CactusVPN is a little-known VPN that’s quietly making improvements to its service in an attempt to compete with the big names in the industry.
Not only does it perform consistently well across its global server network, it also comes with a solid set of privacy features and a zero-logs policy to boot. A privacy-friendly jurisdiction is another bonus.
Netflix and BBC iPlayer are accessible through CactusVPN’s SmartDNS servers, although it’s a shame that torrenting is only permitted in a handful of locations. If this isn’t a dealbreaker for you though, CactusVPN could be a contender.
Pricing & Deals
CactusVPN offers several different pricing plans depending on the service you need – you can choose from US or UK VPN, Smart DNS, or VPN + Smart DNS. Most people will likely opt for the latter as this includes access to all 23 VPN servers worldwide.
You can pay for each plan monthly, quarterly or annually, with the annual subscriptions offering the biggest savings. The most popular option (VPN + Smart DNS) is currently $6.99 per month, or you can save yourself 35% on the 12-month plan, coming in at a monthly cost of $4.59. All other plans are $4.99 on a monthly basis or $3.25 per month with an annual subscription.
Get 35% off CactusVPN's 12-month plan
CactusVPN Pricing & Deals
Payment & Refund Options
CactusVPN accepts loads of different payment options, including PayPal, most major credit and debit cards, and Bitcoin.
International users can also use Qiwi, Webmoney, Yandex Money or Alipay.
Speed & Reliability
We’d be lying if we said CactusVPN was the quickest VPN we’ve seen, but it doesn’t do a bad job at all. Downloads peak at almost 60Mbps when connecting locally, and even from Europe out to the US didn’t drop below a very impressive 45Mbps, ensuring a seamless experience no matter what you’re doing online.
Uploads are much the same, if not better, coming in at over 90Mbps on same-country connections and not much below that internationally. The only countries that showed a noticeable drop in performance were Singapore and Australia, but regardless, they were still quick enough for buffer-free HD streaming.
Latency was pretty variable but a solid 9ms in London (we test from the UK). As is usually the case, this ballooned out to well over 200ms over longer distances, such as to Japan, but as long as you connect to a nearby country you should be fine.
To read about our speed testing methodologies, please read How We Review VPNs.
CactusVPN’s network is small, with servers in just 14 countries. While this does include most popular locations such as the US, the majority of Western Europe and a few options in Asia, it just can’t compete with other providers at a similar price point when it comes to coverage.
US-based users can choose from four different cities (Chicago, Kansas City, Manassas and LA), but city-level choice is sadly unavailable elsewhere on the network. There are no servers whatsoever in South America or Africa, so prospective buyers on these continents should stop reading now.
Should you need a wider variety of choice, consider HideMyAss!, with server locations in over 190 countries.
Platforms & Devices
CactusVPN offers custom apps for the usual Microsoft Windows, MacOS, iOS and Android devices. There are also manual workarounds on the website to help you set up the VPN on Ubuntu, Windows Phone, Chromebook and a long list of routers.
CactusVPN recently launched a custom browser extension for Google Chrome that’s really easy to download and add to your browser. However, this is just a proxy, so while it will mask your true IP address, it does not encrypt your browser traffic in the same way a VPN does.
You can also set up CactusVPN proxies on a range of alternative browsers, including:
- Mozilla Firefox
- Microsoft Edge
- Internet Explorer
You can find detailed instructions on the Tutorials section of the website, but remember, these don’t offer the same level of privacy as a VPN.
Games Consoles & Streaming Devices
CactusVPN is one of very few providers that actually provides native apps for streaming devices such as Android TV and Amazon Fire TV. You can also manually set up the VPN on Boxee Box, a Linux-based set-top device.
The Smart DNS service can be used with Apple TV, Sony PlayStation, Xbox, Roku, and Now TV, but again, this won’t encrypt your traffic. The only way to use CactusVPN on such devices is to install it at router level, therefore automatically protecting all connected devices in your home.
Streaming & Torrenting
While CactusVPN’s VPN servers don’t work with major streaming services, you can use its SmartDNS servers to reliably access sites such as Netflix and BBC iPlayer.
Don’t confuse this with a VPN, though, as connecting to a SmartDNS server won’t encrypt your connection. It’s designed purely to spoof your IP address so you appear to be in a different country. We’d love to see access to Netflix via the actual VPN service in the future, as this will keep you far safer while streaming.
P2P activity is permitted on a handful of servers in Europe but prohibited elsewhere, so those based in the US or Asia are unable to torrent on local connections. These servers are likely to get overcrowded very quickly, too, so performance will suffer. Keen torrenters should check out IPVanish.
Encryption & Security
CactusVPN uses both AES-128 and AES-256 encryption, depending on what VPN protocol you decide to use. Both are very strong and almost impossible to crack.
To see a full list of which VPN connection protocol uses which type of encryption, take a look on CactusVPN’s website. The most secure protocol, OpenVPN, uses AES-128 and is configured with a 2048-bit RSA handshake, making it extremely secure.
The custom apps also include a VPN kill switch and an ‘App Killer’ feature, ensuring none of your personal info is leaked in the case of a connection drop. There’s also protection against DNS leaks, which we found to be totally effective in our latest tests following an app update.
CactusVPN does a decent job on the privacy front but could do with tightening up in a few areas in order to compete with its rivals.
- OpenVPN (TCP/UDP)
- DNS Leak Blocking
- Supports TCP Port 443
- VPN Kill Switch
- Smart DNS
There’s no specific mention of China on CactusVPN’s website but the SoftEther protocol is known for being very effective at bypassing censorship firewalls and allowing people to access blocked content. It’s still in its infancy, though, so we’d hesitate to wholeheartedly recommend it.
CactusVPN states that it works to “bypass restrictions and blocks”, and due to the wide variety of VPN protocols on offer we can safely assume it will work in a majority of countries worldwide. There are no additional obfuscation tools, however, which could be a problem during more aggressive VPN crackdowns. Should you need a more reliable solution, we’d recommend looking at Astrill.
CactusVPN is completely zero-logs, not even collecting anonymous connection metadata. This means that there’s no way your online activity can be linked back to you as an individual, giving you total peace of mind.
A member of the customer support team informed us that they receive notifications in the case of any server errors in order to solve problems quickly and efficiently, which is good news.
CactusVPN is based in Moldova, which isn’t subject to any data-sharing agreements with other countries. This, combined with a genuine no-logs policy, means that there’s no risk of your personal information being handed over to third parties, even if law enforcement were to come knocking.
Ease of Use
CactusVPN couldn’t really be simpler to use. The server locations are sorted by country by default, but you can also sort them by speed – we’re not sure how accurate this is, though. The settings are in a separate tab but really easy to toggle on and off, and you can swap from one VPN protocol to another.
It’s a little annoying that you have to disconnect from one server location before connecting to a new one, but quick connection times mean this isn’t a major issue. Just make sure you turn on the kill switch feature to protect yourself before switching.
Getting started with CactusVPN requires you to either download the software from the website or follow the instructions to manually configure your own VPN connection. Don’t get caught out when signing in though – your login credentials for the app are different to those you use to sign in to the Client Area.
Customer support was a pleasant surprise, with comprehensive resources and quick responses from friendly, well-informed agents. Live chat is available Monday to Friday 7am-4pm and 6pm-2am UTC time, and you can submit a support ticket at any time.
Online resources consist of setup tutorials, FAQs, and a so-called Learning Center featuring a series of beginner’s guides to online privacy and security. Support is efficient enough that any simple questions you may have shouldn’t take longer than a few minutes to answer.
The Bottom Line
- Very quick local speeds
- Custom apps for a range of devices
- Works with Netflix & iPlayer (proxy)
- Strict zero-logs policy
- Solid privacy features
- Harsh torrenting restrictions
CactusVPN is a solid, middle-of-the-road VPN with a transparent approach to privacy that we can really get on board with. True, it may not appeal to torrenters due to P2P restrictions, and access to Netflix is via a proxy server rather than the VPN, but in terms of performance, it’s one of the more reliable options we’ve seen in a while.
The strict zero logs policy and jurisdiction in privacy-friendly Moldova are a huge bonus, as is the comprehensive customer support. CactusVPN has a few things to improve on before we’d put it in the same league as our top-tier VPNs, but it’s certainly moving in the right direction.