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Update, 01/25/2023: We’ve reviewed our recommendations and are confident these are still the best VPNs you can subscribe to.

What to Look For in a VPN in 2023

A virtual private network, or VPN, is a service that allows you to connect to the internet through one of its own servers, effectively masking your IP address and adding some anonymity to your browsing. VPNs can serve all kinds of purposes. You can circumvent censorship, access another country’s Netflix library, or simply add an extra layer of security while on the internet.

The very best VPNs can do all of the above, but as with any product, some will do better at one job than others. On top of that, there are other things to consider, like usability, speed, and even the number of servers when looking to buy a VPN.

Most importantly, though, is the question of privacy and security. As new VPN providers are springing up right and left, it can be hard to figure out which ones are bonafide and which were brought into existence purely to steal your data—and there are plenty of untrustworthy VPNs out there.

We’ve gone over all our picks below, checking what they can and cannot do, as well as poring over their privacy policies with a fine-toothed comb. We’ve also done our due diligence to see if there have been any reports about breaches of trust. These are our top picks!

RELATED: VPN Myths Debunked: What VPNs Can and Cannot Do

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is a VPN?
VPN stands for “virtual private network.” It’s a way of sending data across a public network (like the internet) as if you were connected to a private network in a different location. Consumer VPN services are often used to bypass geographical restrictions, avoid internet censorship, and boost privacy. An organization like an employer or school may have you connect to its own VPN to access resources on its network.
How Does a VPN Work?
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When you connect to a VPN, your device creates a secure tunnel between itself and the remote VPN server. The VPN server functions as a go-between, forwarding traffic back and forth. Anyone in between—for example, your internet service provider, workplace network, or coffee shop Wi-Fi operator—can only see that you’re connecting to the VPN server, not what you’re connecting to. The server or service you’re connecting to sees your IP address as the VPN’s. For example, if you’re in the U.K. and connect to a VPN server in the U.S., you will be able to browse the internet as if you were in the U.S., and websites would see your IP address as being in the U.S.
How Do I Get the Most Out of a VPN?
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First, choose a solid VPN. Not all VPNs are equal. For the best service, you’ll have to pay for a VPN. The good news is that solid VPNs only cost a few dollars a month. Many free VPNs violate your privacy and collect data to pay their bills. While some paid VPNs do have free plans that are more trustworthy, even their free servers will generally be slower than the paid servers. For maximum speed, connect to a nearby server (unless you must appear to be in a faraway country.) If you’re looking for privacy, rethink how you browse online.
How Do I Set Up a VPN?
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If you’re picking a consumer VPN, setup is easy: You will just need to create an account, download an application, sign in, and press a button or two. The VPNs we recommend offer apps for platforms like Windows, Mac, iPhone, Android, iPad, Chrome OS, and Linux. There are also some operating-system level features for connecting to VPNs—you may use these with a workplace or other organization’s network—but we recommend using your preferred VPN service’s app for ease of setup.
Can I Still Use Streaming Platforms on a VPN?
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It depends on the VPN you choose and the streaming service you’re trying to watch. Netflix and other streaming services are playing a game of cat-and-mouse with VPNs, constantly trying to block VPNs to fulfill content licensing requirements while VPNs are trying to get around the blocks. We recommend choosing a high-quality, highly rated VPN to ensure the best luck with streaming services.
Can I Change My IP Location With a VPN?
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A VPN effectively lets you change your IP address’s location. That’s because the VPN functions as a middleman, forwarding traffic back and forth. If you’re in the U.S. and connect to a VPN in Japan, websites and other services you connect to over the VPN will see your IP address as the IP address of the VPN in Japan.
Can I Be Tracked Using a VPN?
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A VPN can make it more difficult to track you online. Rather than using a unique IP address, you’re sharing a VPN’s IP address with other people, and that IP address isn’t tied to your physical location. There are still many ways you could be tracked: If you don’t choose a trustworthy VPN, the VPN itself may track you and sell your data. If you connect to a VPN and promptly sign into Facebook with your normal Facebook account, now Facebook knows who you are—even though you’re using a VPN. We recommend using Incognito Mode and VPN together for maximum privacy.
Does a VPN Slow Down My Internet Speed?
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There’s no way around it—a VPN will generally slow down your internet speed while you’re using it. Rather than connecting directly to websites and other servers, you’re adding an additional step in the middle. In some rare cases, a VPN may be faster—if your internet or network service provider is slowing down some types of traffic but not VPN traffic, for example—but you should not expect this. You can choose to use a VPN only for specific applications or only enable it at specific times. If you choose one of the best fast VPNs (like ExpressVPN, which we recommend), the slowdown will often be very minimal and perhaps even unnoticeable.
What Are the Red Flags to Look Out for in a VPN?
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VPNs are big business, and it’s important to look out for red flags. If a VPN is completely free for all its users, that’s a red flag—the VPN must be making money somewhere to pay its bills, perhaps by tracking its users and selling their data. For paid VPNs, sketchy websites full of typos and a lack of reviews (or fake-looking reviews) are bad signs. You should also ensure you pick a VPN with a no-log policy, although you’re trusting the VPN’s promises here—unless the VPN submits to an independent audit. The best thing you can do to avoid bad VPNs is to seek out trustworthy, widely recommended VPNs with longstanding good reputations, like the ones we cover in this guide. You may be able to save a bit of money by going with an unknown option, but a good VPN just costs a few bucks a month. You’re placing a lot of trust in a VPN, so you don’t want to cut corners.

Best Overall VPN: ExpressVPN

expressvpn logo on grey background

Pros

  • Fast
  • Easy to use for everyone
  • Cracks Netflix's VPN blocks

Cons

  • Expensive

ExpressVPN is our best VPN overall. It offers everything you might need from a VPN and then some. It’s fast (so it only slows you down slightly) and easy to use. ExpressVPN’s interface is pretty much just one big button to switch it on and off, with one other button to access the server menu. Simple, easy, and effective.

More importantly, ExpressVPN does everything you need a VPN to actually do. It easily gets past the Netflix VPN block, as well as Amazon Prime and Hulu’s blockers. It’s also highly secure thanks to advanced encryption, meaning it’s a great option for circumventing Chinese censorship.

The only real downside is that it’s one of the priciest VPNs on the market at $100 per year. It’s a steep price, but ExpressVPN is worth it, especially with the ability to connect up to five devices at the same time. It also comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee so that you can check it out at your leisure.

ExpressVPN is the go-to VPN for many of the How-To Geek team, and we’ve never had a problem with it over the years. You can also check out our review of ExpressVPN to get a feel of what you’re paying for.

In short, ExpressVPN is just awesome. It’s fast, user-friendly, secure, has a VPN kill switch, and streams everything.

Best Overall VPN

ExpressVPN

Read How-To Geek's Full Review

ExpressVPN is fast, easy to use, and has no problems accessing Netflix and other streaming services. It’s a little pricey, but it’s worth every penny.

Best Budget VPN: Private Internet Access

PIA graphic on orange and pink background
Private Internet Access

Pros

  • Cheap
  • Fast

Cons

  • Not great for Netflix
  • Price gets changed a lot

If you want a VPN but don’t want to pay top dollar for it, Private Internet Access—better known as PIA—is a good choice. You can get a three-year subscription for $79, which boils down to just over $2 per month. On top of that, you get three months free.

This is a very good deal, but plenty of similar ones are out there. PureVPN goes just under $2 per month, and Surfshark has some great offers. What sets PIA apart is that a deal stays a deal. Most other providers will offer a great deal, but upon renewal, you have to pay the “real” price. Surfshark does this, as does PureVPN, but the biggest offender is NordVPN, which doubles its price.

PIA confirmed in an email that if you sign up for the three-year plan for $79, you’ll pay that price again when you renew. We doubt you could find a better deal out there, at least from a service as well-known and respected as PIA. Though the price is low, PIA is far from stingy regarding features, and offers a good interface and excellent speeds.

There is, however, a small downside to PIA. For some reason, it’s changed its prices more than once over the years. While we don’t doubt it will stick to its word and let you pay on renewal what you paid the first time, the current offer might disappear and be replaced by something more expensive—or cheaper. With PIA, it pays to keep an eye out.

Best Budget VPN

Private Internet Access

Private Internet Access is available at a low price–and it stays that way, instead of charging more after a sales period.

Best Free VPN: Windscribe

windscribe UI on yellow background

Pros

  • Generous free plan
  • Inexpensive upgrade

Cons

  • Best features are locked until you pay

If you’d prefer not to pay any money for a VPN, there are a few decent companies that offer free plans. You need to be careful with free VPNs, though, as there are many “free” VPN companies out there that exist purely to steal your data and sell it to advertisers and data miners.

In fact, the problem is so bad that we recommend using only three VPNs with a free plan, Proton VPN, TunnelBear, and Windscribe, with the last being the best of them.

The main issue of free legitimate VPNs is bandwidth, or the amount of data that can be passed through the VPN. TunnelBear offers only 500MB of free bandwidth per month, upgradeable to 1GB by tweeting about the service.

Windscribe, on the other hand, offers twenty times as much, 10GB per month and another 5GB by tweeting. Referring friends gets you another 1GB per referral, too. Though 15GB isn’t enough to sustain a hardcore torrenting habit, it should be more than enough for most people.

Proton VPN doesn’t have bandwidth caps like Windscribe, but instead limits you to just a handful of servers and also caps your speeds. This makes it a good pick for people that want to secure their browsing but nothing else. However, we feel Windscribe’s superior speeds give it an edge here.

The only reason to use TunnelBear over Windscribe is that the former has servers in a lot more countries available for free users; Windscribe only has 10. We’d take 20 times the bandwidth over country choice any day, so Windscribe gets our recommendation here. Upgrading Windscribe into a paid version costs only $49 per year and works great with Netflix, so that’s another upside.

Of the three free VPNs we mentioned, Windscribe offers 10GB of bandwidth, about twenty times more than TunnelBear. This gives Windscribe an almost automatic win.

Best Free VPN

Windscribe

If you can’t afford a VPN but would like privacy, you need to be careful of scams. Windscribe is not a scam, offering effective VPN services, and the basic plan doesn’t cost a dime.

Best VPN for iPhone: Proton VPN

ProtonVPN logo on green background
ProtonVPN

Pros

  • Company with a good reputation
  • Bundle with secure mail

Cons

  • Expensive by itself
  • ProtonMail bundles are even more expensive

Protecting your privacy while on mobile devices is just as important as protecting desktop computers and laptops due to the increasing number of attacks aimed at smartphones. Most of the VPNs on this list have mobile apps that do a fine job of protecting any and all your devices, but if you’re predominantly an iPhone user, you may want to give Proton VPN a shot.

Famous for offering secure email service ProtonMail, there’s a lot to like about Proton VPN. This VPN app is fast, secure, and has made a clear commitment to users’ privacy. It also offers a decent pricing scheme and offers a discount if you bundle Proton VPN with ProtonMail.

That said, the bundle does raise the price from $96 for the VPN alone to $288, so it’s not exactly cheap. A tip for readers in eurozone countries, though: Change the pricing display to U.S. dollars. For some reason, Proton VPN maintains the same numbers for the different currencies, meaning you’ll pay a fair amount extra if you’re looking at prices in your local currency.

The main reason we like Proton VPN for iPhone is due to its interface. In essence, the app is just a map, and you click the flag of the country you want to connect to. Other buttons let you manipulate the options; it’s all just laid out intuitively.

Proton VPN has a good UI that fits well into the screen, without too many extraneous buttons. It’s very secure and you can bundle it with ProtonMail, making it a great overall service for the iPhone.

Best VPN for iPhone

Proton VPN

Read How-To Geek's Full Review

Proton VPN is a service from the makers of ProtonMail, so you know they have your privacy in mind. It’s easy to use on your iPhone, and you can bundle it with their mail service.

Best VPN for Android: Hide.me

hide.me logo on blue background

Pros

  • Good interface
  • Affordable

Cons

  • Can be a bit slow
  • Not as good on desktop

Most VPNs will do a fine job for Android devices, but we especially like ExpressVPN thanks to its one-button approach. The Android app is pretty much just one button to switch on and one below it to change locations. It’s simple and foolproof.

However, ExpressVPN comes with a pretty hefty price tag, so for a more cost-effective solution, we recommend Hide.me. It approaches the Android app with the same simple philosophy, with just a single button dominating the VPN app. Set the server, connect to it, and then forget about it. We appreciate it a lot when designers keep it simple.

Besides ease of use, Hide.me has a few other things going for it. It has a large server network spread out all over the globe, which is great for frequent travelers. The biggest downside is that it’s not as reliable for streaming as some competitors, but that may be less of a concern if you’re only using it on mobile. As a bonus, Hide.me is also pretty cheap, with a $45 per year plan.

If you need a VPN for Android, then give Hide.me a shot. This VPN is fast, secure, and, most importantly, has one of the simplest interfaces we’ve ever seen on a smartphone.

Best VPN for Android

Hide.me

Hide.me is effective on Android, with a simple interface and a large servers network that makes it great for travelers.

Best VPN for Streaming: ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN logo

Pros

  • Beats Netflix block
  • Gets into Hulu and Amazon as well

Cons

  • Pricey for just streaming

Streaming geo-restricted content is probably the most common reason why people get a VPN. With one single purchase, you can unlock the libraries of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and more from wherever you are in the world, provided you have subscriptions to these services.

However, as much as different VPNs loudly proclaim that they’re the one service that can unlock all these streaming sites, in our estimation, there’s only one real winner: ExpressVPN, making it the best VPN for Netflix. In our years of using it, we’ve never encountered any serious issues trying to access Netflix libraries in other countries or faking a U.S. IP address so we could access Hulu.

Some other services, like NordVPN, Windscribe, and CyberGhost get close, but ExpressVPN beats them in the end. The few times you are locked out of Netflix, all you need to do is switch to a different server in the same country, and you should be fine.

The other reason binge-watchers should consider ExpressVPN is its superior speeds. Streaming requires some fast connection speeds, and ExpressVPN will get you buffering the least thanks to the service’s great speeds.

When it comes to streaming, we’d go with ExpressVPN every time. It unblocks most country’s Netflix libraries with ease, and it’s fast as greased lightning.

Best VPN for Streaming

ExpressVPN

Read How-To Geek's Full Review

ExpressVPN is hands down the best for streaming. The service has no problem cracking Netflix blocks, and also has an easy time with Hulu, Amazon Prime, and other streaming services.

Best VPN for Gaming: TorGuard

TorGuard graphic
TorGuard

Pros

  • Maintains good ping
  • Nice interface

Cons

  • Bit pricey
  • Confusing price plans

Finding a VPN that will work well when gaming online can be tricky. For gamers, one of the most important things is to have low ping, or latency. In short, this is how fast your internet connection reacts to your actions; in games, it determines how soon you act when you press the button. If your gun is slow to fire when seeing an opponent, you’re toast.

The problem is that VPNs will always slow you down and give you a higher ping. This is because the signals have farther to travel. While there’s no way around this, the best you can hope for is to contain the damage. This is where TorGuard comes in—it’s a solid VPN that’s among the fastest on the market and keeps ping low.

When testing TorGuard, it managed to keep latency at an acceptable level. The further you hop from your current location, the worse it will get, of course, but if you keep distances reasonable you should be able to game online and remain competitive.

TorGuard has plenty going for it besides ping and speeds, too. It has a pleasant, easy-to-use interface and can do some work with Netflix. The only downside is that it’s a little pricey, coming in around the same price as ExpressVPN, though offering slightly less performance. Still, for gamers, it’s worth looking into.

Best VPN for Gaming

TorGuard

TorGuard offers low latency, low ping gaming, something that many VPNs can’t offer.

Best VPN for Torrenting: IVPN

iVPN banner
IVPN

Pros

  • Anonymous signup
  • Fast

Cons

  • User ID is one of a kind
  • Not too many servers

Though it’s not often discussed, one of the most important reasons to use a VPN is when you’re torrenting. Copyright watchdogs are coming down hard on people who pirate copyrighted content, and the only good way to dodge their surveillance is to use a VPN. One of our favorites for torrenting is IVPN, a service that focuses strongly on privacy.

Though it’s not the only service on this list that does well in hiding user data (Mullvad is our favorite for that), what makes IVPN interesting for torrenters is that it’s also really fast, meaning your downloads will have come down the pipe before you know it. Anonymity and speed make a VPN ideal for torrenters, and IVPN offers both.

IVPN allows you to sign up without using an email address, and you can pay with pseudonymous methods like cryptocurrency or anonymously with cash. This means that even if IVPN is forced to hand over user records, there’s nothing there except the number IVPN assigned you. Seeing how a few VPNs have been forced to hand user data over, it’s nice to know there’s nothing IVPN has that will track back to you.

IVPN is also pretty affordable. Though we won’t call it cheap, you can sign up for just a few bucks per month and get a solid, fast, private VPN with a pretty nifty interface. What’s not to like?

Best VPN for Torrenting

IVPN

Read How-To Geek's Full Review

If you’re looking to torrent, you’ll want a VPN that keeps your information secure. IVPN puts your security first and foremost.

Best VPN for Windows: NordVPN

Person using NordVPN outside
NordVPN

Pros

  • Easy to use
  • Great Windows app

Cons

  • Fluctuating speeds
  • High renewal price

In a way, picking the best VPN for Windows is like picking the most user-friendly VPN. The operating system is so ubiquitous that the best here is almost the best everywhere. We’ve chosen NordVPN for this slot because it’s extremely easy to use and does everything well.

NordVPN doesn’t stand out in any particular way but does everything quite well. Its biggest asset is its user-friendly interface, which offers an interactive world map so you can easily pick VPN servers. We also like how it lays out all its settings, ensuring that even the most novice user can figure out what they’re doing.

When it comes to general usability, NordVPN does good. It can be very fast—it strongly depends on the server you pick—and offers decent security and privacy. It also offers some special servers, most of which we suggest you don’t use as they don’t seem to have much utility. Double VPN servers are a particular annoyance.

NordVPN is also pretty cheap the first time you sign up, offering a two-year plan for about $100. Renewing this subscription will put you back more than double that, so definitely keep track of your renewal date and decide if you want to pay the increased price.

Best VPN for Windows

NordVPN

Read How-To Geek's Full Review

NordVPN is a great all-around VPN that’s easy for anyone to set up, making it great for Windows users.

Best VPN for China: VyprVPN

person using internet outdoors
VyprVPN

Pros

  • Chameleon protocol is tried and tested in China
  • Good deals on pricing

Cons

  • It's a bit slow
  • Not great for Netflix

Beating Chinese censorship is no mean feat: the blocks put up by the government that keeps people from browsing foreign internet sites, collectively known as the Great Firewall, are formidable. Getting caught tunneling under the Firewall can land you in hot water with the police, who may want to have a quiet chat with you about your browser history.

The Chinese authorities control the flow of internet traffic through several access points throughout the country. From there, it can check connections made to see if they’re going to flagged sites and block them, or, it’s speculated, even check whether a connection has the tell-tale signs of a VPN and block that as well.

VyprVPN is one of our favorite VPNs to get from the Chinese internet into the regular internet thanks to its specially developed Chameleon protocol, which escapes detection by posing as a regular connection—hence the name. Few other providers have anything similar, and very few have the track record of VyprVPN, in pulling it off.

Best VPN for China

VyprVPN

It can be difficult to find a VPN that works well in China. VyprVPN has the Chameleon Protocol, which masks your connection as a normal connection, allowing you to access the internet without worry.

Best Private VPN: Mullvad

mullvad logo on green background

Pros

  • Completely anonymous
  • One of the very few services that accepts cash

Cons

  • Not the cheapest
  • Email address necessary for account recovery

As great a tool as VPNs are, they have some weaknesses. Services are only as good as their no-log policies, and your account information is, technically at least, known to the service you sign up with. For one, they have your email address and often also your payment information. The exception is if you paid with cryptocurrency, though it’s not always the case.

Mullvad avoids these issues by not requiring an email address for account creation, opting instead for a randomized key that serves as your user ID. On top of that, you can send the service an envelope with cash to cover the VPN’s operating costs—euros are preferred, but U.S. dollars are fine, too–leaving no paper trail.

If you want to really maximize your anonymity, then Mullvad may be the best VPN out there. Your own personal organization abilities need to be top-notch, as there’s no password recovery without an email address, but it does mean that you can sleep soundly at night, secure in the knowledge that nobody can trace your IP address.

As a VPN that requires no email address and accepts both cryptocurrency and cash, Mullvad is the most private VPN service out there. If you don’t want to be tracked in any way, accept no substitute.

Best VPN for Privacy

Mullvad VPN

You want complete privacy? You can send Mullvad an envelope with cash and your payment token to pay for your account, so they’ll never have your personal information.

The Best Password Managers of 2022

Best Free Password Manager
Bitwarden
Best Paid Password Manager
1Password
Best Password Manager and VPN Combo
Dashlane
Best Offline Password Manager
KeePassXC
Profile Photo for 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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