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CactusVPN Review

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The CactusVPN desktop app
Headshot of Top10VPN.com Site Editor Callum Tennent

Callum Tennent oversees how we test and review VPN services. He's a member of the IAPP, and his VPN advice has featured in Forbes and the Internet Society. Read full bio

Ask Callum About CactusVPN

Our Verdict

7.37.3/10
How is this calculated?

Our overall rating is reached by combining several subcategories. The subcategories are weighted as follows:

  • Logging & Jurisdiction: 30%
  • Speed & Reliability: 25%
  • Security & Features: 20%
  • Streaming: 10%
  • Torrenting: 5%
  • Ease of Use: 5%
  • Support: 5%

See our full methodology in how we review VPNs.

CactusVPN is a no-logs VPN service with servers in just 22 countries. Though it’s a decent choice for streaming and torrenting, the VPN leaks your DNS if not properly configured. CactusVPN is a respectable VPN, but there are better alternatives.

Ranked #30 out of 71 VPNs

CactusVPN Category Ratings

  • 9.29.2/10
  • 77.0/10
  • 99.0/10
  • 7.67.6/10
  • 7.17.1/10
  • 77.0/10
  • 7.27.2/10
  • 8.48.4/10
  • 8.58.5/10
  • 77.0/10

CactusVPN Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Works with US Netflix & BBC iPlayer
  • Strong no-logs policy
  • User-friendly apps
  • Good for torrenting
  • Quick, helpful customer service

Cons

  • Smart DNS does not encrypt traffic
  • Leak protection not enabled by default
  • Limited amount of server locations
  • Based in Canada (Five Eyes nation)

CactusVPN is fairly small, but it has managed to build a dedicated audience, so we set out to discover if it meets, or even exceeds these promises.

We’ve tested the VPN extensively for this CactusVPN review to find out where it excels and where it doesn’t perform quite as well as the competition. We will answer questions including:

  • Is CactusVPN safe?
  • Can I use CactusVPN for torrenting?
  • Is this service of good value?
  • Where is CactusVPN based?
  • What is CactusVPN Smart DNS?

Keep reading to see just how well CactusVPN fares against the larger competition.

CactusVPN Key Data

Data CapUnlimited
Speed88Mbps
Logging PolicyNo Logs
Data LeaksYes
JurisdictionMoldova (Privacy Haven)
Servers39
IP Addresses39
Countries22
US NetflixYes
TorrentingPermitted
Simultaneous ConnectionsUnlimited
Works In ChinaUnreliable
SupportOnline Resources, Email Ticket
Cheapest Price$2.57/mo over 24 Months
Free Trial3 Days (No Payment Info Required)
Money-Back Guarantee30-day Money-Back Guarantee
Official WebsiteCactusVPN.com

Excellent no-logs policy but based in privacy-unfriendly Canada

Logging & Jurisdiction

99.0/10
How is this calculated?

We dissect the logging and privacy policies of every VPN. A VPN should never log:

  • Your real IP address
  • Connection timestamps
  • DNS requests

A base of operations outside of 14-Eyes or EU jurisdiction is preferable.

CactusVPN's privacy policy is great. It records absolutely nothing — not even metadata. CactusVPN is based in Canada, though, which makes it subject to the Five Eyes data-sharing alliance. We would like to see its logging policy independently audited to verify its accuracy.

CactusVPN Inc., is a small, independent VPN company, which was founded in Moldova, 2011.

However, in 2016 it quietly switched its legal jurisdiction from privacy-friendly Moldova to surveillance-intensive Canada.

The switch isn’t mentioned once on CactusVPN’s website, nor is it mentioned in its official Terms of Service or its Privacy Policy.

When we reached out to a customer support agent to ask about the change, we were directed to a Canadian company directory and given no further explanation.

Screenshot of a conversation with CactusVPN's customer support.

We received a very quick response from CactusVPN, but it didn’t provide much clarity.

CactusVPN is based in Canada and subject to Canadian data laws

CactusVPN is based in Canada, which is part of the Five Eyes data-sharing alliance. We were able to find its registered address in Longueuil, Quebec, in the Canadian company registry.

As such, it’s subject to Canadian data privacy laws, which are notoriously invasive. We’re disappointed to see that CactusVPN’s Terms of Service and Privacy Policy doesn’t clearly state this.

But despite the Canadian jurisdiction, we aren’t worried because CactusVPN has a robust no-logs policy that ensures its customer data will not be recorded, monitored, or stored.

This means that any information CactusVPN may have on a customer is promptly deleted before it can be handed over to authorities, if compelled to do so.

Logging Policy

The following logging policy is laid out in CactusVPN’s terms and conditions:

CactusVPN logging policy

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.

CactusVPN does not record:

  • Traffic logs
  • Connection timestamps
  • Used bandwith
  • Session duration information

The only thing missing is a full audit of CactusVPN’s policy and software to confirm it is as good as it sounds. This would take CactusVPN to the next level of privacy and security.

Overall, you can trust CactusVPN to keep your online traffic and usage safe. But, there are other more transparent VPN companies that are based in privacy havens and have had intensive audits.

Small server network focused on Europe & the US

Server Locations

7.17.1/10
How is this calculated?

The global spread and coverage of the VPN server network is the most important factor here.

We also consider the number of city-level servers, plus how many IP addresses are maintained.

This rating does not directly contribute to the Overall Rating, but instead makes up a portion of the Security & Features rating.

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.

Globe with a blue flag
22 Countries
Image of a city landscape
28 Cities
Image of a pink marker
39 IP Addresses

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

7.67.6/10
How is this calculated?

Speed ratings are calculated using upload speeds, download speeds, and ping (latency).

We test average speeds regularly using a dedicated 100Mbps connection in London, UK. Local download speed is considered the most important factor.

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: 88Mbps
  • Upload Speed: 91Mbps
  • Ping: 19ms

Download speed loss when CactusVPN is running: 9%

These are really good local speeds – right up there with the biggest VPNs, like ExpressVPN or CyberGhost.

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

Streaming

9.29.2/10
How is this calculated?

Streaming is rated by the number of different services unlocked, how many regional libraries are viewable, and how consistently the VPN can access them.

Netflix, BBC iPlayer, HBO Max, DAZN, and Amazon Prime Video are all tested on a weekly basis.

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

Torrenting

77.0/10
How is this calculated?

We calculate the average download bitrate of every VPN using a bespoke torrenting setup.

Testing also factors in the percentage of servers which permit P2P, plus useful features like port forwarding.

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

Bypassing Censorship

77.0/10
How is this calculated?

Our remote-access server in Shanghai, China routinely tests if a VPN can beat restrictions and access a free, open internet. Obfuscation technologies and nearby servers are also a contributing factor.

This rating does not directly contribute to the Overall Rating, but instead makes up a portion of the Security & Features rating.

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.

Needs configuration to stop DNS leaks

Security & Features

7.27.2/10
How is this calculated?

Top-rated VPNs offer OpenVPN or WireGuard protocols, AES-256 encryption, and a functional kill switch. We also consider additional security features and the global spread of VPN servers.

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.

Protocols
  1. IKEv2/IPSec
  2. L2TP/IPSec
  3. OpenVPN (TCP/UDP)
  4. PPTP
  5. SoftEther
  6. SSTP
  7. WireGuard
Encryption
  1. AES-128
  2. AES-256
Security
  1. DNS Leak Blocking
  2. First-party DNS
  3. Supports TCP Port 443
  4. VPN Kill Switch
Advanced Features
  1. Smart DNS

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.

A wide selection of custom apps - but no Linux

Platforms & Devices

How is this rated?

A quality VPN should maintain functional, fully-featured applications and extensions for as many platforms and devices as possible.

This does not directly contribute to the Overall Rating, but instead makes up a portion of the Ease of Use rating.

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.

Apps

  1. Windows
  2. Mac
  3. iOS
  4. Android
  5. Router

CactusVPN offers custom apps for the usual platforms: Microsoft Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android. There are also manual workarounds on to help you set the VPN up on Linux and Chromebook.

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

  1. Apple TV
  2. Amazon Fire TV
  3. Android TV
  4. Chromecast
  5. Nintendo
  6. PlayStation
  7. Roku
  8. Xbox

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.

Browser Extensions

  1. Chrome
  2. Firefox

CactusVPN produces browser extensions for both Firefox and Chrome. These are good options if you want lightweight access to location spoofing, but not actually a full VPN.

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.

Designed for beginners

Ease of Use

8.48.4/10
How is this calculated?

This rating mainly consists of the intuitiveness of setup and everyday use.

Device or platform compatibility and customization options are also a factor.

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.

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.

Changing country in CactusVPN Smart DNS

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.Selecting a country in CactusVPN

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

Customer Support

8.58.5/10
How is this calculated?

This rating is based on our assessment of each VPN’s:

  • Email support
  • Live chat support
  • Online resources

Not every VPN offers all of these, and they often vary in quality and response time.

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.

EmailYes
Email support via an online formYes
Online ResourcesYes

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.

Competitively priced

Price & Value for Money

77.0/10
How is this calculated?

Price & Value for Money receives a rating, but is not factored into our Overall Rating. We believe the reader should decide what is or isn’t a reasonable price.

A good rating here isn’t just based on how cheap the VPN is, but for the value it offers overall.

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.

  1. Monthly

    US$6.99/mo

    Billed $6.99 every month
  2. 3 Month(s)

    US$5.59/mo

    Billed $16.79 every 3 months
    Save 44%
  3. 12 Month(s)

    US$4.08/mo

    Billed $48.99 every 12 months
    Save 59%
  4. 2 Year(s)

    US$2.77/mo

    Billed $66.49 every 2 years
    Save 72%

Payment & Refund Options

CactusVPN offers a great selection of payment methods – some of which we’ve never even seen before

  1. Alipay
  2. American Express
  3. Bitcoin
  4. Bitcoin Cash
  5. Giropay
  6. iDeal
  7. Mastercard
  8. PayPal
  9. SOFORT
  10. UnionPay
  11. Visa
  12. WebMoney

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

Windscribe

8.68.6/10

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

AirVPN logo

AirVPN

7.47.4/10

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

About the Author


  • Headshot of Top10VPN.com Site Editor Callum Tennent

    Callum Tennent

    Callum Tennent oversees how we test and review VPN services. He's a member of the IAPP, and his VPN advice has featured in Forbes and the Internet Society. Read full bio


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