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Does a VPN Slow Down Your Internet?

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

Fact-checked by JP Jones

Our Verdict

Using a VPN will always slow down your internet connection because your data has to travel further to reach its destination. According to our VPN speed tests, a typical VPN will slow down your internet connection by an average of 7% on nearby connections, and 16% on international connections.

Does a VPN slow down internet

Every VPN will slow down your internet connection to some degree because it makes your data travel further.

When you connect to a VPN, your data is encrypted and rerouted through a remote server. At the VPN server, your data is decrypted and sent on to its destination.

Due to the encryption overhead and the distance between you and the VPN server, this process takes longer than browsing the internet without using a VPN at all.

Exactly how much a VPN slows down your speeds depends on multiple factors, including which VPN you’re using, the connection protocol being used, and the location of the VPN server.

Quick Summary: Does a VPN Slow Down Your Internet Connection?

  • Using a VPN adds several steps to the process of sending data from your home network to the website you’re visiting. Your data has to travel further to go via the VPN server, which slows down your internet connection.
  • Good VPN services should slow your internet connection by a negligible amount. In our tests, a typical premium VPN slows down our speeds by an average of 7% on nearby connections, and 16% on international connections.
  • The further the VPN server is from your physical location, the slower the connection will be. Conversely, nearby VPN servers will slow your connection less.
  • The protocol used by your VPN service adds additional data to your web traffic, which can slow it down.
  • If a VPN server is congested with thousands of simultaneous users, it may respond to your requests more slowly.
  • Low-quality VPN services — most commonly free VPNs — are often significantly slower than paid-for VPNs.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to improve your VPN speeds. These steps apply to all VPN services, although they shouldn’t be necessary if you’re using a top-rated VPN.

Quick Summary: How to Make Your VPN Faster

  • Choose a VPN server that’s as close to your physical location as possible.
  • If the server you’re using is slow, try switching to find one that’s less congested.
  • Where possible, use WireGuard or OpenVPN connection protocols.
  • Enable split tunneling to reroute only the most important web traffic.
  • Switch to a safe public DNS server to see if it improves your connection speeds.
  • If your VPN continues to be slow, consider subscribing to a faster premium service.

In this guide, we’ll explain exactly why a VPN slows down your internet connection, and what steps you can take to reduce the speed loss.

We’ll also suggest ways you can improve your connection speeds, even when you’re not using a VPN.

EXPERT TIP: Not every VPN is capable of delivering fast speeds. If your VPN is frustratingly slow and you’ve tried all of our speed recommendations, you should consider trying a different VPN altogether.

We’ve tested the fastest VPN services and found that Hotspot Shield is consistently the fastest VPN available. It had virtually no impact on our download speeds and delivered much faster results than every other VPN we tested.

Why Trust Us?

reviewing VPNs since 2016. Our advice is based on our own testing results and is unaffected by financial incentives. Learn who we are and how we test VPNs.

Why Does a VPN Slow Down Your Internet Speed?

When you connect to a VPN, your data is encrypted and rerouted through a remote server. It has to travel from your home network, through the remote server, and onto its destination, then back again.

how a VPN protects 4G data usage versus what happens without a VPN

How your data travels when using a VPN on a mobile device, compared to not using a VPN.

By rerouting your data, even the fastest VPN will slow down your connection speed somewhat, because your internet traffic has to travel a longer distance between you and its final destination.

VPN services also use encryption to secure your web traffic. This process is carried out using different VPN connection protocols, which can increase the number of packets necessary to transmit the same amount of information.

This is called an “encryption overhead”, and it can also slow down your internet speeds compared to a non-encrypted connection.

How Much Will a VPN Slow Your Internet Speeds?

How much a VPN slows down your connection depends on a number of factors, including the VPN service provider, the server you’re connected to, and the number of people using that server. As a result, VPN speeds can vary wildly.

In our testing, the fastest VPN services only slowed our connection speeds by an average of 7% when connected to a nearby server, and 16% when connected to an international server that’s far away.

NordVPN speed test results.

NordVPN slowed our speeds by just 5% when connected to a nearby server.

A premium VPN service should only slow your connection speeds by a negligible amount. You should still be able to browse, torrent, and stream content without noticing any significant delays.

The main reason you might experience slow speeds with a premium VPN is if your bandwidth is limited to begin with.

However, there are plenty of low-quality VPN services that are much slower than this. This is typically true of free VPN services with fewer servers and a weaker infrastructure compared to paid alternatives.

In fact, we’ve seen VPNs that slow down your connection by as much as 98%.

The Factors Affecting Your VPN Speeds

In the following sections, we’ll explain more about exactly why a VPN slows down your internet speed, and the factors that can affect it:

The VPN Connection Protocol

When you send or receive data over the internet, it gets divided into ‘packets’ which contain the data you’re downloading or uploading (known as the ‘payload’). Each packet is limited to a certain amount of data.

In addition to the payload, every packet has to save room for information about where the payload has come from and where it’s going. This additional information is stored in the IP header.

When you use a VPN, the original data packet is encrypted and wrapped in a separate packet (with separate headers) in order to route it to the VPN server.

This process reduces the amount of space in the packet for your payload data. As a result, a file that may have fit into one packet may have to be sent in two packets when you’re using a VPN, as we explain in the diagram below:

How a VPN wraps your data into separate packets.

When you use a VPN, your data is wrapped in a separate packet.

This is why a VPN’s encryption can also slow down your internet speeds. It’s known as the “encryption overhead”, and it’s also why using a VPN increases the amount of mobile data you consume compared to not using a VPN.

Some VPN protocols add more data to your internet traffic than others, and will therefore slow down your internet connection more.

In the following table, we show which VPN protocols have the largest overheads, and how that may affect your speeds:

VPN Protocol Overhead Speed
WireGuard 4.53% Very Fast
IKEv2/IPSec 7.88% Very Fast
PPTP 8.24% Very Fast
OpenVPN UDP 17.23% Fast
OpenVPN TCP 19.96% Moderate

In our tests, we found that OpenVPN can add an overhead of up to 19.96% to your data. WireGuard, in contrast, only adds 4.53%.

While the VPN protocol you’re using will affect your VPN speeds, the strength of the encryption you’re using will not.

We tested the effect of different encryption ciphers (AES and Camellia) and key lengths (128-bit, 192-bit, and 256-bit) on data usage and speed. We found that these variables had very little impact on the protocol’s overhead, despite many websites claiming the opposite.

Server Locations

When you use a VPN, your internet traffic takes a detour through a remote server in a location of your choice.

Generally speaking, the further away the VPN server is from your physical location, the slower your connection speeds will be. Nearby servers will typically be faster, because your data simply doesn’t have to travel as far.

When reviewing Private Internet Access, for example, we measured a speed loss of just 5% when connecting to a New York VPN server from New York. This increased to 26% when connecting internationally to a VPN server in South Africa.

Most top VPN services have a “Quick Connect” or “Smart Location” feature for this very reason. These features connect you to the closest VPN server automatically, improving your chances of getting the best VPN speeds possible.

ExpressVPN's smart location feature.

Using ExpressVPN’s smart location feature can help improve your connection speeds.

Server Load

If lots of people are connected to the same server as you, it may be slow or unresponsive.
VPN servers can get overwhelmed by the number of connections they need to process simultaneously — an issue commonly referred to as server congestion or server load.

Large VPN server networks with a wide variety of locations are less likely to suffer from congestion. Free VPN services, on the other hand, tend to have fewer servers and more users, which can lead to slower speeds.

Some premium VPNs, like IPVanish and ProtonVPN, display the load of each server in the application’s menu. This allows you to see which server locations are heavily congested and which aren’t.

IPVanish's server load.

IPVanish displays the server load percentage for each VPN server on Windows.

The VPN Service Itself

Not all VPN services are equally fast. Running a secure VPN server network is incredibly complicated, and some providers invest more resources into refining and improving their speeds than others.

As a result, different VPNs can vary wildly in their download and upload speeds, even when using the same server locations and protocols.

We’ve spent hundreds of hours testing the fastest VPN services for this very reason, so we have the speed testing data to back up our recommendations.

Comparison graph of the fastest VPNs

A comparison of the fastest VPNs based on our most recent speed tests.

Put simply: if speed matters to you, it’s worth doing your research before purchasing a VPN service. This way, you can ensure that your chosen VPN provider is really capable of the connection speeds you need.

How to Make Your VPN Faster (Stop a VPN From Slowing Your Internet)

Although a VPN will almost always slow down your internet connection somewhat, there are steps you can take to minimize the speed loss, or to compensate for it.

Your server choice, VPN choice, and connection quality all have an impact on your connection speed.

Here’s how to make your VPN faster, or reduce the amount it slows down your connection:

1. Choose a Nearby VPN Server

To minimize your speed loss, we recommend you choose a VPN server that’s close to you geographically.

Same-country connections typically reduce your internet speed by as little as 4%, which would be unnoticeable if you had a reasonably fast connection to begin with.

If you need to use a server in a different country, try to pick the server closest to you. If you’re connecting to the US from Europe, for example, choose a city on the east coast.

2. Choose a Less Congested Server

If too many users are trying to use the same VPN server as you, it will slow down your connection. In this case, try connecting to a different server in the same location.

Aside from server congestion, it’s possible that some servers will be faster than others simply due to the provider’s network infrastructure.

For example, if a VPN service uses virtual server locations, two servers may be in completely different countries even though they assign you the same IP address location. In this case, the closest server to your real location would deliver the fastest VPN speeds.

3. Switch VPN Protocols

Some VPN protocols are faster than others. If you’re experiencing slow speeds with one protocol, try switching to another protocol and retesting your speeds.

OpenVPN and WireGuard are typically the fastest and most secure VPN protocols available. IKEv2 isn’t quite as fast, but it’s still reasonably secure.

ZoogVPN has an extensive list of protocols on Windows, but only two options on macOS.

ZoogVPN has an extensive list of protocols on Windows.

PPTP and SoftEther are fast, but they have known security issues, so we don’t recommend using them.

You may also come across VPN services that use proprietary protocols, like ExpressVPN’s Lightway or NordVPN’s NordLynx. Most of these protocols are based on OpenVPN or WireGuard, and are typically the fastest options available.

4. Avoid Free VPNs

Server congestion is a big problem on free VPNs. There is usually a limited number of servers to choose from, and those servers are likely to be overwhelmed by lots of users.

For example, Proton VPN Free — the best free VPN — has 200 free servers in 3 locations. In comparison, ExpressVPN — the top-rated premium VPN — has 3,000 in 106 countries.

There are other reasons to avoid free VPNs, of course: most of them are less private, have weaker security, and are unable to bypass streaming restrictions.

If the very best speeds are a priority for you, you’ll need to subscribe to a premium service.

5. Enable Split Tunneling

Split tunneling is a feature that allows you to specify which websites or applications go through the VPN tunnel, and which travel outside of it.

VPN split tunneling diagram

VPN split tunneling routes your excluded traffic outside the encrypted VPN connection.

By running some applications and services outside of your VPN connection, you can reduce the burden on your server and the speed loss you experience as a result.

None of the traffic running outside the VPN will incur the delay of using the VPN server and its encryption.

6. Install VPN Software on Your Device

It’s possible to install a VPN on your router, which protects and reroutes the traffic of all the devices on your home network.

This helps to bypass any restrictions your VPN might have on the number of simultaneous connections you can run. It also enables you to use a VPN with devices that don’t typically support VPN software.

However, a VPN installed on a router will be slower than one installed directly on your device. Unless you have a very high-end router, its processor will not be as powerful as the one on your device, and that will affect your VPN’s performance.

7. Change Your DNS server

A private VPN will typically use its own first-party DNS servers to prevent your ISP from handling your website requests.

If the DNS server is causing a delay, you could try switching your device to a public DNS server to see if that improves your connection speed.

We’ve compiled a list of safe public DNS servers you can use for free with our DNS server tool.

8. Switch VPN Services

If you’re experiencing slow or frustrating speeds with your VPN, it might not actually be able to deliver the speeds you’re looking for.

Some VPN services simply do not have the server network or infrastructure to support fast speeds for thousands of users simultaneously.

If that’s the case, our recommendation is to simply choose a better VPN service. You can start with our reviews of Hotspot Shield and IPVanish — two of the fastest VPNs available in 2024.

How to Improve Your Connection Speeds In General

While there are steps you can take to improve your VPN’s connection speeds, you’re still limited to the physical speed of your home network and the capabilities of your device.

In addition to our recommendations above, there are some steps you can take to improve your device’s memory and bandwidth, which will improve your connection speeds overall (including while using your VPN):

1. Close Background Apps

If you have apps in the background that are constantly sending or receiving data, that can put a strain on your network.

Take a look at your device and see whether there are any apps you’re not using. If so, close them and see whether that makes a difference to your connection speed.

Closing apps will also free up any memory they were using, which may help with your VPN’s performance.

2. Reboot Your Device and Router

Rebooting your device can help to resolve memory leaks or other issues that can accumulate if a machine is running for a long time.

It can also help to resolve any software conflicts, although only if the conflicting software is not set to run automatically on start-up.

Similarly, rebooting your router can help to resolve any issues in that part of your network — especially if you have installed your VPN on your router.

3. Use a Wired Connection

The signal strength on a Wi-Fi connection depends on how close you are to the router. Any walls between you and the router may result in your connection speed slowing down.

A wired Ethernet connection is usually faster than a wireless one, and more reliable, too.

If you’re using Wi-Fi on a desktop computer, laptop, or games console, try connecting a cable to your router instead.

4. Update Your Device

If you’re experiencing slow speeds or other difficulties with your device, it’s always a good idea to check whether any software updates are available.

Updates to the operating system or the network device drivers may improve your connection speeds.

5. Disable Firewall & Security Settings

Your security software could be slowing down your connection. It screens all the traffic between your device and the VPN server, and may be causing a delay.

You can try disabling your security software temporarily to see whether that’s causing your slow connection.

This does present a risk to your security, though we don’t recommend leaving your device unprotected for long.

6. Change Your ISP

It’s possible that your ISP simply isn’t giving you a fast enough connection.

In this case, your connection will be slow even when you’re not using a VPN.

Try using a third-party tool like to see whether your ISP is giving you the broadband speed you’re paying for. If not, consider switching to a different ISP.

Can a VPN Make Your Internet Speeds Faster?

In certain circumstances, using a VPN can actually improve your internet speeds with specific websites or services.

This is only possible if your ISP is deliberately slowing your internet connection to begin with, which is known as ‘ISP throttling’.

ISPs use throttling as a tool to manage the performance of their network. Your ISP may throttle your connection to better distribute bandwidth to other users on the network, or to limit the impact of bandwidth-heavy activities like P2P file-sharing, streaming, or online gaming.

A throttled Netflix connection

Internet throttling reduces the speed of your connection and your available bandwidth.

Using a VPN stops your ISP from throttling your connection by encrypting your web traffic, preventing your ISP from seeing what you’re doing online.

If the contents of your web traffic and the protocol you’re using are hidden, your ISP can’t throttle your connection based on your activity.

In these circumstances, using a VPN can actually make your connection speeds faster than the throttled speeds you’re experiencing without a VPN.

How to Test Your VPN Speed

The easiest way to measure the impact of your VPN on connection speeds is to conduct a speed test before and after connecting to a VPN server.

To test your VPN speed, follow these steps:

  1. First, test your connection speeds with your VPN turned off. Visit and write down your download and upload speeds.
  2. Enable your VPN and connect to the server you’ll use most often. For example, if you’re using a VPN to stream US Netflix, choose a US server.
  3. Now, visit and measure your connection speeds with the VPN turned on. Make sure the speed test is set to ‘multi,’ which gives the most accurate results on fast connections.
  4. The result will show you how fast your connection is with your VPN enabled. You can now compare it to your first test to see how much your VPN is slowing down your internet connection.

To find the fastest VPN for your preferred server location, you can also use our VPN speed comparison tool. It allows you to view every VPN’s download speed, upload speed, or ping in eight countries across six continents.


Which VPN Does Not Slow Down Your Internet?

Every VPN will slow down your internet to some degree, but the fastest VPNs will have a negligible impact.

VPN services work by encrypting your traffic and sending it through an additional server. Because your data is traveling further and has the added weight of encryption, your connection will almost always be slower than it would without a VPN.

Based on our latest speed tests, Hotspot Shield is the VPN with the least impact on your connection speeds. It reduced our download speeds by just 1% when connected to a nearby server, which is faster than every other VPN we tested.

What are the minimum bandwidth requirements for a VPN?

There are no minimum bandwidth requirements to use a VPN. However, you may need a faster base connection and higher bandwidth if you plan to use the VPN for data-intensive activities like streaming or torrenting.

If you want to stream HD video, for example, you’ll need to ensure your connection is capable of handling that activity without a VPN, first. You should also expect some loss of speed due to the VPN.