An abstract illustration of a digital speedometer representing internet download speed.
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Virtual private networks are great tools, but they all have one problem: They slow down your connection. However, they shouldn’t bring it down to a crawl. If you’re suffering from agonizingly slow speeds while connected to your VPN, here are a few things you can do to fix the problem.

Check Whether Your VPN Is the Problem

Before we look at how to fix any VPN-related issues, let’s first make sure that it’s actually your VPN that’s really the problem by testing your VPN speed.

To do so, first, make sure that you’re disconnected from your VPN. Go to Speedtest.net without your VPN connected and write down the numbers that you see. Second, connect the VPN and run the test again.

speed test results from Ookla

If the results from the VPN are less than around 60% of your regular speed, then the VPN is the problem. If, however, the VPN only takes a few Mbps off the top of an already slow connection—or your connection is a lot slower than your ISP advertised—you may want to take a few steps to speed up your internet connection before running the test again.

RELATED: How to Speed Up Your Internet Connection

How to Fix VPN Speed Problems

Assuming that you’ve determined that it’s the VPN that’s slowing things down, there are three options you can choose from to fix the problem. Depending on which VPN you’re using, the way that you perform these actions will be a bit different—different VPNs have their own software tools and options. We’ll try to explain these tips in a general way so that you can take advantage of them on any VPN.

Switch VPN Servers

The first and easiest way to fix any speed issues with a VPN is to simply change servers. Most of the speed decrease is caused by the distance between you and the server as well as the load on the server. Other factors, like the VPN protocol and encryption, also play their part—but they’re supporting actors rather than leading roles.

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Try and find a server that’s closer to you than the one you’re currently using if you’re able to do so. If you need to connect to a faraway country out of necessity—because you’re trying to circumvent regional restrictions, for example—then try a server in another part of that country. For example, try using a U.S. West Coast server rather than one on the East Coast, or vice versa.

Another option is to choose a server that’s less busy. Some VPN services, like NordVPN and VPNArea, show the load on a server, which makes this a lot easier. Even if your service of choice doesn’t support this, though, you can usually tell whether this is the problem. If an otherwise fast server suddenly slows down, then server load is likely to blame.

NordVPN server load

Tweak VPN Settings

If changing servers doesn’t work—or doesn’t work as much as you’d like—the next option is to change some of your VPN’s settings. Some services make this harder than others, but in most cases, you can access settings through some kind of gear icon in the VPN client’s menu.

However, a word of warning: If you’re not completely sure of what you’re doing, then don’t do anything. If you change the wrong setting, you may end up exposing your traffic. This isn’t a problem if you’re trying to get into another country’s Netflix library, but it’s a big deal if you’re using the internet from China and want to hide your browsing.

Start by checking the level of encryption used by the VPN. If it’s set at 256-AES, see whether you can change it to a 128-bit cipher. Although this may seem like a step down, trustworthy VPNs like Private Internet Access use it as a default and it’s perfectly safe. (AES-256 may be called “military-grade” encryption, a marketing term, but AES-128 is basically just as good.)

Another option is to check whether your VPN has Wireguard as an option. This is a new form of VPN encryption that can massively speed up your connection. In some cases, you’ll be presented with a custom variant like NordVPN’s NordLynx.

Change VPN Protocols

Last but not least, you can try changing protocols. A VPN protocol is a set of rules and instructions that govern the way that a VPN communicates with servers, and different ones can operate at different speeds. However, please note that faster means less encryption in most cases, so we advise caution once again.

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Generally speaking, PPTP, L2TP, and IKEv2 are pretty fast, with OpenVPN (the default for many, many VPNs) being toward the slower end. However, there’s a reason why OpenVPN is the default: It’s really good. We recommend that you stick with it in most cases and only switch the protocol variants from TCP to UDP. The tech behind it is complicated, but generally speaking, using OpenVPN with UDP is a good balance between speed and security with no real shortcomings.

ExpressVPN created a new Lightway protocol that promises to speed things up. It was available in beta form as of May 2021.

ExpressVPN protocol screen

Switch to a Faster VPN

There’s a chance, though, that despite tinkering with settings—or wisely not doing anything with them at all—that your VPN is still slow. In that case, it could very well be that you picked a poor service, in which case, we recommend that you make use of the VPN service’s money-back guarantee—if it offers one—to get a refund.

The fact is that most decent VPNs get good speeds with their default settings. Why settle for one that needs you to get under the digital hood?

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There are a few VPN services that we like, but when it comes to speed, we recommend ExpressVPN. Many of us here at How-To Geek have used it for years. It’s a speedy VPN with a large number of servers, and it’s backed by a trustworthy company that’s been around for years. If you don’t like it, you can always get your money back within the first 30 days.

Our Favorite VPN

ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN is our top VPN pick. It’s fast and inexpensive. Many of us at How-To Geek have trusted and used it for years.

Fergus O'Sullivan Fergus O'Sullivan
Fergus is a freelance writer for How-To Geek. He has seven years of tech reporting and reviewing under his belt for a number of publications, including GameCrate and Cloudwards. He's written more articles and reviews about cybersecurity and cloud-based software than he can keep track of---and knows his way around Linux and hardware, too.
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