Best VPN Guide 2021 (Updated Monthly)
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 is a VPN Used For? Lots! Here are 36+ VPN Uses
"What is a VPN used for?" "What can I do with a VPN?"
If pressed, most people can probably think of a few VPN uses. If you Google around, you’ll see posts with titles like “top 10 uses for a VPN”.
But would you believe us if we told you there are over 36 VPN uses? Yep, that's right.
First, let’s back up a bit. Remember that, on a technical level, a VPN does 2 main things:
- It gives you a different IP address
- It encrypts the data on the connection between you and the VPN service’s servers
Together, these lend themselves to a ton of handy VPN uses. Below, we list and describe more than 36 different VPN uses.
We think you’ll be impressed with all the potential VPN uses available.
These uses are all the more impressive when you realize that a VPN costs peanuts per month annually, from less than $3 to no more than $7 per month even for the very best VPN services, if you choose right.
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I. VPN Uses from Hiding your Real IP Address
When you connect to a VPN service, all of your interactions with the Internet are first sent to a VPN server. The VPN server then interacts with the internet for you. This means that the websites you visit will associate your activities with the IP address of the VPN server rather than your true IP address. 🙂
Let’s dive in!
Your computer's or device's real IP address is 192.0.2.24
You connect to a VPN server
whose IP address is 203.0.113.11
Websites you visit while connected to VPN think your IP address is 203.0.113.11
1. Keeping your Online Presence a Secret
You can hide behind an IP address of a VPN when engaging in sensitive activities on the web.
These activities could be whether checking topics you want to keep private (health, financial problems, sexuality etc.), arranging a surprise holiday, conducting research on rivals or competitors, or any other circumstances where you would rather not leave behind a trail of your real IP address.
Using a VPN to hide your real IP address as often as possible is a good idea for general personal data protection. That’s because too many companies, sites and even apps are now storing your web browsing history based on your IP address.
2. Preventing Online Tracking & Profiling
A VPN can also cut down on and even stop third parties from following you online, tracking your activities and profiling you.
When many hundreds or thousands of other VPN customers are sharing the same IP addresses with you, this “confuses” Internet profiling firms and hides your activities from online detection, monitoring and tracking.If you don't think online tracking and profiling is a big deal, take these online privacy checks to see just how easily you and your activities can be followed across the Internet.
3. Safe & Even Anonymous Torrent File-sharing
Another reason to use a VPN is that it can keep your torrent file-sharing safe and hidden from snooping by third-parties.
Increasingly, torrent file-sharers are coming under scrutiny and their torrenting activities are subject to monitoring and surveillance. When snoops monitor torrent activity, they do so by IP address.
Because you download and share torrents with an IP address that is not your real one when using a VPN, you are safe from any snoops who might be trying to monitor your torrent downloads.
The right VPN can even anonymize your torrent file-sharing and protect you from these invasions of your privacy.
This mean you can avoid nasty copyright trolls (and their warnings, takedowns and threats) should you have downloaded copyright material by accident.
4. Anonymous Signups and Purchases
What’s the point of buying something with Bitcoin or Paygarden if your IP address will be stamped all over the online purchase?
If you want to benefit from crypto-currencies and other private payment methods, make your purchases with a VPN enabled.
You could use Tor browser, but it’s a bit painful and slow. A VPN makes it easy to hide your IP address for these private online purchases. Just make sure it’s a zero-logging VPN service so there are no records that could unearth your real IP address and be traced back to you.
By using the right VPN together with a non-traceable email address and payment method (such as Bitcoin, gift cards or temporary credit cards), you can pay for goods and services that can't be linked back to you.
In other words, a VPN can help you achieve truly anonymous online purchases.
5. Prevent Search Engines from Tracking (and Profiling) You
It is no secret that the big Internet players are tracking everything you do online. That includes the searches you do on most Internet search engines, certainly the most popular ones, such as Google and Bing. Using an alternative search engine such as DuckDuckGo can help, but is not enough.
That’s because the online tracking is much worse than you think. For example, consider that every website with a Facebook “element” (such as a Like, Share or Follow button) is sending information back to Facebook and its reputable, cough, partners.
If you visit websites and do searches with your VPN on, you will be using a temporary IP address given to you by the VPN which will help obfuscate your activities online and make them harder to track and attribute to you.
We don’t want to exaggerate though: the tracking has gotten very sophisticated. A VPN will not fully prevent tracking in all circumstances. But it is certainly better than nothing and can help a lot, especially if you follow some other tips such as not staying logged into your online accounts and using Incognito mode (but knowing its limitations too).
6. Keep your Market Research and Competitor Analysis Secret
When checking up on your competitors, for example. by checking their websites or subscribing to their newsletters, we imagine you prefer that they not know about it.
But even just with the widespread analytical tools used by many websites, that’s entirely possible. Your competitors could see the IP address of each visitor to its site and other information, such as the location sometimes right down to the city. It wouldn't take much for them to figure out its you.
The same goes with subscribing to their email newsletter, even if you use a fake email address. That’s because the IP address will be stamped on the subscription request and can be easily obtained from a similar email analytics tools supported by the subscription service.
In other words, whenever sussing out your competition, do so when safely tucked behind a VPN so your IP address and geographic location will be obfuscated and cannot be directly traced back to you.
7. Anonymous Commenting and Posting
Maybe you consider the whole world your potential adversary or you are distrustful or perceive yourself as downtrodden or vulnerable? Or maybe Edward Snowden spooked you? Or you just like sticking it to the powers that be?
Whatever the case, you may want to keep your real IP address off online comments you make. This might make you feel more free to express your views, opinions and thoughts, especially on forums such as Reddit where you don't (yet) need to provide any verified personal information to set up an account.
You should assume that everything done online is logged and could be traced by IP address. In that case, if you keep your real IP address out of logs by using a VPN, you will be harder to trace and track. And if you use a truly non-logging VPN provider, anyone trying to track your activities will hit a dead end at your VPN provider. Of course, make sure to use a fake or disposable email address too when signing up for accounts that require an active email address!
8. You Can Open More than One Account on the Same Website
Some websites want to limit you to only one account. While it's easy enough to use a second, fake or disposable email to do this, some sites have tougher policing and will try to enforce this policy by IP address together with cookies.
You can overcome these restrictions by signing up for a second or even more accounts while using a VPN and, if needed, doing so in an Incognito window in your web browser to prevent cookies from being saved.
9. Keep Your Politics Private
In these unsettling times, you might especially want to keep your political views, preferences and allegiances under wraps.
It seems that the online political ad targeting scandals discovered thus far are just the tip of the iceberg. Goodness knows what super PACs or other shady elements might do in the future with profiles about us that know our political views (or secrets) even better than our friends or families.
10. Avoid Fake News and Get out of the ‘Filter Bubble’
Recently there's been a lot of justified outrage over "fake news" and the fact that many people are living in an echo chamber when online.
Companies, like Facebook and Google, use your profile to filter the results you are shown and to display what they think you are most likely to click, like or comment on. This is commonly known as the “filter bubble".
It's even been described as a form of censorship as it can influence public opinion (even unintentionally), such as election outcomes and other political issues.
Using a random IP address each time you connect through a VPN service will help mess up these profiles and ensure you are served up more variety of posts and escape the filter bubble.
11. An Extra Layer of Protection from Hackers
Hackers most often target their victims by IP address. But any hacker trying to target you while you are connected to a VPN service will be in for a surprise. That’s because the hacker’s attacks will be directed against the VPN server you are connected to and not you.
Instead of attacking your home network (which, let’s face it, is probably a little weak and vulnerable), they will be railing against your VPN service's infrastructure.
If you are with a good VPN provider, they will be a big, well-protected and well-resourced collection of global servers run by professionals with the latest equipment and software. So even if the hacker does get through the mighty defences of the VPN service, it’s still not you that’s exposed to danger.
In other words, a VPN service is an additional shield against hackers trying to do you harm. It acts as a virtual firewall that provides you with protection against attacks from hackers and malware thanks to your VPN’s superior and often cutting-edge resources.
12. Just Because
Some people, like us here at Cogipas, are just a little geeky and like this privacy stuff. 🙂
II. VPN Uses from Encrypting your Data Connection
As we’ve already mentioned, one of the great benefits of a VPN is that it encrypts all the data travelling between your devices that are connected to the VPN service. If you choose a reliable VPN, everything travelling in that “tunnel” will be encrypted by military grade encryption and your ISP will not be able to tell what you are up to.
Your ISP will be able to see that you are using a VPN, but not what you are doing online while connected to it. To stick with the tunnel analogy, your ISP can see that you’ve got access to a tunnel and that you are entering and exiting it, but your ISP cannot see where you go or what you do while you are inside the tunnel.
In other words, the encryption offered by a VPN keeps your activities private from anyone monitoring your connection, whether your own ISP or third party snoops, even governments.
13. Preventing ISP Slow Downs (Bypass ISP Throttling & Traffic Shaping)
It is common for ISPs to monitor what you are doing online and then “adjust” your download speeds according to their needs, not yours.
Believe it or not, some ISPs will even slow you down if you are watching HD videos on YouTube. You can imagine what they’ll do to your connection if you are downloading tons of content via torrents, streaming or Usenet! ISPs also issue warnings and, in some cases, cancel accounts if they don't approve of your online activities.
That’s why it is a good idea to hide what you are doing from your ISP inside the encrypted tunnel afforded by a VPN.
With a VPN, all of your activities are sent via an encrypted tunnel which even your own ISP cannot see inside of. This protects you from these potential outcomes and keeps your connection fast and unaltered by your ISP.
14. Be Safe from your ISP when Torrent File-sharing
VPN encryption is especially essential for torrenting because many ISPs are aggressively anti-torrent.
If your ISP detects you are downloading and sharing torrents - for example using BitTorrent - they may slow down your connection or even terminate your service, or sometimes worse. Plus, ISPs will disclose the identity of their customers in response to complaints or court requests.
Indeed, an EFF study found that ISPs are all too keen to disclose or share information about their customers.
Even if your ISP hasn’t taken any action against you for torrenting yet, that doesn't mean it won’t tomorrow. Don't take any chances and always torrent with a VPN.
Not all VPN services support torrenting (because of the high bandwidth involved), so make sure yours does. Here are our recommended torrent VPNs.
15. Use Public and Open Wi-Fi Hotspots without Worry or Risk
A VPN can protect your passwords, banking data and other sensitive information from eavesdroppers and criminals at airports, cafes and anywhere else you use open or public wireless (Wi-Fi) Internet hotspots.
That’s even true for unsecure Wi-Fi connections - those hotspot websites not starting with https, with an ‘s’ at the end. Using a VPN provides the encryption that is missing from unsecured Wi-Fi connections.
In fact, you should use a VPN when using any network you may have reason not to 100% trust.
16. Bypass State-Sponsored and In-Country Censorship
The encryption afforded by a VPN allows you to access sites and content otherwise blocked from your location.
Perhaps you live in a place where the authorities don't believe in free speech and the government imposes censorship to limit your ability to access certain websites.
Or perhaps you are travelling and want to access websites or content located “back home” that are blocked from where you are currently staying.
With a VPN, you can get around this kind of censorship and access blocked websites and censored content because your traffic is shrouded in strong encryption. Choosing the right VPN can even let you enjoy the same kind of censor busting benefits of Tor (the Onion Router).
Countries like China, Turkey, Iran, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, UAE, Saudi Arabia and others go to great lengths to censor the websites you can visit inside their borders. Whether you are an expat living there, you are travelling there temporarily or you are a local activist fighting for change, you want to break through this censorship and use the Internet the way it was intended without restriction.
These strict countries employ military-standard blocking techniques which analyze and block Internet traffic at the smallest level possible, the packet level. This is called deep packet inspection (DPI).
The best VPN services can help you beat even the most aggressive DPI techniques, but not many. If you need a VPN to overcome this kind of heavy censorship, there are only a handful of standouts such as NordVPN, ExpressVPN and VyprVPN.
These VPN services use obfuscation techniques which act like a “super VPN” to hide your data at the packet level. Even when this works, you can expect your Internet speeds to be substantially slower and sometimes experience reliability issues. That’s because of the “cat and mouse” game happening at a technical level between the government trying to detect and block the packets versus the VPN trying to bypass it.
17. Keep your Streaming Private
Many streaming sites are controversial and operate in a grey zone of legitimacy.
Too many ISPs throttle streaming - especially to sites they deem dodgy - which slows you down, causes lag and results in those annoying buffer delays just at the best part of movies and TV shows.
Don’t give your ISP any reason to keep on eye on what you like to stream. Connect to a VPN before streaming to hide it.
Keeping your streaming hidden is not only good from a privacy point of view, but it can mean faster, lag-free streaming too.
18. Unblock a Workplace, University or School Network
Quite apart from government-style censorship (discussed above), there is plenty of network blocking going on at places of work and school too.
While these settings don't employ the same kind of deep packet inspection, monitoring and blocking that countries like China does, the result can be the same: you are prevented from visiting the websites you want.
Because a VPN encrypts your connection and hides the websites you visit, a VPN can be a very successful way of overcoming blocks at work or school.
It can be as easy as connecting to your VPN service and presto! the block is no more.
Sometimes workplaces or school settings will try to block VPN connections themselves. But don't worry, we have a full tutorial on how to overcome VPN blocking too.
19. Enjoy Online Games with Better Pings & Less Lag
As we’ve seen, connecting to a VPN prevents your ISP from messing with your connection. This can make for a more stable and faster online gaming experience.
20. Throttle-proof Your Usenet Downloads
Any Usenet provider worth its salt will provide you with SSL connections. SSL connections are encrypted and prevent your ISP and third parties from snooping on your Usenet downloads.
But your ISP will still be able to “see” that you are connecting to a Usenet news server and it doesn't take a genius ISP to figure out what’s going on. Like torrenting, ISPs also don’t like their customers downloading from Usenet newsgroups.
So, go one step further than SSL and use a VPN with Usenet to completely hide your newsgroup downloading from your ISP.
Your ISP will still be able to measure how much data you are downloading, but not what it is or where it is coming from. For all they know, you are restoring a large backup from the cloud or downloading the latest version of Linux or OpenOffice.
21. Protect your VOIP Calls from Eavesdropping
Many VOIP providers, like Skype, make it too easy for third parties to eavesdrop on your calls.
With a VPN, you can add the protection that Skype and other VOIP providers are missing. Encrypt your VOIP calls by first connecting to a VPN and stay safe.
22. Protect Yourself Even More on Tor
If you like using Tor (The Onion Router), for example to surf the Dark Web, you might think you don't need a VPN. Wrong.
The major benefit of using Tor over VPN is to make sure your ISP cannot detect or “see” that you are using Tor. For example, if you are the only customer of your ISP accessing Tor at a given time, your activities while using Tor could still be traced.
You can eliminate this risk by first connecting to your VPN and then to Tor. This will hide from your ISP that you are accessing Tor at all and protect you against traffic analysis.
23. Get the Most Out of In-flight Wi-Fi
In-flight Wi-Fi is famous for throttling bandwidth.
For example, you may notice lots of lag when viewing HD videos on YouTube. This is the airline’s way of nudging you to much less bandwidth-heavy activities, such as forcing you to access nice small web pages, such as news articles.
Connecting to a VPN while using inflight Wi-Fi will sidestep the airlines’ throttling and let you access what you want.
24. More Secure Online Cloud Syncing and Backup
If you have any synching or backup tools continually working, such as Google Drive Sync & Backup, it is too easy for this to remain running while connected to unsecure networks, especially public Wi-Fi hotspots.
Imagine a hacker’s luck when your backup tool happens to be uploading your latest credit card statement or that scanned copy of your passport during your quick stop to the local coffee shop.
Using a VPN will ensure your connection is always encrypted when syncing even when your Internet connection itself is not.
25. Accessing Your Home Stash
If you like to use remote access apps to download files or stream media from a server at home (NAS - “network attached storage”), using a VPN when doing so ensures that the connection remains encrypted and safe from hackers and prying eyes.
Many remote access or streaming apps are not encrypted or use weak encryption to be as fast as possible. A VPN will plug that encrypted gap.
Any small downgrade in speed you experience from using a VPN is well worth the extra security it provides. This is especially true if the files or media you are accessing are controversial and might be of interest to snoops, trolls or hackers.
26. Keep Your Online Erotica Habits Private
What websites you visit or just peek at out of curiosity when feeling randy are your business and nobody else's.
But, before you know it, you will start to see ads that may be revealing or embarrassing. If your partner or co-workers see you are being served these kinds of ads, it won’t take them long to figure out what you’ve been up to.
These website visits may also be reflected in invisible profiles that could be hurting you in ways you will never know about (such as impacting on your job opportunities, health insurance, loan applications, security clearances, etc).
Side-step all this unnecessary risk by using a VPN when embellishing your wild or darker side.
III. VPN Uses from Geo-Shifting your Location
Geo-shifting is when you use a VPN to make it seem like you live in a different place. This is also sometimes called geo-spoofing.
We have created this seperate section of VPN uses even though some would argue it’s closely related to a VPN hiding your real IP address.
These VPN uses apply where you choose a specific country or location for a specific purpose, and are not just trying to merely hide your real IP address from detection.
Whether it’s a result of the VPN saving you big bucks when cutting your cable package or planning your next holiday, these VPN uses make the decision to buy a VPN a no-brainer. A VPN costs a measly $2 to $7 per month, but you will recoup that small investment in no time using a VPN.
27. Cut the Cable for Good
Instead of subscribing to cable TV to watch sports, why not use a VPN to watch free local broadcasts of the same events? Millions of people are now doing this and "cutting the cable".
This is as easy as connecting to a VPN server located in the country of the match and then tuning in to the local streaming broadcast of the game. Learn more.
Although not strictly geo-shifting, many TV series and movies are also now available through alternate means, other than expensive cable. However, many of these alternatives, from online streaming, cloud content services, Kodi, torrent file-sharing or Usenet - can be controversial, so connect to a VPN to protect yourself while using them.
28. Unlimited Online Streaming
Because a VPN lets you choose (and change) the geographic location of your Internet connection at will, you can use a VPN to dissolve national boundaries when it comes to watching and streaming online content
This means you can use a VPN to obtain a better and wider selection from premium streaming services such as Netflix, HBO and Hulu. While it is true that some of these services, notably, Netflix, have been cracking down on VPN use, some VPN services such as NordVPN, still work fine with Netflix.
You can also use a VPN while travelling to tune into your favourite local broadcasts from back home, whether sports, news or entertainment.
29. Better Online Shopping Deals and Selection
You would be amazed to learn how much the price and selection of the same goods and services vary by location. This happens because many businesses offer different selections and charge different prices depending on where you live.
With a VPN, you can choose your country location and make it seem like you are based in that country. By doing this, you can access better prices and a wider selection of online goods and services.
For example, you can use a VPN to obtain cheaper prices for airfares & hotels, online games, VOIP providers, software apps and more!
30. Save Money Booking your Next Vacation
Flights, car rental and hotels are often cheaper when booked from other countries.
And don't think it’s “poorer” countries that get the cheaper pricing. This detailed example from ExpressVPN showed that the same plane ticket cost $2,000 less if booked from a Norwegian IP address. That’s highway robbery!
If you Google around, you will see many of these examples and not just for airfare, but for hotel bookings and car rentals too. Finding the best deal will mean experimenting a bit and choosing different server locations offered by your VPN service, but the savings you can achieve make these efforts well worth the time.
Don’t always assume you get the cheapest or best rate while logged in to your loyalty account. Very often, the price is cheaper when you are not logged in and instead visit the booking website as a stranger or first-timer. Companies often repay your loyalty by gouging you. Outrageous but true!
31. Cheaper VOIP Calls
When you use a VPN, “local” calls can be initiated virtually anywhere, so chose the cheapest jurisdiction from which to place your Skype call.
Check the VOIP service’s list of local call rates and connect to a VPN server in the same location that has the cheapest rates. Sweet!
32. Save Money on Online Software and Services
Just like the other geo-shifting, money-saving techniques presented here, online software and services are no different. Very often the price or selection can be better simply by using a VPN and choosing a different location.
But this is tougher than it used to be because many online software services, including Steam, now check that your chosen location matches your billing address of the purchase.
So, if you choose a location that has a cheap price but your billing address doesn't match this same location, the service may catch this and disallow your purchase either right on the spot or afterwards.
Paying with PayPal (which doesn’t share any information other than your email address) is usually a good way to get around this.
33. Get Even More Free Stuff Online
Once you reach your free limit, activate your VPN (for a new IP address) and open an Incognito tab in your web browser (to start with a fresh, clean cookie). Now revisit the site. Presto! The limit is lifted and you can start over.
This technique can also work with contest entries, limited free searches on otherwise pay sites, and plenty of other limited freemium-type services.
34. Very Handy for Travelling
In addition to all the money-saving VPN uses above, a VPN is also super useful in general when travelling.
Anytime you are on the road, consider these further geo-shifting benefits from using a VPN:
- Stop your bank from blocking your credit or debit card when ordering online while overseas by first connecting to a home country VPN server
- Access your home Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and other online streaming accounts when out-of-country
- Generally browse like you never left home and use the Internet as usual when abroad
35. Gamble or Play Lotteries from Anywhere
Geo-shift and play poker or lotteries even from places where they are banned.
36. Skip Those Annoying Adult Filters
If you are in a country, like the UK, that insists on age verification before you can access adult content on websites, you can use a VPN to get around this.
Age verification may be laudable, but it adds steps and time and also has worrying privacy implications since the verification usually involves providing credit card details.
Use a VPN to avoid all this extra hassle.
Bonus VPN Uses
But wait there’s more!
Depending on the VPN service you choose, you might enjoy additional VPN uses too.
Bonus: Block Ads while Browsing Websites without an Ad Blocker
This is especially great on mobile devices, because it will actually save you data (and money since it cuts back on your data usage).
* * *
Heard enough? Did we miss any?
For the small investment in a VPN service you can unleash all of the benefits and protections above. Grab the right VPN service for you. You can't go wrong with NordVPN, but we have reviews on lots of excellent VPN providers you can read up on.
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.