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The Best VPN Service of 2021

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Illustration of a Podium Displaying First, Second and Third Place
Simon Migliano Head of Research at Top10VPN
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Simon 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, CNet and more. Read full bio

A virtual private network (VPN) greatly improves your online privacy and security.

It’s simple yet powerful software that hides your IP address and encrypts your web traffic.

The best VPN services secure your internet connections and unblock web content, without compromising on speed.

Finding the best VPN may feel impossible, but it actually isn’t.

We’ve been testing hundreds of VPN applications since 2016, and the services we recommend below are the best we’ve reviewed.

The five best VPN services of 2021 are:

  1. ExpressVPN: The best VPN service of 2021. Very fast, secure and consistently unblocks US Netflix. Read summary
  2. NordVPN: Affordable VPN with superb speeds and user-friendly apps. A good alternative to ExpressVPN. Read summary
  3. CyberGhost: Easy to use and optimized for unblocking streaming platforms. Ideal for beginners. Read summary
  4. IPVanish: Fast and secure VPN with the best Fire TV Stick app. Aimed at Kodi and IPTV users. Read summary
  5. Surfshark: Very cheap VPN that’s great for streaming Disney+ and has no device limit. Read summary

We put every VPN we review through our impartial testing process, analyzing factors such as speed, security and privacy.

We also test VPN access to streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and BBC iPlayer.

Recommending private and safe VPN services is key for us. In our free VPN investigations, we exposed many unsafe mobile VPN apps, and requested Google and Apple delist them from their App Stores.

In short, our top-rated VPNs are extremely fast, secure and private, giving you anonymous, unrestricted and global internet access.

Best VPNs for February 2021

  1. 1. ExpressVPN: Best Overall VPN

    Excellent for speed, security, streaming and torrenting.

    Ranked #1 out of 69 VPN services
    1. Impressive speeds, even on international connections
    2. Unblocks streaming services, including 19 Netflix libraries
    3. AES-256 encryption & no personal data logging
    4. 3,000+ servers in 94 countries
    5. Easy-to-use apps & Smart DNS for high compatibility
    6. Excellent 24/7 customer support with live chat
    1. More expensive than its rivals
    2. No VPN kill switch on iOS
    3. Dated Amazon Fire TV Stick app
    4. Recent issues with BBC iPlayer
    5. No Linux GUI

    ExpressVPN is the best VPN service of 2021, whatever your needs. It’s fast, highly secure and allows private torrenting.

    It also unblocks major content platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer and Disney+.

    Cheapest Price$6.67/mo over 15 Months See all plans
    Top Download Speedi

    Based on a 100Mbps test connection

    88Mbps
    Data LeaksNo
    JurisdictionBritish Virgin Islands (Privacy Haven)
    Logging PolicyAnonymous Server Usage Data
    Countries94
    Servers3,000+
    US NetflixYes
    Works in ChinaYes
    Compatible with
    1. windowsWindows
    2. macosMacOS
    3. linuxLinux
    4. chromeosChromeos
    5. iosiOS
    6. androidAndroid
    7. amazon_firetvFire TV
    8. appletvApple TV
    9. androidtvAndroid TV
    10. chromecastChromecast
    11. rokuRoku
    12. xboxXbox
    13. playstationPlayStation
    14. chromeChrome
    15. edgeEdge
    16. firefoxFirefox
    17. routerRouter

    Highly secure zero-logs VPN

    ExpressVPN is a safe and secure VPN service.

    It uses top-end protocols and security standards, like OpenVPN (TCP and UDP) and AES-256 encryption.

    Its advanced encryption and obfuscation technologies allow ExpressVPN to beat aggressive web censorship in China.

    Your privacy is safe with ExpressVPN. The VPN doesn’t record or store personal usage logs, and it always masks your IP address while running.

    Safe jurisdiction

    The company is headquartered in the privacy haven of the British Virgin Islands (BVI).

    This is an excellent jurisdiction for a VPN company, and adds to ExpressVPN’s trustworthiness.

    Fast server network

    ExpressVPN is extremely fast. We recorded 88Mbps download speeds (on a 95Mbps connection without the VPN running). That’s a mere 8% loss in speed on short-distance connections.

    The VPN is especially fast connecting to distant servers. These are the latest speeds we recorded:

    Connection Download Speed % Speed Loss
    UK to UK 88Mbps 8%
    UK to Germany 88Mbps 8%
    UK to USA (New Jersey) 79Mbps 17%
    UK to Singapore 73Mbps 24%
    UK to Australia (Sydney) 69Mbps 27%

    Excellent for Netflix and torrenting

    Fast speeds are especially important to stream online videos. Especially video libraries in other countries.

    ExpressVPN is the best VPN for streaming US Netflix, and the 18 other libraries it unblocks.

    Also, all its VPN apps work with Hulu, HBO, Disney+, and Amazon Prime Video. They also stream BBC iPlayer, with some tinkering.

    You can also torrent privately on any server, with no restrictions.

    High quality is worth the higher price

    At its cheapest, ExpressVPN still costs $6.67 per month on a 15-month contract.

    ExpressVPN is more expensive than many of its rivals, but you do get your money’s worth.

    Superb device compatibility

    There are user-friendly apps for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android or Fire OS. MediaStreamer, its Smart DNS tool, works well on Apple TV and games consoles.

    If you’re new to VPNs and need assistance, helpful live chat support is available 24/7.

    If money is no object, we recommend using ExpressVPN. If you want to try it first, ExpressVPN offers 7- and 30-day free trials.

  2. 2. NordVPN: Best Alternative

    High speeds and advanced security features at an affordable price.

    1. Very fast speeds across its entire network
    2. 5,533 high-speed servers in 59 countries
    3. P2P-optimized servers & unblocks Netflix
    4. Verified zero-logs policy & no IP or DNS leaks
    5. Easy-to-use apps & 24/7 live chat support
    6. Many extra features like DoubleVPN & an ad blocker
    1. Slow response to server breach
    2. Limited VPN protocol choice on Windows & Android
    3. Fire TV Stick app doesn't work as well with Netflix
    4. Hulu doesn't work on desktop apps
    5. Manual setup required to work in China

    You’ve probably already heard of NordVPN. It’s one of the most popular VPNs in the world, and one of the best.

    It’s cheaper than ExpressVPN, but it’s almost as good. It provides top speeds and security, easy-to-use apps, and great customer support.

    Very few VPN services can match NordVPN’s offering.

    Cheapest Price$3.71/mo over 24 Months See all plans
    Top Download Speedi

    Based on a 100Mbps test connection

    93Mbps
    Data LeaksNo
    JurisdictionPanama (Privacy Haven)
    Logging PolicyNo Logs
    Countries59
    Servers5,533
    US NetflixYes
    Works in ChinaYes
    Compatible with
    1. windowsWindows
    2. macosMacOS
    3. linuxLinux
    4. iosiOS
    5. androidAndroid
    6. amazon_firetvFire TV
    7. appletvApple TV
    8. chromecastChromecast
    9. rokuRoku
    10. xboxXbox
    11. playstationPlayStation
    12. chromeChrome
    13. firefoxFirefox
    14. routerRouter

    Strong security and verified no-logs policy

    NordVPN comes with a wide range of high-end security features.

    It uses secure encryption protocols like OpenVPN and WireGuard (branded as NordLynx). Just like ExpressVPN, it secures its connections with AES-256 encryption.

    NordVPN is also a verified no-logs VPN service.

    The VPN doesn’t collect any personal web logs: no IP address, no browser history, and no bandwidth data. It only collects extremely minimal data, all hashed and completely anonymized.

    Many security extras

    What sets NordVPN apart from its rivals is its extra features.

    For example, DoubleVPN routes your traffic through an extra VPN server for increased anonymity. The service even comes with a built-in ad-blocker called CyberSec.

    NordVPN has been increasing its security efforts after suffering a server breach in 2018. At the time, it responded rather poorly to the incident, but it has since proved it’s highly secure.

    Fast and vast server network

    The high VPN encryption has minimal impact on NordVPN’s speeds.

    It’s one of the fastest VPNs with low server congestion across its 5,533 servers. In our latest speed tests, we recorded speed losses as low as 1%.

    NordVPN’s server are now all RAM-based, just like ExpressVPN. This means that no data is stored locally on any of its servers.

    Great for streaming and P2P traffic

    These fast speeds suit well buffer-free streaming and fast torrenting.

    NordVPN works with all popular streaming services, like BBC iPlayer, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. It also unblocks Hulu, as long as you use its Smart DNS tool.

    The VPN service is also a great choice for torrenting. Its fast and no-logs P2P servers are built for anonymous file-sharing.

    Cheaper than ExpressVPN

    Compared to ExpressVPN, NordVPN is much cheaper on a long-term subscription.

    It costs $3.71 per month on a two-year contract, versus ExpressVPN’s $6.67 per month on a 15-month plan.

    With the cheap monthly price you also get 24/7 live chat support. If you’re unhappy with the software, you can get your money back within 30 days.

    Overall, NordVPN ranks a close second to ExpressVPN. It’s so close that we created a NordVPN versus ExpressVPN guide to compare the two VPN services head-to-head.

  3. 3. CyberGhost: Best for Ease of Use

    A beginner-friendly VPN optimized for streaming.

    1. Unblocks Netflix, Hulu, Disney+ & more
    2. Secure with IP leak-free encryption
    3. Doesn't log personal usage data
    4. Huge 6,700+ server network across 90 countries
    5. Affordable & easy to use on all your devices
    6. 24/7 support & 45-day money-back guarantee
    1. Not as fast as its rivals over long distances
    2. Mobile & macOS apps missing some features
    3. No longer unblocks BBC iPlayer
    4. Doesn’t work in China, Turkey or the UAE
    5. Incompatible with Chromebooks
    6. Ad-blocker doesn't work very well

    CyberGhost is one of the most accessible, affordable, and reliable VPN services there are.

    Cheapest Price$2.75/mo over 3 years See all plans
    Top Download Speedi

    Based on a 100Mbps test connection

    89Mbps
    Data LeaksNo
    JurisdictionRomania (EU Member)
    Logging PolicyAnonymous Server Usage Data
    Countries90
    Servers6,700+
    US NetflixYes
    Works in ChinaNo
    Compatible with
    1. windowsWindows
    2. macosMacOS
    3. linuxLinux
    4. iosiOS
    5. androidAndroid
    6. amazon_firetvFire TV
    7. appletvApple TV
    8. chromecastChromecast
    9. rokuRoku
    10. xboxXbox
    11. playstationPlayStation
    12. chromeChrome
    13. firefoxFirefox
    14. routerRouter

    Built for streaming on multiple devices

    CyberGhost’s main draw is how well it beats regional streaming blocks.

    The VPN puts its 46 streaming-optimized servers front-and-center, with appropriate labels for each streaming platform. These include Netflix, HBO, YouTube, and more.

    The VPN service also works on most devices. It has VPN apps for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS. It also works on Fire TV Stick, Smart TV, Linux, and routers.

    It even has Smart DNS functionality for use on Apple TV, PlayStation and Xbox. And it allows up to seven simultaneous connections, which is a rather generous allowance.

    Fast dedicated torrenting servers

    CyberGhost has servers optimized for torrenting around the world. You should never be far from a server that supports P2P.

    Speeds are good on nearby connections, with a speed loss of only 13%. However, CyberGhost can’t quite match ExpressVPN or NordVPN.

    A VPN kill switch ensures your IP address isn’t exposed in the unlikely event of a VPN connection drop.

    No-logs Servers

    The VPN service doesn’t log any web activity, apart from anonymous server usage data.

    It even has NoSpy servers based in a secure data center in Romania, where CyberGhost is based. It’s in the EU, which isn’t great for privacy, but it’s outside the 14 Eyes data-sharing alliance.

    Useful extra features

    At $2.75 per month over three years, CyberGhost is very affordable.

    It also offers a one-day trial and a 45-day risk-free refund guarantee.

    Its VPN apps are some of the easiest to use. And if you do have issues using them, experienced support agents are available via 24/7 live chat.

    The various CyberGhost VPN apps comes with a long list of additional features. Here’s a list of the most important:

    Feature What Does it Do?
    Dedicated Torrenting Servers Servers optimized for P2P traffic. Listed in a menu on the home screen.
    Dedicated Streaming Servers Servers optimized for streaming. Labeled with their location and the platform they unblock.
    Ad-Block Built-in ad-blocker that blocks in-browser and in-app ads.
    Malicious Content Filter Blocks potentially harmful websites before you access them.
    Tracker Blocking Blocks web tracking attempts from websites and services.
    Automated HTTPS Redirect Secures HTTP web pages with HTTPS encryption.
    Data Compression Compression tool to save data on mobile and metered connections.
    Exceptions This is CyberGhost’s name for split tunneling. Choose which apps and programs to exclude from VPN protection.
    App Protection CyberGhost automatically connects if you open any apps added to this feature.
    Kill Switch Automatically interrupts your internet connection if the VPN drops (enabled by default).
  4. 4. IPVanish: Best for Firestick

    No-logs VPN well-suited for Firestick and Kodi users.

    1. Great Fire TV Stick VPN app
    2. Excellent short-distance speeds
    3. Doesn't store web activity logs
    4. Unblocks US Netflix
    5. Over 40,000 IP addresses across 75 locations
    6. Unlimited simultaneous connections
    1. Doesn’t unblock BBC iPlayer or Disney+
    2. Based in the privacy-unfriendly US
    3. Can’t bypass web censorship in China
    4. No VPN browser extensions
    5. No Smart DNS tool
    6. Handed over information to the FBI in 2016

    IPVanish is still a very good VPN service in 2021. It’s fast, secure, and now completely trustworthy.

    Cheapest Price$2.62/mo for 12 months See all plans
    Top Download Speedi

    Based on a 100Mbps test connection

    84Mbps
    Data LeaksNo
    JurisdictionUS (Five-Eyes Member)
    Logging PolicyNo Logs
    Countries57
    Servers1,400+
    US NetflixYes
    Works in ChinaNo
    Compatible with
    1. windowsWindows
    2. macosMacOS
    3. linuxLinux
    4. iosiOS
    5. androidAndroid
    6. routerRouter

    Encrypted and zero-logs

    As its name suggests, IPVanish puts security first.

    Its range of encryption protocols (including OpenVPN and IKEv2) is exemplary. AES 256-bit encryption secures your data transfers across insecure WiFi networks.

    IPVanish is also completely no logs. It doesn’t monitor or store a single piece of data. This is important, because the company is based in the privacy-unfriendly United States.

    Combined with a kill switch this makes IPVanish excellent for torrenting, which you can do on any server.

    Self-owned servers and 40,000 IP addresses

    IPVanish has 1,400+ first-party servers, with access to over 40,000 IP addresses in 57 countries.

    The spread and quality of these servers is the reason behind IPVanish’s speeds.

    The VPN’s fast download and upload speeds are impressive on nearby servers. In recent tests we only registered a 10% loss in download speed.

    It’s different on longer distance connections, though. Speeds did drop connecting overseas, for example from the UK to the US.

    Great Fire TV Stick app optimized for Kodi

    IPVanish’s Firestick app is the best we’ve used. It’s one of the fastest and most secure, ideal for anonymous Kodi streaming.

    Here’s a table of comparing popular VPN Fire TV apps:

    Firestick VPN App Friendly Design Kill Switch Split Tunneling Obfusc-ation Protocol Choice
    IPVanish Yes No Yes Yes Yes
    ExpressVPN No Yes Yes No Yes
    Surfshark Yes Yes Yes No Yes
    CyberGhost No Yes Yes No Yes

    Good range of apps

    IPVanish also has VPN apps for iOS, Android, Windows, and Mac devices.

    There’s also an APK file for Android devices with no access to Google Play Store. Sadly, there’s no Smart DNS tool, though.

    Doesn’t beat strict web censorship

    Despite its excellent apps for streaming devices, IPVanish isn’t a good streaming VPN.

    It works with Netflix USA and Japan, but it doesn’t unblock BBC iPlayer, Disney+, or Hulu.

    In fact, IPVanish struggles to bypass aggressive web blocks. This is why it won’t work in countries like China or Turkey, either.

  5. 5. Surfshark: Best Value

    At just $2.21 per month, Surfshark is an excellent value VPN.

    1. Unbeatable price on a two-year plan
    2. Unblocks Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and more
    3. Supports torrenting on every server
    4. Advanced features & fast protocols
    5. Sensible British Virgin Islands jurisdiction
    6. Unlimited device connections
    1. Connecting to some servers can be slow
    2. No port forwarding
    3. Logging policy is not audited

    Surfshark is competes with the very best VPNs, but at a much lower price.

    There’s no compromise on quality, either. Its speeds are consistent, it works well with Netflix, and its P2P-enabled servers adhere to the service’s no-logs policy.

    Cheapest Price$2.49/mo over 24 months See all plans
    Top Download Speedi

    Based on a 100Mbps test connection

    85Mbps
    Data LeaksNo
    JurisdictionBritish Virgin Islands (Privacy Haven)
    Logging PolicyAnonymous Server Usage Data
    Countries66
    Servers3,200+
    US NetflixYes
    Works in ChinaYes
    Compatible with
    1. windowsWindows
    2. macosMacOS
    3. linuxLinux
    4. iosiOS
    5. androidAndroid
    6. amazon_firetvFire TV
    7. appletvApple TV
    8. androidtvAndroid TV
    9. chromecastChromecast
    10. rokuRoku
    11. xboxXbox
    12. playstationPlayStation
    13. chromeChrome
    14. firefoxFirefox
    15. routerRouter

    A great VPN available at a very low price

    Let’s get the most obvious benefit of Surfshark out of the way first: it’s extremely cheap.

    When a VPN costs as little as this, often you won’t be getting a good product.

    However, Surfshark is one of the best VPNs we’ve tested. Putting its price aside, it’s still good enough to challenge the other VPNs on this list.

    Granted, you do need to sign up to a two-year plan to get the best value for money. But, even when paying for it upfront, it’s still very affordable.

    Streams 15 Netflix libraries, Disney+, and more

    What do you get for that cheap subscription? Reliable access to a wide range of streaming services, for starters.

    Surfshark unblocks 15 Netflix libraries – only three rival VPNs unblock more.

    It’s also our best Disney+ VPN, as it can unblock the service on every server, regardless of location.

    Plus, you can stream with Surfshark on as many devices as you want. There is no simultaneous connection limit, which is rare among top VPN services.

    Fast and no-logs server network

    Surfshark has a global network of 3,200+ servers. Every server is zero-logs and uses the same connection protocols (namely OpenVPN and WireGuard).

    Every server we’ve tested is fast, too. See how Surfshark performs in our latest automated speed tests.

    Extra security tools

    Camouflage Mode is available on every server. It’s an obfuscation tool that makes your VPN traffic even harder to detect. It’s especially useful for unblocking websites.

    Camouflage Mode (combined with No Borders mode) works well to bypass censorship in countries like China – something very few VPNs can do.

    Finally, Surfshark is the only VPN to spoof GPS. This feature prevents mobile applications using GPS to detect your real location.

More Top VPN Services

There are a handful of very good VPN services that narrowly missed our top five list.

Here are the top three VPNs that missed out:

PrivateVPN

Image showing the PrivateVPN app's simple and advanced modes

PrivateVPN is a strong dark horse candidate, but just falls short of making this list.

It’s excellent for streaming, very cheap, and currently has the best free trial available of any VPN.

Sadly, it has long-distance speeds slower than its rivals, unreliable customer support, and no browser extensions.

Private Internet Access

Image showing the light and dark mode available in the Private Internet Access applications.
Private Internet Access (also known as PIA VPN) is one of the fastest and most trusted VPN services. It’s very popular in the United States with P2P users. It also works well with US Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and Disney+.

PIA VPN’s long-distance speeds aren’t as fast, though. It also fails to unblock as many streaming services as other top-rated VPNs. However, PIA VPN remains an excellent for P2P activity.

Windscribe

Screenshots of the Windscribe browser extension
Windscribe is a secure VPN built for streaming. It’s very effective at unblocking over 40 Netflix libraries. It also works with BBC iPlayer and Hulu.

There are no major downsides to Windscribe. But, it does fall slightly short of its rivals in certain areas. It’s not as fast, doesn’t have as many features, and its live customer support is inferior.

Comparison of 15 Popular VPNs

The chart below compares the 15 most popular VPN services. We compared speed, server network, Netflix and China access, torrent support, and more.

Best VPNs by Category

Every VPN service performs differently across devices and purposes. Here’s a summary of the best VPN services across key categories:

Category Our Choice
Best VPN of 2021 ExpressVPN
Best Free VPN Windscribe
Best Cheap VPN Surfshark
Best VPN for Speed Hotspot Shield
Best VPN Free Trial PrivateVPN
Best VPN for Netflix ExpressVPN
Best VPN for BBC iPlayer NordVPN
Best VPN for Torrenting ExpressVPN
Best VPN for Gaming ExpressVPN
Best VPN for Fire TV Stick IPVanish
Best VPN for Windows ExpressVPN
Best VPN for Mac ExpressVPN
Best VPN for Android ExpressVPN
Best VPN for iPhone ExpressVPN
Best VPN for China Astrill

How We Test & Review VPNs

We test every aspect of a VPN when we write a review for it. What you need from a VPN may differ from someone else’s. We weigh our VPN reviews based on what we believe is most important. And also what users want from a VPN.

Privacy and Security

Privacy is a key part of a VPN. A VPN must protect your online privacy, otherwise it’s not doing its job properly.

A VPN must: not collect any personal web logs; not leak your real IP or DNS address; employ VPN protocols with the strongest encryption.

Connection Speeds

A slow VPN is no good to anyone. Massive speed loss can be disastrous if you’re on a slower internet connection. We regularly test VPN speeds and update speed results.

Streaming & Torrenting

A popular reason for using VPNs is to unblock streaming content abroad. Not every VPN is capable of unblocking major streaming services, though.

We run frequent VPN tests on platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, and Disney+.

Torrenting with a VPN is also very popular. You’ll need a VPN that allows P2P traffic, has no data usage limits, doesn’t store user logs, and is based in a safe jurisdiction.

Customer Support

Every VPN company should have 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week live chat support. And the very best services do.

We also value online help guides, tutorials, and detailed FAQs. Some VPNs even have forums where users can help each other.

Ease of Use

Many consumer VPNs look and work in similar ways. However, little details can make a big difference.

We download and test every VPN we review. We test them on Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS and Fire OS devices. We also run them on Linux, Apple TV, PlayStation, Xbox, and routers. Only that way can we judge a VPN service’s ease of use.

We also consider extra features like a kill switch, an ad-blocker, and split tunneling. These additional tools can add real value to a VPN.

Bypassing Censorship

A VPN is an essential to beat internet censorship in certain countries.

Beating web blocks in China, the UAE or Turkey is very hard to do for most VPN services. Very few can do it, and even fewer can do it consistently.

We have specific testing procedures to determine which VPNs work in high-censorship nations. For China, we have a dedicated Shanghai server, which we use weekly to test VPN access.

Why You Need a Top VPN

Here are the three main reasons for using a good VPN service (not just any VPN):

1 Hide your Internet Activity

Illustration showing a blurred man hidden behind a magnifying glass.

In some countries, like Canada, your internet service provider (ISP) can monitor and log everything you do online. They store your web logs and hand them over to government agencies on request.

In the United States, ISPs can also sell data about your online habits to third parties, including advertisers. They can do this without your explicit consent.

We believe this is a huge infringement of your privacy. To prevent this from happening, you need to use a no-logs VPN service.

When you connect to a VPN, your web traffic is route through a secure server first. Then, onto a website or application. But your ISP can’t see beyond the VPN server. Therefore, it can’t track what you do online.

VPNs use high-standard encryption, often AES 256-bit. It makes your web data virtually impossible to decipher if intercepted by a hacker or snooper.

2 Secure Your Data on Public WiFi

Illustration of a man connected to public wifi while traveling.

Free public WiFi hotspots in restaurants, coffee shops, and hotels are risky. They often use open connections that are insecure. These are vulnerable to hackers looking to hijack sensitive data transfers.

In fact, hackers can carry out a man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack on your device. It allows them to eavesdrop, manipulate, or steal your private communications. MITM attacks can also be used to carry out phishing scams.

A VPN can help prevent these attacks. A VPN adds a layer of encryption to any unsecured internet connection. You can then use public WiFi without worrying of being spied on, or having personal data stolen.

3 Bypass Online Censorship

a man sitting at his computer, but the computer screen is blocked off by a brick wall

It’s not just authoritarian nations like China or the UAE that censor the internet. Any internet network owner can impose blocks to specific websites and apps. For example, many governments block piracy sites like the Pirate Bay.

Web blocks also occur in the workplace, schools, and public libraries.

In China, Google, Twitter and thousands more websites are blocked. The most effective way round these blocks is using a top VPN. However, only a few VPN services work in China.

It’s easier to bypass website blocks in workplaces and schools. But, you can’t always install VPN software on a workplace or school device. When that happens, install a VPN extension onto your web browser, instead.

Limitations of VPNs

A VPN is a great tool for your online security and privacy. But, even the best VPN services come with limits. Here are some things that a VPN 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. Use a good password manager for that, like LastPass or 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, then it’s worth getting one. We recommend uBlock Origin.

FAQs About VPNs

What Is a VPN?

A VPN is software that forms an encrypted connection from your device to the websites you visit. It does so by initially connecting to a secure VPN server.

It also hides your true IP address, replacing it with an anonymous one. This makes you appear in a different city or in a different country.

As a result, a VPN can do many things. It secures your public WiFi connections. It blocks your ISP from tracking and storing your web activities. It unblocks region-locked websites and applications.

This does mean putting a lot of trust in your VPN service. It can in fact see everything you do online. At the same time, it is responsible for keeping you private and secure online.

What's the Best VPN of 2021?

The best VPN service of 2021 is ExpressVPN.

It’s an excellent VPN with impressive speeds across its server network. It uses disk-less RAM-based servers and the the unbreakable AES 256-bit cipher on all its apps. Its obfuscation tools are so good that ExpressVPN even works in China.

ExpressVPN will keep you private online. It’s a virtually no-logs service with built-in IP leak protection. Combined with a kill switch on most apps, ExpressVPN is well-suited for anonymous torrenting.

The VPN service also bypasses most streaming geo-restrictions. It works with Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, Disney+, Hulu, and many more video services.

Overall, ExpressVPN is an outstanding VPN service. We recommend it to both beginners and advanced internet users.

Are VPNs Legal?

VPNs are clearly very useful tools, but are they legal? The answer is yes, VPN services are legal in most countries. They are restricted or illegal in the following nations:

Country VPN Status Social Media Blocks Censorship Surveillance
Belarus Illegal Moderate Extensive Extensive
China Restricted Extensive Extensive Extensive
Iran Restricted Moderate Extensive Extensive
Iraq Illegal Moderate Moderate Minor
North Korea Illegal Extensive Extensive Extensive
Oman Restricted Minor Extensive Moderate
Russia Restricted Moderate Extensive Moderate
Turkey Restricted Moderate Extensive Extensive
Turkmeni-stan Illegal Extensive Extensive Extensive
UAE Restricted Moderate Extensive Moderate

Outside of the above countries, you can use a VPN without legal worries.

Can I Trust My VPN Service?

When you use a VPN all your internet traffic flows through its servers. Because of this, it’s vital you use a VPN you can really trust. Therefore, the question is: how do you know if you can trust your VPN?

Here are the four main factors we evaluate to determine if a VPN is trustworthy or not:

  1. Who owns the VPN?This is a question easier asked than answered. Several VPN company owners go to great lengths to protect their identities. Sometimes for legitimate reasons, sometimes for more dubious ones.Being able to put a name and face to the leadership is reassuring. Especially if it’s a start-up VPN company.

    VPN companies will be either independent, or owned by a bigger holding company. With the latter, we equally expect the holding company to stand up for digital rights and privacy.

  2. Where is the VPN based?Jurisdictions matter. You shouldn’t use a VPN based in China, for example. The Chinese government has near-total control over local companies.There are also less-obvious countries that are considered bad jurisdictions. Any member of Five Eyes is a very poor choice, for example. That’s the UK, US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The Nine Eyes and 14 Eyes alliance countries are also bad choices, as are EU member states.

    Map of Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and Fourteen Eyes Countries.

    A VPN based in a country without intrusive data (sharing) laws is a safer option.

  3. What is its logging policy like?We always recommend using a zero-logs VPN. That can also be a virtually no-logs VPN. In other words, a VPN that doesn’t log personal web data.A privacy-first logging policy can make the VPN’s jurisdiction irrelevant. A government agency cannot seize data that a VPN service hasn’t got.

    There are very few VPN services that don’t log any activity. There are more that only collect aggregated metadata. Usually that’s broad usage statistics aggregated from every active user. For example, the total amount of data transferred. Or, the total number of accounts connected to a server at once.

    Never settle for a VPN that logs your IP address, or browsing activity.

  4. Has the VPN been audited and how transparent is it?Whether a VPN logs or not is hard to prove. Ultimately, you have to take the VPN company’s word for it.That’s unless the VPN is independently audited. A trusted audit firm can validate a VPN’s security and logging practices. To be more transparent with their users, more and more VPN companies are commissioning these audits.

    A VPN which is open source is even better. This means the VPN software code is completely open for anyone to see. By allowing any engineer to look into the code is a very strong signal that you can trust that VPN.

    ProtonVPN and Private Internet Access are our two favorite open source VPNs.

How Much Do VPNs Cost?

A one-month subscription to a VPN service costs about $10.00. That’s never the best price, though. VPN plans are usually charged monthly, annually, bi-annually, and sometimes every three years. One or two services offer lifetime subscriptions.

The longer the subscription plan, the cheaper the monthly cost. On average, a good VPN costs $2 to $5 per month on a longer-term plan.

Take Surfshark, for example. You can either pay $11.95 for a one-month subscription, or $2.49 per month on a two-year subscription. But, you will have to pay the full two years upfront.

Surfshark is easily one of the cheapest VPNs. It illustrates well how you get the best value for money on longer-term subscriptions. Try not to pay month-by-month, if you can afford to do so.

EXPERT TIP: If you don’t want to spend money on a VPN, there are ways to use paid VPNs for free.

You can try a VPN that offers a risk-free money-back guarantee. Before the refund period, ask for your money back. VPN services like ExpressVPN and NordVPN will honor the guarantee.

Are Free VPNs Safe?

As well as having limited features, many free VPNs are unsafe. But that doesn’t mean every free VPN is dangerous.

We examined 150 free Android VPN apps, of which over 85% had serious issues. Some logged and shared data with third-parties. Some were infected with adware and malware. And some didn’t even hide our IP address!

There are a few safe free VPNs available. You can see the best free VPNs of 2021 here.

What Devices Support VPNs?

If your device can connect to the internet, you can use a VPN with it. Just how do that depends on the device.

Devices like smartphones, tablets, computers, and laptops have what we call native VPN apps. They have the most features, the best interface, and are the easiest to use.

You can also use a native VPN app on Fire TV devices, like the Fire TV Stick.

For Android devices with no access to Google Play Store, you can side load a VPN. This involves installing a VPN’s APK file onto the device.

For devices like Apple TV, PlayStation and Xbox, use a VPN with a Smart DNS tool. Not many VPN services have this, though. The ones that do give you access to their servers’ DNS addresses. You then use these to change the DNS settings of your streaming device or games console.

If you use Linux, many VPN providers haven’t built a proper GUI (Graphical User Interface) for it. You could spend some time inside the Terminal running lines of code to use the VPN the way you want. It’s not too difficult, but it looks ugly and is time-consuming.

For any other device, you’ll probably have to set up the VPN at router-level. It can be quite complex, but it does allow using a VPN on unsupported devices.

Here’s a complete run-down of how you can cover every device in your home with a VPN:

Native VPN app, DNS configuration, or router setup:

    • Windows PC or laptop
    • Apple MacBook, iMac, or Mac Pro
    • Apple iPhone or iPad
    • Android smartphone or tablet
    • Ubuntu Linux computer
    • Amazon Fire TV Stick, Fire TV Box, or Fire TV Cube

DNS configuration or router setup only:

    • Microsoft Xbox
    • Sony PlayStation 4
    • Nintendo Switch
    • Roku Express, Streaming Stick, or Ultra
    • Apple TV
    • Smart TV (Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, and LG)

Router setup only

    • Digital assistants (Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Apple HomePod)
    • Connected doorbell (Ring and Google Nest)
    • Smart thermostat
    • Smart lighting (Philips Hue)
    • Connected speakers (Sonos)
    • Smart kitchen appliances

Can I Use a VPN to Unblock Netflix?

Yes, you can use a VPN to stream region-locked Netflix libraries. However, many VPNs struggle to unblock Netflix.

Netflix is constantly blocking VPN IP addresses. This is commonly known as the Netflix VPN ban. Only the best VPNs work well with Netflix.

Top-rated Netflix VPNs can unblock up to 40 Netflix regions. And they are easy to use. Choose a server in the country you want to stream in, connect, and launch Netflix.

NordVPN American Netflix

Do I Need a VPN for Torrenting?

We always recommend torrenting and file-sharing with a secure VPN.

When you’re a part of a torrent swarm (the group sharing parts of the torrent file between each other), your IP address is visible to everyone. That includes your internet service provider (ISP), and copyright trolls.

ISPs dislike torrenting. ISPs can log the files you download and share with them with content copyright holders. They can also throttle your download speeds. And they block thousands of file-sharing sites around the world.

A VPN masks your torrent IP and therefore your identity. It hides the contents of the data transfer and disguises P2P traffic as regular web activity.

A screenshot showing that PIA allowed us to torrenting and P2P share successfully.

Sadly, not all VPNs are suited for anonymous torrenting. To torrent privately, use one of the VPNs listed here.

You can also use our IP and DNS leaks tool to check for torrent IP leaks.

About the Author


  • Simon Migliano Head of Research at Top10VPN

    Simon Migliano

    Simon 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, CNet and more. Read full bio