The best VPNs will help keep your internet activity private and prevent websites and other organizations from tracking you as you surf the net. They are also widely used for unblocking streaming services not available in your country.
If you like the sound of these perks and benefits, read on to find out which VPN services are the best to use in 2021.
The Best VPN Services 2021 at a glance
Here’s a quick look at the best VPN services available right now. Continue scrolling for more detailed information about these services and for some additional options.
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[[post-object type=”gotolink” provider=”expressvpn” class=”btn btn-md btn-primary”]]Try our #1 VPN pick ExpressVPN Today![[/post-object]]
What is the best VPN service to use in 2021: Closer look
Below, you’ll find an in-depth analysis of the best VPNs in the world. Take a look through the summaries of each one to see which one will work best for your personal needs. If you want more information on any of the providers we recommend in this guide, then be sure to check out our full VPN reviews.
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Best VPN deals and discounts
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How does a VPN work?
A VPN is a piece of software or application that allows you to connect your PC, Mac, mobile device, or router to a VPN server via an encrypted tunnel. When you use a VPN, you will benefit from the following advantages:
- No one on the internet (such as the websites you visit or torrent peers) will be able to see who you are or who your ISP is because their “view” back to you is obstructed by the VPN server.
- Your ISP will not be able to see what you get up to on the internet because its “view” is similarly obstructed by the VPN server.
- Your ISP will not be able to snoop on your data, as it has been encrypted between your device and the VPN server, too.
- You will be protected from hackers and data thieves as well since the data you transmit online will be fully encrypted and completely hidden from view.
- VPN servers are located all over the world, which is great for evading censorship or pretending to be somewhere else to unblock geo-restricted content.
A VPN can be installed on a whole range of different devices. Depending on which device you use, you can find tailored information with some of our other guides, including:
- The best VPNs to use on Windows 10
- The best VPNs for macOS
- The best VPNs to stay secure on Linux
- The best VPNs for Android phones
- The best VPN apps on iOS devices
How do we pick the Best VPNs to use?
There are hundreds upon hundreds of consumer VPNs on the market these days, and if you’ve already started your search for a VPN, you’ll know this first-hand! Such a broad selection, along with the fact that each and every single one of them claims to be the best VPN in the world, can make it extremely difficult to pick a service. The truth is that the vast majority of VPN services on the market today are pure junk – to put it bluntly.
Luckily for you, we have devised a comprehensive series of tests that allows us to check each VPN service carefully to determine which ones are actually the best. Below we have detailed all the factors we looked at to curate this list of the best VPNs in the world.
- Security features – We look at what encryption the VPN uses, how well the service implements the encryption standards, and if it has any additional features to strengthen user privacy, such as a kill-switch or obfuscation (cloaking).
- Attitude to privacy – We prefer VPN providers who take privacy seriously. As such, we look for strong no-logs policies and which jurisdiction the VPN operates from.
- No leaks – A VPN that leaks your information when you’re using it is next to useless, so we use our own in-house VPN leak testing tool to make sure the VPN is watertight.
- Device compatibility – People surf the web on all sorts of different devices, from Macs and PCs to smartphones and other mobile devices. So, we make sure our recommendations support all major devices and that they are easy to use across various platforms.
- Server speeds and locations – Especially if you are a gamer or avid streamer, a VPN with fast servers situated all over the world is essential to give you the best possible experience for your gaming and streaming activities.
- Unblocking power –Unblocking services like US Netflix is something of an art-form for VPNs and not every one of them is up to the task. We test VPNs with all major streaming services and let you know which ones they work with.
- Torrenting (P2P) policies – Not every VPN allows torrenting on its servers. We check if a VPN is suitable to be used when torrenting.
- Value for money – We’ll make sure you don’t get ripped off. There are some expensive VPNs that are rubbish, but equally some cheaper VPN services that are really impressive.
New to VPNs?
If you’re new to VPNs, you can familiarize yourself with the basics using our helpful guides:
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Why do I need a VPN service?
There are countless reasons to invest in a VPN. Below, we run through some of the most important benefits that you can gain from a VPN subscription.
The benefits of using a VPN service
For just a few dollars a month, you’ll receive the following benefits from your VPN:
Privacy from your ISP or government
A VPN encrypts your internet data and proxies your DNS requests, this renders your ISP completely unable to track what you are doing online. If your ISP can’t track your web activity, that means the government also won’t be able to get its hands on that information. This makes a VPN an extremely effective tool for protecting yourself against government surveillance.
Want to learn more? We take a closer look at website and government surveillance in our ultimate online privacy guide.
Privacy when visiting websites
Websites can see your real IP address when you visit them. If you’re using a VPN, however, they just see the IP of the VPN server, not your true IP address. You should, however, combine the use of a VPN with browser add-ons which prevent website trackers for maximum privacy.
Governments all over the world force ISPs to blacklist certain websites. In China, the list of websites and services that are blocked is huge. China is by far the clearest example of online mass censorship, to find out how you can get around Chinese content blocks, check out our guide listing the best VPNs for China.
Using a VPN is the perfect way to unblock any restricted content; no matter where you happen to live. A VPN lets you pretend to be in a different country so that you can bypass any local censorship.
Unblocking streaming services
Many online streaming services are geo-restricted to prevent people in other countries from accessing the content they host. This is done to protect licensing agreements arranged between those broadcasters and copyright holders. When you use a VPN, though, you can pretend to be in a different country to bypass those restrictions. Netflix US, UK, and Canada, for example, have much larger and more sought-after libraries of titles than elsewhere around the globe. With a VPN, you can access US Netflix (and other popular international streaming services like BBC iPlayer) and watch from virtually anywhere in the world!
If you’re looking to unblock a specific streaming service that is blocked where you are, you can find more tailored advice on our dedicated pages, including:
- The best VPNs that unblock Netflix
- VPNs to watch Hulu outside the US
- VPNs to stream BBC iPlayer outside the UK
- VPNs to watch HBOGO anywhere
Staying secure on WiFi hotspots
It is possible for hackers – or the companies who run WiFi networks – to access user data when they are browsing on a public network. Using a VPN encrypts all the data between your device and the VPN server, protecting you from anyone looking at or intercepting your data via public WiFi. More information on this topic can be found in our VPNs for public WiFi guide.
Torrenting in safety
In order to share torrent files, other torrent users need to know your IP address. Unfortunately, it’s not just other torrenters who can see your IP. To torrent safely without the very real risk of getting caught you need to use a VPN religiously. We recommend checking out our best VPNs for torrenting guide for an in-depth look at what you should consider before you torrent anything.
Are VPNs legal?
VPNs are legal just about everywhere in the world. Even in the countries where VPNs aren’t easily accessible, VPNs are blocked by ISPs in order to prevent people from using them. The important distinction to remember is that while using a VPN is not in and of itself illegal, what you do while using one can be. It’s best to check the law where you live in order to be completely sure that you understand the specifics regarding the legality of VPN use in your country.
We take a more in-depth look at the legality of VPNs in our are VPNs legal? guide.
VPN providers you should avoid!
Below we list the VPN providers that you should definitely avoid at all costs. For more information on these or any other VPN providers, you may come across, check out our VPN reviews hub.
|Provider||Why avoid?||Extra info|
|Hola||Can sell data to third parties* Shares emails with marketing partners. Sells traffic data to sister firm. Shared anonymized data to third parties.||Fraudulently steals & resells user bandwidth through sister company Luminati. DNS and WebRTC leaks detected.|
|Betternet||Can sell data to third parties.* Allows advertisers to cookie users’ browsers. Displays targeted advertising. Parent firm can access all data.||Lets advertisers track and log user data. IP Leak in Chrome browser extension. Contains 14 tracking libraries in total (according to CSIRO report).|
|Hotspot Shield Free||Can sell data to third parties.* Redirects users to affiliate sites when browsing. Displays targeted advertising in-app and on websites.||Uses 5 different third-party tracking libraries. Shares data with third-party affiliates and partners. Shares all data with parent company.|
|Psiphon||Can sell data to third parties.* Allows ad partners to track users. Displays targeted advertising.||Shares data with their advertising partners. Shares data with third-party affiliates and partners. Shares all data with parent company.|
|HoxxVPN||Can sell data to third parties.* Isn’t a VPN (it’s a Shadowsocks proxy service). DNS and WebRTC leaks. Tracks user activities and works with authorities.||Keeps logs and sells them to third-party partners. Shares data with third-party affiliates and partners.|
|SuperVPN||Willing to disclose information to authorities. Reports of it being infected with malware. Tracks user activities and works with authorities.||Extensive access to user’s sensitive information. Stores session logs in the UK and US.|
|ArchieVPN||Reports of being heavily infested with malware.||Performs real-time analysis (claims this is for troubleshooting only).|
|Onavo Project||Can sell data to third parties.* Uses user info for advertising and marketing. Displays ads to users.||Belongs to Facebook. Shares and sells user data with third parties.|
|VPN by Apalon||Invasive app permissions. Shares data with third parties for marketing purposes.||Displays ads. In-app purchases.|
|Tuxler VPN||Can sell data to third parties*. Uses logs to target ads at users.||Shares user browsing data with advertising firms.|
|GO VPN||Can sell data to third parties*. Admits to using customer data to build out their database. Displays targeted ads through the platform.||Belongs to Chinese firm Talking Data. Willing to sell usage logs to third parties and partners. Extremely invasive app permissions.|
|Hexatech||Can sell data to third parties*. Allows advertisers to track and log user data. Advertisers can access user data whenever they want.||Created by Betternet (belongs to a marketing firm). Displays ads to users.|
|TouchVPN||Can sell data to third parties*. Adds Cookies, Pixel Tags, and Web Beacons to user browsers.||Shares anonymous data with third parties.|
|FinchVPN||Can sell data to third parties*. Reports of being heavily infested with malware.||N/A|
|Cross VPN||Reports of being heavily infested with malware.||N/A|
|VPN OneClick Free||Reports of being heavily infested with malware. Outdated PPTP encryption on Android.||Based in the UAE.|
|Flash Free VPN||Invasive app permissions.||Uses 11 third-party tracking libraries.|
|Fast Secure Payment VPN||Reports of being heavily infested with malware.||N/A|
|sFly Network Booster||Reports of being heavily infested with malware.||N/A|
|IP-Shield VPN||Contains third-party tracking software.||N/A|
|WiFi Protector VPN||Uses 5 tracking libraries.||N/A|
|TigerVPNs||Fraudulently steals and resells users’ bandwidth.||N/A|
|Private WiFi||Appears to have poor or no encryption.||N/A|
What goes into the best VPN software?
What is important to keep in mind is that not all VPNs have been created equally. The very best VPN services offer advanced features and provide the highest possible levels of online privacy and security. Below, we’ve drawn up a list of the core VPN features a service must have in order to be considered reliable:
- Effective IPv4 and IPv6 DNS leak protection.
From a privacy and security perspective, simply disabling IPv6 connectivity is fine.
- Mitigation against WebRTC leaks.
WebRTC leaks are a browser issue, and preventing them from using regular VPN software is not easy. It is, however, possible to tighten up settings and use firewall walls to minimize their likelihood.
A kill-switch prevents your IP address from becoming exposed in the event of a VPN dropout.
- Easy to use.
Although in reality, most VPN software is pretty easy to use these days.
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Features that top VPNs offer
As noted above, we think that effective IP leak protection and a kill switch should be a given for any decent VPN service. Other groovy features that top VPNs offer to set themselves apart from the pack include:
No logs policies
What a VPN provider does with user data has a massive impact on whether that VPN can actually be considered truly secure. A no-logs policy provides ‘privacy by design’. This kind of policy ensures that the VPN provider stores no records of what its users do while connected.
IP leaks are probably a bigger danger to your privacy when using a VPN than the risk of someone trying to break the encryption used to protect your data. But as we just said, a good tool is good by design, so a good VPN uses strong encryption.
The physical distance between you and the VPN server you are connecting to will always be the biggest factor determining how fast your VPN connection is, but even taking this into account, some VPNs are faster than others. Check out a daily VPN speed tests for more information.
Smart DNS is an alternative technology to a VPN, one that is used exclusively to spoof your location. It provides none of the privacy and security benefits of a VPN and is therefore only really useful for unblocking streaming services. That said, however, it does offer some advantages over using a VPN:
- It’s faster because no encryption/decryption is required, which means that buffering issues are less likely.
- Almost every internet-capable device can be configured to use Smart DNS, including many devices such as games consoles and smart TVs which cannot run a VPN client.
- Services that block VPNs can often (but not always) be accessed by Smart DNS instead. Stand-alone Smart DNS services are often comparable with the cost of a VPN service, but a number of top-tier VPN services throw in a Smart DNS service as an extra feature included in the cost of the VPN subscription.
Some governments use packet inspection and a simple firewall to block VPN-encrypted traffic. This allows repressive governments to cut people’s internet if they are found to be attempting to conceal what they do online.
Most VPNs allow you to route OpenVPN connections over TCP port 443 in order to simulate regular HTTPS traffic. This method can be effective in certain instances, but will not work against more determined efforts to block VPN use. Some providers go the extra mile by providing more advanced ways to defeat VPN censorship. Please see How to bypass VPN blocks for more information on this subject.
Streaming services such as unblocking Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, Crunchyroll, and more try to block VPN users. Unless a VPN service takes special measures to evade such blocks, it is unlikely you will be able to use it to access these types of streaming services.
Fortunately, a number of top VPNs specialize in unblocking these and other streaming platforms. If you are looking to unblock a specific TV show or movie, but you aren’t sure what Netflix library it is in, you can check out our StreamCatcher tool. Simply search for whatever you want to watch to find out what VPN server you need to connect to in order to unblock it.
Many VPN services offer additional features such as double-hop VPN, DNS filtering, built-in malware protection, and more. We are a little ambivalent about many of these, although they can undoubtedly be useful to some users.
When considering any extra bells and whistles, be sure to consider if they are actually useful to you before allowing them to impact your purchasing decision.
[[post-object type=”accordion” question=”Should you always be connected to a VPN?” answer=”Though you don’t necessarily always need to be connected to a VPN, there are many scenarios where you definitely should be. For instance, whenever you connect to a public wifi network in a cafe, airport, hotel, park, or anywhere else in public, you should absolutely connect to a VPN to prevent anyone from snooping on your connection and potentially stealing your data. Also, if you’re in a country with strict internet censorship, then it would be beneficial for you to remain connected to a VPN at all times in order to bypass any censorship efforts and access the free and open web the way it was meant to be accessed. Similarly, if you want to unblock geo-restricted content like Netflix from another country, then you will need to have your VPN connected to a server located in the country you want to access to content from.” /]]
[[post-object type=”accordion” question=”How to test if your VPN is working?” answer=”The easiest way to test if your VPN is working is to check your IP address online and see where your IP address is being registered by the IP checker website. If it is registering your IP address as the location that you are connecting through with your VPN, then your VPN connection is working. To take it a step further and test if your VPN is really working properly to protect your privacy, you can test it using our handy <a href=’/tools/vpn-leak-tool’>leak testing tool</a>.” /]]
[[post-object type=”accordion” question=”Can I get a VPN for free?” answer=”You can. There are lots of free VPNs available – particularly in the mobile space – but you need to be extremely careful! Setting up a VPN service is expensive; servers need renting, maintenance and staff need care. If you’re not paying for your VPN with money, then you’ll be paying for it in other ways. Many free VPN apps are <a href=’/privacy-news/beware-cowboy-mobile-vpn-apps’>outright malicious</a>. There are free, reputable VPNs out there, though these services invariably hope that you’ll be tempted to upgrade to a paid tier, eventually. Please check out our <a href=’https://proprivacy.com/vpn/comparison/free-vpn-services’>Best Free VPN</a> List for more details.” /]]
[[post-object type=”accordion” question=”What’s the best VPN for mobile?” answer=”The mobile VPN app space is very interesting. Developers on Android devices are free to innovate and add features, whereas iOS VPN apps may be less exciting, seeing as Apple has much more strict developer guidelines. These apps work well, however, and if you have an iPhone or iPad, you should definitely use one! We are big fans of ExpressVPN’s Android and iOS apps, but see our <a href=’/vpn/comparison/android-vpns’>Best VPN for Android</a> or our <a href=”/vpn/comparison/best-iphone-vpns’>VPN for iOS</a> pages for more great options.” /]]
[[post-object type=”accordion” question=”What’s the best VPN for desktops and laptops?” answer=”Windows is still, by far and away, the most widely-supported platform when it comes to VPN services, and remains the default computing platform worldwide. A Windows user will always enjoy the full range of features that a VPN provider offers, seeing as all but the most fledgling VPN companies offer a custom Windows VPN client. Unsurprisingly, our pick of best VPN services all have great <a href=’/vpn/comparison/vpn-for-windows’>Windows VPN</a> clients. Almost all VPN services now offer a dedicated macOS client as well. These are sometimes not quite as fully-featured as their Windows siblings, but are often all but identical. In general, what makes a great <a href=’/vpn/comparison/best-vpn-mac’>VPN for Macbook</a> or Mac Mini is exactly the same as what makes a good VPN for any other system. Support for Linux is often limited, unfortunately, as only a handful of providers offer full GUI clients. If you are a Linux user, check out our <a href=’/vpn/comparison/best-linux-vpn’>best VPNs for Linux</a> page for a list of VPNs with great Linux support. Alternatively, check out our <a href=’https://proprivacy.com/vpn/comparison/best-vpns-for-laptops’>best VPN for laptops</a> list.” /]]
[[post-object type=”accordion” question=”We’ve summarized the protocols above, and take an ever closer look at them in <a href=’/vpn/guides/vpn-encryption-the-complete-guide’>VPN Encryption: The Complete Guide</a>. L2TP/IPsec is fine for most purposes, though we’d only really recommend OpenVPN IKEv2. If properly configured, OpenVPN is incredibly secure – Edward Snowden’s documents showed that even the NSA can’t crack well-implemented OpenVPN! Luckily, it’s supported by almost every provider. It is slower when compared with the newer IKEv2 protocol, which is faster, and considered secure, but has not been battle-tested in the same way as OpenVPN. It is not as well supported at present, although it is increasingly popular with providers thanks to its speed advantages over OpenVPN.” /]]
[[post-object type=”accordion” question=”What is a VPN client?” answer=”A VPN client is software that runs on your device to connect it, securely, to a VPN server. All major platforms (Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, and Linux) come with a built-in VPN client that can be configured manually, although OpenVPN always requires a third party client to be installed. Most VPN providers will now offer custom clients and apps that are the easiest way to use the service, seeing as they come pre-configured with all the right settings. What’s more, the also offer a range of funky and useful features that are not available by simply manually configuring the built-in VPN client. To clear up any confusion, a ”VPN client” and a ”VPN app” are exactly the same thing. Traditionally, the word client is used for desktop software and the word app for mobile software, but it is becoming increasingly common to talk about VPN apps on the desktop. The terms are interchangeable.” /]]
[[post-object type=”accordion” question=”Can you use a VPN for torrenting?” answer=”Yes! Using a <a href=’/vpn/comparison/best-vpn-torrenting’>VPN for Torrenting</a> will ensure that your identity is protected from anyone downloading the same torrent as you. Anyone monitoring a torrent will only see the IP address of the VPN server – not your real IP address. Similarly, your ISP will not be able to see what you’re downloading or block you from accessing torrent sites. Be sure to check that your VPN allows torrenting (or if they only permit legal torrenting), however. You could get in trouble, otherwise! It pays to double-check that your VPN provider is happy for you to torrent, as some services will only permit torrenting on selected servers in locations where they are less likely to be hassled by copyright holders.” /]]
[[post-object type=”accordion” question=”How does a VPN work?” answer=”A VPN server is a computer that runs VPN server software and acts as a proxy, sitting between your device and the internet. The connection between your device and the VPN servers is encrypted – and if a VPN doesn’t conceal your IP address, then it’s not working! It’s well worth testing a VPN before you use it. We have an easy to use <a href=’/tools/vpn-leak-tool’>VPN leak test tool</a>. VPN services typically run servers rented from centers all around the world. Ideally (but sadly not common enough), these servers are bare metal (single occupancy) machines that use encrypted hard drives and are configured solely by the VPN provider’s own staff. In other words, the server center staff keep the machine running, but have no access to any data stored on it.” /]]
[[post-object type=”accordion” question=”How do I use a VPN?” answer=”It’s incredibly simple! All you need to do is download a VPN app and run it. For a more complete answer on how to use a VPN, we have dedicated setup guides for: <a href=’/vpn/guides/how-to-setup-vpn-windows’>windows, <a href=’/vpn/guides/install-vpn-on-mac’>macOS</a>,<a href=’/vpn/guides/install-vpn-linux’>Linux, <a href=’/vpn/guides/install-vpn-android’>Android</a>, <a href=’/vpn/guides/how-to-install-vpn-iphone’>iOS/iPadOS</a>, <a href=’/vpn/guides/install-a-vpn-dd-wrt-router’>DD-WRT routers</a>.” /]]
This article should provide you with lots of food for thought. But as we have already said, there is no reason to panic if it seems a bit too much. All the VPNs in our top 10 list are excellent services, so you can’t really go wrong. With that said, let’s review our top picks:
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