Does using a VPN slow down internet connection speeds?

Can you get the security of a VPN while still enjoying a high-speed internet connection?

vpn internet speeds
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The speed of your internet connection is probably more important to you than you realise - most of us are actually quite spoilt with just how fast it can be these days. So you may want to keep that in mind when looking through the best VPNs, as the handy bit of software can negatively affect your data speeds.

VPNs (short for Virtual Private Network) works to make you secure and anonymous online. It does this by encrypting your data and sending it through servers in different locations, thereby making you appear elsewhere. It also gives you a new IP address so your identity is hidden throughout. 

Since that means moving your data through more servers than usual, and encrypting and decrypting data, it's logical that the process can impact your speed. But don't can affect it in a good way.

Can a VPN slow my internet connection speed?

The short answer is yes, a VPN can slow your connection speed. The slightly longer answer is that is can also speed it up. Confused? We'll clear that right up now.

If you're connecting to a server on the other side of the world, then the data has a lot further to travel and with bottlenecks and servers points, these can slow it down. However, you can still get all the security of a VPN by connecting to your most local server, which will keep you running fast.

In fact, some VPN providers offer smart connections where it will work out the best server based on your location to give you the fastest speeds possible.

Another impacting influence on speed is security. If you use the highest 256-AES encryption (which was once the top military grade) then you may find it adds a little lag. This is because of the time it takes to encrypt and decrypt all that data in all its secure complexity. 

Once again, there is a way around this. Most of the better VPN services available - including the likes of ExpressVPN, Surfshark and the well-known NordVPN - will offer multiple protocols and not all of them will necessarily use the full encryption. So if you want to go for speed over security you can opt for a lower level of encryption and get maximum connectivity.

Can a VPN speed up my connection?

In some instances a VPN can actually have you running faster online than a connection without the service. This is thanks your internet service provider (ISP) restrictions.

At certain times of day you may find that your ISP throttles connections. This can be because of the number of people online going up at that time of day. As a result you may notice a drop in speed that could be as pronounced as your Netflix stream being lower quality, for example. 

Using a VPN, your internet traffic will be routed through a virtual private network which means you bypass the speed limitations that your ISP has in place. In those instances you could actually end up getting a faster connection and enjoying that Netflix stream in all its full high-quality glory.

Free VPNs can slow you down

If you've looked at the various options options but decided you want to go for a free VPN, that may work well for your needs. But it won't surprise you to hear that this can also affect your speeds in some cases.

Often, free VPNs will limit the number of servers accessible by non-paying users. This can create strain on those few servers, slowing them down for the free users. Other servers are available only to paying customers who can then get full-speed service in locations that are not under strain. 

So, essentially, when it comes to internet speeds when using a VPN, it's often the case that you get what you pay for.

Which is the best VPN for speed?

From our extensive testing we've found that the best VPNs is ExpressVPN, often with great connection speeds across its many server and protocol options. 

ExpressVPN not only has lots of international servers, high-speed connections and strong security but also offers superb 24/7 live chat customer support – which is great for finding the fastest setup for what you're doing.

You can access instant 24/7 live chat with informed staff who are knowledgeable and eager to help you do what you need to get done. Fast customer service is just another layer that helps you keep speeds at their peak.

Luke Edwards

Luke is a former freelance writer for T3 with over two decades of experience covering tech, science and health. Among many others Luke wrote about health tech, software and apps, VPNs, TV, audio, smart home, antivirus, broadband, smartphones, cars and plenty more. In his free time, Luke used to climb mountains, swim outside and contort his body into silly positions while breathing as calmly as possible.