Private Internet Access Review
PIA has been around for a long time now, and it's still one of the best VPN services out there. Its streaming capabilities have improved since our last review, and overall you're looking at a cheap, fast and secure VPN. Read our full Private Internet Access review to know more.
Private Internet Access is one of the best VPN services around, offering a slew of features and a low price tag to boot. Although it doesn’t quite reach the ranks of a service like ExpressVPN or NordVPN, it puts up an impressive fight in this Private Internet Access review. If you’re looking for a fast, full-featured VPN on the cheap, PIA is for you.
- Private Internet Access is a solid VPN service in terms of speed and feature set.
- Security and privacy are both excellent, with the company boasting a strict no-logs policy (and sticking to it).
- The streaming performance isn’t too impressive, but it does get into Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.
- Its live customer support is basically unreachable, but there is a solid knowledgebase with plenty of detailed guides and information.
In this PIA review, we’re going to evaluate its features, security, speed, pricing and more. We signed up for an account, like anyone else would, to truly evaluate the user experience. From creating an account to getting connected, we’re going to cover every aspect of the PIA VPN. If you want something affordable, Private Internet Access is certainly one to consider.
10/05/2021 Facts checked
PIA has added a few more features since our last review and now works with Amazon Prime Video, but it is no longer the cheapest VPN out there.
PIA announced that it passed an independent audit by four firms, confirming it is a zero-logs VPN.
Updated the speed section to include the Cloudwards automatic speed tests.
03/21/2023 Facts checked
PIA now offers unlimited simultaneous connections on all plans.
PIA Video Review
Yes, PIA is trustworthy and sticks to its no-logs policy. There are no Private Internet Access logs or records that could be handed over to authorities.
Private Internet Access isn’t ideal for streaming content from BBC iPlayer or Hulu. However, the service as a whole is generally good.
Yes, Private Internet Access works with Netflix, and you can stream content in HD.
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Strengths & Weaknesses
- Large server network
- No-logs policy
- Affordable pricing
- Unlimited simultaneous connections
- Easy-to-use UI
- Very customizable
- Built-in ad & malware blocker
- Unlocks Netflix U.S. & Amazon Prime Video
- Doesn’t work with Hulu or BBC iPlayer
- Inconsistent upload speeds
For many years, PIA was a straightforward VPN without many features. Although the redesigned application still takes a streamlined approach to the connection process, there are now a lot more goodies to mess around with. PIA may not be as customizable as TorGuard, but given how easy it is to use, that hardly matters.
You’re given full control over your network settings as long as you’re using OpenVPN. You can use your own DNS servers, set up port forwarding, choose the remote port and more. We’ve seen these settings before, but not in such a digestible manner. PIA makes advanced configuration easy with helpful tool tips and a streamlined settings menu.
PIA VPN Killswitch: Regular vs Advanced
With the kill switch, PIA gives you two options. The “VPN kill switch” setting blocks your connection if the VPN fails while you’re connected. On the other hand, the “advanced kill switch” option stops you from connecting to the internet altogether unless your VPN is running. We recommend this setting if you’re in a high-risk country.
PIA Antivirus (MACE)
MACE is an interesting addition. It’s basically an ad blocker, protecting you from annoying pop-ups, malware and cross-site trackers. It works differently from normal ad blockers, though.
Instead of blocking the request from an ad or tracking server, MACE redirects the DNS request to your local IP address (read our guide on DNS records to see how that happens). In practice, this means that MACE doesn’t need to cross-reference the blocklist before denying the request, so the process doesn’t take as long.
You can also set up a proxy to redirect your traffic through another location from the app’s “multihop” tab with Shadowsocks or SOCK5. This is similar to a double-hop connection, but without the second layer of encryption.
Setting up a proxy in addition to your VPN is usually an arduous process for networking newbies. PIA makes it dead simple as long as you’re using Shadowsocks, and allows you to easily add an extra layer of protection when needed.
With SOCK5, you need to add a server IP address and port, as well as a username and password. With Shadowsocks, just pick your proxy and you’re done.
PIA on Fire Stick, Routers and More
PIA offers unlimited simultaneous connections and has a fairly standard range of supported platforms, with desktop and mobile apps for Windows, macOS, iOS, Android and Linux, as well as browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Opera.
To add to this, instead of restricting the Android app to the Google Play Store, PIA makes its APK openly available, which opens a lot of possibilities, like sideloading the app on an Amazon Fire Stick or Nvidia Shield.
If there’s a device you can’t get PIA running on, you can always install the VPN on your router. That’ll also count as a single device against your simultaneous connection limit, no matter how many devices are connected to your network. PIA supports most router firmware and provides detailed guides on how to get set up.
Private Internet Access Features Overview
|Payment methods||PayPal, Credit card|
|Supports split tunneling|
|Free trial available||Only on Android/iOS apps|
|Worldwide server amount||servers in 78 countries (no exact data)|
|Desktop OSes||Windows, MacOS, Linux|
|Mobile OSes||Android, iOS|
|Browser extensions||Chrome, Firefox, Opera|
|Can be installed on routers|
|Can access Netflix US|
|Can access BBC iPlayer|
|Can access Hulu|
|Can access Amazon Prime Video|
|Encryption types||128-AES, 256-AES|
|VPN protocols available||IPSec, OpenVPN, WireGuard|
|Enabled at device startup|
|Passed DNS leak test|
|Malware/ad blocker included|
PIA is one of the cheapest VPNs around, costing $2.19 per month on the three-year plan — around the same price as CyberGhost’s two-year plan (read our CyberGhost review). Although it’s not free like Windscribe, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better deal elsewhere.
We don’t say that based on the monthly price, though. For around $10 per month, PIA is a bit cheaper than ExpressVPN and NordVPN (see our PIA vs NordVPN comparison for more details), but only by a few dollars. That said, the monthly plan still wins the pricing game compared to other top-tier VPN providers with unlimited simultaneous connections.
The savings is most clearly showcased with the three-year plan, which provides protection for less than $80. Private Internet Access VPN also offers a one-year plan at $39.95, although you don’t save as much as you do with the three-year option.
PIA Free Trial & Money-Back Guarantee
In the past, PIA’s bargain-bin pricing always came with a big caveat: a short refund period. Thankfully, this issue has been resolved. Now, Private Internet Access offers a full 30 days to request a refund, no matter which plan you choose.
There is also a seven-day free trial that you can get with the mobile apps, although we were unable to get the same deal on the desktop app or the website.
Extra Features for Extra Cost
Aside from the Private Internet Access VPN plan, the VPN provider also offers its own antivirus, as well as a dedicated IP address, at an additional charge.
The antivirus comes at a price of $1.49 per month on a monthly plan and is cheaper still on the one-year and three-year plans. However, if you’re already paying for an antivirus, there are better choices on our list of best antivirus software.
You can also get your own dedicated IP address, a feature Private Internet Access didn’t have when we reviewed it initially. Now it comes at a price of $5 per month if you opt for a monthly plan, but it’s also cheaper for the longer plans.
|Plan:||Monthly plan||Yearly plan||Two-year plan|
|Antivirus||$1.49||$1.27 ($15.20 billed annually)||$1.19 ($28.61 billed every two years)|
|Dedicated IP address||$5||$4.25 ($51 billed annually)||$4 ($96 billed every two years)|
PIA has a strange relationship with user-friendliness. On one hand, the app is very accessible, detailing complex information with ease and allowing you to get up and running quickly. This is due in part to the simple login screen that also lets you sign in via an email link. However, it’s tied to the tray in Windows, meaning a misclick outside the app will close it.
PIA’s website is easy to get around, though. All you need to do to sign up is click the “get PIA VPN” button. It requires very little information, and once you’re done, you can click the “download” tab to find an installer. We like that the main navigation menu has an “apps” section with quick links for all the devices PIA supports.
PIA VPN Windows App
As we mentioned earlier, the PIA client is tied to the tray in Windows, and that’s where it’ll start once the installer has finished. The interface is minimal, showing a recommended location and a large “on” button. Click that, and you’ll be connected to the closest server, which is usually the best.
If you want to see a little more information, you can expand the interface to show connection options, your speed, some settings, your usage and even a VPN snooze feature. Furthermore, you can drag any of these elements up to the main screen, so they’ll be displayed without having to expand the interface.
We love the modular approach, but it doesn’t make sense to customize an interface that’s tied to your tray. Because of the way PIA designed its app, it’ll be closed far more than it’ll be open, making the extra information you can add to the home screen obsolete. Thankfully, you can undock the app in the settings.
Speaking of settings, you can access them by clicking the three dots in the top-right corner of the app. The “settings” window is easy to get around and smartly laid out. Complex settings are fully explained with tooltips, without sacrificing the ease of use.
PIA VPN iOS and Android Apps
On Android and iOS, PIA is much the same. Like ExpressVPN, the Windows app already feels like a mobile app, so the experience is mirrored on your phone (read our ExpressVPN review). You don’t have to deal with the tray on Android, though, which is why PIA made our list of the top VPNs for Android.
During our initial review, we established that Private Internet Access has servers spread out across 64 locations in 44 countries, with almost 3,400 servers to connect to. Since then, the provider has removed detailed information about the servers from its website, and the only thing that’s available now is the fact that PIA has servers in 78 countries.
Over half of their server locations are in Europe (42, to be exact), with six in North America and only three in South America. Africa gets servers in five locations, while Asia has them in 20, and there is a single location in both New Zealand and Australia. This is a solid location spread, and you can connect to pretty much anywhere in the world.
To test VPN speeds, we run automated speed tests using a virtual remote desktop. Our internet connection is capped at 100 Mbps for downloads and 10 Mbps for uploads, which we believe is representative of the average internet connection in the U.S. Here are the results.
(Higher is better)
(Higher is better)
(Lower is better)
Source: Cloudwards VPN Speed Test. We test daily. Data averaged from 02/28/23 to 03/30/23
Private Internet Access VPN Connection Speed Test
The below graphs show how PIA fluctuates over time. Download speeds vary the most, while upload speeds and latency stay relatively stable over time.
The U.S. download speeds were the best, and the servers further away from our testing location showed dips in speed — especially South Africa, which gives us less than 10% of our unprotected speeds.
On the other hand, the upload speeds were quite consistent and strong, with the exception of South Africa.
Not surprisingly, the latency showed the best results with servers closes to our U.S. testing location, with servers in South Africa, Singapore and Australia having the highest ping.
Comparing PIA VPN Speeds
When comparing PIA to the other VPNs in our automatic speed tests, you can see that it does quite well overall — not one of the fastest VPNs, but definitely respectable.
Streaming is a bit of a mixed bag with Private Internet Access. Some of the streaming services we tried worked rather well, while others failed to even load.
Hulu’s website is the one that wouldn’t open, which leads us to believe that perhaps the service has blocked PIA’s IP addresses. BBC’s iPlayer kindly let us know that it’s not available outside of the U.K., even though we were connected to Private Internet Access’s London server.
Can PIA Unblock Netflix?
Private Internet Access can access U.S. Netflix with ease, though. With the speeds we got, streaming in full HD is great, with no buffering issues whatsoever. It also worked well with Amazon Prime Video, detecting our location as the USA and streaming without any issues.
OpenVPN is the default VPN protocol here. You have the choice between UDP and TCP, with UDP being the default option. Both UDP and TCP connections are a good choice in some situations, with TCP prioritizing reliability over speed, and UDP being the faster option with no error detection or congestion control. As far as VPN protocols go, OpenVPN is usually the best choice, as you can see in our VPN protocol breakdown.
Additionally, PIA offers the newer WireGuard protocol, which a number of VPNs have already implemented (CyberGhost and VyprVPN, to name a few). WireGuard has a much smaller codebase, and thus less overhead, which should make it faster, more efficient and even safer.
In terms of encryption, AES-128-GCM is what you get out of the box, with RSA-4096 as the handshake algorithm. For most situations, the lower key sizes are fine and should increase performance. You can bump up the key sizes if you’re worried, though (read our description of encryption to learn about the effect that’ll have).
Private Internet Access in China
In high-risk countries like China, PIA is a solid choice as long as you’re using OpenVPN with TCP. TCP provides packet confirmation, meaning you’ll know if a censor has caught wind of your connection before it can get you into trouble.
Still, we didn’t include Private Internet Access in our best VPN for China guide. Although it should keep you safe, PIA doesn’t include any sort of encapsulated OpenVPN option, like Astrill and VyprVPN do. That said, packet obfuscation is a nice feature to have in Hong Kong and other high-risk locations.
However, PIA does include the option to configure a Shadowsocks proxy with your VPN connection, which was designed specifically to bypass censorship in China.
Starting at the top, PIA lays out what information it collects. As far as the VPN application is concerned, PIA keeps your email address and payment information on record. Both are required to keep the service running, though PIA takes steps to reduce the potential security risk of storing this data. For example, your payment information isn’t kept on record in full.
That’s where the collection ends, though. Private Internet Access makes it clear that it “does not collect or log any traffic or use of its virtual private network.” When using the VPN service, your source IP address, destination IP address, browsing history and geographic location are protected.
PIA offers a few different methods of customer support. You get a knowledgebase that is full of detailed information on any aspect of the Private Internet Access client, and you also get a ticket-based support system and 24/7 live chat.
Unfortunately, its live chat agents were unreachable. We tried on multiple occasions, at different times of the day, and got a couple of messages that an agent would be available soon. After a few minutes, however, Private Internet Access shut down the conversation.
The guides are the backbone of the Private Internet Access support system, as you can manage everything from the VPN client setup to the features and usability.
When all is said and done, Private Internet Access is a solid budget VPN provider. It offers a rich feature set with things like port forwarding and advanced kill switch, as well as dedicated IP addresses, split tunneling and multihop servers. Where it falls short is in its streaming performance, as it fails to unlock BBC’s iPlayer and Hulu, and the live customer support is subpar as well.
Private Internet Access is still a remarkably good option for people who want a fast VPN with an app for any platform and aren’t keen on spending too much money. If that sounds like you, by all means grab a Private Internet Access subscription.
Have you used the Private Internet Access app? What’s your opinion on all the customization options it offers? Let us know in the comments, and thank you for reading!