A VPN or virtual private network will help you stay safe and secure online while above all keeping your private stuff private
Choosing a VPN service to sign up to can be confusing – there’s a lot of VPN services out there which makes choosing the right one tricky at best and very confusing – and downright dangerous – at worst.
Luckily we’ve tested all of the major players to take the sting out of your decision. So if you’re thinking of signing up for a VPN and want to find out which one is the best, you’ve come to the right place!
As of March 2018, we’ve (re)tested more than 100 of the best (and some of the worst) VPN services in 2017 and 2018 and we retest them regularly too – so you can be sure the recommendations on this page are current and can be trusted.
If you’re purchasing from outside the US, please note that most VPN services are global and will usually charge in US Dollars, so we’ve listed prices accordingly.
However, when you click through to the actual deals, you may find the prices automatically displayed in your home currency as direct price conversions.
What’s the best VPN service?
The best VPN service right now is ExpressVPN. It’s the best all-round option for speed, privacy and unblocking websites. A close number two is IPVanish which is another very reliable VPN that we like a lot – particularly the way it handles P2P and torrenting. And the third best VPN in 2018 is VyprVPN – amazing for speed in particular. Read more about these VPN services and more below!
The best all-round VPN service for speed, privacy and unblocking
Number of servers: 1800+ | Server locations: 148 | IP addresses: 30,000 | Maximum devices supported: 3
ExpressVPN delivered outstanding performance in our speed tests and excellent customer support.
ExpressVPN offers 145 locations across 94 countries, alongside an excellent range of tailored clients, with some great efforts for mobile and desktop on the software front. You get native clients for Windows, Mac, Linux, plus iOS, Android and even BlackBerry (albeit a couple of models) on the mobile front.
But that’s not all, add routers (they do their own firmware), VPN browser extensions and DNS content unblocking for a wide range of streaming media devices and Smart TVs, giving you a very extensive VPN solution.
What’s also really helpful is that there are loads of web-based tutorials which are easy to follow to help you get up and running with the service. ExpressVPN’s website also offers live chat support, with agents staffed 24/7 to answer any questions you may have about their service.
You also get P2P support, a kill switch (to help your IP stay concealed if your network drops), and very solid overall performance levels.
Downsides? The ExpressVPN service supports just three simultaneous connections per user, and their service comes with a premium price tag. But if you want a reliable, ultra fast and highly secure provider, ExpressVPN may be a great fit. While they don’t have a free trial option, ExpressVPN has a ‘no hassle’ 30-day money-back guarantee if you aren’t happy with the service. The packages available are:
Awesome for torrenting and other P2P traffic
Number of servers: 950+ | Server locations: 60+ | IP addresses: 40000+ | Maximum devices supported: 5
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While many VPN services try to stand out with their free plans and cheap commercial products, IPVanish talks more about service quality. It’s “the world’s fastest VPN” says the website, boasting 40,000+ shared IPs, 1000+ VPN servers in 60+ countries, unlimited P2P traffic, five simultaneous connections, a no logs policy and more.
The price is still going to be an issue for some – it is more expensive than the average VPN, but IPVanish’s high speeds, choice of locations and excellent client are hard to beat (although in our latest look at the Windows client, we did find it potentially susceptible to the odd network issue, perhaps more so than rival software). If you’re after quality, take the plunge with this VPN service, and if somehow you end up unhappy with the service there’s a 7-day money-back guarantee.
Great for performance and security
Number of servers: 700+ | Server locations: 73 | IP addresses: 200,000+ | Maximum devices supported: 3-5
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This VPN service is based in Switzerland, where there are favourable privacy laws, and it’s a very well-specified service boasting 73 server locations and unlimited data usage.
There are also some great extras such as auto-connect options to make things easy for you, a kill switch, and you get bolstered security courtesy of the firm’s proprietary Chameleon protocol and VyprDNS. Note that on the logging front, some logs are maintained (connection times, IP addresses).
VyprVPN also offers a commendably wide range of clients and its Windows software benefits from an easy-to-use interface. Perhaps the best news, though, comes on the performance front – this VPN is certainly speedy.
One point you should be aware of is that VyprVPN doesn’t do refunds at all, but there is a 3-day trial. In terms of what’s on offer here, you can subscribe either monthly or annually to a Basic or Premium plan (you get three connections with the former, and five with the latter). The packages available are:
An ultra-secure provider
Number of servers: 3500+ | Server locations: 60+ | IP addresses: N/A | Maximum devices supported: 6
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Despite being based in a country located in Central America – hardly a tech hub – NordVPN‘s current products match or beat the competition in just about every area.
You get over 3,500+ servers in 60+ countries, 2048-bit encryption, 6-device support as standard, strong DNS leak protection, an automatic kill switch, optional dedicated IP addresses, encrypted proxy extensions for Chrome and Firefox browsers, with payment options that include Bitcoin, PayPal and credit cards.
There’s also a SmartPlay feature which can be used to get around geo-restrictions and unblock a large number of streaming services.
NordVPN has four service options available: a monthly subscription, as well as one and two-year plans, and an excellent value three-year special offer as mentioned at the outset. If you want to give the service a whirl before you commit, NordVPN provides a nifty three-day free trial which is rather hidden away on the website – find it here. The packages available are:
If you want an easy-to-use VPN service, you got it
Number of servers: ~1,000 | Server locations: 20+ | IP addresses: N/A | Maximum devices supported: 5
TunnelBear is a Canadian-based VPN service which is notable for a number of reasons, perhaps the foremost of which is its emphasis on ease-of-use. You get a wide range of clients, covering both desktop and mobile devices thoroughly, and the software is highly user-friendly.
Even the website steers clear of using jargon, and talks about how a VPN works in simple layman’s terms. As you might guess, though, expert users might find the lack of details rather off-putting – and more importantly, there aren’t many low-level options to tweak your connection either. So this is really designed with beginners in mind.
In terms of coverage, TunnelBear offers servers in 20+ different countries across the globe, and gives you up to five simultaneous connections. This provider is strong on the privacy front, as well, clearly and concisely explaining its policies, and again not drowning you in jargon (of the legal variety in this case, rather than the technical kind).
Performance is also impressive over shorter hops and solid to the US, although really long-distance connections such as Singapore can see speeds drop considerably (that’s not unusual for VPNs, though).
TunnelBear even offers a free service, and while that normally limits you to just 500MB of traffic per month. Paid plans give you unlimited data and can be had for a reasonable $4.16 per month.
A VPN service which gives you unlimited connections
Number of servers: 348 | Server locations: 50 | IP addresses: N/A | Maximum devices supported: Unlimited
Windscribe is a quality VPN service which has native Windows, Mac and iOS clients – an Android client was recently launched, but labelled as being potentially unstable, so use it at your own risk for now. What you do also get is a range of browser add-ons, which come highly rated (and also block ads).
One of the main attractions here is the fact that Windscribe’s commercial plan allows for unlimited connections, so no matter how many family members or devices you’ve got, you’ll be covered.
There’s a free plan available and it gives you a generous 10GB of monthly data, although you can only use one device with it, and there are limits on the amount of data you can download.
The paid-for Pro plan gives you unlimited data and devices as mentioned, and you can subscribe either monthly, or annually for a cheaper rate – namely $9 or $7.50 a month respectively.
Fantastic VPN service for browsing online privately
Number of servers: 2000 | Server locations: 20 | IP addresses: N/A | Maximum devices supported: 5
AnchorFree’s Hotspot Shield Elite manages to provide all the necessary VPN service features at an attractive price with the option of getting a lifetime license. It supports private browsing, allows “access all content”, and supports up to five devices.
Performance results in our tests were excellent, with latency showing only a marginal increase, and both upload and download speeds were a little faster once connected.
We’d like more configurability and a wider range of locations, but Hotspot Shield Elite’s high speeds and low prices have a lot of appeal, and the 7-day trial makes it easy to test the service for yourself.
As usual, the best value-for-money is the 1-year subscription (note that you will be billed in US dollars), unless you want to commit to the lifetime plan. Further note that of late the free version of Hotspot Shield has been dogged by controversy over redirecting traffic to partner sites including online advertising firms, but the Center for Democracy & Technology didn’t level these accusations at the paid product (and the provider has denied the allegations anyway).
A great all-round VPN service
Number of servers: 1000+ | Server locations: 70+ | IP addresses: N/A | Maximum devices supported: 5
KeepSolid boasts some impressive performance levels, with our testing showing that the VPN barely affected download speeds (compared to the rates we got with the VPN turned off).
This provider offers a wide range of clients, with coverage for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux and Windows 10 Mobile, and setup instructions are provided for further devices.
Do note, however, that this VPN service doesn’t support torrents across the majority of its servers, so it isn’t a good choice for file sharers. (Only five servers support torrents: Canada, France, Luxembourg, Romania, and a single location in the US).
There are also some flies in the ointment on the privacy front, with some session logging taking place (although that isn’t unusual), and we also found evidence of DNS leaks.
KeepSolid offers a seven-day trial, and a seven-day money-back guarantee to boot, with a choice of three price plans, including a lifetime option which could work out very cheap in the long run. The annual subscription is also nicely competitive. The packages available are:
Feature-packed clients and impressive configurability
Number of servers: 1109 | Server locations: 44 | IP addresses: N/A | Maximum devices supported: 5
CyberGhost is a Romanian/German-based outfit that caters for in excess of 10 million users, and offers a diverse range of feature-packed clients, including native software for Windows and Mac, along with iOS and Android.
While those clients have some niggles in terms of their interfaces, there are a number of very neat options here, including the ability for the VPN to kick in when you launch specific apps.
Those who enjoy a bit of peer-to-peer file sharing will also be glad to hear that torrents are supported on most of its servers. And it’s good to see that performance is speedy enough, or at least we found that in our testing.
In terms of being able to try the service out before you buy, there’s a free plan, although with some restrictions: you can only connect one device at a time, it may run slower than the full commercial service, and it displays adverts (among other limitations).
The good thing is there’s no limit on data usage. Also, if you do commit to a full subscription, there’s a 30-day money-back guarantee if you’re not satisfied.
There’s a good choice of plans with four possible selections, including a highly affordable two-year offer. The packages available are:
- Best Value [2.37 Euros a month] Save 74%, 2-year – 69.90 Euros
- [4.99 Euros a month] save 50%, 1-year – 59.88 Euros
- [7.99 Euros a month] save 33%, 6-months – 47.94 Euros
- [10.99 Euros a month] 1-month – 10.99 Euros
Which is the best VPN service for your exact needs?
The best VPN service for Android
The winner here is ExpressVPN – in our tests it came out on top when used with an Android phone or tablet. You can use ExpressVPN on your other devices too, but the Android app is extremely user-friendly, so it’s ideal for anyone who hasn’t used a VPN before. For more experienced users it’s also great as there are plenty of advanced options to play with. There is a free trial available on Android as well, though it only lasts for 24 hours!
The best VPN service for torrenting
We crowned IPVanish the best provider when it comes to downloading torrents (and for other P2P traffic, for that matter). One of the obvious major plus points with this service is the fact that it allows unlimited P2P traffic. And the other big attraction is the excellent download speeds we found IPVanish delivered in our testing, which has to be one of the primary considerations for any VPN when it comes to downloading hefty files. There is no free trial available here, sadly, but subscribers do get a seven-day money-back guarantee.
The best VPN service for Kodi
If you want a streamer’s dream of a VPN service for use with Kodi, then look no further than IPVanish. This provider’s excellent performance and speeds will help you make the most of streaming, and hopefully to avoid any buffering nastiness. You also get an excellent native client for Windows with an intuitive interface, yet some good depth in terms of advanced settings. There is no free trial, but you benefit from a 7-day money-back guarantee.
The best VPN service for China
If you’re visiting China, or you live in the country, then your best bet for a sterling VPN service is VyprVPN. As you may be aware, China has some pretty heavy internet censorship, and this provider has its own Chameleon security protocol which can help bypass VPN blocking and deep packet inspection. It was also a very fast service in our tests, and has plenty of local servers in Asia. One caveat to beware of here is that Apple has banned the VyprVPN iOS app in China, so if you’re an iPhone or iPad user, you’ll need to look elsewhere (Buffered VPN is our highest ranked alternative which hasn’t been banned).
The best VPN service for Mac
Our number one VPN for Apple computers is ExpressVPN, which offers an excellent Mac app which is dead simple to use (there’s also a quality iOS app to complement it, should you also use an Apple mobile device). You also get a speedy VPN service, and quality customer support, which never hurts. There’s no free trial, but ExpressVPN argues its 30-day money-back guarantee is better than any trial, because it’s a no-hassle guaranteed refund that lets you experience the full service.
The best VPN service for Netflix
If it’s Netflix streaming you’re keen on – and maybe accessing content you wouldn’t otherwise be able to view (although note you do so at your own risk, as Netflix expressly forbids this) – then our top pick is NordVPN. This provider offers speedy performance for slick streaming, and supports viewing Netflix in a number of countries (not just the US). It’s also really strong on the security front, and provides a three-day free trial to try-before-you-buy.
The best VPN service for Canada
IPVanish comes top of our rankings for the best VPN to use in Canada, whether you’re a resident or just visiting. For starters, the provider boasts an impressive array of servers in Canada, 16 of them to be precise, which will certainly help in the quest for a fast and stable connection. In our tests, we found this VPN gave us a substantial increase in download speeds compared to our normal rates, which is very impressive indeed. There’s no trial, but subscribers can make use of a seven-day money-back guarantee if they’re not satisfied.
The best VPN service for Chrome
If you want a simple solution to ensure safe and private browsing, then you can simply add an extension to your Chrome browser – and our favorite in this case is Hotspot Shield. The extension offers impressive performance, tight security, and perhaps best of all it’s dead easy to use – you’ll be up and running in just a couple of clicks, with the VPN automatically connecting to the fastest server. There’s a free version of this extension, too, although users are limited to four virtual locations.
The best VPN service for iPhone and iOS
Once again, the excellent IPVanish snags another win when it comes to keeping iPhone users safe online. This is our recommended VPN here because of its consistently fast performance, not to mention the excellent iOS client which takes care of most operations automatically (such as finding the fastest server for you). There’s no free trial to take the service for a test spin, but you are covered by the safety net of a seven-day money-back guarantee.
Free vs. Paid VPN: Which is better?
VPNs used to be a premium product, but you don’t have to spend big money on them anymore. Some companies now offer a basic service that won’t cost you anything at all. Are the free VPNs as good as their paid-for counterparts then? Not so fast.
As you’d expect, there are catches, and they typically start with a data cap. Avira Phantom VPN’s free plan limits you to 500MB a month, PrivateTunnel offers 2GB, whereas ZPN has a generous 10GB allowance – not bad at all.
Free products also typically have usage restrictions. Most companies don’t want you to soak up all their bandwidth on torrents, so ZPN is typical in blocking P2P.
Hide.me’s 2GB free plan also has some common limits. There’s “best effort” bandwidth, which means paying customers have speed priority and you get what’s left. And the choice of locations is limited to three: Canada, Netherlands and Singapore.
Hola’s free-for-personal-use plan doesn’t have the same kind of restrictions, but even here there’s a catch. The service routes traffic through its free users rather than dedicated servers, so signing up allows others to (securely) share a small part of your bandwidth and resources.
Then there’s the adverts and the session limits (CyberGhost) and the general lack of service level agreement: free means that it doesn’t come with any implicit warranties.
Free plans are fine for simple needs, then – maybe protecting your laptop’s wireless hotspot traffic on the occasional trip – but if you’re looking for anything more advanced, a commercial product is best.
The immediate benefit is that you know your personal data remains safe, even if you’re on a public Wi-Fi hotspot. Local snoopers might be able to see the connection, but there’s no way to find out what it is or where it’s going.
VPNs also give you a new digital identity in the shape of an IP address from another country. This makes it harder for websites or anyone else to track you, allows some people to bypass government censorship, and helps the rest of us avoid those “not available in your country” messages on YouTube or other streaming sites.
Best of all, despite the low-level network technology involved, you don’t need to be any kind of expert to make VPNs work. For the most part, all you have to do is choose the country where you’d like an IP address, click Connect to start, Disconnect when you’re done – and that’s it.
How to choose a VPN service
There are several factors to consider when you’re choosing a paid VPN. Here are six tips.
1. Does the plan have servers in every country and region you need? Having more than one server in a country can help spread the load, but doesn’t guarantee improved performance, so don’t assume a plan with 500 servers will automatically beat another with 100.
2. Check the number of simultaneous connections supported. Typically, this is 3-5, which allows you to have a PC, mobile and tablet connected at the same time. But beware, many companies say this is for a single user only, and they all have fair usage policies to prevent people hogging resources. If you let the entire family download and stream videos separately then you’ll run into trouble.
3. Some providers list the connection protocols they use. OpenVPN and IKeV2 are good choices, fast and secure. You might see SSTP and the older PPTP, as well as protocol options (TCP or UDP for OpenVPN). You don’t need to understand the low-level details, but having the extra choice can help the service make faster and/or more reliable connections.
5. It’s important to consider the client, the software which handles your connections. These all have a list of servers and a Connect/ Disconnect button, but could you use more? Some clients display server load and ping time in the interface, helping you choose the right server. Regular users might appreciate a “Favourites” system to save and recall specific servers. If you know what you’re doing, having access to low-level network settings will help you tune the whole system.
6. Finally, there’s the price. Beware of apparently cheap deals: these may have restricted features, exclude taxes, be discounted for the first billing period only, and renew automatically, so that apparent one-off £3.99 might become almost £10 next month. Look for a ‘Pricing’ link, read the small print, and if possible use something like PayPal where it’s easy to check and cancel a subscription yourself.
Once you’ve found what looks like a good VPN candidate, be sure to take it for a trial before you spend any big money. But a short trial can only tell you so much, so once that’s expired, pay for a month, run as many tests as you can, then upgrade to a better value plan (usually yearly) if you’re still happy.
How to test a VPN service
Our comparisons started by looking at each provider’s range of plans. We were looking for features, value, and clear and honest pricing. Free ways to learn more about a service – free plans, trial periods, refund periods – were important, and we also looked for companies which maintained your privacy when you signed up (no email address required, trials available without credit cards, Bitcoin available as a payment option).
VPN performance is difficult to measure as there are so many variables, but we used multiple techniques to try and get a feel for each service’s abilities. We first used speedtest.net to measure the latency, upload and download speeds for a distant connection (typically UK to California), repeated the test immediately with the VPN turned off, and looked at any changes.
We followed this up with a much shorter connection (typically UK to Netherlands) to see a more typical peak performance, ran a second benchmark to confirm our results, and ran some general browsing tests – including streaming HD video – to look for other problems.
VPNs will always give you a new IP address, but some services may have DNS or other leaks which give clues about your identity. We visited IPLeak.net and other privacy sites to look for problems.
In terms of the client and interface, we were looking for good server selection tools (by country, region, server, speed, with filters, a Favourites system, perhaps with server load or ping time displayed), with plenty of configuration options, but also a client which stays out of the way until it’s needed.
Finally, we weighed up these individual factors, came up with an overall score, and narrowed these down to the 10 best VPNs around. All the software in the top five scored at least 70 points out of 100.