Over the past few years, the VPN market has grown immensely, with exponential growth projected in the early 2020’s. It’s clear that the market is growing, too, with VPN companies springing up left and right (we’ve reviewed around 60 already). To sort through the mess, here’s our guide to the best VPN services currently available.
We’ve taken the top 10 options from our VPN reviews, and along the way, we’ll explain why we like each. Additionally, we’ve compiled some information about why you should use a VPN, as well as how we rate VPN services.
If you don’t want to read 5,000 or so words, we recommend signing up for ExpressVPN. Over the years, we’ve consistently rated it as the best VPN service for its uncompromising security, excellent speeds and no-nonsense UI. If you want to get up and running with it, you can sign up risk-free with a full month to get your money back, no questions asked.
If you just want the bullet points, check out our video recap below.
Best VPN Video Recap
The Best VPNs for 2020
- ExpressVPN — Best VPN, 30-day money-back-guarantee, excellent for Netflix
- NordVPN — Best VPN for torrenting
- CyberGhost — Best VPN for streaming
- PIA — Best cheap VPN
- Windscribe — Best free VPN
- ProtonVPN — Bundled with secure email
- VyprVPN — VPN for silent running
- Surfshark — Cheap streaming option
- Mullvad — Complete anonymity
- Hide.me — Interesting dark horse
The Best VPN Reviews
Fast, secure and easy to use, ExpressVPN is a VPN service that does everything right. Throughout our years of testing it, we’ve rarely found anything to gripe about, even when exposing ExpressVPN to the harshest scrutiny (read our ExpressVPN vs NordVPN comparison for an example). If you don’t want to fuss around with shopping for different options, ExpressVPN is a sure bet.
Out of all the things we like about ExpressVPN, speed stands out most. It’s the fastest VPN we’ve tested, and with low latency times, a great choice for gaming. The speed works wonders for streaming, too. ExpressVPN ranks among our best VPNs for streaming not only because of its uncompromising speed, but also because of its worldwide access to streaming platforms.
Torrenting is no problem, either, though NordVPN is an overall better option for that (more on that in a moment). ExpressVPN uses AES-256 and OpenVPN, which is a perfect cocktail of VPN security. The only thing it’s missing is WireGuard support (read our what is Wireguard piece). Given that other popular services have started implementing it, though, we expect that ExpressVPN will hop on that train soon.
As expected, areas like customer service are excellent, too. Thankfully, you don’t just have to take our word for it. You can read our full ExpressVPN review for more details or take advantage of the 30-day money-back guarantee.
- Unblocks Netflix
- Easy to use
If you want to commit to a VPN service for multiple years, it’s hard to beat NordVPN. Unlike ExpressVPN, NordVPN offers two- and three-year plans, bringing the monthly cost down to only a few dollars. It’s not quite as cheap as PIA, but given the impressive range of features, that hardly matters.
As mentioned above, NordVPN ranks as our best VPN for torrenting. When using the new NordLynx protocol, the speeds are unmatched, leading to swift downloads. Furthermore, NordVPN offers a range of specialty servers that can protect you while you’re torrenting or escaping harsh censorship.
Along with the specialty servers, NordVPN has a few other interesting features. It offers split tunneling, which is surprisingly hard to find outside of ExpressVPN and PureVPN, along with an ad blocker. App kill is available, too, allowing you to use the kill switch on certain apps (read our Astrill review for more on that).
We have a few issues with NordVPN, namely the lack of PayPal support and the recent data breach (read our is NordVPN safe to use? piece), but they’re easy to overlook. As you can see in our NordVPN review, it has proven time and again that it’s a secure, easy to use VPN service. You can also try risk-free with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
- Huge server network
- Multi-year discounts
- Slow reconnection times
CyberGhost gets almost everything right. It’s one of the cheapest VPNs we’ve tested, while also ranking as the best VPN for multiple devices. The only thing holding CyberGhost back is speed: it’s much slower than NordVPN and ExpressVPN when using OpenVPN as your protocol. However, IKEv2 performance is off the charts.
That’s where CyberGhost shines, positioning itself as a low-cost VPN for low-risk situations. The security is top-notch, with AES-256 securing your connection. However, CyberGhost stands out from the pack when using IKEv2. The enhanced speed compliments CyberGhost’s range of streaming servers, which can break into nearly any platform, geoblocks be damned.
Outside of the streaming servers, CyberGhost has some other unique features. Most of these are “smart rules,” which allow you to automate your VPN connection. Auto-connect is available, sure, but smart rules go beyond that. With CyberGhost, you can launch the VPN and connect to a specific location based on the network you’re connected to, as well as when you launch certain apps.
CyberGhost is dirt cheap, too. A crisp Franklin will net you three years of service, which is the same price ExpressVPN charges for a year (see our ExpressVPN vs CyberGhost comparison). For the price, you get seven simultaneous connections and access to CyberGhost’s entire network. There’s also a 45-day money-back guarantee in case you change your mind. If CyberGhost sounds like your thing, make sure to read our CyberGhost review.
- Streaming servers
- Smart Rule automation
- A bit slow
CyberGhost is one of the cheapest VPNs, but Private Internet Access is the cheapest VPN. There are free options — we’ll discuss one in a minute — but it doesn’t get much more inexpensive than PIA. At less than $40 for a year, the price is all the more impressive considering its top notch security and excellent speed.
We’ve always seen PIA as a bare-bones service that gets the essentials right for a low price. However, in our recent Private Internet Access review, we found it surprisingly robust in terms of features. Split tunneling is included, as is an ad blocker in the form of MACE. PIA also has some preconfigured Shadowsocks proxy locations, cementing it among the best VPNs for China.
PIA is dead simple to use, too. It adopts the same smartphone style UI seen with CyberGhost and ExpressVPN. It actually beat out ExpressVPN in user friendliness in our ExpressVPN vs PIA comparison.
There’s a reason PIA’s fourth, though. It’s perfect in almost every way, though it has problems with streaming platforms. In particular, we struggled to access Hulu and Amazon Prime Video. Still, PIA earned a spot in our best VPN for Netflix guide. If you want to give it a shot, you have a full 30 days to get a refund.
- Very inexpensive
- Shadowsocks proxy support
- Struggles with streaming platforms
Perhaps the most unique VPN on our list, Windscribe goes beyond a free trial and offers a fully featured free version. Without spending any money, Windscribe offers 10GB of data each month. More interesting, though, you can expand that data with more server locations and Windscribe’s specialty servers.
There’s a Pro plan that clocks in at under $10 per month. It’s a decent value, fit with Windscribe’s entire server network and features. The service comes into its own with the “build a plan” option, though. Your plan starts with 10GB per month, and you can add locations for $1 each. Each location gives you another 10GB of data.
For a few dollars per month, you can also get unlimited data as well as access to the locations you’re actually going to use. The best use for this is streaming. You can purchase access to the Windflix servers — Windscribe’s streaming optimized locations — and unlimited data for only $2 each month. That’s some of the best value on the market today.
It’s not perfect, though. Windscribe has a considerably smaller network than NordVPN (see our Windscribe vs NordVPN comparison), and the speeds aren’t the best we’ve seen. Still, the privacy and security are sound, as you can read in our full Windscribe review.
- Excellent free version
- Windflix servers
- Not the fastest
ProtonVPN doesn’t always get the love it deserves. It’s one of the most privacy-focused VPN services we’ve seen, going as far as to accept cash as a payment method. It doesn’t come with the ease of use hurdles of other privacy-focused providers like AirVPN, though.
It has the design sensibilities of a commercial VPN while maintaining the security focus on smaller services. If that’s not enough to sell you, the price is right, too. ProtonVPN has a generous free plan that offers unlimited bandwidth. The paid options aren’t bad, either, running from $5 to $30 each month.
The most expensive plan, Visionary, is costly, but the price is worth it. For around $30, you get 10 simultaneous connections, along with full access to ProtonMail. ProtonMail is a powerhouse, offering a Gmail-like interface with end-to-end encryption. In fact, this service is how Proton Technologies made a name for itself.
Out of the many VPN services we’ve tested, ProtonVPN always stands out. It offers a good blend of features, price and performance, all while being transparent about security and privacy. You can learn why we like it so much in our ProtonVPN review, or sign up for the free plan to try it on your own.
- Accepts cash
- Encrypted email
- Large server network
- Slow OpenVPN performance
VyprVPN often flies under the radar compared to elite services like ExpressVPN and CyberGhost. However, it can go toe-to-toe with the best of ‘em (just see our VyprVPN vs ExpressVPN comparison). Since its launch, Golden Frog — the company behind VyprVPN — has constantly been improving the service. Now, it’s on the bleeding edge of VPN technology, overshadowing many of the most popular VPN services.
If you’ve read all of our entries thus far, you’re probably noticing a trend. Like Windscribe, PIA and CyberGhost, VyprVPN is perfect in all but one area: speed. OpenVPN performance isn’t great, though far from the worst we’ve seen. Thankfully, IKEv2 solves any OpenVPN speed problems, and VyprVPN should be rolling out WireGuard support for desktops soon.
Otherwise, VyprVPN is great. The price is low, with two years of service running around $60, and the number of features is high. VyprVPN has excellent platform support, too. In addition to a native Android TV app, VyprVPN also has a router UI, making it easy to secure all of your local traffic. You can learn more in our VyprVPN review or try it yourself with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
- Encapsulated protocol
- WireGuard in beta
Surfshark breaks the mold of being great in all areas but one. It’s a well rounded service across the board with decent speeds, a reasonable price and a dead simple to use interface. Surfshark may not reach the heights of a service like ExpressVPN, but it doesn’t come near the lows of a service like Hotspot Shield (read our Hotspot Shield review).
What’s so impressive about Surfshark is how new it is. Only two years on the scene, and Surfshark has already amassed over 1,000 server locations in 64 countries. Situated all around the globe, Surfshark allows you to connect basically anywhere. Every plan comes with unlimited connections, too, so you can keep all of your devices protected.
Overall, Surfshark borrows elements from our top three services, but, in the process, loses its own identity. It includes an ad blocker, multihop connection support and even a connection feature targeted at bypassing censorship.
It’s a solid VPN all around, though services like ExpressVPN and NordVPN go a bit further in certain areas. You can read our Surfshark review for the full details or skip the hoopla and try it yourself with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
- Loaded with features
- Decent speeds
- Unlimited connections
- Still a very new service
Mullvad is a favorite here at Cloudwards.net. It’s not nearly as robust as top-tier services like ExpressVPN and Windscribe, but it makes up for a lack of features with an unrelenting dedication to online privacy. If your main concern is staying safe online, Mullvad is your best bet.
However, it’s not a great choice for other purposes. Streaming performance is mediocre at the best of times, despite Mullvad boasting relatively fast speeds. The features are also lacking. Mullvad includes a kill switch and some auto-connect settings, but that’s about it. WireGuard support is included, though.
Mullvad stands out because of the core service, that being the ability to keep you protected. You can pay with cash like you can with ProtonVPN. Beyond that, though, Mullvad doesn’t even require an email address. If you want an account, you can generate an account code on Mullvad’s website. That’s all you need for authentication.
It’s fairly cheap, too. Mullvad costs just 5 euro each month (around $5.50 at the time of writing), no matter if you buy one month, one year or ten years. You can learn more about it in our Mullvad review or generate an account to see how you like it.
- Accepts cash
- WireGuard support
- No multi-year discounts
Rounding out our list is Hide.me, a service that we, honestly, never expected to make its way into our guide. Although the service is excellent across the board, the price is too high compared to services like CyberGhost and PIA. Thankfully, the high price is offset by a free plan that rivals Windscribe.
Like Windscribe, the free version offers 10GB of data each month for a single device. If you decide to pay, you get unlimited data along with 10 simultaneous connections and access to over 1,700 server locations. The price is high, sure, but given how much Hide.me packs into its paid option, that hardly matters.
What stands out most to us, though, is usability. Hide.me includes everything in its local application, from customer support resources to IP address leak testing. It’s easy to scroll through the large number of servers, too, as they’re split up by region. Security and privacy are excellent, as well, with Hide.me seeking the help of a security research team to audit its service.
There’s one fairly large problem with Hide.me, though. Although we were able to access Netflix U.S. on a handful of occasions, Hide.me failed with streaming platforms far more than it succeeded. Still, that issue is easy to overlook with how much else Hide.me has to offer. You can learn more about it in our Hide.me review or sign up for a free account to take it for a spin.
- Excellent free version
- Easy to use
- Doesn’t work with most streaming platforms
What Is a VPN?
“VPN” stands for virtual private network, and we have a dedicated guide explaining how they work on a technical level. In short, though, VPNs protect your privacy online. By assigning you a new IP address and encrypting your connection, VPNs can make you appear as if you’re anywhere in the world. Because your connection is encrypted, network snoopers won’t be able to spy on your data, either.
VPNs are able to accomplish this by connecting you to a remote server before you connect to the open internet. As it stands, you connect to your internet service provider’s (ISP) DNS servers, which route your connection to whatever site you’re trying to access. Because your ISP controls these servers, they’re able to see things like your browser version, history and geographic location.
Put simply, it’s a major breach of privacy. VPNs remove that process. Instead, you’ll connect to a VPN server, which encrypts and anonymizes your information. Of course, your IP address and DNS requests will then be private. More important, though, your browsing habits, internet history and search terms will be private, too.
How VPNs Protect Your Privacy
There are a lot of reasons to use a VPN, though the specific reason you use one might be different. At the core, VPNs are tools to protect online privacy by hiding your IP address. That, of course, means that your ISP and government can’t see that weird thing you searched on Google, but it also means a more open internet.
With the arrival of GDPR, the general public became much more aware of the tracking practices of most websites. If you’re still not in the loop, companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter collect user data and sell it to advertisers. Your preferences, interests, age, gender and more have monetary value to those that want to sell you products. However, in exchange for services like Google, you’re allowing someone else to monetize your data.
Targeting the Right Audience
This isn’t an inherently harmful practice — it’s what makes the world of the modern internet turn — but it can have some unsettling implications. The example we always point to is when Target knew a girl was pregnant before she had told anyone. Kashmir Hill reported on the matter all the way back in 2012.
The story goes that an angry father bursted through the doors of a Target asking why his high school-aged daughter was getting coupons for baby clothes and cribs. He assumed Target was simply pressuring her to get pregnant. After leaving, he found out that his daughter was, in fact, up the duff, and that it happened under his nose.
It wasn’t just a coincidence, either. The New York Times reported that Target is able to produce a “pregnancy prediction” score based on shopping patterns. Target noticed that this girl was buying things like unscented lotion and various supplements that are mainly used by women who have one in the oven. After the prediction score reached a certain threshold, the coupons went out the door.
That’s how companies use your data in the best of cases. Data brokers, those who compile the information sold by companies like Google, are able to use your browsing data and connect that information with property records, court cases, medical records and more. Sometimes, they can even connect your DNA to these records (23andMe and Ancestry sell DNA information to pharmaceutical companies, for example).
Although VPNs can’t protect you from all forms of data collection, they are the first line of defense against the worst forms of it and should prevent stuff like Target predicting you’re preggers. That said, you can use VPNs for other reasons, too, like torrenting and streaming, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
Why You Should Use a VPN
If the privacy thing isn’t enough for you, there are other reasons why you should use a VPN. Among the many, streaming stands out the most. As explained above, a VPN can assign you an IP address in a different location. That means in the eyes of online services, you’re actually located wherever your IP is registered.
So, if you want to stream BBC iPlayer from the U.S., you can, so long as you connect to a server in the UK. Beyond accessing region-specific platforms, you can also access region-specific content. Streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video have distribution agreements with production studios all around the world, and they block users from accessing content in certain regions. That leads to wildly different libraries depending on your country.
For example, the trippy sci-fi thriller Annihilation released in theaters in the U.S. On the release day, it also debuted on Netflix, but only in the UK and Australia. With a VPN, you don’t need a movie ticket. Simply connect to a server where the connect is available and get to streaming.
A close neighbor to streaming, torrenting is a big reason to use a VPN. In fact, we’d say using a VPN is essential when torrenting. Torrenting copyrighted content like movies and TV shows is illegal in most parts of the world. With a VPN, though, there’s no way to prove that you’re torrenting anything.
Of course, we’re not giving the green light to sailing the digital seas as a pirate. Just know that if you want to torrent, you should be doing it with a VPN (read our piece on how secure VPNs are).
Do VPNs Really Work?
VPNs really work, so long as you’re using a good one. We’ve seen services in the past lie about collecting user data, and others unapologetically collect it anyway (IPVanish and Avast Secureline VPN, respectively). However, any of the options listed above have proven over time that they can keep your connection secure.
The majority of confusion surrounding VPNs stems from proxies. You can see how they compare in detail in our VPN vs proxy vs Tor guide. In short, though, VPNs and proxies accomplish similar goals. However, the ways in which they accomplish those goals are different.
When you’re using a proxy, your IP address is replaced with a new one. However, proxies don’t add any encryption to your connection, and there isn’t an anonymization process. Those two aspects are what set VPNs apart. Your connection is secured with a layer of encryption on top of what your browser offers, and your requests are anonymized once they reach the proxy server.
So, yes, VPNs really work. It’s not a crazy concept that they work, either. Businesses have been using virtual private networks for years so employees can access company assets remotely. The idea behind a general use VPN is mostly the same. The only difference is that you’re connecting to the whole internet rather than a small, internal network.
Which Is the Best Free VPN?
If you want the definitive answer to what is the best free VPN, you need to read our guide on the subject. For most people, though, Windscribe is the best option. It offers 10GB of data each month without spending a dime. You can even expand the bandwidth limit by tweeting about the service.
There are other options, so we strongly suggest reading the linked guide above. ProtonVPN has a compelling no-cost option, as does Hide.me. Still, Windscribe is the best option for most people.
No-cost VPNs usually aren’t great, though, restricting either bandwidth, speed, locations or some combination of the three. If you’re on the fence about using a VPN, you can still get started risk free. ExpressVPN, NordVPN and CyberGhost all have excellent money-back guarantees. If you use any of those services for a month and decide it’s not for you, you can get your money back, no questions asked.
Will a VPN Keep You Anonymous Online?
It’s unlikely that a VPN will keep you totally anonymous online, much less any single privacy tool. Our guide on 99 free tools to protect your privacy shows just how far you need to go to remain completely anonymous. If you don’t want anyone knowing anything about you, it’s best to stay off the internet altogether.
That’s not very practical, though. It’s next to impossible to remain totally anonymous online, but a VPN solves the majority of the problem. In particular, VPNs protect against data collection that you may not be aware of. You may not be able to stay fully anonymous online, but you can control what information you hand out.
With a VPN, Google can’t monitor your searches, Facebook can’t pull your location and device data, and Amazon can’t follow you around different sites to see which products you’re interested in. As long as you don’t go with a service like Buffered VPN — which, as you can see in our Buffered VPN review, collects user data — you don’t have to worry about any of your browsing history being on the books.
VPN services offer a huge head start on online privacy, though they don’t solve the problem entirely. You can go further with tools like a password manager, antivirus, zero-knowledge cloud storage and encrypted email.
How We Rate VPNs
If you peek into any of our VPN reviews, you’ll see that we follow the same structure. We have nine rounds, each of which figure into the VPN’s overall score out of five. Each round gets a percentage rating from zero percent up to 100 percent, which is used to determine the ranking for our best VPN services. We’re going to briefly cover what we’re looking for in each section so you can better understand how we approach our reviews.
When it comes to features, there are a few specific things we’re looking for: a kill switch, custom DNS settings, split tunneling, a built-in ad blocker and multiple protocol options. Outside of our top 10 VPN services, it’s hard to find all five of those. Some, thankfully go beyond the basics and offer even more features.
Examples include NordVPN’s specialty servers, ExpressVPN’s speed test and PIA’s multiple kill switch settings. In addition to features, we also use this round to talk about platform support and simultaneous connections.
In this section, we’re looking at the pricing structure of the VPN. Of course, the price itself is important, but the durations available are important, too. Most VPN services only offer one plan, just one that spans multiple durations. The discount applied to multiple months or, in some cases, multiple years makes the difference.
Beyond price, we also factor in payment options, the refund policy and if there’s a free trial or free plan. Although we try to isolate each section, features are very important in this section. We’re often balancing features versus price to determine how much value the VPN offers overall.
As will all of our reviews, we sign up for an account using the home page like any normal user would. This section details our entire experience with a VPN service, from signing for an account to making our first connection. The process should be simple enough that your parents could sign up for an account with few problems.
That’s not the end of this section, though. We’re looking for a balance of ease of use and settings. The VPN service should be configurable enough that a techie can dig into the settings if they wish, while remaining accessible for those who don’t understand what’s going on under the hood.
Ease of use bleeds into other sections, too. Out of the box, the VPN should be configured to secure your connection with no more than a click. That means the VPN service already has OpenVPN with AES-256 enabled (on desktop) while automatically choosing a server location. It’s not hard choosing a location on your own, we’re aware, but this is the bar that’s been set by our top ranked providers.
All of our speed tests are conducted using OpenVPN with 256-bit AES encryption. This setup is not only optimal for speed and security, but also allows us to directly compare results to other services. The specific servers we test vary from service to service. However, we always strive to test a spread of locations across the globe.
Our speed results detail latency, download and upload speeds. However, we try not to focus on the number in the results. Before running any of our speed tests, we test the unprotected connection to gauge the relative drop in performance. We have multiple writers working on VPN reviews here at Cloudwards.net, so this is the best way we can get consistent readings across reviews.
Security and privacy are very close (both in terms of subject matter and position in our reviews). However, in this section, we’re not concerned with the logging practices, if there are any. Rather, we focus on VPN protocols, obfuscated servers and any other features that relate directly to security, such as an ad or malware blocker.
In addition to talking about the security features, we also run tests for DNS leaks, IP leaks and WebRTC leaks with each VPN we test. If the VPN service fails one of these tests, it’s considered unsafe to use.
Nowadays, there are too many streaming platforms to count. Rather than try — and fail — to test all of them, we focus on four: Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video and BBC iPlayer. Of course, the goal here is to bypass any proxy errors or other error codes related to VPN usage. If a VPN is able to connect to these platforms and stream content without any issues, they should work with just about every other platform.
It’s not a simple pass/fail test, though. We connect using multiple servers — sometimes as many as 10 or more — to see if the VPN really is blocked by a specific streaming platform or if it’s just an individual server causing troubles. Because of the amount of variance involved, this section is less about if a VPN can break through geoblocks and more about how consistently they can do so.
The number of servers in a VPN’s network is usually a key marketing bullet point. However, as you can read in our HideMyAss review, not all servers are equal. Sure, there are some configuration differences between servers. However, some VPN providers use all physical servers while others bring virtual servers into the fold.
Because of that, the actual number of servers isn’t as important as if they’re physical or not. Furthermore, the number of servers means nothing if they’re not distributed properly. In this section, we’re looking for locations that are underserved more than anything. We also look for any specialty servers like NordVPN and CyberGhost offer.
Finally, we end our reviews with a bit about customer support. Here, we’re looking for detailed and efficient contact options with plenty of self-resources. For VPN services in particular, we like to see email and live chat support at the very least. Services like Windscribe and NordVPN have started using live chat bots, too, though we’re not fond of this practice.
For self-help customer support, a detailed knowledgebase is a must. We’re looking for a good blend of setup guides, troubleshooting articles and general FAQs. A community forum or subreddit is also nice to see, especially if it’s active.
With that, we have our top 10 VPN services, some information about how a VPN keeps you secure online and how we rate each VPN service we review. With some much ground to cover, consistency is what sets great VPN services apart from good ones. That’s why we rate ExpressVPN first. However, some of its neighbors do the job just as well.
What is your favorite VPN? Do you agree that ExpressVPN is the best option? Let us know in the comments below and, as always, thanks for reading.