VPN - short for Virtual Private Network - is a privacy tool that encrypts all your online activities, keeps you more anonymous online, reduces the chance you’ll be tracked online, and even gets you access to watch blocked overseas Netflix and other streaming content.
That may sound all very technical, but VPNs are actually really easy to understand and use. Simply tap the Connect button, and a few seconds later your device is using a secure encrypted connection, keeping you safe and anonymous even on the riskiest of public Wi-Fi.
But with hundreds of VPNs available, finding the best can seem a challenge - so we're here to help. In this article we'll tell you more about how VPNs work, what you can do with them, how to choose a quality service and which services are today's best VPNs.
Best VPN services in 2022 - our top 3
If you're in a rush, here's the three top VPN services as per our most recent tests in April 2022. A more extensive review of all the top options continues below.
1. ExpressVPN - best VPN service in 2022 (opens in new tab)
ExpressVPN offers fast speeds, security smarts, supreme ease-of-use, 24/7 customer support, and even free cloud backup. It's a little pricier than some of the competition, but you can try it for 30-days risk-free to see why we rate it so highly.
2. NordVPN - the biggest name in the business (opens in new tab)
With rapid server speeds, extra privacy perks like 'Double VPN' encryption, and independently audited no-log policy, NordVPN is a very close runner-up. It's jam-packed with features, and, despite the quality on offer, the pricing gets really reasonable if you sign up for a multi-year plan.
3. Surfshark - easy to use VPN that's great value (opens in new tab)
It may not have the same server variety or OpenVPN speeds as the two top VPN services, but Surfshark is still full of features and excellent at unblocking restricted services. At less than $2.50 USD per month it's a reasonably priced option that's super simple to use.
How to choose the best VPN
Finding the perfect VPN starts by focusing on your needs. Having a provider with lots of locations and apps for every platform is a good sign, but all that really matters is it covers the locations and platforms you'll use.
If streaming is top priority, look for a VPN which unblocks your favorite services. And torrent users will want P2P support on as many servers as possible, an effective kill switch to keep their identity secret, and an audited no-log policy to make sure your activities stay private.
Many VPNs limit you to connecting up to a specific amount of devices at the same time. If you've multiple mobiles, laptops, smart TVs and other hardware to protect, go for a provider that supports more simultaneous connections, or maybe has no limits at all.
One of the best ways to spot a good (or bad) VPN is to check its support site. Look for lots of detailed and well-written content, that you feel would help you in tricky situations. Live chat support is welcome, too, though not essential: email support can be surprisingly speedy, with some providers responding in minutes.
And of course, there's price to consider, too, though we'd suggest concentrating on functionality, first - in short, look for a VPN with everything you want. That doesn't have to be expensive - there are some great value deals on this list - and you can always use price later to prune your shortlist down to a final choice.
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Keeping one step ahead of the VPN pack is a huge challenge, but ExpressVPN has everything it takes to lead the way. Strong core features provide all the power and privacy most people need. More advanced features are added all the time, smart design keeps apps supremely easy to use, and professional engineering delivers superb reliability in every area.(opens in new tab)
Servers, connections and apps: ExpressVPN's 3,000+ server total isn't the highest around, but they're spread across a vast 160 locations over 94 countries (compared to Nord's 80 or Surfshark's 65).
Its top quality apps are a highlight, with ExpressVPN not only supporting Windows, Mac, Android, iOS and Linux, but also having the best app for routers, downloads for Chromebooks, Amazon Fire TV and Kindle Fire, and straightforward setup guides for just about everything else.
Note that an Express subscription only offers support for five simultaneous connections, which is lower than what most other premium providers offer - the likes of Surfshark and IPVanish going the whole hog with unlimited connections. But five is likely enough for most subscribers, with our own survey data showing only 1 in 10 VPN users actually use more than five.
Usability: Where ExpressVPN really shines for us, is in its attention to usability details. Most top apps have at least some small irritations - an unsorted list here, wastes time with an extra click there - but Express's developers not only avoid making those mistakes, they come up with smarter workarounds, simplifying tasks and making the whole VPN experience smoother and more straightforward.
Performance: ExpressVPN download speeds peaked at an above-average 630Mbps in our latest rigorous speed tests. That's pretty consistent to our previous two tests, too, so we're confident it's the kind of speed you can realistically expect to achieve. We've seen providers like Hide.me and TorGuard deliver more, but realistically, Express is speedy enough for most users.
Streaming: If you need your VPN to unblock banned websites or bypass streaming hurdles, we've good news: this is yet another area where ExpressVPN excels. Not only did the service unblock a number of international Netflix catalogs, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus and BBC iPlayer in our last tests, it's done the same for a very long time - a strong indicator that it'll keep delivering for the foreseeable future.(opens in new tab)
Features: ExpressVPN goes above and beyond on the features front, with cutting-edge VPN protocols, secure DNS, leak protection, Network Lock, split tunneling and more - all of which we found to work admirably.
There are some unusual but very simple touches, such as a configurable toolbar which launches your favorite apps or websites from the ExpressVPN app (no more fumbling around with your browser or the Windows Start menu). And there's almost always something shiny and new to add to the list on every review, most recently including the tracker and malware-blocking Threat Manager, and a Parallel Connections feature to reduce connection times.
Customer support: There are several factors that make for quality VPN support, and ExpressVPN succeeds with them all. The support site is crammed with clear and detailed articles covering just about every question you might have. They include genuinely useful information; for instance, instead of saying 'try another protocol' to get better speeds, they list all possible protocols in the best-performing order, exactly what you need to know. Smart website organization ensures it's easy to find what you need. There's live chat if the support site can't help, and we found replies to our queries to be speedy, with knowledgeable agents generally doing an excellent job of answering our questions.
Price: ExpressVPN is more expensive than most. You're paying more, but you can also clearly see where the money is going: consistent speeds, new features, regular app updates, reliable unblocking, and genuinely helpful live chat support. TechRadar's special deal also adds some extra value by giving you three extra months for free and a year of unlimited Backblaze cloud backup (opens in new tab) (worth $60 on its own).
Anything else?: It would be remiss of us not to talk about ExpressVPN's rather 'exciting' week in August 2021. First, it announced that it had been acquired by Kape Technologies, the company that owns CyberGhost and PIA below and has a somewhat controversial history. Then a couple of days later it was revealed that its CIO had been fined for previous hacking allegations. TechRadar's view is that neither incident feels particularly major - although we understand why they rattled a few cages in the VPN world - and we don't see any current reason to stop recommending this provider on this basis.
Should you get it: ExpressVPN may not quite top the charts in every single aspect (price being the main bugbear), but it more than delivers for all the most important areas. And what really stands out is the all-round quality and huge attention to detail, ensuring you get a rock-solid and ultra-reliable service which does the maximum possible to protect your privacy online. Our only 5-star VPN service.
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It may have been fractionally edged into second place in our rankings, but there's a huge amount to like about NordVPN. It's fast, immensely powerful, great value, and goes above and beyond to prove its privacy credentials in every area, making the service an obvious choice for your VPN shortlist.
Servers, connections and apps: Nord actually betters ExpressVPN on pure server count, cranking things up to an eye-watering 5,000+. It doesn't cover quite as many countries (60 for NordVPN, 94 for Express), but it's likely NordVPN has servers in all the regions you're likely to need. It allows up to six simultaneous connections, so one better than ExpressVPN but many other providers including Surfshark, and Windscribe and a few others have no connection limits.
A capable set of apps covers you for Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Chromebooks, Android TV and more. Welcome extras include browser extensions for Edge, as well as Chrome and Firefox, and the ability to set up NordVPN on compatible routers allows using the service with just about anything.
Security and privacy: NordVPN has always had plenty of security features, but the company moved into overdrive after its data breach of a few years ago and it’s since added layer after layer of privacy-protecting features and technologies. You don't have to take NordVPN's word on its abilities, either (or even ours), because it now brings in PricewaterhouseCoopers annually to carry out a thorough independent audit of its no-logging policy.
Nord owns and manages many of its servers, for instance, ensuring others can't access them. Apps use only the most secure protocols with strong AES-256 encryption, and they're crammed with high-end privacy features. Double VPN (known as multihop elsewhere) routes your traffic through two servers for extra security, secure DNS shields your browsing, a reliable kill switch protects you even if the VPN fails, and Nord has recently added the ability to scan downloads for malware with its (somewhat limited) Threat Protection feature.
Performance: NordVPN has developed its own custom version of WireGuard called NordLynx. The results are impressive, with connection speeds reaching a well above average 760Mbps in our last review, and a peak of 880Mbps in previous tests. That's not quite the best we've ever seen - a handful of providers have reached 900-950Mbps - but it's still a great performer, with more than enough power for most devices and connections.
Usability: You don't reach number two in our charts by making major usability mistakes, and for the most part, NordVPN is a doozy to set up and operate. But we noticed some small areas where the apps weren't quite as polished as the competition. No Favorites on the Windows app; cities not sorted alphabetically; longer than average OpenVPN connection times; disconnects which take two clicks, instead of one; you get the idea. Minor points, and they don't make these bad apps: generally, they're very good. But we can't ignore these details at this level, either, because they're part of what makes the difference between a good VPN, and a great one.(opens in new tab)
Streaming: NordVPN has traditionally been a very strong tool for unblocking a wide variety of apps and streaming services, including WhatsApp, YouTube, Disney Plus, HBO Max, BBC iPlayer and more. And after some iffy months, we're starting to see it firing on all cylinders once again when it comes to getting you access to global Netflix catalogs.
Features: We've listed some of NordVPN's security features already, but other benefits include strong DNS leak protection, two ultra-reliable kill switches (system-wide and application-specific), and support for paying by crypto as well as PayPal and cards. It's branching out into the internet security suite world, too, with a Dark Web Monitor that alerts you to data breaches, and the recent addition of the virus-scanning, ad and tracker-blocking Threat Protection.
Customer support: It's rare that NordVPN causes us any technical troubles, but if you do run into problems there are plenty of in-depth tutorials and troubleshooting articles (many are available in multiple languages, sometimes eight or more). And there's always the intelligent chatbot and helpful, experienced live chat support on hand 24/7 in case of real emergencies.
Price: NordVPN's monthly-billed plans are a little more expensive than some, but the annual offering is good value for what you're getting. If you're keen on signing up, though, the two-year offer (see below) beats most providers for the first term. If you want to give the service a whirl before you commit, NordVPN provides a 30-day money back guarantee.
Should you get it: NordVPN's apps don't quite have the polish and attention to detail of ExpressVPN, but the margins are tiny. And if raw speed or low prices are your top priorities then it just might be a smarter choice.
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Head to the Surfshark website and the very first thing you'll notice is its market-busting headline price. There really is a spectacular deal here, but don't focus just on the dollars and cents... Surfshark has so much more to offer.
Servers, connections and apps: Surfshark's network has 3,200 servers, not quite as many as some, but with 100+ locations in 65+ countries, there's a very good chance it covers the regions you need. A wide range of apps enables accessing the network from Windows, Mac, Linux, Android and iOS devices, along with Amazon Fire and other smart TVs. And unlike most of the competition, there's no need to keep track of the hardware you've got connected at one time, because Surfshark doesn't have any connection or device limits.
Security and privacy: Surfshark's apps more than cover the VPN privacy basics: secure protocols (WireGuard, OpenVPN), strong encryption, and a kill switch to prevent exposing your traffic if the VPN drops. But that's just the start. The service also uses private DNS to shield your browsing activities, and Multi-Hop VPN to make it even more difficult for others to track you, while ad, tracker and malware-blocking keeps other privacy-busting dangers at bay.
Performance: Speeds haven't been a Surfshark highlight in the past, but we saw a very positive change in the last review, with WireGuard-powered downloads peaking at an excellent 790Mbps. OpenVPN was sluggish by comparison at around 150Mbps. That probably won't be an issue if you're accessing Surfshark from the standard apps (you'll just set them to use WireGuard), but it might affect you if you're installing Surfshark on a router or hoping to use it with a third-party app.
Usability: Surfshark's apps look a little more complex than the competition, with tabs, sidebars and buttons to explore. But that's no real surprise when they have so many features, and with one or two small usability exceptions (the Windows VPN app doesn't sort cities alphabetically), they're simple enough to operate.
What's more, some of Surfshark's features can do a lot to make your life easier. If you only need to use a VPN for browsing, streaming, maybe P2P, set that up in Surfshark's Bypasser and everything else will use your regular connection: simple.(opens in new tab)
Streaming: If you're tired of streaming services preventing you accessing overseas content, Surfshark can help. It immediately got us into US, UK, Australian, Japanese and Canadian Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus and BBC iPlayer. And although we didn't test this, the Surfshark site says it also unblocks "HBO Max, Hulu, DAZN, Hotstar, YLE Areena, AbemaTV" and many more.
Customer support: If you need help setting up Surfshark, or if it's not quite as you expected, the support site is on hand to help. It doesn't quite have the depth we see from the two above providers, but the articles you do get are hugely detailed. Open a 'How to install' guide with some VPNs and you'll get little more than 'go to this app store link and install it as usual.' Do that at Surfshark and you'll get screenshots for every single installation step, detailed guidance on using all the app's main features, links to other relevant articles, even a video tutorial if you'd prefer.
Or if that sounds too much like hard work, you could just open a live chat session. We're usually talking to an agent in a minute or two, and most of our test questions had helpful and accurate replies right away.
Price: While Surfshark's monthly-billed plan is more expensive than most, sign up for the two-year deal and the effective monthly cost comes in at less than $2.50 - that's spectacular value for what you're getting.
Anything else?: Surfshark has begun to roll out Surfshark Nexus, a clever new networking technology which the company says will allow it to add new privacy features, and 'stabilize and speed up your VPN connection.' These features will appear throughout 2022 and 2023, so we can't give any verdict on Nexus, but it's good to see a provider so focused on finding new and innovative ways to improve the service.
Should you get it: A VPN service doesn't make our top three without being an amazing choice, and our small Surfshark niggles are unlikely to put off many potential buyers. This is an excellent VPN, and if price is top of your priority list, it just might be the best choice around.
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Choosing a VPN on price can lead to trouble, because the cheapest VPNs often cut major corners to hit those headline figures. But Private Internet Access (PIA for short) is a rare exception. It somehow manages to offer amazingly low prices, but without compromising on what is a feature-packed premium service.
Servers, connections and apps: PIA more than delivers on the network basics, with a huge 10,000 high-speed servers well distributed across 84 countries. Platform support is more standard (Windows, Mac, Android, iOS and Linux), but the Chrome extension stands out for its cookie-blocking and other bonus privacy tools. Whatever you're using, a generous 10 device limit enables connecting more of your devices to PIA at the same time.
Security and privacy: PIA preserves your privacy by using the highly secure OpenVPN and WireGuard protocols, while its MACE feature keeps ads, trackers and malware at bay. The company has open-sourced its apps, too, allowing interested to check the code and confirm it works as advertised.
The Android app has been certified by the ioXt Alliance, confirming it complies with good industry practice. There's no more widespread service audit, yet, but we hear there's something on the way.
Performance: In our experience, speed is PIA's lowlight, with its average 320Mbps downloads less than half of the top competition. But let's be realistic, too. Although this may be a problem for gaming, downloading or using other speed-critical applications, if you're mostly browsing or streaming, then PIA should be more than fast enough.
Usability: PIA's apps have a huge number of features, and the mass of panels can look cluttered. But unusually, you can configure them to highlight your favorite features and hide everything else. It's the best of all worlds: experts get the power they need, but anyone looking for simplicity can cut the app down to little more than a Connect button.(opens in new tab)
Streaming: PIA’s unblocking performance isn’t quite market leading, but it did score in most areas. The service allowed us to access US Netflix (but not the variety of countries that the likes of NordVPN or Surfshark can), Amazon Prime Video and Disney Plus, though unfortunately it couldn't breach BBC iPlayer's defenses.
Customer support: PIA has a decent support site, and if it can't answer your questions, you're now able to immediately ask a member of the support team via live chat. In our experience, friendly and knowledgeable agents respond within a minute or two, pay close attention to the question, and have the knowledge and experience to diagnose tricky problems and deliver accurate and helpful advice..
Price: If you're impressed by PIA's functionality, then so are we, but what's truly amazing is that all this can be yours for a fraction of the cost of the competition. These aren't headline prices which double on renewal, either like you'll sometimes see elsewhere (Surfshark above, for example); they're just great value.
Anything else? Many providers develop lengthy lists of clever features, but sign up and you discover many are only available on Windows. PIA? Not so much. Its Mac and iOS apps have a host of options and settings, and the Android VPN app is more powerful than some providers' desktop editions.
Should you get it: PIA's below par speeds might be an issue for the most demanding users. But for everyone else, the service delivers a huge amount of power - yet is still very accessible to VPN newcomers - and has some of the best value plans around.
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The best VPNs don't just offer a great service right now; they're always working on improvements, enhancements and clever new features. And that's a perfect description of Proton VPN, whose network, apps, streaming scores, performance, support and more have all seen major leaps forward in recent years.
Servers, connections and apps: Proton VPN's network has exploded in size from a few hundred servers in 14 countries just a few years ago, to a way more competitive 1,750+ servers across 63 countries today. You can access these servers via a wide range of apps, with downloads for Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Linux, Android TV and Chromebook. And a generous ten device limit - more than the likes of Express or Nord - means it's likely you can connect and use all your hardware at the same time.
Security and privacy: Trust is important when you're choosing a VPN provider, and Proton VPN does more than most to reassure you that your privacy is safe in its hands. You can pay anonymously via Bitcoin, even cash. Proton VPN's apps are open-source, allowing anyone to inspect the code, and they've been independently audited, too.
Technical privacy and security features start with strong encryption and the best protocols (WireGuard, OpenVPN and IKEv2.) MultiHop VPN passes your traffic through several VPN servers for extra safety, and a rock-solid kill switch keeps your identity safe if the VPN drops.
Performance: Proton VPN works to maximize performance with support for the speedy WireGuard protocol and some clever low-level technologies of its own, like the VPN accelerator that applies all kinds of ingenious Windows tweaks to optimize your connection.
Our test results saw Proton VPN peak at an impressive 670Mbps for WireGuard (not quite top ten material, but more than fast enough for most people), and a well above average 440Mbps with OpenVPN.
Usability: Proton VPN's apps display their locations on a well-designed map, where you can pan around, zoom in and just click (or tap) to connect. The location list isn't quite as well organized, and the sheer number of features might occasionally confuse newbies, but spend a few minutes exploring and you'll quickly feel at home.(opens in new tab)
Streaming: Proton VPN may focus on its privacy-protecting abilities, but it also knows how to have fun. In our last tests it allowed us hassle-free access to exclusive content from US, UK, Aussie and Canadian Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus and BBC iPlayer. It's probably obvious, but it's worth noting that streaming capabilities only come with Proton's paid-for Plus plan, and not with its free tier.
Customer support: Proton VPN's support site has some overly complicated articles, and although the company has added live chat, agents aren't always available. When you can hold of someone, though, we've found them to offer top-notch advice, and email questions usually get helpful replies within a few hours.
Price: Proton VPN's full-featured Plus plan, with everything we've described here, is relatively expensive. At the time of writing, it costs around $5 a month even with its longer term plan.
Anything else? Want to give some of the features a try? Its market leading free VPN only has 23 servers in three countries but doesn't have any bandwidth limits, making it an excellent way to sample the apps and see how the service works for you.
Proton VPN also offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, but there's a gotcha: you only get a refund for your unused subscription time. Ask for your money after 15 days, for example, and you'll only get 50% of your fee.
Should you get it: Proton VPN isn't cheap, but it's open and transparent, with lots of features and great unblocking abilities. It these are your priorities, too, we'd recommend you take a look.
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With more than a decade of experience in the VPN business, CyberGhost has grown into a top-quality provider with a strong set of features, including some very unusual extras.
The company’s mighty network of around 8,000 mostly torrent-friendly servers is spread across an impressive 90-odd countries, for instance. There are apps for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, Amazon Fire TV and other smart TVs, and Smart DNS support allows you to set it up on games consoles, too.
The apps have some surprising and convenient options. Just one example: you can set up rules to automatically connect when you open specific apps. Launch the Netflix app, for instance, and you could have CyberGhost automatically connect to its US Netflix server. Open your P2P app and it might connect your nearest server, for the maximum speed.
Although the apps are generally very powerful, they have one or two very basic omissions. The Windows app doesn't display a notification when it connects or disconnects, for instance, so unless you're looking at the app window, you won't know for sure when you're connected or if the VPN drops.
Performance: CyberGhost's 'maximum speed' is seriously impressive, with WireGuard connections beating 800Mbps in our most recent tests, and OpenVPN reaching 400Mbps and more, twice the speed of some providers.
Streaming: Streaming proved another highlight, as CyberGhost effortlessly unblocked US Netflix (but without success in catalogs further afield), Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer and Disney Plus. The apps also have specialist locations for streaming Hulu, HBO Max, and more.
Price: Pricing is high for monthly plans, but sub-$2.50 a month if you're willing to commit for three years, exceptional value for what you're getting.
Anything else?: There are a handful of more general service issues: the support site isn't as helpful or detailed as we'd expect from a big-name provider, and we'd really like to see CyberGhost verify its privacy credentials with a no-logs audit.
Should you get it: CyberGhost gets way more than it gets wrong, and if speed and streaming are your top priorities, and you can live with the device limit scheme, then it's well worth a closer look.
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Hotspot Shield is a big-name provider with a capable service which doesn't score in every area, but still has plenty of welcome touches you won't often see elsewhere.
The company's network has a fairly average 1,800+ servers, but they're well distributed across 80+ countries and 115 cities. P2P is supported everywhere, and blocking of malicious and phishing sites is thrown in.
There are apps for Windows, Mac, Android and iOS, but the company doesn't stop there. You'll also find Linux and smart TV apps, a Chrome extension, and support for setting up the service on various routers.
The apps don't have the power of the top competition, and there are lots of unnecessary inconsistences between platforms (annoying if you're using the service on several devices.) But they're easy enough to use, and we noticed some interesting features. Smart VPN enables choosing websites and apps which won't have their traffic routed through the VPN, for instance, ideal for maximizing performance and dealing with sites which don't work as usual when the VPN is on.
Streaming: Hotspot Shield makes it particularly easy to unblock streaming content from overseas. If you're looking to access US Netflix, for instance, most VPN apps expect you to try one VPN location after another until you find one that works. Hotspot Shield has one specialist streaming location per country, and once you connect to that, it just works. We unblocked US Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video and Disney Plus with no hassles at all.
Performance: Hotspot Shield's best feature used to be its performance, but most providers have upgraded to the speedy WireGuard protocol in the past year or two, and Hotspot Shield's custom Catapult Hydra can't keep up. That isn't necessarily a deal-breaker - we saw around 300Mps download speeds, more than enough for most connections and devices - but it's still less than half the speed of most services, and we’d like to see the company address that.
Anything else?: As other providers now increasingly put themselves through regular independent audits (TunnelBear has had its full infrastructure inspected for each of the last four years), we’d like to see Hotspot Shield do the same. It’s a smart way to show transparency, and it would also demonstrate a real commitment to improving the service.
Should you get it: If ease-of-use, top streaming support and the security of buying from a big name are high on your priority l