Let’s be clear: We would never recommend purchasing a VPN simply to get more streaming options. A VPN’s first job is to keep you safe, secure, and private online, and it’s not worth the money if it can’t do that.
If you go online — and we’re guessing that’s pretty much everyone at this point — you absolutely need a VPN. They’re no longer just for the paranoid or people who have high-risk jobs or people trying to skirt the law. The average, everyday person who wants to avoid hackers and government spying needs a VPN on all their devices, and certainly on the devices they use away from home. If you have to have a VPN anyway, why not invest in one that gives you more streaming options?
Pro Tip: If you choose wisely, you can get more streaming options without paying any more for your VPN service. There are plenty of secure VPNs out there that also let you access bonus Netflix libraries and streaming services only available in other countries.
The trick, though, is choosing wisely. That’s why we’re here. We’ve done all the testing and research for you. We’ll let you know the details of all these VPNs, including how well they connect to the most popular streaming services. Then you can make an informed decision about which one is right for you.
Before we get into the specifics of our choices, let’s talk about how we made the choices. If you’re going to trust our recommendations, you ought to know what kind of testing and research those decisions are based on.
As a starting point, we consider three important VPN components:
Privacy and security: A VPN’s first job is to keep you safe and secure. That means taking a close look at encryption methods, protocols, and privacy policies.
Speed: All VPNs slow down your devices to some degree. We prefer the VPNs that slow our devices as little as possible, though, so we run speed tests to compare them.
Pricing: Unless you’re made of money, you always have to consider how much a VPN costs before you invest in it.
Examining those three components gives us a short list of the best VPNs. We’re interested in the best VPNs specifically for streaming, though, so we considered a couple more elements when making our final decisions.
Streaming access: We make sure the VPNs we select can access plenty of streamers, such as Netflix, Hulu+, Disney+, Prime Video, and Max.
Servers: More servers typically means faster speeds. For our purposes, though, more servers in more countries matters more, since the more countries we can visit with a VPN, the more streaming content we can unlock.
NordVPN offered advanced security features you don’t find with most VPNs. First, multihop routed our signal through two or more external servers rather than just the normal one. That means double the encryption and an exponential increase in safety. Second, available obfuscated servers camouflaged our internet signal, so it was impossible to tell we were using a VPN. We weren’t in China when we were using it, but if we had been, they never would have caught on to what we were up to.
All VPNs slow down your internet connection, but, in testing, NordVPN slowed our devices less than most VPNs. Highlights included an increase in Mac latency of just 10 percent and just an 8 percent increase in Windows download speed. For comparison’s sake, our tests on the Norton VPN yielded higher speeds all the way around. Latency averaged eight times slower with Norton VPN than without it, while both our upload and download speeds averaged 30 percent slower.
Like most VPNs, NordVPN’s price (for a single-month) is considerably more than its annual and two-year prices. One month costs $12.99, while one year costs $4.49 per month and two years costs $2.99 per month. All three price points are competitive. NordVPN’s biggest competitor is Surfshark, which charges $13.99 for a single-month subscription. Its next biggest competitor is Private Internet Access, which charges $11.95 for a single-month subscription. That puts NordVPN dead in the middle. Both competitors charge about a dollar less per month than NordVPN for a two-year subscription, but ExpressVPN, which you’ll find a little lower on this list, charges $8.32, which makes NordVPN look downright cheap.
What We Like
Located outside Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, 14 Eyes
Available camouflage mode
What We Don’t Like
Static IP addresses
Slow iOS and Android apps
Relatively high single-month price
Faulty kill switch on iOS app
There’s so little to complain about with NordVPN that we should start with the problems just to get them out of the way. It uses static IP addresses, which means the address is always the same. We prefer rotating addresses. Since the address is shared among hundreds of users, however, it’s plenty safe. No one can tell who is doing what using that address. NordVPN also isn’t the fastest VPN on a mobile device, and the kill switch on the iOS app can be a bit wonky. It didn’t shut down all our apps when we tested it on our iOS device. That’s the whole list of problems though. Not terribly long.
NordVPN, meanwhile, is packed with security features. We used the multihop feature, which routed our signal through several different servers and provided multiple encryptions. All those encryptions were AES-256 — military grade — so we never had to worry that anyone could tell we were watching “Bridgerton” at work. (Kidding, of course.)
Speaking of “Bridgerton,” NordVPN’s obfuscated servers mean streaming services like Netflix didn’t know we were using a VPN, so they couldn’t block us. In addition to “Bridgerton” on Netflix, we were able to stream “Succession” on Max, “Ahsoka” on Disney+, and “Picard” on Paramount. Yes, we have eclectic tastes.
Video games generally work best when a device’s latency is under 100. Our testing found that Surfshark’s latency is around 136. Not the best, but ultimately it shouldn’t cause any serious lags in your gameplay. Download speeds, on the other hand, slowed by just 7 percent when we ran the VPN. It took just minutes to download “Wednesday” to watch on the bus last week.
Surfshark can be a little pricey if you’re looking for just a single month of the service: $13.99. You’d probably be better off with a company like Norton VPN, which charges just $4.99. When we signed up for a two-year plan, though, the price dropped dramatically to $1.99 a month. For another 70 cents, we upgraded our plan to Surfshark One, which includes breach alerts and personal data security reports.
Surfshark is a great VPN if you’re a streamer or gamer, in part because it offers split tunneling. This handy little tool lets you split your signal so you can log on to the regular internet at the same time you’re using the VPN. That way, you can transmit sensitive files back and forth to work through a secure network, but your Spotify connection — running on whatever public Wi-Fi you’re connected to — won’t gum up the works.
Not that we really needed to use split tunneling. Surfshark upload and download speeds are lightning-fast. On average, our upload speeds slowed by just 24 percent when we were using the VPN. We managed to download a couple of hours’ worth of music while we were drinking coffee at the corner cafe, and then we took it for a walk in the park.
Like NordVPN — and every other VPN — Surfshark has flaws. It maintains only around 3,500 servers, for instance. That’s not bad, and the servers are well placed in over 100 different countries, but you’ll see in our Private Internet Access review that the company has over 15,000 servers.
ExpressVPN uses military-grade AES-256 encryption to keep users safe. It comes standard with a kill switch, so you never have to worry about hackers or government spies seeing what you’re up to if your VPN disconnects. It’s also headquartered in the British Virgin Islands, a country with strict privacy laws, so you can be sure no one can ever access your browsing history. Would we be happier if it offered camouflage mode to conceal that we’re using a VPN? Sure, but that’s not a deal-breaker.
ExpressVPN is plenty fast when it comes to both uploads and downloads. Our upload speeds increased by just over 24 percent when we tested the service, and our download speeds increased by just over 7 percent. That means our streaming was fast and our torrenting faster, just the way we like it.
There’s really no way around it: If you want to purchase a superior product, you have to be willing to pay a little extra. ExpressVPN, with its fast speeds, security features, and streaming capabilities, is certainly a superior product. No surprise, then, that it costs $12.95 a month for a single-month subscription, and its annual subscription price isn’t a whole lot cheaper. The $8.32-per-month price is a little steep when you consider IPVanish costs just $2.49 a month for an annual plan. Still, you can’t argue with ExpressVPN’s safety or streaming capabilities.
What We Like
30-day money-back guarantee
Available obfuscated servers
What We Don’t Like
Only five simultaneous connections
Slower speeds on Macs
No phone support
Like Surfshark, ExpressVPN doesn’t have an enormous number of servers. That means it can sometimes be tricky to find one that’s relatively traffic-free. Like Surfshark, though, ExpressVPN has servers in an enormous number of countries — 105 at last count. Why does that matter? Because streaming services like Netflix feature different content in different countries. That’s right: You can get shows in Canada you can’t get in the U.S., you can get shows in the U.K. you can’t get in Canada, and you can get shows in Japan you can get in the U.K. But to access those libraries, you have to have an IP address that proves you’re in the country. Ipso facto, the more countries a VPN has servers in, the more libraries you can access.
We were able to watch “Friends” on Netflix long after the U.S. library had removed it by logging on to an ExpressVPN server in France. We had to put up with French subtitles on the screen, but Chandler is funny in any language.
We don’t really care who knows we’re watching “Friends,” but it’s nice to know that, if we did, we wouldn’t have to worry about anyone finding out. That’s because ExpressVPN is headquartered in the British Virgin Islands. BVI has strict privacy laws, and it’s outside the Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and 14 Eyes surveillance consortiums. That means ExpressVPN never has to respond to demands that it give up customer browsing data. That’s a big privacy win in our books.
Our download speeds slowed by just over 3 percent when using Hotspot Shield, making it the fastest we’ve come across. Latency was a little shower, but still well within the threshold we look for when we test, with a ping time of just 78 milliseconds — perfect for gaming and Zooming. Upload speeds were the company’s weak spot, but we still saw just an 80 percent increase. Anything under 100 percent is acceptable, if not great.
Hotspot Shield is a pretty good option if you’re interested in a single-month subscription. Its $12.99 price is right in line with what you’d pay for one month of most premium services. Most services, though, offer pretty big discounts — as much as 90 percent, in some cases — for long-term subscriptions. Hotspot Shield’s discount is far more modest at $7.99 per month with an annual subscription. Hotspot Shield, however, offers a free version of its VPN, but it comes with some serious limitations. You can use it on only one device at a time, and you get no streaming options.
What We Like
Regular transparency reports
Servers that support up to 1 GB speeds
What We Don’t Like
Based in the U.S., so subject to Five Eyes jurisdiction
Limit of five simultaneous connections
No split tunneling
No camouflage mode
Hotspot Shield doesn’t have quite as many features as the other VPNs on this list. It doesn’t, for example, offer camouflage mode. That could be one reason it can’t access all the Netflix libraries around the world. Its upload speeds are a little high, too, and its annual price is nothing to write home about.
What Hotspot does well, though, it does really well. For one thing, it’s incredibly fast. The company offers servers that support speeds up to 1GB. Our own speed tests found that the difference in latency on our device when we were running the VPN was about 3 percent. That means we never had to worry about Zoom freezing up when we were visiting with our nieces and nephews overseas.
Pro Tip: Find more companies that offer strict privacy policies on our list of the best no-log VPNs.
When it comes to security, Ivacy is nothing fancy. It doesn’t offer camouflage mode, for example, or multihop servers. Its features, however, are plenty secure for the average user. It offers top-of-the-line AES-256 encryption, and it lets users deploy that encryption using the OpenVPN protocol. Open VPN is open-source and has undergone rigorous testing since it was introduced 20-plus years ago. We send lots of sensitive files back and forth to the office every day, and we never worried while using Ivacy that any of them would fall into the wrong hands.
Ivacy can’t compete with the speeds of PureVPN, but the average user won’t notice much difference between how their devices run with and without the VPN. Latency in our tests was a little high, at 124.8 milliseconds — we prefer numbers under 100 — but 24 milliseconds isn’t a lot in the end. Our uploads increased by 86 percent, which is high but acceptable. And our downloads were downright fast, at just 4 percent higher with the VPN running than without.
Ivacy is decidedly above average in pricing. It offers one of the lowest single-month prices on the market, at just $9.95. That’s perfect if you’re a bit of a commitment-phobe like we are. On the other end of the spectrum, though, you can get a monthly price as low as just $1 if you’re willing to sign up for a five-year plan. We feel pretty comfortable saying you’re not going to beat that price, but you can find more low-cost VPN options on our list of the best cheap VPNs.
What We Like
Strict logging policy
Relatively low prices
What We Don’t Like
Shared IP addresses
Inconsistent customer support
No kill switch on the Mac app
No OpenVPN on the Mac app
What can you get with Ivacy that you can’t get with the other VPNs on this list? A monthly price of just $1. You can’t even get a cup of coffee for a dollar, and Ivacy will give you an entire month of secure internet service. Of course, to get that price, you have to sign up for five years of service, and five years is a long time. Even if you decide to cancel after the first year, though, you’ve still saved a dollar over NordVPN’s month-to-month rate.
Ivacy doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of NordVPN, ExpressVPN, and Surfshark, but it’s no slouch. There’s no multihop to route your signal through multiple servers and no camouflage mode to conceal that you’re using a VPN, but you’re definitely safe using Ivacy. It uses the same AES-256 encryption as the CIA, and it offers the gold-standard OpenVPN protocol.
Even without camouflage mode, Ivacy has managed to find a way to unblock Netflix and most other streaming services. We used it to watch baseball games on ESPN+ that were blacked out in our region. We found a Chicago server with almost no traffic and never missed a single pitch.
If you’re in the market for a great VPN — one that can handle streaming and gives you the best access to streaming content — you’ll want to have a cheat sheet for what to look for. Below, you’ll find a list of the elements we think matter most for the best VPNs for streaming.
Encryption: The heart of every VPN is its encryption. That’s what keeps your data safe. We always insist on AES-256, the same encryption used by the U.S. military.
Protocols: Protocols are the instructions the VPN uses to deploy its encryption. Protocols are almost as important as the encryption itself. For many years, OpenVPN has been the gold standard because it’s open-source and has been subjected to so much testing. WireGuard — a newer open-source model — also has been well tested, and it’s just a bit faster than OpenVPN.
Additional privacy features: The VPN industry has seen some important advancements in security in recent years. Kill switches, multihop servers, and camouflage mode all increase a VPN’s value.
Access to streaming services: Netflix, Max, Prime Video, and other premium streaming services have gotten better and better at filtering out VPN connections. The best VPNs can still get by the filters though.
Plenty of servers: It’s important for VPNs to have enough servers to handle user traffic. The more servers a VPN has in other countries, the easier it is to access streaming content libraries in those countries.
Customer service: You won’t find many VPNs that offer customer service over the phone, since they know phones are a security risk. The best companies offer in-depth topics libraries on a variety of help issues and 24/7 online support.
Netflix has different content libraries in different countries and regions, and if you have the right VPN — one with servers in all those countries — you can access all of them. But how many Netflix libraries are there?
Netflix operates in 190 countries. That’s too many to list here, and it may be easier to just tell you what countries and regions it doesn’t serve:
We recommend making your own scorecard and trying to visit as many libraries as you can.
VPNs and Sports
Streaming services aren’t just about movies and TV shows. Many of them, such as ESPN+, give users access to amazing live sports content. Accessing those streamers through a VPN can give you way more sports content than you get through your ISP.
Sports teams want to pressure fans into buying stadium tickets rather than watching at home. They not only get your money for the ticket, but also for all the popcorn and soda you buy. They enlist local and national streaming services to help apply that pressure through blackouts. Basically, if a stadium doesn’t sell out before game day, local fans can’t access television coverage of the game.
VPNs get around blackouts the same way they provide access to overseas streaming libraries. We’d miss a lot of great games here in New York if we relied only on cable networks to watch. When blackouts pop up, we just sign in to a VPN with a server in Chicago, and suddenly we don’t look like New Yorkers anymore.
What Is a Kill Switch?
Virtually every VPN has a kill switch. If you come across a VPN without one, you may want to look elsewhere. But what is this handy little security feature?
Internet connections can and do fail. You know it happens with your ISP, and it also happens with VPNs — even the very best. If your VPN drops your connection and you don’t have a kill switch, anyone who happens to be watching can see exactly what you’re up to online.
Kill switches prevent that. Basically, they shut down all your internet activity the moment you lose your signal. You’re probably thinking that sounds a little frustrating. You’re right in the middle of a Zoom call and suddenly your browser and all your open apps just disappear. Better that, though, then some hacker being able to see the password you just typed into your banking app.
We could not live without streaming content. Frankly, we wonder how baby boomers and Gen Xers managed to survive before Netflix, Max, and Disney+. (By the way, check out our roundup of the top VPNs for Disney+). The more streamers the better, and the more content libraries we can access from each of them the even-better. If you’re similarly entertainment-inclined, a VPN can be a lifeline to a whole world of content you never even knew existed.
You don’t want just any VPN though. Plenty of companies don’t provide access to the best streamers. Heck, some can’t access any streaming content at all. More importantly, though, you want a VPN that will keep you safe while you’re doing all that watching. No VPN is a perfect fit for everyone, but we feel confident you can find one on this list that meets all your needs.
The best VPNs for streaming is a virtually inexhaustible subject, so here are the answers to a few more of the most common questions about VPNs and streaming.
VPNs are absolutely worth it if you want to be safe online. High-quality VPNs also let you unlock everything the internet has to offer while keeping you safe. Not all VPNs are created equal, of course. Make sure you sign up for a VPN with great security features that gets around streaming blocks.
VPNs can improve streaming by allowing you to sign on to servers all over the world to access streaming content that’s available only in certain locations. VPNs also can help you get around blackouts for live events including sports. In some cases, a VPN can actually speed up your internet connection. Many ISPs enforce data caps, and they’ll throttle your signal once you’ve gone over your cap for the month. VPNs allow you to use as much data as you want and none of it goes through your ISP, so you’re never subject to throttling.
All VPNs slow down your internet connection to some extent. That means slower streaming, but the best VPNs slow down your connection less. Check out our complete list of the fastest VPNs for more information.
Netflix probably won’t ban you for using a VPN. It can detect the use of certain VPN servers, and since it’s against the company’s terms of service to use a VPN (always read the fine print!), it could technically terminate your account. It has never done that before, though, and doesn’t seem too interested in putting it on the to-do list. Typically, the worst thing that happens if Netflix detects your VPN is a classic, “Whoops, something went wrong…” message.
The best VPN for watching ESPN+ is NordVPN. NordVPN provides superior protection, with features such as AES-256 encryption and multihop servers. In addition, its obfuscated servers conceal that you’re using a VPN, so streaming services such as ESPN+ don’t know to block you. NordVPN has servers in 15 different U.S. cities, which means it’s easy to log in to one outside your home region to avoid local blackouts. Other great VPNs for ESPN+ include Surfshark, ExpressVPN, CyberGhost, Proton VPN, VyperVPN, and FastestVPN.