VPNs are essential pieces of security software that protect your online activity and keep your identity hidden from outsiders, like hackers and internet service providers. Thankfully, they’re also some of the easiest software to use, though not all VPNs are equally accessible for newbies. This guide reveals the best VPN for beginners, so you can start things off on the right foot.
- ExpressVPN is the best VPN for beginners, wrapping excellent security, speed and utility into a straightforward and well-designed VPN app.
- CyberGhost, Surfshark and Private Internet Access are all excellent pocket-friendly VPN services for newbies.
- NordVPN is one of the most powerful VPNs around, but is hampered by a somewhat clunky interface.
- If you’re looking for a free VPN, Windscribe and ProtonVPN are both excellent choices, though we think ProtonVPN might be a better choice for beginners.
ExpressVPN is our number-one choice as the easiest VPN service to learn and use. That’s not to say that the other VPN providers on this list are any harder to use, but ExpressVPN works simply without lacking in security, which is why it also topped our best VPN list. Read on for our full VPN for beginners guide.
Using a VPN is easy as pie. The only thing you need to do is install it and connect to a server — provided you’ve chosen a secure and beginner-friendly VPN to start with.
VPNs are some of the simplest software to use, but if you don’t understand what their features do, you probably shouldn’t fiddle around with any advanced settings. That said, you should always toggle on the kill switch before using a VPN (if it isn’t already on by default) and make sure all leak protection features are enabled.
Without a doubt, ExpressVPN is the easiest VPN to use. Like its tagline says, it’s “the VPN that just works.”
The Top VPNs for Beginners
Average speedDownload Speed91 MbpsUpload Speed9 MbpsLatency5 ms
- : PayPal, Credit card, Bitcoin, PaymentWall
- : 5
Average speedDownload Speed62 MbpsUpload Speed9 MbpsLatency45 ms
- : PayPal, Credit card, bitcoin, Amazon Pay
- : 7
Average speedDownload Speed94 MbpsUpload Speed9 MbpsLatency114 ms
- : PayPal, Credit card
- : Unlimited
Average speedDownload Speed89 MbpsUpload Speed9 MbpsLatency4 ms
- : PayPal, Credit card
- : 10
Average speedDownload Speed92 MbpsUpload Speed9 MbpsLatency4 ms
- : PayPal, Credit card, Google Pay, AmazonPay, ACH Transfer, Cash
- : 6
The Best VPN for Beginners in 2023
There aren’t many VPNs with a steep learning curve, but for newcomers, it’s important that a VPN is as streamlined and intuitive as possible. The following VPNs all fit that bill.
- ExpressVPN — Premium VPN provider with a dead simple interface
- CyberGhost — Beginner-friendly, secure VPN with room to learn
- Surfshark — Affordable VPN provider that lets you connect unlimited devices
- Private Internet Access — Easy-to-use VPN with useful descriptions for its features
- NordVPN — Feature-rich VPN for more experienced VPN users
Ease of use is the top factor to consider when choosing your first VPN. Connecting to a VPN server and disconnecting shouldn’t take more than a click. Any advanced options should be organized in menus where you would expect them to be, and their function should be clearly described.
Apart from that, you want the VPN to be secure. This is the main purpose of a VPN, so it should come as no surprise that it’s a priority when choosing a VPN. The VPN should have important security features, like a kill switch, strong VPN protocols, and IP and DNS leak protection. Plus, it should come with most of these features enabled by default.
You should also look at how fast the VPN is. You want the VPN to have as little impact as possible on your internet speed. The fastest VPN providers will feel like you’re not using a VPN at all. Finally, the VPN should be able to unblock most major streaming services — like Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer and Amazon Prime Video — without fiddling around with advanced settings.
VPN Features: A Quick Primer
Before we get started, let’s go through some common VPN features and what they do. For more details, you can check out our in-depth VPN features guide.
- Kill switch — Disconnects you from the internet whenever your VPN connection drops or your VPN fails (our guide to kill switches has more detail on the matter)
- Split tunneling — Lets you choose which apps go through the VPN and which ones go unprotected
- Leak protection — Prevents your IP address or DNS requests from leaking, exposing your identity
- Multi-hop — Passes your internet traffic through two different VPN servers for extra protection
- VPN protocol — The process that defines how you connect to the VPN server and the internet, which can impact security and speed
The Top 5 VPNs for Beginners: Tutorial Included
Without further ado, here are our top five VPN service providers for beginners. Let’s kick things off with our number one choice, ExpressVPN.
More details about ExpressVPN:
- Pricing: $99.95 per year
- Provider website: expressvpn.com
- The fastest VPN provider
- No learning curve
- Easily unblocks streaming sites
What Does ExpressVPN Do?
ExpressVPN is the best all-round VPN. Its interface is as simple as it gets: just a power button to connect or disconnect, and a location picker. The VPN has versions that work on practically any device, and each VPN app comes with easy installation instructions.
It’s also the fastest VPN out there, and you’ll barely notice it’s on, thanks to the minimal impact it has on connection speeds (see our VPN speed comparison). This also makes it a great choice for streaming when paired with its ability to unblock any streaming platform. ExpressVPN is an expert at unblocking all major streaming platforms and makes for a buffering-free streaming experience.
You don’t get many advanced features, but that’s also a good thing for beginners who won’t use them anyway. Thankfully, since it’s one of the most secure VPNs, it has everything you need to secure your connection, including a kill switch, leak prevention and advanced VPN protocols, like ExpressVPN’s custom Lightway protocol.
How Does ExpressVPN Work?
Using ExpressVPN is as easy as it gets. If you just want to protect yourself and don’t need to change your location, all you need to do is push the large power button to turn it on.
If you want to change your location — say to access Netflix in another country — you just need to click on the “selected location” button right below the power button, then choose a location from the list or the search bar. However, you can customize ExpressVPN by adjusting the settings.
Unfortunately, ExpressVPN is on the expensive end. Subscribing for a longer period will take some of the sting out, but even with the discounted price it’s more expensive than the rest of the VPNs on this list. Thankfully, you get a 30-day money-back guarantee in case you’re unsatisfied with your purchase. Read our ExpressVPN review for more info.
More details about CyberGhost:
- Pricing: $2.37 per month
- Provider website: cyberghostvpn.com
- Practical feature descriptions
- Unblocks local streaming services
- Not very fast
What Does CyberGhost Do?
CyberGhost is one of the most beginner-friendly virtual private networks, thanks to its easy-to-use VPN app. If you don’t know how to use a VPN or aren’t familiar with their features, CyberGhost explains what all its features do and how they can be useful to you. Although it’s not the fastest, it’s a quality VPN with great security features.
It also has special streaming servers that can unblock specific streaming services. This includes country-specific ones, like the websites of local TV stations, though in our testing these didn’t provide a speed boost over the regular ones.
How Does CyberGhost Work?
CyberGhost’s desktop VPN app is as intuitive as ExpressVPN’s, featuring a similar layout for the homepage. The settings menu is well organized and all the features have descriptions that, beyond explaining what the features do, also give real-world examples of when you’d want to use them.
As one of the most secure VPN services, CyberGhost comes with a slew of features, including a kill switch, split tunneling and secure “NoSpy” servers that can help with torrenting (it’s one of the best Pirate Bay VPNs). Users don’t need to dive into these features if they want to keep it simple, but it’s great that CyberGhost gives you these options to customize the app to your needs.
CyberGhost is a great choice for people on a budget. Although its monthly pricing rivals ExpressVPN, its three-year plan brings the price down significantly. The longer plans also come with a generous 45-day money-back guarantee, though the monthly plan’s refund period is only 14 days. Read our CyberGhost review for more info.
More details about Surfshark:
- Pricing: $2.49 per month
- Provider website: surfshark.com
- Very easy to use
- Unblocks all major streaming sites
- Unlimited simultaneous connections
- Might not unblock Netflix on the first try
What Does Surfshark Do?
Surfshark — a reliable CyberGhost alternative — is another well-designed VPN that seems to have been built with beginners in mind. Although not quite as sleek as ExpressVPN, Surfshark’s VPN clients let you connect in one click and lay out all its features in logically designed menus. Surfshark is able to unblock all major streaming platforms, though it can take a few tries with different VPN servers to get into Netflix.
Surfshark comes with all the standard features, like a kill switch and split tunneling, and adds extras like an ad blocker and a “NoBorders” mode that lets you surf the web in restrictive countries like China. Best of all, Surfshark gives you unlimited simultaneous connections, which means you can share your account with friends and family to split the bill.
How Does Surfshark Work?
Like ExpressVPN, Surfshark lets you connect to the fastest server available by clicking just one button. The server list is on the main screen, letting you easily choose a different server. In the “settings” menu, you’ll see the most useful features bundled under the “connectivity” tab, while the advanced features are in the “advanced” tab.
Surfshark is one of the more affordable VPNs out there, though only if you subscribe for the two-year plan. Learn more about the VPN in our Surfshark review or take advantage of its 30-day money-back guarantee.
4. Private Internet Access (PIA)
More details about Private Internet Access:
- Pricing: $2.19 per month
- Provider website: privateinternetaccess.com
- Rich in features
- Clearly explained features
- Very cheap VPN service
- System tray app on desktop
- Part of its interface is for experienced users
What Does PIA Do?
PIA is a feature-rich VPN provider that makes even advanced features easy to understand and use. Not only is everything clearly laid out, but all the functions come with explanations about what they do. For example, you’ll rarely see a VPN try to explain the difference between the protocols it uses, but PIA does so in very plain and clear language.
PIA lets you choose between the tried-and-tested OpenVPN or the newer and faster WireGuard. You also get split tunneling, an advanced kill switch that blocks any network traffic that doesn’t go through the VPN, as well as an ad blocker called MACE.
However, we took away some points for usability because its VPN app is relegated to the system tray, which means the window closes every time you click away.
How Does PIA Work?
PIA lives in your system tray (on Windows), and features a somewhat more complicated design than our previous two entries. It still has a large “connect” button and a server list, but also displays your current IP address.
Clicking the arrow button at the bottom will reveal a somewhat daunting menu with shortcuts to all the different options. Beginners should skip this menu and simply use the “settings” menu, which has explanations for all the different features.
PIA comes at a bargain-bin price, with its two-year VPN subscription being the cheapest on our best VPN list. There’s also a 30-day money-back guarantee, as you’ll see in our full Private Internet Access review.
More details about NordVPN:
- Pricing: $3.29 per month
- Provider website: nordvpn.com
- Plenty of advanced features
- Affordable premium VPN
- Very fast
- Some features are complicated to use
What Does NordVPN Do?
We usually hail NordVPN as the cheaper ExpressVPN alternative. After all, it’s one of the most reliable VPN services, has a ton of useful features, and comes at nearly half the price of ExpressVPN. However, we can’t quite recommend it for beginners because its UI can be confusing, mostly due to all the features NordVPN crams into its VPN client.
NordVPN’s standout feature is its selection of specialty servers. There are servers dedicated to torrenting, multi-hop servers and Onion Over VPN servers that route your internet connection through the Tor network (our VPN vs proxy servers vs Tor article digs into what the Tor network is). However, some of these servers only work with certain VPN protocols, which makes them a bit fiddly to use.
How Does NordVPN Work?
NordVPN organizes its VPN apps around a map of the world, which lets you select servers. The map can be a bit cumbersome, and it isn’t useful to those with limited knowledge of geography. Thankfully, there’s a server list as well.
Some of the settings are in odd places (why are the protocol settings in the auto-connect menu?), and choosing certain protocols will make some specialty server options invisible. However, once users feel a bit more confident with using a VPN, NordVPN is hard to beat with its incredible security, privacy and advanced features (it’s one of the best privacy VPNs).
NordVPN isn’t exactly a budget VPN, but it’s still cheap considering all the value it offers. Its two-year plan gives you the best bang for your buck, and there’s a 30-day money-back guarantee if you’re not satisfied with the service, as you can see in our NordVPN review.
- : Unlimited GB
- : 6
- : Unlimited GB
- : 6
What Is a Virtual Private Network (VPN)?
A VPN — or “virtual private network” — is a service that encrypts your network traffic to hide it from interlopers and routes it through its own servers. Thanks to that last part, VPN software can make it appear as if you’re connecting to the internet from another location, allowing you to access content that’s blocked in your area, or bypass local restrictions at your school or workplace.
Because the VPN encrypts your internet connection and makes it unreadable to anyone else, even your internet service provider, using a VPN is the best way to guarantee online privacy, short of unplugging your router. It’s an indispensable online security tool and opens new avenues for securely accessing content online.
Bypassing Restrictions With a VPN
If you only want to bypass restrictions on websites or apps at school or work, you merely need to connect to the VPN. To access local content — say if you want to watch a U.K.-exclusive show — you need to also connect to a VPN server located in that country.
How to Pick a Good VPN Service
Choosing a good VPN service requires finding one with the right balance of necessary features, accessibility and cost. In terms of features, you’ll want the service to at least have a kill switch and leak protection, plus a choice of VPN protocols which includes at the very least OpenVPN or WireGuard. The VPN you choose needs to have a no-logs policy guaranteeing it doesn’t log your activity.
You won’t find a deal much cheaper than $3 a month for a reliable VPN, so if you see anything wildly cheaper, that might be a red flag. If you’re not restricted by a budget, we recommend choosing a no-compromises VPN like ExpressVPN.
NordVPN is a feature-rich choice that offers great value with its long-term plans, but can be a bit overwhelming for beginners.
What Is the Best Free VPN for Beginners?
Free VPNs are often unreliable at best and harmful at worst. They frequently lack a no-logs policy, which means they might sell your data to advertisers or malicious actors. They usually come with a data or bandwidth limit as well, making them slow and unreliable. Some free VPN services have even been found to bundle malware in their installers.
That said, there are several good free VPNs, like the ones on our best free VPN list. Windscribe is our favorite free VPN, featuring excellent security and speeds, but it unfortunately comes with a 10GB monthly data limit and a selection of just 10 server locations. It’s not the best for beginners either, as its interface is cluttered and confusing.
ProtonVPN is another great free VPN provider. It doesn’t limit your data, but it places a soft cap on your speed by putting free users on the busiest servers. It’s a bit more beginner-friendly, though, thanks to a clean layout and useful explanations for features. Read our Surfshark vs ProtonVPN to see how the two compare.
How to Use a VPN
Using a VPN can be as easy as pushing a button. Here is a quick guide on how to use a VPN using ExpressVPN as an example.
- Download and Install a VPN
Go to the VPN’s website and download the VPN app. Then open the downloaded file and follow the steps in the installation wizard.
- Connect to the VPN
Most VPNs will connect you to the nearest or fastest available server automatically. Click on the “power” button to connect to the automatically chosen server. Once it’s connected, you’re protected.
How to Choose a VPN Server
If you want to choose a specific server to connect to, follow the steps below.
- Open the VPN Server List
Click on the VPN server list button (marked as “selected location” or “smart location” in ExpressVPN).
- Find Your Desired Location
Find the server location you want to connect to in the server list. You can scroll through the list manually or use the search bar. You can mark a location as a favorite for quick access.
Final Thoughts: Best VPNs for Beginners
As you can see from our list, ExpressVPN proves its worth as the best VPN for beginners, thanks to its combination of speed, security and its ability to access blocked content, all wrapped into a neat and newbie-friendly package. Whether you’re looking for a VPN for hackers, VPN for Spotify, streaming or gaming, ExpressVPN is an excellent choice.
CyberGhost is a worthy alternative if you can deal with the slower speeds, and Surfshark and PIA are similarly uncomplicated budget-friendly choices. If you have a bit more VPN experience under your belt, NordVPN is a worthy contender, rivaling ExpressVPN in terms of features and speed, but with a more cumbersome UI.
Do you agree with our list? What VPN service was your first? Have you tried any of the VPNs on this list, or would you rather see different VPN providers featured? Let us know in the comments below and, as always, thank you for reading. If you’re looking for a VPN for a specific function: streaming, torrenting or accessing blocked websites, be sure to check our VPN articles library.