A virtual private network creates a “tunnel” between your device and the internet. Information inside the data tunnel is encrypted and your IP address is obscured. A VPN is a must when using public Wi-Fi, particularly if you store sensitive information, such as credit card numbers on your phone, laptop or tablet. A VPN also protects your internet privacy at home. These steps will help you understand how to get a VPN service that’s right for you.

In This Article:

    Why and When You Should Use a VPN

    More than 90% of global internet users have at least some concerns regarding their data privacy, according to Statista, and for good reason. Unscrupulous users can intercept your web traffic on public Wi-Fi or networks you don’t control, such as hotel networks. Even on a home network, your internet service provider (ISP) keeps a record of your web activity and may be permitted to sell that data.

    Some VPNs will block advertising trackers that follow you around the internet, bombarding you with targeted ads.

    There are a few downsides to using a VPN, including potentially slower connections, and a monthly subscription fee for the best VPNs. A VPN isn’t a replacement for good cybersecurity protocols. It’s still important to use antivirus software, a secure password manager app and two-factor authentication, when possible.

    Pros and Cons of Using a VPN

    Pros

    Cons

    ✅  Keeps your data secure from companies and cybercriminals

    ❌  Possible reduced internet speeds

    ✅  Maintains your privacy online

    ❌  Free VPNs may collect and sell user data

    ✅  Alters your IP address to bypass geography-based internet restrictions

    ❌  The expense of high-quality VPNs

    ✅  Works around bandwidth throttling from your internet service provider

    ❌  Can’t completely anonymize your web traffic or block every piece of malware

    ✅  Improves your online gaming experience

    How to Get a VPN

    Now that you understand a few reasons why you might want to use a VPN service, the next step is to decide which features are important to you before you choose a VPN provider and download the software.

    Step 1: Decide Which Type of VPN is Right for You

    Ask yourself: Why do I need a VPN and how am I going to use it? One reason could be that you want to watch Netflix shows not available in your home country. Another reason may be that you travel for work and constantly connect to free Wi-Fi networks to stay caught up on work.

    TIP: At this stage of the process, it’s a good idea to write down the features that matter most to you in a VPN service. You can refer back to the list you created to figure out whether a particular VPN is right for you as you move forward with your search.

    The right VPN service depends on your situation and priorities. Here are a four factors to consider:

      1. Video Streaming

    Some people use VPNs because they want to access content that is blocked or not available in their country. Soccer matches, for example, may not broadcast in your region but can be viewed by tunneling through a VPN provider’s server in another country. If streaming content from abroad is your top reason for a VPN, focus your search on providers with servers in the countries you want to stream video from that also support your devices.

      1. Multiple Devices

    The best VPN for you might come down to the number of devices that can simultaneously connect to a VPN service. Five device connections is the standard for most VPN companies, and up to 25 devices is a possibility. An alternative option would be to connect a VPN to a router, which protects more devices at once. Connecting a router, however, may require the purchase of a new, compatible router.

      1. Torrenting

    Peer-to-peer file sharing (P2P), also known as torrenting, is useful for exchanging large files without the need for a centralized server. Torrenting requires the use of a P2P client, such as BitTorrent. Some ISPs block BitTorrent and similar services out of concern that users illegally share copyrighted material. Top VPNs clearly mark servers that are best for a particular use, such as torrenting or streaming.

      1. Free vs. Paid VPNs

    As you begin looking for a VPN, you’ll see there are free and paid VPN options to choose from. Due to our VPN research and testing, we always recommend paid plans, but free VPN services are available with security features that are comparable to paid services. However, you’ll need to do your homework and decide if you’re willing to accept a few tradeoffs:

    • Ads: If a company doesn’t charge for its VPN services, it may display a hefty amount of ads to recoup costs and turn a profit. If the last thing you want is to see more internet ads, it is best to stick with a paid VPN.
    • Data collection: Certain free VPN services may even sell off data about you in order to finance server expenses. This defeats the purpose of a VPN, but a free VPN might be better than no VPN in certain situations. If you choose a free service, make sure you understand its privacy policies.

    These aren’t the only factors you’ll want to consider when deciding on a VPN. Keep top of mind where the VPN company is located, its customer trust levels and how well it performs in speed tests. These are all elements we considered in our list of best VPNs.

    Step 2: Sign Up For a VPN Service

    Now you’re ready to start looking at your specific VPN options. There are lots of brands for you to consider, each of which will have its own set of pros and cons. Here’s a list of some of the most widely used VPNs to get you started:

    Best Paid VPN Services

    NordVPN

    Visit Site

    ExpressVPN

    Visit Site

    IPVanish

    Visit Site

    Surfshark

    Visit Site

    CyberGhost

    Visit Site

    Once you compile a list of VPN services that interest you, it’s time for you to compare the features available to you.

    Look for VPNs with a Simple User Interface Design

    Ease-of-use is important for new VPN users and should be prioritized when thinking about how to get a VPN company. Some VPNs are powerful with convenient features. The impact, however, of that power is diminished if the user interface is too complex to figure out how to use. Ideally, you’ll want your VPN to be as hands-off as possible. You should be able to turn the VPN connection on and let it do its job after you’ve gone through the initial setup process.

    TIP: We recommend comparing prices and features between at least three competing VPN service providers before you decide which service you’d like to use.

    Make Sure the VPN You Like Best is Compatible with Your System

    If you want to use a VPN on a Mac computer, make sure the VPNs you’re looking at are Mac-compatible. Same goes for a Windows or Linux machine. Game consoles and smart TVs are a little trickier. Contact customer support for each VPN you’re interested in to make sure the service covers these devices, too.

    Choose a Payment Plan

    Most VPN providers will allow you to pay month-to-month, annually or even every two to three years. While we recommend starting with the shortest period possible — some VPNs even offer weekly plans — VPN costs are typically lower for the longest contracts. If you do sign up for a long-term contract, you will most likely have to pay up front. Also be sure to ask customer service if your renewal price will be the same or higher than your initial promotional pricing.

    TIP: Free trials are one way to try out a VPN, but few providers offer them. Most, however, have money-back guarantees. If you’re not satisfied, cancel your subscription within the set time period to receive your refund, then try another service.

    Most providers will allow you to pay by credit or debit card, even cryptocurrency or cash. You will most likely need to provide an email address as well during the sign-up process.

    Step 3: Download, Launch and Connect

    Now that you’ve selected the best VPN for you and signed up, how do you get a VPN on your desktop, laptop or other devices? Follow these four steps:

    1. Visit your device’s app store and search for the name of your VPN service. You can also typically find links on the VPN provider’s website. For desktop apps or browser extensions, you’ll find direct download links on your VPN provider’s website.
    2. Download the VPN software to your device. As with any type of app, you’ll be prompted to enter your app store account password or enable facial recognition technology to complete the download.
    3. After your VPN download is finished, open the app and sign into your account. If you’ve already created an account and set up your desktop VPN, use the same credentials to begin on your mobile device or tablet.
    4. Your VPN software may automatically connect to a server closest to you, but if other servers are available, select a server in a different country or one optimized for a particular use, such as torrenting.