- PrivateVPN is a decidedly middle-of-the-pack VPN provider, offering a secure if somewhat unpolished experience.
- If you want to access Netflix from a different location, PrivateVPN will do just fine, though not all of its servers are completely reliable, and sometimes they just fail to connect.
- PrivateVPN’s biggest draw is its pricing. A seven-day free plan and a 30-day money-back guarantee will give you some extra assurance before committing to one of its very affordable plans.
Unfortunately, there are a number of problems with PrivateVPN. In our previous PrivateVPN review, we saw that it had inconsistent speeds, couldn’t get through to all of the major streaming services and lacked some of the most in-demand VPN features, such as split tunneling. (No wonder, then, that we recommend people to check out ExpressVPN instead.)
The result is a middle-of-the-road experience with a budget-friendly price tag. However, PrivateVPN does excel in some areas that make it great for specific tasks. With the numerous pros and cons of PrivateVPN in mind, we decided it was time to take another look at this VPN provider to see if things have improved and whether it could take a spot among the best VPNs.
PrivateVPN is run by the roughly decade-old Swedish company Privat Kommunikation Sverige AB.
PrivateVPN’s shortest option is the one-month plan. This costs about $8 per month and comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee. The three-month plan cuts this price down by a few dollars a month, and the annual option brings the monthly cost down to about half of the month-by-month payments.
PrivateVPN should work in China, though it might not be the best option. However, if your connection is blocked, you’ll need to use the Stealth VPN option, which isn’t the best based on our testing. If you need a VPN for China, it’s wise to go with ExpressVPN, NordVPN or Private Internet Access.
- : PayPal, Credit card, Bitcoin
- : 6
- : PayPal, Credit card, Bitcoin, regional payment systems, WebMoney
- : 5
- : PayPal, Credit card
- : 30
- : Credit card, Google Pay, AmazonPay, ACH Transfer, UnionPay, Crypto Currencies, PayPal (via Paddle)
- : 6
- : PayPal, Credit card, bitcoin
- : 7
Strengths & Weaknesses
- Seven-day free trial
- Affordable pricing
- Solid privacy & security
- Quick customer support
- Inconsistent speeds
- Limited server network
- Mediocre user interface
- Servers sometimes fail to connect
To start things off, we’re taking a look at what kind of features PrivateVPN offers. The main features we’re looking for are a kill switch and some way to make the VPN connect automatically since both of these features directly impact the security of the VPN.
Luckily, PrivateVPN offers both of those features in the settings. The kill switch feature shuts down your internet when your VPN connection drops. It’s found under the “connection guard” tab, alongside the IPv6 and DNS leak protection toggles (though we’re unsure why you’d ever want to turn those off).
To test the kill switch, we turned this feature on, connected to the VPN and then proceeded to shut off our internet connection entirely before restarting it. The VPN didn’t allow any connections after we did this, but as soon as we disconnected from the VPN, the connections went back to normal.
The auto-connect options are limited, and you can only choose to connect to the most recent location. If you check out our NordVPN vs TorGuard article, you’ll see that NordVPN lets you auto-connect to a specific server of your choice.
PrivateVPN Advanced Features
Beyond those basic must-haves, PrivateVPN includes a pair of potentially useful features. The first of these is the “application guard,” which lets you define a list of programs that PrivateVPN will terminate once you disconnect. This is a great way to make sure you don’t accidentally leave torrenting software or something similar running when you disconnect.
The other feature is a setting that PrivateVPN calls “Stealth VPN.” PrivateVPN claims this feature can get past geoblocks and firewalls by disguising your VPN traffic as regular traffic (which means you can use it in China, where VPNs are banned).
However, when we tested it on Netflix, we weren’t able to get through. It also warns that the Stealth VPN will slow down your network. That, we could certainly verify.
We’ll look a bit more at this in the “streaming performance” section of this PrivateVPN review, but the Stealth VPN not only failed to help us get through to blocked content, but it also slowed our connection down to a crawl.
PrivateVPN Review: Port-Forwarding
One final small feature worth noting is that PrivateVPN makes safe port forwarding very easy. If you set the client to show the larger “advanced” window and connect to the VPN, there is a field that will show what port allows incoming connections.
This is great for things like P2P file sharing through a VPN or running any kind of server. Port forwarding this way allows you or others to easily access your device remotely through a secure connection.
Without features like split tunneling — which is becoming a more and more common feature in VPNs — or even a malware and ad blocker, we can’t give too much credit to PrivateVPN for its features.
PrivateVPN covers the basics and throws in a nice application killer, but it doesn’t pack in the features. If you want a VPN service that has a ton of features, be sure to look at our Astrill VPN review.
PrivateVPN Features Overview
|Payment methods||PayPal, Credit card, Bitcoin|
|Supports split tunneling|
|Free trial available|
|Worldwide server amount||100+ in 60 countries|
|Desktop OSes||Windows, MacOS|
|Mobile OSes||Android, iOS|
|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, PPTP, L2TP, IKEv2|
|Enabled at device startup|
|Passed DNS leak test|
|Malware/ad blocker included|
PrivateVPN’s pricing is solid overall and offers a pretty good deal for a middle-of-the-pack VPN. While the monthly plan comes in a bit below most VPN providers, the three-month and annual offerings improve on this value. In fact, its three-month deal is cheaper than ExpressVPN’s yearly subscription (though its value for the money is debatable).
One thing that helps set PrivateVPN apart from the sea of VPN providers is its seven-day free trial, which you can use to test out the service. Besides the free trial, PrivateVPN offers a 30-day money-back guarantee in case you change your mind about your subscription. This is pretty much industry standard, but it helps give potential new users an added layer of security.
This is a great way to try the service out for yourself, but it’s still not quite the most generous free VPN plan out there. That would probably go to ProtonVPN, which you can read about in our ProtonVPN review.
As for payment methods, you get all of the standard payment methods, including debit card, credit card and PayPal, with the inclusion of bitcoin, as well.
Overall, PrivateVPN offers quite an inexpensive service, but the saying “you get what you paid for” rings true here. Sure, it covers the basics and is actually surprisingly fast for such a cheap service, but as you’ll see in the next section, the whole package is quite unpolished.
Ease of Use
PrivateVPN is pretty easy to use, though some of its design choices might leave you confused. The first snag you might hit is when you’re trying to install the desktop client.
While other VPN services display a download button prominently on their websites, PrivateVPN chooses to keep its download, well, private. You need to go to the “installation guide” tab, then open the guide, which finally reveals a download link.
Once you’ve installed the client, PrivateVPN offers the choice of going through a quick tutorial, which is useful if you’ve never used a VPN before. However, a recent update made the interface look even more dated than before, with garish colors and no anti-aliasing on round elements, like the huge magenta-and-green on/off button in the middle of the screen.
A simplified U.S. flag icon — which looks more like the Liberian flag — appears next to PrivateVPN’s U.S. servers (PrivateVPN doesn’t offer any Liberian servers yet).
Aside from looks, one grievance we have that can cause issues for some users is that PrivateVPN sometimes fails to connect to a server when you press the “on” button. So, if you’ve left the application window, you might not know that you’re on an unsecured connection.
Another issue is that PrivateVPN’s desktop app is just plain unfinished. When you go to select a server, a window pops up with four tabs that categorize its servers: “all servers,” “dedicated IP,” “favorites” and “streamed services.” However, two of these tabs are somewhat misleading.
The “streamed services” tab is supposed to show dedicated streaming servers, which simply don’t exist, so none are listed. We contacted PrivateVPN’s support team about this, and their response was that they’ve removed all of the servers listed there for “unknown reasons,” which leaves us with an icky sense of false advertising. The “dedicated IP” tab is likewise deceptively named, as it merely shows the closest server per country.
The “advanced” view reveals options for deeper customization of your connection, like changing the VPN protocol and encryption method. There are little tooltips for the various options, though sometimes they’re too simplistic. For example, the tooltip for “IPv6 leak protection” reads “prevents IPv6 leaks when you are connected to a VPN.” Thanks, Captain Obvious.
|U.S. - New York|
|UK - London|
|Germany - Frankfurt|
|South Africa - Johannesburg|
When we first started running our speed tests on PrivateVPN’s network, we were very impressed, though it was far from the fastest VPN we’ve tested. Starting with its U.S. servers, we kept a vast majority of our download speed while connected, while uploads suffered, and our ping was sky-high.
The UK server we tested showed a faster upload speed and a sub-100 ms ping, though downloads were surprisingly slower than with the U.S. server. Things then took a drastic turn for the worse when we started testing locations that see less traffic. Hong Kong, Germany and South Africa all performed worse on paper than either of the initial servers we tested.
What we noticed while testing the VPN in real-world situations was that the fast servers were not quite as fast as they seemed in our on-paper testing, and the slow servers were not quite as slow as we expected.
As for the servers that did very well in our on-paper testing, these would also load in videos at 720p more often than 1080p. Though the performance was undoubtedly more responsive than the server that scored poorly in our testing, it was still a bit more sluggish than the negligible difference we saw between the U.S. VPN connection and unprotected one.
Although PrivateVPN is fast enough to cover the basic needs of most users, a VPN like ExpressVPN offers much more reliable performance and speeds on all of its servers around the globe.
As we mentioned in the “features” section, PrivateVPN covers the pair of features that we consider to be critical for any VPN’s security performance: a kill switch and some way to connect automatically. Together, these features ensure that no information leaks out of your system before the VPN establishes its connection or after the VPN connection drops.
The next biggest determining factor in a VPN’s security performance is the protocols that it offers. PrivateVPN gives users the choice between OpenVPN, PPTP and L2TP. You can read our VPN protocol breakdown to learn more about each of these, but in short, OpenVPN is what we recommend most people use.
The ideal setup for most VPN users is an OpenVPN paired with AES-256 encryption, which PrivateVPN offers. However, AES-128 encryption is PrivateVPN’s default, instead.
You can look at our encryption article to learn more, but we recommend that PrivateVPN users change this setting to the higher AES-256 encryption level as soon as possible, as it offers much better security with a very minor performance impact, if any.
PrivateVPN’s client also has settings for IPv6 leak protection and DNS leak protection. We tested for IP and DNS leaks and weren’t able to find any, so these seem to work. Additionally, PrivateVPN’s “application guard” adds yet another layer of security by automatically closing any applications you tell it to when you disconnect.
Although it doesn’t offer any specialized protocols — like VyprVPN’s Chameleon protocol, which you can read about in our VyprVPN review — PrivateVPN covers the essentials with an OpenVPN and AES-256 encryption.
However, it does collect some non-identifying information through cookies on its website, but this is, unfortunately, an unavoidable aspect of almost all websites at this point. The information collected is essentially limited to your email address and payment method.
We started our test of PrivateVPN’s streaming performance by connecting straight to a server in New Jersey from the regular server list. Using this method, we were able to access Hulu, Amazon Prime and BBC iPlayer without a problem. We could even access Netflix U.S. and stream in 1080p with no lag.
The “by service” tab of the server page shows a list of streaming services with servers under each one. However, the servers listed under each streaming service seem to be the same servers as the ones under the “all servers” tab. For example, under “Netflix” is a list of most of PrivateVPN’s servers spanning the entire globe.
Although PrivateVPN was able to get most streaming sites working, there are still much better options out there. Take a look at our best VPN for Netflix article to see which VPN providers can reliably get you through to Netflix content.
At the time of writing, PrivateVPN’s network contained only around 80 servers spread across 61 countries. Although the number of locations is enough to satisfy most users, it still fails to measure up against many competitors.
What’s worse than the lack of overall servers, though, is the number of servers per location. It seems like PrivateVPN’s network is spread pretty thin, which could explain some of the poor results we saw earlier in the “speed” section.
Hopefully, PrivateVPN has some network expansion planned soon, but the fact that the network has shrunk significantly since we last reviewed the service doesn’t fill us with any hope.
For comparison, the largest server network we’ve come across belongs to CyberGhost, which has a monstrous network with more than 6,300 servers in 112 locations spread across 90 countries. You can read more about this massive network in our CyberGhost review.
PrivateVPN’s customer service is fairly good, overall. There’s chat support — though it’s not available 24/7 — which is something we always love to see, as it makes resolving issues much faster than email support.
That said, the email support team is very fast and responded to us within minutes, in most cases. The installation guides are clearly written and thorough, but the FAQ as a whole mostly covers very basic information and is pretty limited in scope.
With a relatively small FAQ section, it’s good that email support is responsive and helpful. However, if the live chat customer support is no longer available, the references to it need to be removed from the website, or the service needs to be moved somewhere on the website where it can be more easily found.
Although PrivateVPN has improved in some aspects since our last review, such as customer support, it still doesn’t do enough where it counts, and in areas like server locations, it has actively gotten worse. Case in point: the interface is arguably more confusing, thanks to the streamed services tab, and speed performance is still inconsistent.
Should PrivateVPN aim to climb out of the middle ranks, it will need to improve its streaming performance and speed quite a bit. If you’ve used PrivateVPN, we’re interested to hear about it in the comments below. As always, thanks for reading.