VPN has a tool that has found itself, more and more, a mainstream topic of conversation - and there's a good reason for that. Offering watertight security and the perfect companion for streaming, the best VPN essentially optimises the use of your device, allowing you to get even more out of it.
An abbreviation of 'virtual private network', VPN providers have a web of servers built into its infrastructure. These servers are based all around the world and when you connect to one, it instantly alters your IP address, providing you with a kind of online anonymity making you appear as if you're browsing elsewhere. On top of that, VPN offer a number of features as well as top-tier encryption to ensure your sensitive data is kept away from prying eyes.
So what does this mean? Essentially, as well as offering the reassurance of better online security, ideal if you spend a lot of time traveling and using public Wi-Fi, you can also make use of its geo-spoofing capabilities to access websites otherwise restricted due to your location. That means watching live sports from your preferred broadcaster when outside of the country, or watching YouTube at school where there may otherwise be blocks in place.
Whatever your need one for, we've curated a list of the best VPN that we've tried and tested and found to tick all your boxes.
1. ExpressVPN – the best VPN money can buy
After the best VPN money can buy? We'd recommend ExpressVPN every time. Not only is it incredibly simple for newbies to use, but it offers class-leading speeds, works on pretty much every device, and boasts rock-solid encryption and security. And now, T3 readers can claim three months free on a 12-month plan.
2. NordVPN – the biggest name in VPN is still a strong competitor
In the world of VPN, NordVPN is a name you'll be far more familiar with. It's a seriously powerful security solution, and trails ExpressVPN by a fraction in functionality, offering a stellar performance at a slightly more affordable rate.
3. Surfshark - feature packed but affordable
You don't have to pay through the roof to get a good VPN - Surfshark is proof of that. With a range of great features, streaming service unblocking capabilities, you can subscribe for as little as $2.50 a month.
The best VPN service online in 2021
Once again, ExpressVPN finds itself claiming the top spot for best VPN as it continues to trump the competition across a number of categories. This time around it shows consistency in our testing, continuing to meet its previous performance highlights across available features, speed, and - for the most part - unblocking.
First things first, ExpressVPN offers a network of 3,000 servers based in 94 different countries, allowing you to switch your IP address to appear in 160 locations around the world. This is a strong indication that ExpressVPN means business.
With the strength of its Lightway protocol, ExpressVPN continues to offer great results in terms of its speed, with highs of 570-580Mbps. While other providers are taking the lead in this regard, ExpressVPN's steady consistency shows reliability rather than fluctuating from one extreme to the other. Plus, it puts effort into its software too, with clean, functional interface on its dedicated apps for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android, on top of gaming consoles, Amazon Fire Sticks, and Apple TV. It's also taken further strides with its router VPN - great news for those who don't want to be limited by its five simultaneous connections limit.
Not only that, but there are solid online tutorials too, so even if the concept of VPNs goes right over your head, Express will have you up and running in no time. P2P is fully supported and it's super speedy so you can torrent using the maximum bandwidth of your broadband connection.
More interested in using your VPN for streaming content from overseas? ExpressVPN has got you sorted there, too. In our tests, we check to see whether each VPN can get around geo-restrictions put in place by the likes of Netflix, YouTube and Amazon Prime Video. It ticked all those boxes, though with Netflix cracking down ever more on VPN usage, it's worth nothing even ExpressVPN had some difficulty.
There's no doubt that NordVPN is one of the most recognized VPN providers around - it also helps it's one of the best, too. With over 5,100 servers online in 59 countries, support of up to six devices simultaneously, and the use of seriously powerful encryption and an exceptional feature list, it speaks for itself. Alongside an automatic kill switch, dedicated IP addresses, and strong DNS leak protection, NordVPN also proves its no-logging claims with a privacy audit.
As well as security, NordVPN is a favorite with people wanting to broaden their streaming horizons. In the past, Nord has managed to unblock top platforms with ease. In our recent testing it was able to hop over any restrictions for BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and YouTube. Netflix proved to be an issue this time around, however, unable to unblock US Netflix, while gaining access to libraries in other countries was possible.
In terms of performance, Nord's speed has gone from strength to strength. While other providers are catching up, we're seeing far more consistently good results from its WireGuard-based protocol, NordLynx, with peaks of 880Mpbs. Looking to perform a particular task? It's speciality server list hosts Double VPN, Obfuscated and Dedicated IP, P2P and Onion support.
The security savvy will also appreciate the inclusion of Nord's use of CyberSec technology. This is able to automatically scan and block websites which appear malicious, protecting you from infecting your device against harmful viruses and malware.
If you're after a fast, reliable VPN that's great for both streaming and keeping you private, NordVPN could be right up your alley.
There are plenty of reasons to pick Surfshark as your preferred online VPN service – it's super affordable, covers unlimited devices and, if streaming is your concern, it unblocks key streaming services like Hulu and BBC iPlayer.
Whether you're a beginner or a VPN veteran, Surfshark is super easy and straightforward to get to grips with. Better still, it boasts a very speedy live chat support, so if you do have any queries these can be solved very quickly.
Let's not forget the unlimited devices policy – this means you can get as many simultaneous connections as you wish, be it Android or iOS devices, desktop, router or any other compatible device. This offers incredible value for money, and you can even share your plan with members of your household.
The provider also has a wide range of features, including a Kill Switch, allowing you to hit that all-important button when the connection drops out. This means any data that could have otherwise been transferred when vulnerable won't.
On top of this, Surfshark offers a host of different encryption protocols depending on what you need from your VPN, whether speed, security, or you're seeking out the perfect VPN for torrenting with P2P. Playing host to AES-256-GCM encryption, WireGuard, OpenVPN and IKEv2, Surfshark has a no-logging policy to boot, and has recently had a server security audit carried out.
But the main hook – the price. It's no surprise at all to see Surfshark ranking near the top of our cheap VPN countdown.
ProtonVPN has come on leaps and bounds in our recent round of testing, seeing it climb the rankings on our best VPN buying guide. This is down to a number of things. Its introduction of WireGuard sees some excellent speeds that aren't too far behind our top three VPN, it's one of the few VPN still able to fully unblock Netflix, and a network coverage that tops many with its stretch across 61 countries.
With ProtonVPN you have the option of four plans, including a free plan that comes with unlimited bandwidth and servers across three countries. To really get the benefit of Proton's power, though, you'll be wanting its pricey Plus plan, which throws in streaming service unblocking, as well as use of all 1,400+ servers, and its highest speeds.
While it is certainly a lot pricier than many - even ExpressVPN which is known for being quite expensive where VPN is concerned - it is now one of the few VPN that can hop over any virtual blocks when it comes to streaming Netflix. That's as well as gaining access to BBC iPlayer, Disney Plus, Amazon Prime Video, and others.
ProtonVPN also boasts an array of great features for added security. This includes malware and tracker blocking, as well as a dedicated kill switch, open source apps for those after even more configurable controls, and no session logging. And, as mentioned, both its WireGuard and OpenVPN performance has seen a huge increase with speeds up to 720-740Mbps.
A good one for those users with a more technical understanding, ProtonVPN has introduced live chat with the hope of it it being available 24/7 in the near future.
What's more, as mentioned before, you can always try it out by initially signing up to its limited free plan, before splashing out on one of the paid-for plans.
When it comes to recommending a VPN with great clients across a choice of devices, Private Internet Access is one of our go-to recommendations. And it doesn't skimp on the features either, or its connection allowance. In fact, subscribe to Private Internet Access and you'll be able to cover up to 10 devices. Great news when you consider how great its iOS and Android offerings are with its full-fat apps.
Offering apps for a Mac VPN, Windows, Android, Linus, iOS and browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Opera, it's compatible with pretty much most software. With a couple of expert features, they're also really straightforward to use. When it comes to securing a VPN for your iOS device, both its iPhone VPN and iPad version offer a really seamless experience for Apple users.
Also, if security and privacy is a concern then the provider has quite a few features that are ideal for this, including a kill switch, flash blocking, cookie cleaning, camera and microphone protection. With a seemingly endless list of protocols too, including WireGuard, OpenVPN, IKEv2, DNS, and the option of a custom port and more, control over encryption is finely tuned where Private Internet Access is concerned.
While its WireGuard speeds do see it trailing behind the competition at 430Mbps, Private Internet Access is a decent choice for good smartphone clients, streaming unblocking (though it only manages to bypass restrictions on US Netflix) and a really excellent kill switch.
For those who want to really put a VPN through the wringer before committing, Hotspot Shield is a great shout with its completely free VPN service. What's more, its premium plans are great for streaming service unblocking and have excellent P2P support for those looking to torrent more securely. While it has dropped off in some areas of its performance, then, for many it will still be a reliable VPN to have in your arsenal.
With a fantastic kill switch, as well as a bundled call blocker and password manager (if you choose to pay for the extras), Hotspot also hosts a nifty browser extension and has a number of apps you can load up across your devices.
In terms of functioning as a great streaming VPN, Hotspot doesn't do too badly in this area either. You'll be able to access BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus, YouTube and a bunch of other sites. For keen Netflix bingers, this probably doesn't come top of the list, unable to unblock most foreign libraries in our recent rounds of testing.
Once known as the leader for the fastest VPN, the introduction of WireGuard in other VPN providers has seen Hotspot Shield lag behind. While it still offers decent speeds (400-410Mpbs), this is nothing in comparison to leading providers like ProtonVPN with peaks of 740Mbps, or middling VPN services at over 500Mbps.
It's also worth noting it's based in the US and not zero-logging, though the logs Hotspot collects can't be tied back to your activity, so we've got no qualms about
However, Hotspot does offer have a fantastic user interface, which makes for an intuitive experience that makes the prospect of a VPN less daunting.
CyberGhost may be Romanian and German-based, but it's a very internationally used VPN, with a boost to its servers of over 7,400 spread across 91 countries. That's some impressive numbers and a real statement of intent.
It's got a super effective kill-switch, which is pretty handy in terms of security, alongside a stream of excellent, reputable features, including blocks on malicious websites, ads and trackers.
If streaming is more your concern the server also unblocks US Netflix, Hulu and BBC iPlayer. Plus, its innovative filtering system automatically displays suitable servers for what you're after – for example, torrenting or streaming Netflix using a VPN.
The speedy live chat support is also pretty handy for anyone who's a VPN newbie or has any questions or queries, though its support site could do with some work if it wants to climb up the rankings and join the big boys. You get a 24 hour trial for the desktop app (still pretty measly, but better than than nothing at all), and it does have a class-leading 45-day money-back guarantee.
Another bonus to its plentiful offering of features is the ability to create custom clients across Windows, Mac, iOS and Android.
Overall, though, CyberGhost offers you a lot of unusual functionality for a very fair price, and it's well worth a closer look.
For those who love a good map interface when it comes to their servers (but NordVPN just isn't cutting it) IPVanish does promise one of the best map designs, with a bunch of information and status information for you to get a handle on - likely for those who prefer a more in-depth reading on their VPN provider.
It promises to be one speedy VPN with new WireGuard support offering results of 750-900Mbps. It also hosts more than 40,000 IP addresses, an increase of 1,900 servers in 75+ countries. Subscribers get unlimited peer to peer sharing and as many simultaneous connections as you can handle - it's a VPN with some serious credentials.
For keen streamers, IPVanish may not be your first choice depending on what you want to watch. While it can now unblock BBC iPlayer as well as Prime Video, you'll only be able to gain access to US Netflix and Disney Plus was an outright fail in are recent round of testing.
There’s a clear no-logging policy, which is great for anyone concerned with privacy and security - the service isn’t gathering or tracking your browsing activity, though we have noticed it sending crash data without asking permission in the past.
In addition, you'll find a kill switch for those shaky moments where connection is lost, and AES-256 encryption, as well as OpenVPN and IKEv2 protocols.
Like Express, IPVanish doesn’t offer a free trial (although there is still a 30-day money back guarantee if the service doesn’t live up to your expectations).
- Looking for torrenting specifically? Check out torrenting VPN
Windscribe offers unlimited device connections. Yes, you heard that right! There are apps for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android, and the service also offers browser add-ons with useful features such as ad-blocking.
This allows the freedom to simply add Windscribe to your gadgets as you go, never having to think about how many you're already using it on. If you’re looking to protect the data from a whole bunch of devices - an office, perhaps, or just a smart home - the support for unlimited connections is a real stand-out feature.
In terms of speeds, WireGuard is now out of beta and offers faster top speeds than its OpenVPN performance at 430-480Mbps compared to 230-240Mbps. In regards to WireGuard, though, this is still below average. Still, these speeds should more than cater towards streamers, with the ability to unblock BBC iPlayer, Prime Video, and Disney Plus. It failed, however, to unblock US Netflix, and its support team informed us there was no commitment to try and rectify this.
With its free version, you can give it a try at no cost with a download limit of 10GB. Not a huge amount and with a great array of features, you'll soon be looking to dive into its paid for version. However, Windscribe once again offers flexibility for its users to give it a whirl and see for themselves why this software can be so good.
When you make the leap from free to its paid for service, Windscribe allows you a ton of options here, too. Get a monthly or annual plan, or even build your own.
With a public audit, VyprVPN is perhaps one of the few VPN services that offers proof of its no-logging policy, which is reassuring for users who want only the best in terms of security. To coincide with this, VyprVPN has a number of fantastic features, including its very own protocols like Chameleon across a number of clients including iOS. You can also get WireGuard across all devices now.
Of course, based in Switzerland, it also owns and runs its own servers, which is another win for privacy, with over 700 servers in more than 70 countries.
For the keen binge watchers out there, VyprVPN has fallen short in our latest round of testing, unable to bypass geo-restrictions on Netflix or Disney Plus. However, if you're looking to unblock content on Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, or Hulu you may be in luck.
Ideal if you're traveling abroad, especially to countries like China, Hong Kong, or the UAE where the attitude towards VPN is less than friendly, VyprVPN does have its Chameleon protocol on its side. This reportedly does a great job of getting you online and accessing the plethora of censored websites and apps.
Also in its holster is a kill-switch and its own DNS. VyprVPN has a free trial, too, so you can try it out and see what you think before you commit.
What is a VPN and why do I need it?
Breaking down its abbreviation, VPN stands for 'virtual private network', acting as a private, encrypted tunnel between you and the internet.
In practice, this means it adds an extra layer of security as you browse online, better concealing your identity by making you completely anonymous. This is especially useful when utilising public Wi-Fi where the connection is less secure, carrying out particularly sensitive tasks like online shopping where you want to keep your card details safely under lock and key, or when accessing geo-restricted content.
Connecting to a VPN gives you complete anonymity, changing your IP address and opening up the gates of the Internet to you.
As previously mentioned, VPN offers extra layers of security. While each provider may have a host of differing features, many include the likes of a kill switch, preventing any data leaks if and when a connection is lost. They also have auto-connect features, hooking you up with the best available server, with many VPNs providing thousands of servers to choose from locations around the world.
A variety of servers means better access to geo-restricted content. This means if you're travelling abroad but want the home comforts of your chosen streaming service, you can still access it as if you were there. Unlock libraries across the globe with a Netflix VPN. Similarly, find a streaming VPN to unlock Disney Plus, Prime Video, and BBC iPlayer. Bypassing geo-restrictions also means any websites or apps that may be blocked in certain institutions or countries, including schools and offices.
VPN can also boost your speed and overall performance of your Internet. Simply hop on a server and you could benefit from better loading and download speeds.
Is using a VPN online legal?
VPN services are entirely legal and legitimate in most countries. It's completely legal to mask your IP address and encrypt your internet traffic.
There is nothing about using a VPN that's illegal and VPN services themselves do not and cannot do anything illegal.
The only thing that's illegal is if you were to break the law while using a VPN - for instance if you were to infringe on someone's copyright. But that's the action of infringement that's illegal, not the use of the VPN.
How secure are VPN services online?
There are a lot of great reasons why people choose to use a VPN. The main reason to use a VPN online is security - in theory, the data that travels across your VPN should be impossible for anybody else to intercept, so it can protect your online banking or confidential business communications - but there are other benefits too.
VPNs can make it much harder for advertising to track you online, and they can overcome geography-specific blocks that prevent you from accessing some country-specific services such as online video.
When we say that in theory VPNs can’t be intercepted, that’s because they are like any other form of security: if you use them on a device that’s already been compromised by malware such as keyloggers or other security threats then they can’t do their job properly.
If you’re on Windows, then good quality, up to date anti-virus software isn’t a luxury. It’s absolutely essential.
Can a VPN really make you anonymous online?
VPNs can make your browsing private, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re anonymous. VPN services can and do log traffic (even the ones that say they don’t log do need to log some information, or they wouldn’t be able to function properly), and those logs can be requested by the authorities. Think of a VPN as being like curtains: people can’t peek through your curtains if you’ve got them closed, but curtains won’t hide your house.
What that means in practice is that VPNs are fine for bypassing geo-blocks, for protecting your online banking and for keeping business communications free from interception. However, if you’re using the internet to fight repressive regimes or to do anything else that could attract the attention of the authorities where you live, a VPN is not a magic wand that’ll make you invisible.
What’s the difference between a VPN and a proxy?
A proxy server is another way to conceal your real location. By transferring data through a proxy server the data appears to be going to that server, not you - so for example if you’re in the US and the proxy is in Switzerland, the website or service will think it’s talking to a machine in Switzerland. The main difference is that VPNs protect all your traffic while proxies tend to be limited to specific types of data, such as peer to peer networking or web browsing.
Can I trust a free service?
You get what you pay for. Or rather, with free services you tend to get what you don’t pay for in the form of advertising, lower priority connections, blocks on data hungry apps such as peer to peer networking, session limits and in most cases, a lack of any guarantees about service availability or quality.
If you only want to protect a laptop from time to time in a coffee shop a no-fee VPN will be fine, but for anything more serious we’d recommend a paid-for product. If you're in search of a VPN without cost, why not check out our best free VPN buying guide? Got a bit of cash to spare? You can always check out the best cheap VPN available, too.
How do I choose an online VPN service to download?
To choose the best VPN for you, it's more than just whether to go for a free VPN versus a paid for provider. Put short, don’t just look at the price, not least because many services offer massive discounts if you take out a longer term subscription.
Start with the basics: how many simultaneous connections can you have? Are there particular security protocols you want to use? Does the provider have servers in the places you’ll want to use it from and the places you want to connect to? How much data will they log about you, and how long do they keep it for? Most important of all, will you be able to unlock Netflix and Disney Plus?
Wherever possible try before you buy. In some cases there won’t be a free trial, but most reputable VPN providers offer a money back guarantee if the service doesn’t meet your expectations.
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