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VPNs keep you safe and anonymous by routing your internet traffic through encrypted servers around the globe.
Staying safe online means different things to different people, but beyond keeping your passwords unique, complicated and regularly updated (hint: use a password manager), keeping prying eyes away from your internet activity is a great way to do it. Whether you’re trying to hide your actions from a repressive government, get around service provider blocks or block your service provider from looking over your digital shoulder, using one of the best VPNs is a great way to do it.
Even if you’re not too fussed about online privacy, a VPN (virtual private network) can still be of great benefit. If you ever wished you could watch something on another country’s Netflix library, or found YouTube and other streaming sites blocking content in your country, a VPN is a quick and easy way around that. You can just set yourself to appear as if you’re coming from a country that can access that content, and within seconds you’re viewing exactly what you want. This can also be super handy if another country has products for services that are cheaper than yours. You can set yourself to appear from that country, make your order and enjoy all the benefits of virtual residency for as long as you need it to last.
Whatever your reason for using a VPN though, you want to make sure that the one you’re using is a quality service. There are some, especially the free VPNs, that can log information about you or sell your data on to other companies, governments and who knows who else. That completely invalidates the reason many people use VPNs in the first place. The best VPN services don’t do that though. That’s why this list of great VPNs is the perfect place to start when looking to find the right VPN for you.
NordVPN is a comprehensive VPN service that combines a wide selection of countries and servers to choose from, with a strict set of policies and features that ensure excellent privacy and security for its users. It’s headquartered in the Panama islands, so there can be zero oversight from any of the major governments of the world, and with no logs recorded, it offers as close to anonymous a browsing experience as possible.
Streaming providers constantly play cat and mouse with VPN servers that attempt to get around their geoblocking, but NordVPN is one of the best at circumvention. It periodically offers dedicated streaming servers specifically designed for the purpose of letting you access what you want from anywhere in the world. No VPN can guarantee this functionality at any one time, but NordVPN does release new servers on a regular basis to help, and with many hundreds in the most popular streaming countries like the U.S., Canada, and U.K., you’re more likely than not to find one that works.
It also often offers specialized servers for peer-to-peer file sharing and works flawlessly over the Tor onion router network for added protection. There’s even the option of using a double VPN connection, which allows you to route your connection through two servers for double the security.
Another useful feature is a kill-switch, so your connection will drop completely if you ever lose access to the VPN server for whatever reason, ensuring that your connection always remains private no matter what. There’s also CyberSec ad blocking to protect your from malicious adverts and websites.
If all that isn’t enough, the NordVPN client is attractive and easy to use. The main attraction is a map and server list to select from, as well as detailed settings toggles for all the more advanced and niche options you might want to make use of.
It’s a little more pricey than some, but if you purchase multiple years in advance, it becomes much more affordable—and regular sales make it even more cost effective to go down that route. It doesn’t have a free version, but there is a 30-day money back guarantee if you don’t like the service, so you can subscribe with confidence that you won’t be throwing your money at something that doesn’t work for you.
ExpressVPN is held in high regard for its mix of a solid, secure service, fast connections, and for accessing geoblocked streaming content. But arguably its best feature is its lightweight client. It has a trim profile, taking up little space on your screen, and packs all of the information you need into that narrow window, making it easy to use whether you’re on a desktop PC, laptop, tablet or mobile device.
With over 3,000 servers in more than 90 countries around the world, ExpressVPN has one of the most comprehensive collections of international locations to pick from. That makes it one of the best VPNs for accessing content from other countries, but it’s also a perfect solution for those who like to vary where they appear to be connecting from.
Most servers also support a wide range of VPN protocols. Although ExpressVPN will recommend the OpenVPN protocol over UDP (for the fastest connection) or TCP (for improved reliability), it also has servers which support the L2TP, IPsec, IKEv2, and PPTP protocols for compatibility with the widest array of devices, both new and old. It even maintains a breakdown of which servers support what on its server list page.
Based in the Virgin Islands, ExpressVPN is not beholden to any major governments, so it has no reason to hand over servers or client information if requested. It does employ a logs policy which isn’t quite as strict as some VPN providers, storing the connection date and server location of its users. However, personally identifying information—like IP address or browser history—are not stored. This was even proved when, in 2017, Turkish investigators seized an ExpressVPN server claiming that it had been used by someone involved with the assassination of Russian Ambassador, Andrei Karlov, to delete key information from the assassin’s Gmail and Facebook accounts. No identifying information on anyone involved was discovered.
ExpressVPN’s service is one of the most expensive, starting at $8 per month if you buy 12 months in advance, but it does offer a 30-day money-back guarantee, and if you only want to try a month at a time, it’s not egregiously more expensive at just shy of $13 for each 30-day period.
Developed by the same team behind encrypted email service ProtonMail, ProtonVPN is a secure, capable and fast service that has a number of impressive tiers to pick from with some exciting features. What may be of most interest to some is how capable the free version is.
Most VPN services that offer a free tier do so by capping your traffic so that you can only use it for a short period of time, or until you’ve downloaded a small amount of content. That makes them largely useless outside of a quick trial or very occasional usage. Not so with ProtonVPN. With its service, you get unlimited downloads just like the paid for tiers. Where you are limited is in the countries and servers you can connect to. In ProtonVPN’s case, that’s three: Japan, United States, and the Netherlands. You can also only connect with a single device and your connection speed isn’t as fast as the premium versions of the service.
You still enjoy many of the other benefits of ProtonVPN’s service, though, including its high-level encryption and no logs policy. ProtonVPN is based in Switzerland, so it benefits from the protection of Switzerland’s strict privacy laws and isn’t tied in with the Five Eyes intelligence network. That said, it is part of the “focused cooperation” network outside of the main intelligence group, so in select scenarios it is possible that it could be compelled to share information overseas. There wouldn’t be much to tell as little information is stored by ProtonVPN, but it’s worth bearing in mind.
Typically companies that offer a service which you don’t pay for will use the customer’s information as a way to generate revenue, but ProtonVPN merely banks on you finding the service so indispensable that you’ll upgrade down the line or try out one of its other privacy-first products, like ProtonMail.
If you do decide to upgrade your VPN package in the future, you can do so for just a few dollars a month (with an annual subscription) and unlock all 50 countries and 954 servers, widening your selection considerably. You can also connect two devices simultaneously, connect to optimized peer-to-peer servers and enjoy the fastest connection speed offered by ProtonVPN.
Other tiers get noticeably more expensive, but add features like faster servers, “Secure Core” servers which bounce your connection through privacy-focused countries like Switzerland and Iceland before reaching their destination, and easy Tor access to add additional layers of security to your connection. If you don’t like any of it, ProtonVPN also offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you needn’t feel pressured into maintaining a subscription you don’t find a use for.
Tunnel Bear might have a slightly silly name, silly logo, and—in peak VPN silliness—allow you to pay for its service with jars of honey, but it’s a serious VPN service and one that can be heartily recommended for first time VPN users. It’s not only robust with a solid selection of servers, strong encryption and a reliable no-logs policy, but it’s extremely easy to use, too.
Looking like a more cartoonishly colorful version of NordVPN’s map-based server selector, TunnelBear has an attractive client that lets you pick servers from a global map featuring all 22 of its server locations around the world, with more than 1,800 individual servers to pick from. That can help you hide your identity, get around geoblocks or buy something from another country’s webstore. It’s incredibly intuitive and makes the whole experience of using a VPN seem far less technologically opaque—a perfect solution for those just getting their feet wet with VPN use.
This is important, as unlike some of the more far-flung VPN services, TunnelBear is based in Canada. That means it must comply by Canadian law and since Canada is part of the Five Eyes intelligence sharing scheme along with the U.S., U.K., New Zealand and Australia, it may be compelled by various international governments and organizations to supply your information if you are thought to be involved in a criminal venture.
That said, the information TunnelBear collects is minimal. It collects your email address, payment method, account expiry date, credit card information (if used) and a few metrics about your device, such as operating system and how active you’ve been with the account. If that seems like a lot, you can always pay for your service in Bitcoin, which can add another layer of anonymity to the service.
As for outside actors who may want access to your data or view what you’re doing while using TunnelBear, it operates a strict no-logs policy and heavy 256-bit encryption, so there’s almost no chance that anyone would be able to look over your digital shoulder while using TunnelBear’s service.
As for the price, TunnelBear is one of the most affordable VPNs out there, letting you pay just a few dollars monthly for a year or three up front, or $10 per month on a rolling basis. It also has a free tier that limits you to 500MB of protected browsing monthly.
If you want the absolute greatest breadth of VPN servers to choose from, no one else comes even close. GyberGhost has a selection of more than 6,340 servers in 90 countries around the world, letting you hide your IP address just about anywhere you want. Better yet, the IP address at each server you connect to is shared with everyone else accessing that server at the same time—without compromising connection speed. That makes it incredibly hard for anyone to prove whatever you’re doing is you, no matter how much they try.
Adding to that protective layer, CyberGhost employs 256-bit encryption at all times over a selection of the most efficient and secure VPN protocols available, including OpenVPN (over both UDP and TCP), IKEv2, and LT2TP/IPSec. It also offers the state of the art WireGuard protocol, which combines the best features of the most secure and the fastest protocols for a one-size-fits-all connection.
To further maintain user privacy and security, CyberGhost has a strict no-logs policy, storing absolutely nothing about your activity on its servers. Since the parent company is headquartered in Romania, it’s outside the jurisdiction of any of the major intelligence sharing governmental groups. CyberGhost does store (temporarily) your payment information and email address, but you don’t need to use identifying forms of either, with the option to pay with the Bitcoin cryptocurrency available to all subscribers. CyberGhost also produces a yearly Transparency Report which lets you see how many requests it gets for information from what governments or organizations and its response to them.
The CyberGhost VPN client is available on MacOS, Windows, Linux, FireTV, Chrome, FireFox, Android and iOS, with up to seven devices protected at any one time no matter which length of subscription you pick. The cheapest tier is just north of $2 per month for three years billed all at once (around $88), making CyberGhost one of the cheapest options, and you can bundle it with other security tools like CyberGhost’s Privacy Guard and Security updater for just a little more.
From $2 a month for the two year subscription, SurfShark is the cheapest option for those wanting to enjoy the benefits of a high-quality VPN service. That $2 goes further than most, though, with the ability to connect unlimited devices on a single account. While SurfShark might draw a line with you sharing your login details publicly, if you want to sign up the whole family to safe browsing over a VPN connection, SurfShark is the VPN for you.
Employing a strict no-activity logs policy and impressive DNS Leak protection, your connection stays ironclad and anonymous while connecting to one of SurfShark’s 1,700 servers in 64 countries. That’s not as robust as some, but it’s more than enough for most uses and gives you plenty to choose from when trying to circumvent streaming site geoblocking. If none of them work, you can also make use of Surfshark’s Smart DNS unlocking, making Surfshark one of the best VPNs for streaming.
Headquartered in the Virgin Islands, there’s very little that foreign governments can do to compel Surfshark to hand over even the limited information it stores on its users and it employs a variety of techniques to specifically help hide your activity and information from your ISP and government. Camouflage Mode makes sure that your broadband provider doesn’t know you’re using a VPN, while NoBorders Mode helps you enjoy the benefits of a VPN even in countries where their access is prohibited.
To ensure these security measures remain firmly in place and that the apps themselves are secure, Surfshark employs independent auditors to look over its codebase. That allows oversight of its software and product principles that its remote base of operations might otherwise allow it to avoid.
Included with all of its VPN features, Surfshark also offers all subscribers a robust ad blocker, helping to eliminate potentially nefarious (as well as annoying) adverts, trackers and phishing attempts. It also lets you whitelist your favorite applications if you’re happy to give them full access to your standard connection for maximum speed.
While both VPNs and proxy services will route your traffic through a third-party server, only VPNs typically provide a layer of encryption to your traffic. VPNs also use secure and protected (both physically and digitally) servers that often don’t store any logs.
VPNs operate at the operating system level, routing all traffic through their server. A proxy works at the application level, meaning that it only routes traffic from that particular app. Background data can still be sent without routing it through the proxy, potentially leaving you vulnerable to identification.
A proxy may allow you to circumvent geoblocks, but you don’t know who operates the server that you’re routing through and there are no guarantees that the owner won’t store or even share your personal information to authorities or groups that you wouldn’t want to have oversight over your activities.
The one advantage proxies have over VPNs is typically speed, as they don’t take the extra steps to protect your anonymity. If you aren’t interested in privacy or could use the extra bandwidth in your roundabout connection, a proxy may be a better bet.
Free VPNs aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but they should be used with caution. As the saying goes, nothing is free, and that often goes doubly true for free VPNs. Where you aren’t paying for a product, you can become the product yourself, meaning that your data can be sold by some free VPN providers to recoup the costs of running the service and even make a profit.
There’s also less obligation to provide a secure or anonymizing service for a free VPN. The Opera browser famously bundled a “VPN” in its client in 2016 but this was later discovered to operate more as a proxy, thereby only providing geoblocking circumvention and no real identity protection. Doubly so, that company was sold to a Chinese consortium that same year, which should raise concerns for anyone planning to use it while being interested in maintaining their privacy.
Free VPNs also tend to have much more limited feature sets, with access to fewer servers in a reduced number of countries, as well as much slower connections.
If you aren’t sure if you want to pay for a VPN connection, ProtonVPN’s free VPN service is a great way to get your feet wet. Alternatively, TunnelBear has a free tier that has limited access, but gives you a chance to try out its service before subscribing.
Another way to improve your anonymity online is to double up your VPN connection. Depending on the VPN provider, this can be as simple as jumping your connection through two VPN servers before reaching your intended destination, but others provide something more complex and robust.
Some providers have a Double VPN option in their client. Click it, and you’ll be instantly given access to a greater layer of anonymizing protection for you and your online activities. You may see a slight dip in speed, but it shouldn’t be overly noticeable.
Another method advocated by some VPN providers is to add a VPN to your router and another to your individual devices connected to it. That could be from the same provider—which will likely improve compatibility — but you could even use two separate VPN services at the same time. That would be the most costly option, but likely more protective.
You could always use a free VPN on your router and a paid-for service on your device. That way the free version would know very little about you or your traffic, whilst not costing you anything extra to employ. You would lose much of the functionality of a full VPN service then, so the most anonymity would come from two paid services.
Double VPNs can also be useful in countries which only allow domestic connections. That way you can hide your information in a way that is entirely compliant with the powers that be, but also provide yourself hidden access to a wider array of international options. A double VPN isn’t necessary for everyone, but it can be a great step to protect yourself even further if you feel you need additional privacy and security.