Rising in popularity in recent years, the best VPN service is an essential for optimising both the security of your device, and your online experience with the software's watertight encryption and ability to gain access to otherwise blocked content, particularly when traveling. Keep reading and we'll provide you with all the reasons you need one, and which is the best VPN to do the job.
Standing for 'virtual private network' a VPN functions as a middleman between your device and your internet connection. By connecting to one of its potentially thousands of servers, your IP address is altered, providing you with a kind of online anonymity as you cannot be tied to your specific location or device, instead appearing as if you're elsewhere.
As well as boosting your online security with features to ensure information is safely transferred from A to B, this allows you to appear just about anywhere around the world. When traveling and want to accessing platforms that are locked to a specific geographical location, then, you can hop on the correct server situated in the right country and appear as if you're there. This is great for streaming services, where you likely won't be able to use them like you would back home when overseas.
It's also ideal if your place or work or education block certain websites or services and you want to access them while there.
Available on a number of devices, whether you're looking to watch Netflix US on your iPhone, or install on your gaming PC to prevent DDoS attacks, we've summarised the best VPN overall that will 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.View Deal
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.View Deal
3. Hotspot Shield - a reliable and vast performer
After a reliable service? Hotspot Shield just might be the one for you, offering a consistent performance across the board with excellent security features, competent speeds, and affordable payment plan options.View Deal
The best VPN service online in 2021
There's a reason ExpressVPN appears in the top spot of not only our overall best VPN, but also in many of our device and service specific buying guides. It manages to tick a lot of boxes across the board, appealing to an array of users and their individual needs.
For starters, ExpressVPN has over 3,000 servers in 94 countries, which means you can dial your IP address into 160 locations around the world. That's not the be all and end all, but it's an immediate indicator that ExpressVPN means business.
More crucial is speed – you don't want your VPN slowing down your surfing, streaming and downloading – and Express delivers great performance across its servers around the world. It’s put the effort into its software too, with dedicated apps for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android, as well as some Smart TVs, Amazon Fire TV Sticks, Apple TV, PS4 and Xbox and even your router.
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 with ease.
There's no doubt that NordVPN is one of the best VPN services around. It has over 5,600 servers online in 59 countries, supports up to six devices simultaneously, uses seriously powerful encryption and has an exceptional feature list. This includes an automatic kill switch, dedicated IP addresses, and strong DNS leak protection. On top of that, there is the ability to pay in Bitcoin and a multi-year plan which is really reasonably priced.
As well as security, NordVPN is a favourite with people wanting to broaden their streaming horizons. Nord does it all – Netflix, iPlayer, Amazon Prime, Hulu, YouTube – and with relative ease, too. It has brilliant web support with articles helping to unlock the VPN's potential, backed up by some sterling 24/7 live chat support, too.
In terms of performance, Nord's one of the very fastest out there, too. That's in part thanks to the all-new WireGuard-based NordLynx protocol, which can deliver searing speeds only matched by the next VPN on this list. 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 able to automatically scan and block websites with 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.
Well known for offering one of the leading free VPN services on the market, Hotspot Shield's premium service has come on leaps and bounds, and has well and truly staked its claim as one of the best VPN services out there today.
If you're after absolute speed, then it's a perfect option. The in-house Catapult Hydra protocol trounces just about every rival, and delivers speeds well over 400Mbps. That's more than most people's Internet can muster, and plenty even for the most hardcore downloaders.
As a streaming VPN, Hotspot's a bit of a hotshot, too. You'll get access to Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime, Disney Plus, YouTube and just about any other site – and for its target audience, that'll be hugely important.
Hotspot Shield might not appeal quite so much to the uber privacy-conscious, though. The fact it's based in the US and not zero-logging will put a few off, and if you're seeking the ultimate in online privacy we'd certainly steer you towards ExpressVPN or NordVPN. However, what logs Hotspot collects can't be tied back to your activity, so we've got no qualms about recommending them.
So, if you want the maximum speeds possible while staying protected by a VPN, plus all the extra streaming goodness you'll be able to unblock, Hotspot Shield is a great choice. To top it off, it's user interface is fantastic, offering an intuitive experience that makes the prospect of a VPN less daunting.
With plenty of apps, an effective kill switch and servers across 70-odd countries Private Internet Access is a very attractive online VPN service. The pricing is decent, too, especially when you consider that a single subscription will cover 10 devices - so you can even share them out with friends and family.
With 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. It may not boast a wide range of apps but the provider does offer a couple expert type features and it's super easy and 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, and it doesn't skimp on the features either, which some of its competitors can be guilty of.
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.
With everything that you're getting and the fact that it is super speedy means that this provider is great value for money.
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 Netflix, iPlayer, Hulu and tons more.
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 on your tablet, phone(s), 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 – although we have seen better VPN apps for Android from other providers.
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.
But the main hook – the price. It's no surprise at all to see Surfshark ranking near the top of our cheap VPN countdown.
CyberGhost may be Romanian and German-based, but it's a very internationally used VPN, with well over 6,500 servers spread across 90 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 of stream of excellent, reputable features, including blocks on malicious websites, ads and trackers.
If streaming is more your concern the server also unblocks 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. 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. Plus, that 45-day money-back guarantee is longer than a lot of other competition.
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 the world’s fastest VPN, with more than 40,000 IP addresses, 1,600 servers in 75+ countries, 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. Whilst it seamlessly unblocks Netflix and Disney Plus, for those who want to watch iPlayer and Prime Video, it may be worth looking elsewhere as our recent tests had little to no success.
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 did clock it sending crash data without asking permission.
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 thirty 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.
While OpenVPN performance was disappointing, we saw good speeds from WireGuard, meaning Windscribe should be able to cater to the needs of most streamers, especially when you consider that we easily got it to unlock foreign Netflix catalogues, BBC iPlayer, Disney Plus, and more.
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.
After a reliable VPN? ProtonVPN has you covered with its performance, security, and other features managing to tick a lot of our boxes. Hosting more than 1,200 servers across over 50 countries, with ProtonVPN you have options for four plans available. The free plan allows you to give this service a try without dropping a penny, while its Basic plan allows you to load up the VPN on 2 devices, or, with Premium, up to 10.
Able to bypass geo-restricted content across key platforms like Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and Amazon Prime Video while abroad, 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.
A good one for those users with a more technical understanding, ProtonVPN's downfalls see a lack of live chat, with raised tickets taking a while to be resolved. Its speeds are mid-range. Though not the fastest VPN out there, though, its performance overall does remain consistent, making this a reliable choice.
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.
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 also proved its capabilities in unblocking geo-locked content, including across Netflix libraries, Prime Video, iPlayer, HBO Go, Hulu and more.
While speed performance wasn't at its best in the US, you could expect consistently good speeds on UK servers from our tests.
Not only that, but there are plenty of useful options including auto-connect, automatically connecting to untrustworthy, public Wi-Fi networks. There is also a kill-switch and enhanced security via the service’s proprietary Chameleon protocol 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.
More VPN guides you might like: