The word “cheap” carries a negative tone. If you book a cheap hotel, you go there half-expecting a so-so experience. If you buy a cheap used car, you can’t help but think there are underlying problems. If you fly with a cheap airline, you prepare yourself for a cramped or delayed flight.
That’s just how most things work – you get what you pay for – but that doesn’t mean you should compromise quality for price, especially when it comes to your online privacy. So how do you protect yourself with a VPN if you’re on a tight budget?
As you probably know, we’ve been testing VPNs for nearly a decade now. We’ve compared dozens of VPNs, put them through strenuous performance testing, and yes, assessed their prices, as well. We even rounded up the best free VPNs and VPN free trials if you want to give them a try. Bear in mind, though, that free trials are free only for a limited duration, and free VPNs have limited features. So if you want a premium VPN without a premium price tag, these are the best cheap VPNs for you.
We want to make one thing clear before we talk in-depth about our top picks. This page is called “The Best Cheap VPNs.” It’s not about the cheapest VPNs, but rather, the ones that are affordable and offer tremendous value in terms of features and performance. In fact, all five of our top picks made an appearance in our annual list of the best VPNs available.
FYI: What makes them the best? These VPNs have good price-to-features ratio, they perform well when it comes to speed and security, and most importantly, they put a premium value on privacy.
When it comes to features, there are three common VPN features we look for. There’s the kill switch that turns off your internet when the VPN suddenly disconnects; multihop that connects you to two VPN servers for some extra privacy; and split tunneling that allows some apps to bypass the VPN connection. There are also extra features, such as the ability to block malicious websites and ads or specialty servers that are extra effective in unblocking websites and streaming services.
For performance, first we check that the VPNs are working and then we do follow-up tests to make sure they have airtight IP address protection. VPNs are supposed to hide your real IP address, but if the VPN is vulnerable, attackers may be able to use DNS and WebRTC leaks to see your IP address. Once we confirm that a VPN is secure enough, we take speed tests to see how fast they are.
The last one is of the utmost importance: Privacy. When you use a VPN, all your browsing data passes through a VPN server. That means if they wanted to, VPN companies can actually log your data and sell it for extra profit. Some VPNs actually do that.1 So we recommend using only VPNs that don’t log any sensitive data, but even “no-logs” VPNs still collect some information. All our five top picks are “no-logs” VPNs, but we still gave their privacy policies a thorough read and did a background check on each of them.
Features: We tested NordVPN for a little over a week, using it everyday for our browsing, downloads, and general internet use. What we noticed is that it has features for just about any situation that might arise.
When we needed to share files with a colleague working remotely, it had specialty servers built for peer-to-peer file sharing (which also makes it a good VPN for torrenting). When we needed extra privacy for this secret project we’re working on, we used Double VPN a.k.a. multihop. Even when we had to go to the deep web, NordVPN had this Onion over VPN feature that kept us connected to a secure VPN server. Not many VPNs can work with Tor (The Onion Router)2, the anonymity network used to access the deep web. Fortunately, NordVPN was there for us to keep anonymous and private.
Performance: All those features were accompanied by a solid performance both in security and speed. NordVPN passed all our safety tests. It effectively changed our IP address to that of the VPN server and shielded our real one from DNS and WebRTC leaks. We even used the DNS leak test tool from ExpressVPN3, one of NordVPN’s fiercest competitions, and it still passed.
When it comes to being fast, NordVPN’s download speed averaged around 228 Mbps on our 250 Mbps network. Assuming we were getting 250 Mbps from our internet provider the whole time, that’s a 9% speed loss from NordVPN, which is way below the 40% industry average. For reference, only Surfshark was faster than NordVPN, since it averaged over 230 Mbps.
To be clear, though, we did find that NordVPN still logs some data. For example, it records usernames and a time stamp of users’ last session status. So, technically, NordVPN knows who’s connected to its VPN servers at a given time. However, it doesn’t know what they’re doing, and it also deletes the information 15 minutes after each session.
Optional add-ons like a password manager and secure cloud backup
What We Don’t Like:
Limited to six simultaneous connections
Desktop apps can be a little slow
Monthly plans cost a minimum of $12.99
Prices may increase after the initial subscription
Is NordVPN really affordable? Well, it’s not the cheapest VPN, but given its features, we believe it is affordable. NordVPN costs a minimum of $3.79 per month. We spent more on coffee just today. Just to make it clear, though, you’ll need to purchase a two-year subscription (and pay for the whole thing upfront) to get that rate. That’s about $91 in total. We only wanted to test NordVPN for a week, so we bought a one-month subscription for $12.99. But keep in mind NordVPN has a 30-day money-back guarantee. In fact, when we canceled our VPN subscription even though it was just for one month, NordVPN refunded us.
Here’s how much NordVPN costs per month depending on your plan:
Standard (VPN only)
Plus (VPN + password manager)
Complete (VPN + password manager + secure cloud)
To give you some perspective on NordVPN’s pricing, let’s look at one of its rivals, ExpressVPN. ExpressVPN costs a minimum of $8.32 per month with a one-year subscription. It doesn’t offer subscriptions any longer than that, so that’s also the best price you can get. With NordVPN, a one-year deal costs $4.49 – sounds affordable to us!
Features: When it comes to features, Surfshark was a close second to NordVPN. It had a kill switch, which we’ve proven works when it stopped our internet connection when we accidentally closed the app while browsing. It also offered split tunneling and multihop.
Surfshark also had a few extra features like ad and malicious site blocking. Not only did those make our browsing experience smoother without ads filling our screens, they also prevented us from accessing a potentially harmful phishing site from a convincing scam email we received.
Performance: While our IP address, DNS, and WebRTC leak tests are pass/fail tests – they either pass or fail and there’s no grading system – we tested a Surfshark feature called Camouflage Mode that made Surfshark perform extra well. Camouflage Mode, or obfuscation, is a VPN technology that makes encrypted VPN traffic look like just regular traffic. It doesn’t just hide your IP address; it hides that you’re using a VPN. This came in handy when we tested the best travel VPNs while in Hong Kong, which is more restrictive towards VPN users.
In terms of speed, Surfshark didn’t disappoint, either. We notched the fastest average download and upload speeds – 234 Mbps and 227 Mbps, respectively. It’s not always fast, mind you, but throughout our nearly two-week testing period, we didn’t notice any significant slowdowns. We were able to keep up with our Netflix streaming, download gigabytes of files, and browse without any hitch.
That is a cause for concern if not for the statement that it deletes the information 15 minutes after each session. There’s a lot someone can do with your IP address; for VPNs, they can see who accessed which servers, which can potentially tie a server’s activity (i.e. which websites are visited) to a user’s computer. Because of Surfshark’s transparency, though, we have no doubt that it follows the 15-minute protocol.
What We Like:
Fast speeds most of the time
Affordable rates starting at $2.49
What We Don’t Like:
Pricey $15.45 monthly plan
Logs IP addresses (but deletes it after 15 minutes)
Based in The Netherlands (Nine-Eye country, not great for privacy)
More expensive subscription renewals
Surfshark started off as a budget VPN, but even though it has evolved into a premium VPN, it’s still very affordable. Surfshark offers three subscriptions: A monthly plan, a one-year plan, and a two-year plan. Once again, we went with a monthly plan, which was a little on the steep side. It cost us $15.45 for the one month compared to NordVPN’s $12.99 plan. However, if you sign up for a one-year or two-year plan, Surfshark becomes a lot cheaper.
Average monthly rate
Renews monthly at $15.45
Renews yearly at $79
Renews yearly at $79
All Surfshark plans are also covered by a 30-day money-back option. After we were done testing it on day 12 of our subscription, we requested a refund and got the full $15.45 back. Don’t hesitate to use the money-back option; it’s there to let you test VPNs until you find the one that works best for you.
Features: Private Internet Access provided us with a lot of features. While those features were not as advanced as NordVPN and Surfshark, they were just what we needed to protect our online privacy. It offered a kill switch, split tunneling, and multihop.
What we really appreciated about Private Internet Access was its customizability. For example, most VPNs encrypt data using 256-bit AES. That’s the most advanced and secure encryption standard used even by the U.S. government for top-secret data.5 Not all data, however, requires encryption that strong. Sometimes a more simple (but still plenty secure) 128-bit AES is all that we need, like when we’re using a VPN to stream movies, meet via Zoom, or play online games. Private Internet Access allowed us to lower the encryption for such occasions, which resulted in a slight speed boost.
Performance: Private Internet Access was another fast one. It averaged 221 Mbps for downloads, although the upload speed left us wanting a bit more. It averaged around 205 Mbps. It wasn’t bad – that’s still only an 18% loss – but it’s something to keep in mind if you’re doing upload-heavy tasks like live streaming via Twitch or uploading videos to YouTube.
In terms of security performance, we had no problems with Private Internet Access at all. It passed all our tests, even when we adjusted the encryption to 128-bit AES. It was successful in changing our Android’s IP address location and giving us a U.K. IP address, even though we’re in the U.S. As a result, we were able to stream shows exclusively available on BBC iPlayer.
Privacy: Private Internet Access’ strongest point was privacy. It has a no-logs policy that promises not to keep any logs of users’ activities, including which websites are visited and IP addresses are used. The only information it logs from users is anonymized connection data, which includes device identifiers, which VPN protocol is used, and a few more.6
What we found striking is that you can opt out from providing those pieces of information, as well. On PIA’s Windows app, for example, just go to the settings, select Help, and make sure the checkbox next to Help Improve PIA is left unticked. It’s disabled by default, but better check just to be sure.
Three-year subscription required to get best price
Private Internet Access’ $2.19 monthly price is the cheapest among the five VPNs on this page, but it comes with a trade-off: You’ll need to buy a three-year subscription. That’s $79 total, which is actually not bad. Paying $79 for three years of Private Internet Access is still cheaper than $91 for two years of NordVPN. And overall, whether you’re signing up for a three-year, one-year, or one-month plan, Private Internet Access is more affordable than both NordVPN and Surfshark.
Private Internet Access pricing
Average cost per month
Another thing to note is that Private Internet Access doesn’t put limits on the number of devices you can connect. We had more than five desktops and about a dozen of our team members’ smartphones connected to PIA during our tests. Surfshark is another VPN we tested with unlimited simultaneous connections, but NordVPN only covers up to six devices.
Features: CyberGhost offers a healthy serving of features, although it’s missing quite a few. For example, it doesn’t offer multihop, and its split tunneling feature was quite limited. Split tunneling creates two tunnels for your traffic. One goes to the VPN server, the other takes the normal route (without VPN). We use it when we’re multi-tasking; for example, when we need to access our office backup server, which requires a non-VPN connection.
Normally, VPNs with split tunneling let us force entire apps to use the non-VPN tunnel. Unfortunately, CyberGhost didn’t have that kind of split tunneling. It relied on website URLs and IP addresses, which we had to enter into the given field. Not only was that more tedious to do than simply selecting apps, but when the office server rotated its IP address, we had to find the IP address and enter it again into the CyberGhost app.
Performance: If you can look past the less-than-impressive feature-set, CyberGhost actually performs well. It passed our IP address leak tests, and it put up great speeds. It had symmetric upload and download speeds; uploads and downloads were equally fast, unlike with PIA where the upload speeds were slower.
CyberGhost’s average readings were 218 to 222 Mbps. That’s about a 12% drop, so even if your internet isn’t as fast as ours, you’d still be able to do most things you normally do. For example, we were still able to stream 4K shows on our iPhones using our AT&T mobile data plan (about 50 Mbps normally).
Still uses obsolete VPN protocols like L2TP for macOS
Uses third-party service provider for data analytics
CyberGhost offers subscriptions up to two years, and if you go with the longest plan, you’ll get CyberGhost’s $2.37 per month price. That’s $56.97 for the whole two years, the second most affordable pricing on this page next to Private Internet Access.
Here’s a complete look at CyberGhost’s pricing:
Total price you’ll pay
Another thing we like about CyberGhost is that you get a longer time to test the service before locking in your subscription. As discussed, NordVPN, Surfshark, and PIA all have a 30-day money-back guarantee. That’s par for the course of the VPN industry. CyberGhost, however, gives users two extra weeks for a total of 45 days to test out its VPNs. If you decide it’s not for you, you can cancel for free and get your money back.
Bear in mind though that the 45-day money-back option applies only to the six-month and two-year plans. We went with the $12.99 monthly plan, which comes with only a 14-day refund option. That’s not so bad; we canceled on day 10 and got a full refund within six days, but just something to remember when choosing a CyberGhost subscription.
Features: Proton VPN actually closely resembles NordVPN’s feature-set. It has split tunneling, multihop, and a kill switch. More than that, it was another VPN we tested with an Onion over VPN capability. So yes, we were able to keep our VPN connection while browsing the deep web.
What Proton VPN has that NordVPN doesn’t is Secure Core. Secure Core is a specialty network that connects you to servers only in privacy-friendly countries. Everytime we connected, we got either a Switzerland or Sweden location, but other countries like Iceland were available, too. As opposed to countries like India that forces VPN servers to store user data, Secure Core countries have no mandatory data retention laws, making them safer for privacy.
Performance: Proton VPN’s performance kind of dipped. It was secure – it passed all our IP address leak tests – but the speed was sometimes inconsistent, especially on those Secure Core servers. Sometimes, we got great speeds up to 235 Mbps; other times, it was a more sluggish 210 to 215 Mbps. Nonetheless, when it’s fast, Proton VPN is one of the fastest VPNs. You just have to troubleshoot the VPN a little when it’s not performing as well, like switch to a different server or choose a different VPN protocol.
Privacy: Proton VPN comes from the same company that brought us ProtonMail, the secure, private, and encrypted email service. As such, we expected nothing less than complete privacy. Did Proton VPN deliver? Without question!
Other Proton products (mail, calendar, cloud storage) are optional add-ons
Secure Core servers
Onion over VPN
What We Don’t Like:
More expensive one-year and two-year plans
We want to make clear that Proton VPN is on this list for one reason and one reason only: It’s less than $10 per month for the month-to-month subscription. Proton VPN is actually on the more expensive side if you’re planning to get a two-year or one-year plan. Two years of Proton VPN costs $120 ($4.99 per month), which is nearly $30 more than NordVPN. So if you’re looking for a cheap VPN to use long-term, Proton VPN is not it.
Proton VPN plans
On the other hand, if you’re looking for a cheap VPN you can pay for monthly, Proton VPN is an affordable option. As you’ve probably noticed, a VPN monthly plan typically costs more than $10. NordVPN and CyberGhost cost us $12.99 each, Surfshark was $15.45, and Private Internet Access was $11.99. When we bought a monthly Proton VPN subscription, it cost us only $9.99. And remember, we got NordVPN-like features from Proton VPN, so it’s worth your money if you’re going with a monthly subscription.
Summary: How Much Do The Best Cheap VPNs Cost?
We’ve learned that the best cheap VPNs can cost anywhere from $50 to $100 for two years, which in all fairness, breaks down to about $2 to $4 per month. If you think of it that way, they’re really cheap. If you can brew coffee at home instead of buying from a coffee shop for just one day per month, you can afford these VPNs.
If you want a more detailed look at VPN pricings, here’s our page that discusses VPN costs more in-depth. There you’ll see exactly which VPNs fit your budget.
Are There Special Discounts?
VPN prices are pretty much the same throughout the year. Even during special sales like Black Friday (November) and Cybersecurity Month (October), VPN prices don’t move. At best, they offer free months – for example, buy a two-year subscription and get three months free. The average monthly cost will go down on account of the added months, but the total price you’ll pay is the same.
If you’re a student, however, some VPNs offer student discounts through Student Beans and similar student discount programs. You can sign up for those programs with your student ID and see if your VPN of choice offers discounts there. Usually, the discounts range from 10% to 15% for the longest subscription available.
Bear in mind that you’ll have to pay upfront for multiple years of subscription to enjoy the best prices, and $50 to $100 isn’t exactly chump change for everyone. Are VPNs really worth it? Well, let’s take a look at what they offer.
Encryption: First and foremost, VPNs encrypt data. Even if you go incognito, a lot of people are still privy to your browsing history. Your ISP can see all your activities, and if you’re browsing from a public Wi-Fi, the network administrator can technically see what you’re doing. Encryption doesn’t hide your browsing activity, but it scrambles the data so that no one can understand it. To anyone with access to your browsing activity, it will be like you’re sending gibberish to a random server IP address.
Traffic tunneling: Browsing the internet leaves a lot of digital footprint. Think of it like this: If you step on red paint and then walk around, it will be easy to track and follow you. In the digital world, others will be able to see which websites you’ve been on, what products you’ve looked at, which social media platforms you’ve used, and so on. If you use a VPN, your footprint will be mixed with those of thousands of other VPN users, making it impossible to distinguish whose footprint is which.
Uncensored internet:Internet censorship is another problem you can solve by using a VPN. If you live in a country where the flow of information is controlled by the government, your access to hundreds of websites is blocked. In China, for example, internet users can not access Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), and other Western social media sites. Connecting to a VPN unblocks those blocked websites.
Online anonymity: Using a VPN doesn’t make you completely anonymous, but it hides your most important online identifier – your IP address. Your traffic goes from your device to a VPN server and then to the website you’re accessing. As far as the website is concerned, the traffic is coming from the VPN server, so your real IP address is totally out of the equation.
Getting around geo-restriction: Similar to unblocking websites, using a VPN gives you access to geo-restricted content. For example, if you’re outside the U.S., there’s no way to access Hulu with your normal internet. Hulu can see that your IP address is from outside the country, and so it blocks you from using its services. With a VPN, you can get a U.S. IP address. And again, once you’re connected, Hulu won’t see your real IP address, so it will think you’re browsing from the U.S.
So those are the benefits of using a VPN, but how do you access them? Easy, just set up your VPN app, buy a subscription, and connect to a server.
The most important part is knowing how to set up and use the VPN based on what you’re trying to accomplish. For example, if you want to access Netflix’s streaming library in Australia, you’ll need to connect to a VPN server in Australia. Most VPNs have a server list that lets you choose the location of your server. If you connect to a server in Australia, you’ll get an Australia IP address; if you connect to Singapore, you’ll get a Singapore IP address.
In most cases, if you want to access something that’s blocked in your home country, you’ll need to connect to a server outside your country. On the other hand, if the network did the blocking – for example, if you’re in school and your school Wi-Fi blocks Disney+ – connecting to any server will do the trick. Your network is likely checking where your device’s traffic is going to, and if you connect to a VPN, it’ll see that you’re sending traffic to a random server, not Disney+.
For a full guide on how to fully utilize a VPN, here’s our full VPN how-to guide. Give it a read and learn how to best use your VPN to get the most out of your subscription.
Conclusion: The Cost of Your Digital Privacy
In a perfect world, we’d all be browsing the internet risk-free. No one is snooping on our online activities, there’s online freedom and no censorship, and there are no hackers to worry about. Unfortunately, we’re not living in that world. We live in a world where data is the most valuable form of digital currency. A lot of people are interested in our data, so we must do the best we can to protect it.
Using a VPN is one of the best steps we can take, and yes, the best VPNs to use cost money. But as we’ve learned, it’s money well-spent because the consequences of losing our privacy is much more costly. It can lead to identity theft, for example, which costs each victim over $1,500.
Fortunately, the best cheap VPNs also happen to be some of the top VPNs all around. Even if we’re not rich enough to spend millions of dollars each year to protect our data like big corporations do, we stand a good chance of protecting ourselves online.
In most cases, cheap VPNs are better than free VPNs in terms of features and performance. Typically, free VPNs have limitations, such as data usage limits, speed limits, and server location limits. Cheap VPNs don’t have such limitations.
The lowest prices we saw were from Ivacy, which has a five-year subscription for $60. That’s one dollar per month. However, even though it has a money-back guarantee, five years is too long. A lot of things can change during that time, so even though Ivacy is also one of our top VPNs, we recommend going with a slightly more expensive but shorter subscription from either NordVPN, Surfshark, Private Internet Access, CyberGhost, or Proton VPN.
Most VPNs have a money-back guarantee. They will give you your money back if you’re unsatisfied with their service. In most cases, you have 30 days to do so after paying for the subscription. There are also VPNs that don’t have a money-back guarantee but have a free trial. You can take advantage of the free trial to test things out before paying for a subscription.