Logging & Jurisdiction
CactusVPN is a small, independent VPN company, which has been incorporated in Moldova since it was founded in 2011.
The company originated as a startup and has now been in operation for nearly a decade.
While CactusVPN has never pushed through to the forefront of the VPN market, it has maintained a dedicated user base throughout this time.
Its jurisdiction in Moldova isn’t too common among commercial VPNs, but appears to offer pretty good data privacy and protection.
Moldova isn’t part of the EU, or part of the Five-, Nine-, or 14-Eyes data sharing alliances. It also isn’t part of any other known data sharing groups, like SIGINT.
Like all the best VPN jurisdictions, it also doesn’t have any legal requirement on companies to keep data logs, or to hand those logs to the authorities.
Unlike many of these privacy havens, however, it also has pro-consumer data protection legislation which is approximately equivalent to GDPR, and gives users the right to request and delete any personal information kept on them.
Some of the strength of Moldova as a jurisdiction appears to come from a lack of legislative focus on data practices, though.
In the short term this is great news, as there is no law or precedent compelling CactusVPN to keep logs or hand over information to either domestic or foreign governments.
The flipside, though, is that the legal situation may change in the future.
Moldova has recently distanced itself from the EU, but maintains a relationship with both it and Russia.
The evolving political situation, and Moldova’s still-in-development data law make it difficult to pin down just how good a region it is for privacy – we’ve called it a ‘Privacy Haven’ above, but there has been a history of (non-digital) surveillance in the country.
In any case, the precise legal situation of Moldova will be irrelevant if CactusVPN doesn’t keep any logs in the first place.
The following logging policy is laid out in CactusVPN’s terms and conditions:
This is a really strong policy which, while short, gives us confidence in CactusVPN.
It doesn’t keep records of your activity or any metadata, not even any hashed or anonymized metadata about your connection. This is about as good as it gets for VPN logging policies.
We would like to see CactusVPN carry out and publish a full audit of this policy in the near future, though, to confirm it is as good as it sounds.
Small server network focused on Europe & the US
Servers in 22 countries is good, but they totally ignore huge parts of the globe. There are no servers in the Middle East or Africa. There is only one server in Australia, and only one in South America (Brazil). CactusVPN's server selection only properly serves users in the USA and Europe.
The network isn’t huge, but gives good coverage of Europe and America in particular. There are 15 server locations in Europe and eight across North America – good news if you live in one of these areas.
Asia and the Pacific have some coverage: five servers between them. Users across these regions may find their performance varies significantly based on their proximity to the server locations, though.
There are servers located in Seoul, Sydney, Tokyo, Singapore, and Faridabad (India). If you’re far away from these locations you shouldn’t expect the same performance.
CactusVPN only operates 39 VPN servers, which is one of the smallest numbers we’ve ever seen from a premium provider. While we haven’t experienced any performance issues, this could cause bottlenecking at peak times.
Strong local speeds drop off globally
Speed & Reliability
CactusVPN is very fast on local connections - you shouldn't notice any difference to your speeds during day-to-day browsing. If you want to connect further afield (say, to unblock a foreign streaming service), that's when CactusVPN suffers from significant slowdown.
CactusVPN performed pretty well in our standardized speed tests – certainly well enough to stream HD video.
Latency isn’t great, though, so you might struggle to play online video games due to high ping, even on a local connection.
Local Speed Test results before using CactusVPN:
- Download Speed: 97Mbps
- Upload Speed: 99Mbps
- Ping: 5ms
Local Speed Test results with CactusVPN:
Download speed loss when CactusVPN is running: 9%
This kind of performance should let you use the internet exactly as you normally would without noticeably reducing loading speeds or buffering times.
But can CactusVPN keep up on the international stage?
We test every VPN by measuring the speeds of its worldwide connections from our office in London, England. These were our results:
- US: 14.14Mbps (download) & 9.67Mbps (upload)
- Germany: 84.41Mbps (download) & 87.01Mbps (upload)
- Singapore: 25.88Mbps (download) & 8.1Mbps (upload)
- Australia: 4.17Mbps (download) & 4.06Mbps (upload)
Connections to Europe were fast, suffering only around a 10% drop in speed. Global connections were a different story, however, with connections to Australia, Asia, and the US experiencing at least a 70% drop in speed, with terrible latency.
Larger drops over long distances aren’t at all uncommon. Only the best VPNs manage to keep a decent connection to places like Singapore and Australia – CactusVPN’s results aren’t bad, but they’ve fallen short of the top tier here, particularly with the US.
Lots of options through Smart DNS, but none on the VPN itself
CactusVPN is capable of unblocking over 340 streaming services from around the world, but it comes with a catch: they can only be unblocked via its Smart DNS service, not via the VPN itself. This is included with every subscription, so won't cost you extra. But it means that your streaming traffic will not be properly encrypted.
If you get the full package, CactusVPN is split into two halves. A VPN which offers good security but is pretty ineffective at getting around content blocks and a Smart DNS proxy service which doesn’t offer any security but works exceptionally well at unlocking content.
We aren’t huge fans of this way of doing things, since you won’t be secured behind your VPN nor fully anonymous while streaming.
With some browser compartmentalization (where you split different kinds of activity between multiple browsers to confuse any onlookers) and a proactive approach to maintaining your privacy and security, though, it certainly isn’t the worst method.
In all, CactusVPN’s Smart DNS service unblocks over 340 streaming sites. This includes US Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and Amazon Prime Video. You can see the full list of supported streaming services here.
P2P is allowed, but only on seven server locations
CactusVPN has a relatively small server network, and torrenting is only allowed on a very small portion of it. P2P servers only exist in Europe and South-East Asia.
CactusVPN only allows P2P traffic on certain servers, but they are well-labeled and easy to find online and in the app. They make up about a third of the total network.
When properly configured, there aren’t any leaks, which is vital if you want to torrent safely and anonymously. Although it’s a concern that configuration is necessary in the first place.
Its no logs policy is very good, so you can feel comfortable there won’t be a record of your activity.
While CactusVPN’s speeds aren’t the very best we’ve seen, local performance is certainly good enough to download and seed large files with ease in Europe.
There are no torrenting servers in the Americas and only one in Asia (Malaysia). The rest are all located in Europe. This is an extremely odd choice, and one which will have a severe impact on your torrenting speeds if you live in the US, Canada, or anywhere in Central and South America.
Mixed results in China
Beating the Great Firewall of China is tough, and CactusVPN struggles with it. Some of the technologies in place (like Port 443) are helpful and can be effective. But it's likely that CactusVPN will only work some of the time within China.
According to CactusVPN, it currently does work in China for users with either the SoftEther VPN protocol or the OpenVPN protocol.
We’ve seen varied statements online about whether or not it does work in China. Most likely it doesn’t work all of the time, and requires some fiddling to get going.
It does have some obfuscation technology in place, though, and allows you to route traffic via Port 433. This should help get your traffic past the censors in countries like Iran and Turkey more consistently.
For the best chance of connecting to the global internet from China, though, we recommend taking a look at our favorite VPNs for China.
A wide selection of custom apps - but no Linux
Platforms & Devices
Between apps for the most popular devices and platforms (including Windows, Android, MacOS, iOS, Fire TV) and a Smart DNS feature, CactusVPN has almost everything covered. There’s even router support, which is unusual for a small VPN like this.
The only notable absence is Linux, for which no solution is provided.
You can install CactusVPN on your router, too. There are comprehensive guides for a long list of popular routers on its website.
Games Consoles & Streaming Devices
Since you can install CactusVPN on a router – albeit with some fiddling – it is possible to use it with a large range of games consoles and streaming devices, including PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and Smart TVs. Its Smart DNS can also be especially useful here, if all you care about is streaming.
It also has a dedicated app for the Amazon Fire TV Stick and Amazon Fire TV, making it extra easy to set up on these devices.
Like most “VPN browser extensions,” these don’t encrypt your data and only protect your in-browser activity.
There isn’t an extension available for Safari, but the CactusVPN proxy can be set up manually.
Still, these extensions are popular and encouraging to see.
Needs configuration to stop DNS leaks
Security & Features
AES-256 encryption, strong protocols (including WireGuard), a reliable kill switch, and custom DNS all make CactusVPN a secure and dependable VPN. There aren't many advanced features, but if you're a beginner you likely won't miss them.
CactusVPN otherwise offers a pretty secure service.
Across its apps it offers a selection of OpenVPN (not available on MacOS), IKEv2, and even the newer WireGuard.
You can also choose which servers to use for DNS leak protection, which is a nice touch. Cloudflare, Google, OpenDNS, and even CactusVPN’s own DNS servers are all available.
The app includes a functional kill switch, which prevents your computer from connecting to the internet if your VPN connection drops unexpectedly.
Without a kill switch you can’t trust a VPN to never expose your data or give up your true IP address. With CactusVPN you don’t need to worry about it.
It also offers an app-specific kill switch called ‘App Killer’. When you add a program to its list, that program will be terminated entirely should your VPN connection drop.
It also supports routing through TCP Port 443 – the port used by most HTTPS traffic. This can help keep the fact that you are using a VPN secret from government and corporate censors. This isn’t available on Mac, though.
Designed for beginners
Ease of Use
CactusVPN's apps are straightforward, simple, and quick to connect. There's not many differences between them from platform to platform, nor are there many advanced features or settings to alter.
How to Install & Set Up CactusVPN
All the CactusVPN apps we’ve tried have worked well, with only a few minor snags.
The Smart DNS off/on button is in a different tab to the country select. We aren’t sure why the app is set out like this – it’s pretty confusing.
Other than that the apps are generally very intuitive and easily laid out. You do have to manually disconnect any Smart DNS or VPN connection before you can establish a new one, though, which can be awkward.
The country select is in an easy to navigate drop-down menu which you can sort by country or speed. There’s no search, but there aren’t really enough servers to warrent on, anyway.
CactusVPN also offers browser extensions for both Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox.
While useful, beware that these extensions do not offer encryption. They are proxies. This means that they will change your IP address, but your traffic will remain exposed.
They’re mainly used for accessing streaming services. It’s a nice, quick way to change your IP address without loading up the main VPN or Smart DNS service.
Good resources, but live chat has been removed
CactusVPN used to have a very strong live chat support service, but it recently removed it. We have no idea why it decided to do so, but it's a real shame. It still has some very useful online guides and FAQs, plus a punctual ticketed support service, but we've found live chat is the best medium for getting help in a hurry.
|Email support via an online form||Yes|
We found the CactusVPN help team responded to all our questions quickly and informatively.
The online resources are pretty comprehensive too, if difficult to navigate at times.
The benefit of a small team is that help often goes beyond the scripted responses of some larger, more corporate providers.
We’d love to see live chat make a return, as that’s really all that’s missing here.
Price & Value for Money
Absolutely loads of payment options help CactusVPN stand out, as does its cheap two-yearly subscription price. It's also a pleasant surprise that all packages give you access to both the VPN and the Smart DNS service at no extra cost.
There are a few different competitive pricing plans available from CactusVPN, ranging from one month to two years.
They all get you access to both the VPN and Smart DNS services.
The two-year plan is the best value option available for CactusVPN, coming in at under $2.57 per month. That’s a price we certainly consider cheap – just beware that you have to pay the full $61.74 up-front if you go for it.
US$6.49/moBilled $6.49 every month
US$5.19/moBilled $15.59 every 3 months
US$3.79/moBilled $45.49 every 12 months
US$2.57/moBilled $61.74 every 2 years
All plans have 30-day money-back guarantee
Payment & Refund Options
CactusVPN offers a great selection of payment methods – some of which we’ve never even seen before
It accepts major credit cards (Visa, MasterCard, and American Express) as well as online payment methods including PayPal, Alipay, Webmoney, Yandex.Money, Boleto Bancario, and Qiwi.
For the most private option, we recommend using Bitcoin or Altcoins, which are also accepted.
We’ve listed the majority above, but you can see a complete list of all the payment methods CactusVPN accepts here.
CactusVPN does offer a limited 30-day refund policy if the “service doesn’t work as advertised.” Ideally, we would really like to see this expanded to a no-questions-asked refund policy, so you can make sure CactusVPN is right for you.
A decent, but flawed, VPN from a small team
The Bottom Line
CactusVPN is a good all-round option from a smaller VPN provider in a decent jurisdiction.
There are better VPNs, but also much much worse VPNs, and CactusVPN comes in at solid value.
Customer service is strong, it’s fast on local connections, and the Smart DNS is excellent for streaming.
The poorly-spread out server network is its main drawback, as is the seriously restrictive choice of P2P locations.
Alternatives to CactusVPN
Windscribe is just marginally cheaper than CactusVPN, and offers a similar profile of features and custom apps. It has a dedicated following and is increasingly nipping at the heels of top providers with its user-friendly design. Read Windscribe review
For around the same price as CactusVPN, AirVPN offers a great, trustworthy service for the more technically inclined. It certainly isn’t a starter VPN, but offers a huge array of advanced features, and has a very active forum and community to keep you updated. Read AirVPN review