simultaneously, which is less than some of its top rivals.

2 . NordVPN: Most Secure VPN

The best VPN for security, with a wide range of industry-leading features and advanced settings.

NordVPN Mobile App Screenshot

Rated 4.7 out of 5
246 reviews
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Pros

  • WireGuard (NordLynx) protocol in use across its network
  • Private logging policy & no IP or DNS leaks
  • Extra security features like multihop & diskless servers
  • Impressive speeds across short & long-distances
  • Streams US Netflix & allows P2P traffic on many servers
  • Seven-day Android free trial & 30-day money back guarantee

Cons

  • Servers in fewer countries than some alternatives
  • Less reliable for Netflix on Fire TV devices
  • Unreliable at bypassing web blocks in China
  • Doesn’t accept PayPal
  • Minor server breach in 2018
  • Renews at a much higher annual subscription price

Overall Rating: 9.4/10

This overall rating is calculated using the following nine category ratings. To learn more, read our VPN testing methodology.

NordVPN is one of the most popular VPNs in the world, and it’s currently the best-rated VPN when it comes to security and advanced technical features.

NordVPN offers more additional features than almost any alternative. This includes an ad and malware blocker, Onion over VPN, dedicated IP addresses, and more.

NordVPN

NordVPN’s Mac app (bottom) is more user-friendly than its Windows app (top).

It unblocks Hulu, HBO Max, Disney Plus, and 12 Netflix libraries with exceptional speeds — we recorded losses of just 5% in our testing.

Overall, NordVPN is almost as good as ExpressVPN. It received an impressive rating of 9.4/10 in our testing, and it’s significantly cheaper on a two-year subscription — just $3.29 per month.

However, it has fewer server locations than its competitors and can feel less user-friendly if you’re not familiar with VPN apps.

Exceptional Security Settings & Additional Features

All of NordVPN’s VPN software uses NordLynx by default, which is a variation of the trusted and open-source WireGuard protocol. The ChaCha20 cipher is used to encrypt your traffic in transit, and connections are established using 2048-bit DH keys.

To verify this worked as advertised, we analyzed the packets passing through our network using Wireshark. As you can see, NordVPN’s encryption rendered our web traffic completely illegible:

Testing NordVPN

We used Wireshark to check that NordVPN kept our internet traffic encrypted and secure.

Following a minor server vulnerability in 2018, NordVPN now includes more server security protections than almost any other VPN. Over 10% of NordVPN’s servers are now co-located, which means they’re owned by NordVPN and cannot be accessed by third parties.

Alongside the mandatory kill switch (which successfully passed our penetration testing), NordVPN also offers a rare multi-hop feature, which routes your internet traffic through two separate VPN servers and encrypts it twice. However, this feature is limited to servers in just nine countries.

Impressively, NordVPN also offers a bug bounty program and conducts regular security audits to ensure all of these features are implemented correctly in its apps.

Diskless Servers & a 100% No-Logs Policy

NordVPN doesn’t log any information about its users. It doesn’t record your IP address, browser history, or bandwidth usage data, though it does keep a record of the date you last connected to a server.

Just like ExpressVPN, the VPN service uses RAM-only servers, making it almost impossible for a third party to extract any user data from the server.

However, unlike ExpressVPN, NordVPN’s logging policy has not been categorically proven through a public court case or law enforcement request.

Stable Connections with Barely Any Speed Loss

NordVPN delivers some of the fastest VPN speeds we’ve tested across its entire global network of 5,754 servers.

In our short-distance VPN speed tests from New York, we were impressed by download speed losses as low as 5%. This outcome matched Private Internet Access across the same distance, although ExpressVPN outperformed both with a 3% loss.

On international connections, NordVPN performed almost exactly the same as ExpressVPN and PIA VPN. It recorded an average download speed of 86Mbps (on a fixed 100Mbps base connection).

You can see how NordVPN’s speeds compared to other top VPNs in the chart below:

Great for Connecting to the UK, Canada & Mexico

Despite not covering as many server locations as ExpressVPN, NordVPN is still a great choice for connecting to specific countries like the UK, Canada, and Mexico.

We were especially impressed with the performance of the service’s 440 UK VPN servers, which successfully assigned us a London-based IP address.

VPN connections to these UK servers have been fast and consistent over several years of testing, and they work to reliably access UK streaming services from the US and other countries.

NordVPN performs similarly on its 240 Canadian VPN servers, which worked exceptionally well in our tests. The servers, located in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver, continue to be fast and effective at bypassing geo-restrictions.

Not as User-Friendly as ExpressVPN

We rate NordVPN very highly, and it’s absolutely worth using in most circumstances. However, the design of the Windows and macOS applications needs improving. On Android, its kill switch also requires some irritating configuration.

The desktop and laptop clients are by no means hard to use, but we don’t find NordVPN’s VPN software for Windows and macOS as user-friendly and intuitive as ExpressVPN’s.

In the video review below, we explain the best and worst parts of NordVPN’s apps:

Who is NordVPN best for?

You should use NordVPN if:

  • You want a VPN with lots of features. NordVPN gives you access to a huge number of additional features including an ad blocker, multi-hop servers, Onion over VPN, split tunneling, and more.
  • You need an affordable alternative to ExpressVPN. NordVPN is almost as good as ExpressVPN, and it’s significantly cheaper for the initial subscription length.

You should not use NordVPN if:

  • You want an IP address from lots of countries. NordVPN has servers in 60 countries, but you can’t connect to servers in popular locations like Russia and India.
  • You need a VPN for your router or Fire TV. NordVPN doesn’t have a dedicated router app. While its Fire TV app works well, it’s more difficult to use with Netflix and other streaming apps than ExpressVPN.
  • You’re an Android user. NordVPN’s Android app is good, but the kill switch can be complicated to configure.

3 . PIA VPN: Best VPN for Privacy & Torrenting

The best VPN for privacy, excellent for anonymous torrenting and file-sharing.

Private Internet Access

Rated 4.3 out of 5
29 reviews
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Pros

  • Large network of 17,087 servers in 84 countries
  • Verified zero-logs logging policy
  • P2P & torrenting allowed on all servers
  • Servers in 50 US states to bypass US blackouts
  • Streams US Netflix, HBO Max & Disney+
  • One of the cheapest top VPN services

Cons

  • Mac client has usability issues
  • Smart DNS doesn’t work with streaming apps
  • Firestick app needs improvements
  • Headquartered in the USA (FVEY jurisdiction)
  • Slower long-distance speeds

Overall Rating : 9.3/10

This overall rating is calculated using the following nine category ratings. To learn more, read our VPN testing methodology.

Private Internet Access (PIA) is a trusted VPN service with a verified zero-logs privacy policy and the largest server network on the market.

PIA performs well in every testing category, but it particularly excels when it comes to privacy, torrenting, and value for money.

PIA

PIA’s iOS app (left) and Android app (right).

You can use all 17,087 servers with complete confidence that your IP address and browsing activity are not being monitored or linked back to you — all for just $2.19 per month.

PIA’s apps aren’t quite as well-designed as its top competitors, and it’s less suited to long-distance connections or streaming on devices that don’t support VPN apps. However, PIA remains an excellent VPN that’s well worth its cheap price.

Extremely Private VPN that’s Excellent for Torrenting

In our P2P tests, we were able to successfully torrent on all of PIA’s servers. You can torrent from any server location with no bandwidth limitations. This is refreshing compared to so many of its competitors, which often exclude servers from P2P activity for seemingly no reason.

Using qBittorrent, we downloaded a file at a rate of 9.6MiB/s using PIA. These are some of the fastest torrenting speeds we’ve measured — even faster than other top VPNs like ExpressVPN and NordVPN.

Using Private Internet Access to download a torrent file

We tested PIA with multiple torrenting clients, including qBittorrent.

Unlike most other VPNs, it also comes with port forwarding, which increases the number of torrenting peers you can communicate with and helps speed up your P2P download speeds.

The VPN’s no-logs policy has been externally verified on several occasions, and the company releases regular transparency reports regarding data requests.

With this strict no-logs policy and powerful security, Private Internet Access simply outperforms the competition when it comes to anonymous file-sharing and torrenting.

Huge Server Network with Very Good Speeds

PIA has the largest server network of any VPN. It offers access to 17,087 no-logs VPN servers in 84 countries — 14087 more than ExpressVPN and 11333 more than NordVPN.

The impact of this huge server network on PIA’s short-distance speeds is significant: we recorded speed losses of just 5% connecting to nearby server locations in New York.

PIA can’t quite match rivals like Hotspot Shield or ExpressVPN when it comes to long-distance connections, but it’s still faster than the vast majority of VPNs we test.

VPN Servers in All 50 US States

Private Internet Access is the only VPN with servers in 50 US states, all of which deliver exceptionally fast speeds connecting within and into the country. PIA also has the largest number of US IP addresses available, making it a great choice for connecting into the US from overseas.

Private Internet Access

Some of PIA’s server locations in the US.

This extensive US server coverage allows American users to easily bypass US sports blackouts. In our experience, PIA VPN has always got around NFL, NBA, and MLB regional restrictions with ease. The VPN works to unblock US Netflix, and its “streaming-optimized” servers also work with 9 additional Netflix regions.

Mac Client Could Be More User-Friendly

While PIA is a cheap VPN that’s best for privacy and torrenting, it’s not the easiest VPN to use on MacBooks or iMacs, and its Smart DNS tool doesn’t work for streaming.

Its macOS VPN software is slow to load, which is frustrating. For us, it took up to three seconds to load when we ran the VPN as a windowed app.

We explain PIA’s pros and cons in the short video review below:

Who is Private Internet Access best for?

You should use PIA if:

  • You want to torrent files securely. PIA’s fast P2P servers, port forwarding, and verified zero-logs policy are ideal for anonymous file-sharing.
  • You want to bypass US sports blackouts. PIA’s server coverage in America is the best there is, giving you access to US IP addresses from 50 US states.
  • You want a cheap VPN that’s very private. PIA costs just $2.19 per month on its longest subscription, and is one of the most trusted VPN services on the market.

You should not use PIA if:

  • You’re a new VPN user. Despite its strong security credentials, PIA’s advanced features and customization settings may be off-putting for VPN beginners.
  • You’re a macOS, Smart TV, or Firestick user. PIA’s Mac app is slow to load and frustrating to use. On Fire TV, our tests found that 75% of PIA’s US servers don’t unblock Netflix. On smart TVs or games consoles, its Smart DNS tool simply doesn’t work for streaming.

4 . Surfshark: Best VPN for GPS Spoofing

An affordable VPN with the rare ability to spoof GPS data on Android.

Surfshark app

Rated 4.1 out of 5
131 reviews
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Pros

  • Affordable price of $2.30 on a two-year subscription plan
  • Many advanced security features & settings
  • Audited logging policy, diskless servers & Double VPN
  • GPS spoofing setting on Android app
  • Unblocks HBO Max, Hulu, Disney+ & 10 Netflix regions
  • User-friendly apps & unlimited device connections

Cons

  • Kill switch not enabled by default & leaks on macOS
  • No IPv6 leak protection
  • NoBorders mode is inconsistent
  • No OpenVPN on macOS
  • Slower than ExpressVPN and NordVPN

Overall Rating: 9.2/10

This overall rating is calculated using the following nine category ratings. To learn more, read our VPN testing methodology.

Surfshark competes with the very best VPNs, and for a much lower price of just $2.30 per month. There’s no compromise on quality either, especially when it comes to streaming and internet security.

Despite its low price, Surfshark has outstanding security credentials, an audited no-logs privacy policy, and tons of additional features including GPS spoofing, unlimited simultaneous connections, and rotating IP addresses.

Surfshark

Surfshark’s Android application and server list.

In our tests, it also worked to unblock every major streaming service via its VPN apps or Smart DNS.

Though it offers great value, Surfshark has its drawbacks too. It’s slower on long-distance connections than some top competitors, and it can’t bypass the strictest website blocks. It sometimes leaks IPv6 addresses, and its kill switch isn’t activated by default, which we think is an oversight.

Effective at Bypassing IP, Streaming & GPS Blocks

We were very impressed by how effective Surfshark is at bypassing IP-based geo-blocks from services like Netflix, Disney+, and Max (HBO).

In our testing, its VPN apps and Smart DNS service worked to consistently unblock every major streaming site, including 10 international Netflix regions.

But what sets Surfshark apart from its rivals is its ability to spoof your GPS location on Android phones. In fact, Windscribe is the only other VPN that’s able to do this.

The ‘GPS Override’ function prevents Android mobile applications using GPS to detect your real location. It’s very simple to use and works as intended.

GPS Override feature in the Surfshark Android app

The GPS Override feature in Surfshark Android.

When activated, the integrated function spoofed our GPS coordinates on our Android mobile device to match our VPN server location.

This adds a layer of privacy when browsing websites that read GPS data, and helps bypass geo-restrictions on apps that use GPS to identify your location, like ESPN+.

An Ideal VPN for Increased Internet Security & Privacy

Surshark is exceptionally secure, offering many of the essential security features we expect from top-rated VPN providers.

All of the VPN’s applications include ChaCha20 encryption, WireGuard as the default protocol, built-in IP and DNS leak protection, and a VPN kill switch.

The kill switch isn’t enabled by default, which is surprising and needs to be fixed. You can easily turn it on from the settings menu, though. On macOS, we also experienced some IP address leaks when changing servers.

The VPN logs almost nothing about its users. Similarly to ExpressVPN, Surfshark’s servers are RAM-only, meaning no data can be extracted from them in the event of a breach or server seizure.

Additionally, Surfshark has introduced a ‘Rotating IP’ feature. When enabled, the VPN changes your IP address every five to 10 minutes without changing the server location you’re connected to.

Surfshark

Surfshark’s rotating IP feature on macOS.

The Rotating IP function, which worked smoothly for us, further increases your anonymity and security online without ever revealing your true location.

An Excellent VPN Available for a Very Low Price

Another great benefit of Surfshark is its price: it’s extremely affordable. More than that, it’s the one of the best cheap VPNs we recommend, and it offers unlimited simultaneous connections, too.

At its cheapest, Surfshark VPN costs just $2.30 per month on a 26-month subscription plan. Even when paying the $59.76 upfront (which you have to do), this is still very affordable.

We found Surfshark’s apps very intuitive to use, too — choosing from its 100 server locations, changing VPN protocols, and customizing security settings are all made extremely simple.

VPNs this cheap normally perform poorly in our testing. That’s not the case here: Surfshark is one of the best VPNs we’ve tested.

Slow Server Connections and Moderate Speeds

The issues we’ve faced testing Surfshark revolve around its disappointing server connection times and speeds.

We often find ourselves waiting several seconds while connecting to popular servers. Once we’re connected, the speeds are not as fast as those from ExpressVPN or NordVPN.

On short-distance connections, Surfshark VPN reduced our internet speed by 5%. This isn’t bad by any means, but it’s worse than ExpressVPN’s 3%.

We’d like Surfshark to improve its long-distance speeds, fix its kill switch, and provide an app for routers, among other things. Otherwise, it’s a good personal VPN that deserves its rating of 9.2/10.

You can find a summary of our experience testing Surfshark in the short video review below:

Who is Surfshark best for?

You should use Surfshark if:

  • You want a secure, cheap VPN. Surfshark’s two-year subscription plan costs just $2.30 per month, which represents excellent value for a safe VPN with lots of extra features.
  • You need unlimited simultaneous connections. Unlike many top VPN services, you can use a single Surfshark subscription with an unlimited number of devices at once.

You should not use Surfshark if:

  • You need a VPN to beat strict web censorship. Surfshark’s ‘NoBorders’ obfuscation mode doesn’t consistently work in China.
  • You’re a regular torrenting user. Surfshark allows P2P traffic, but it doesn’t include port forwarding or IPv6 protection. Also, its kill switch isn’t enabled by default.

5 . PrivateVPN: Best VPN for Public WiFi

A user-friendly VPN ideal for securing free public WiFi connections.

Image of PrivateVPN's app on mobile

Rated 4.9 out of 5
1,735 reviews
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Pros

  • Easy-to-use apps suitable for beginners
  • Strong encryption and no-logs policy
  • Fast short-distance connections
  • Costs only $2.00 /month on a 3-year plan
  • Unblocks 14 Netflix regions
  • Bypasses internet filters in China

Cons

  • Small network of 200 servers
  • Slower speeds on long-distance connections
  • No WireGuard protocol or Smart DNS
  • 24/7 live support not always available
  • Logging policy lacks important details
  • Lacks RAM-only servers, multi-hop & other advanced features

Overall Rating : 9.1/10

This overall rating is calculated using the following nine category ratings. To learn more, read our VPN testing methodology.

PrivateVPN is a cheap, no-logs VPN with easy-to-use applications well-suited to securing free public WiFi connections.

Despite having a smaller server network than higher-ranked VPNs, PrivateVPN is also highly reliable at unblocking many streaming websites and apps, including 14 Netflix regions.

PrivateVPN

PrivateVPN’s iOS app (left) and Android app (right).

It’s a great choice if you can’t afford one of the very best VPN services — its basic but functional apps will satisfy you if you’re a beginner or casual user.

However, if you want a fully-featured VPN with lots of server locations, advanced features, and the fastest speeds, it’s not the best VPN to choose.

Advanced WiFi Protection on Insecure Networks

PrivateVPN’s applications are not only beginner-friendly, they’re also very secure.

Through a very simple interface, the VPN software encrypts internet connections using the AES-256 cipher and a 2048-bit RSA handshake.

The no-logs VPN includes a working VPN kill switch to protect from unexpected IP address leaks (which we’ve never detected in our tests). It also includes a dedicated IP address feature that comes included with every subscription — a rare find amongst most VPNs.

By combining simplicity with security, PrivateVPN is optimal for securing free public WiFi in airports, hotels, and coffee shops, where the risk of MitM (man-in-the-middle) attacks is heightened.

However, though its basic offering is strong, it doesn’t have enough advanced features to match other top VPNs. For example, there’s no option to use multi-hop, split tunneling, Smart DNS, or diskless servers.

PrivateVPN is also the only service in our list of the top 10 VPNs that doesn’t use WireGuard or a proprietary VPN protocol, which are typically much faster than alternatives.

Easily Beats Streaming Geo-Restrictions

PrivateVPN is very good at unblocking websites and applications.

The VPN can in fact unblock 14 Netflix regions as well as BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Hulu, and many more platforms.

PrivateVPN working with US Netflix.

PrivateVPN always works with US Netflix in our testing.

However, there is no Smart DNS feature. You’ll have to set up PrivateVPN on your router to use it with devices like Apple TV and games consoles, which don’t let you install VPN apps directly on them.

Small Server Network & Slower International Speeds

PrivateVPN’s main drawback is its small network of servers. It only offers 200 servers compared to ExpressVPN’s 3,000.

This limited server network often causes congestion issues on the network, which is why PrivateVPN’s long-distance connections are often slower than its competitors — we experienced speed losses of 39%% and 24%% connecting to South Africa and Australia respectively.

As a result, you can’t always expect 4K quality when streaming American Netflix or HBO Max from outside the US.

Who is PrivateVPN best for?

You should use PrivateVPN if:

  • You need an affordable VPN for public WiFi. PrivateVPN uses industry-standard AES-256 encryption, has a zero-logs privacy policy, and costs just $2.00 per month on a three-year plan.
  • You’re new to VPN services. In addition to its low monthly price, PrivateVPN’s apps are very simple to use and ideal for beginners.

You should not use PrivateVPN if:

  • You want a large server network or advanced features. With just 200 servers in total, PrivateVPN’s network is significantly smaller than its competitors, and its apps have fewer features.
  • You need to connect to far-away servers. Our VPN speed tests have recorded slow speeds when connecting to PrivateVPN servers in distant locations.

6 . IPVanish: Best VPN for Firestick & Kodi

A private, no-logs VPN well-suited to Fire TV Stick and Kodi users.

IPVanish VPN

Rated 4.8 out of 5
175 reviews
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Pros

  • Excellent app for Fire TV devices & Kodi
  • Fast short-distance download speeds
  • No-logs policy & first-party DNS servers
  • .apk file for side loading on Android boxes
  • Unlimited simultaneous connections
  • SOCKS5 proxy for torrent clients

Cons

  • Doesn’t unblock many streaming services
  • Kill switch not enabled by default & leaks on macOS
  • No kill switch in the iOS app
  • No Smart DNS or VPN browser extensions
  • Can’t bypass strict web censorship

Overall Rating: 9.1/10

This overall rating is calculated using the following nine category ratings. To learn more, read our VPN testing methodology.

IPVanish has the best VPN app for Amazon Fire TV Stick. It’s fast, has tons of customizable settings, and it doesn’t keep any activity logs.

By virtue of its robust security and no-logs privacy policy, IPVanish is also particularly suitable for anonymous streaming using Kodi and IPTV apps.

Besides Firestick, IPVanish still performs well with an overall rating of 9.1/10. It owns its entire all-physical server network, offers unlimited simultaneous connections, and torrents quickly.

However, its device compatibility falls short of competitors and it can only access 3 Netflix libraries, which means it isn’t the best VPN for streaming.

A Private Application for Fire TV Devices

IPVanish remains the highest-rated VPN for the very popular Amazon Fire TV Stick and other Fire TV devices.

The app is very simple to use, and it records fast speeds connecting to nearby VPN servers. In recent tests, we only registered a 5% loss in our download speeds.

The IPVanish homescreen on Amazon Fire TV Stick

The IPVanish homescreen on Amazon Fire TV Stick.

While IPVanish can’t unblock most Netflix regions (it only unblocked 3 in our testing) or other popular video platforms, we found the VPN works well with Kodi and IPTV streaming apps.

There’s even an Android .apk file to use the VPN on Android devices with no access to Google Play Store (e.g. Android boxes).

Encrypted Zero-Logs Servers & 40,000 IP Addresses

While IPVanish isn’t a top choice for unblocking streaming apps, it is one of the most private VPN services we’ve tested.

All 2,200 physical servers, entirely owned by IPVanish, are completely no-logs. They don’t monitor or store any of your internet activity.

Favoriting servers in IPVanish

Favoriting server locations in the IPVanish Windows client.

You’ll be happy to know that we’ve never suffered an IP or DNS address leak while using the service’s various VPN clients, either. We would like to see IPVanish enable its kill switch by default, though.

Moreover, you can quickly change your IP location by accessing one of the 40,000 anonymous IP addresses IPVanish offers.

Offering such a high quantity of IP addresses to its customers is commendable, and rare among VPN services.

Not the Best at Bypassing Geo-Restrictions

While IPVanish is great for anonymous Kodi and IPTV streaming, historically it’s been unreliable at beating video geo-restrictions.

In the past, the VPN simply couldn’t bypass geo-blocks imposed by Netflix, BBC iPlayer, HBO Max, and several other content platforms.

However, over the last several months of testing, the VPN has performed much better in terms of unblocking geo-restricted platforms.

Frustratingly, IPVanish still doesn’t offer Smart DNS functionality or a router app, which makes streaming geo-blocked content on Roku, Apple TV, and games consoles much more complicated. This lack of device compatibility is something we’d like to see improved.

Despite recent streaming improvements, IPVanish still struggles with strict internet filters in China, too. For bypassing the Great Firewall of China, we recommend using Hide.me instead.

Fast P2P Download Speeds & Improved Design

If you need to use a VPN for torrenting, IPVanish is a good alternative to PIA. It’s highly-secure, keeps no logs, and unlimited P2P traffic is permitted on all of its servers. The VPN offers its own SOCKS5 proxy, too.

We measured an average torrenting bitrate of 9.9MiB/s in our testing, which makes IPVanish the joint third fastest torrenting VPN we’ve ever tested.

We’re also pleased to see that IPVanish has recently redesigned all of its VPN apps, which is a huge improvement. IPVanish’s app design was outdated and overly-technical for a long time, and its new apps feel much more modern.

We cover this, plus the other major features of IPVanish, in our short video review:

Who is IPVanish best for?

You should use IPVanish if:

  • You need a VPN for Fire TV Stick or Kodi. IPVanish is highly-compatible with Android-based Kodi devices, and it has an excellent native app for Fire TV Stick.
  • You want to use a SOCKS5 proxy. Though its core VPN servers are fast, IPVanish also includes access to a SOCKS5 proxy server for torrent clients.

You should not use IPVanish if:

  • You want to use a VPN in your browser, Smart TV, or games console. IPVanish lacks Smart DNS or VPN extensions for Chrome and Firefox.
  • You need to unblock streaming services or bypass aggressive web censorship. IPVanish fails to circumvent most VPN blocks on streaming services or in countries like China.

7 . CyberGhost: Best VPN Free Trial

Offers the best VPN free trial with no payment details required.

CyberGhost app

Rated 4.7 out of 5
343 reviews
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Pros

  • 24-hour, three-day & seven-day free trials
  • Trials don’t require payment or credit card details
  • Long 45-day refund guarantee & 24/7 live support
  • 9,769 servers across 90 countries
  • Smart DNS tool for increased device compatibility
  • Easy-to-use apps for PC, Mac, mobile & Firestick

Cons

  • Not as fast as its rivals over long distances
  • Browser extensions only cover four countries
  • Mobile and macOS apps lack important settings
  • No port forwarding
  • No OpenVPN option on Mac and iOS
  • Unable to bypass strict website blocks

Overall Rating: 9.1/10

This overall rating is calculated using the following nine category ratings. To learn more, read our VPN testing methodology.

We recommend CyberGhost to those wishing to trial a top-performing premium VPN without submitting payment or credit card details. In fact, CyberGhost offers the absolute best VPN free trial available right now.

Aside from its free trial, CyberGhost is a good all-round VPN that does the basics very well. It unblocks US Netflix and 12 other regions, offers Smart DNS, and its apps are incredibly easy to use and understand.

CyberGhost

CyberGhost’s apps for Windows (top) and macOS (bottom) are virtually identical.

For the cheap price of $2.19 per month, it gives you access to a huge network of 9,769 servers with strong privacy and security credentials.

There are areas for improvement, though. We’ve found CyberGhost’s speeds, torrenting, and streaming performance is inconsistent, and the VPN struggles to beat sophisticated website blocks.

Genuine Free Trials with No Payment Details Needed

CyberGhost is the only top VPN to offer VPN free trials that don’t require upfront submission of payment details.

There are two free trials available: a 24-hour free trial on desktops and laptops, a seven-day free trial on iPhone/iPad, and a three-day trial on Android devices.

You can even combine these free trial periods with the VPN’s 45-day refund guarantee to use CyberGhost for free for over 50 days.

Dedicated IPs & 9,769 Servers Worldwide

CyberGhost is an excellent choice for getting an IP address from other countries due to its wide network of 9,769 servers in 90 countries. In our experience, connecting to a nearby server is quick and there’s rarely any traffic congestion.

Additionally, CyberGhost’s Dedicated IP is ideal for users that need to connect to specific web services using the same private dedicated IP address.

Dedicated IPs cost extra, though, and are only available in Canada, France, Germany, the UK, and the US. This makes CyberGhost one of the best VPNs for France and Germany.

CyberGhost

CyberGhost’s servers are neatly presented and can be filtered or searched for.

Slower International Speeds & Limited Torrenting

One of CyberGhost’s main drawbacks is its speed inconsistencies when connected to far-away servers.

Over thousands of speed tests, the VPN’s speeds have noticeably fluctuated, particularly while torrenting and over long distances.

Compared to ExpressVPN and NordVPN, CyberGhost is typically slower and less reliable on international connections. Overall, it’s ranked 31st for speed out of 65 VPNs we’ve tested.

When it comes to torrenting, its average download bitrate of 3.9MiB/s is simply too slow, and there’s no port forwarding. P2P isn’t permitted on servers in 15 countries, too.

Safe & Reliable for Streaming, but Not as Advanced as Competitors

Cyberghost successfully hides your IP address and encrypts your traffic using trusted connection protocols, ChaCha20, and a range of leak protection tools. Its features aren’t quite as advanced as rivals like NordVPN, but its basic offering is satisfactory.

The VPN does log some aggregated connection data, but it doesn’t collect anything that could identify you. This is proven by a third-party audit and its quarterly transparency reports.

It also offers dedicated streaming servers for platforms including Disney+, Prime Video, HBO Max, and Hulu. It worked to unblock every streaming site we tested it with, but access to these services has been inconsistent in the past.

Despite these limitations, CyberGhost offers great value for money and a generous free trial offer. We found its apps a pleasure to use on all platforms — everything is simple to use, clearly-labeled, and easy to understand.

You can see some of CyberGhost’s biggest strengths and weaknesses in our one-minute video review below:

Who is CyberGhost best for?

You should use CyberGhost if:

  • You want a free trial without submitting payment details. CyberGhost offers a 24-hour, three-day and seven-day free trial across different devices.
  • You want a diverse choice of server locations. Cyberghost’s server network includes 9,769 servers in 90 countries.

You should not use CyberGhost if:

  • Fast speeds are a priority. CyberGhost’s speeds have been inconsistent lately, especially over long-distance connections.
  • You’re primarily a macOS or Chromebook user. CyberGhost is incompatible with Chromebooks, and missing key features on macOS, including the OpenVPN protocol.

8 . Hide.me: Best VPN for IPv6 Connections

An exceptionally fast VPN with full IPv6 tunneling capabilities.

Hide.me mobile screenshots

Rated 5 out of 5
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Pros

  • Very fast upload & download speeds
  • Full IPv6 connection support
  • Safe logging policy & good security settings
  • Works with US Netflix, Max, Hulu & Disney+
  • Fast, anonymous torrenting with port forwarding
  • Works well in censored countries like China

Cons

  • Ugly and outdated apps
  • Logs your aggregate bandwidth usage
  • Can’t unblock as many Netflix libraries as some rivals
  • Kill switch isn’t automatically active
  • No Smart DNS service

Overall Rating: 9.0/10

This overall rating is calculated using the following nine category ratings. To learn more, read our VPN testing methodology.

Hide.me VPN has made huge strides in 2023 to become one of the very best VPNs in the world — as long as you can get over its ugly and outdated-looking apps.

What stands out with Hide.me is the software’s ability to run smoothly on both IPv4 and IPv6 connections. This is a rare feature, with most other VPNs either blocking IPv6 connections, or leaking your IPv6 location.

Hide.me is also exceptionally fast. It unblocks almost every international streaming service we tested it with, and it even bypasses internet restrictions inside China.

Hide.me Desktop Apps

Hide.me’s desktop apps: macOS on the left and Windows on the right.

Incredibly Fast & Reliable Global Speeds

Hide.me isn’t the fastest VPN we’ve tested, but it’s tied with IPVanish as the fastest VPN in our top 10 VPN recommendations.

Wherever you are in the world, Hide.me delivers VPN connections fast enough for you to not even notice you’re using a VPN.

We were especially impressed with the VPN’s upload speeds, which resulted in lag-free video calling and improved P2P file sharing in our tests.

Its download speeds on close connections are also fantastic, losing just 4% connecting to the closest VPN server.

As a result, Hide.me is a good choice if you want VPN protection without having to frequently configure it. You can simply connect once and leave your VPN running 24/7 without any noticeable downsides.

Unblocks VOD Platforms from Around the World

Those exceptional VPN connection speeds help make Hide.me a very good choice for streaming.

Not only did we not encounter any buffering (even when watching in 4K quality), but Hide.me easily bypassed streaming blocks on popular services like Max, Hulu, Disney+, and BBC iPlayer.

Hide.me Streaming Servers List

Hide.me has streaming servers for 16 countries.

In our tests, Hide.me also unblocked 6 different Netflix libraries, including the American catalog.

The VPN service doesn’t offer Smart DNS, though, so you won’t be able to use it to unblock these services on Apple TV and games consoles. Choose ExpressVPN or NordVPN if you require wider device compatibility.

Safe & Secure Torrenting

The benefits of Hide.me’s fast speeds don’t stop there – the VPN provider also impressed in our torrenting tests.

Hide.me is one of only a handful of reputable VPNs to offer port forwarding. This can increase P2P file transfer speeds and prevent downloads from stalling.

Its excellent logging policy, first-party DNS servers, and Malaysian jurisdiction go a long way to building our trust in Hide.me as a torrenting VPN, too.

The service doesn’t retain any identifiable user activity data, and our testing revealed no DNS or IP address leaks. You’ll also find options for split tunneling and multi-hop servers in its premium version.

The free version is also secure, but it’s limited by speed restrictions and data caps.

We also verified that the VPN’s AES-256 encryption works as intended, as the screenshot below shows:

Hide.me Wireshark Encryption Test

The Wireshark tool confirms Hide.me’s traffic is properly encrypted.

Its encryption and obfuscation technology is powerful enough that the VPN has even worked in China 84% of the time in the past year.

A Much-Improved VPN that’s Worth the Subscription Price

In terms of basic functionality, Hide.me gives you everything you need from a good VPN: robust security, a private logging policy, and good server coverage. It’s affordable, too: just $3.45 per month on its best deal.

Its biggest strengths are its fast speeds, reliable streaming capabilities, and its trustworthy free version.

Having tested Hide.me for years, we particularly appreciate how much it has improved in recent years. The VPN used to suffer from regular crashes and random disconnections, but its apps now offer a reliable and user-friendly experience. It’s still not the best-looking VPN out there, though.

Despite these improvements, Hide.me isn’t quite remarkable enough to contend with the very best VPNs in this list. We’d like to see the VPN invest in RAM-only servers and Smart DNS, and its free version could benefit from fewer restrictions.

You can see Hide.me in action as we recap some of the points made here in our one-minute video review below:

Who is Hide.me best for?

You should use Hide.me if:

  • You need a fast internet connection. Hide.me is consistently fast all around the world. Testing in New York, it averaged 96Mbps download speeds on a 100Mbps connection.
  • You want to use a VPN in a censored country. Hide.me is one of very few VPNs that works in China – it’s not perfect, but it still works 84% of the time.

You should not use Hide.me if:

  • You care about design. Put bluntly, Hide.me is the least attractive VPN on our best VPN list. It’s still easy to use, and it works well, but it’s not a sleek or modern-looking VPN at all.
  • You stream using VPN-incompatible devices. VPNs can’t be installed directly on games consoles or Smart TVs so, with no Smart DNS feature, Hide.me won’t help you unblock streaming apps on them.

9 . Proton VPN: Best Free VPN

The best free VPN with an unlimited data usage allowance.

Screenshot of Proton VPN's mobile app

Rated 5 out of 5
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Pros

  • Free plan has no data usage limits
  • Fast speeds on free & paid-for servers
  • AES 256-bit cipher & privacy-first logging policy
  • Secure Core technology provides stronger encryption
  • IPv6 leak blocking capabilities
  • All apps are open-source & independently audited

Cons

  • No 24/7 live chat support
  • No Smart DNS for unblocking apps
  • Paid plan is almost as expensive as ExpressVPN
  • Free version doesn’t unblock streaming services
  • Torrenting traffic blocked on free servers

Overall Rating : 9.0/10

This overall rating is calculated using the following nine category ratings. To learn more, read our VPN testing methodology.

Proton VPN is a well-rounded VPN service with both a free and paid version. The free software version is the best free VPN we’ve reviewed, while the paid version is particularly good for security.

Both versions of Proton VPN are independently-audited, pleasant to use, and are proven to keep no logs.

While the premium version is expensive, the free version offers outstanding value: it’s 100% safe to use, extremely fast, and you can use it without any data restrictions — although it doesn’t work with Netflix or torrenting.

The Highest-Rated Free VPN Available

The free version of Proton VPN is the best free VPN we’ve tested and reviewed. Because it doesn’t impose any limits on data usage, you can leave it running all the time.

There are no adverts inside the app, and in our latest tests we recorded impressive speeds connecting to all three free server locations — just 8% speed loss on average.

Proton VPN Free

Proton VPN Free only offers three server locations.

The free app uses the exact same security standards as its premium counterpart: WireGuard with ChaCha20 encryption. Moreover, we’ve never detected an IP or DNS leak using Proton VPN Free. However, you will be limited to just 3 server locations, compared to 68 using the premium plan.

Don’t expect to torrent or unblock streaming websites using this free VPN, though. The app simply won’t work, as confirmed by our tests.

For streaming and torrenting specifically, Windscribe Free is a much better free VPN.

If you choose to opt for Proton VPN Plus, you’ll benefit from both P2P-optimized servers and port forwarding, which make it an excellent choice for torrenting — although not quite as good as PIA.

Robust Encryption & Security Settings

Proton VPN is synonymous with highly-secure and encrypted VPN connections. In fact, it’s one of the strongest VPNs available in terms of security.

The software uses the OpenVPN and WireGuard protocols, the AES-256 or ChaCha20 ciphers, and Forward Secrecy (FS).

Proton VPN creates a unique set of encryption keys in frequent intervals, limiting the amount of data in each key.

Like all the other VPNs we recommend in this guide, Proton VPN has a working kill switch to protect against unexpected VPN connection failures.

The VPN’s premium plan also includes Secure Core technology. Used on 40 of its servers, it adds a further layer of security by bouncing traffic via multiple servers before relaying it onto the destination app or website.

Proton VPN

Proton VPN’s Secure Core connection setting in the Windows app.

None of these security credentials impact Proton VPN’s usability, either. We found that the VPN’s apps look great on every platform, and even its most advanced features feel easy to use.

Lacks several important features, including the fastest speeds

While Proton VPN is a very good VPN, it sadly doesn’t represent as good value for your money as other highly-rated paid VPN services.

The best price you can get is $4.99 per month with a two-year subscription, which is more expensive than higher ranked VPN services.

While Proton VPN’s best price per month may not seem that expensive, the VPN service lacks features we expect to see in a VPN of this caliber.

It lacks a Smart DNS service, 24/7 live chat support, and it can’t unblock as many streaming platforms or Netflix regions as its competitors.

Though it’s still fast, Proton VPN has also fallen behind its big rivals in our latest speed tests. Even using WireGuard, its local download speeds are consistently slower than Hotspot Shield, IPVanish, NordVPN, and several others.

We cover some of Proton VPN’s key strengths and weaknesses in our one-minute video review below:

Who is Proton VPN best for?

You should use Proton VPN if:

  • You need industry-leading VPN security. Proton VPN’s apps are open-source, independently-audited, and use AES-256 bit encryption with Secure Core technology for increased security.
  • You regularly use Tor with a VPN. Proton VPN offers ‘Tor via VPN’ servers for quick and easy connections to the Tor network.

You should not use Proton VPN if:

  • You want to stream on Apple TV and games consoles. Proton VPN doesn’t come with Smart DNS, making it difficult to unblock content on Apple TV and games consoles.
  • You want to use VPN browser extensions. Proton VPN doesn’t offer any browser extensions for quick in-browser IP location changes.

10 . Windscribe: Unblocks the Most Netflix Regions

A very dependable VPN that unblocks over 32 Netflix libraries.

Windscribe mobile screenshots

Rated 5 out of 5
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Pros

  • Windscribe Pro works with 32 Netflix regions
  • Free version unblocks many streaming services
  • Doesn’t collect personal internet traffic logs
  • Open-source VPN apps
  • Bypasses content filters in China
  • Unlimited simultaneous connections

Cons

  • Slow international speeds & server connection times
  • No independent no-logs audit
  • No human live chat support
  • Smart DNS requires an additional subscription
  • Fewer server locations than competitors
  • Windscribe Pro is relatively expensive

Overall Rating : 9.0/10

This overall rating is calculated using the following nine category ratings. To learn more, read our VPN testing methodology.

Like Proton VPN, Windscribe VPN comes in two versions: free and paid.

The stand-out attribute of Windscribe Pro, the premium version, is that it unblocks 32 international Netflix regions. No other VPN can match this, not even ExpressVPN.

Also, the free version of Windscribe is one of the best free VPNs for streaming. Uniquely, it works with 6 different Netflix regions, as well as other popular platforms like Disney+ and Max (HBO).

Even discounting its excellent streaming performance, Windscribe is still a reliable and versatile VPN that deserves its 9.0/10 rating. Its apps are open-source, security is robust, and it has a great reputation in the VPN community.

Windscribe

Windscribe’s VPN apps for Android (left) and iOS (right).

Optimized for Worldwide Streaming

What sets Windscribe apart is how easily the VPN beats streaming blocks.

The paid version can access 32 Netflix regions including the US, UK, Brazil, Italy, and Germany.

Windscribe Pro also works with popular video platforms like HBO Max, Hulu, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, and BBC iPlayer.

When it comes to more sophisticated website blocks, Windscribe Pro even has a 85% success rate for beating censorship in our China, Russia, and Iran tests.

Accessing geo-blocked HBO Max content using Windscribe

Windscribe bypassed Max’s geo-blocks in our testing.

The free VPN no longer works with the US Netflix library, but it can unblock 6 other Netflix regions, HBO Max, Hulu, and more — a huge achievement for a free VPN service.

Windscribe is a great VPN choice for streaming BBC iPlayer outside the UK, and its free US servers also work to bypass American sports blackouts.

Using Windscribe Free to bypass MLB geo-restrictions

Windscribe’s free servers always work with MLB.tv.

However, Windscribe Free is limited by a 10GB monthly data allowance, which equates to roughly four hours of HD streaming.

Clearly, Windscribe is a great streaming VPN. It’s therefore a shame that its streaming speeds are much slower than ExpressVPN and NordVPN — especially when connecting to faraway servers.

Despite speed losses of just 4% on short-distance connections, we measured losses of up to 20% and 16% when connecting to South Africa and Australia.

These slower speeds affect the quality of the picture when streaming overseas video content. We experienced a blurry broadcast several times while streaming a movie in our recent tests, and slow torrenting speeds too.

Plus, the lack of an integrated Smart DNS solution makes it more challenging to use the VPN on devices such as Apple TV, Xbox, and PlayStation.

Residential IPs Available in the US & Canada

Windscribe is one of the few VPN services to provide residential IP addresses located in the United States (Chicago, Dallas) and Canada (Toronto). These IP addresses appear as a regular ISP connection, which means they’re far less likely to be identified and blocked by streaming services.

These static IP addresses never change, and are useful if you want to keep using the same IP address in the US or in Canada, or to bypass streaming geo-blocks. However, they do cost an extra $8.00 per month.

Moreover, while these IPs are allocated to a handful of users (not just you), they’re not as private as using the dynamic IP addresses shared among many more VPN customers.

Industry-standard security and transparent logging policy

Both the free and paid versions of Windscribe use industry-standard AES-256 encryption and trusted VPN protocols, like WireGuard. The VPN’s desktop apps are also open-source, allowing anyone to verify their security.

Thankfully, the VPN software now defaults to WireGuard, where it previously defaulted to the inferior IKEv2 protocol.

Windscribe VPN

Windscribe’s security settings menu on macOS.

Additional features include multi-hop servers, diskless servers, and a very effective kill switch function called Firewall. It’s not the most fully-featured security suite in our VPN recommendations, but it should satisfy most VPN users.

The VPN’s privacy policy is also trustworthy: though it does log some connection data for maintenance purposes, none of this data can be used to identify you or your activity. This has been verified many times by real-world events, though we’d like to see an independent audit in the future.

Slow International Speeds & Connection Times

In addition to its slower long-distance speeds, we found that connecting to certain Windscribe servers can take many seconds at best, but many minutes at worst. Sometimes we couldn’t even connect at all.

The VPN also falls behind the competition when it comes to customer support: it’s the only service in our list of the 10 best VPNs that does not include a live chat feature.

When we couldn’t connect to a server, we had to wait over 24 hours for a Windscribe support agent to troubleshoot our issue. With rivals that offer a live chat feature, like PIA, our issues are resolved in under 10 minutes on average.

Windscribe is an excellent VPN, and its free version is particularly outstanding. However, we think its Pro version falls slightly short of the competition overall. Its relatively expensive price, slow long-distance speeds, and small server network make it a very good – but not great – VPN.

If you want to see Windscribe in action, we’ve condensed our review into a one-minute video below:

Who is Windscribe best for?

You should use Windscribe if:

  • You want access to as many Netflix regions as possible. Windscribe unblocks 32 international Netflix libraries, and a range of other streaming services.
  • You want an American or Canadian residential IP address. Windscribe offers residential IPs in the US and Canada.

You should not use Windscribe if:

  • You need fast international speeds. We recorded slow long-distance speeds and poor connection times in our Windscribe speed tests.
  • You want to unblock streaming apps on Apple TV and games consoles. With no Smart DNS tool, Windscribe isn’t very compatible with devices that don’t support native VPN apps.

The Best VPNs: Test Performance Comparison

In the VPN recommendations above, we’ve ranked the best VPN services in the world based on years of stringent testing and research.

We’ve assigned each top VPN an overall rating based on its performance in nine important subcategories. This gives you an idea of how well the VPN performs overall, and how good or bad it is in specific areas.

Use the table below to see how the 10 top-rated VPN services performed in our most important testing categories:

You can also see a quick summary of our findings in the chart below:

Comparison of the 5 Best VPN Services

How the five top-rated VPN services performed in our nine testing categories.

If you need to purchase a VPN, the right service for you will almost certainly be in this list. However, the very best option may depend on your unique needs and preferences.

The table below briefly summarizes the best and worst parts of the top 10 VPNs. You can compare their ranking out of all 55 VPN services, and see quick recap of what each VPN is best for:

VPN Speed Test Results: Which VPN Is Fastest?

We manually test the speeds of every VPN we review using our proprietary speed testing tool. Each test is conducted in a controlled testing environment using WireGuard or the VPN’s fastest equivalent protocol.

We perform these tests three times a week and then calculate the VPN’s average speed, which reduces the impact of any anomalous results.

The table below shows the latest speed test results for the top 10 VPN services. You can compare each VPN’s average download speeds, average speed loss, and average ping times:

Here’s a brief explanation of each speed testing metric:

  • “Local Download Speed” refers to the VPN’s average speeds when connected to a nearby server in New York.
  • “International Download Speed” refers to the VPN’s average speeds when connected to servers in five different continents around the world.
  • “Average Speed Loss” refers to the amount a VPN slowed down our internet connection compared to not using a VPN at all, reflected as a percentage.
  • “Ping Time” refers to the amount of time it takes a data packet to travel back and forth between our testing device and the VPN server.

Remember, these results may vary: your actual VPN speeds will depend on the quality and type of internet connection you’re using on your device.

VPN Cost Analysis: Does Price Affect Performance?

It’s not always easy to see how a VPN’s price actually corresponds to its quality.

In the chart below, you can see the cheapest monthly price of each top-rated VPN compared against its overall rating. The VPNs towards the top-left of the chart provide the worst value, whilst VPNs towards the bottom-right offer the best value.

You can use it to see which VPN offers the best value for money:

VPN Price vs Performance Comparison Chart

Our analysis reveals a strong correlation between price and performance, particularly among the top five VPNs.

If you want to pay the lowest possible price, opt for a longer subscription. Most VPN providers offer significantly reduced rates if you commit to one or two years upfront.

Most top VPNs also offer money back guarantees, which means you can get a refund if you change your mind within a specified period (typically 30 days). This won’t make your VPN any cheaper, but it should give you some peace of mind if you’re not sure which VPN to choose.

VPN Buying Guide: How to Choose the Best VPN

You must do your own research before deciding which VPN provider is right for you.

Spend time reading up-to-date reviews, test results, and advice from trustworthy and independent VPN experts before subscribing to a VPN service.

In the table below, we outline the most important features you should look out for when choosing a VPN:

Features to Consider When Choosing a VPN

Here’s a more detailed list of the features and factors to look for when choosing a VPN:

Security

If you want a VPN to protect your internet traffic at home, on public WiFi, and on cellular networks, look for the following features:

  • Secure connection protocols like OpenVPN and WireGuard, and AES-256 encryption.
  • A VPN kill switch to protect your real IP address in the event the VPN connection drops.
  • Specialized servers that allow multi-hop, obfuscation, and even Tor over VPN.
  • Leak protection for your IP address, DNS requests, WebRTC, and IPv6 traffic (since most VPNs don’t work on IPv6 connections).

Privacy

To anonymize your browsing activity with a VPN, look for these key attributes:

  • A no-logs privacy policy to prevent your internet activity being linked back to you.
  • Company headquarters in a country with no data retention laws (i.e. a privacy-friendly jurisdiction).
  • ‘RAM-only’ servers that never write data to hard disks.
  • Independent audits of the VPN’s logging and security practices, or a real-world case that verifies the VPN’s claims.

Streaming Capabilities

If you want to use a VPN to access geo-restricted streaming services, here are the features to look out for:

  • Works to unblock US Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Disney+, HBO Max, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video.
  • Fast international speeds, especially into popular server locations like the US and UK.
  • Smart DNS, Fire TV, and Android TV apps, to unblock content on different streaming devices.
  • 24/7 live chat customer support to find working streaming servers more quickly.
  • A large network of VPN servers in a diverse range of global locations.

Speed

If you want a VPN with the fastest outright speed, here are the more important factors to consider:

  • Uses WireGuard or a proprietary VPN protocol that’s optimized for speed.
  • Offers VPN servers with high bandwidth, such as 20Gbps, for reliable speed performance.
  • Operates a large server network with minimal congestion, so you can always connect to a nearby server for the quickest speeds.

Device Compatibility

If you own several computers and devices, consider the following compatibility criteria:

  • Native apps for Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android devices.
  • Native app for Fire TV devices, and the option to set the VPN up on routers.
  • Smart DNS technology to use the VPN service’s DNS credentials on Smart TV, Apple TV, PlayStation, and Xbox.
  • Chrome and Firefox VPN extensions for controlling the VPN at browser-level, and to use on Chromebooks.
  • Router compatibility for VPN use with Chromecast, Roku, and any other devices on your WiFi network.
  • Android APK file to sideload (install) the VPN on Android devices that don’t support native VPN applications.

Advanced Features

If you’re an advanced VPN user, here are some other important features to get the most from your VPN:

  • A high simultaneous connection limit, so you can use the VPN with every device you own on a single subscription.
  • Split tunneling, so you can configure certain devices or applications to travel outside the encrypted VPN tunnel.
  • An ad blocker to prevent adverts and trackers when you’re online.
  • Multi-hop servers, dedicated or residential IP addresses, port forwarding, GPS spoofing, Tor over VPN, or other additional features.

How Much Does a VPN Cost?

The cost of a VPN varies according to its quality and the subscription length, but you can expect to spend between $2.00 to $13.00 per month for a paid-for VPN service.

Cheap: To get a good VPN for roughly $2.00 a month, you’ll have to pay for at least two years upfront. The main drawback is that if the product gets worse over time, you won’t be able to get your money back. While we do recommend some budget VPNs, many cheap VPNs come with fewer features and under perform in several testing areas.

Mid-Range: The majority of VPNs cost around $6.00 a month. For this price, you can either get a top VPN on a long-term plan, or a mediocre VPN on a short-term plan. If this is your budget, you’ll have to decide whether you can afford the expensive initial cost of a better VPN.

Expensive: Generally, the very best VPNs cost $12.00 or more per month. Paying for a VPN monthly lets you switch VPNs easily, with a smaller financial loss if your VPN is no longer satisfactory. The downside is the much higher cost over time. However, you can reduce the monthly price by paying upfront for a yearly subscription.

Other VPNs We’ve Tested

As part of the 55 VPN services we’ve reviewed, we evaluated many in-demand VPN services that didn’t make our list of top-rated VPNs for various reasons.

Many of these VPN services have their own strengths, but they struggle to compete with the best VPN software when it comes to additional features, server coverage, or streaming capabilities.

Below are some of the most popular VPNs that fell short of appearing on our top VPN recommendations list:

VPNs You Should Avoid Using

During the course of our testing, we also discovered several VPN services that we firmly recommend you avoid using.

These VPNs don’t just fall short of our strict approval criteria, they’re downright invasive, ineffective, and in some cases actively dangerous to use.

Below are some of the worst VPNs we’ve tested and why we recommend avoiding them:

What Is a VPN Service?

A VPN (virtual private network) is an online service that uses a mobile application, desktop application, or other software to encrypt your internet traffic and hide your public IP address.

By encrypting your data transfers, a VPN prevents your Internet Service Provider (ISP) from monitoring and recording the websites you visit and the apps you use.

By hiding your real IP address, a VPN also prevents the websites and apps you use from seeing your real geographic location.

You can use a VPN to temporarily change your IP address location to anywhere in the world, allowing you to access content that may otherwise be blocked or restricted in your country.

How a VPN Works

Personal VPN software creates a private tunnel within a public connection (e.g. the internet), allowing its users to send and receive data securely.

When you use a VPN, the software creates an encrypted virtual tunnel between your device and your chosen VPN server.

The VPN server acts as an intermediary, connecting to websites, applications, and web services on your behalf. These websites then send your requested information back to the VPN server, which forwards it on to your device.

how a virtual private network (VPN) works

VPN software connects your device to a remote server through an encrypted tunnel.

This has the effect of hiding your public IP address and replacing it with the IP address of the VPN server, making it appear as if you’re browsing the internet from a different country or geographic location.

Top VPN services have servers in dozens of locations, allowing you to choose which IP address location you’d like to receive. This is how VPNs work to change your region on Netflix and other streaming services.

VPNs also use different connection protocols and ciphers to encrypt your browsing activity as it travels between your device and the VPN server.

This encryption makes the location and content of your requests unintelligible to anyone looking at them, preventing ISPs, governments, WiFi administrators, hackers, and any other third-parties from spying on your online activity.

Though all VPN software works similarly, this exact process is specific to personal or “consumer” VPN services. Different types of VPN software exist.

What Is a VPN: Video Explainer

In the short video below, we explain in simple terms what a VPN service is, what it does, and how it works:

VPNs are not that complicated once you understand how they work.

What’s the Difference Between a Business VPN & a Personal VPN?

There are four main types of Virtual Private Network (VPN): personal VPNs, remote access VPNs, mobile VPNs, and site-to-site VPNs.

The VPNs we recommend are personal VPNs, commonly referred to as VPN services. This is software that you download and install on a personal device, like your home computer or laptop, mobile phone, Fire TV stick, or Smart TV.

Personal VPNs are used by individuals to create secure and private connections to the open internet. They create an encrypted connection to a third-party server, allowing you to bypass geographic restrictions, obscure your browsing activity, and hide your public IP address online.

In comparison, businesses and their employees typically use a remote access VPN or a site-to-site VPN.

Remote access VPNs allow individual employees to access a company’s private network when they’re traveling or working remotely. This enables the individual to access the same files and software they could typically access in the office.

Diagram explaining how remote access VPN services work

If an employee is unlikely to maintain a stable connection because they’re moving around, they’re likely to use a mobile VPN. These allow users to maintain access to a private network even if they lose connectivity, change location, or turn off their device.

Despite their name, mobile VPNs can be used with any device. They’re typically used by businesses, and are not the same as personal VPNs that offer apps for your mobile phone.

Site-to-site VPNs allow businesses to combine networks from different locations into a single network, usually called an intranet. This enables different companies in multiple locations to connect to a single private network.

While all of these types of VPN software use encryption, they achieve very different results. A business VPN will give you access to a private company network, while a personal VPN will give you access to the public internet, but over a private connection.

Why You Need a VPN Service

There are several advantages to using a personal VPN service, even when you’re at home.

VPN services are typically used to:

  • Protect sensitive data transfers on public WiFi networks.
  • Hide your web traffic from Internet Service Providers (ISPs).
  • Unblock websites and international streaming content.
  • Safeguard your identity and activity while torrenting.
  • Bypass web censorship and internet shutdowns.

We’ve explained each benefit in more detail below.

1. Encrypt Data Transfers on Public WiFi Networks

Cybercriminals take advantage of public WiFi networks without password protection to steal sensitive data like your bank details and passwords.

When you use a public WiFi connection that doesn’t require a password, you’re putting your sensitive data at risk.

VPN software can protect your web traffic from hackers and other third parties. It encrypts your browsing activity and makes it almost impossible for criminals to intercept your data transfers.

2. Hide Your Web Activity from Your ISP

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like AT&T and Verizon monitor every website you visit and every unencrypted message you send.

An ISP can see any HTTPS web domain and any HTTP web page you visit. Depending on where you live, it will almost certainly be required by law to store your browsing history for years.

In some instances, ISPs can even decide to throttle and slow down your internet speed based on the web services you use.

A VPN encrypts your web requests as they travel from your device to the VPN server. Your ISP will know you’re using a VPN, but it won’t know what websites, applications and web services you’re accessing.

Therefore, your ISP will find it much harder to track your activity and browsing history on the web.

By changing your IP address, VPN services also make it much harder for the websites you visit to identify you.

3. Unblock Geo-restricted Content & Streaming Services

Streaming platforms like Netflix, HBO Max, and BBC iPlayer use your public IP address to limit the number of movies and TV shows you can watch.

Every country has a different content library, and some content platforms are only available in a specific country.

You can use a VPN to switch your real IP address with an IP address from another country. This way you can ‘trick’ streaming services and unblock region-restricted content on Netflix, HBO, Hulu, and free movie streaming sites.

How to use Netflix with Private Internet Access

We easily unblocked US Netflix using Private Internet Access.

If you’re in the US, you can also use a VPN to bypass local sports blackouts, licensing restrictions, and subscription fees. By hiding your physical location, you can watch the game you want, when you want.

4. Hide Your IP Address While Torrenting

P2P file-sharing without a VPN or proxy can be dangerous. Your personal IP address is visible to everyone you’re sharing files with, and your ISP can track your download activity.

A VPN hides your IP address, your identity, and your file-sharing activity from both your ISP and other users. This protects you from the risks of torrenting with your real IP address.

CyberGhost qBittorrent test

We tested CyberGhost’s torrenting capabilities on qBittorrent.

5. Circumvent Government Censorship

Governments around the world choose to censor what you can view and do online.

Some governments even choose to shut down certain online services, like social media platforms, in times of political unrest.

The best anti-censorship VPN services use obfuscation technology, which is specifically designed to evade sophisticated internet censorship.

By scrambling your web traffic and changing your IP address, VPNs with obfuscation let you bypass aggressive web censorship and access the global internet safely.

Surfshark Unblocking YouTube in China

We accessed YouTube from China using Surfshark.

The Limitations of VPN Services

VPN services are great for improving your online security, privacy, and freedom. But even the best VPNs come with limitations.

Using a VPN doesn’t guarantee your online privacy, either. By routing your traffic through a remote server, you move the burden of trust from your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to your VPN service provider.

Below are some things that VPN software can’t do:

  • Provide complete virus and malware protection. Always use trusted antivirus software, even if your VPN has a malware-blocking tool.
  • Store all your passwords securely. Some VPNs now offer password managers, but we suggest using established ones like 1Password.
  • Increase your internet speed. The only exception is if your ISP is throttling your connection.
  • Block ads. Some VPNs come with an ad-blocker. If yours doesn’t, it’s worth getting one. We recommend uBlock Origin.
  • Make you completely anonymous. VPNs can improve your privacy, but they can’t make you completely anonymous. There are other ways to track your activity online including browser fingerprinting, tracking scripts, and traffic analysis.

Free vs Paid VPN Services: Is It Worth Paying for a VPN?

Most of the VPNs we recommend in this list are premium services, which means you’ll have to pay a subscription fee in order to use them properly.

You can also find free VPN services advertised online and in app stores, which can be a tempting alternative. Some are 100% free, while others are limited ‘freemium’ versions of premium services.

The Limitations of Free VPNs

Just like paid VPN services, free VPNs come in a wide spectrum of quality. However, they are almost always inferior products compared to their paid equivalents.

It costs money to support a server network and run a secure VPN service, which is why free VPNs are usually very limited or offer inadequate privacy and security.

Due to the extensive resources required, it simply isn’t possible to match the best VPN services completely for free.

‘Freemium’ VPNs

The safest free VPNs are limited versions of paid-for services like Windscribe, TunnelBear, and Proton VPN.

When you use the free version of these apps, your VPN use is essentially subsidized by premium subscribers, so the company doesn’t have to monetize the free VPN directly.

Freemium VPN Features

‘Freemium’ VPNs usually offer a restricted version of the premium service.

Freemium VPNs often use the infrastructure of a premium VPN, but with major restrictions on its functionality. You’ll typically get a limited number of servers and a monthly data cap of 10GB or less.

As a result, these free VPNs also tend to have slower speeds and unblock fewer streaming services.

100% Free VPNs

The worst VPN services are usually completely free to use. They generate income by running invasive advertisements or – in the worst cases – logging and selling user data to third parties.

Aside from their privacy and security risks, most 100% free VPNs are simply less effective, too. They often use weak encryption, have slow speeds, and leak your IP or DNS data.

It’s also very rare for a 100% free VPN to unblock popular streaming services.

Since 2016, we’ve tested more than 150 free VPNs and found that 77% had privacy and security risks.

The chart below illustrates some of the key findings of our free VPN investigations:

The risks and dangers of using free VPNs

We’ve discovered dozens of popular free VPNs that are essentially proxy services: they reroute your web traffic, but they don’t encrypt your data.

Many of the most-downloaded free VPN apps on the Google Play Store even have suspicious links to Chinese companies.

When Should You Use a Free VPN?

Premium VPNs are almost always faster, more secure, and have more servers than their free equivalents.

Additionally, paid-for VPNs unblock more streaming services, offer unlimited data usage, and have a range of extra privacy and security features.

By contrast, many popular free VPNs are ineffective or limited at the very least. If you plan to use a VPN regularly, it’s worth paying for a high-quality premium VPN service.

However, not all free VPN services are bad.

The very best free VPNs securely encrypt your data transfers and hide your IP address, which can be enough if you only need a VPN for very casual use.

However, you’ll be limited to a small monthly data allowance, and you’ll be restricted when it comes to speed, streaming, and torrenting.

Out of all the free VPNs we’ve tested, only Windscribe Free consistently streams multiple Netflix regions at reasonably fast speeds.

This is impressive for a free app, but the paid version of Windscribe offers more than ten times as many servers and unblocks 32 Netflix regions.

In short: a handful of free VPNs are safe to use in limited circumstances. However, if you plan on using your VPN for streaming, torrenting, or handling sensitive data, it’s absolutely worth paying for a premium VPN subscription.

How We Test VPN Services

To find the 10 best VPN services in 2023, our VPN experts put 55 popular VPN services through our comprehensive and unbiased VPN testing process to evaluate each VPN’s performance. The VPNs you find recommended in our list are the best-performing services overall.

We conduct all of our tests in a consistent environment to minimize external influences and ensure that our recommendations are both fair and directly comparable.

Each VPN is tested on various devices and platforms, including Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, and Fire TV.

We are independently-owned and entirely separate from any VPN service. To ensure complete impartiality, we purchase our own subscriptions to every VPN we test.

Our VPN testing is divided into nine categories, each with its own weighting:

  1. Privacy & Logging Policy (20%)
  2. Speed (20%)
  3. Security & Technical Features (15%)
  4. Streaming (15%)
  5. Ease of Use (10%)
  6. Server Locations (5%)
  7. Torrenting (5%)
  8. Bypassing Censorship (5%)
  9. Customer Support (5%)

We assign every VPN a rating in each of these testing categories, which are then combined to produce an overall rating for each VPN.

Our list of VPN recommendations is continually updated as we test VPNs using this methodology. By following our process and using our data, you can reproduce our findings for yourself.

Below is a more detailed breakdown of the attributes we test each VPN for:

1. Privacy & Logging Policy (20% of Overall Rating)

A VPN’s logging policy indicates the amount of data it monitors and stores about your online activity.

If a VPN logs excessive data, like your browsing history or IP address, this information could be accessed by a hacker or law enforcement.

To evaluate this, we study every VPN’s privacy policy in-depth to understand its data handling practices.

We also research its ownership, history, and any privacy-enhancing features, like diskless VPN servers.

Screenshot of CyberGhost Privacy Policy

We examine the VPN’s privacy policy and assess its approach to data retention.

Given its importance in protecting user privacy, a VPN’s logging policy takes up 20% of our overall rating. We further break down the rating into subcategories, to give us a more comprehensive view of the VPN’s performance.

Our privacy and logging policy rating is calculated by the following subcategories:

  • Data Logged: 60%
  • History: 20%
  • Jurisdiction: 10%
  • Trustworthiness: 5%
  • Privacy-enhancing Features: 5%

To ensure consistency and minimize bias, multiple testers review each VPN’s privacy policy to reach an agreed final rating.

2. Speed (20% of Overall Rating)

Speed is a measurement of how fast a VPN can retrieve and transmit data to the internet. The primary benefit of a faster VPN is that you can access web pages quicker and stream geo-blocked videos in higher quality.

To measure each VPN’s speed, we conduct extensive speed tests by connecting to servers in five continents in a controlled testing environment.

To remove the possibility of inconsistencies, each test is manually conducted on our proprietary internet speed testing tool. No third-party software is used.

NordVPN speed test results.

We manually test every VPN’s connection performance using our proprietary speed test tool.

Our speed rating is calculated by the following subcategories:

  • Download Speed: 80%
  • Upload Speed: 10%
  • Ping: 10%

We input the VPN’s raw speed results into our custom-built calculator, which automatically produces a rating out of 10.

3. Security & Technical Features (15% of Overall Rating)

Security measures the strength of the encrypted VPN tunnel while connected to a server. A secure VPN protects your data from potential threats, like hackers, that might attempt to intercept or steal it.

To measure a VPN’s performance in this category, we use a range of tests to evaluate the VPN’s technical features. Here’s a quick table of common technical features and how we evaluate them:

Technical Feature Evaluation Method
Encryption Analyzing web packets using Wireshark
Perfect Forward Secrecy Check VPN logs for evidence of Perfect Forward Secrecy
Kill Switch Detect any IP address leaks using our in-house kill switch testing tool
DNS Leaks Detect any IP address leaks using our in-house leak testing tool

Analyzing ExpressVPN

We use packet-sniffing software to evaluate the strength of the VPN tunnel.

To score highly in this category, a VPN must offer many advanced technical features and pass stress tests proving their effectiveness.

While additional features are important, a VPN’s ability to adequately protect your data transfers is more important than the sheer number of features it has.

For this reason, a VPN that does the basics of securely encrypting web traffic using WireGuard or OpenVPN and the AES-256 cipher — even if it does not have advanced features — will score higher than a VPN with many features that don’t work effectively.

4. Streaming (15% of Overall Rating)

Streaming is an evaluation of how well a VPN can access geo-blocked streaming services like Netflix, HBO Max, Disney+, and BBC iPlayer.

To measure this, we spend dozens of hours each week testing every VPN by connecting to a VPN server and seeing whether we can access 20 different international streaming services.

Surfshark Netflix Tests

We test all 55 VPNs with 20 different streaming services.

We’ve developed a system to rate each VPN’s ability to unblock streaming services:

  • 0.1: Doesn’t work with any streaming service
  • Up to 4.0: Works with US Netflix or BBC iPlayer
  • Up to 7.0: Works with both US Netflix and BBC iPlayer
  • Up to 9.0: Works with multiple streaming services, such as Hulu, HBO Max, and Prime Video
  • Above 9.0: Works with all tested services
  • 9.9: Consistently works with every service

5. Ease of Use (10% of Overall Rating)

Ease of use refers to how intuitive the VPN’s software is and how easily a typical user can interact with it and configure its settings. The easier it is to use, the higher the VPN will score.

Our experts evaluate this category based on our experience with the product during testing, and how it relates to the other 54 VPNs we’ve tested.

ExpressVPN vs PIA Server Menus

We calculate a VPN’s ease of use rating by comparing the experience with every other VPN.

This assessment takes into consideration the VPN’s download and setup process, with higher ratings awarded to VPNs with a clear download link and a useful onboarding screen.

After installation, we give more points to VPNs with features that make it easier and more convenient to use. These include an automatic server selection feature, clearly labeled buttons, and a consistent interface across devices.

We also factor in how pleasant the VPN feels to use in everyday situations, rewarding those with a minimalist and well-designed app, while penalizing those that suffer from CAPTCHAs and connection drops.

6. Server Locations (5% of Overall Rating)

The server locations category refers to the diversity of IP address locations you can get by using the VPN. A wider range of locations allows you to bypass more geo-restrictions and achieve better speeds.

To evaluate a VPN in this category, we analyze the number and spread of server locations listed on its website. We then verify this information by testing the available geographic locations in the VPN’s software.

VPN services with a larger server network and a global distribution of servers receive higher ratings in our recommendations.

PrivadoVPN Server List

We examine the VPN’s server list on its website and within its software.

We’ve developed a scoring system to quantitatively rate each VPN’s server network:

  • 0.1: Single fixed server location
  • Up to 1.5: Single dynamic server location
  • Up to 4.0: Up to 6 country locations
  • Up to 6.0: Up to 12 country locations
  • Up to 7.0: Up to 20 country locations
  • Up to 8.0: Up to 40 country locations
  • Up to 9.0: More than 40 countries, up to twenty city-level locations, up to 1,000 total servers
  • Above 9.0: More than 40 countries, more city-level locations, more than 1,000 total servers

7. Torrenting (5% of Overall Rating)

A VPN excels at torrenting when it offers both anonymity and fast P2P speeds. This ensures it will hide your torrenting activity from ISPs while delivering quick downloads.

Using Windscribe to hide our tormenting activity

Each VPN is put through a standardized torrenting test.

We evaluate a VPN’s torrenting performance using a controlled test. This involves downloading a self-hosted 1GB torrent file from a private torrent tracker while connected to a local VPN server.

Our torrenting subcategories are as follows:

  • P2P Speed: 30%
  • Encryption & Security: 20%
  • Logging Policy: 20%
  • P2P Servers: 20%
  • Additional Torrenting Features: 10%

8. Bypassing Censorship (5% of Overall Rating)

Bypassing censorship evaluates how well a VPN can circumvent web restrictions to access blocked websites, like Twitter in Russia and China.

To gather these results, we test each VPN using a server in China. We record the success rate of each VPN over the past three and 12 months, with each VPN tested weekly.

This gives us an accurate reflection of how reliably the VPN works to unblock websites in China and other high-censorship countries.

China tests with Psiphon proxy.

We test if a VPN can bypass the Great Firewall from within China.

Here are our bypassing censorship subcategories:

  • Success Rate in China: 80%
  • Nearby Servers to China: 10%
  • Obfuscation Technology: 10%

9. Customer Support (5% of Overall Rating)

As VPNs are advanced and technical pieces of software, it’s important that your VPN provider can provide prompt and effective assistance if you need it.

To evaluate the quality of a VPN’s customer support, we contact their support team via all available channels and fact-check their recommendations.

Our customer support rating is an objective measure of how well a VPN’s support team can address and resolve issues, taking into account both accuracy and response time.

NordVPN customer service

We contact every VPN’s customer support department to assess its usefulness.

We rate each VPN’s customer support offering based on the availability of support and the quality of assistance:

  • 0.1 – 0.9: Doesn’t offer any support options.
  • 1.0 – 5.0: Support is available through a single channel, such as online resources, email, or telephone.
  • 5.1 – 8.5: Provides a combination of two support channels, such as online resources and email, or online resources and telephone.
  • 8.6 – 9.5: Offers live chat as well as a combination of two support channels, such as online resources, email, and telephone.
  • 9.6 – 9.9: Offers excellent support through online resources, email, and 24-hour live chat, with consistently knowledgeable and accurate agents.

FAQs

What Is the #1 Best VPN?

Based on our most recent tests, ExpressVPN is the current #1 VPN service. It has an extensive set of security features, consistently fast speeds, and intuitive applications for all devices. Importantly, it also has an excellent track record for protecting its users’ privacy.

ExpressVPN works particularly well for unblocking geo-restricted streaming services. It can access 10 international Netflix regions, along with other popular services like Hulu, Disney Plus, and HBO Max.

Put simply, ExpressVPN outperforms every other VPN service in almost every single testing category, and it has done so for several years. Despite its above-average subscription price, it’s absolutely worth it given its superior capabilities as a VPN.

What Is the Best Free VPN?

The best free VPN in 2023 is Proton VPN Free. It’s the only safe free VPN that doesn’t impose a data limit, which means you can use it as much as you want, completely for free, and without adverts.

Unlike many free VPN services, our testing found that Proton VPN is fast and highly-secure. Its applications protect against IP leaks and operate under a privacy-friendly logging policy.

Despite its advantages, Proton VPN Free offers a limited number of server locations, and it doesn’t work for streaming or torrenting. If those areas are important to you, it’s worth investing in a premium VPN instead.

Are VPN Services Legal?

VPN services are legal in most countries, including the US, UK, Canada and Australia.

However, VPNs are illegal in Belarus, Iraq, North Korea and Turkmenistan. There are also government restrictions on VPN usage in China, Iran, Oman, Russia, Turkey, and the UAE — although they’re not banned completely.

Are VPNs Safe?

VPN software itself is completely safe to use. In fact, VPNs are actually designed to make using the internet even safer.

However, not all VPN services are trustworthy. When you connect to a VPN server, the responsibility for your data shifts from your ISP to the company running the VPN.

You’re trusting that the company’s claims about its logging policy are honest, and that the VPN itself is successful in encrypting your data and hiding your IP address without any leaks.

That’s why it’s so important to make an informed decision about which VPN you choose, and to prioritize services with strong security measures and private logging policies.

Many free VPNs, for example, put users at greater risk than using no VPN at all. Some popular free services sell user data to third parties, leak your true IP address, and even make you vulnerable to malware.

Even if you’re using a safe VPN, it’s your responsibility to ensure that your activity doesn’t break any laws or regulations in your jurisdiction.

How Do I Set Up & Use a VPN?

The process of setting up a VPN depends on the device you’re using it with.

To set up a VPN on a computer or smartphone, simply sign up to the VPN service on its website and use the download link to install the software on your device. Then, sign in to the application with your account details and you can begin to use the VPN.

To use a VPN on Fire TV devices, subscribe to a VPN with a Fire OS application and then search the Amazon App Store for the app. Install the app on your device, sign in with your account details, and then launch the application to start using it.

To use a VPN on devices like Apple TV and games consoles, you’ll need to subscribe to a VPN service with Smart DNS functionality. Once you’ve done so, use the DNS credentials provided by the VPN and then update your device’s DNS settings accordingly to start unblocking content.

Are VPN Services Worth It?

For a relatively small monthly cost, VPN software will hide your IP address from the websites you visit and encrypt your web traffic, concealing your internet activity from snooping third-parties like your ISP, government agencies, and hackers.

Using a VPN, you can also unblock geo-restricted websites and apps, even in highly-censored countries. This allows you to unlock a huge amount of value from your existing subscriptions, especially to streaming services.

The top VPN services will cost you the equivalent of a few dollars every month, but it’s a small price to pay for improved privacy, security, and freedom online.

How Much Do VPN Services Cost?

On average, the month-to-month price of a VPN is $11.77 . Subscribing to a yearly or a multi-year VPN subscription reduces the average price to $4.11 per month.

How Do I Know My VPN Is Working?

The easiest way to check your VPN is working is to check if it changes your IP address and location.

To do this, note down your IP address before and after connecting to a VPN server. If your IP address is different afterwards, the VPN is working as it should be.

You should also check that your web traffic is encrypted, and that the VPN isn’t leaking any identifying DNS or WebRTC data. You can do this using packet-inspection software like Wireshark, or by using a VPN leak testing tool.

Useful VPN Guides & Resources

  • Do VPNs Slow Down Your Internet Connection?
  • VPN Connection Protocols Explained
  • How to Understand VPN Logging Policies
  • What Does a VPN Hide?
  • Do VPN Services Block Ads?
  • Can a VPN Be Hacked?
  • What Is VPN Split Tunneling?
  • What Is Double VPN (Multi-Hop)?
  • VPN Kill Switches Explained
  • What Is VPN Obfuscation?
  • Why Your VPN Keeps Disconnecting & How to Prevent It
  • VPN vs Smart DNS: What’s the Difference?
  • How Are VPNs and Proxy Servers Different?
  • Is a VPN Better Than the Tor Browser?

The Best VPN Service

Our pick for best VPN, Mullvad, running on a laptop next to a smartphone and a mug.

We’ve added information about NordVPN’s recent audit. Mullvad and TunnelBear remain our picks.

March 2023

As more people’s work and personal lives go digital, online privacy and security become increasingly important. Although a virtual private network, or VPN, is not the total answer to protecting your online privacy, it can be a useful part of your security toolkit. However, the VPN industry is riddled with false promises and shady businesses. After sorting through dozens of VPNs and reviewing four security audits, we think the best option for most people is Mullvad, an open-source VPN that’s not only trustworthy and transparent but also fast and reliable.

Our pick

Mullvad

Trustworthy and secure

Mullvad is transparent about its security and privacy practices. The VPN offers reliable connections and is easy to use on laptops, phones, and tablets.

Buying Options

Mullvad collects minimal user data and engages in comprehensive and transparent privacy practices. It meets our security standards with a recent, publicly available third-party security audit of its servers. Although it’s nearly impossible for a company to make anonymity guarantees, we like that Mullvad allows you to pay in cash simply by using an account number it generates (you can also pay with more common payment types, including a credit card and PayPal). Mullvad offers the speedy WireGuard protocol, which is lightweight and quick. Mullvad’s desktop and mobile apps make setup simple on a variety of devices, even if you have little technical knowledge. And the service’s kill switch helps protect your privacy by automatically disconnecting your device if the VPN connection fails. Although Mullvad doesn’t offer a free trial, it does have a money-back guarantee. You can also set up many types of routers to connect with Mullvad’s servers, and you can use your Mullvad account on up to five devices at once.

Also great

TunnelBear

Slightly slower but just as easy to use

TunnelBear’s consistent commitment to security, transparency, and ease of use make it an acceptable alternative for those looking for a VPN that can be used on an unlimited number of devices, even if it’s sometimes slower.

Buying Options

In this year’s testing, TunnelBear’s speed tests showed a demonstrable improvement over previous results, where it lagged behind other options. Unlike Mullvad, TunnelBear doesn’t limit the number of devices per account, so it’s an ideal choice for people with more than five devices. Although the monthly rate is roughly double that of Mullvad, TunnelBear’s annual and triennial pricing can bring down the monthly cost by more than $3, if you’re willing to pay for three years upfront. Like Mullvad, TunnelBear consistently releases public audits of both its server infrastructure and apps. Also like Mullvad, TunnelBear has apps that are easy to use, and it includes a kill switch in its “VigilantBear” feature.

Everything we recommend

Our pick

Mullvad

Trustworthy and secure

Mullvad is transparent about its security and privacy practices. The VPN offers reliable connections and is easy to use on laptops, phones, and tablets.

Buying Options

Also great

TunnelBear

Slightly slower but just as easy to use

TunnelBear’s consistent commitment to security, transparency, and ease of use make it an acceptable alternative for those looking for a VPN that can be used on an unlimited number of devices, even if it’s sometimes slower.

Buying Options

The research

  • Why you should trust us
  • Who this is for
  • What you should do before considering a VPN
  • Geoshifting
  • Trusting a VPN
  • Limitations of VPNs
  • How we picked
  • How we tested
  • Our pick: Mullvad
  • Also great: TunnelBear
  • What about HTTPS?
  • What about Tor?
  • What about creating your own VPN?
  • What to look forward to
  • The competition
  • Frequently asked questions
  • Sources

Why you should trust us

We scoured articles, white papers, customer reviews, security audit reports, and forums to compile the pros and cons of various VPN services, different VPN protocols and encryption technologies, and signals indicating transparency, trustworthiness, and security.

We interviewed Eva Galperin, Electronic Frontier Foundation’s director of cybersecurity, about the limitations of VPNs and tips for selecting the appropriate VPN based on individual circumstances. We spoke with Trail of Bits co-founder and CEO Dan Guido about the security challenges inherent in VPNs and the limitations of security audits and reports. We got answers from Joseph Jerome, then the policy counsel for the Center for Democracy & Technology’s privacy and data project, about how accountable VPNs were for their business models, privacy practices, security protocols, and protections, and how that related to trustworthiness. We discussed what to look for—and avoid—in VPNs with Kenneth White, security researcher and co-director of the Open Crypto Audit Project, and Matthew Green, cryptographer and Johns Hopkins University professor. We also touched base with blockchain privacy expert and Clovyr co-founder Amber Baldet, to discuss the privacy advantages and pitfalls to consider when paying for a VPN with cryptocurrency.

We interviewed the leadership of three top-performing VPN services about their operational security and internal standards, participating in phone calls with TunnelBear CEO and co-founder Ryan Dochuk and IVPN CEO Nick Pestell, and exchanging emails with Mullvad CEO Jan Jonsson.

As a digital security trainer at Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF), David Huerta has consulted and trained media makers in hundreds of newsrooms, including The New York Times, on how to make the best use of privacy-enhancing technology in journalistic work. Since the beginning of his time at FPF, in 2017, he has shown journalists how to use encryption tools to protect the identity of their sources, how to address privacy concerns related to having a highly public presence online, and how to circumvent national firewalls when reporting from abroad. VPNs have been a recurring topic; he has helped demystify how they work, as well as how to pick a VPN based on its technology and policy features.

Yael Grauer did the initial reporting for this guide and wrote Wirecutter’s previous recommendations in summer 2020. She has written about privacy and security for Wired, Vice, BreakerMag, The Intercept, Slate/Future Tense, and Ars Technica, and she now covers the category for Consumer Reports. She collaborated with the Electronics Frontier Foundation on its Street-Level Surveillance project and wrote curricula for TrollBusters, a just-in-time rescue service for women writers and journalists who are experiencing online harassment. She has also co-organized events, taught workshops, and spoken on panels about digital security and source protection.

This guide builds on previous feedback from the information security team at The New York Times, which at the time included Runa Sandvik, Bill McKinley, David Templeton, James Pettit, and Neena Kapur. They all provided feedback on a wide range of issues, from technical concerns to provider transparency.

Who this is for

For this guide we focused on virtual private networks, or VPNs, as an option for people who are hoping to add a layer of privacy or security to their web browsing. Using a VPN can stop your computer or mobile device from revealing your IP address to websites, services, and the rest of the internet when you connect. One reason to protect your IP address is that it can give away your location. Anyone can plug in an IP address at various websites to find your rough location, usually your city, state, and country. Although some IP addresses are only loosely connected to a specific geographic location, those associated with Wi-Fi hotspots are much more precise. Commercial outfits such as Skyhook have used hotspot scanning and app partners to amass large databases correlating IP addresses with hotspot locations, and companies can turn to these services to determine your exact location.

VPNs work by routing your web traffic through a secure, encrypted connection to the VPN’s server. So those other parties see the VPN’s IP address, not the one connected to your home or office, or to the coffee shop, airport, or hotel you happen to be in. Using a VPN can also stop your internet service provider from recording your online activities; in 2017, President Donald Trump signed a law repealing internet privacy rules passed by the FCC, allowing ISPs to record all of your traffic, insert ads, track you in a variety of ways, and sell that data to third parties. Although the VPN provider can see what you’re doing, your traffic mixes with that of other people using the same VPN. See What Is a VPN and What Can (and Can’t) It Do? for more information on how VPNs work and whether you need one.

And it’s not just about ISP behavior: Your IP address is typically recorded by the websites you visit and is usually attached in emails you send, becoming exposed to an email’s recipient. Even loading images embedded in emails you receive can reveal your IP address to wherever the images are loading from. IP addresses can pinpoint your places of work, too. For example, a court document indicates that a New York Times reporter accidentally tipped off a company to a major investigation by visiting its website too often. You don’t have to be a journalist to sometimes want to keep your place of business private from the site you’re visiting.

An illustration of traffic between a laptop and websites with and without a VPN, demonstrating the VPN server encrypting data.

But standard VPN services may not be enough in some instances. Human-rights activists, journalists, people who are living under repressive regimes, or people who are likely to be individually targeted by nation-state actors may need to take steps beyond using a commercial VPN; in these cases, it’s worthwhile to consult a digital-security specialist, such as Access Now, before signing up for one of our picks.

Although it’s impossible for people outside a VPN provider to know the ins and outs of the company, there are certain indicators that suggest a provider is more trustworthy, which we have attempted to lay out in this guide.

What you should do before considering a VPN

Before choosing a VPN, it’s important to be clear about what you need it to do. Some of the reasons you may want to use a VPN might be better addressed through other tools or methods that are potentially more effective. Look at it this way: If you have a drafty house with paper-thin walls and halogen light bulbs, you’d get far more value out of every dollar by sealing up cracks, insulating, and switching to LEDs than you would by putting solar panels on your roof. If you’re looking to improve your privacy and security, you should address other areas of vulnerability before signing up for a VPN.

  • Use a password manager to create and manage secure, unique passwords for all of your accounts. If you reuse passwords and one of your accounts is compromised, others can be too.
  • Enable multi-factor authentication, a security feature you can find at most major sites, including Google, Facebook, and Twitter. It’s preferable to use an app or a security key, rather than SMS (plain text messages), as your second factor.
  • Encrypt your laptop, in case you lose it or someone steals it. (iOS and newer Android devices are automatically encrypted, if you have an effective passcode.)
  • If you are choosing to use a VPN to avoid being tracked online across various ad networks, some browser extensions can be helpful. We have some favorites, including the EFF’s Privacy Badger and uBlock Origin, both of which minimize tracking from websites and online ad networks as well as security vulnerabilities. Note that you can manually turn off these extensions for websites with features that work only with ad tracking allowed, a feature generally not available with VPN apps.
  • If you use Firefox, use DNS over HTTPS (DoH); this protects your privacy relating to which websites your browser is requesting from some third parties while also improving performance. Go to Preferences, scroll to the bottom of the page, select Network Settings, scroll down, and select Enable DNS over HTTPS and Use Default. Currently this function is an experimental feature in Chrome.
  • Consider using a Wi-Fi router or mesh-networking kit that does not allow administration over a web interface and that auto-updates. If that’s not possible, make sure to change the default password, keep your router up to date, and disable any remote administration features. Otherwise, your router may be remotely exploitable due to known security vulnerabilities, which would let an attacker take over your entire home network.
  • Use the Tor Browser to research, for example, medical information or other sensitive topics that you don’t want advertisers to link to your identity. (Learn more about Tor below.)
  • Be aware that although the above tools can minimize your digital footprint, they have limitations. Some other steps to increase privacy, such as turning off JavaScript, can lead to such a poor online experience that you’re unlikely to keep using them.

For further advice, see our Simple Online Security guide. We also like the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s guide to surveillance self-defense.

Geoshifting

One of the main reasons people want to use VPNs is to geoshift—making a website or web-based service like Netflix think that you’re connecting from, say, the United States instead of Germany, in order to access videos or other content with geographic restrictions. But the biggest sites often block connections from VPNs, making geoshifting like this unpredictable. We tested each of our candidates to see whether they could access content in different countries. Based on the results, we don’t recommend that people expect these VPNs to work for that purpose.

Trusting a VPN

Because VPNs see all of the traffic you are hoping to protect, a good VPN’s most important quality is trustworthiness, and the second-most-important quality is security. Unfortunately, these are also the most difficult qualities to ascertain. In recent years, some VPN providers have begun hiring independent firms to conduct security audits to back up their security or privacy claims, and they’ve been sharing the results publicly. Security vulnerabilities are constantly being discovered. You can get some idea of a provider’s ability to keep up with and address those vulnerabilities by looking at whether it does these audits on a frequent, recurring basis.

All of your internet activity will flow through the servers of the company whose VPN you use, so you’ll need to trust it more than you trust the network you’re hoping to secure, whether that’s airport Wi-Fi, a hotel internet connection, your corporate IT network, or your home ISP. “That last mile between you and your ISP is extremely treacherous,” said Dan Guido, CEO of Trail of Bits. In the past, executives traveling overseas have been attacked with malware served through unsecured hotel Wi-Fi, and ISPs have hijacked and rerouted customer search queries, injected targeted ads based on browsing history, and injected supercookies to track mobile customers. In-flight broadband providers have been caught issuing fake HTTPS certificates.

In 2021, the Federal Trade Commission released the results of an investigation on different broadband providers’ privacy practices. It stated, among other issues, “The report identified several troubling data collection practices among several of the ISPs, including that they combine data across product lines; combine personal, app usage, and web browsing data to target ads; place consumers into sensitive categories such as by race and sexual orientation; and share real-time location data with third-parties.”

According to Guido, “There is this widespread suspicion that broadband providers aren’t being forthright with how they use your data.” A look through broadband providers’ terms of service reveals that they typically include a lot of privacy opt-outs for information collected by default and being provided to third parties. So there are reasons to trust some VPN providers over some ISPs or to seek protection in the form of a VPN.

But not all VPNs are an improvement, since more than a few VPN providers have been caught lying about their policies in the past or sharing data with third parties, and many VPN services have had poor configurations that leaked the very data they were being paid to secure. “A lot of times VPNs that promise you privacy and security don’t deliver because they’re lying,” said Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “A lot of VPNs that say, ‘We will protect your privacy, we won’t log, we won’t comply with a subpoena,’ that kind of thing, turn out to be full of lies. That is a very serious problem because it’s really hard to evaluate for.”

Your internet activity will flow through the servers of the company whose VPN you use, so you’ll need to trust it more than you trust the network you’re hoping to secure.

In fact, there are so many stories about VPNs not being true to their claims that we can list only a sample:

  • In 2016, one study (PDF) found a mix of VPNs that had embedded third-party tracking and insecure implementations. Another project found that 90% of the VPNs it tested used insecure or outdated encryption.
  • In May 2019, the director of the US Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency warned that foreign adversaries were interested in exploiting VPN services (PDF).
  • In early 2019, more than half of the top 20 free VPNs in the App Store and the Google Play store were owned by or based in China, a country where VPN services are banned.
  • There have been multiple instances of individual VPN providers being caught or accused (with evidence) of violating their own privacy policies or sharing customer data, including claims against Facebook’s Onavo, HideMyAss, Hola VPN, Hotspot Shield (PDF), IPVanish, and PureVPN.

On the other side, there are some VPN providers whose no-logging cases have been proved in court:

  • ExpressVPN was unable to provide logs to Turkish authorities, who raided the data center and took the company’s Turkey server but found no logs or customer data.
  • Private Internet Access (PIA)’s no-log claims were verified in a 2016 investigation (Scribd subscription required to view the link) and in a 2018 court case.
  • Perfect Privacy stated on its blog that authorities in Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, seized one of its servers to try to obtain customer data but were unable to do so.

A big factor in trusting your VPN is knowing what company is behind it. Some VPNs have great service or pricing but provide little to no insight into exactly which company is handling them. We considered feedback from security experts, including from the information security team at The New York Times, on whether you could trust even the most appealing VPN if it wasn’t willing to disclose who stood behind it. We decided we’d rather give up other positives—such as faster speed or extra convenience features—if it meant knowing who led or owned the company providing our connections. Considering the explosion of companies offering VPN services and the trivial nature of setting one up as a scam, the most concrete way a company can build trust is to have a public-facing leadership team—especially one with a long history of actively fighting for online privacy and security.

Even if a company’s leadership is transparent, there are other factors to consider when you’re evaluating that leadership’s history. In recent years, a number of VPN companies, including CyberGhost, ExpressVPN, PIA, and Zenmate VPN, have been bought by Kape Technologies, formerly known as CrossRider. The company previously created software components that were popularly used by invasive ad programs. These programs are largely considered potentially unwanted programs (PUPs), and therefore many search results for “CrossRider” are instructions on how to remove it.

Kape was co-founded by Koby Menachemi, a former developer at Israel’s Unit 8200, a rough equivalent to the US’s National Security Agency. Recent reports also revealed that ExpressVPN’s CIO, Dan Gericke, was involved with Project Raven, a group of hackers working at the behest of the United Arab Emirates to target and surveil critics, including a number of human-rights activists. We think the privacy promises of those with ties to an intelligence collection agency should be considered with some skepticism.

Another major factor we looked for: publicly available published security audits, conducted by reputable third parties, which are much more common than they have been in the past. Security audits aren’t perfect. Although independent companies evaluate a VPN provider’s technology as best they can, such audits are limited to a moment in time; there are no assurances that the VPN will have the same technology or security practices the next day. Additionally, the auditors themselves are limited by time and sometimes are contracted to look only at certain aspects of a VPN.

For this guide, we insisted that our VPN picks had published third-party security audits of their core product.

“They’re not going to be intimately familiar with the entire company. They’re not going to have time to look through every line of code. They’re given a set of constraints, usually a very small amount of time that they’d prefer is longer, and they don’t have any familiarity with any of the technology earlier than day one and they need to figure it all out,” said Dan Guido of Trail of Bits.

However, software companies and service providers that are willing to engage with third-party auditors to review their code and implementation—and make the results public—do send a signal of trust. For this guide, we insisted that our VPN picks had published third-party security audits of their core product—their server and back-end infrastructure—rather than just their apps and web-browser extensions. Although audits for apps and extensions are a nice supplement, apps and extensions can be independently dissected by any security researcher with a smartphone or web browser. Security researchers have no other legal way to evaluate a VPN company’s servers except by getting the company’s permission to look inside them. Infrastructure audits considering both the security of a VPN’s servers and its back-end code—not just the verification of a no-logging policy—were our baseline for third-party audits that we considered in our evaluation.

Some VPNs have had no-log audits conducted in order to show that they are living up to their privacy promises. As with security audits, there’s never a guarantee that practices in place during audits aren’t changed the next day, if compelled by a government, for example. And even if companies intend to stick to their promises, they may be inadvertently failing to secure the data they are entrusted with protecting. Although the move toward transparency with no-log audits is a positive one, competition makes it mandatory for such audits to be paired with security audits that can help find vulnerabilities, so that companies can patch or mitigate them.

If you penny-pinch on privacy and security services, you may end up without privacy or security.

Even if you know which company is behind your VPN, you shouldn’t trust a free one. A free service may make you and your data the product. So you should assume that any information it gathers on you—whether it’s an actual browsing history or demographics like age or political affiliation—is being sold to or shared with someone.

If you penny-pinch on privacy and security services, you may end up without privacy or security. As Bill McKinley, head of the information security team for The New York Times, put it: “If I can spend more on organic bananas, I can spend more for confidence in a VPN provider.”

Some VPN reviewers focus on VPNs that are offshore, believing in the privacy benefits of these localities and trying to stay away from the so-called 14 Eyes countries—the 14 countries, including the United States, that actively share intelligence data gathered from internet monitoring. But depending on the location, that same lack of regulation can leave people unprotected against fraudulent marketing, which is a major trade-off. Joseph Jerome, policy counsel for the Center for Democracy & Technology at the time of our interview, told us that companies violating their own privacy policy or claims about logging would be “a textbook example of a deceptive practice under state and federal consumer protection laws,” and that in theory “the FTC could seek an injunction barring the deceptive practice as well as potentially getting restitution or other monetary relief.”

The Center for Democracy & Technology brought just such a complaint against one VPN provider in 2017, but no investigation was ever announced. Many privacy sites suggest finding a VPN service outside the prying eyes of US intelligence agencies and their allies. However, FTC protections could be an argument for finding one in the US, so that there’s a penalty if the service deceives its customers.

Limitations of VPNs

VPNs are not a tool for anonymity, and we have an article with a more in-depth explanation of what a VPN can and can’t do. But anyone signing up for a VPN should know that at minimum it’s possible for providers to see your traffic; beyond that, you should know that other parties have ways of tracing your identity even if you use a VPN.

There are three common scenarios in which other parties would be able to quickly link your online habits. For one, if you sign in to a Google account from home without a VPN, Google has a log of your home IP address. Even if you turn on your browser’s private or Incognito mode and don’t log in, your “private” searches are also linked to your IP address and then back to your Google account. If you then connect your VPN and sign in to your Google account just once, your “anonymous” VPN IP address is just as trivially linked back to your secret browsing history.

In fact, government requests for data have included asking ISPs for accounts linked to other accounts—if Google knows which VPN you use and that there are multiple accounts on your computer, it knows that your accounts are linked (as does anybody else it shares that data with).

Even if you were to practice perfect separation, VPNs can’t protect against browser cookies and browser fingerprinting techniques that can track you regardless of logins and IP addresses.

Those in the US who believe that offshore VPNs will protect their identities in the case of criminal activity will be disappointed to learn that the US government actually has mutual legal assistance treaties with dozens of countries throughout the world.

How we picked

To narrow down the list of VPN providers we’d consider, we looked at VPNs listed in reviews from sources such as CNET, PCMag, and The Verge, as well as at recommendations from the nonprofit Freedom of the Press Foundation (where current guide author David Huerta is a digital security trainer) and the security firm Bishop Fox. We also looked at VPNs that had answered questions on the Center for Democracy & Technology’s Signals of Trustworthy VPNs survey. We combined these results with customer experiences and tips on the r/VPN subreddit, as well as reviews in the App Store and Google Play store. We piled this research on top of our work from previous years, which looked at sites like vpnMentor and TorrentFreak, at technology-focused websites such as Lifehacker and Ars Technica, and at services that were simply on our staff’s personal radars.

In 2019, we settled on 52 VPNs that were repeatedly recommended—or at least so highly visible that you’d be likely to encounter them when shopping for a VPN provider. In 2020, we added four, and then in 2021 we considered one more. From there, we dug into the details on how each VPN handled issues from technology to subscriptions, as well as the steps they’ve taken to improve their transparency and security posture.

Trust and transparency

The minimum: recent, published back-end security audits by a reputable third-party firm; public-facing leadership

The best: comprehensive, published white-box (aka open-box) security audits by a reputable third-party firm conducted annually; transparency reports; a bug-bounty program or a coordinated vulnerability-disclosure program

We thoroughly reviewed all audits, paying close attention to how comprehensive they were and what they included. We also factored in which companies had public-facing leadership or ownership. We looked for audits by third-party firms, prioritizing those that assessed the overall security of a VPN provider.

Privacy and terms-of-service policies

The minimum: marketing copy consistent with the privacy policy and the terms of service

The best: easy-to-read policies; companies located in countries with strong consumer protections; no third-party trackers on the website

The VPNs we chose said they logged minimal information. We looked for clear and easy-to-read terms-of-service and privacy policies, and we checked to confirm that they were consistent with the site’s marketing copy. We asked companies about their internal security and privacy standards, as well as how they would respond to requests for information, in order to gauge the trustworthiness of their statements on logging. Although it’s normal for a website to have third-party trackers for ads, analytics, and social media, trackers ultimately do what they say they will: track what you’re up to on a website. For a VPN service, this can seem somewhat contradictory to the larger promises made in website copy (probably written by the same marketing team making use of these trackers).

Trial or refund policy

The minimum: a free version (or trial) or a money-back guarantee

The best: a free version (or trial) and a money-back guarantee

Despite our extensive testing, we know that VPNs work differently in different locations and on different computers and networks. A trial or a free version of a VPN can allow you to test several of them risk-free, to see whether any of them are a better fit for your specific circumstance. In lieu of a free trial or tier, we recommend that you try out a new VPN for a month before committing to buying it for a full year.

Server network

The minimum: at least 75 server locations in at least 20 countries

The best: more than 1,000 servers

The more servers a network has at each of its locations, the more likely you are to have a speedy connection. And a VPN with a wide variety of server locations can help you geoshift your location without losing connectivity or allow you to log on to a less-congested part of the world. However, even on the most robust networks, VPNs tend to be slower at peak times due to limited bandwidth in and out of an area.

Security and technology

The minimum: OpenVPN with SHA-256 authentication; RSA-2048 or better handshake; AES-256-GCM or AES-256-CBC data encryption

The best: RSA-4096, Curve25519, P-256, P-384, or P-521

We built our requirements based on interviews with experts and on recommendations (PDF) put out by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. All the trust in the world won’t help a VPN provider keep your browsing information private if the technology the VPN uses is not secure. We recommend the open-source WireGuard protocol, a new lightweight protocol that is gaining prominence. It now has Windows and macOS support and is integrated into the Linux kernel, which required additional security review. If the VPN you choose doesn’t offer WireGuard, we recommend using the OpenVPN protocol, due to security flaws and disadvantages in the PPTP and IPsec protocols.

Although AES 128-bit encryption is fine for most purposes, we prefer services that default to the more-secure 256-bit encryption and still offer good performance. And while RSA-2048 is sufficient for now, we prefer the future-proof RSA-4096 as our top standard.

Kill switch

The minimum: a kill switch that’s effective and that you can activate with one click

The best: customizable rules allowing you to activate a kill switch on startup or on specific networks

When a VPN “kill switch” is turned on, the VPN software is supposed to shut off all network traffic in and out of your computer or mobile device if the encrypted connection fails. Without a kill switch, if your Wi-Fi drops or another connectivity issue occurs, your VPN stops securing the connection. In some cases, VPN software doesn’t even alert you that it’s no longer protecting your traffic—thereby wiping out all of the benefits of your using it in the first place.

We considered kill switches to be mandatory, but people who find that they can’t log on to their home Wi-Fi, for example, may simply turn off their VPN out of frustration. That’s why we also looked for apps that allow you to easily set your own rules about when the kill switch should activate and when it shouldn’t, in order to customize the experience.

A computer screen capture of a desktop displaying the login pages for multiple VPN services.

Platforms

The minimum: native apps for Windows, Mac, Android, and iPhone, and iPad

The best: additional operating systems, routers, and smart TVs

We consider native apps for Windows and Mac a necessity because they’re far easier to use than open-source or third-party VPN apps. Native apps for iOS and Android are a requirement because even though it’s possible to manually configure your phone to use a VPN, it’s not exactly a user-friendly or easy process.

Number of connections

The minimum: two simultaneous connections

The best: five or more simultaneous connections

Though the majority of VPN providers allow you to install their software on as many devices as you’d like, most of them limit simultaneous connections. A two-connection limit is likely sufficient for most individuals, but five or more connections offer flexibility for couples, families, or people with many devices.

Support

The minimum: email support, with responses sent within 24 business hours; robust help section

The best: email, chat support during business hours, quick response to weekend tickets

If you can’t set up or reliably use your VPN, you won’t use it—thereby eliminating all of the benefits. An extensive help section on the website can resolve many problems. Although we consider online-chat support to be the gold standard, quick and clear responses to emails can be equally helpful.

Extra features

Some VPNs offer additional features that can be nice to have but weren’t crucial to our decision-making:

  • Additional payment options: Cryptocurrency, cash, PayPal, Amazon Pay, bank wire and gift card balances are accepted for payment. But since a VPN doesn’t guarantee anonymity (see the section on limitations), we don’t think such an array of options is crucial for most people.
  • Stealth modes: A stealth mode helps circumvent networks that block VPNs by making your encrypted VPN traffic look like it’s some other type of data.
  • Custom ad blockers: Although this is a nice feature for a VPN to have, you can find a number of trustworthy and free browser extensions for this purpose.
  • Multihop connections: For added encryption and obfuscation, some VPNs can route your traffic through multiple servers. This is unnecessary for most people, though, and it can reduce speeds.
  • Warrant canaries: Many companies proudly display “warrant canaries” on their websites. These are digitally signed notices that say something to the effect of “We have never been served a warrant for traffic logs or turned over customer information.” Law enforcement can prohibit a company from discussing an investigation, but in theory it can’t compel a company to actively lie. So the theory goes that when the warrant canary dies (that is, the notice disappears from the website because it’s no longer truthful), so does privacy. The EFF supports this legal position, though it stopped tracking warrant canaries in 2016; other highly regarded companies and organizations think warrant canaries are helpful only for informing you after the damage has been done. Such notices may provide a nice sense of security, and they are important to some people, but we didn’t consider them to be essential.

How we tested

After reviewing the above criteria in 2022, we narrowed our initial list down to just three services that met our requirements: Mullvad, Surfshark, and TunnelBear. We also retested IVPN, a previous runner-up, despite its lacking a recent infrastructure audit. We signed up for each of those services and dug deeper into their policies, technology, and performance on a custom-built gaming PC, a MacBook Pro, an iPhone, and a Pixel phone.

Speed testing

When you’re connected to a VPN, your browsing speed and latency depend on several factors. These include the VPN server’s physical location (if a server is located far away, data takes longer to arrive) and the bandwidth of the VPN provider’s internet connection.

We tested each service using Ookla’s Speedtest on macOS for each VPN over Wi-Fi, selecting OpenVPN as the connection protocol but otherwise leaving the configuration as is. We recorded baseline download rates of nearly 285 megabits per second without a VPN active and checked our non-VPN speeds at random intervals to confirm that our local ISP wasn’t affecting the tests.

Ookla takes a “multi-threaded” approach to testing, using up to 16 streams. Multi-threaded testing, according to a 2016 white paper by Open Technology Institute, has a higher tolerance for background packet losses and can obfuscate deficiencies in the network, so it tends to be more forgiving than other tests. Though other rating options, such as M-Lab’s Speed Test, may be a better measure of real-world results, in our experience Ookla’s tests worked on every service and allowed us to get a true relative comparison. Plus, Ookla’s data has been cited by the FCC in publications including the agency’s first Consolidated Communications Marketplace Report (PDF), according to the company’s blog.

These two tests show how using a VPN, especially a distant server, will generally slow down your internet connection. We did this second speed test in Southern California with a VPN connection to a server in the United Kingdom. This screen recording has been sped up, so the connection time may be longer than depicted.

These two tests show how using a VPN, especially a distant server, will generally slow down your internet connection. We did this first speed test in Southern California without a VPN connection. This screen recording has been sped up, so the connection time may be longer than depicted.

These two tests show how using a VPN, especially a distant server, will generally slow down your internet connection. We did this second speed test in Southern California with a VPN connection to a server in the United Kingdom. This screen recording has been sped up, so the connection time may be longer than depicted.

From Brooklyn, New York, we ran the VPN-enabled test using eight different server locations per service:

  • California
  • New York
  • Canada
  • England
  • Brazil
  • Australia
  • Switzerland
  • Japan

For services that offered automatic location selection—a feature designed to give you the best speed possible—we also ran the tests on whichever location the VPN software chose.

We ran the full series of tests with each location during three time periods that we chose to see whether internet rush hours drastically reduced performance:

  • Tuesday midday, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Eastern
  • Tuesday evening, between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Eastern
  • Sunday midday, between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. Eastern

We also tested each VPN outside of these hours, using its fastest connection on a MacBook Pro running macOS Monterey, a Pixel 2 phone running Android 11, and an iPhone SE running iOS 15.6.1. Additionally, we tested the apps over video calls to see if any service caused frozen screens, slowdowns, or dropped connections.

Efficacy checks

To verify that each service we tested effectively hid our true IP address, we used a geolocation tool as well as sites that detect DNS leaks and WebRTC leaks. We visited the websites for Yelp, Target, and Akamai—sites that sometimes block suspicious IP addresses—to make sure the VPN IP addresses did not prevent us from accessing them.

Desktop and mobile apps

We also evaluated the interface and experience of the desktop and mobile apps of all the top-performing services. We set up each service’s Android app on a Pixel 2 phone running Android 11. We used iOS apps, when available, on an iPhone SE with iOS 15.6.1. We looked at the payment process, how easy each app was to set up and connect, and what options were available in the settings pane.

Customer support

We contacted each of our finalists with simple questions about their service and troubleshooting. VPN companies provide technical support through email, online ticketing systems, or live chat, but some chat options are not available outside of business hours. Our response times to support inquiries ranged from a few to several hours. Self-help support sites can be useful when you’re waiting for a reply with the inability to connect. So we looked at both the speed of response and the robustness of troubleshooting information available in the site’s support section.

Our pick: Mullvad

A smart phone on a lavender backdrop, with the Mullvad VPN app, our pick for best VPN, open on screen.

Our pick

Mullvad

Trustworthy and secure

Mullvad is transparent about its security and privacy practices. The VPN offers reliable connections and is easy to use on laptops, phones, and tablets.

Buying Options

Mullvad is a secure VPN that during our testing provided a seamless experience: It was easy to set up, and it hummed along so quietly in the background that we would often forget it was even turned on. The company excelled in signals of transparency and trust, and in our testing the service was easy to use and delivered some of the fastest speeds of any VPN we tried. Dedicated apps for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS make Mullvad simple to set up on a variety of devices, even if you have little technical knowledge. Mullvad’s subscription is reasonably priced and costs the same whether you use the service for a month or a year. And one subscription can support up to five simultaneous connections at a time, so it’s easy to use on all of your devices, too.

A screen shot of Mullvad VPN, our pick for best VPN service, showing a user their account number.

Although other VPNs we’ve considered have had third-party security audits in some form, Mullvad’s audits have been among the broadest in scope. Mullvad has also been the most consistent in conducting audits regularly, about once a year. In April and May 2022, Mullvad underwent its latest server security audit, a process that is key for improving trust in an opaque industry. Conducted by cybersecurity consulting firm Assured, the most recent infrastructure audit took three testers a total of 19 person-days to complete. In evaluating Mullvad, the auditors spotted 20 vulnerabilities, implementation issues, and other findings: 11 of medium severity and nine of low severity. There were also five informational notes indicating existing defensive measures and potential room for improvements. By comparison, TunnelBear’s latest infrastructure audit (which was similar in scope) found three critical-severity issues, three of high severity, nine of medium severity, four of low severity, and 14 informational notes. Only TunnelBear’s audit found any issues of critical severity, both surfacing a vulnerability that could potentially be used in tandem with other exploits to impersonate a TunnelBear server administrator. Mullvad and TunnelBear both addressed security issues quickly.

Mullvad’s transparency is another strong signal of trust. Located in Sweden, the company behind the service (Amagicom) is directly owned by founders Fredrik Strömberg (who works on research and development in security) and Daniel Berntsson. And Amagicom lists its employees on its site. Many other VPNs have begun disclosing their ownership in recent years; it may be no coincidence that the services that still haven’t done so tend to be prone to deceptive marketing and include suspicious “free” VPNs. Plus, according to Mullvad’s CEO, many of the people on its team use Qubes, a security-focused operating system designed to keep sensitive work isolated and secure, even if an attacker were to breach another portion of the computer.

A chart displaying average download speeds for VPN services, in which our top pick, Mullvad, has the highest overall average.

For a trusted VPN to be worthwhile, its network has to be useful, which generally means offering fast connection speeds and a wide variety of locations to connect through. Mullvad’s app allows you to connect to servers in 68 cities across 39 countries. That’s more locations than on most VPNs we considered, but Mullvad has fewer total servers than Surfshark (which offers more than 3,200 servers). With OpenVPN connection speeds, on average, Mullvad ranked first among the VPNs we tested during rush hour, and it did not freeze or drop video calls. Across nine locations, it averaged just about 16% faster than TunnelBear. During non-rush-hour traffic, Mullvad averaged 127.32 Mbps in the US.

Mullvad’s phone apps were sometimes—but not always—faster than connecting on a computer, even with a mix of protocols available, averaging 73 Mbps on Android and 131 Mbps on iOS over Wi-Fi during non-rush-hour times. Like TunnelBear, Mullvad didn’t disrupt basic web-browsing tasks, and neither service caused video calls to drop or freeze.

As for the security and connection standards Mullvad uses, this service is competitive with the other VPN services that we found to be trustworthy. On Windows and macOS, Mullvad allows you to choose between the OpenVPN and WireGuard standards; on its iOS and Android apps, it uses WireGuard exclusively. We recommend using WireGuard for better security and faster speed. But we recommend using OpenVPN where WireGuard isn’t available, like when someone is using TunnelBear. We like that Mullvad lays out its security standards clearly; although TunnelBear meets our standards, the company is less technical in its documentation.

Mullvad includes a kill switch, which stops all traffic if the VPN disconnects. As with other competitors we tested, with Mullvad this feature worked as promised and kept our browsing and connections offline until the VPN connection was confirmed.

Mullvad’s open-source apps are available for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS. This flexibility makes Mullvad simple to set up on a variety of devices, even if you have little technical knowledge. You can customize whether to launch the app on startup and to automatically connect when it launches. It also has a “Local network sharing” setting to access other devices on the same network; this prevents problems with printing and file sharing, a common issue for some VPNs. And though Mullvad didn’t disconnect randomly during our testing, it clearly and visually indicates when you are disconnected by changing the closed green lock icon to an open red lock. (IVPN is the same on Windows. But on a Mac, IVPN’s icon is black when connected and gray when disconnected, which can be harder to discern at a glance.) If you think a colorful icon clashes with an otherwise clean set of single-color icons, you can set the Mullvad icon to not change color by turning on the Monochromatic tray icon setting in Mullvad’s Preferences panel.

A computer screenshot of the Mullvad VPN app, our pick for best VPN service, displaying the Preference toggles in Settings.

Monthly Annually
Mullvad about $5.50 about $60
TunnelBear $9.99 $59.88
Surfshark $12.95 $47.88

Prices are accurate as of January 20, 2023.

Whether you sign up for a month or a year, the cost of a Mullvad subscription is the same: 5 euros a month (about $5.50 at the time of publication). By contrast, TunnelBear is about $10 a month, or $120 a year. Its price is on a par with Mullvad’s only if you commit to a whole year of TunnelBear service.

Mullvad offers some features that other VPN providers don’t. Although most people won’t take advantage of these extras, their existence shows that the company puts a lot of thought into privacy and security. For instance, you can download Mullvad apps using the Tor Browser, and you can verify the signatures for new app releases as well as install them on Android from the open-source Google Play store alternative, F-Droid. We were particularly impressed with the company’s design specifications, which describe how the application should work, the connections it should be allowed to make, and how that differs on each individual platform. “That level of upfront specification means that you can test against that specification, which means that you can actually find deviations from it that indicate security issues. That’s a deeper level of knowledge about what you’re building than what I’ve seen for many other VPN providers,” said Trail of Bits CEO Dan Guido. Mullvad also supports installation on many routers, though it’s worth checking to confirm that yours is supported and what steps are required.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

It’s unfortunate that Mullvad doesn’t offer a free trial of any sort, but its 30-day money-back guarantee is a longer one than many of its competitors offer. We prefer free trials because they make the process of verifying speeds before subscribing to a service so much easier.

Although Mullvad does not have a bug-bounty program, it does have a dedicated email address and PGP key for security researchers to report vulnerabilities, and it says it has rewarded findings in the past.

If you need to contact support, you have to go through email, since Mullvad doesn’t offer chat or phone support and does not use any third-party vendors for ticketing. When we checked its customer service in 2022, the company responded within 24 hours to a support email during the weekend, and it provided clear and informative responses. Its team operates support during weekday office hours on Central European time. Mullvad provides clear setup and anonymity guides, too.

Mullvad’s ad- and ad-tracker-blocking feature is a nice extra, but it requires some hands-on manual configuration to activate it on its Android app. This stands in contrast with Mullvad’s iOS and macOS apps, which feature easy on/off switches for blocking ad tracking or blocking ads altogether.