Here’s the scenario: you’re about to sit down to a brand-new season of your favorite show on Netflix but, what’s this? It’s showing in every country except yours? Shock and horror. But don’t fret, that’s when a virtual private network (VPN) comes in handy, and thanks to its huge surge in popularity over the years, the near-essential service is as simple to use as a click of a button.
A VPN does more than just let you endlessly browse through country-specific shows on different streaming services, as it also offers anonymity when browsing on public Wi-Fi, bypasses region-restricted websites, and keeps your online activity encrypted.
Essentially, no hacker threats, no government eyes snooping about your business, and no problems accessing the site of your choice — even if you’re heading to countries with heightened internet censorship like the UAE, Cuba or China.
So, why are there hundreds of VPNs to choose from if they all basically do the same job? Each service has different perks, from the number of servers it provides and its various locations in select cities and countries to its compatibility with laptops, PCs, smartphones, and gaming consoles, along with a multitude of security options.
VPN services are often upgraded and updated, with new security protocols making connection speeds even faster. You can find out more about why you need a VPN, and whether you might even consider a free VPN (one you’ll find below). Better yet, all of these VPNs, including gaming VPN services can be used with the best laptops, best smartphones, and best Chromebooks around.
What is a VPN?
Accessing the internet with a VPN means making a connection to a VPN server, which acts as a proxy when you’re accessing websites. So, instead of your real IP address — given to you by your internet service provider (ISP) to identify you on a website — the internet will only see the VPN server’s IP address and location. What’s more, the VPN server’s IP address changes regularly. It’s like wearing a forever-changing mask that hides your internet activities.
VPN servers are placed around the world, which is why you can access otherwise censored or restricted country-specific websites and content. A VPN can also be seen as an enclosed tunnel, one that offers safe travel for all your data coming to and from a server. Data inside this tunnel is encrypted and encapsulated to make it harder for potential threats to snoop around. Find out more about what a VPN is and if you should be using one.
Interestingly, there’s a VPN service that will use cryptocurrency to make browsing the internet safer, and it’s even questioning if VPN services are worth your trust. Recently, a Russian-based VPN service was shut down by international authorities, after failing to provide full anonymity for its customers — which so happened to be malicious hackers.
So, looking to become anonymous? Check out our picks of the best VPN services below.
If you haven’t heard this anywhere else by now, let it be known by us: ExpressVPN is the best VPN service around. From its large number of servers that connect wicked fast despite its global reach, to its incredible accessibility for users, it’s the VPN service that will never disappoint. ExpressVPN offers multiple security protocols including OpenVPN, L2TP/IPsec, IKEv2, and its very own Lightway protocol. Even better, it uses 256-bit AES encryption which is nearly impossible to break. That, along with its no-log policy and Perfect Forward Secrecy so your encrypted data won’t be captured and deciphered later put any security fears at ease.
All that with lightning-fast speeds? Indeed, made even faster with its new Lightway security protocol. Even playing online multiplayer games isn’t a bother, and it’s all done with a one-click connection that links to the fastest server. Speaking of, user accessibility is the real star of the show, offering easy connections for those who simply want to be anonymous, along with DNS leak prevention, split tunneling, a kill switch, and then some. It also works on pretty much every device including laptops, web browsers, smart hubs, gaming consoles – you name it.
While ExpressVPN isn’t the cheapest for the five devices it supports, it can also be used on a router thanks to the router app, meaning you can link all those devices and still be secure with one connection. Continue to shine, ExpressVPN.
Read our full ExpressVPN review
The fastest VPN in the west… and the world over. It would be strange not to put NordVPN on this list, as it beat its competition in terms of server numbers and their speeds. It has multiple servers in nearly every country, and each one, whether it’s in the U.S. or Hong Kong, delivers amazing connection speeds. From watching Netflix, Amazon Prime or Hulu, to playing online multiplayer games, it didn’t seem to matter what server we used – connected speeds barely dipped. In fact, in some cases, increased our speeds.
NordVPN also combines the very best speeds with brilliant security. It has AES 256-bit encryption, perfect forward secrecy, and two security protocols including OpenVPN UDP/TCP and IKEv2/IPsec. It also has CyberSec to avoid ads and protect you from malware, an app-specific kill switch, and split tunneling. Keep in mind, the service is not for desktops. NordVPN seems to have a few little quirks when it comes to different devices, from iOS to Android, including presenting different security protocol options. That said, this is a minor thing to an otherwise incredible VPN with an even more incredible quick connect feature, which means lightning-fast VPN speeds at a click of a button. In need of speed? NordVPN is a no-brainer.
See our full NordVPN review
King of the internet ocean, some might say, and it’s quite simply because of the maximum number of devices it supports: Unlimited. Whether you’re a family of five with three devices — each streaming Netflix or Hulu — or a company with rows of PCs, Surfshark supports simultaneous connections at one of the cheapest prices on this list. And it does it all with the high-security protocols and speed a VPN user could ask for.
Surfshark uses unbreakable 256-bit encryption, along with DNS and IPv6 protection, to prevent anyone from trying to get your real IP address. If that wasn’t enough, it also has an automatic kill switch when your VPN drops, a MultiHop mode that routes your data through two different VPN servers, its CleanWeb, which is a built-in ad and malware blocker, and a multitude of other nifty security features. For those overwhelmed, not to worry, as it also handily comes with a one-click fast connection found on an easy-to-navigate interface.
The only downside of Surfshark is its speeds. While still top-tier on this list, they don’t quite match the speeds of other VPN services, especially when some servers suddenly dip out of nowhere. That’s okay, the unlimited devices more than make up for it.
See our full Surfshark VPN review
Aside from having the slickest name on the list, CyberGhost is perfect for streaming and torrenting – among the most popular uses for a VPN. Its security features are at the top of the VPN game – offering AED 256-bit encryption, OpenVPN TCP/UDP, IKEv2, and WireGuard security protocol options (although not for all devices), a kill switch, DNS and IP leak protection, no logs and split tunnelling (only on PCs). All that with fantastic server speeds and seven supported devices? Not bad seeing as you can get a three-year subscription for a fairly desirable price with three months included completely for free.
CyberGhost VPN is a fast and reliable VPN service, especially for streaming. While it’s disappointing it doesn’t work with Prime Video despite having optimized streaming servers for it, having servers dedicated to select streaming services across multiple countries is a stellar feature.
While internet speeds in many countries were just as fast as my normal internet speeds, certain regions were severely lacking. This could be an issue for those who are all about server speeds, especially if you’re opting for its very pricey monthly subscription plan.
But the pros far outweigh the cons. Overall, CyberGhost VPN offers a premium service for streaming with tons of locations and fast P2P for torrenting.
Read our full CyberGhost VPN review
For those leaning more toward security, ProtonVPN is your top choice. It’s the only VPN available that uses its own ‘Secure Core’ network, meaning your traffic first goes through privacy-friendly countries such as Switzerland and Iceland to prevent compromised VPN servers (unfortunately, that happens) so your IP address is never revealed. Even better, it uses Perfect Forward Secrecy so your encrypted data won’t be captured and deciphered later. Along with its no-log policy, Tor connections, and being based in Switzerland (a country known for its privacy laws), rest assured your data is safe with ProtonVPN.
Oh, and it can be completely free to use. While that alone is a major plus on this list, this does only give you access to three countries on one device, with limited speeds. For simple browsing, this works fine (especially seeing how not a dollar is being spent). However, the service does offer neatly priced paid plans, and it even comes with its one-of-a-kind ProtonMail that encrypts your emails. However, its lack of servers and countries is where ProtonVPN falls behind. Even with its all-access Plus package, connection speeds can be a tad slow, and that’s quite a bit more expensive than the speedier VPNs on this list. Once it offers more servers, the (internet) sky’s the limit for ProtonVPN.
See our full ProtonVPN review
Depending on what you get out of a VPN service, IPVanish could tick all the right boxes or completely strikeout. For the more experienced VPN user who requires the best privacy, they’ll probably not like the idea that IPVanish is based in the U.S., even though it has a no-logs policy. They’ll also not like the idea that different platforms offer different security features and protocols.
But for the average VPN user, it’s a reliable service that offers stable and good internet speeds, being able to bypass geo-restricted content (except for BBC iPlayer) without sacrificing speed. Having such consistent speeds is also a major plus for online gaming, and its user interface seems catered for it, making ping rates a priority. There are definitely more affordable VPNs offering a variety of better features, but if you’re after a reliable service, with the added bonus of having unlimited devices with simultaneous connections, IPVanish is a great choice.
Read our full IPVanish VPN review
After the easiest way to make yourself anonymous? Point yourself in the direction of Hotspot Shield. Without a doubt, it’s one of the simplest user interfaces a VPN can have while still offering a top-of-the-line service with speedy servers. Hotspot Shield has you covered at a commendable price – with multiple plans to choose from.
While it may not offer the best security features or connection speeds compared to other VPN services, it does have a completely free package, albeit with a few setbacks. If you can excuse the ads, virtual US-only server usage, and 500MB limit, you’re set. Either way, couple along its ease-of-use across multiple devices and fantastic speeds, and that makes Hotspot Shield worth a look.