Those looking to be more anonymous online, encrypt web traffic, or digitally change the location of a computer or phone need will need to sign up for one of the best VPN services. There are a lot of things to consider when picking the right VPN, or Virtual Private Network, for your needs so we've put together a thorough guide to the top VPN picks below.
That being said, a VPN can benefit pretty much anyone from the most basic beginners to experienced professionals and this list can help you make the right VPN choice.
Today's best VPN services
1. ExpressVPN: The absolute best VPN option for most people
This is our top pick for anyone looking to get started with a VPN. It offers a great mix of speed, reliability, outstanding customer service, and affordability. There is a 30-day money-back guarantee, so give it a shot today.
2. NordVPN: The most well-known VPN for security
NordVPN offers an insane amount of server locations that you can pick from and is one of the best services for unblocking streaming services. It's definitely the most well-known brand in the VPN space right now.
3. Surfshark VPN: The best cheap VPN out there
With plans starting out at about 8 cents per day, it's really hard to skip over Surfshark because it's a paid service. It offers a ton of great features that you'd expect from a VPN provider, and is super simple to use.
There are so many options out there, some of which are free VPNs or cheap VPNs, but unfortunately not all of them are created equally. Worry not, though, as we've done the hard work for you with this guide. Doing your research to pick the absolute best VPN service is crucial in your overall experience, but that can be a time consuming task. Worry not, though, as we've done the hard work for you with this guide.
Most of the best VPN providers allow the services to be used on popular devices like gaming consoles, PCs, laptops, phones, routers, and even web browsers like Chrome. Many of them connect in as little as one click, making it easy to use and understand.
If you are going to be trusting a VPN to help anonymize your web traffic and help keep you safe online, you'll want to make sure it is a reputable service. So much of our personal lives are spent online, like checking your bank account, paying bills, keeping up with friends on Facebook, emails, and more. This is all sensitive traffic, and you don't want it falling into the wrong hands. Maybe all you want is the ability to stream a show that's not airing locally to you, and a VPN can help with that as well.
We've gone through hundreds of VPN services and have narrowed down a list to just the absolute best VPN services that you should trust in 2021.
The single best VPN service for almost everyone
Compatible with: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux | Streaming services unblocked: Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Amazon, YouTube | Servers: 3,000+ | Server Locations: 160 in 94 countries | Trial Period: 30 days
- Superb 24/7 live chat customer service
- Fast & reliable connections
- Lots of international locations
- Netflix unblocking
- More expensive than some competitors
- Limited to five devices simultaneously
ExpressVPN is the closest you can get to being the single best VPN for everyone. We've extensively tested the platform, it's apps, and more in our full ExpressVPN review, and it came out with a perfect five-star rating. There are a number of factors that weigh into our decision here, like the amazing customer support, strong security measures, and an abundance of servers that are spread throughout various countries. There are no data limits each month when using ExpressVPN either, which means you can set it and forget it which makes it even easier to use.
ExpressVPN was also super fast in our testing, especially using its own Lightway protocol, across servers in multiple countries. It worked for unblocking Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Disney+, and Amazon Prime Video in our tests, too, which will be a boon for a lot of VPN users.
It's common for VPN providers to have apps for your PC or Mac, and even your phones and tablets. ExpressVPN has those and those apps are so user-friendly that we named it our top VPN for Android as well as our best iPhone VPN and best Mac VPN. Where it stands out even further is its custom firmware that is offered for some routers, its DNS content unblocking for a variety of streaming hardware, and its browser extensions that make connecting to access it all such a breeze.
When it comes to security, ExpressVPN offers industrial-grade encryption (including IKEv2, OpenVPN, and L2TP/IPsec), P2P support, DNS leak protection, a kill switch, no-logging policy, and much more. It's now also certified by the ioXt Alliance.
If any of the above sounds a bit intimidating, especially if this is the first VPN that you'll ever use, worry not. The software is extremely easy to use for the basics and coupled with ExpressVPN's stellar customer service, you'll quickly realize there is nothing to worry about. The support agents understand the platform well and are quick to respond to queries.
There isn't much to complain about with ExpressVPN. The service checks a lot of the key boxes for what most VPN users will care about and want, though it does charge a bit of a premium for it. The pricing structure is higher than most of the competition, but using our link you can actually save up to 49% on your first year of service, along with an extra three months free. Remember, ExpressVPN gives you a free 30-day money-back guarantee, so if you don't find it valuable or just can't figure it out, you can always get your money back with ease.
Best server options of any popular VPN
Compatible with: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux | Streaming services unblocked: Netflix, Disney+, YouTube, BBC iPlayer, Amazon, Hulu | Servers: 5,500+ | Server Locations: 80+ in 60 countries | Trial Period: 30 days
- Over 5,500 servers
- 2048-bit encryption
- Multiple plan options
- User experience issues
- No router app
Now, NordVPN and why it's potentially your next best VPN choice. The company continually matches or beats all of its competitors in terms of features and speed, and isn't far behind ExpressVPN at all when it comes to stats or real world testing.
Some standout specs include more than 5,500 servers in 60 countries in NordVPN's network and 2048-bit encryption instead of 256-bit that most others are using. When it comes to speed, Nord's custom NordLynx protocol makes for a fast and reliable connection, even when connecting to servers far away form your own location.
As you'd expect, NordVPN offers all the standard security features that the competitors do, but comes with some extras as well. You'll have DNS leak protection, a kill switch, apps for nearly every platform out there, and an easy built-in feature to allow you to get around geo-blocks with ease.
NordVPN is focused on security and privacy. As well as its super strong encryption, it undertakes multiple audits, including an annual no-logging audit, and its entire network now runs on diskless RAM servers. It also allows for Bitcoin payments.
While there is a lot of stuff to enjoy about NordVPN, that doesn't mean that it's perfect. Finding servers to connect to can be a bit of painful experience, especially if you want to connect to a specific location which requires multiple clicks to get there. NordVPN also lacks an app for routers or MediaStreamer functionality like ExpressVPN which hold it back fro challenging for top spot right now.
When signing up for NordVPN, you can opt to pay for just a single month of access, or go with a one-year or two-year plan. The cost per month drops significantly as you commit to a longer period of time, with the best pricing being on the two-year plan. Plus, for a limited time, you can score a free month, year, or two years extra when you go for that two-year plan.
Be sure to check out our full NordVPN review now!
3. Surfshark VPN
Best VPN service for those on a budget
Compatible with: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux | Streaming services unblocked: Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, YouTube, BBC iPlayer, Amazon | Servers: 3,200+ | Server Locations: 100+ in 65 countries | Trial Period: 30 days
- Over 3,000 servers available
- Supports unlimited connections
- Company based in British Virgin Islands
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- Not as fast as top two
- Inconsistent performance
Surfshark may have a fun, cute name for its service, but that doesn't mean it's not one of the best VPN options out there to sign up for. The company allows you to connect an unlimited number of devices to your subscription and keep them all secured at the same time. Considering how affordable Surfshark's introductory pricing is, it's a solid choice and worth of being so far up this list.
With Surfshark, you'll have access to over 3,200 different servers that are spread throughout more than 65 different locations. This gives you plenty of variety when trying to change your location and access content not available locally. It worked for Netflix unblocking everywhere we tried it making it a great streaming VPN choice.
It wasn't as fast as ExpressVPN or NordVPN in our testing, but it has now added the new WireGuard protocol to its OpenVPN UDP and TCP and IKEv2 options. Performance seems to vary greatly by location and protocol, so bear that in mind.
If you're new to VPNs, you'll be able to easily use and navigate the interface of Surfshark's apps. The team has stripped out all the extra advanced features an instead opted for a quick connect and easy location selector as its main interface. You can dig into some advanced settings if you want, but it's not presented upfront which will be a plus or a minus depending on your preference.
The company itself is based in the British Virgin Islands so is not required by law to keep data on its customers and the service has all the basic VPN requirements in place, including AES-256 encryption, a kill switch, DNS leak protection, and an extra security measure in place via its Double Hop capabilities.
Surfshark maintains that it does not keep any logs nor user histories for any sessions. That being said, Surfshark hasn't undertaking as many audits as the top two picks with the last one taking place in 2018.
It comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee, giving you enough time to try it out and see if it's the VPN service for you or not. Be sure to check out our Surfshark review as well. The company recently changed its pricing structure, now giving you 24 months of access for just $59.76 total, which breaks down to about 8 cents per day. After the first two years, it renews annually at this price.
4. Hotspot Shield VPN
Best free VPN service with lots of features
Compatible with: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux | Streaming services unblocked: Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, YouTube | Servers: 3,200+ | Server Locations: 115 in 80+ countries | Trial Period: 45 days
- Consistent speeds
- Great customer support
- Unlimited bandwidth each month
- 45-day money-back guarantee
- No longer supports OpenVPN protocol
- Mobile apps not as powerful as desktop
Almost every complaint that we have with Hotspot Shield in our best free VPN post is solved by just paying a few bucks for the company's premium offerings. You step right up to unlimited bandwidth and gain full access to all of its 3,200+ servers that are scattered across 115 different locations. You can connect up to 5 devices at the same time still, and you get that wonderful 24/7 support as an added bonus.
Hotspot Shield is completely ad-free and the service is available on a variety of devices, like iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, and more, though its mobile apps aren't as feature-rich as the desktop equivalents. Hotspot has added functionality to support use on routers, Linux, and TV streamers, too
The service had fast speeds in our testing and, more importantly perhaps, its speeds were consistent throughout. It also unblocked Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, and Disney+ for us.
The information is logged in the aggregate, and not specifically linked to you as a user, but you'll have to take that on trust since Hotspot Shield has not put itself through any form of public security or privacy audit. It's also worth noting that there is no Bitcoin support either.
Hotspot Shield does offer a free 7-day trial, though, so it's definitely worth giving the service a shot.
5. IPVanish VPN
Best VPN with free cloud storage
Compatible with: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux | Streaming services unblocked: Netflix, Disney+, YouTube, Hulu | Servers: 1,900+ | Server Locations: 75+ in 52 countries | Trial Period: 30 days
- Over 40,000 shared IP addresses
- Great app interface
- Now offers unlimited devices to be connected simultaneously
- Cloud storage bundle
- No BBC iPlayer / Prime Video unblocking
- No iOS kill switch
IPVanish is a provider you won't want to rule out. It offers more than 1,900 servers spread across 75 different locations, allows for all of your devices to be connected at the same time, and boasts an impressive 40,000 shared IP addresses. You can also bundle IPVanish with SugarSync cloud storage for just a few bucks extra if that's something you need.
There are apps for all the popular platforms, including Roku, Fire TV, Mac, Android, iOS, Windows, and more. They aren't bogged down with useless features and make connecting to the service the fastest and easiest thing to do from within it. In fact, the app has one of the best user interfaces when it comes to the map of servers, making it easy to get connected to a server in the desired location.
Throughout testing IPVanish we noticed the servers were almost always up and running, the download speeds were consistent, and slightly above most of the others we tested. A network expansion in early 2021 saw some servers updated to better hardware and 25Gbps network cards which will only help things in this department, too.
One odd thing that was noticed was that not every server actually existed where it was said to be, which could be problematic for those looking to unblock content in a specific area. This is only a minor thing, but something that's absolutely worth considering. we also could not get IPVanish to unblock BBC iPlayer or Amazon Prime Video, so it may not be the best streaming VPN choice, though it does work for Netflix and Disney+.
Another area where IPVanish excels is customer support. You can get support any time since the company offers 24/7 coverage, and agents are able to be reached right from within the iOS and Android apps. It really doesn't get easier than this, and the company recently moved from a 7-day to 30-day money-back guarantee. Give our IPVanish review a read and then get started today.
6. PIA VPN
Best beginner VPN option
Compatible with: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux | Streaming services unblocked: Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, YouTube | Servers: 35,000+ | Server Locations: 95+ in 78 countries | Trial Period: 30 days
- Tons of servers
- Easy to use apps
- No data limits
- Supports 10 devices at once
- Based in the U.S.
Private Internet Access, or PIA as it is more commonly known, is another VPN worth consideration. The only real area where the service stands out is in its mammoth server count — it now boasts over 35,000 servers across almost 80 countries which is by far and away the most of any provider — though it is also consistently good in a lot of other areas making it a contender.
In out testing, speeds were fast enough using WireGuard and OpenVPN protocols and we found it could unblock Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+, though BBC iPlayer was a no-go. It's not going to appear on a list of the fastest VPNs out there, but it was usable for day-to-day needs.
All those servers are no good without the security and privacy features to back them up, but PIA does just that with a mix of strong encryption, ad and malware blocking, IP cloaking, and a reliable kill switch. You can also pay in Bitcoin and P2P is supported with port forwarding. That being said, there has been no substantial security audit of PIA, although the ioXt certification which it now has for its Android app is a start.
As a United States-based VPN company, PIA may be compelled to hand over any data it has as part of various international security alliances that the U.S. is apart of. PIA states it doesn't log any data, so theoretically wouldn't;t have anything to hand over, but its headquarters may be enough to put off certain users.
7. CyberGhost VPN
Best streaming VPN with easy one-click connections
Compatible with: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux | Streaming services unblocked: Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Amazon, YouTube | Servers: 6,800+ | Server Locations: 110+ in 90 countries | Trial Period: 45 days
- Over 6,900 servers available
- Based in Romania & Germany
- Automatic server matching for geo-restricted content unblocking
- 45-day money-back guarantee on 3-year plan
- Connection speeds are slower than competition
CyberGhost is a company that's based out of Romania and Germany. It has more than 6,900 different servers that span more than 110 locations, which is quite impressive.
Where CyberGhost really excels though is in its interface. The company doesn't make you guess which server to use for certain tasks, it helps you identify them with ease. Select the geo-blocked service that you want from a list, like Hulu, Netflix, YouTube, etc, and then it will show you the best servers to connect to in order to view the content. Once connected to the server, the app will even open a browser window for you so you can start streaming. That's convenience if we've ever seen it.
Additionally, the service can block ads, trackers, and malicious sites. It automatically sends you to the HTTPS version of each site to ensure you are viewing the most secure option you can. On mobile, you can enable data compression to help save you some MBs while on the go.
Thanks to the ease of use, speeds, and reliability it offers, CyberGhost has been able to bring over 10 million users to its service. The pricing is quite competitive, and by signing up for longer-term plans you can help reduce the per-month cost of the service as well. Will you be the company's next subscriber? Check out our full CyberGhost VPN review for all the details.
8. TunnelBear VPN
Best easy-to-use VPN option
Compatible with: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux | Streaming services unblocked: Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Amazon, YouTube | Servers: 3,000+ | Server Locations: 40+ countries | Trial Period: 30 days
- App is super simple to use
- Uses independent specialists to conduct audits
- Apps available for major platforms
- Limited server locations
TunnelBear may not be the best option of this list for those looking for granular control over where they are connecting or how their VPN is operating. The company goes for a much more simplistic approach, which works for most people in all honesty. The interface is very clean and easy to understand, and the apps are available on Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, and there are even a few browser extensions.
The focus on simplicity goes beyond just the app, though. There are servers in just over 40 countries, which is not as many as some of the others are offering. That's not a huge concern, though something to note if you're looking to connect to specific locations.
On the privacy front, which is what most people are using a VPN for, TunnelBear scores some extra points for its hiring of independent specialists to run a security audit on its servers. This is something no one else is doing, and we wish that more companies would follow suit and do the same.
Worth trying out
Compatible with: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux | Streaming services unblocked: Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, YouTube | Servers: 6,500+ | Server Locations: 180+ in 140 countries | Trial Period: 31 days
- Over 6,500 servers
- Round-the-clock customer support
- Works with almost every device & browser
- Middling speeds
PureVPN is a middle-of-the-pack VPN choice, hence it's middle-of-the-pack placement in this list. It has a solid amount of servers with over 6,500 in 140 countries making it likely that you'll have one nearby for a reliable experience or in a desired location for getting around geographic restrictions. At just $1 for a fully-fledged week-long trial, it's worth trying out.
In our testing, we found that it could unblock content on Netflix, Disney+, and Amazon Prime Video, though we could not get it to work with BBC iPlayer despite PureVPN's website stating compatibility. If streaming is your main concern, you'll be glad to know PureVPN has apps for Android TV, Roku, Kodi, Xbox, PlayStation, and many more devices.
It supports up to ten simultaneous connections, and there's also a router VPN option that lets you use PureVPN on devices that are connected through your router.
Speeds are good, if not great, and there are lots of features like a selection of protocols, strong encryption, and a smarter than average kill switch. Two separate independent auditors have assessed PureVPN's No-Log policy. Altius IT and KPMG concluded that personal user data is not stored on the system, but we did spot some issues with the encryption in the Windows app in our PureVPN review.
Though its support site is not great, PureVPN offers round-the-clock customer support 365 days a year, and edges out the competition by offering a 31-day money-back guarantee instead of just 30 days.
PureVPN offers a ton of server options spread wide in different areas and has great customer support. Its 2-year plan goes for just $2.91 per month if you already know it's for you. PureVPN is so confident you'll like its service, that it offers a 31-day money-back guarantee so you can try it risk-free either way.
Best VPN for gamers & streamers
Compatible with: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux | Streaming services unblocked: Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Disney+, YouTube | Servers: 950+ | Server Locations: 59 in 35 countries | Trial Period: 30 days
- Excellent connection speeds
- WireGuard support
- 12 simultaneous connections
- No logging at all
- Limited number of server options
StrongVPN really excels when it comes to those looking to game while connected to a VPN, but that doesn't mean that you can't use it for other things as well. It comes with WireGuard integration that allows for an industry-leading speed and performance level which is something that's very important. In our testing, we experienced WireGuard speeds at 650-660 Mbps in the UK, and 590-600 Mbps in the U.S. which puts it near the top of the pack when it comes to speed.
Beyond just gaming, that level of speed is highly welcome regardless of your platform, be it Android, Mac, iOS, Windows, Linux, and more for streaming, working, and more. Plus, you can hook up twelve devices simultaneously which is on the higher side compared to the competition. The apps aren't the most well-polished or feature-packed, but they work fine for most people.
There is an absolute zero-logging policy which means that StrongVPN collects no data on your sessions, what pages you look at, your location, or any of that. That being said, StrongVPN hasn't undergone an independent security audit so you're taking the providers at their word on that.
While it may not seem to compete when it comes to the number of servers, how many locations they are in, and all that, but StrongVPN manages to have some of the best connection speeds around. You can also use it to easily unblock media content from different streaming services that may not be available where you are. With prices starting at just $3 per month, you'll want to give StrongVPN a try!
Best security-focued VPN provider
Compatible with: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux | Streaming services unblocked: Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Amazon, YouTube | Servers: 1,200+ | Server Locations: 80+ in 55 countries | Trial Period: 30 days
- Based in Switzerland
- Many servers utilize 10 Gbps connections
- Has great free plan with unlimited bandwidth
- Free plan users are deprioritized during peak hours
Proton may not offer the most servers, or have them spread out in the most locations, but if there is one thing that the company knows it's privacy and security. ProtonVPN is designed to ensure that no one can eavesdrop on your connection, and it does so by routing your connection through fully encrypted tunnels.
The company is based in Switzerland, which means that it benefits from additional strong legal protection. Switzerland offers some of the world's strongest privacy laws, and remains outside of the EU and U.S. jurisdiction, meaning that it can't be coerced into spying on any users.
There are strong no-logging policies, DNS leak protection, a kill-switch, and it can be used as an always-on VPN that automatically reconnects to a server should the connection be interrupted at any point. All of the servers have a minimum speed of 1 Gbps, and many of them actually use a 10 Gbps connection.
The recent NetShield feature, available on all platforms, is a DNS-based web filter that protects you from malware, ads, and trackers. It's a little more configurable than similar services and you're able to choose whether you only block malware, or want to stop ads and trackers as well.
Before you get started with the paid service, you can always try ProtonVPN out for free. It is worth noting that the company does prioritize paid users during peak times, so on a free plan you may notice slower speeds when more people are online.
Whether you end up wanting a free or paid plan, Proton is definitely a VPN provider worth considering.
12. Windscribe VPN
Best free VPN with option to earn extra data monthly
Compatible with: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux | Streaming services unblocked: Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Dinsney+, Amazon, YouTube | Servers: 500+ | Server Locations: 110 in 63 countries
- Free plan offers generous data bucket
- Supports unlimited simultaneous connections
- High-quality apps
- Speeds can be a little slow
- No 24/7 support
We featured Windscribe on our best free VPNs post as well because of the unique approach it takes to data allotment. With the paid plans, however, you get an unlimited amount of data to use each month and can connect an unlimited number of devices at the same time. It has more than 500 different servers that span across more than 60 different locations, which is about average.
There are clients for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, and extensions for all the popular browsers. The apps have been recently redesigned, and are now stylish, feature-rich, and configurable. You can manually set up Windscribe on your router, Kodi, and more with a little extra effort, too.
Windscribe also has ROBERT, which is its highly configurable ad/malware blocking and content filtering system. That's a bonus for those looking for a little extra security and privacy.
Unfortunately, Windscribe speeds can be a little bit slow (due to the low overall server count, likely), and there is no 24/7 support which means that you may have to wait a bit to get any issues you encounter resolved. It may not be the fastest, or offer the most options, but Windscribe is definitely worth considering. You'd be best off to check out the free plan for a month first, and then upgrade based on your needs.
How do you pick the best VPN for you?
Finding the best VPN service for you is not quite as difficult as it may seem at first glance. There are a few things that you will want to consider when purchasing a new VPN subscription for yourself, so let's break them down now to help you decide.
First up, you will want to make sure you find is a VPN provider that has a good app that's easy to use, which we've considered strongly in our rating of the below services. Nearly all of the best VPN options will work on Mac, PC, Android, iPhone, Fire TV Sticks, gaming consoles, and more. This is important because the app is something you'll interact with daily to connect to the services, so if it's not easy to use, it may prevent you from wanting to use the service in general.
Another thing you will want to take into account is how many devices can be used by your subscription at the same time, whether or not the companies offer strong customer support for when you run into an issue, and the overall cost of the service that you are signing up for. The best VPN services vary in cost big time and range anywhere from $2 per month up to over $6 per month. Our top pick, ExpressVPN, happens to be one of the more expensive, while Surfshark makes the top three but is one of the cheapest.
When trying to pick the best VPN provider for yourself there are a lot of things to consider. Encryption is one of the most important features of a VPN, and one of the main uses for most people. Think about how much time you spend online each day. You enter banking details, credit cards, passwords, and more all around the web, and sometimes from an unsecured public connection. Using a VPN you can keep all that data secure as it's passed from your phone through the virtual tunnels of the internet.
Another great vpn use is that you can easily connect to a server in a different location than where you are. This is called "spoofing", and it makes it appear as though your traffic is coming from somewhere it isn't actually. That means you can access local content like concerts, sporting events, news, and even things like Netflix libraries.
The hardest part about a VPN is not actually using it, but instead understanding which one to pick for yourself. Nowadays you can find tons of different VPN options, some of which are free and others that are paid. Some of them have data limits, and others cap the number of simultaneous connections, and picking out the best VPN is not an easy task. Don't panic, though. We've done the hard part and have put various options through their paces so that we could break it down for you. Our top pick, for a number of reasons which are listed below, is ExpressVPN. It provides the best overall balance between price, speed, reliability, ease of use, and customer service.
Check out a full breakdown of all the best VPN services to see the good, the bad, and all the differences that make them unique below. We've also rounded up the best Android VPN apps and best free Android VPN options for your consideration.
We have a full list of picks further up in this guide, but our top three best VPN options right now include ExpressVPN, NordVPN, and Surfshark.
What about the other VPN companies?
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of other VPN providers. It seems like a new VPN provider pops up each week, and some of them make some pretty crazy promises. We've tested a ton in order to decide which is the best overall.
We'd recommend sticking to one of the options mentioned here when you get started with a VPN. We are constantly looking at new offerings, reviewing our picks on this list, and ensuring that the information included in this guide is as accurate as possible.
Best VPN of 2021 at a glance
- ExpressVPN - The best VPN service you can use in 2021 (From $6.67 per month)
- NordVPN - One of the biggest names in the space with a server selection to match (From $3.67 per month)
- Surfshark - Perfect for those on a budget and looking for ease of use (From $2.49 per month)
- Hotspot Shield VPN - A reliable VPN provider that has servers in a ton of locations (From $2.99 per month)
- IPVanish - One of the easiest VPN options to use (From $3.20 per month)
If you're in the market for a VPN and need a little more information on exactly what a VPN is, what you can use a VPN for, and some basics like that, we have you covered. There are a lot of competitors covered above, but picking the right one for you is dependent on your needs. Let's take a look deeper into VPNs and help you decide which one to buy.
✏️ What is a VPN?
A VPN is a Virtual Private Network. The idea behind it is to add an extra layer of security to whichever network you are trying to connect to, be it your home broadband, public Wi-Fi, or your mobile connection. It allows you to send and receive data privately while connecting to that network.
Once connected, your traffic is routed through a "tunnel" which encrypts the data so that outside eyes can't sleuth it. The protection prevents people from being able to not only see what is happening but also prevents them from knowing where it is happening from.
In addition to adding security, you can use a VPN to "spoof" your location by connecting to a server that's based in a different location. This means you'd be able to bypass some geographic restrictions and view content that you may not have been able to otherwise.
⚙️ How do VPNs work?
Though it seems complicated at first, a VPN works in a pretty simple manner. Behind the scenes, the VPN provider routes your traffic through a set of servers that can then protect it via encryption and change its location. That means others can't see what you are doing on public connections.
Instead of going from Your Device to the website, a VPN adds a middle step. Now the pathway actually looks goes from Your Device to Secure VPN servers then ends up at the website.
All of this is done in the background once you are connected to the service and a server, adding very little lag to the process. One of the coolest parts is that you can be sitting in an airport in New York and connect to a server in Europe, without having to move. You'd think that this extra step could slow your speeds, or put a delay in getting things done, but many of the best VPN providers offer fast speeds and reliable connections, so you barely notice that it's even connected in the background.
⚖️ Are VPNs legal?
In most areas of the world, VPNs are perfectly legal. Some countries have put bans in place to restrict VPNs as a whole, and others have limitations on their use cases, though these generally apply to people who live there not travel there.
For the countries that do restrict VPN uses, there are oftentimes some providers that are specifically approved for use there. This means that you may not have as many options, but some are better than none. For example, in China companies have to get Chinese government approval, and those who use unapproved VPNs can be fined heavily.
On the other hand, in the United Arab Emirates, things are far more serious. The fine for using a VPN (any of them) is over half a million dollars and you can be sentenced to jail time.
If you are unsure of the legalities of a VPN where you live, be sure to seek some information from local authorities before getting one installed.
❓ Is a VPN worth it?
Having a VPN is a really smart choice to make these days, especially if you travel a lot and spend any time at all on public Wi-Fi spots (think airport lounges or your local coffee shop). These don't offer any of their own security measures, so you'll want to make sure your data is safe while you use it.
So much of our day-to-day activity is done online. Think about how many times you've accessed bank information from a public network, or logged into your most personal accounts from the airport. All of it is unprotected, and in the hands of the wrong people, it could be bad news for you.
In most cases, a VPN is a nominal cost each month, and there are even some free options that are definitely worth considering. For the price of a cup of coffee, or a fast-food lunch, you could add protection to all your browsing sessions for the whole month. If you do the cost-benefit analysis yourself, you'd probably come down on the side of wanting a VPN.
💻 What are the best VPN uses?
There are many use cases for having a VPN, though there are two huge ones that most people will be drawn to. The first use is for additional security and privacy a VPN to secure their traffic, especially when connecting to public and open Wi-Fi. This is becoming a more popular requirement in the business world where people are constantly traveling. Many companies require the use of a VPN in order to access the company's intranet and services.
Alternatively, many will use a VPN to be able to connect to a server in a different location to access content that may be regionally blocked. This is known as "spoofing" your location, and it allows you to do things like watch Netflix, Disney+, and more from anywhere even if it isn't officially supported where you live.
There are plenty of other uses for VPN services as well.
💰 Is a paid VPN better than a free VPN?
Many VPN companies these days offer both free and paid VPN options, but when you opt for the free one you make some sacrifices. Most of the time, the free versions allow for fewer devices to be connected at the same time, slower speeds, fewer servers, and limits on data usage per month.
Some services, like ProtonVPN, offer unlimited data but will offer better speeds to paying customers during peak times. Windscribe allows you to score extra data each month by referring friends and tweeting about the service, so there are definitely ways to live with a free VPN, you just need to be a bit more aware of the limitations and factor those into your decision making.
Upgrading to a paid plan ensures that you see no ads, oftentimes means that there are no data limits, and many companies offer unlimited connections as well.
Any VPN (free or paid) is better than no VPN at the end of the day. Give a free service a shot to see if it works out for you, and if you are happy with it, then maybe you should consider upgrading to a paid option for an even better experience.
🔎 What to look for when picking a VPN?
There's a whole lot of information above about different VPN providers, but knowing what's important to look for isn't always easy. We've broken it down into a few easy things that everyone should be focused on when researching different VPN providers.
- Does the provider have servers in the country you need? Sometimes you are looking to watch specific content, or you only want to be able to connect to local servers, and every single VPN provider operates in different areas. Pure server count isn't always the biggest factor in determining speed or reliability — be sure to look specifically at the locations.
- Can you connect everything you want at the same time? Some providers offer only one connection at a time while others offer more spaces or even an unlimited amount. This is critical because you don't want to be worrying about disconnecting one device to protect another. Get one that works for everything you need it to or even one that can run on your router to cover all of the devices in your home.
- Are you comfortable with the pricing structure? Prices vary from free to $10 or more per month for some services. The longer you commit to using the service (buying a one- or three-year plan) the cheaper you can get the per-month rate. It may prove worth spending a little more upfront to keep yourself protected for a longer period of time, for less. Most have trial periods or money-back guarantees, too.
📺Can a VPN unblock regional content?
One of the big selling points for many people is that you can use your VPN to spoof your location, meaning that you can access content that may not be available locally where you are at that moment. This is great for those who frequently travel and want to keep up with local shows.
Depending on your service of choice, you can use it to unblock content from Hulu, Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, and much more. Normally, you just need to connect to the VPN, then select a server based where the content you want to watch is streaming, and then you are able to watch it like you are in that country.
Some VPN services, particularly those with fewer servers, may have issues when it comes to unblocking some streaming content as their servers may be blacklisted by the content provider if they want to stop this process.
📱Should I use a VPN on my phone?
In an ideal world, you would use a VPN on every device that connects to the internet. This is the absolute best way to keep yourself and your data safe from tracking, hacking, and more.
Luckily, every one of the VPNs mentioned in this best VPN guide offers mobile apps, which means you can easily get started using it on your iPhone or Android device. We've also rounded up the best VPNs for Android along with the best VPN for iPhone, so be sure to check those out.
We test and review VPN services in the context of legal recreational uses. For example:
1. Accessing a service from another country (subject to the terms and conditions of that service).
2. Protecting your online security and strengthening your online privacy when abroad.
We do not support or condone the illegal or malicious use of VPN services. Consuming pirated content that is paid-for is neither endorsed nor approved by Future Publishing.
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