Ethernet cable plugged into an ethernet port on a router
Hannah Stryker / How-To Geek

Times are hard and money’s tight. It’s no more than reasonable to want to limit your expenses on certain things and VPNs are as good a candidate as any. Are VPNs something you can skimp on, though? Do you really need to pay $100 per year to get a great VPN?

The answer is complicated, but the past few years I’ve reviewed a lot of different services and found out a few things about how VPN pricing works. Let’s take a look at them and see if we can get you a cheap VPN that you won’t end up paying for in some other way. We’ll leave free VPNs out of the equation, though, since we’ve already established they can’t always be trusted.

At What Point Is a VPN Cheap?

Of course, if we’re going to talk about getting you a cheap VPN, it may be handy if we first determine what “cheap” means in this case. Looking at the best VPN services available, we can say with some confidence that the usual price for a decent service falls roughly around $60 per year.

I say per year because, with a handful of noticeable exceptions, you never want to go month-to-month when signing on to a VPN. Generally speaking, most VPNs will want you to sign on for a year or longer, and thus will make their annual or even multi-year plans offer a massive discount when compared to their monthly price.

One exception is Mullvad, which costs the same per month regardless of how long you sign up: it’s $5 per month whether you subscribe for one month, two, or even a full year. If you like consistency, Mullvad is a great choice, and you get one of the most transparent and thus trustworthy VPNs out there on top of that—for just over $60 per year.

With the number of $60 per year in mind, we can say that any VPN that costs less than that can be considered cheap. However, in an industry as convoluted as this, there’s more to it than just bare numbers.

Some VPNs Use Misleading Pricing

One of the reasons we praise Mullvad’s simple pricing structure is because some other services make pricing a lot more complicated than it needs to be, seemingly in a bid to confuse their potential customers. Two examples are NordVPN and Surfshark, both of which are an object lesson in reading the fine print.

As I describe in my NordVPN review, this service’s pricing is simply misleading. At first, you’ll be impressed with how cheap it is. Depending on the promotions it has running, you can get a VPN for as little as $40 per year, provided you sign on for two years or more. Surfshark does something similar.

However, as the fine print under these banners states, this isn’t the real price: once your initial term is up, both services—unsurprisingly owned by the same company—revert to their “real” prices. Surfshark ends up costing just under $100 per year, while NordVPN is $124 per year, a generous amount considering how mediocre we’ve assessed the service to be.

As unpleasant as this is, at least these two services make it clear right there on the page. AtlasVPN is more subtle about it, placing an asterisk next to its price of $50 for two years. The asterisk’s explanation is at the bottom of the page and leads you to a link which explains that once you renew your subscription the service suddenly costs $40 per year.

Naturally, in all these cases, your subscription will automatically renew for your convenience—and the company’s. Like with everything else, when it comes to VPNs it pays to read the fine print.

Poor Performance

Now, you may share my distaste for AtlasVPN’s shenanigans but correctly wonder what the problem is: even at $40 per year, it’s a pretty good deal, after all. Well, it would be, but the service isn’t exactly good. In fact, finding a VPN that’s under $60, doesn’t have nasty fine print, and does its job up to a decent standard is pretty hard.

In the case of AtlasVPN, for example, it’s ridiculously slow and has a buggy interface that will have you tearing your hair out as it crashes yet again. In a way, this isn’t all that surprising: much of a VPN’s performance is tied to the quality of its servers and if you don’t charge a lot, there’s probably not a lot of money to buy and maintain high-end hardware. We can only assume that this extends to app development, too.

In fact, performance is the main issue you’ll encounter when testing out cheap VPNs. A good example can be found in my FastVPN review, which combines several issues. At first sign-up, the service is just $12 per year, which is fantastic, though it reverts to $35 after that first subscription period.

For that price, though, you get a VPN that moves at a snail’s pace, and I say that fully expecting a class action lawsuit from the snail community for defamation. Though I admire the FastVPN’s team’s audacity, the service doesn’t really live up to its name. Even for that money, it’s not worth it.

Are There Good, Cheap VPNs?

A cheap VPN can be a poor investment and you may have given up on finding a good VPN for less than $60 per year. However, there are a few VPNs that break the mold. My favorite is IVPN. You can sign on for three years and pay just $140, which is just over $45 per year, a steal for a service this good. IVPN is fast, secure, and one of the few VPNs out there that allows you to sign up anonymously.

Another option is Private Internet Access, which offers a three-year plan for $80, and renews that plan under the same conditions. For this money—which is less than $30 per year—you get a solid VPN with an easy-to-use app. It’s not perfect (for example, it won’t unblock Netflix) but again, it’s less than $30 per year.

Your final option is also very cheap, but is really only useful for a very specific type of customer:  Windscribe lets you put together super-cheap DIY plans for as little as $3 per month. The way it works is that you add a server to your plan for $1 per month, streaming servers are included, and then get unlimited bandwidth for another $1 per month—the minimum spend is $3.

If all you need is a VPN that handles streaming, for example, this plan is pretty good at $36 per year. That said, you’re badly limiting yourself if you use this plan in this way, so it’s probably not the best option for everybody.

There are a few other options out there if you’re shopping for VPNs, but overall these three are your best bet for a good VPN under $60. All three are safe and secure, fast, and have decent user experiences. Most other cheap VPNs may end up costing more than you bargained for.

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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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