VPNs – or virtual private networks – are nothing new. But as more and more users become internet-savvy and aware of what can be done online they’re now found on more devices than ever before. As the public's awareness grows, so too does the demand for the best VPNs on the market.
And that's only been exacerbated with the COVID-19 crisis triggering national shutdowns across the globe – the amount of people isolating means that more time than ever is being spent glued to a screen and accessing online services. It all means that VPN downloads are going through the roof.
However, VPNs aren’t just for protecting sensitive data and maintaining internet privacy. On this page we’ll run down the 10 top reasons why you should use a VPN across all your devices, and we’ll also give our pick of the bunch if you fancy getting all the great opportunities a VPN can offer.
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1. Unblock streaming media
One of the most common reasons people download a VPN is to access blocked streaming media. Whether you want to watch USA-exclusive Netflix titles via your VPN, access BBC iPlayer abroad or watch geo-blocked live sports (maybe not right now…), a VPN can place you in a country of your choice and get you streaming.
This is especially useful at the moment – with up to a million Brits stuck overseas, we’re sure the possibility of watching something from the good old BBC is pretty enticing. Luckily, using a VPN on smart TVs and streaming boxes is really straightforward
2. Avoid restrictions abroad
Countries like China are well-known for imposing heavy restrictions on the internet access of citizens and visitors, with Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp and Google being just a few of the big names blocked to the public. The way around that? Sort yourself out with a VPN.
By using, for example, a VPN for China, to make yourself appear to be in a country without such restrictions, you can sidestep any authoritarian regime and gain access to the countless blocked sites you use daily. You’ll never miss them until they’re gone.
3. Truly private communication
Now that we can’t see each other in person, most of us are messaging away like maniacs to our isolated loved ones. However, if you’re concerned about the privacy of your communications after the Investigatory Powers Act in the UK, or the decision of the US to legalise ISPs selling your data, you’re not alone.
Encrypting your traffic through a VPN – including that of Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and any email client you use – means your private messages will stay truly private.
4. Avoid location-based price targeting
One of the oldest tricks in the book, many online retailers will charge individuals from different countries different prices for exactly the same product – or increase the price if you look at the page more than once. Countries with a lower GDP are usually charged less, although companies also often favour customers on their own turf.
While commonly associated with flights and hotels, this practice is also prevalent with online services and gaming. Using a VPN allows you to hop around the globe to find the cheapest price for a product – especially useful now we’re all doing our shopping from the living room.
5. Use online banking services safely
Online banking is now the norm, but many of us don’t consider what risks we might be taking when inputting our details on our PC or smartphone. While banks usually offer pretty good security out of the box, the careful and the savvy know it’s worth taking extra precautions.
Using a VPN safeguards the most important logins and passwords in your life with another layer of encryption. Even if there’s only a slim chance of your bank details being compromised, ensuring they’re as safe as possible is a no-brainer.
6. Evade the trackers
Many people – quite fairly – have a problem with huge companies making their money from selling your searches and browsing history to third parties. There’s often no tangible benefit for the individual, so why should you put up with it?
All traffic routed through a VPN is encrypted – pick a VPN with split tunnelling if you want to choose what goes through – and this stops your ISP from seeing what you’re searching for. Browsing in privacy without being hacked or tracked. Exactly how the internet should be.
7. Avoid network throttling
Now that your day might consist of a walk around the block and 8 hours looking at a screen, you may have noticed your bandwidth fluctuating throughout the day, or when downloading, torrenting or streaming. This can often be attributed to your ISP throttling your connection in response to your activity.
Using a VPN hides your traffic from your ISP, meaning they can’t analyse your usage and decide when to cut your connection speed. That’ll help maintain a reasonable connection no matter how much bandwidth you use, whatever you use it on.
8. Bypass content restrictions
Many users have to suffer with filtered internet access – often students, those living with parents, or tenants who have their internet provided for them. While usually intended to restrict access to adult content, these filters can also be rather heavy-handed and block innocent sites. Not brilliant if you’re a birdwatcher researching great tits!
A VPN is all that’s needed to avoid these filters, and users are then free to surf the web with access to everything that they should.
9. Use online banking overseas
Not only are VPNs an essential tool for protecting your bank account, but they can make it much easier to access your funds if you’re abroad – even more important if you’re one of the many isolating outside of their home country.
Many people have had problems with their bank when using services abroad – especially if you’ve forgotten to let them know you’re travelling. By using a VPN to appear like you’re back at home, you won’t face being locked out of your account and you can go about your daily banking in peace.
10. Feel safe online
The internet is a wonderful place, and we’re currently spending more of our time connected than ever. However, it’s also a breeding ground for bad actors and, although unlikely, people could be listening in at any time. Even ‘legitimate’ use of our data can make us feel uneasy.
That’s why people are flocking to VPN providers. Feeling comfortable to go about your business in private is practically a human right at this point – and the most important step towards making that a reality is having a VPN.
What’s today's very best VPN?
Our top pick for the best all-round VPN package is ExpressVPN. With a huge range of servers in 94 countries, industry-leading customer support and easy-to-use apps for all your devices, one subscription to ExpressVPN will cover all the bases.
You won’t find that your connection speeds are compromised either – a common problem with other VPNs – so streaming HD TV or gaming is still on the table. And ExpressVPN is able to unblock regional Netflix libraries and BBC iPlayer as well, so you’ll be able to watch exactly what you want to.
As a package it does it all – it’s speedy, secure and easy to use – and that’s why it’s the best VPN available today. And signing up now to an annual plan also gives you the chance to get an extra three months absolutely free.