The Best VPNs of 2020

Our experts did the heavy lifting of testing out dozens of VPNs, and these services worked best.

By
&
Aliza VigdermanGabe TurnerChief Editor
Last Updated on Oct 19, 2020

We’ve all thoughtlessly joined a public Wi-Fi network before, whether it’s standing in line for coffee and checking our emails, hopping onto the subway’s public network to see if it was still raining or logging into the library’s Wi-Fi to catch up on some work. But browsing the web on public Wi-Fi networks is not the safest practice when it comes to digital security. It actually makes it much easier for hackers to access your device, which could lead to some of your sensitive information being stolen, like usernames, passwords, bank account information, and so on. Fortunately, VPNs encrypt your web traffic in a tunnel and replace your IP address, making it safe to join public Wi-Fi networks. We’ve tested out dozens of VPNs for their speed and security, and here are our top recommendations.

Our Top Picks

Best Overall

ExpressVPN

Editor's Rating
9.5
/10
With high speeds, a strict no-logging policy, and split tunneling, we enjoyed accessing public and private networks at the same time with ExpressVPN. Plus, it has excellent apps for iOS and Android devices, plus Netflix access to boot.

Best Encryption

NordVPN

Editor's Rating
9.4
/10
Based in Panama, NordVPN can never be forced to hand over our data, and they don’t log any web traffic or activity. With solid apps for both iOS and Android devices and Netflix access, NordVPN more than cuts it as a VPN.

We test all of our VPNs on multiple devices to see how they perform in terms of both speed and security. We’re also looking at the company behind the VPN; we want the companies to be based in areas outside of the jurisdiction of Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and 14 Eyes, meaning that they can never be legally forced to hand over customer data. We also read each company’s privacy policy to see what customer data they keep and whether or not it’s shared with third parties. Finally, we test out the VPN’s apps on both iOS and Android, as well as review their customer support system. In a nutshell? We do all the hard work so you can just download a VPN and be protected!

The Best VPN Service for 2020

Comparison of the Best VPNs

System
ExpressVPN
NordVPN
Surfshark
CyberGhost
IPVanish
Private Internet Access VPN
TunnelBear
Windscribe VPN
Encrypt.me
Hotspot Shield
Ranking2nd3rd4th5th6th7th8th9th10th
Ratings 9.4/10
Best Encryption
9.2/10
Best for Torrenting
9.1/10
Best for Mac
9.0/10
Best for Android
8.9/10
Best for Windows
8.8/10
Best Free VPN
8.7/10
Best With Double Hop
8.6/10
Best for Unlimited Devices
8.6/10
Best for Netflix
Monthly Plan$11.95 and Up$11.95 and Up$12.99 and Up$10.00 and Up$9.99 and Up$9.99 and Up$9.00 and Up$9.99 and Up$12.99 and Up
Contract Length1 - 36 Months1 - 24 Months1 - 36 Months1 - 12 Months1 - 24 Months1 - 12 Months1 - 12 Months1 - 12 Months1 - 24 Months
Split TunnelingNoYesNoYesYesAndroid OnlyYesAndroid OnlyNo
NetflixYesYesYesYesNoNoUS & UK OnlyNoYes
TorrentingYesYesYesYesYesYesYesNoYes
IP AddressesDynamic, shared or dedicatedDynamic or staticStatic, sharedDynamicDynamicDynamicStatic, sharedDynamicDynamic
5 Eyes, 9 Eyes and 14 Eyes MemberNoNoNoNoYesYesYesYesYes
Read ReviewNordVPN ReviewSurfshark ReviewCyberGhost ReviewIPVanish ReviewPrivate Internet Access VPN ReviewTunnelBear ReviewWindscribe VPN ReviewEncrypt.me ReviewHotspot Shield Review

A Detailed List of the Best VPNs

  • 1. ExpressVPN - Best VPN Overall

    Editor's Rating
    9.5
    /10

    It’s no big surprise that most of our digital security expert team members have iPhones; after all, we’re young and live in Brooklyn, where we’re constantly joining public Wi-Fi networks. ExpressVPN easily connected us with fast speeds, and with a kill switch, if our connection was lost, we were still protected. Aside from our iPhones, ExpressVPN also worked quite well on our Mac and Windows computers, and best of all, we could be on public and private networks at the same time, which came in handy when we were multi-tasking, which is pretty much all the time.

    What We Like
    • No data retention laws
    • Great app ratings
    • Netflix access
    • Fast speeds on Windows
    What We Dont Like
    • No phone support
    • Slow speeds on Mac
    • Five simultaneous connections per subscription
    • No browser extension for Internet Explorer

    OpenVPN

    When it comes to VPN software, OpenVPN is the gold standard, a crowdsourced option that’s being constantly updated to avoid surveillance. ExpressVPN defaults to OpenVPN, which required us to download third-party software. We agree with ExpressVPN when they say it’s the “ideal combo of speed, security, and performance”!

    Strict Logging Policy

    Of course, ExpressVPN didn’t keep our web traffic or activity, which is the most basic thing we expect from VPNs meant to give us privacy. But they also didn’t keep much more of our information than necessary; they only knew which app and version we used, when we used it, the server we connected to, and the amount of data we transferred in MB. Our traffic, metadata, and DNS queries weren’t logged, thankfully.

    Split Tunneling

    Sometimes when we were working, we had to be on a private and a public network simultaneously. With most VPNs, that meant switching off the connection when we had to access files on the public network, but that wasn’t the case with ExpressVPN. That’s because they have split tunneling, which let us access both networks simultaneously. Some of our traffic went through ExpressVPN’s encrypted tunnel, while some connected with the Internet directly like usual. We loved the convenience of split tunneling, which prevented us from having to do too much toggling.

  • 2. NordVPN - Best Encryption

    Editor's Rating
    9.4
    /10

    NordVPN has over eight million customers around the world making it one of the most popular VPNs, so we were excited to test it. Overall, it performed swimmingly; we used to it torrent films and watch TV on Netflix with pretty insignificant slowdowns. Plus, we love that NordVPN is based in Panama, a non-member to Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and 14 Eyes. Legally, the company can never be forced to hand over data, so NordVPN is a great choice for those concerned about privacy.

    What We Like
    • Non-member to Five Eyes, Nine Eyes and 14 Eyes
    • Netflix access
    • Strict logging policy
    • High app ratings
    What We Dont Like
    • No split tunneling
    • Static IP addresses
    • Hard to reach customer support
    • Kill switch doesn’t shut off all applications with iOS app

    Netflix Access

    We loved watching Netflix from other countries on NordVPN; did you know that the TV shows and movie options are different depending on where you watch? NordVPN let us watch Netflix on Linux, Mac, or Windows computers. Or, if you want to watch on the go like we did, do so on Android or iOS devices; it also works on smart TVs and TV devices. But note that Netflix only works on servers from the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, or Japan, so it may not work for all users.

    Double The Encryption

    In our full NordVPN review, we go deep into its encryption methods. One of the things we liked most about NordVPN is its use of double-VPN, meaning that our web traffic was encrypted not once but twice through multiple servers. This is ideal for anyone super-concerned about privacy; activists, bloggers, journalists, or anyone working in a place filled with surveillance and censorship, we’re talking to you!

    Low Prices

    When we were testing out NordVPN, we signed up for a month, which cost us $11.95. However, if we signed up for longer, we could’ve unlocked some amazing discounts. The monthly rates if we signed up for one year, two years or three years would’ve gone down to only $6.99, $3.99, or $2.99, respectively. That’s discounts of up to 75%! It pays to commit long-term, in sum.

  • 3. Surfshark - Best VPN for Torrenting

    Editor's Rating
    9.2
    /10

    Surfshark made it easy for us to torrent and download movies and TV shows without fear of retribution. With unlimited devices per subscription, this VPN gave us a different IP address every time we connected, which makes tracing much harder; however, if we wanted to stick with the same IP address, that was an option as well. In addition to that, Surfshark is based in a country that’s a non-member to Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and 14 Eyes, and it allows for Netflix in addition to torrenting.

    What We Like
    • Based in Virgin Islands outside of surveillance alliances
    • Unlimited devices per subscription
    • Low costs with one or two-year subscriptions
    • 30-day trial period
    What We Dont Like
    • No phone support
    • Have to set up kill switch manually on Windows
    • Only about 1,000 servers
    • Not the fastest

    Virgin Islands Location

    Based in the Virgin Islands, Surfshark will never be forced to hand over customer data, as these islands aren’t members of Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and 14 Eyes. Although they’re a territory of the United Kingdom, the Virgin Islands are self-governed and have their own laws. Plus, they have no data retention laws of their own, and surveillance isn’t legal, even when it’s the government. It sounds like the perfect place to start a VPN company, in our humble opinion!

    International Servers

    While we only connected to Surfshark from the good old U.S of A, they have options in over 60 countries, from Vietnam to Albania. In the U.S, there are servers in over 20 cities, including L.A, Chicago, Dallas, Boston; you get the picture. The closer we were to the server, the better our connection would be, so when it came to server locations from Surfshark, we were more than satisfied.

    Streaming Services

    It’s no secret that we love streaming, and what was awesome about Surfhsark is that we didn’t have to try out a bunch of different servers to stream on different platforms. Let us give you an example. We were dying to watch National Treasure on Disney +, for obvious and Nick Cage-related reasons. Normally with VPNs, we have to try connecting from a few different servers before we find one that the streaming service hasn’t blocked, but Surfshark actually did that work for us, automatically finding the right server for the right streaming service. Aside from Disney +, we also streamed from Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, Spotify, and Youtube, although the VPN works with even more services.

  • 4. CyberGhost - Best VPN for Mac

    Editor's Rating
    9.1
    /10

    CyberGhost has over 5,500 servers in 90 different countries, so although we only tested it out in the United States, wherever in the world you are, you probably won’t have trouble connecting either. The company is based in Romania, not a member of those international surveillance networks we keep mentioning; plus, Romania as a country has almost no data retention laws of its own, making CyberGhost a great pick for privacy.

    FYI: CyberGhost doesn’t have split tunneling, so if you’re connected, you’ll only be able to access private and not public networks.

    What We Like
    • Non-member to Five eyes, Nine Eyes and 14 Eyes
    • Great customer support
    • Affordable costs
    • Thousands of servers around the world
    What We Dont Like
    • Logging policy
    • No split tunneling
    • Static IP addresses
    • Slow performance on Windows

    Military-Grade Encryption

    CyberGhost uses AES-256, which is the current industry standard when it comes to encryption. Whenever we connected, we got an anonymous IP address that we shared with other CyberGhost users on the same server. Combined with the encryption, we felt confident that our identities were hidden when we used CyberGhost to browse the Internet.

    Discounts Available

    We’re always looking for a great deal, which is why CyberGhost appealed to us greatly. While we signed up for a month for $12.99, a pretty standard price compared to other VPNs, we could’ve signed up for one, two, or three years. With these plans, our monthly rates would’ve gone down to $5.99, $3.69 or $2.75, respectively, which is pretty incredible. Each subscription let us connect to seven devices with unlimited data. Not too shabby!

    Great Customer Support

    We’ll be honest with you: most VPN companies seriously skimp when it comes to customer support, with few options available and unresponsive agents. However, CyberGhost doesn’t fit the mold in that respect. With 24/7 live chat, we got answers in just a few seconds, that is, if we couldn’t find what I was looking for in their extensive blog and FAQs.

  • 5. IPVanish - Best VPN for Android

    Editor's Rating
    9.0
    /10

    IPVanish worked really well on our Android devices, with strong encryption methods, great download speeds, and split tunneling, which really helped us out when we were working from home. Plus, unlike many other VPN companies on the market, IPVanish has really fantastic customer support, available 24/7 over email, phone, or live chat. This is a rarity, as most VPNs only have email support for a limited number of hours per week.

    What We Like
    • Fast download speeds
    • Torrenting
    • Split tunneling
    • Up to 10 simultaneous connections
    What We Dont Like
    • History of sharing customer logs
    • Based in United States
    • Not all servers work with Netflix
    • Slow speeds on Windows

    Kill Switch

    While a kill switch doesn’t sound pleasant, it’s actually a pretty essential part of a VPN. We used IPVanish at the library one day, and when the VPN failed, all of our Web windows were closed automatically, ensuring that our IP address and web traffic weren’t exposed. This was a lot better than the alternative, although we had to reopen the windows that were “killed”. But when we were downloading large files and didn’t want to be interrupted even if the VPN failed, we simply turned the kill switch off.

    Robust Customer Service

    IPVanish also wins when it comes to helping customers with problems. Not only do they have 24/7 live chat and a comprehensive FAQ section, but also a phone line, a huge rarity for VPN companies. We got responses within five minutes, and other customers had similar experiences according to reviews on Amazon and Trustpilot.

    User-Friendly iOS App

    We’re constantly on public Wi-Fi networks on our iPhones, so we liked connecting to IPVanish from their iOS app. Connecting was super easy and intuitive, and we didn’t experience any bugs or glitches. Other IPVanish iPhone-users seemed to agree with us, as the app has a 4.5 rating from over 42,000 reviews.

  • 6. Private Internet Access - Best VPN for Windows 

    Editor's Rating
    8.9
    /10

    If you have a Windows computer, look no further than Private Internet Access. We got really fast speeds when we tested it out on our Vivobook, but it also has great apps for iOS and Android devices. Plus, we were satisfied with their privacy policy, which is super strict. The company has never even been asked to hand over user data, not that they would have any to hand over even if they were. According to the founder, “We don’t log, period”. However, the company is based in Denver, so that’s something to keep in mind, as the United States is a Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and 14 Eyes member.

    What We Like
    • Strict logging policy
    • Fast on Windows
    • High app reviews
    • Netflix access
    What We Dont Like
    • Based in United States
    • So-so customer support
    • No split tunneling
    • Slow on Mac

    Encryption Options

    Most VPNs didn’t give us many choices when it came to encryption methods, authentication modes, and handshakes, but Private Internet Access actually let us customize how their VPN worked. We had four options: the default, recommended protection, an option that was more focused on speed, an option more focused on security, and an option with no authentication whatsoever. While we went with the recommended option, we could see the other options being useful if we weren’t concerned about speed or security.

    Dynamic IP Addresses

    We got a new IP address every time we connected to Private Internet Access, which is definitely preferred over static IP addresses. That made us harder to trace, ensuring our anonymity online. Think of it like wearing a mask; if you wore the same mask every time, people would eventually start to catch onto your identity. With Private Internet Access, we got a fresh new mask every time we logged on, which kept any potential hackers guessing.

  • 7. Tunnelbear - Best Free VPN

    Editor's Rating
    8.8
    /10

    Tunnelbear’s free subscription option gave us 500 MB of data on five different devices. While this wasn’t enough data for us to watch TV or listen to music, it certainly did the job for our basic web browsing, and if we wanted to upgrade, there were affordable monthly and yearly plans. With the yearly plan, we would’ve gotten an unlimited amount of data across five devices for only $59.88, or $4.99 a month if you break it down monthly. Plus, we love the fact that a third party has audited Tunnelbear, as it means they’re serious about their no-logging policy.

    What We Like
    • Free version available
    • Great apps for iOS and Android
    • Trustworthy logging policy
    • Audited by independent third party
    What We Dont Like
    • Based in Canada
    • Disappointing customer support
    • No Netflix access
    • Torrenting only available on Android devices

    High Speeds on Mac

    While we test our VPNs out on both Mac and Windows computers, we use Macs almost exclusively during our day-to-day operations. That’s why we were fans of TunnelBear; compared to when we weren’t connected to the VPN, we saw our download speeds decrease by 45% and our upload speeds decrease by 15%, better than average. It’s a fact that every VPN slowed our Internet down at least a little, but Tunnelbear performed better than most on our Macbook Pro.

    Plans for Personal and Business Use

    Most VPN plans are targeted at individuals, but Tunnelbear also has an option for teams, with discounted prices per user. Compared to the price per user in the monthly plan, the team price per user is only $5.75 a month compared to $9.99. If you opt to pay yearly, that price is only $69 per user, making Tunnelbear a great option for either businesses or even families. All paid plans include unlimited data on up to five devices per user, which was more than enough for us personally.

    Solid Encryption Methods

    We don’t want to bore you with the technicalities, but when we took a look at TunnelBear from the back-end, we were satisfied with its encryption methods, AES-256, as well as its data authentication with SHA256. Plus, Tunnelbear uses what’s called the Diffie-Hellman Exchange, commonly abbreviated as DH, which is a method of sending cryptographic keys over a public network. This option worked whether we tested out Tunnelbear on our Windows computer, Mac computer, iPhone, and Android, although it was most secure on our Android phone.

  • 8. Windscribe - Best VPN with Double Hop  

    Editor's Rating
    8.7
    /10

    Windscribe is one of the only VPNs we’ve reviewed with a double hop, which means that our web traffic was encrypted multiple times as opposed to once.  It performed really well on our Vivobook, plus, there’s a free option in the United States, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, and other places. However, only servers in the U.S and U.K allow for Netflix use; well that worked for us, those outside of these countries shouldn’t choose Windscribe if they’re looking to Netflix and chill.

    What We Like
    • Multi-hop encryption
    • Free subscriptions in certain countries
    • Quick speeds on Windows
    • Great app ratings
    What We Dont Like
    • Canada-based
    • Slow on Macs
    • Netflix only available in the United States and the United Kingdom
    • Logging policy isn’t as strict as it could be

    Free and Affordable Options

    They say the best things in life are free, and Windscribe is one of them. We could actually use their VPN without paying anything, so long as we connected to servers in the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Romania, Norway, Switzerland, or Hong Kong. For the rest of their more than 40 countries, the cost starts at just $9 a month or $49 a year, which comes out to $4.08 a month. All in all, Windscribe won’t break the bank no matter which option you go with.

    Digital Security Bonus Features

    We paid for a subscription from Windscribe, which meant that we didn’t just get a VPN; we also got some other helpful digital security features, like a blocker for ads, trackers, and malware. We also got unlimited data and the ability to configure our generator to our needs. This was more than worth the $9 a month we paid!

    Great Apps for iPhones and Androids

    Windscribe’s apps for iOS and Android only took us a few seconds to download and connect. It was easy to choose our server, and we enjoyed the app’s clean interface. Clearly, we weren’t the only ones that were satisfied with Windscribe’s app

  • 9. Encrypt.me - Best VPN with Unlimited Devices

    Editor's Rating
    8.6
    /10

    One of the lesser-known VPNs, Encrypt.me’s subscriptions start at only $2.99 per month for 5 GB of data or $9.99 a month for unlimited data. No matter which plan you choose, you’ll be able to use as many devices as you want on your Encrypt.me subscription. For us, this meant testing it out on a Windows Vivobook, Macbook, iPhone, and Android with no issues. We also like that they have an option for week-long passes, which we haven’t seen from any other VPN. Encrypt.me’s drawbacks are mostly privacy-related; they’re U.S-based with a logging policy that keeps customer data for 16 days before deleting it. However, if privacy isn’t a huge concern and affordability is, Encrypt.me is a fantastic choice.

    What We Like
    • Unlimited devices per subscription
    • User-friendly apps
    • Plans for individuals and families
    • Dynamic IP addresses
    What We Dont Like
    • No Netflix
    • No torrenting
    • Kill switch only on iOS, MacOS and Android
    • United States-based

    Mini Subscription Option

    Sometimes people only need VPNs for a limited amount of time, and if that’s the case, you’ll appreciate Encrypt.me’s Mini subscription option. For only $2.99 a month, it would have given us up to five GB of data, which may be enough for some activities like doing a quick web search on a coffee shop’s network. Encrypt.me also offers a week-long pass, which costs $3.99, and options for families of up to five people, costing either $12.99 a month or $149.99 per year with unlimited data.

    Solid Mobile Applications

    We tested out the Encrpt.me app on our iPhones and Androids, although it also works on FireOS, Windows, and macOS. All we had to do to connect was to push a big button, so easy that even less tech-savvy people could do it. We weren’t the only ones who liked Encrypt.me’s app, as it has a 4.5 rating on the Apple store and a 3.9 on the Google Play store. Plus, we could sign up for a week, month, or year-long passes in the app itself as opposed to having to go onto the desktop or mobile site, which was convenient.

    OpenVPN

    Encrypt.me uses the open-sourced VPN software OpenVPN on Macs and Androids. This created secure tunnels to hide our web traffic, combining speed with security and 256-bit encryption. Plus, we could configure Encrypt.me as we desired, choosing from the L2TP, PPTP, IKEv2/IPSec, or SSTP protocols.

  • 10. Hotspot Shield - Best VPN for Netflix

    Editor's Rating
    8.6
    /10

    When it came to Netflix-watching parties, Hotspot Shield had us covered with fast speeds on our Mac and Windows computers. We also didn’t experience huge delays or lags on Netflix when we used the app on our Android devices, which came in handy during commutes. Plus, Hotspot Shield has a free option for those that don’t want to spend money on a VPN; however, you’ll be limited to a daily data cap of 500 MB, which may make watching movies and TV shows on Netflix and other streaming services a bit difficult. We went with the monthly plan, which cost us $12.99 a month, although there were cheaper options if we had signed up for one or two years.

    Money Saver: To get discounts, sign up for long term-lengths; typically, one or two-year subscriptions are cheaper than monthly plans.

    What We Like
    • Fast speeds
    • Free option
    • Netflix access
    • Torrenting access
    What We Dont Like
    • Five simultaneous connections
    • Based in U.S.
    • Unresponsive customer support
    • Keeps IP address

    Regular Transparency Reports

    Clearly, we don’t love the fact that Hotspot Shield is based in the United States. However, we were impressed that they have annual transparency reports to prove that they don’t hand over customer data, even when asked. In 2019, for example, they were asked to hand over users’ data 56 different times, refusing every time. Clearly, Hotspot Shield is dedicated to protecting users’ privacy, and their transparency reports prove that.

    Free VPN for Android

    They say that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, but with Hotspot Shield, there is a free option that works on Android. It has a bandwidth limit of 500 MB daily, which means it’s not ideal for watching Netflix or torrenting files, but for those quick Internet users searches, this option will work for many users. However, note that there will be ads, but they’re a small price to pay for a free VPN, in our opinion at least.

    Super-Fast Speeds

    Hotspot Shield was one of the fastest VPNs we tested on our Windows and Mac computers. Download speeds decreased by 30% and 18% while upload speeds decreased by 0.2% and 26% on Mac and Windows, respectively. Although the latency was a bit more than we would’ve liked, Hotspot Shield is a great option for torrenting files or watching Netflix.

Aside from our best VPNs list that you’re currently reading, we’ve also reviewed the best VPNs for gaming, iPhones, and Androids, plus the best free VPNs. Most of the above VPNs are on these lists, along with a few other options that we tested out and liked.

Video Review

We made a video review so you can see the VPNs for yourself! Watch it below or on our Youtube (and be sure to subscribe once you’re there for more awesome content).

What is a VPN? How VPNs Keep You Safe Online

VPNs, otherwise known as Virtual Private Networks, is a piece of software that allows users a “private” Internet connection, meaning that their web traffic and activity will be hidden in an encrypted tunnel and their IP addresses will be replaced. By connecting to private servers, people can make sure that their web traffic isn’t easily hackable for someone on the same public Wi-Fi network. Since all of their traffic will be encrypted, no one will be able to access the websites they’ve visited or your credentials like their usernames, passwords, financial account information, and other sensitive personally identifiable information (PII).

VPN Consumer Usage, Adoption and Shopping Study

Security.org conducted a study on how adults in the United States use and shop for VPNs, and we found some interesting bits of information:

Nearly half of respondents said that they used VPNs for general security reasons, while 40% said they use VPNs for general privacy.
38% of respondents between the ages of 45 and 60 said that their jobs paid for their VPNs, while only 14% of those aged 18 to 29 had their companies pay.
68% of the survey respondents say that they use a VPN, either free or paid, for personal or work use. Altogether, that’s about 142 million users in the U.S alone.

The survey also touched on VPN’s costs. The plurality of respondents, 28%, said that they paid anywhere from $5 to $10 a month for their VPNs, while 24% said they paid less than $5 a month. But of course, not everyone uses VPNs; 57% of the respondents who didn’t use VPNs said they don’t need one for personal use, and half said they don’t plan to use a VPN in the next six months. However, these respondents may not be familiar with how VPNs can help them protect their privacy in the digital landscape; if they were, perhaps they’d be more open to the idea.

VPN Services: What Can I Use Them For?

There are a number of things you can use a VPN for, including:

  • Security on public networks: Being on a public network can make you more susceptible to hacking, with your web traffic and IP address easily accessible. However, joining a VPN will replace your IP address and encrypt your web traffic, upholding your privacy.
  • Access private networks: You may need to access a network for your home or office elsewhere; VPNs with split tunneling allow users to access public and private networks simultaneously.
  • Increased security for e-commerce: Buying stuff online can feel a bit tricky, especially if it’s a website you aren’t super familiar with. To keep your financial information protected, VPNs hide your web activity.
  • Hide data from marketers and Internet Service Providers: It’s no secret that large tech companies like Google and Facebook make billions of dollars on user data, selling it to third party advertisers to create targeted ads. Given that 47 out of the 50 states in the U.S have weak or nonexistent data privacy laws for consumers, connecting to a VPN is one of the only ways to avoid having your data tracked and sold online.
  • Access international content: Maybe you want to see what Netflix is like in Canada, or maybe you’re in a country that doesn’t allow Netflix at all. Whatever the reason, using a VPN can give you access to content that’s otherwise inaccessible unless you’re in a certain locality.
  • Bypass government/school/office restrictions: Whether you want to browse social media at work or torrent files in a country that doesn’t allow for torrenting, being able to connect to VPNs all over the world means unlimited access to the Internet, free of restrictions.
  • Activism/ whistleblowing: Some journalists, activists or whistleblowers may use a VPN to hide their identities while researching or writing.

Whether it’s accessing your office’s private network while working from a local coffee shop or watching HBO GO on your trip to China, VPNs can come in handy for more than just general privacy or security online, although they’ll give you that, as well.

Can a VPN Track You Online?

The entire point of downloading a VPN in the first place is to ensure your online anonymity, but some VPNs save more of your data than others. While we haven’t reviewed many VPNs aside from Encrypt.me that save user data, many VPNs will save other information about their users, which can include:

  • The time and duration the user connected to the VPN
  • The user’s IP address
  • The amount of data the user used while connected to the VPN
  • The user’s personal information like their name, address, payment information, email, etc.

For the large majority of VPNs, they will not track their users online in terms of the sites they visit, or any of their web traffic or activity. However, we recommend reading the VPN’s privacy policy before you sign up to make sure that they don’t log web activity. Another option? Read our VPN reviews, which go into detail on each of the VPNs’ privacy policies. We’ve read them so you don’t have to!

How Do VPNs Work?

VPNs work by connecting the user to a private server as opposed to a public server. The private server encrypts the user’s web traffic and activity in a tunnel and replaces their IP address, which makes them much less likely to be hacked while on a public Wi-Fi network. Most VPN companies have servers all around the world so users can connect as locally as possible; the closer the server, the faster the speeds while connected. Some VPNs even encrypt users’ traffic multiple times through multiple servers, a process called “multi-hop”.

Web traffic is encrypted using the latest industry standards like AES-256, the SSL, or Secure Socket Layer, as well as SHA 2, the Secure Hash Algorithm. Once the VPN creates the encrypted tunnel, the user’s data is sent to the server using VPN protocols like TCP, Transmission Control Protocol, and L2TP, Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol. Of course, the user doesn’t see any of this happening; they just click “connect” and their web traffic is encrypted and their IP address is hidden.

Why Do I Need a VPN?

There are a number of reasons why anyone who uses the Internet needs a VPN, among them including:

  • Avoid hackers: There’s a hacker every 39 seconds, and when you’re on a public Wi-Fi network like at a cafe or library, it becomes even more likely that you’ll be the next victim (not to scare you, of course!). However, VPNs replace your IP address and hide your web traffic, which makes it harder for hackers to access your personal information and steal your identity.
  • View international content: You may be at home wanting to watch Hulu from a neighboring country with different programming, or maybe you’re traveling in a country with web restrictions like China. By connecting to a private VPN server in a location of your choosing, users can access content typically only accessible by being in another country, expanding their streaming possibilities and avoiding government restrictions.
  • Torrent files: Torrenting is often in a legal gray area, and while we can’t support illegal torrenting, many people use VPNs to download movies and TV shows that they otherwise wouldn’t have access to.
  • Access private networks: Whether it’s a private home or work network, VPNs with split tunneling allow users to be on public networks and access private networks at the same time.
  • Maintain your anonymity online: From pop-up ads to cookies, the act of being online means that your data is at stake. While we can’t remain completely anonymous online, VPNs can help, hiding the user’s web activity and IP address from view.

Who Needs a VPN?

Anyone who uses the Internet on a public Wi-Fi network needs a VPN. They’re also ideal for anyone traveling internationally who needs to access a private network in another location, or anyone that wants to bypass government, school or work restrictions on Internet usage. VPNs are ideal for journalists, activists, whistleblowers, and anyone else that wants to be as anonymous as possible online.

How Do I Get a VPN?

Getting a VPN is as easy as downloading an app from the Apple Store or the Google Play store; you can also use a browser extension if that’s easier for you. Of course, we recommend researching the VPN thoroughly before you connect, as not all are created equal. A good place to start is our best VPN page; scroll up to see our favorite tried and tested picks.

Can You Trust Your VPN Service?

VPNs are meant to hide users’ web traffic, but what if the VPN itself isn’t trustworthy? Sadly, not all VPN companies are trustworthy. Here’s how we determine if we can trust our VPN service or not:

  • Company headquarters: We look for companies based in countries that are non-members to Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and 14 Eyes, the international surveillance alliances that legalize the government forcing companies to hand over customer data. In countries like the United States, a Five Eyes member, the government has forced companies to give them information about customers, like with IPVanish. Ideally, we want a company based in a non-member country with no history of handing over customer data to the government. We also would like the VPN to be based in a country with no data retention laws of its own.
CyberGhost Data Logging Policy
CyberGhost Data Logging Policy
  • Privacy policy: Nearly all VPNs claim they have a “zero logs” policy, but that’s not the case for the majority of them. While most VPNs don’t log web traffic, many log other user information like IP addresses, times and durations of visits, the amount of data used, and more. To find out how much data a company collects, we read their privacy policy and see if they keep the minimum amount of data necessary to uphold the user’s account, which is typically just their email address, payment information and not much more.
  • Encryption methods: We prefer companies that use the latest encryption methods like AES-256 as opposed to AES-128, which is outdated.

Are VPNs Legal?

VPNs are legal in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and other countries but that may not be the case elsewhere. Here are a few countries with complete or partial VPN bans:

  • China
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Russia
  • Oman
  • Iran
  • Belarus
  • Turkey
  • Iraq.

The Limitations of VPN Services

While VPNs are certainly useful for millions of people, they also have their disadvantages, such as slower speeds. By having your data go through an additional server, you may experience decreases in download and upload speeds and increases in latency. Plus, VPNs don’t give you the legal right to perform illegal activities online, like torrenting copyrighted material or going to websites that are illegal in your location. Keep in mind that if the VPN’s headquarters is based in a Five Eyes, Nine Eyes or 14 Eyes country, they can hand over customer information to the government, if need be. So while most VPNs hide your web traffic, total invisibility online isn’t possible for most.

VPNs by the Numbers

When we shop for VPNs, we’re looking for a few key numbers, which include:

  • Simultaneous connections: How many devices can be connected to a VPN at once? For large families or workplaces, this question is particularly relevant. Although connecting to multiple devices at once can definitely cause slowdowns, it’s an essential feature for many people. We’ve reviewed VPNs that cover anywhere from one to an unlimited number of devices at once, so make sure that the VPN you choose has the coverage you need.
  • Available servers: How many servers does the VPN company have? With a large company like NordVPN, you’ll get access to 5,246 servers, while smaller companies like Perfect Privacy only have about 55 servers. If you travel frequently, look for a VPN with a large number of servers so you can always stay connected.
  • Server locations: Even more important than the number of servers are the server’s locations around the world. Look for a company with servers nearby; the closer you are to the server, the better speeds you can expect. Companies like ExpressVPN even let you choose servers by city, with options for New York, L.A, Atlanta, and other major cities in the U.S.

VPN Buying Guide

VPNs are a good example of undifferentiated meaning that they are largely all similar in terms of their functionality, i.e hiding your web traffic and replacing your IP address. So your choice of VPN will really come down to a few specific features, which we’ve outlined below.

  • Needs:
    • Streaming: Would you like to stream movies and TV shows from services like Netflix, HBO Go, and Hulu? Not all VPN servers allow for these streaming services, so make sure to check that out beforehand.
    • Simultaneous connections: How many devices will you be connecting to the VPN at once? Make sure your VPN allows for sufficient simultaneous connections.
    • Split tunneling: Will you need to access a private network while using the Wi-Fi from a public network? If so, look for a VPN with split tunneling.
  • Privacy:
    • Jurisdiction: Depending on how important privacy is to you, you may want to look for a VPN based in a country that’s a non-member to Five Eyes, Nine Eyes and 14 Eyes, meaning they can’t be legally forced to hand over customer data to the government.
    • Privacy policy: While the majority of VPNs say that they have a “zero-logging” policy, this is rarely the case. Read the VPN’s privacy policy to find out which pieces of data they do save; at the very least, they shouldn’t log your web traffic and IP address.
    • Encryption: Choose VPNs with up-to-date encryption methods like AES-256 bit.
    • Two or multi-factor authentication: It’s easy for hackers to gain access to accounts through phishing emails, but if you add on two or multi-factor authentication to your VPN account, they won’t be able to log in, even with your credentials. Look for VPNs that let you get a passcode sent to your mobile device or use your fingerprint or facial recognition to log in, preventing unauthorized access.
  • Location: Make sure that the VPN you choose has servers near the locations you’ll be using it in. This is especially important if you need fast speeds for something like gaming.
  • Device Type: Does the VPN work on the device you have? For most users, the answer will be yes, but it’s still something to double-check before putting down your credit card.
  • Browser Type: Some VPNs also have browser extensions; if you want to use a browser extension rather than an app, make sure the VPN supports your preferred browser.
  • Budget: Finally, it’s always important to keep budget in mind. There’s a pretty big price range when it comes to VPNs, but if you’re on a budget, there are options like NordVPN which can cost as little as a few dollars a month. Also, keep in mind term length; with many VPN companies, the longer you commit for, the lower your monthly rate.

How We Test VPNs: Methodology

Want to learn more about how Security.org reviews VPNs? Take a look at our methodology, which will truly make you an expert when it comes to Virtual Private Networks.

First, we start with the VPN itself, making sure it has all the features necessary to a VPN and putting it through speed and security tests.

Speed

Like we say in individual reviews, we test all of our VPNs on a private Optimum network in our Brooklyn office. Using only one device at a time, we make sure that our Internet speed without a VPN is an objective control to measure against.

We also test everything on both a Macbook Air and a Windows Vivobook to give useful information to more readers. To test download speed, upload speed, and ping (latency), we use the website performing tests with and then without the VPN. While download and upload speed are measured in megabits per second, latency is measured in milliseconds. After we determine these figures, we figure out the difference between the two measurements in terms of a percentage, as the natural speeds of Macs and Windows computers differ wildly.

Tip: To see how much your VPN affected your web speeds, be sure to perform a speed test on SpeedTest.net without the VPN first so you can have a control to compare against.

Ideally, VPNs have no more than a 40% difference in any of the speed categories, but it’s always important to remember how much speed can vary by a number of factors: distance to the server, operating system, device, etc. So while we try to be as objective as possible, we also urge readers to take the speed test results with a grain of salt.

Security

Many people who use VPNs are doing so in order to protect their web traffic, composed of domain name servers (names of websites) and their respective IP addresses. We also want to make sure that users’ private IP addresses are not being leaked due to WebRTC, which allows browsers to communicate directly with each other and is the default on browsers like Chrome, Microsoft Edge, and Opera.

We test for DNS leaks using DNSLeakTest.com. By comparing my computer’s IP address with the IP addresses that come up on the website, we can see if there was a DNS leak with the VPN or not. Next, we test for WebRTC leaks using the tool available on ExpressVPN’s Again, by looking at the local and Public IPv4 IP addresses, we can determine if there were any WebRTC leaks.

Aside from testing for DNS and WebRTC leaks, we also look into a company’s privacy jurisdiction and data-logging policy. Ideally, companies are based in countries that are non-members to Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and 14 Eyes, international surveillance alliances that could legally force companies to hand over customer information. As far as data-logging goes, we prefer companies that only keep users’ account information like their name, email, and payment information. We don’t think that it’s necessary for VPNs to keep any information about when customers use their VPNs, for how long, how much data they’ve transferred, etc.

In our longer reviews, we analyze the VPN’s encryption methods and Internet protocols to ensure that they meet industry standards, which typically include AES-256 and OpenVPN, the most secure methods around. We also look for private domain name servers and anonymous and dynamic IP addresses, as they are harder to track. Finally, we make sure that each VPN has a kill switch, which will shut down all Internet browsers in the event that the VPN fails.

ProtonVPN Kill Switch
ProtonVPN Kill Switch

Performance

As many people use VPNs for media like movies and television, we look for VPNs with Netflix and torrenting access. Keep in mind that Netflix constantly updates its code to block any VPN connections, so there is no guarantee that it will ever work on a VPN.

Another feature we look for is split tunneling, which allows users to access the VPN and the public network at the same time. This allows for lower bandwidth, which can create faster speeds. We also prefer double or multi-hop VPNs, as they encrypt data multiple times through multiple servers.

Subscriptions

Not only do we give readers the most objective information about a company’s subscription options, but we also tell them whether or not the price is reasonable, based on competitors’ pricing as well as features offered. VPNs can be anywhere from under a dollar to $15 a month in the most expensive case, mostly falling around $4 a month. We prefer plans that offer monthly as well as annual options, to give users flexibility, and we also point out if they have a trial period or money-back guarantee, common for VPNs. Finally, we outline what a subscription actually entails in terms of the numbers of server switches, simultaneous connections, and devices allowed. Typically, VPNs allow for unlimited server switches and devices and anywhere from one to unlimited simultaneous connections.

Windscribe Customer Support
Windscribe Customer Support

Customer Support

Although VPN companies are not known for their customer support, ideally they have a live chat feature in addition to their online help center. 24/7 live chat is preferred, and extra points if they also have a phone line.

App

Finally, we review the app for both iPhone and Android, as well as its ratings. If an app has a rating below three stars, we cannot recommend the product to the device-owner which the app goes with.

FastestVPN App
FastestVPN App

Will Netflix Block VPNs? How To Stream Privately

When it comes to Netflix, you may or may not be able to access it with a VPN, depending on the company and the particular server you’re connected to. But in our testing, here are some VPNs that we used to Netflix and chill:

  • ExpressVPN
  • NordVPN
  • CyberGhost (although there were certain prerequisites depending on the server we connected to)
  • Perfect Privacy (but it may not work on all servers)
  • Windscribe (but only on the U.S and U.K servers)
  • FastestVPN
  • Trust.Zone (on some servers in the U.S, U.K, France and Canada)
  • StrongVPN
  • Ivacy VPN
  • Hotspot Shield
  • ProtonVPN.

Before you open up Netflix, connect to your VPN so that no one will be able to see your web traffic and voila; you can binge privately. Breaking Bad, anyone?

Using a VPN with Windows 10, Chrome and Linux

You don’t want to spend hours chasing down a VPN that works on your Windows 10, Chrome, or Linux devices, which is why we picked out the best VPNs that work with each for you:

  • Windows 10: StrongVPN, Encrypt.me, TunnelBear, Ivacy VPN, Hotspot Shield
  • Chrome: ExpressVPN, CyberGhost, IPVanish, BlackVPN, ibVPN, TunnelBear, Ivacy VPN, Hotspot Shield, PureVPN, Windscribe
  • Linux: ExpressVPN, NordVPN, CyberGhost, IPVanish, Perfect Privacy, Windscribe, BlackVPN, FastestVPN, Trust.Zone, ibVPN, IVPN.
IPVanish Desktop App
IPVanish Desktop App

Using a Mobile VPN

Connecting to a VPN on your mobile device is easy. Just go to the Apple or Google Play store, depending on the make of your phone, and download the VPN’s app. From there, you just have to sign in and click connect for private browsing.

ExpressVPN App
ExpressVPN App

Free vs. Paid VPNs

They say there’s no such thing as a free lunch, but for VPNs, that’s not exactly the case. Some VPNs have free options, for either a limited time period like 30 days, or for a limited amount of data. If you’re looking to use a VPN only for a short period of time, check out free options like TunnelBear or Hotspot Shield. However, for long-term VPN use, it’s worth coughing up the money for a monthly or yearly subscription.

The Best Free VPNs

The best free VPNs are Hotspot Shield, Windscribe, TunnelBear and ProtonVPN. However, these VPNs are all limited in some way with a free plan. TunnelBear, for example, only offers 500 MB of data on its free option. Windscribe limits free users to 10 GB of data per month, while Hotspot Shield’s free option doesn’t include unlimited bandwidth, access to all servers, five simultaneous connections and 24/7 tech support. Finally, ProtonVPN’s free option only allows users to connect to three servers, without any limits on data. So while you can get a free VPN, your best bet is to pay for one.

What’s the Fastest VPN?

In our experience performing speed tests on all of our VPNs, the fastest options were:

  • IPVanish: We saw super quick download speeds with IPVanish.
  • Private Internet Access: Private Internet Access is a great option for Windows-users in terms of speed.
  • Hotspot Shield: Whether we were doing speed tests on our Windows or Mac computers, Hotspot Shield performed well.
  • ExpressVPN: ExpressVPN also had really fast speeds on our Windows computer.

VPN Best of Links

While this is a general “best VPNs” list, we also have lists suited specifically for different groups of people, from iPhone-users to Android-users to gamers. And if money is tight, check out our list of the best free VPNs below!

More Digital Security Guides

That’s about it for our lowdown on 2020’s best VPNs, but if you’re looking to learn more about digital security in general, read the below guides.

VPN FAQs

  • Which free VPNs are best?

    The best free VPNs, most of which have free trial periods, include ProtonVPN, Windscribe, Hotspot Shield and Tunnelbear.

  • Are VPNs trustworthy?

    In general, VPNs are trustworthy, as nearly none of the companies we review logged our web traffic or activity. However, some VPNs are definitely more trustworthy than others; we prefer companies based in countries that are non-members to Five Eyes, Nine Eyes and 14 Eyes, international surveillance alliances. We also look for VPNs with strict logging policies that only keep the minimum amount of customer data to run their services; these kinds of VPNs are more trustworthy than most.

  • Can you be tracked if you use a VPN?

    Typically, you can’t be tracked if you use a VPN. VPNs hide your web traffic and activity and replace your real IP address with a stand-in. However, some VPN companies do keep your real IP address along with your device type, the times you went online, and more information that could be used to track people. That’s why it’s important to look at the VPN’s privacy policy and make sure that it’s strict.

  • Is there a totally free VPN?

    There are a lot of VPNs that offer free service, either for a limited time period or for a limited amount of data. Our favorite free VPNs include Windscribe, TunnelBear, Hotspot Shield and ProtonVPN.

  • What is the best VPN?

    The best VPNs are NordVPN, ExpressVPN, CyberGhost, Surfshark, IPVanish, Private Internet Access, TunnelBear, Windscribe, Encrypt.me and Hotspot Shield.

  • Is it worth paying for a VPN?

    It is worth paying for a VPN. VPNs that are “free” typically limit the time you can use them and the amount of data you can use while connected, which is pretty limiting for most people. If you’re consistently on public Wi-Fi networks or want to access a private server, VPNs are worth shelling out a few dollars a month.