Disclosure: Top10VPN.com is reader-supported. We may earn commissions if you buy a VPN through links on our site.

The Best VPN Services of 2021

20 comments
Illustration of a Podium Displaying First, Second and Third Place
Simon Migliano Head of Research at Top10VPN
20 comments

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) improves your online privacy and security. It’s simple yet powerful software that hides your IP address and encrypts your internet 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 isn’t. We’ve spent over 30,000 hours testing hundreds of VPNs to identify the best for Windows, macOS, Android and iOS. We also test VPNs on devices like Amazon’s Fire TV Stick, games consoles and home routers.

The five best VPN services in January 2021 are:

  1. ExpressVPN: The best VPN service of 2021. Very fast, secure and consistently unblocks Netflix. Read summary
  2. NordVPN: Extremely fast, affordable, and easy to use VPN service. Read summary
  3. CyberGhost: The best VPN for beginners. Ideal for streaming and unblocking websites. Read summary
  4. IPVanish: The best service for Kodi and Fire TV Stick users. Read summary
  5. PrivateVPN: Cheap VPN with impressive streaming power. Read summary

Compare the best VPNs side-by-side with our comparison tool

We put every VPN we review through a rigorous and impartial testing process. We analyze factors such as speed, security, server coverage, and ease of use.

We also test VPN access to streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and BBC iPlayer. And we study every privacy policy to understand how well a VPN service safeguards your privacy.

Recommending the safest VPN services is key to us. In our free VPN investigations, we exposed many unsafe mobile VPN apps. We even requested Google and Apple delist them from their App Stores.

To see how we evaluate each service, read how we test and review VPNs.

5 Best VPN Services in January

  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+. It’s our top recommendation for a good reason.

    Cheapest Price$6.67/mo over 15 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
    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 and no-logs VPN

    As we said above, 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. It also hashes the data you transfer using a RSA-4096 key with SHA-512 HMAC authentication.

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

    Your privacy is safe with ExpressVPN. The VPN service doesn’t keep personal usage logs. It doesn’t store your IP address on its servers, or record the websites you visit. And it always masks your IP address while the software is running.

    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.

    Very fast across its network

    ExpressVPN is extremely fast. We recorded 85Mbps download speeds (on a 95Mbps connection without the VPN running). That’s a mere 11% loss in speed on short-distance connections. ExpressVPN is also very fast connecting to servers far away. These are the speeds we recorded during our latest tests:

    Connection Download Speed % Speed Loss
    London to London 85Mbps 11%
    London to Frankfurt 79Mbps 17%
    London to New York 77Mbps 19%
    London to Singapore 73Mbps 23%
    London to Sydney 59Mbps 38%
    London to Vancouver 57Mbps 40%

    Excellent for Netflix and torrenting

    Fast speeds are especially important to stream online videos with ExpressVPN. Especially video libraries in other countries. In fact, ExpressVPN is the best VPN for US Netflix, and the 18 other libraries it unblocks.

    Also, ExpressVPN’s apps all work well with Hulu, HBO, Disney+, and Amazon Prime Video. Recently, ExpressVPN has struggled to stream BBC iPlayer, but it still works with some tinkering.

    ExpressVPN also lets you torrent 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. It’s more expensive than many of its rivals, but you do get your money’s worth.

    ExpressVPN has user-friendly native apps for Windows, macOS, iOS, Android or Fire OS. And MediaStreamer, its Smart DNS tool, is perfect for Apple TV and games consoles users.

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

    We understand the allure of a more affordable VPN, and the cheaper VPNs on this page are also very good. But if money is no object, we recommend you use 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 also uses secure encryption protocols like OpenVPN and WireGuard (branded as NordLynx). Just like ExpressVPN, it secures its connections with AES-256 encryption and a RSA-4096 key with SHA-512 HMAC authentication.

    NordVPN is also a verified no-logs VPN service. It 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.

    What really sets NordVPN apart from its rivals is its extra features. DoubleVPN routes your traffic through an extra VPN server for increased anonymity. Onion Over VPN (Tor Over VPN) lets you browse the deep web safely. NordVPN even comes with a built-in ad-blocker, CyberSec.

    NordVPN has been increasing its security efforts after suffering a server breach in 2018. Its delayed response to the incident is one of our criticisms of the service. It was disappointing to see such a reliable VPN respond rather poorly. NordVPN has since proved that it’s secure and trustworthy.

    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’ve been recording speed losses as low as 1%. And with 650 servers in the UK alone, NordVPN is the best VPN for the UK.

    Here’s how NordVPN’s server network compares to nine of its closest rivals:

    VPN Service Server Count
    NordVPN 5,300+
    CyberGhost 6,700+
    PIA 12,000+
    ExpressVPN 3,000+
    Surfshark 1,800+
    IPVanish 1,400+
    ProtonVPN 800+
    PrivateVPN 150+
    VPNArea 144

    Great for streaming and P2P traffic

    The speed of NordVPN makes it ideal for buffer-free streaming and fast torrenting.

    NordVPN works with all popular streaming services, like BBC iPlayer, which it streams smoothly. It also unblocks Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, and 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. And 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 such a close race that we created a specific NordVPN vs ExpressVPN guide to compare these 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

    87Mbps
    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 service 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 works on most devices. It has custom VPN apps for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS. CyberGhost also works on Fire TV Stick, Android TV, Linux, and router.

    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. A VPN kill switch ensures your IP address isn’t exposed during a VPN connection drop.

    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 out of the Five Eyes and 14 Eyes intelligence-sharing alliances.

    CyberGhost VPN is one of the quickest VPNs on nearby connections, with a speed loss of only 13%. However, CyberGhost can’t match ExpressVPN or NordVPN over long-distance connections.

    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 – you have nothing to lose by trying it.

    It’s one of the simplest and easiest to use VPNs out there. if you do have issues using it, its 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$3.33/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 finally 100% zero-logs

    As its name suggests, IPVanish puts security first. Its wide range of encryption protocols (including OpenVPN and IKEv2) is exemplary. AES 256-bit encryption secures your data transfers across insecure WiFi networks.

    Differently to CyberGhost, IPVanish is completely no logs. It doesn’t monitor or store a single piece of data. That’s important, because the company us based in the US. In other words, IPVanish hasn’t got any data to hand over to US government agencies.

    Combined with a kill switch this makes IPVanish excellent for torrenting. And you can torrent privately on any IPVanish server you like.

    Self-owned servers and 40,000 IP addresses

    IPVanish has 1,400 secure servers, none that it rents. These servers give access to over 40,000 IP addresses in 57 countries.

    The size and quality of these servers is the reason behind IPVanish’s speeds. Its 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 is Fire TV Stick app is the best we’ve used. It’s way ahead of the competition, as you can see from the table below:

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

    IPVanish also has VPN apps for iOS, Android, Windows, and MacOS devices. It also provides an APK file for Android devices with no access to Google Play Store. Sadly, there’s no Smart DNS tool.

    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.

    Clearly, bypassing aggressive web blocks is where IPVanish struggles. It won’t come as a surprise that it doesn’t work in countries like China or Turkey.

    Logging controversy

    It;s our duty to tell you about IPVanish’shistorical controversy. In 2016, IPVanish was dragged into in a court case and supplied a user’s web logs to the United States FBI. We absolutely condemn the crimes committed by the user, but we can’t condone a VPN surrendering logs it wasn’t supposed to have.

    That said, this all happened years ago and under a different owner. IPVanish is nowadays a different company, under new ownership. We have grilled IPVanish about the logging incident and we’re confident that it now enforces its no-logs policy.

  5. 5. PrivateVPN: Best Cheap VPN

    A very good streaming VPN at an unbeatable price.

    1. Dedicated Netflix servers in 32 countries
    2. Very fast especially on short-distance connections
    3. Extra secure encryption & no personal logs
    4. Easy-to-use VPN apps on desktop & mobile
    5. Works well in China
    6. Very affordable price on a 2-year plan
    1. Fairly small network of 150+ servers
    2. Some speed loss on longer-distance connections
    3. No VPN browser extensions
    4. No app for Linux or Smart DNS for games consoles
    5. 24/7 live support not always available
    6. Logging policy is not detailed enough

    PrivateVPN has quickly established itself as a top VPN service. It doesn’t have the appeal of bigger-name VPNs, but it does perform better than many of them.

    Cheapest Price$1.98/mo over 24 months See all plans
    Top Download Speedi

    Based on a 100Mbps test connection

    94Mbps
    Data LeaksNo
    JurisdictionSweden (14-Eyes Member)
    Logging PolicyNo Logs
    Countries60
    Servers150+
    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. routerRouter

    Small server network but excellent speeds

    PrivateVPN has the same high-standard encryption and security protocols you see in other top-rated VPN services. OpenVPN (UDP and TCP) and IKEv2 VPN protocols, and AES 256-bit encryption with 2048-bit DH key, provide strong online security.

    PrivateVPN is also very fast, despite a small server network of 150+ servers. Its speeds excel especially on same-country connections. On a London-to-London connection, we experienced a loss of just 7%.

    Netflix and P2P-optimized servers

    The VPN service offers servers dedicated to Netflix. What makes PrivateVPN ideal for Netflix fans is the 32 regions it unblocks. PrivateVPN also works with BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Hulu, and many more services.

    Within the PrivateVPN apps you’ll also find 17 P2P-optimized servers. Torrenting is strengthened by a no-logs policy, IP leak protection, and a kill switch.

    PrivateVPN does live up to its name. Its logging policy is very clear about this: “PrivateVPN does not collect or log any traffic or use of its service.” That’s all the policy says, though, and we want to see some more details in it.

    Excellent value for money

    The biggest draw of all is PrivateVPN’s price. Our special deal brings the the monthly price down to $1.98. That’s the best monthly price you can get for a top VPN service. You will have to sign up to a two-year subscription, though.

    Here’s how PrivateVPN’s pricing compares to other popular VPNs in different currencies:

    VPN Service Cheapest Monthly Price (USD) Price in EUR Price in GBP Price in JPY Price in INR
    PrivateVPN $1.98 €1.67 £1.50 ¥203 ₹141
    Surfshark $2.21 €1.72 £1.54 ¥208 ₹145
    PIA $2.69 €2.38 £2.14 ¥289 ₹201
    CyberGhost $2.75 €2.43 £2.19 ¥295 ₹205
    NordVPN $3.71 €3.09 £2.78 ¥375 ₹261
    ProtonVPN $4.00 €3.54 £3.18 ¥430 ₹299
    IPVanish $3.33 €4.60 £4.13 ¥559 ₹389
    ExpressVPN $6.67 €5.90 £5.30 ¥717 ₹499
    Astrill $10.00 €8.85 £7.95 ¥1,074 ₹748

15 Top VPN Services Compared

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

The Best VPN Services by Category

Every VPN service performs differently across devices and purposes. Here’s a summary of the best VPN services for categories popular with our readers:

Category Our Recommendation
Best Overall VPN ExpressVPN
Best Free VPN Windscribe
Best Cheap VPN Surfshark
Fastest VPN Hotspot Shield
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 Android ExpressVPN
Best VPN for iPhone ExpressVPN

What About Other Popular VPN Services?

There a many popular VPN services that didn’t make our top five list. Here are some of the big names that missed out:

Surfshark


Surfshark is a very good VPN that narrowly misses out on our top five.

Overall, Surfshark ticks a lot of boxes. It’s a secure and no-logs VPN that unblocks 15 Netflix libraries. It also has unique features, like GPS spoofing.

What holds Surfshark back is the lack of impressive VPN speeds compared to its top rivals. It recorded a 15% speed loss on same-country connections. That’s fast, but not enough to match the very best VPNs.

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 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.

HideMyAss (HMA VPN)

Screenshot of the newly updated HMA Version 5 app.
HideMyAss (HMA VPN) is one of the earliest and best-known VPN services. However, it’s never been one of our best VPNs because of trust.

Previously, HMA had a far too invasive logging policy. It was even accused of cooperating with copyright and government agencies. The company finally reduced the data it logs in 2020. It will nevertheless take some time before it can regain full trust.

Hotspot Shield

Screenshot of Hotspot Shield Windows app
Hotspot Shield suffers from a similar issue to HMA. It’s logging policy is simply too intrusive.

Hotspot Shield VPN stores your IP address, your approximate geographical location, connection timestamps, bandwidth used per user and per session, device-specific information, and non-personal logs of websites. Most of this data is aggregated or anonymized, but it’s still too much.

It’s a shame considering Hotspot Shield allows fast and unrestricted torrenting. It also streams US Netflix buffer-free.

TunnelBear

TunnelBear PC app
TunnelBear is a very popular free and paid VPN. There is one key reason why we don’t rate it highly, though.

The VPN service simply cannot unblock major streaming platforms. In our streaming tests, TunnelBear only worked with one Netflix library: Netflix Japan. It won’t stream any other Netflix library, or content platform.

Methodology: 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.

For more details, read our guide on how we test and review VPNs.

Why Do You Need a VPN?

Here are the three main reasons for using a VPN service:

1 Hide your browsing activity from ISPs, governments & snoopers

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 Protect 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 Beat online censorship imposed by governments, workplaces, or schools

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.

What Are the Limitations of Using a VPN?

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?

As explained above, 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.

Lear more about the legality of VPNs in our ‘Are VPNs Legal?’ guide.

Can I Trust My VPN Service?

When you use a VPN, all your internet traffic flows through its servers. Hence, 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.

Take Surfshark, for example. You can either pay $11.95 for a one-month subscription, or $2.21 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.

Or, take advantage of a VPN free trial. For example, Astrill offers a full seven-day free trial.

Are Free VPNs Safe?

Not only are many free VPNs limited, they are also unsafe.

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!

However, 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. Read our VPN router setup guide for more details.

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 struggled 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.

The best VPNs for Netflix 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.

About the Author


  • 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