Skip to main content

Surfshark VPN review

A feature-packed VPN for a very eye-catching price

New Hero
(Image: © Surfshark)

Our Verdict

Budget VPNs don't have to be feature-free, and Surfshark is the proof - it's absolutely stuffed with advanced functionality, yet is half the price of many competitors.

For

  • Loads of features
  • Unblocks Netflix
  • Very cheap two-year plan
  • Speedy live chat support

Against

  • Trial is for mobile apps and Macs only
  • Privacy policy is short on detail
  • Support website needs work
  • Kill switch issues

Surfshark is an interesting VPN with a huge feature set and a surprisingly small price.

The network offers 800+ servers across 50 countries, for instance. There are Windows, Mac, iOS, Android and Linux apps, Chrome and Firefox extensions, and no limits on the number of simultaneous connections.

The service is strong on the technical essentials, including AES-256 encryption, OpenVPN and IKEv2 support, a no-logs policy, and a kill switch to protect you if your connection drops.

Oh, there’s also URL and ad blocking, P2P support on most servers, VPN chaining (use two servers for one hop), split tunneling, the company's own zero-knowledge DNS servers, and 24/7 support via email and live chat if anything goes wrong.

Surfshark's monthly plan is more expensive than some, at $11.95, and paying for a year up-front still only cuts the cost to $5.99 (Private Internet Access, Speedify, Bitdefender and others all have annual plans for under $4.) But the two-year plan looks like a real bargain at $1.99, one of the lowest prices we've seen for a full-featured VPN.

Surfshark's range of payment methods is another highlight, with support for credit cards, PayPal, cryptocurrencies, Amazon Pay, Google Pay and Ali Pay. 

There's a seven-day free trial available for Android, iOS and Mac, and even after signing up, there's further protection from a 30-day money-guarantee.

Surfshark

Surfshark keeps no logs on its users and the service protects your connection with AES 256 encryption and a kill switch

(Image credit: Surfshark)

Privacy and logging

Surfshark's privacy features start with the VPN basics: secure protocols (OpenVPN UDP and TCP, IKEv2), AES-256 encryption, and a kill switch to block internet access and prevent identity leaks if the connection ever fails.

But that's just the start. Surfshark has its own private DNS on each server to reduce the chance of others spying on your activities. And the ability to use a double VPN hop (connect to Paris, say, then leave the Surfshark network in New York) makes it even more difficult for anyone to follow your tracks.

Like ExpressVPN, Surfshark is based in the British Virgin Islands, and the company points out that this means it's not required to keep logs of user actions.

A FAQ page on logging spells this out, stating that Surfshark doesn't collect: 'Incoming and outgoing IP addresses; Browsing, downloading or purchasing history; VPN servers you use; Used bandwidth; Session information; Connection timestamps; Network traffic.'

The only data the company keeps about you is your email address and billing information, the FAQ explains. That works for us.

Surfshark reports that it has passed a security audit by the German Security company Cure53. This is limited to an examination of Surfshark's browser extensions, so can't tell us anything about logging or other back end processes. Still, Cure53 found only two relatively small issues, and concluded that it was 'highly satisfied to see such a strong security posture on the Surfshark VPN extensions, especially given the common vulnerability of similar products to privacy issues.'

On balance, Surfshark appears to be saying and doing the right things, but we'd like more. A detailed privacy policy and a more in-depth security audit would be a good place to start.

Apps 1

Surfshark's windows client will look very familiar to those familiar with other VPNs

(Image credit: Surfshark)

Apps

Getting started with Surfshark was easy. We downloaded and installed the Windows client, chose the signup option, and were even able to select a plan and hand over payment from within the installer, no third-party browser required.

The Windows client interface is more versatile than most, adapting as you resize its window. At its smallest, the client looks much like any other VPN app, with a Connect button, status information and a list of locations. But expand or maximize the client window and it reformats to display new panels and options.

Getting connected is easy. Tap the button, desktop notifications tell you when Surfshark connects and disconnects, and the interface updates to display your new virtual location and IP address.

The Location list has got smarter since our last review. There's now a Favorites system to manage commonly used servers, and server load icons may highlight the best (or worst) choice.

Right-clicking the Surfshark system tray icon displays a miniature app window, rather than the usual basic menu, allowing you to connect to the fastest server, choose one of your most recent locations, or open the full app interface.

Surfshark even includes a MultiHop feature that sends your traffic through two VPN servers for added security

Surfshark even includes a MultiHop feature that sends your traffic through two VPN servers for added security

(Image credit: Surfshark)

A separate MultiHop tab passes your traffic through two VPN servers for maximum security. There are 13 routes available, where the first server is your initial connection (options include USA, UK, Singapore, Germany, France, India, Netherlands and Australia), and the second is where you'll appear to be to the outside world (France, Germany, Hong Kong, Netherlands, Portugal,  Singapore, Sweden, UK, USA.)

A Whitelister panel enables creating whitelists of applications, websites and IP addresses that will bypass the VPN (an equivalent of the split-tunneling feature you'll see with providers like ExpressVPN). If using Surfshark breaks a particular website or app, adding it to the whitelist should solve the problem.

Surfshark's CleanWeb feature blocks ads, trackers and malicious links. We're unsure how effective this might be, though, as in our quick tests we found specialist tools like uBlock Origin blocked more ads and offered more control.

A NoBorders mode aims to help you get online in countries where VPNs are commonly blocked. Surfshark doesn't explain in detail what this does, but presumably it tries to obfuscate your traffic in some way.

More conventional features include options to launch the VPN along with Windows, or change the protocol between OpenVPN UDP and TCP, or IKEv2. But even here there's something new, with beta support for Shadowsocks (an alternative way to direct traffic through an encrypted tunnel, commonly used to bypass internet censorship in China.)

It's not all good news. The Wi-Fi Protection feature which enabled automatically connecting when you accessed untrusted networks has disappeared, for instance-- we don't know why.

You can enable Surfshark's kill switch from the settings menu

You can enable Surfshark's kill switch from the settings menu

(Image credit: Surfshark)

We had some issues with the kill switch, too. Although the client successfully blocked our internet traffic when we forcibly closed the VPN, it didn't display any notification to alert the user. At one point the kill switch blocked traffic only when we were connected, which made the service, well, a little difficult to use.

Surfshark's Windows client isn't perfect, then, but it's generally easy to use and there's a lot of functionality to explore.

Mobile VPN apps are often far more basic than their desktop cousins, but Surfshark's Android offering is surprising similar. There's the same interface, the same location list, multihop connections, CleanWeb's ad and malware blocking, and split tunneling for apps and websites with the Whitelister.

There's the same OpenVPN/ IVEv2 and Shadowsocks protocol support, and a kill switch to protect you if the VPN drops.

The Android app throws in extra features, too: a choice of encryption methods, a 'use small packets' option to improve performance with some mobile networks, and the ability to automatically connect to the VPN when you access mobile, secured or unsecured networks.

And if any of this doesn't work as it should, you can send bug reports, raise or browse tickets from within the app (no need to head off to the website, log in and find whatever page you need.)

Put it all together and this is a very impressive feature set, well implemented and straightforward to use. A nice antidote for anyone tired of underpowered VPN apps, and considerably more than we'd expect from a $1.99 a month VPN.

TestMy.net

We used TestMy.net to measure Surfshark's performance

(Image credit: TestMy.net)

Performance

Surfshark's support for OpenVPN includes providing downloads of configuration files for each of its servers. That's good news if you're planning on manually setting the service up on other platforms which can use them, and it also allowed us to use our automated performance testing software to check out a sample of Surfshark's locations.

There was good news all round. We had no connection failures, connection times were fractionally faster than average, and all servers returned IP addresses for their advertised locations.

UK download speeds were as much as we could expect, at 64-66Mbps on our 75Mbps test line. 

To see how fast Surfshark could go, we also tried measuring performance from a 475Mbps connection in the US. These results were mixed, but Surfshark peaked at a median speed of 110Mbps. That's more than good enough for most connections and devices, but other VPN providers have done much better. Private Internet Access' lowest result across four test runs was 314Mbps, for instance, and it peaked at 452Mbps.

Netflix

Surfshark was able to unblock Netflix in all of our tests

(Image credit: Netflix)

Netflix

If you're tired of VPNs who vaguely hint about their unblocking abilities, but never make any real commitment, you'll love Surfshark. Not only does the company say up-front that it unblocks Netflix [https://surfshark.com/use-cases/unblock-netflix], it also names the 14 countries where it currently works (US, France, Japan, Italy, Australia and more.)

This wasn't just overblown marketing-oriented confidence, either. We were able to access US Netflix from all five of our test locations.

YouTube has only the most basic of geographic protections, so we weren't surprised to find that Surfshark also allowed us to browse US YouTube content.

BBC iPlayer can sometimes be more of a challenge, but not this time. Surfshark bypassed its VPN blocking with ease, giving us access from both of its UK locations.

Surfshark

Surfshark's support site has a number of tutorials on how to get your VPN connection setup

(Image credit: Surfshark)

Support

If Surfshark doesn't work for you, the support site has setup and installation tutorials, troubleshooting guides, FAQs and other resources to point you in the right direction.

While there's a little useful content there, it's mostly related to setup, for example including guides to setting up the service to run on various routers. When we searched for more details on Surfshark's own features, we found most were described in the same one or two lines used on the main website, and others (NoBorders) weren't mentioned at all.

Fortunately, if you have any issues, support is available 24/7 via live chat. We asked a simple question about the missing Wifi Protection feature on the Windows client, and although the chat window opened with a worrying 'Queue position: 3' status, we were talking to a helpful agent within a couple of minutes. Complex connection problems will take longer to fix, probably, but it looks like you won't have to wait long for Surfshark to begin pointing you in the right direction.

Final verdict

Surfshark is a powerful and low-priced VPN with an array of advanced features. There are some issues, too, but the service has seen some major improvements over the past year, and it deserves to be on your VPN shortlist.

  • We've also highlighted the best VPN services of 2019