A virtual private network (VPN) is a type of software that provides enhanced safety and security when you access the internet. VPNs give you a personal “tunnel” you could use to secure your connection to open Wi-Fi, shielding your sensitive information from hackers. VPNs also afford anonymity while browsing, sharing files or streaming.

The best VPNs have superior security, allow a wide number of devices and offer connections to servers in many countries, to name just a few criteria we considered and tested. Our VPN reviews included more than a dozen paid and free options to help you simplify your search.

Best VPN Services for 2021

Best For

Pros

Cons

NordVPN

General business usage

✅  Top speeds, free password manager and ad blocker

❌  Fewer countries, streaming devices supported than rivals

ExpressVPN

Streaming

  Wide selection of streaming devices, supported countries

❌  Expensive; WireGuard protocol not available

IPVanish

Torrenting

✅  Upgraded servers, unlimited number of connections allowed

❌  No ad blocking

Surfshark

Security and privacy

MultiHop functionality, inexpensive plans

❌  Fewer streaming devices supported than rivals

CyberGhost

New users

Easy-to-use apps, large server network

❌  Some app inconsistency

In This Article:

    Why Use a VPN?

    It’s always a good idea to use a VPN every time you connect to public Wi-Fi, but the benefits go beyond coffee shops or airport lounges. There are popular uses at home, too. Let’s look at a few of the advantages you’ll gain when you tunnel into your preferred network using a VPN.

    Enhanced security

    When you access a public Wi-Fi network, cybercriminals — who are also accessing the same network — may be able to view your browsing history, IP address and additional personal information. When you tunnel into a Wi-Fi connection using your VPN, your IP address and browsing history are obscured, and it’s impossible to connect your IP address to your unique search history and browsing. If you have credit card or banking information saved to your devices and you use public Wi-Fi networks, a VPN is necessary to protect your information.

    Improved search functionality and less targeted marketing

    Have you ever looked at a pair of shoes or designer handbag, decided not to buy it and found that advertisements for the item seemed to stalk you around the internet? When you browse online, your internet service provider can access your browsing history and see exactly what your IP address is looking at online. Web browsers can also track your search history, connect this history to your IP address and serve you targeted advertisements pestering you with temptation.

    Example: If you search for a flight, you might check multiple dates and review prices over the course of a few days or weeks before you decide to book your flight. If search data for a particular flight is saved in your browsing history, airlines and airline ticket aggregation sites, such as Expedia and Skyscanner, might not show you the best rates in order to encourage you to book faster in fear that fares will increase even further if you wait.

    When you use a VPN, your browser cannot connect your IP address to your search history. This makes its targeted advertising services ineffective, which can be a major benefit if you’re sick of finding yourself spending unnecessary money online.

    Enhanced streaming availability

    Websites like Netflix, Hulu, Disney+ and other streaming sites often offer content with regional availability. Services like these use your IP address to detect your location, which allows them to restrict content to what is available in your region due to copyrights and creator limitations. If you’ve ever wanted to watch a particular YouTube video only to find a message telling you that this video is “not available in your region,” you know exactly how annoying this can be.

    When you access a website using a VPN, your IP address is obscured. Most VPN service providers, however, also allow you to select the country that you want to tunnel in depending on where the VPN has servers located. For example, if you want to watch a YouTube video only available in Japan, you can use your VPN to access YouTube through a Japan-hosted server. YouTube will automatically recognize your masked IP address location in Japan and will serve you content available only in Japan.

    If you’re a frequent traveler, you might want to use this service in reverse. For example, imagine you’re on a business trip and you want to watch Netflix, which isn’t currently supported in the country you’re visiting. You can use a VPN to tunnel in through a server in the United States, bypassing regulations and viewing content from back home.

    What to Look for in a VPN

    After reviewing more than a dozen VPNs to find the best products, we’ve compiled a list of tips and things to look for when you select a VPN.

    Be wary of using a VPN based in the U.S.

    Companies based in the U.S. are subject to laws forcing VPN providers to forfeit your data if asked to do so by federal authorities. Certain U.S.-based companies may be required to log some of your data depending on the state where they’re based. For maximum privacy, we recommend choosing a VPN provider that is located outside the U.S.

    If you are dedicated to using a U.S.-based VPN, thoroughly explore the company’s logging policies before you pay for your account. If subpoenaed, U.S.-based VPNs that use limited logging policies may not have much information to provide. Still, if you’re particularly concerned about privacy and anonymity, it’s best to choose a VPN company based outside of the jurisdiction of the United States.

    Avoid using free VPNs

    As the old saying goes — if a service is free, you are the product. There are multiple issues that can come with using free VPNs, including data security and safety. In short, free VPNs do not have the funding required to maintain a safe and secure infrastructure. Free VPNs are more likely to log your activity, clutter your browsing experience with ads, sell your data and sacrifice crucial safety measures in the name of cutting costs. All these policies can put you and your personal information at risk, which is why we recommend paid VPN services above free options.

    Understand the countries where each VPN has servers

    If you’re interested in using your VPN to stream content from around the world, be sure your VPN offers servers in the countries where you’re interested in gaining access. If a VPN does not have servers in a particular country, you won’t be able to access the content you want.

    It can be helpful to create a list of countries before you select a provider. For example, if you want to access content from the U.S., Moldova and South Korea, you should ensure the VPN you choose offers routing through these three countries.

    How We Chose the Best VPN Services of 2021

    After testing and analyzing VPN services, we chose five VPNs that we believe provide superior privacy features, functionality and access options. Some of the factors that we considered when deciding which VPNs to put on this list include:

    • Features, functionality and stability of the VPN’s network
    • Overall customer service
    • Pricing
    • Security and privacy
    • Streaming and torrenting capabilities
    • Transparency
    • VPN protocols supported

    Here is our list of the best VPNs available online now.

    Best for General Business Usage: NordVPN

    One of the most popular VPN services available, NordVPN leverages a host of encryption and security features that optimizes its performance while also being safe enough for business usage. Some NordVPN features that impressed us the most include:

    • CyberSec — a protocol that blocks malware on the network from accessing your device
    • Free password manager
    • Onion Over VPN — provides enhanced anonymity via Onion routing

    In addition to these features, NordVPN uses three popular VPN protocols to provide users with layered safety and security while browsing online. We also found ourselves impressed with NordVPN’s speed. In our test, we were able to access download speeds of up to 330 megabits per second (Mbps) when we connected through the VPN’s WireGuard-based protocol. With high speeds and comprehensive privacy, NordVPN is great for use on business devices.

    Price: NordVPN’s plan pricing ranges from $4.13-$11.95. Read our full NordVPN review to learn more.

    Best for Streaming: ExpressVPN

    ExpressVPN offers one of the most impressive line-ups of supported streaming services we’ve seen. In our test, we were able to easily access streaming sites like Disney+ and Netflix, as well as multiple streaming devices like the Amazon Firestick, Xiaomi Mi Box, Android TV and many more. ExpressVPN has even created a series of video guides that help users set up their VPN with their streaming device of choice.

    ExpressVPN’s security feature lineup is just as impressive. Protocols include the following and more:

    • Internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2)
    • Internet Protocol secure (IPSec)
    • Lightway
    • OpenVPN

    Though the Windows OS option does offer enhanced security features over the MacOS 11 version, domain name system (DNS) leak protection and Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) leak protection secure your data. Though we couldn’t access the fastest speeds through ExpressVPN, the service’s wide range of supported streaming options and devices makes it our top choice for leisure usage.

    Price: ExpressVPN’s plan pricing ranges from $6.67-$12.95 a month. Read our full ExpressVPN review to learn more.

    Best for Torrenting: IPVanish

    Torrenting, or peer-to-peer file sharing, continues to be a hot topic in the sphere of VPN usage and cybersecurity, with many VPN providers blocking torrenting applications due to copyright concerns. IPVanish supports torrenting sites with speeds that will be sufficient for most users. It is one of the only VPNs running on a 25 gigabits per second (Gbps) network, which can enhance download speeds even further. IPVanish offers four VPN protocols:

    • IKEv2
    • IPSec
    • L2TP
    • OpenVPN

    Though IPVanish can be a functional option for torrenting thanks to its decent speeds, it does lack a few of the security features offered by competing VPN providers. For example, the VPN service doesn’t offer ad-blocking options like the top VPN providers. Still, with a price tag of less than $4 a month, IPVanish provides users with an affordable option that supports torrenting.

    Price: IPVanish’s plan pricing ranges from $2.62-$10.99 a month. Read our IPVanish vs. NordVPN comparison review to learn more.

    Best for Security and Privacy: Surfshark

    Users who are particularly concerned about their security and privacy should consider Surfshark when selecting a VPN. Surfshark offers several impressive security features that we couldn’t identify with competing VPN providers, including:

    • Camouflage Mode — a tool that obfuscates your VPN tunnel to look like a standard internet connection to outsiders
    • MultiHop functionality — allows you to connect to multiple VPN servers simultaneously.

    When working in tandem, these features provide users with a higher level of privacy and anonymity. The VPN even offers a unique NoBorders Mode, which allows you to connect through VPN-restricted countries, such as China.

    In addition to enhanced security, Surfshark also offers impressive speeds and functionality. Since the introduction of the WireGuard VPN protocol, Surfshark users can access high speeds like those offered by NordVPN. Though compatible streaming devices and options are limited, Surfshark’s impressive array of privacy features can make it ideal for users looking to obscure their internet browsing.

    Price: Surfshark’s plan pricing ranges from $2.49-$12.95 a month. Read our full Surfshark review to learn more.

    Best for New Users: CyberGhost

    If you’re searching for your first VPN service, and you’re concerned about ease-of-use, CyberGhost is a great option for you to consider. Due to CyberGhost’s easy-to-use apps, you can access advanced features with little prerequisite tech knowledge. Torrenting and streaming services are supported, and the provider offers 24/7 customer service options that can help you troubleshoot any issues you may run into.

    Price: CyberGhost’s plan pricing ranges from $2.25-$12.99 a month.

    Pricing is accurate as of publication date.