Over the last few years, installing a VPN has become a key tool for people wanting to stream their favorite content. Whether it's because you don't want to miss out on a top show while abroad, finding coverage of sports events not broadcast where you live or just want that extra layer of security that they give, there are plenty of reasons to seek out the best streaming VPN.
Getting a VPN for streaming also allows you to bypass restrictions and access geo-blocked material - like watching shows not available on US Netflix, or streaming the BBC iPlayer when not in the UK.
But not every VPN is made equal, so there’s some serious picking and choosing to be done - luckily for you we've rounded up the best streaming VPNs after extensive testing.
How to choose the best streaming VPN
Much will depend on your TV streaming service of choice. Netflix is the most popular in the world, but also one of the toughest to unlock - it doesn't make it easy to watch films and shows available in the US once you've crossed the border. Prefer BBC iPlayer, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video? We'll tell you which streaming VPN unblocks which.
The highest placed streaming VPNs on the list also combine lightning fast connection speeds with watertight security. A fast and reliable connection is obviously good for consistent streaming with none of the dreaded buffering. A high server count is also a major boon in terms of finding a good connection.
You’ll also want wide support for various devices, as you may well be viewing content across multiple bits of hardware - from phones and computers, to individual streaming devices like Apple TV, Amazon Fore and Roku. And we also favor streaming VPN providers that have fast, effective 24/7 live chat support - just in case you struggle to get things working.
Today's top 3 best streaming VPNs:
1. ExpressVPN - #1 best streaming VPN
The world's overall top VPN is fast, secure, easy to use and comes with 3 months extra free with an annual plan. Get it risk-free for 30 days and try its unlocking prowess - it gets access to pretty much every streaming site you can imagine, with regional sites like Peacock, Kayo and DAZN also on the hit list.
2. NordVPN - strong, consistent unblocking
Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, BBC iPlayer, Disney+, HBO Max, YouTube... you name it, NordVPN can unblock it! The provider really has the goods to back up its reputation, easily unblocking a whole range of streaming services from abroad.
3. Surfshark - a great option if you want to spend less
Surfshark offers many of the great features that the above two do, just at a bit of a lower price. If you're willing to commit to a longer term, the cost comes down to less than $2.50 USD per month. That's excellent value on a VPN that's still very good for streamers.
Best 5 VPNs for streaming in 2021:
ExpressVPN makes your choice very easy when it comes to hunting for the best streaming VPN. It unblocks almost all of the major TV streaming services around the world and always seems to be one step ahead of them trying to prevent you watching from abroad. Netflix, no problem. Hulu, easy. Amazon Prime Video, sure thing.
So whether it's movies, TV shows or sport coverage that you're trying to access from overseas, ExpressVPN's speedy servers are well up to the task. And on those very odd occasions when we struggled, a quick word with one of Express's 24/7 live chat support staff got us connected to a server that worked in no time.
Indeed, ExpressVPN boasts a 3,000 server count spread across 94 countries. In our performance tests, the service achieved consistently solid speeds without much variation throughout the network.
There’s a wide range of native clients including support for Windows, Mac, and Linux, but the service truly shines in the mobile department. There are intuitive apps for iOS, Android, and even BlackBerry, with additional instructions for a number of other devices. Another bonus is that these clients automatically connect to the optimal server to deliver the fastest speeds possible. That's really handy if you're away for business or on holiday and trying to catch stuff on a mobile or tablet.
For security purposes, the software has a kill switch, along with manual or automatic selection of security protocols (OpenVPN, L2TP, IKEv2 and PPTP are supported alongside its new Lightway option). You also get strong 256-bit encryption, zero-knowledge DNS and more. There is zero logging of network traffic such as connection times or IP addresses.
It's worth knowing that we've witnessed ExpressVPN having the odd issue when unblocking BBC iPlayer on many platforms (unless you use Express's own Media Streamer). Last time we checked it was working fine, but we'll let you know if that changes again.
The other main weakness here is on the pricing front, as subscriptions are somewhat expensive. That said, ExpressVPN does offer a 30-day money-back guarantee. Out of the three plans available, the yearly plan, as ever, offers the most value (and also gets you three months extra for free).
Get the #1 VPN for streaming 2021: 3 extra months FREE
ExpressVPN's fast, robust connections combined with its adaptability, ease-of-use and servers in multiple countries mean it takes the crown. And it's also fantastic value as you get 3 free month added on when you sign up for a one year contract. Plus a year's free use of unlimited cloud storage from Backblaze.
NordVPN’s specific focus on streaming is evident through its SmartPlay technology, a secure proxy service that the provider uses to bypass the geo-restrictions of streaming websites. The feature is enabled in all NordVPN apps by default, automatically rerouting the user’s requests through an appropriate remote server.
In easier to understand terms, that means access hundreds of streaming services, including Netflix, iPlayer, Prime Video, Hulu and YouTube.
As we say, streaming service providers don't make the work of VPNs all that straight forward, but NordVPN has plenty of explainer guides and support articles (plus, excellent 24/7 live chat support) if you're having issues trying to access your show or TV event of choice.
During our performance testing, we witnessed above-average speeds and laudable consistency, although latency increased on long distance connections. That should mean you'll have no interruptions when you stream - assuming your broadband is up to scratch, of course!
There are around 5,000 servers at your disposal throughout the world. And if downloading a VPN means more to you than mere streaming, then you'll be comforted that this Panama-based provider does well on the security front as well: there's a Double VPN feature that encrypts data twice, sending it through two separate servers; a kill switch; no logs policy; 256-bit encryption; support for all major security protocols. You also get additional options like a dedicated IP address and Onion over VPN.
Save big on multi-year plan
NordVPN is surprisingly well priced for such an awesome piece of software. Assuming you choose a subscription of more than a year, the discounts on show come in at around 70%. And if you sign up and decide within 30 days you don't want it, it will give you your money back without quibble.
Surfshark comfortably unlocked Netflix, YouTube, BBC iPlayer and Hulu when we tested it last - so it immediately becomes a key contender in our streaming VPN round-up.
But beyond that, Surfshark has two other tricks up its sleeve to try and make it your VPN of choice. The first of those is the price - it's no surprise at all that Surfshark lands the #1 spot in our guide on cheap VPN providers, as you can get it for an effective monthly price of less than $2.50/£2 for its multi-year plan. Look up and down this list (and any other catalogue you care to find of VPN offers) and you'll be hard pushed to find anybody else that comes close to matching that value.
The second is that one subscription will cover you for unlimited simultaneous connections. So if you really really wanted to, you could use Surfshark to stream on your Amazon Fire Stick, Chromecast, Roku, Apple TV, laptop, Smart TV, games console, Android tablet, iPhone and more all at the same time. More realistically, it just means that you can have it set up on your devices (and those of family and friends) without ever having to worry about not being allowed.
Outside that, Surfshark is really easy to use - perhaps meaning it won't have all the features some power users might require - and has really excellent live chat support if needed. A great choice.
Maintaining all your internet traffic via its superb Catapult Hydra protocol allows Hotspot Shield to deliver extraordinarily fast connection speeds. So with more than 1,500 servers in 100+ locations worldwide, finding rapid connections won’t be a problem.
That's good to know - especially for the demands of 4K streaming. The service can unblock Netflix and a host of other streaming services, listing several key candidates for all to see on its website. As Hotspot explains on its website, sometimes huge film franchises like James Bond will release on, say, Netflix in the UK only. Using Hotpsot allows you to get around the region restrictions and stream at the earliest opportunity.
Hotspot's live chat support is speedy and helpful. Not that we imagine you'll need to use it that often, as this provider is one of the easiest to set up and use out there. That goes equally for desktop, laptop and mobile apps.
Our one main gripe with Hotspot is caused as a direct result of using that speedy Catapult Hydra protocol. It means that users get less flexibility to configure the VPN and use it on the full scope of devices that the likes of Express and Nord work on. So currently, most Smart TVs, games consoles and Kindle tablets are dead zones for Hotspot Shield use. A shame, but the provider does seem to be working hard to make its service work with more of these options.
CyberGhost isn't the least bit spooked by geo-blocking from streaming sites. It has a lovely big list of all the sites it says it can unblock right there on its website - everything from the obvious (Netflix, Disney Plus, HBO Max) to the more obscure (Hotstar, Zattoo, All 4).
And when we tested CyberGhost in real life unblocking, we were largely impressed. Netflix, Hulu and Disney+ were all grist to its mill.
This provider is a popular choice for many users and there is definitely a reason behind that. It's relatively easy to use with good performance, and the native clients have plenty of features for both newcomers and experts. There aren't many VPNs that can boast more than 6,000 servers, either. It's not the be-all-and-end-all but shows that CyberGhost isn't messing around.
That all said, it doesn't quite match the VPN providers above. BBC iPlayer unblocking was patchy and didn't work on every UK server. And as Netflix VPNs go, CyberGhost fell short when it came to catalogs outside the US - this provider isn't your key to watching exclusive content in countries like the UK< Canada or Japan.
But the 45-day money back guarantee has the beating of ExpressVPN and NordVPN and its multi-year subscription is excellent value. When it comes to security, Cyberghost uses the 256-AES encryption, with support for OpenVPN, IKEv2, L2TP-IPsec and PPTP protocols. The service also blocks ads and tracking and if you're the least bit concerned about snoopers, there's a strict no-logs policy in place, too.
Streaming VPNs FAQ
What is the best streaming VPN 2021?
Right now, the answer to that question is the all-round excellent ExpressVPN. According to our recent testing, it unlocks the lot: Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, Disney+, YouTube...everything! That's a really impressive track record, but it also benefits from being fantastic to use and making you safer online with a litany of clever security features.
Is a VPN worth it for streaming?
The answer to that question entirely depends on what you want to stream and how often. If you're somebody who has an insatiable appetite for films and box sets and will go to any means to get all the content, then a VPN is an essential tool as it means you can start watching Netflix and Amazon Prime content that may not be available in your location.
Similarly, if you're a massive fan of a particular sport, but the coverage in the country where you live (or are visiting) just isn't up to snuff, then a VPN will help you to watch your favorite team or player with more comprehensive coverage from around the world.
But if you're quite content with watching your domestic TV networks and the streaming services you've paid for, then getting a VPN won't be off too much benefit just for streaming.
What streaming services work with a VPN?
The list is practically endless here - it would probably be quicker to list services that aren't unblockable by a VPN.
From our testing and using VPNs ourselves we've found that you can unblock Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Peacock, BBC iPlayer, Sling TV, Dazn, YouTube, Disney+, Fubo, All 4, ITV Hub, and a whole host more domestic networks. If you're a little unsure and don't want to commit to a service without first knowing whether it will work with your streaming service of choice, then we'd recommend going for a VPN with a free trial and put it through its paces risk free.
Can I use a streaming VPN to watch sport?
Absolutely, and over the last few years this has become a really popular reason to get hold of a VPN.
Want to watch the Super Bowl online through your usual domestic broadcaster while abroad? Or without commercials with BBC's Super Bowl coverage? A VPN is the ideal tool to help get around geo-restrictions.
The same goes if you pay for a costly Sky or BT Sport package for the football and want to watch when you're on holiday. Or Aussie cricket and footie fans who just can't get the coverage they need when not Down Under.
In our testing, we've had success using VPNs for a variety of services, including Sky Go, Kayo, DAZN, Star Sports and many, many more.
Should I go for a free streaming VPN?
We'd really advise you to avoid free VPN providers if your main purpose is streaming. They tend to come riddled with data limits and bandwidth restrictions. Really not ideal for your streaming needs.