No hype, no BS, no pressure. Just facts that let you figure out the best VPN to use for your needs.
Everyone seems to have an opinion about which VPN service is "the best", but a lot of the information available is dodgy and should be treated with suspicion.
Relying on a VPN service to act as a shield and protect your Internet activities requires a high degree of trust. This is especially true for sensitive online activities such as torrent file-sharing, avoiding online tracking or browsing websites you’d rather keep private.
Plus, free VPN services may say they keep you “anonymous” and claim not to keep any logs of your activities that could be traced back to you, but how can you know for sure?
Your online privacy is not something you should mess around with. This is why you should only use reliable and trusted VPN services. Below, we recommend the best VPN services on the market today. But we also encouraged you to conduct your own research and decide for yourself. For that, the last half of this post outlines how to choose the best VPN service provider for you.
[+] 'Best VPN Services' contents (select to expand)
Best VPN Services & What to Look for
Not all VPNs are created equal. Some deserve a place in your privacy tool arsenal while others are best avoided.
Here are the main things you should consider when choosing a VPN:
Our VPN recommendations on this page are based on the above criteria. We go into more details about these in the last half of the post after the summary below.
What About a Free VPN?
Just. Don't. Do. It.
How to Choose the Best VPN Service
Emotions run high when talking about which VPN services are the best. It's a subjective assessment anyway and everyone seems to have an opinion. But remember, the evaluation depends on many factors and everyone’s situation is different.
You should consider the following criteria and factors when choosing the “best VPN” for your needs.
What Will You Use the VPN For?
First off, you'll need to know what you want to use the VPN for. If that has you asking, "What can I use a VPN for?" you may be surprised to learn that a VPN has many uses.
This means your choice of VPN will depend a lot on what your major uses of it will be.
For example, the needs of a person wanting a VPN to keep his or her torrent file-sharing safe is different from a business person wanting a VPN for protection when using Wi-Fi hotspots and different still from someone wanting a VPN to stream TV and live sporting events from all around the world. Still others want to curtail the increasingly widespread practices of online tracking and profiling.
Top Tip – If your focus is on finding a torrent VPN for anonymous file-sharing there is even more criteria to keep in mind when choosing the right VPN. We have grouped these specific torrent VPN criteria.
How Easy is the VPN Service to Use?
Your quest to find the best VPN service will also depend on your level of experience and your comfort level with technology.
If you are completely new to VPNs and concepts such as IP addresses, proxies and encryption, your priority may be a user-friendly VPN with an easy interface – for example, check out ExpressVPN or PureVPN.
More advanced users might be in the market for a VPN with extra features such as a kill switch, DNS leak protection and different encryption & protocol options – check out NordVPN.
How Much Does the VPN Service Cost?
The price each VPN charges is an obvious factor in your choice and a personal one. Some people can afford or are willing to spend more, others are not.
Prices range from about $2 to 10 per month (about £2-7 or €2-9) depending on the length of the signup period you choose.
Always keep an eye out for special deals as the best VPN services sometimes have time-limited promotions or exclusive discounts, and almost always offer discounts for longer signup periods.
For example, a popular option now is 2-year, 3-year and even "lifetime" sign-ups for deep discounts.
Does the VPN have a Money-Back Guarantee or Free Trial?
Before signing up to a VPN, especially any longer-term plans, check to see if they offer a money-back guarantee or offer a free trial. This way, you can make sure that everything works well for you.
Any reliable VPN service will have a money-back guarantee. These guarantee periods can range from 3 to 31 days.
How Fast is the VPN Service?
Take any speed ratings you see with a grain of salt, whether stated on the VPN service provider’s website or in reviews on other websites.
These speed ratings don’t often mean much because a VPN’s download speed will vary for many reasons. These include:
- your distance from the VPN's servers
- the path your Internet traffic takes
- what you are doing online
- the load on the VPN (the number of total users at the same time)
- the quality of your ISP connection
- and even the time of day, just to name a few.
This is why one person’s experience with the speed of a VPN can be very good, while another person’s is much less satisfactory. This can especially be the case across continents.
The best way to determine if the VPN’s speed is good for you is to sign up with a VPN that offers a money-back guarantee or free trial and put the VPN through its paces to thoroughly test download speeds.
How To Pay for the VPN Service?
Payment options may also be important to you. Some people are not comfortable paying by credit card and want to use PayPal or other payment options instead.
A small, but passionate, minority of VPN customers will want to pay anonymously for their VPN services in a way that they don’t have to share any information that could potentially be traced back to them. This is possible by paying with Bitcoin which is widely accepted by the best VPN services.
Another way to avoid sharing your personal or financial information when signing up with a VPN is to use prepaid store gift cards that you have bought in person with cash. This is only offered as a payment option by a select handful of privacy-conscious VPN services, including Private Internet Access.
Where are the VPN Servers Located?
Most VPNs will allow you to choose the location of where your Internet connection exits the VPN service when it is activated. These are sometimes called "exit gateways".
These are the countries in which the VPN’s various proxy servers are located. Having this choice gives you control over which country your IP address will appear to be coming from. This is handy for accessing geo-restricted content, playing or speeding up online games or spoofing your location to get better prices when making online purchases.
For example, if you want to access Netflix content that is only available to people based in the US and you live elsewhere or are travelling outside the US, you could choose a US-based exit gateway offered by your VPN to access the Netflix library that you would otherwise be blocked from accessing.
You will want a VPN that has exit gateways in many different locations. The more country server locations, the better.
Country server locations are also important for torrent file-sharing. You will want to see a VPN with exit gateways located in “torrent friendly” locations such as (in alphabetical order) Belgium, Bulgaria, Costa Rica, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Netherlands, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Sweden and Turkey (this list is a good indicator.)
Anyone snooping on your Internet traffic (whether monitoring your p2p torrent activities or just generally tracking you online) will think you are based in the location of the exit gateway and detect the VPN’s IP address, rather than your actual location and true IP address. If the snoop traced back the traffic or IP address to the VPN’s servers, this would lead them only to the VPN service and not you.
Top Tip – If you want to make sure that the trail ends there and cannot be further traced back to you, make sure you choose a VPN service that does not log its customer (your) activities. Read more about providers that have been confirmed as no-log VPNs.
What about the VPN's Technical Specifications
Sometimes you will see a VPN feature a long list of various technical specifications. These technical terms may include:
Don’t let this technical jargon confuse you.
Whether you need to get wrapped up in these different specs depends on your needs. Each one has its intricacies, but they will all adequately protect you for day-to-day web browsing and media streaming.
Also, all the technical specifications listed above will hide your true IP address, masking it with a decoy one.
However, for more sensitive activities – whether torrent file-sharing or accessing censored websites (for example inside China) – use one of the more secure protocols such as OpenVPN or SSTP.
What’s important is that the VPN’s available technical specifications serve your needs.
If you need more information about VPN protocols, please see our post VPN Protocols Explained.
What Kind of Customer Support does the VPN Have?
Customer experience and support should also weigh on your choice of which VPN service to buy. While the VPN service's website will tout lots of satisfied customers and glowing testimonials (what else would you expect?), do some independent research.
Seek out and search for information about customer experiences with the VPN. However, make sure that the information is from a trustworthy source of VPN information such as the VPN Reviews subreddit, Cogipas.com, TorrentFreak, Lifehacker or MakeUseof.
A BIG Word of Caution about VPN “Reviews”
When researching VPNs, you will notice that there are lots of websites purporting to ‘review’ the best VPN services.
Keep in mind that many of these websites are not objective and unbiased as they claim.
Too often, these sites act unethically and pose as independent reviewers without disclosing their affiliations to the VPN services they are ‘reviewing’, all in an attempt to earn commissions.
Ethical practice (and the law in many places including the US) dictates that reviewers should expressly and prominently disclose that they employ affiliate links, as we do (above-the-fold no less in our sidebar) on every page.