Upon hearing the term ‘VPN’, your brain may very well begin to shut down at the mention of another piece of confusing software. However, we’re here to cut through the technical jargon and equip you with the very best VPN for all your browsing and streaming needs.
Standing for ‘virtual private network’, there’s a reason you’ll have heard a lot about VPNs recently. That’s because they’re an incredibly useful bit of software that have the ability to broaden your experience online, and ensure sensitive information is kept under lock and key.
Raring to go with tons of features, the perk at the top of the average-Joe’s list is the ability to unblock geo-restricted content. This means streaming other countries’ Netflix libraries for starters. The same can be applied to blocked websites at school and in the office, or if you happen to be in a country with strict rules on what websites nationals and visitors can and can’t visit.
There are also a plethora of security advantages that come with VPNs, allowing you to encrypt browsing history and maintain anonymity online.
Keeping these key features in mind, we’ve compiled a list of the best services for you to check out, with T3’s Best VPN award-winner ExpressVPN leading the charge.
Still a bit puzzled on what VPNs are all about? We’ve covered all bases on what a VPN actually is, why you need a VPN, and where to start - just keep scrolling.
1. ExpressVPN – the best VPN money can buy
You'll learn exactly why below, but if you're just after the best VPN money can buy, we'd recommend ExpressVPN every time. Not only is it incredibly simple for newbies to use, but it offers class-leading speeds, works on pretty much every device, and boasts rock-solid encryption and security. And now, T3 readers can claim three months free on a 12-month plan.View Deal
2. Surfshark – unbeatable on price
While it's not quite as fully featured as ExpressVPN, Surfshark is a seriously powerful budget VPN that doesn't sacrifice much at all. For just $2.49 a month you'll be able to stream tons of content from all around the world, as well as keep your personal info private – and until the New Year, you'll get three months free, too!View Deal
3. NordVPN – the biggest name in VPN is still a strong competitor
Sitting somewhere in between ExpressVPN and Surfshark is NordVPN – you know, the one you've seen on TV and sponsoring Liverpool FC. It's a seriously powerful security solution, and trails ExpressVPN by a fraction in functionality, while costing a little more than Surfshark – but $3.71 a month still isn't bad.View Deal
The best VPN service online in 2021
There's a reason ExpressVPN appears in the top spot of not only our overall best VPN, but also in our buying guides for best Netflix VPN, iPad VPN, and the like. It manages to tick a lot of boxes across the board, appealing to an array of users and their individual needs.
For starters, ExpressVPN has over 3,000 servers in 94 countries, which means you can dial your IP address into 160 locations around the world. That's not the be all and end all, but it's an immediate indicator that ExpressVPN means business.
More crucial is speed – you don't want your VPN slowing down your surfing, streaming and downloading – and Express delivers great performance across its servers around the world. It’s put the effort into its software too, with dedicated apps for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android, as well as some Smart TVs, Amazon Fire TV Sticks, Apple TV, PS4 and Xbox and even your router.
Not only that, but there are solid online tutorials too, so even if the concept of VPNs goes right over your head, Express will have you up and running in no time. P2P is fully supported and it's super speedy so you can torrent using the maximum bandwidth of your broadband connection.
More interested in using your VPN for streaming content from overseas? ExpressVPN has got you sorted there, too. In our tests, we check to see whether each VPN can get around geo-restrictions put in place by the likes of Netflix, YouTube and Amazon Prime Video. It ticked all those boxes with ease.
There are plenty of reasons to pick Surfshark as your preferred online VPN service – it's super affordable, covers unlimited devices and, if streaming is your concern, it unblocks Netflix, iPlayer, Hulu and tons more.
Whether you're a beginner or a VPN veteran, Surfshark is super easy and straightforward to get to grips with. Better still, it boasts a very speedy live chat support, so if you do have any queries these can be solved very quickly.
Let's not forget the unlimited devices policy – this means you can get as many simultaneous connections as you wish, be it on your tablet, phone(s), desktop, router or any other compatible device. This offers incredible value for money, and you can even share your plan with members of your household – although we have seen better Android VPN apps from other providers.
The provider also has a wide range of features, including a Kill Switch, allowing you to hit that all-important button when the connection drops out. This means any data that could have otherwise been transferred when vulnerable won't.
On top of this, Surfshark offers a host of different encryption protocols depending on what you need from your VPN, whether speed, security, or you're seeking out the perfect torrenting VPN with P2P. Playing host to AES-256-GCM encryption, WireGuard, OpenVPN and IKEv2, Surfshark has a no-logging policy to boot.
But the main hook – the price. It's no surprise at all to see Surfshark ranking near the top of our cheap VPN countdown.
There's no doubt that NordVPN is one of the best VPN services around. It has over 5,400 servers online in 59 countries, supports up to six devices simultaneously, uses seriously powerful encryption and has an exceptional feature list. This includes an automatic kill switch, dedicated IP addresses, and strong DNS leak protection. On top of that, there is the ability to pay in Bitcoin and a multi-year plan which is really reasonably priced.
As well as security, NordVPN is a favourite with people wanting to broaden their streaming horizons. Nord does it all – Netflix, iPlayer, Amazon Prime, Hulu, YouTube – and with relative ease, too. It has brilliant web support with articles helping to unlock the VPN's potential, backed up by some sterling 24/7 live chat support, too.
In terms of performance, Nord's one of the very fastest out there, too. That's in part thanks to the all-new WireGuard-based NordLynx protocol, which can deliver searing speeds only matched by the next VPN on this list. Looking to perform a particular task? It's speciality server list hosts Double VPN, Obfuscated and Dedicated IP, P2P and Onion support.
The security savvy will also appreciate the inclusion of Nord's use of CyberSec technology. This able to automatically scan and block websites with appear malicious, protecting you from infecting your device against harmful viruses and malware.
If you're after a fast, reliable VPN that's great for both streaming and keeping you private, NordVPN could be right up your alley.
Well known for offering one of the leading free VPN services on the market, Hotspot Shield's premium service has come on leaps and bounds, and has well and truly staked its claim as one of the best VPN services out there today.
If you're after absolute speed, then it's a perfect option. The in-house Catapult Hydra protocol trounces just about every rival, and delivers speeds well over 400Mbps. That's more than most people's Internet can muster, and plenty even for the most hardcore downloaders.
As a streaming VPN, Hotspot's a bit of a hotshot, too. You'll get access to Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime, Disney Plus, YouTube and just about any other site – and for its target audience, that'll be hugely important.
Hotspot Shield might not appeal quite so much to the uber privacy-conscious, though. The fact it's based in the US and not zero-logging will put a few off, and if you're seeking the ultimate in online privacy we'd certainly steer you towards ExpressVPN or NordVPN. However, what logs Hotspot collects can't be tied back to your activity, so we've got no qualms about recommending them.
So, if you want the maximum speeds possible while staying protected by a VPN, plus all the extra streaming goodness you'll be able to unblock, Hotspot Shield is a great choice. To top it off, it's user interface is fantastic, offering an intuitive experience that makes the prospect of a VPN less daunting.
IPVanish is one of the most recognisable names among all the VPN services out there. It's been going for years and if you've read about VPNs in the past you've probably seen some of its ads.
It promises to be the world’s fastest VPN, with more than 40,000 IP addresses, 1,500 servers in 70+ countries, unlimited peer to peer sharing and as many simultaneous connections as you can handle - it's a VPN with some serious credentials.
That's certainly a bonus over ExpressVPN which only offers five connections at a time - IPVanish could be the better option for you if you want to get the whole family on one plan, for example. However, Surfshark does offer the same but for considerably less cash.
For keen streamers, IPVanish may not be your first choice depending on what you want to watch. Whilst it seamlessly unblocks Netflix and Disney Plus, for those who want to watch iPlayer and Prime Video, it may be worth looking elsewhere.
There’s a clear no-logging policy, which is great for anyone concerned with privacy and security - the service isn’t gathering or tracking your browsing activity. In addition, you'll find a kill switch for those shaky moments where connection is lost, and AES-256 encryption, as well as OpenVPN and IKEv2 protocols.
IPVanish certainly isn’t going after the budget market here, but it's still a bit cheaper than ExpressVPN. Like Express, IPVanish doesn’t offer a free trial (although there is still a thirty day money back guarantee if the service doesn’t live up to your expectations).
CyberGhost may be Romanian and German-based, but it's a very internationally used VPN, with well over 6,500 servers spread across 90 countries. That's some impressive numbers and a real statement of intent.
It's got a super effective kill-switch, which is pretty handy in terms of security, alongside of stream of excellent, reputable features, including blocks on malicious websites, ads and trackers.
If streaming is more your concern the server also unblocks Netflix, Hulu and BBC iPlayer. Plus, its innovative filtering system automatically displays suitable servers for what you're after – for example, torrenting or streaming Netflix using a VPN.
The speedy live chat support is also pretty handy for anyone who's a VPN newbie or has any questions or queries. You get a 24 hour trial for the desktop app (still pretty measly, but better than than nothing at all), and it does have a class-leading 45-day money-back guarantee.
Another bonus to its plentiful offering of features is the ability to create custom clients across Windows, Mac, iOS and Android.
Overall, though, CyberGhost offers you a lot of unusual functionality for a very fair price, and it's well worth a closer look. Plus, that 45-day money-back guarantee is longer than a lot of other competition.
- Looking for torrenting specifically? Check out torrenting VPN
With plenty of apps, an effective kill switch and servers across 40-odd countries Private Internet Access is a very attractive online VPN service. The pricing is decent, too, especially when you consider that a single subscription will cover 10 devices - so you can even share them out with friends and family.
With apps for a Mac VPN, Windows, Android, Linus, iOS and browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Opera, it's compatible with pretty much most software. It may not boast a wide range of apps but the provider does offer a couple expert type features and it's super easy and straightforward to use. When it comes to securing a VPN for your iOS device, both its iPhone VPN and iPad version offer a really seamless experience for Apple users, and it doesn't skimp on the features either, which some of its competitors can be guilty of.
Also, if security and privacy is a concern then the provider has quite a few features that are ideal for this, including a kill switch, flash blocking, cookie cleaning, camera and microphone protection. With a seemingly endless list of protocols too, including WireGuard, OpenVPN, IKEv2, DNS, and the option of a custom port and more, control over encryption is finely tuned where Private Internet Access is concerned.
With everything that you're getting and the fact that it is super speedy means that this provider is great value for money.
Switzerland is famed for its privacy-friendly legislation, and that’s where VyprVPN operates from - although its servers operate in more than 70 other countries to deliver unlimited data. With over 700 servers, this number is certainly on the smaller side compared to its competitors. However, what it lacks in servers, it makes up in apps. With software compatability across a whole host of devices, you can load VyprVPN onto Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Chromebooks, Smart TVs, as well as routers and much more.
Regular updates also see the inclusion of even more protocols, including WireGuard, adding to its list with IKEv2 and VyprVPN's own Chameleon 2.0 protocol.
For the keen binge watchers out there, VyprVPN has also proved its capabilities in unblocking geo-locked content, including across Netflix libraries, Prime Video, iPlayer, HBO Go, Hulu and more.
Not only that, but there are plenty of useful options including auto-connect, automatically connecting to untrustworthy, public Wi-Fi networks. There is also a kill-switch and enhanced security via the service’s proprietary Chameleon protocol and its own DNS. VyprVPN has a free trial too so you can try it out and see what you think before you commit.
TunnelBear is designed for a very specific group of people: people who want a VPN service but don’t want to mess around with configuration or become IT experts to make their connections more secure. And it caters brilliantly for that market, with a very straightforward interface and jargon-free writing. In truth, all of the VPN services these days do this, but TunnelBear tries very hard to stand out.
It’s not for power users - there isn’t much you can change - but with up to five simultaneous connections, servers across 20 countries and decent performance on US and Canadian websites, it may be enough to satisfy casual users or technophobes who really don't want much functionality.
In terms of security, users can rest assured with TunnelBear's dedication to carry out annual security audits.
For streamers looking to access content when outside of their home country, TunnelBear's only true streaming success is Disney Plus. With its adorable bear mascot, perhaps this provider would be better placed gearing itself as the VPN for kids. Alas, the likes of Netflix and iPlayer weren't accessible in our trials.
Longer connections can be slower, though: that's when the relatively small number of server locations really makes itself obvious. There’s a free version that works well, although it limits you to pathetic 500MB of monthly traffic. However, you can use it in place of the absent free trial to test it out briefly before committing.
Windscribe offers unlimited device connections. Yes, you heard that right! There are apps for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android, and the service also offers browser add-ons with useful features such as ad-blocking.
This allows the freedom to simply add Windscribe to your gadgets as you go, never having to think about how many you're already using it on. If you’re looking to protect the data from a whole bunch of devices - an office, perhaps, or just a smart home - the support for unlimited connections is a real stand-out feature.
Performance improved in our most recent tests - we recorded decent connection speeds across most servers. So it should be able to cater to the needs of most streamers, especially when you consider that we easily got it to unlock foreign Netflix catalogues, BBC iPlayer, Disney Plus, and more.
With its free version, you can give it a try at no cost with a download limit of 10GB. Of course, this isn't a huge amount - though more than TunnelBear's allowance. You'll soon be looking to dive into its paid for version. However, Windscribe once again offers flexibility for its users to give it a whirl and see for themselves why this software can be so good.
When you make the leap from free to its paid for service, Windscribe allows you a ton of options here, too. Get a monthly or annual plan, or even build your own.
What is a VPN?
So what even is a VPN? VPN stands for 'virtual private network' and it acts like a private, encrypted tunnel between you and the internet. In practice, it's like a private filter which completely anonymises you online - so no one can see who you are or what you're doing.
Online VPNs explained in more depth
Even your internet service provider cannot see what you're doing, what you're downloading or where you're browsing. So a VPN not only makes your connection completely private, it also makes it completely secure. The encryption that VPN services use is foolproof which means no one can hack into your device and steal your data.
The practical uses for using a VPN online are plentiful. Want to access a website that your ISP has blocked? A VPN puts that website just one click away. Want to access the US version of Netflix from the UK? Just set your VPN to a US location and you're there. Want to download torrents without being blocked by your ISP? It's easy.
Most online VPN services are available as apps for any and all of your devices - whether that's a Windows laptop, a Apple Mac, iPhone or iPad, Android device, Amazon Fire TV Stick or even Smart TV. And many allow you to log on from as many as 5 devices at once, so with one account you can secure and anonymise all of your gadgets.
You simply install the app, open it and tell it what you want your location to be. All the encryption is done in the background so simply by switching it on, it'll do all of the hard work for you.
Is using a VPN online legal?
VPN services are entirely legal and legitimate in most countries. It's completely legal to mask your IP address and encrypt your internet traffic.
There is nothing about using a VPN that's illegal and VPN services themselves do not and cannot do anything illegal.
The only thing that's illegal is if you were to break the law while using a VPN - for instance if you were to infringe on someone's copyright. But that's the action of infringement that's illegal, not the use of the VPN.
How secure are VPN services online?
There are a lot of great reasons why people choose to use a VPN. The main reason to use a VPN online is security - in theory, the data that travels across your VPN should be impossible for anybody else to intercept, so it can protect your online banking or confidential business communications - but there are other benefits too.
VPNs can make it much harder for advertising to track you online, and they can overcome geography-specific blocks that prevent you from accessing some country-specific services such as online video.
When we say that in theory VPNs can’t be intercepted, that’s because they are like any other form of security: if you use them on a device that’s already been compromised by malware such as keyloggers or other security threats then they can’t do their job properly.
If you’re on Windows, then good quality, up to date anti-virus software isn’t a luxury. It’s absolutely essential.
Can a VPN really make you anonymous online?
VPNs can make your browsing private, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re anonymous. VPN services can and do log traffic (even the ones that say they don’t log do need to log some information, or they wouldn’t be able to function properly), and those logs can be requested by the authorities. Think of a VPN as being like curtains: people can’t peek through your curtains if you’ve got them closed, but curtains won’t hide your house.
What that means in practice is that VPNs are fine for bypassing geo-blocks, for protecting your online banking and for keeping business communications free from interception. However, if you’re using the internet to fight repressive regimes or to do anything else that could attract the attention of the authorities where you live, a VPN is not a magic wand that’ll make you invisible.
What’s the difference between a VPN and a proxy?
A proxy server is another way to conceal your real location. By transferring data through a proxy server the data appears to be going to that server, not you - so for example if you’re in the US and the proxy is in Switzerland, the website or service will think it’s talking to a machine in Switzerland. The main difference is that VPNs protect all your traffic while proxies tend to be limited to specific types of data, such as peer to peer networking or web browsing.
Can I trust a free service?
Because as the cliché goes, you get what you pay for. Or rather, with free services you tend to get what you don’t pay for in the form of advertising, lower priority connections, blocks on data hungry apps such as peer to peer networking, session limits and in most cases, a lack of any guarantees about service availability or quality.
If you only want to protect a laptop from time to time in a coffee shop a no-fee VPN will be fine, but for anything more serious we’d recommend a paid-for product.
How do I choose an online VPN service to download?
To choose the best VPN for you, it's more than just whether to go for a free VPN versus a paid for provider. Put short, don’t just look at the price, not least because many services offer massive discounts if you take out a longer term subscription. Start with the basics: how many simultaneous connections can you have? Are there particular security protocols you want to use? Does the provider have servers in the places you’ll want to use it from and the places you want to connect to? How much data will they log about you, and how long do they keep it for? Most important of all, will you be able to unlock Netflix and Disney Plus?
Wherever possible try before you buy. In some cases there won’t be a free trial, but most reputable VPN providers offer a money back guarantee if the service doesn’t meet your expectations.
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