While the more popular VPN services all have similar features, there are a select few that stand out and set some apart from the others. For the unaware, a VPN – short for Virtual Private Network – is a privacy tool that helps keep you safe and secure when browsing the internet. You can stream geo-restricted content, access websites that would otherwise be restricted and much, much more.
Not all VPNs are created equal! Sure, most will net you the same basic security features, but if you want the absolute safest or the best for outright speed, we've got you covered.
There are literally hundreds of VPN providers from which to choose, but we're here to help take the guesswork out of picking the best VPN for your needs. We'll also help fill you in on how exactly a VPN works, and how to choose the best VPN service for you!
Best VPN services in 2023 - Top 3 picks
We've completed our latest round of extensive VPN testing, and we're ready to fill you in on what's hot and what's not when it comes to security, privacy and streaming online content. If you're looking to get up and running with little to no fuss, here are our picks for the top three VPN services right now.
1. ExpressVPN - best VPN service in 2023 (opens in new tab)
Overall score: 5/5
EDITOR'S CHOICE. ExpressVPN has all there is to offer. From fast speeds to security smarts, supreme ease-of-use to 24/7 customer support — and even free cloud backup. It's a little pricier than some of the competition, but you certainly get what you pay for and can even try it for 30-days risk-free to see why we rate it so highly in our extensive testing.
EXCLUSIVE: Get 3 months free on the 12-month plan (opens in new tab)
2. NordVPN - the biggest name in the business (opens in new tab)
Overall score: 4.5/5
A constant fan favorite, NordVPN offers rapid server speeds, extra privacy perks like 'Double VPN' encryption, and independently audited no-log policy. A very close runner-up to our top pick, NordVPN is jam-packed with features, and, despite the quality on offer, the pricing gets more reasonable if you sign up on a multi-year plan.
3. Surfshark - easy to use VPN that's great value (opens in new tab)
Overall score: 4.5/5
Having upped their speeds recently, Surfshark keeps giving us reason to recommend. It's still full of features and excellent at unblocking restricted services in 99 countries. At just $2.30 USD per month, it's an insanely reasonably priced option that's super simple to use.
How to choose the best VPN
Finding the right VPN starts by focusing on your main needs. Will you be streaming content? Keep yourself safe online? Doing some gaming?
Location: Choosing a provider with many locations as well as apps for every platform is a good start, but all that really matters at the end of the day is if it covers the locations and platforms you'll actually be using.
Features: If streaming movies or TV is a top priority for you, look for a VPN which unblocks your favorite services like Netflix or iPlayer. Torrent users will obviously want P2P support on as many servers as possible, in addition to an effective kill switch to keep their identity secret, and an audited no-log policy to make sure all of your online activities stay private.
Connections: Many VPNs also limit you to connecting a specific number of devices at the same time. If you have multiple mobile devices, laptops, smart TVs or other hardware to protect, you will absolutely want to go for a provider that supports more simultaneous connections – or maybe has no limits at all.
Support: 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 whatever tricky situations you may find yourself in. Live chat support is welcome, too, though not essential. Email support can be surprisingly speedy, with some providers responding in minutes.
Price: And of course, there's cost to consider, too, though we'd suggest concentrating on functionality, first. If price is your only concern, take a look at our list of the best cheap VPNs!
In short, look for a VPN with everything you want to actually do. 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.
The best VPN services for 2023:(opens in new tab)
Get TechRadar's #1 rated VPN risk-free and with 3 months extra free (opens in new tab)
With some recent major network upgrades (1Gbps servers to 10Gbps, 4-core to 20/32), ExpressVPN has everything it takes to lead the way and stay ahead of an insanely strong pack of top VPN providers. Strong core features provide all the power and privacy most people need. It operates 160 locations across 94 countries and reliably unblock nearly everything most users will need. More advanced features are added all the time, its apps are clean and intuitive, and customer service is second to none.(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. Their Mac apps also now run natively on Apple's M1/M2 for maximum performance as well.
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 the Express 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. Its Mac app also now runs natively on M1/M2 silicon, adding much improved performance.
Performance: ExpressVPN download speeds peaked at a somewhat-average 560Mbps in our latest rigorous speed tests. This is down a bit from our previous test (630Mbps), but we're confident it's the kind of speed you can realistically expect to achieve. We've seen other providers more, but realistically, Express is speedy enough for what most users will be doing.
Streaming: If you need your VPN to unblock banned websites or bypass streaming hurdles, we have good news: this is yet another area where ExpressVPN excels. Not only did the service unblock a number of international Netflix catalogs (although sometimes you'll have to try a few different servers before finding one that sticks), 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. Its also expanded to hardware with the Aircove router.
There are some unusual but 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, 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 like what servers are best to use for different streaming services.
Price: ExpressVPN is still more expensive than most other providers. Yes, you're paying more, but you can also clearly see where the money is going: consistent speeds, better features, regular app updates, reliable unblocking, and genuinely helpful live chat support. Plus, you can get 3 months free on a 12-month plan (opens in new tab).
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, with speeds slower than in the past), 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 again, but there's still plenty to love about NordVPN. It's fast (up to 820Mbps from 760Mbps), immensely powerful, remains a significant 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, but it's likely NordVPN has servers in all the regions you're going to need. It allows up to six simultaneous connections, so one better than ExpressVPN, but many other providers including Surfshark and Windscribe 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. The Windows app has usability improvements as well that include a new "raise ticket" screen.
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, 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 still can 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 820Mbps in our latest 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; recents uses only icons, not names; 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 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 strong tool for unblocking a wide variety of apps and streaming services, including WhatsApp, YouTube, Disney Plus, HBO Max, BBC iPlayer, C4, 9Now and more.
Features: Nord has Meshnet, a secure link to devices anywhere in the world through encrypted NordVPN connections. This is another value-added feature to the already extensive list. We've noted 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.
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 of just $3.49/month (opens in new tab) 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. Do note that their renewal prices are a bit above average, however.
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 99+ countries, there's an excellent 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 latest review, with WireGuard-powered downloads peaking at an excellent 950Mbps, up from the 790Mbps of our past testing. 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. The Linux app is now full GUI as well, which is a welcome update.
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, C4, 9Now, and BBC iPlayer.
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 isn't as cheap as some others, sign up for the two-year deal and the effective monthly cost comes in at just $2.30 (opens in new tab) – that's spectacular value for what you're getting in total here.
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 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 a wonderful 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 (blocked 111/150 trackers, 217/1650 brand new malicious links). The company has open-sourced its apps, too, allowing interested to check the code and confirm it works as advertised. There's still no widespread service audit, yet, but we hear there's something on the way.
Performance: In the past, speed wasn't the greatest, but this time around it certainly earns back some points. Our latest testing shows WireGuard speeds up to 450-510Mbps from the 200-250Mbps at last check. But let's be realistic, too. Although speed 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 and be very overwhelming to some users. But unusually, you can configure them to highlight your favorite features and hide everything else you don't care about. It's the best of all worlds: experts get the power they need, while anyone looking for simplicity can cut the app down to little more than a simple connect button.(opens in new tab)
Streaming: PIA’s fit the standard fare of unblocking, the service allowed us to access Netflix in various regions, Amazon Prime Video, iPlayer, C4, 9Now and Disney Plus.
Customer support: PIA has an average 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 insightful advice.
Price: If you're impressed by PIA's functionality, then so are we, but what's truly outstanding is that all this can be yours for a fraction of the cost of the competition. Their monthly plan has jumped up a few dollars, but these aren't headline prices which double on renewal, either — 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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Proton VPN, whose network, apps, streaming scores, performance, support and more have all seen major leaps forward recently, continues to shine in our extensive testing. With a great free plan, open-source apps and wide network coverage, it is still one of the top VPN providers for a number of reasons.
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 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 above-average 510Mbps (down from 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 latest tests it allowed us hassle-free access to 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 still 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 with its longer-term plan.
Anything else? Want to give some of the features a try? Its market leading free VPN now has over 100 servers in three countries and 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 superbly transparent, with plenty of features and great unblocking abilities. It these are your priorities, too, we'd recommend you take a look.
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Windscribe is a capable Canadian VPN with a stack of interesting features, and plenty of appeal for just about every type of user.
Lots of hardware to protect? There are stylish open-source apps for Windows, Mac, Android, iOS and Linux, along with powerful browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Opera. A subscription covers unlimited devices, too, so you can likely connect your entire home with one Windscribe plan.
If streaming overseas content is a priority, you'll love Windscribe's ability to unblock US Netflix, Amazon, Disney Plus and BBC iPlayer. Notably in our latest test we were unable to unblock Netflix Japan, however.
Experts get access to unusual advanced features. Windscribe doesn't just have basic ad blocking, for instance; it can also block trackers, malware, fake news, porn sites and more, and you can configure every detail to get the precise protection you need.
Contrary to our last test, Windscribe's speeds were up to 700Mbps from 490Mbps, pushing them further up in our rankings.
There's no 24/7 live chat support, unfortunately, although you can send emails or use the company's own Subreddit. And although Windscribe has taken a big transparency step recently by open-sourcing its desktop apps, we'd like to see it go further by putting the service through an independent security audit.
Should you get it: Windscribe has some issues, but it is still a significant value, and experts in particular get plenty of interesting features to explore. What’s more, the free plan gives you 10 GB a month and access to all the main features, so if you’re tempted, you can try the service out right now, risk-free, to see what it can do for you.
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IPVanish is a capable VPN which delivers more than you’d expect in several important areas, but also stands a bit lacking in some others. The company doesn’t just rent its 2,000+ servers: it owns them, for maximum control over how they’re managed. There are no device limits, so you can have as many simultaneous connections as you need. And it’s just passed a no-logs audit, a reassuring sign that the company is properly protecting your privacy
The desktop apps stand out for their intuitive and easy-to-use map interface — though it appears to have fewer features than it did in previous testing — while a capable kill switch is on hand to protect you if the VPN drops, and the hyperefficient WireGuard protocol is available on all platforms. IPVanish makes the most of it, too, with blistering test results earning it a place in our top five fastest VPNs.
The service currently unblocks US Netflix (only, we found that it struggles with other territories), BBC iPlayer, C4, ITV, Disney Plus and Amazon Prime Video. No luck with Netflix in Canada or Australia, however.
Although the apps are stuffed with features, we think this can make for a cluttered interface, and the desktop editions have some usability issues. Nothing major, they're just not quite as polished as we'd like.
It's a similar story elsewhere, with IPVanish delivering where it matters in most areas, but with a few small issues just spoiling the effect. WireGuard speeds are lower than before (720Mbps down from 890Mbps) and as we've mentioned, OpenVPN is also below par. Live chat support is ultra-helpful, but the support site can't match the best. And while the prices are fair, you can't pay by Bitcoin.
Should you get it: IPVanish could be a smart choice for anyone who has a lot of hardware to protect and can use its eye-popping WireGuard speeds, at least as long as they're not concerned about the occasional unblocking issue. The 30-day refund period gives you a risk-free way to find out more, but beware, it's for annual plans only: monthly billed users aren't covered.
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CyberGhost has a mighty network of around 7,000-8,000 mostly torrent-friendly servers is spread across an impressive 115 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.
Although the apps are generally powerful, they have one or two very basic omissions. The Windows app still 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.
Streaming proved another highlight, as CyberGhost effortlessly unblocked US Netflix (but unsuccessfully in catalogs further afield), Amazon Prime Video and BBC iPlayer. CyberGhost did fail to unblock Disney Plus and UK Netflix this time around, however. The apps also have specialist locations for streaming Hulu, HBO Max, and more.
CyberGhost's 'maximum speed' is impressive, but notably lower than our previous testing, with WireGuard connections sitting around 730Mbps (down from 850Mbps) in our most recent tests, and OpenVPN reaching 400Mbps and more. Pricing is also a bit 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.
Should you get it: CyberGhost gets way more right than it gets wrong. The support site isn't as helpful or detailed as we'd expect, but 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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Every VPN claims it cares about privacy, but Mullvad goes further than most. You can open an account without handing over any personal details, for instance, then pay by crypto, or even post a cash-stuffed envelope (no, seriously!) ensuring the company knows nothing about you at all.
Mullvad scores for transparency, too, putting its entire infrastructure - apps, servers, websites and more - through comprehensive security audits, and promising to repeat these regularly.
It's not all good news, though. The apps are a little basic in many areas; Mullvad couldn't unblock US Netflix or any of our other test streaming sites; there's no live chat or 24/7 support; its single 5 Euros a month plan is great if you're happy with monthly billing, but there's no discount if you're happy to sign up for longer.
If performance is your top priority, though, Mullvad's 770Mbps (down from 820Mbps at last testing) peak speed is nearly twice some of the competition. Valuable features include port forwarding, reliable kill switch, DNS and IPv6 leak protection, and a variety of stealth options. The apps are top-quality, too, fully leak-free and with a rock-solid kill switch keeping us safe in every situation.
Should you get it: Feeble unblocking and basic support means this isn't a VPN for the average user. High speeds and excellent privacy make Mullvad a solid pick for P2P, though, or for anyone who's looking to maintain the maximum anonymity online.
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Hide.me has more than 2,000 servers across 75+ countries; specialist streaming servers for easier unblocking; support for up to ten simultaneous connections; apps for mobiles, desktops, Amazon Fire TV, Chrome, Firefox, even an extension for Edge; and advanced features such as split tunneling and MultiHop VPN.
The Windows app, in particular, is hugely configurable. The kill switch doesn't just block your internet if the VPN drops, for instance. You can also run a custom script to automatically close some apps, maybe run others, perhaps send yourself an email alert, or do anything else you like.
But Hide.me goes beyond the VPN technologies you've seen elsewhere, to come up with interesting new ideas of its own. Like the company's Bolt, a collection of technical tweaks and customizations designed to ramp up Windows speeds and squeeze the maximum out of your connection.
Hide.me WireGuard connections reached 880Mbps in our tests, putting it in our top three fastest providers. Even OpenVPN consistently reached 450-550Mbps. For streaming, we had success unblocking Netflix nearly everywhere (which isn't a given these days) as well as the likes of Disney Plus, C4, ITV, 9Now, BBC iPlayer in the UK and overseas Amazon Prime libraries.
There are one or two issues which are keeping Hide.me’s score down. It’s a great to see a provider who goes beyond the VPN basics, but instance, but there are so many features, options and settings here that they might be a little intimidating to networking newcomers.
Should you get it: Hide.me could be a good pick for experts who'll use its advanced features, or can make use of its blistering speeds. They are well overdue for an audit as well. But if you don't need that level of power, you'll find simpler, more reliable and better value VPNs elsewhere.
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Tired of complex VPN apps, weighed down with complicated features you'll never use? Canadian-based TunnelBear feels much the same way, and the company has built a VPN service with some of the simplest apps around (and the mobile VPN builds are especially good-looking, too).
There's plenty of good news to report here. Worthwhile app features include GhostBear to help you connect in VPN-unfriendly countries, and a kill switch to protect you if the connection drops. And best of all, while many providers are still taking a 'maybe one day' approach to privacy audits, TunnelBear has its entire service audited every year. If only the rest of the industry were that brave. They've also added support for WireGuard recently, though only for Windows at this time.
Sometimes the company's focus on simplicity goes a little too far in places, and TunnelBear is missing some very common features. There's no PayPal support, for instance. No WireGuard. A very basic support site, with no live chat. It doesn't even offer refunds, although you can at least try out the limited free version before you sign up.
Unblocking results aren't great, either: we go into Disney Plus, Amazon Prime, ITV, C4 and 9Now, but Netflix gave issues across the board, as well as BBC iPlayer. That being said, there's obviously no risk of TunnelBear making our list of best streaming VPNs any time soon.
Should you get it: TunnelBear doesn't have the power, speed or unblocking abilities for demanding users, but if your VPN needs are simple (or you just like its audit-everything transparency) then the service is well worth a look.
Atlas (opens in new tab) is a great VPN in that it's just good at what it does. It's not trying to be the fastest or most secure, but the middle-of-the-road approach gives you a solid provider that will be more than suitable for many people. Everything we tested — speed, unblocking, privacy, support — puts them above-average and helps edge out over some other providers, however not enough to catch the top names.
We were able to unblock US and UK Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, Disney Plus and ITV with relative ease, though at times we hit a few snags (like password issues). Netflix in Australia, Japan and Canada gave us issues, however. We're still a bit weary of unblocking using Atlas, but for now, it does just fine.
With the option to pay in crypto, Atlas also bumped their monthly plan price a bit, meaning there are definitely still cheaper options to be had. Speeds did go up a bit, however, skipping to 780Mbps from 740Mbps. There are also various UI tweaks as well as added and improved content on the support site at the time of testing.
There are some decent downsides along with the above-average perks. A sub-par support site, very basic apps and small (by comparison) network of servers could leave some users wanting more. Some slight omissions, but still has what it needs where it counts.
Should you get it: Overall, Atlas is fine for many users. There is nothing that absolutely stands out from other providers, and things like minimal app features and a small set of servers aren't helping the cause. That being said, if mid-range is your thing, Atlas VPN can get the job done.
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PureVPN is an experienced provider which offers a stack of features for some of the lowest prices around. There are 6,500+ high-speed servers across 78 countries - that puts it in the upper echelons on these counts alone. It has apps for desktops, mobiles, even smart TVs and, with support for 10 simultaneous connections, chances are the whole family can use PureVPN without hitting annoying device limits.
It's reassuring to see PureVPN has had its no-logging credentials verified by an audit, too. Performance is a highlight, with PureVPN managing twice the speeds of some competitors. And it can be seriously cheap, with occasional special deals offering five years' coverage for under $100.
So, why is PureVPN last (but not least) in this chart? App issues play a part. They'll install the Chrome extension by default, perhaps without you noticing. They send crash reports without asking for permission. The kill switch doesn't work in every situation, and they have many differences across platforms, annoying if you're using PureVPN on several.
Where streaming was previously an issue, PureVPN now unblocks Netflix, iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video and Disney Plus with no issues.
Should you get it: if you're on a budget and don't need unblocking, PureVPN will give you a lot for your (minimal) money. But for pure quality, PureVPN can't compete with the best VPNs in the business.
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Hotspot Shield has a fairly average network of 3,200+ servers, but they're well distributed across 80+ countries and 125 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 plenty of unnecessary inconsistencies between platforms, but they're easy enough to use as it stands. 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.
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 Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video and Disney Plus with no hassles at all.
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.
As other providers now increasingly put themselves through regular independent audits, 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 list, Hotspot Shield is still a decent choice. There's a great deal on the three-year plan, and a 7-day trial and 45-day money-back guarantee give you plenty of risk-free time to make up your mind.
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They say there's strength in numbers, and StrongVPN does its best to prove this up-front with some impressive stats. 60,000 VPN IP addresses, support for six protocols, including the super-speedy WireGuard, and you can connect up to 12 devices simultaneously, pulverizing the five-device limit of other providers including our top-rated ExpressVPN.
StrongVPN doesn't have the stamina to keep up this pace, and other areas of the service look more under powered. There's no security audit. There's sometimes a year or more between mobile app updates. And its 450Mbps download speed may be enough for many, but that's half what we see from the likes of Hide.me and TorGuard in our speed testing.
Still, StrongVPN excels in some important areas. If you're looking to stream your favorite services from overseas, we found StrongVPN easily unblocked US Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus and BBC iPlayer. Smart DNS may give you the same unblocking success on games consoles, set-top boxes and smart TVs, too, without installing any apps.
Value is another highlight. Sign up for any plan, even monthly, and you get 250 GB of secure cloud storage from the backup and file syncing service SugarSync, a bonus worth around $10 a month all on its own.
Should you get it: StrongVPN is a smart choice if you're looking to stream content from overseas, or have a lot of hardware to protect, especially if you'll use the 250 GB cloud storage.
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IVPN may be the smallest VPN on this list, but its open and transparent approach earns the service a lot of credit. Just look at the website: there's no pushy marketing, just realistic details on the service, the people who run it, their ethics and what they believe.
Actions are more important than words, of course, but IVPN scores here, too. Its apps and website are open source, allowing anyone to see what it's doing, and annual security audits check the company is living up to its privacy promises.
There's a big anonymity plus in IVPN's Mullvad-like ability to create an account without needing your email address or any other personal details. (For bonus invisibility, you can pay by Bitcoin, too.)
Streaming is a disappointment. IVPN couldn't unblock Netflix, Amazon Prime Video or any of our test services. But performance is excellent, with IVPN's peak 810Mbps downloads earning it a place in the top ten fastest around right now. And although the apps have some small usability issues, they're reliable, with plenty of worthwhile features on both the desktop and mobile editions.
Should you get it: IVPN's network is tiny, and its full-featured Pro plan is more expensive than most. But if privacy is more important than price, and you don't need unblocking, this polished and professional service could be ideal.
How we test VPNs: our methodology
After signing up for a plan, we install and try out the Windows, Mac, Android and iOS VPN apps. The Windows app sees the most testing, as we check the kill switch, look for data leaks and generally confirm everything works as advertised. But we'll explore all the apps, try common tasks, use different protocols and settings, test any special features and assess usability.
We measure VPN speeds from a US home and a UK data center with a 1Gbps connection. Every VPN has its speed checked at least 120 times across two sessions, using different protocols, speed test websites and tools, and we take the average of the best session as the provider's peak speed.
A good VPN should be able to unblock multiple streaming services. To check this, we try to access geo-exclusive content at Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus and unblocking BBC iPlayer, repeating the test from three different locations to get an idea of how the service performs in real life.
We might carry out all kinds of other tests, depending on the circumstances. If an app's behaving suspiciously, for instance, we don't just trust our gut feelings: we'll view the contents of its RAM, maybe even decompile and browse its source code to find out what's going on.
Want more details? We have a full explainer on our VPN testing methodology - just click the link.
How VPNs work
A VPN prevents others snooping on your internet activities by routing web traffic through a secure connection to its own server.
That is, instead of communicating directly with a website, like this:
Your device <<<------>> Website
Your traffic goes first to the VPN server, then on to the website, back to the VPN server and then to you, like this:
Your device <<<------>> VPN server <<<------>> Website
If a passing hacker, a malicious Wi-Fi hotspot or even your ISP tries to monitor what you're doing online, all they'll see are connections from your device to the VPN server. And with strong encryption scrambling your traffic, snoopers won't be able to see as much as the sites you're visiting, let alone what you're doing when you get there.
Although this is a big privacy plus, there's a potential catch. Encrypting and decrypting your traffic, and routing it through an extra server, is a lot of extra work, and it's likely your internet speeds will drop a little.
The top providers keep any performance cut to a minimum, though, by using well-designed apps and the most efficient protocols (the rules a VPN app and server use to transfer data)' We regularly see the best VPNs reach 800Mbps and more, so if you choose your provider carefully, you may not even notice any difference in speed.
What is the best VPN for 2023?
Currently, ExpressVPN tops our list of the best VPN (opens in new tab). The reasons are many (and explored in depth in this article) but in short it's because it delivers reliable, fast server connections; is jam-packed with security smarts; is a joy to use whether on desktop, mobile or other devices; has a proven track record of unlocking blocked websites and streaming services; and in the unlikely event you do run in to difficulties, has fantastic, human customer support available 24/7.
You can try it out for 30 days risk-free thanks to its completely no-quibble money-back guarantee. And when you sign up for an annual plan now, it also throws in a whole year of secure, unlimited cloud backup - courtesy of Backblaze.
What can I use my VPN for?
VPNs are surprisingly easy to use and despite all the technical-sounding terms, they bring all kinds of benefits to even the greenest of network newbies.
Staying safer and more anonymous online
Accessing public Wi-Fi can pose all kinds of dangers, for instance, from snoopers monitoring your internet traffic to malicious hotspots redirecting you to dangerous websites. Connect to a VPN with one tap and your traffic is encrypted, ensuring no-one else can see or interfere with your browsing. It's also the reason why so many people use VPNs for torrenting.
Some networks block access to YouTube, social media or other sites they'd rather you didn't access. Use a VPN and the network can't see which sites you're visiting, so isn't able to block you, and you're free to browse wherever you like.
Getting around government censorship
China and other privacy-unfriendly governments try to block some websites countrywide. Connecting to a VPN first may get you access, although this doesn't work in every case: China, in particular, works hard to detect and block VPNs - only the best China VPNs can surpass the Great Firewall of China.
Ever seen an 'unavailable in your region'-type error on a streaming site? Many sites block access if you're not in an approved country. But if, say, you connect to a VPN server in New York, then you can often access US-only content, even when overseas. That's really handy if you want to watch TV shows and movies that you are only streaming on overseas services, or you wish to watch a live sporting event that isn't being broadcast where you are. VPNs for Netflix are particularly popular and have helped lead the explosion of the software's growth lately, while they're also handy for watching BBC iPlayer from abroad.
Avoid cookie-based price manipulation
The ability to appear as though you're in another country has other advantages. Hotels, airlines tickets and many other goods and services can be priced very differently around the world. If your region is towards the costly end of the spectrum, appearing to be from somewhere else can bring you real savings, and might repay the cost of the VPN all on their own.
Even without these specific advantages, browsing with a VPN brings assorted privacy benefits. It's more difficult for websites and advertisers to track you, for instance, and with the VPN's strong encryption shielding your activities, even your ISP won't be able to see or log your browsing history.
How do I get the best VPN?
Once you've taken your pick from the best VPN for you from the list above, the next stage is easy. Click on the link to the one you like and follow the easy steps on site to sign up, using the payment method you're most comfortable with - some even let you pay with cryptocurrency these days.
Going for a longer-term subscription will save you money in the long run, but one thing to note - even though the prices will be described in monthly terms, you'll still have to pay for the full amount up front.
Once signed up, you can download the clients and apps on whatever devices you want to use your new VPN on. So for mobile, get yourself over to the App Store or Play Store, download, and you'll be connected in seconds.
Once installed, you can then get extensions added to your chosen web browser, and go about adding functionality to your various devices. That includes your computer and mobile phone of course, but also your games console, tablet, TV streaming devices - even your internet router.
When is the best time to buy a VPN?
The short answer here is that there isn't any one perfect time. You can mostly guarantee that there will always be great VPN deals available all year around.
Yes, most providers have now caught the Black Friday bug, and so there tend to be some eye-catching prices around November and December. But the likes of NordVPN, Surfshark and PIA frequently have discounts here and extra free months of use there.
Which VPN is fastest?
It's a well-trodden sales technique for VPN providers to claim that they have the fastest speeds - but they clearly can't all be the fastest. That's why we test the speeds on offer from all the top VPNs across different global servers and on a variety of protocols.
Below are the speed results for the top VPN services, during our latest test in late 2022:
|WireGuard (or Proprietary)||OpenVPN|
|PureVPN||180-640 Mbps||120 Mbps|
Paid VPNs vs free VPNs: which should I get?
There are all kinds of features to look for when you're choosing a VPN, but one word attracts more attention than the rest of them put together: 'free.' And it's easy to see why. Who wants to pay $50-$100 up-front when you can apparently get the same service from a freebie?
The problem: it won't be anything like the same service. Running a good VPN is expensive, with fast servers to run, skilled developers to create and update reliable apps, and an expert support team on hand 24/7 to help you out when required. None of this comes truly for free.
What you'll usually get is a basic app, maybe not updated in years, connecting to slow servers, then drowning you in ads, exposing you to the very same privacy risks that you hoped a VPN would block.
Some free services go much further. We've seen one which sends screenshots of your device back to the developer, allowing it to see the sites you're visiting and the apps you're using. Not much privacy protection, there.
That doesn't mean freebies are always bad. If you just need one to unblock a streaming site, then you might not care if it displays ads when you connect and disconnect. But our advice would be not to use them all the time, or for anything privacy-critical. It's not worth the risk, especially when you can sign up with a quality paid service for $2-$3 a month. And if you do end up going down the free route, be sure to check out our list of the best free VPNs before you go and download one.
Are VPNs legal?
VPNs are legal in North and South America, Western Europe, Oceania and most of the rest of the world, but in some countries it's a far more complicated story.
China and Russian don't ban VPNs entirely, for instance, but they only allow you to use government-appointed providers. To encourage you, they've also banned just about everyone else: Russia's latest banned list includes ExpressVPN, NordVPN, Proton VPN, IPVanish and more.
Turkey similarly hasn't tried to ban all VPNs, but it might block access to the sites or servers of providers that don't follow its rules. UAE and Oman have laws which might get you into trouble in some VPN-related situations. Iraq, North Korea and Turkmenistan are more extreme and ban VPNs entirely.
It's a complex area, where the situation might change at any time as countries introduce new laws. It's unlikely you'll get into big trouble for, say, accessing Twitter from a foreign hotel room - repressive governments get enough flak over free speech issues already, without attracting more - but it can't be ruled out entirely. "But I didn't know" isn't a strong defense, though, so if you're travelling somewhere you might run into trouble, be sure to do a little research before you go, find out what you can do and what you can't.