The 5 best VPNs:
A VPN (virtual private network) is a secure and private solution within the wider internet itself that allows users – whether they are individuals, or part of an organisation, or business – to send and receive data while maintaining the secrecy of a private network.
That means you could use one to create a secure tunnel into your company network to enjoy access to private internal systems, but also means you could browse in complete privacy online and access content you might otherwise not be able to get such as Netflix.
All the traffic that passes through your VPN connection is secure and cannot, in theory, be intercepted by anyone else, making it the safest mainstream way to browse the web privately (but not always anonymously).
Just bear in mind though that VPN setups are only as secure as the weakest link in the entire ecosystem. So if your device has already been compromised with malware, using a VPN won't save you from being spied upon, although a good antivirus could.
The best VPN services 2017
On this page, you'll find our list of the very best VPN services currently as of July 2017. We've tested them all (and we're in the processing of retesting a few of them) so you can be sure you're getting the best recommendations from our experts.
Many VPN services - there are about 300 of them on mobile and desktop - offer different pros and cons, so if you're looking to access Hulu or BBC iPlayer from a different region, dial into your office network or simply stay safe and secure online, you'll find a service tailored precisely to your needs.
Such is the power of the VPN, it’s worth noting that in some cases the services are targeted for blocking by organisations or governments – or even banning in some countries, as we saw in China recently, which has said it will ban ‘unapproved’ VPNs.
And indeed Apple has become part of this crackdown, with the company banning VyprVPN and ExpressVPN from its App Store in China. This doesn’t affect these providers’ software elsewhere in the globe, and obviously only affects iOS users in China. CEO Tim Cook later defended his company’s move, stating that the involved apps flaunted Chinese regulations, and noting that Apple must ‘follow the law wherever we do business’.
It’s also interesting to note that while phishing remains a major danger online, a VPN can help protect you against malware when web browsing. Some VPNs offer additional malware blocking capabilities, such as NordVPN which recently introduced a CyberSec feature that blacklists and blocks known phishing sites, as well as defending against malware in general.
Note that most of the best VPN sites below offer global services and thus charge in US Dollars, so we've listed pricing in Dollars. When you click through to the actual deals, you may find the prices automatically displayed in pounds, or whatever your native currency may be.
The best VPN for torrenting and other P2P traffic
Number of servers: 700 | Server locations: 60+ | IP addresses: 40000+ | Maximum devices supported: 5
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While many VPN providers try to stand out with their free plans and cheap commercial products, IPVanish talks more about service quality. It's "the world's fastest VPN" says the website, boasting 40,000+ shared IPs, 500+ VPN servers in 60+ countries, unlimited P2P traffic, five simultaneous connections, no log policy and more.
The price is still going to be an issue for some – it is more expensive than the average VPN, but IPVanish's high speeds, choice of locations and excellent client are hard to beat. If you're after quality, take the plunge with this VPN, and if somehow you end up unhappy with the service there's a 7-day money-back guarantee.
IPVanish has three service options available and it is, unsurprisingly, its 1-year subscription that wins the day (note that you will be billed in US dollars). Other packages are available below:
The best VPN for performance and security
Number of servers: 700+ | Server locations: 70+ | IP addresses: 200,000+ | Maximum devices supported: 3-5
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This VPN provider is based in Switzerland, where there are favourable privacy laws, and it’s a very well-specified service boasting 73 server locations and unlimited data usage.
There are also some great extras such as auto-connect options to make things easy for you, a kill switch, and you get bolstered security courtesy of the firm’s proprietary Chameleon protocol and VyprDNS.
VyprVPN also offers a commendably wide range of clients and its Windows software benefits from an easy-to-use interface. Perhaps the best news, though, comes on the performance front: in our tests, we found that, rather incredibly, our download speeds improved by a factor of 2.5x compared to our normal rates with the VPN turned off.
One point you should be aware of is that VyprVPN doesn’t do refunds at all, but there is a 3-day trial, and a free 500MB/month plan you can try out the service with. In terms of what’s on offer here, you can subscribe either monthly or annually to a Basic or Premium plan (you get three connections with the former, and five with the latter). The packages available are:
- [$5 a month] Basic plan, 1-year - $60
- [$9.95 a month] Basic plan, 1-month - $9.95
- [$6.67 a month] Premium plan, 1-year - $80
- [$12.95 a month] Premium plan, 1-month - $12.95
The best offshore VPN for privacy and unblocking
Number of servers: 1000+ | Server locations: 136 | IP addresses: N/A | Maximum devices supported: 3
ExpressVPN offers 145 locations across 94 countries, alongside an excellent range of tailored clients, with some great efforts for mobile and desktop on the software front. You get native clients for Windows, Mac, Linux, plus iOS, Android and even BlackBerry on the mobile front.
What’s also really helpful is that there are loads of web-based tutorials which are easy to follow to help you get up and running with the service. The tech support ExpressVPN provides is certainly of a high quality.
You also get P2P support here, a kill switch (to help your IP stay concealed if the service falls over), and very solid overall performance levels.
Downsides? ExpressVPN only supports three simultaneous connections, and it's far from the cheapest offering in town. Also, there’s no free trial option – but on the plus side, there is a ‘no hassle’ 30-day money-back guarantee if you aren’t happy with the service. The packages available are:
An ultra-secure VPN provider
Number of servers: 1015 | Server locations: 59 | IP addresses: N/A | Maximum devices supported: 6
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Despite being based in a country located in Central America - hardly a tech hub - NordVPN's current products match or beat the competition in just about every area.
1015 servers in 59 countries, 2048-bit encryption, 6-device support as standard, strong DNS leak protection, automatic kill switch, handy security extras, optional dedicated IP addresses, and payment options including Bitcoin, PayPal and credit cards.
Performance was good, too, with impressive speeds on short connections, and some very palatable results with longer distances, too – although we did find the occasional exception. However, even when latency did rise with longer hops, browsing still felt very snappy and responsive.
NordVPN has three service options available and its most popular and by far best value plan is the 1-year subscription (aside from the aforementioned 2-year special offer, that is). The packages available are:
- [$3.29 a month] 2-year - $79
- [$5.75 a month] 12-month - $69
- [$7 a month] 6-month - $42
- [$11.95 a month] 1-month - $11.95
If you want an easy-to-use VPN, you got it
Number of servers: ~1,000 | Server locations: 20+ | IP addresses: N/A | Maximum devices supported: 5
This Canadian-based VPN provider is notable for a number of reasons, perhaps the foremost of which is its emphasis on ease-of-use. You get a wide range of clients, covering both desktop and mobile devices thoroughly, and the software is highly user-friendly.
Even the website steers clear of using jargon, and talks about how a VPN works in simple layman’s terms. As you might guess, though, expert users might find the lack of details rather off-putting – and more importantly, there aren’t many low-level options to tweak your connection either. So this is really designed with beginners in mind.
In terms of coverage, TunnelBear offers servers in 20 different countries across the globe, and gives you up to five simultaneous connections. This provider is strong on the privacy front, as well, clearly and concisely explaining its policies, and again not drowning you in jargon (of the legal variety in this case, rather than the technical kind).
Performance is also impressive over shorter hops and solid to the US, although really long-distance connections such as Singapore can see speeds drop considerably (that’s not unusual for VPNs, though).
TunnelBear even offers a free plan, and while that normally limits you to just 500MB of traffic per month, with TechRadar’s special offer you can up that to a far more useful 5GB. Paid plans give you unlimited data and start at a reasonable $5 (£4) per month. The packages available are:
A VPN which gives you unlimited connections
Number of servers: N/A | Server locations: 40+ | IP addresses: N/A | Maximum devices supported: Unlimited
Windscribe is a quality VPN which has native Windows, Mac and iOS clients – but it doesn’t have an Android app, although the firm promises this is coming soon. What you do also get is a range of browser add-ons, mind, which come highly rated (and also block ads).
One of the main attractions here is the fact that Windscribe’s commercial plan allows for unlimited connections, so no matter how many family members or devices you’ve got, you’ll be covered.
There’s a free plan available and it gives you a generous 10GB of monthly data, although you can only use one device with it, and there are limits on the amount of data you can download.
The paid-for Pro plan gives you unlimited data and devices as mentioned, and you can subscribe either monthly, or annually for a cheaper rate – namely $9 or $7.50 a month respectively. However, with TechRadar’s current special deal, you can get these plans for half price The packages available are:
The best VPN for browsing online privately
Number of servers: 2000 | Server locations: 20 | IP addresses: N/A | Maximum devices supported: 5
AnchorFree's Hotspot Shield Elite manages to provide all the necessary VPN features at an attractive price with the option of getting a lifetime license. It supports private browsing, virtual locations, allows "access all content", and supports up to five devices.
Performance results in our tests were excellent, with latency showing only a marginal increase, and both upload and download speeds were a little faster once connected.
We'd like more configurability and a wider range of locations, but Hotspot Shield Elite's high speeds and low prices have a lot of appeal, and the 7-day trial makes it easy to test the service for yourself.
As usual, the best value-for-money is the 1-year subscription (note that you will be billed in US dollars), unless you want to commit to the lifetime plan. Note that of late the free version of Hotspot Shield has been dogged by controversy over redirecting traffic to partner sites including online advertising firms, but the Center for Democracy & Technology didn’t level these accusations at the paid product (and the provider has denied the allegations anyway).
The packages available are:
Another highly user-friendly VPN
Number of servers: N/A | Server locations: 30+ | IP addresses: N/A | Maximum devices supported: N/A
ZenMate is another of the VPN services which try to pitch to novices, with the website avoiding any technical jargon and explaining everything in clear and simple terms.
And naturally that carries through to the software. ZenMate’s Windows client is supremely easy-to-use, and it’s highly streamlined – just click a couple of buttons and you’re off. It’s also dead easy to set up, which never hurts.
But as ever, where software is designed to be as simple as possible, expert users may be slightly frustrated at the lack of controls available. For example, you can’t choose your own security protocol if you want to, or indeed specify a particular city for a server location; you can only pick by country.
Still, if you can accept the limitations here – and that won’t be a problem if you aren’t very tech-savvy and are new to the world of VPNs – ZenMate offers solid, if not spectacular, performance levels.
It’s also worth noting there’s a 14-day money-back guarantee if you’re not happy with the service, and ZenMate has a free offering although that only operates via browser add-ons (and it restricts speeds and choice of servers).
There are three subscription plans offering monthly, 6-monthly or yearly billing – but note that TechRadar readers can currently benefit from a special offer for a yearly plan charged at $3.20 per month for the first year (reverting to the normal price of $5.38 per month thereafter):
The best VPN for maximum speeds
Number of servers: 500 | Server locations: 180 | IP addresses: 95000 | Maximum devices supported: 5
PureVPN's PC client stands out immediately for the sheer volume of connection options and tools it makes available. Its policy on logging is unusually clear: the company records the time you connect to a server and the total bandwidth used, but otherwise there are no logs of the websites you visit, the files you download or anything else.
PureVPN did well on our performance tests, where amazingly it managed to improve most of our download speeds. Latency was a mere 5% higher than normal, upload speeds actually increased by 4%, while downloads were a very surprising 80% up on our normal speeds.
The provider offers three service plans but its one-year package represents the best value. Note that the company offers a 5% discount if you pay by credit card. Other packages are available below:
The best VPN for responsive browsing and low latency
Number of servers: N/A | Server locations: 37 | IP addresses: N/A | Maximum devices supported: 5
As for performance, in our tests over short hops, we saw excellent upload speeds and low latency which made for very responsive browsing, and longer-distance connections also saw excellent performance (with download speeds being 95% of our normal rates).
One thing to bear in mind with this VPN is that it only offers desktop clients, so less tech-savvy folks who are planning on mobile use may want to steer clear. There are setup instructions provided for mobile devices, but they take a little working through.
Also, Buffered VPN is far from the cheapest service out there, even if you sign up for a full year. However, there’s a good refund policy to benefit those who want to try this VPN out, and you can get your money back as long as you haven’t used more than 10 hours of time, 100 sessions or 10GB of bandwidth (whichever comes first). The packages available are:
What is a VPN?
VPN is one of those tech terms and has gained a lot of traction in recent years as the internet has diversified and grown to even bigger levels. However, the premise is actually quite simple, and there are some great use cases.
It stands for ‘virtual private networking’, which is a popular internet security method. The latter involves technologies that aim to add a layer of security to both private and public networks. These include broadband and internet hotspots.
If there’s one worry when it comes to using technology and the internet, it’s privacy. By using a VPN, you can, in theory, prevent your internet service provider (ISP) and government from seeing your internet history.
VPNs have also emerged as a popular tool in the freedom of speech movement. You’re able to avoid censorship within organisations and from third-parties. For example, if you have a view that goes against the priorities of your employer, you don’t have to worry about them finding out.
People also use VPN technology to “geo-spoof” their location. This results in users customising their location settings to be able to use overseas services. A great example of this is watching a TV programme or online product that’s only available in a specific country, perhaps due to legal or licensing issues.
You can resort to a VPN to protect yourself from hackers too. If you’re outside and sign up to use a public internet hotspot - perhaps in a cafe or library - there is the chance someone could try to break into your device. This can lead to you losing valuable data, such as passwords.
This technology is also emerging as a popular force in the world of business. When you’re traveling around for meetings all the time, it’s normal to connect to third-party networks. With a VPN, you can access your firm’s intranet without the worry of being targeted by cyber criminals.
Proxy vs. VPN
Proxies are also popular, and there’s always the question about how they differ from VPNs. The aim of both methods is to protect users’ identities or to spoof a location. While they are different technologies, many VPN providers also offer proxies.
A proxy is type of computing system that functions as a go-between for your connected device and your web connection. These servers also have their own IP addresses, so transfers can’t be traced directly to your computer.
They may share common aims with VPNs, but typically, they only secure a torrent client or browser. Using a VPN, you can encrypt 100% of your internet connection, so there’s more protection.
Free vs. Paid VPN: Which is better?
VPNs used to be a premium product, but you don't have to spend big money on them anymore. Some companies now offer a basic service that won't cost you anything at all.
As you'd expect, there are catches, and they typically start with a data cap. Avira Phantom VPN's free plan limits you to 500MB a month, PrivateTunnel offers 2GB, whereas ZPN has a generous 10GB allowance - not bad at all.
Free products also typically have usage restrictions. Most companies don't want you to soak up all their bandwidth on torrents, so ZPN is typical in blocking P2P.
Hide.me's 2GB free plan also has some common limits. There's "best effort" bandwidth, which means paying customers have speed priority and you get what's left. And the choice of locations is limited to three: Canada, Netherlands and Singapore.
Hola's free-for-personal-use plan doesn't have the same kind of restrictions, but even here there's a catch. The service routes traffic through its free users rather than dedicated servers, so signing up allows others to (securely) share a small part of your bandwidth and resources.
Then there's the adverts and the session limits (CyberGhost) and the general lack of service level agreement: free means that it doesn't come with any implicit warranties.
Free plans are fine for simple needs, then - maybe protecting your laptop's wireless hotspot traffic on the occasional trip - but if you're looking for anything more advanced, a commercial product is best.
The immediate benefit is that you know your personal data remains safe, even if you're on a public Wi-Fi hotspot. Local snoopers might be able to see the connection, but there's no way to find out what it is or where it's going.
VPNs also give you a new digital identity in the shape of an IP address from another country. This makes it harder for websites or anyone else to track you, allows some people to bypass government censorship, and helps the rest of us avoid those "not available in your country" messages on YouTube or other streaming sites.
Best of all, despite the low-level network technology involved, you don't need to be any kind of expert to make VPNs work. For the most part, all you have to do is choose the country where you'd like an IP address, click Connect to start, Disconnect when you're done - and that's it.
How to choose a VPN: Here are 6 tips
There are several factors to consider when you're choosing a paid VPN.
1. Does the plan have servers in every country and region you need? Having more than one server in a country can help spread the load, but doesn't guarantee improved performance, so don't assume a plan with 500 servers will automatically beat another with 100.
2. Check the number of simultaneous connections supported. Typically, this is 3-5, which allows you to have a PC, mobile and tablet connected at the same time. But beware, many companies say this is for a single user only, and they all have fair usage policies to prevent people hogging resources. If you let the entire family download and stream videos separately then you'll run into trouble.
3. Some providers list the connection protocols they use. OpenVPN and IKeV2 are good choices, fast and secure. You might see SSTP and the older PPTP, as well as protocol options (TCP or UDP for OpenVPN). You don't need to understand the low-level details, but having the extra choice can help the service make faster and/or more reliable connections.
5. It's important to consider the client, the software which handles your connections. These all have a list of servers and a Connect/ Disconnect button, but could you use more? Some clients display server load and ping time in the interface, helping you choose the right server. Regular users might appreciate a "Favourites" system to save and recall specific servers. If you know what you're doing, having access to low-level network settings will help you tune the whole system.
6. Finally, there's the price. Beware of apparently cheap deals: these may have restricted features, exclude taxes, be discounted for the first billing period only, and renew automatically, so that apparent one-off £3.99 might become almost £10 next month. Look for a 'Pricing' link, read the small print, and if possible use something like PayPal where it's easy to check and cancel a subscription yourself.
Once you've found what looks like a good VPN candidate, be sure to take it for a trial before you spend any big money. But a short trial can only tell you so much, so once that's expired, pay for a month, run as many tests as you can, then upgrade to a better value plan (usually yearly) if you're still happy.
How to test a VPN
Our comparisons started by looking at each provider's range of plans. We were looking for features, value, and clear and honest pricing. Free ways to learn more about a service - free plans, trial periods, refund periods - were important, and we also looked for companies which maintained your privacy when you signed up (no email address required, trials available without credit cards, Bitcoin available as a payment option).
VPN performance is difficult to measure as there are so many variables, but we used multiple techniques to try and get a feel for each service's abilities. We first used speedtest.net to measure the latency, upload and download speeds for a distant connection (typically UK to California), repeated the test immediately with the VPN turned off, and looked at any changes.
We followed this up with a much shorter connection (typically UK to Netherlands) to see a more typical peak performance, ran a second benchmark to confirm our results, and ran some general browsing tests - including streaming HD video - to look for other problems.
VPNs will always give you a new IP address, but some services may have DNS or other leaks which give clues about your identity. We visited IPLeak.net and other privacy sites to look for problems.
In terms of the client and interface, we were looking for good server selection tools (by country, region, server, speed, with filters, a Favourites system, perhaps with server load or ping time displayed), with plenty of configuration options, but also a client which stays out of the way until it's needed.
Finally, we weighed up these individual factors, came up with an overall score, and narrowed these down to the 10 best VPNs around. All the software in the top five scored at least 70 points out of 100.
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MacSentry are offering 64% off on VPN specifically designed for Mac. Get an annual VPN subscription for your Mac for only $42.99.
Windscribe has a huge 50% off regular and yearly price for TechRadar readers making it only $45 a year!
Zenmate is providing a 40% discount, making a year of ZenMate service only £29.99- just for TechRadar readers.
Speedify are offering a huge 85% discount for TechRadar readers on annual plans. Use code: TECHRADAR85
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Smart DNS Proxy is offering a 79% lifetime discount exclusive for TechRadar readers- it also comes with a free two week trial to try before you buy.
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TorGuard VPN$4.99/month or $29.99/year, Proxy $2.98/month or $23.47/year. Limited Bonus: Buy two years and get a FREE Mini VPN router. TorGuard features Unlimited No Logs VPN, P2P support. Get 50% Off all TorGuard services with promo code: 1984