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The best VPN service in 2021

Best VPN provider ExpressVPN on a range of devices
(Image credit: ExpressVPN)

The best VPN – short for 'virtual private network' – is software traditionally used to help keep you anonymous online and virtually change your location. Once the preserve of the hardcore techy, they're now thoroughly in the mainstream, and millions of users worldwide are discovering there's more to VPNs than torrenting and staying private online.

They can allow users to access geo-blocked streaming content on sites like Netflix, secure your online banking, evade hackers and trackers, and even counteract ISP and government censorship. And now, almost all providers offers apps for just about any device, from Windows PC to Amazon Fire Stick.

The only problem is choosing the best VPN for the job – we're here to help you find a balance between speed, streaming, security and, of course, value for money. Plus, don't forget to check out our roundup of VPN Black Friday deals for the cheapest prices on quality providers.

Just want the best VPN service? Look no further

1. ExpressVPN – hands-down the best VPN available

1. ExpressVPN – hands-down the best VPN available
We think ExpressVPN is the best VPN on the market, with great performance in just about every area. Its 30-day money-back guarantee lets you trial the service risk-free, and Tom's Guide readers can claim three months free – plus 1 year free of backup software Backblaze.

NordVPN – big name offers serious security

2. NordVPN – big name offers serious security
Arguably the biggest name in the VPN industry, it's quite likely you'll have heard of NordVPN. Thankfully it's not all hot air, as Nord delivers a premium service that's hugely secure and great for streaming – and at just $3.29/mo for a limited time, it's excellent value, too.

3. Surfshark – best-value VPN on the market

3. Surfshark – best-value VPN on the market
If you're after a premium service for as little money as possible, Surfshark is perfect. With decent streaming and intuitive apps on just about every device, it's the best VPN on a budget at just $2.21 a month, which includes 3 months free, and its unlimited connections policy will cover all your devices.

What is a VPN?

In its simplest form, the best VPN works by tunneling your connection through its own encrypted servers, which hides your activity from your ISP and anyone else who might be watching – including the government, advertisers and nefarious hackers. This also allows you to access restricted sites, stream a wider range of shows, and avoid network throttling.

For example, if Facebook or YouTube is banned at your school, you'll be able to access them through your VPN. If you're traveling to the UAE or China, you can use a VPN to access restricted sites and apps you use daily, like Gmail and WhatsApp. And, if you're on holiday anywhere outside your home country, you can use the best VPN to access the Netflix shows you love, as they may be unavailable overseas.

What's the best VPN?

The competition to be crowned best VPN gets tougher every day, but there's still a clear winner that's head and shoulders above the rest – ExpressVPN.

One of ExpressVPN's main assets is that it's incredibly easy to use on any platform – be it your phone, PC, or even PlayStation. It also performed well in our streaming tests, easily getting around the geo-restrictions of Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video – and, because it provides such swift connections, you'll be able to watch in HD or 4K just like usual.

To top it off, you'll also be covered by a 30-day money-back guarantee which means you can effectively test-drive the service and its 3,000+ servers for a whole month before you buy – you can find out all the details in our full independent ExpressVPN review.

Get an in-depth look at the best VPNs of 2021

ExpressVPN best vpn

(Image credit: ExpressVPN)

1. ExpressVPN – The best VPN available today

Specifications
Number of servers: 3,000+
Speed: Up to 580Mbps
VPN locations: 160 in 94 countries
Maximum devices supported: 5
24/7 live chat: Yes
30 day money back guarantee: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Among the fastest VPNs out there+Wide device support+30-day free trial+Ace 24/7 support service
Reasons to avoid
-A little more expensive, but worth it

In our latest round of VPN reviews, ExpressVPN confidently defended its spot as the best VPN on the market. And when you look at the facts, figures, stats and user experience, it's quite clear why.

First up, no matter what device you're using – iPhone, Windows PC, Amazon Fire Stick, or even a router – ExpressVPN is easy to download, nice to look at, and super simple to get up and running. While there's a lot of features under the surface, it's 100% plug-and-play, and perfect for VPN newbies and experts alike.

It also has all the additional features you wouldn't want to be without. That includes a very reliable kill switch to cut your connection and avoid leaks if the VPN cuts out, split tunneling so that you can route some apps through the VPN and whitelist others, plus DNS leak protection, class-leading encryption, servers in 94 countries, and a solid zero-logging policy.

ExpressVPN complements its excellent privacy credentials with great streaming performance, too – something that's increasingly important in today's market. Compared to every other VPN we've tested, ExpressVPN unblocked the most Netflix locations, and also delivers when streaming BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Disney+ and many more. 

This is even more impressive due to the fact Netflix has recently cracked down hard on VPNs, and while ExpressVPN was initially affected, it's bounced back much faster than any other service. Combined with great connection speeds, it's the perfect streaming companion.

However, there are a couple of minor reasons why ExpressVPN might not be for. Firstly, one plan only covers 5 simultaneous connections. That means you can only log in on 5 devices at the same time – although you can log in and out as you wish and have the VPN installed on any and all you devices.

ExpressVPN is also a little more expensive than the competition, but considering its unbeatable streaming performance and privacy tools – not to mention the stellar live-chat support and full torrent support – we think the slight extra outlay is worth it.

The best bit, though? Tom's Guide readers can now claim a free 12-month plan with cloud backup software BackBlaze on the 12-month plan. However, if you're not sure, ExpressVPN also offers a 30-day money-back guarantee. So, in the unlikely case you don't like the service, you can claim a full refund. 

Get three months FREE of the very best VPN on the market

Get three months FREE of the very best VPN on the market
Tom's Guide readers can claim both 1 year of Backblaze and three months free on a 12 month plan with ExpressVPN – that's 15 months for the price of 12. But if you want to try before you buy, you'll still be covered by that 30-day money-back guarantee to make sure it's the right VPN for you.

NordVPN - best VPN

2. NordVPN – Super fast and very secure

Specifications
Number of servers: 5,100+
Server locations: 80+ in 59 countries
Maximum devices supported: 6
24/7 live chat: Yes
30 day money back guarantee: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Excellent focus on security+Fresh security audit in mid-2020+NordLynx delivers incredible speeds+Tons of servers
Reasons to avoid
-Renewal prices are high-Some recent issues with Netflix

If you've heard of just one of the best VPN providers on this page, it's very likely to be NordVPN. With a massive presence that includes YouTuber plugs, TV ads and even sports team sponsorships, it's a brand that's not afraid of the limelight. Thankfully, it's not all bluster, either.

As quite possibly the only VPN on the market with a chance of challenging ExpressVPN's dominance, NordVPN is well-rounded and does a ton of jobs very well. With a kill switch, all the basic protocols plus the WireGuard-based NordLynx, excellent encryption and seriously blistering connection speeds, it's a comprehensive package.

While we're not huge fans of the map-based interface, Nord's apps are stable and reliable, and within them you'll have the choice of over 5,100 servers in 60 countries. Plus, P2P is supported, and combined with extra privacy features like Double Hop and Onion over VPN, it's a great choice for those looking to stay under the radar.

In the past, NordVPN has been a reliable VPN for unblocking Netflix, but since the streaming site's change in tactics, results have been hit and miss. In our most recent testing we were able to access UK Netflix (as well as iPlayer, Disney+ and the rest), but unfortunately US Netflix was unavailable. While annoying, these results can vary day-to-day, so if it's something you're likely to rely on, you've got a 30-day money-back guarantee so you test it.

Otherwise, though, NordVPN is an excellent service and we're absolutely happy to recommend it to our readers – and it only misses out on top spot thanks to a couple of small issues, and the fact that the competition is so strong.

Save big on NordVPN's longest plan

Save big on NordVPN's longest plan
If you want to save some money when signing up to Nord, you're best off going for its longest two-year plan. You'll get the best price on offer, plus the standard 30-day money-back guarantee that allows you to test the service before you commit.

Best VPN Surfshark on a variety of devices

(Image credit: Surfshark)

3. Surfshark – The best cheap VPN on the market

Specifications
Number of servers: 3,200+
Server locations: 100+ in 65 countries
Maximum devices supported: Unlimited
24/7 live chat: Yes
30 day money back guarantee: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Unlimited devices supported+Reliable connections+Longer plans are great value+Great for streaming
Reasons to avoid
-Apps aren't that in-depth-Netflix issues

If you're looking for absolute bang-for-buck, British Virgin Island-based Surfshark should definitely be on your radar. At less than half the price of some of its competitors while delivering comparable performance in many areas, it's a great choice for those looking to save their cash.

Surfshark's apps are simple and effective, but don't think they're underpowered. While they can't quite compete with the techiest of the bunch, you'll have a kill switch, over 3,200 server to pick from, split tunneling, and industry-standard AES-256 encryption.

If you've got tons of devices to cover, Surfshark stands out as well. While ExpressVPN offers 5 simultaneous connections and Nord offers 6, all Surfshark plans are absolutely unlimited. That means whether you've got 5 or 105 devices you want to install a VPN on, one Surfshark plan can do it all.

Unfortunately, however, Surfshark has been hit by Netflix's changes too, and currently it's only able to unblock US Netflix – not UK, Canada, Australia or others. BBC iPlayer, Disney+, and tons more streaming sites are available, though. Speeds are also a little down on the competition, but unless you've got a base connection of over 400Mbps, you won't notice any difference.

Overall, Surfshark is an excellent budget option, and when you consider its incredibly low price, any small issues it has seem to fade away!

A thoroughly premium service at a bargain price

A thoroughly premium service at a bargain price
Surfshark is a great option for those who want a simple VPN to set and forget. It's perfect for streaming almost any service, the apps are super simple, and you'll get a 30-day money-back guarantee as standard so you can test-drive the VPN before you commit.

ProtonVPN - best VPN

(Image credit: ProtonVPN)

4. ProtonVPN – Most improved VPN

Specifications
Number of servers: 1400+
Server locations: 61 countries
Maximum devices supported: 10
live chat support: Yes
30 day money back guarantee: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Privacy & security focus+Excellent speeds+Standout Netflix streamer+Very stable apps
Reasons to avoid
-Fairly expensive-Live chat not 24/7 (yet)

We've always liked ProtonVPN as a hardcore privacy tool, but in our latest ProtonVPN review we saw huge improvements in terms of everyday usability and customer service – so much so, that the Swiss VPN has jumped from 9th to 4th in this guide!

Just about all of the issues we had last time have been addressed. The lacklustre connection speeds have been supercharged – WireGuard speeds are up there with the best, and thanks to the VPN Accelerator tech, ProtonVPN now delivers the fastest OpenVPN connections, bar none.

We were also disappointed last time that ProtonVPN didn't offer live chat support. Well, that's been sorted out too. While it's not 24/7 yet, this is reportedly coming the near future, and the service we received when we tested the chat was stellar. 

ProtonVPN is also the only service other than ExpressVPN to be able to unblock more than one Netflix library in our testing, getting us access to UK, US, and Canadian libraries. 

It's not all about streaming, though. ProtonVPN offers unique 'Secure Cores', which are ultra secure servers in safe countries like Switzerland. The apps are also powerful and stable on all devices (if a little complex), and features like the kill switch are some of the best around. For those that really value privacy, ProtonVPN is a great choice.

It's getting trickier by the day to pick faults with Proton, but there are still a couple of sticking points. Firstly, while some servers do support P2P traffic, there are relatively few compared to the competition. Prices are also a little on the steep side, but sign up for 2 years and you'll get a decent deal, with a generous 10 simultaneous connections to boot.

Overall, ProtonVPN is very much on the up, and it's evident the devs are putting in some hard work rather than resting on their laurels – and thanks to that, ProtonVPN has become a service we can wholeheartedly recommend.

Sign up now on the ProtonVPN website

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Private Internet Access - best VPN

(Image credit: Private Internet Access)

5. Private Internet Access – A great all-rounder

Specifications
Number of servers: 10,000+
Server locations: 78 countries
Maximum devices supported: 10
24/7 live chat: Yes
30 day money back guarantee: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Great value+Unblocks US Netflix, iPlayer, more+Reliable apps and kill switch+Very useful browser extensions
Reasons to avoid
-WireGuard speeds not up to scratch

Private Internet Access is staying on its upward trajectory, and in our last two round of reviews we've seen the veteran provider find a new lease of life and begin to challenge the dogs once again.

Boasting quite possibly the biggest server network of any provider – PIA doesn't disclose numbers, but it's at least 10,000, and possibly over 35,000 – it's bound to to get you a good connection no matter where you are with no chance of overloading. 

PIA is also quite capable for streaming, unblocking US Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ and others. While WireGuard speeds aren't quite the best, PIA is still easily fast enough to stream in HD.

However, PIA really stands out when you get under the surface a little. Its desktop apps offer port forwarding – a relative rarity – and its kill switch is super reliable. Also, its proxy browser extensions are also very good, with updated tech that allows for faster browsing.

However, we're still waiting on PIA to deliver its independent security audit, so unlike some providers like Express, Nord and Proton, we have to take any privacy claims it makes on face value. However, PIA has a good track record, so we're not too sceptical. 

If you're looking for one of the best VPNs that's both cheap and capable, Private Internet Access might be right for you.

Sign up now on the PIA website

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CyberGhost - best VPN

(Image credit: CyberGhost)

6. CyberGhost – The best VPN for torrenting

Specifications
Number of servers: 7,100+
Server locations: 91 countries
Maximum devices supported: 7
24/7 live chat: Yes
45 day money back guarantee: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Wide server spread+Lots of features+45-day money-back guarantee
Reasons to avoid
-Struggles to access iPlayer-Interface could be better

CyberGhost has a feature-loaded, user-friendly interface, with convenient buttons in the Windows client software for streaming media, torrenting files, protecting your Wi-Fi transmissions and evading censorship – read our CyberGhost VPN review for more info.

Those streaming and torrenting features are really useful, as it takes out the trial-and-error of testing individual servers to see if they work with Netflix and the like – and it's worth mentioning that the issues with BBC iPlayer we had last time have been resolved. While ExpressVPN's just always seems to work, individual servers of many other providers can drop Netflix support as they get detected, so CyberGhost makes it super easy to get streaming. 

CyberGhost also delivers excellent speeds when using WireGuard, topping out at an incredible 860Mbps. That's fast enough for even uncontested corporate networks, so just about any user will be able to browse without impediment.

However, there are a couple of app issues, mostly to do with the kill swicth. While it keeps you protected, the app may display that you're still connected while cutting your connection. Also, the server load display has been cut, which was a neat feature we appreciated.

Otherwise, though, CyberGhost is still a top-class VPN that's definitely worth considering. 

Sign up now on the the CyberGhost website

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Hotspot Shield - Best VPN

(Image credit: Hotspot Shield)

7. Hotspot Shield – The best VPN for top speeds

Specifications
Number of servers: 3,200+
Server locations: 130+ in 80+ countries
Maximum devices supported: 5
24/7 live chat: Yes
45 day money back guarantee: Yes (Plus limited free version)
Reasons to buy
+Decent free version+Seriously quick+Servers in China and Russia+Great for streaming
Reasons to avoid
-Some minor session logging-No manual setup on routers etc.

While it's probably best-known for its free VPN, our Hotspot Shield review found that its paid-for VPN delivers the goods too. 

With its in-house Catapult Hydra protocol, Hotspot delivers reliable, swift connections. However, since the majority of the competition has introduced WireGuard, it's been overtaken as a truly fast VPN.

However, it's still fast enough to stream well, and it can unblock various streaming sites like iPlayer, Disney+ and Prime Video. A real drawback, however, is the loss of Netflix access. This is very changeable, though, so we'll keep this updated as and when we undertake more testing.

A very useful feature is full P2P support, so if you're a big torrenter, Hotspot Shield could be a good choice. Device support is wide, too, and apps across all platforms share the same clean interface.

Some very privacy-minded users may take umbrage with the fact that Hotspot Shield does undertake a little more session logging than, say, ProtonVPN, but in practice there's nothing recorded that can tie you back to your activity.

So, Hotspot Shield remains a solid VPN, but as the competition steadily improves it needs to keep up, or risks being left behind.

Sign up now on the Hotspot Shield website

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IPVanish - Best VPN

(Image credit: IPVanish)

8. IPVanish – Fast, but a few lingering issues

Specifications
Number of servers: 1,900+
Server locations: 75+ in 52 countries
Maximum devices supported: Unlimited
24 live chat: Yes
30 day money back guarantee: Yes
Reasons to buy
+WireGuard speeds through the roof+Unlimited simultaneous devices+Live chat and phone support+Can now access BBC iPlayer
Reasons to avoid
-No access to Netflix or Disney+-Apps are infrequently updated

IPVanish is a US VPN that's been in the game for a long time, and it's widely regarded as a safe, reliable, and trustworthy provider. Seemingly designed for the more techy user, it boasts a bunch of useful additions and powerful apps that display all the data you could wish for.

IPVanish has only recently implemented WireGuard, but thanks to that update it's now one of the fastest services we've tested. Its OpenVPN speeds aren't quite as impressive, but most users will be using the new protocol anyway. 'Scramble' is an interesting feature that allows VPN use in countries like China, and while it's not quite as robust as other specialized China VPN services, it's still very useful.

We're also now able to unblock BBC iPlayer, but Disney+ is still a no-go. A big loss, however, is Netflix, and IPVanish simply can't unblock any library, anywhere in the world. We hope that this is addressed soon, but there are no guarantees.

For those new to using VPNs, IPVanish's apps could seem a little intimidating, just like ProtonVPN's. There are graphs going up and down, drop downs to select servers and locations, scrolling matrix-like numbers and a map interface (that, admittedly, is better than NordVPN's). For those who know what they're doing this is great, but for the greener user, it could all be a bit much.

On the topic of apps, IPVanish doesn't tend to deliver such frequent updates as its competitors. While they're stable, this does mean that new features are slow to arrive, and if there's something new on the horizon, it could still be months before it's introduced – just look at how long WireGuard took to arrive.

Overall, though, while it's lost a little ground on the top services, IPVanish is still well worth considering, especially if you're a fan of in-depth, techy software.

Sign up now on the IPVanish website

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Windscribe - Best VPN

(Image credit: Windscribe)

9. Windscribe – The best VPN Chrome extension

Specifications
Number of servers: 400
Server locations: 110 in 63 countries
Maximum devices supported: Unlimited
24/7 live chat: No
30 day money back guarantee: No
Reasons to buy
+Affordable+Unlimited connections+Excellent browser extensions
Reasons to avoid
-Not the fastest -No live chat support

Our Windscribe review found the provider's free service that gives users 10GB of data a month very useful, but it also offers a fairly-priced paid service that delivers unlimited data and lets you connect as many devices at once as you like. Most other VPN services permit only five to 10 at a time.

Windscribe is compatible with many platforms – including routers and Amazon Fire and Kodi TV set-top boxes. The service offers a great variety of connection options, has a wide geographic reach with hundreds of servers, and presents an appealing, if minimal, user interface. It's also good for watching overseas Netflix, and has dedicated 'Windflix servers' to enable this.

The service's Chrome VPN extension is a standout feature. As one of the best on the market, it offers tons of features and can be used without installing the desktop client – great for work computers of other devices you can't install software on. For those that do install the desktop client, you'll notice the brand-spanking Windscribe 2.0 software has tidied up the interface and offers a few nifty features.

However, Windscribe's network performance wasn’t quite as impressive, and in our testing it delivered slower connection times than its competitors, even when using the newly introduced WireGuard. It's still good enough to stream with, but it's got nothing on the very fastest providers out there.

You can pay for a Windscribe subscription with Bitcoin, you don't even have to provide an email address, and the service is based in Canada, which may appeal to users wary of US authorities. 

Overall, for those looking to test out a VPN with a free service and then sign up once you know it works, Windscribe is an excellent option.

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Hide.me on an Android phone

(Image credit: Hide.me)

10. Hide.me – Ultra customizable VPN for experts

Specifications
Number of servers: 2,000
Server locations: 75
Maximum devices supported: 10
24/7 live chat: Yes
30 day money back guarantee: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Great speeds+Useful free version+Very configurable apps
Reasons to avoid
-Apps could be intimidating-Some kill switch issues

Hide.me has been around since 2011, and in that time it's developed quite a following and has made quite an impression on the VPN industry.

It's evidently aimed at the more advanced user. The apps are hugely configurable and have a wide range of protocols, DNS protection, and also supports torrenting on most servers.

However, if you're a bit of a newbie, the amount of customization might throw you off, in which case we'd recommend going for a service like ExpressVPN.

In our streaming testing, Hide.me impressed. It's able to access US Netflix - not every provider can do that nowadays - alongside BBC iPlayer, Showtime, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+. 

Finally, it's also got some excellent privacy credentials - although it hasn't yet undertaken a security audit. Overall, it's a great choice, especially if you like to tinker with your software.

Sign up now on the Hide.me website

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HideMyAss best VPN

(Image credit: Future)

11. HideMyAss! (HMA) – Old timer still has clout

Specifications
Number of servers: 1,100+
Server locations: 290+ in 190 countries
Maximum devices supported: 5
24/7 live support: Yes
30 day money back guarantee: Yes
Reasons to buy
+The most countries covered we've seen+Fresh no-logs security audit+Excellent OpenVPN speeds
Reasons to avoid
-No Prime Video, iPlayer, Disney+, Netflix-A little pricey

Started way back in 2005 by a boy named Jack Cator, HideMyAss (which has recently shed itself of its schoolboy origins by semi-censoring its name to HMA) has become a stalwart of the VPN industry. 

With servers in 190 countries, HMA boasts the widest network of any VPN on this list, and with apps for plenty of devices you'll have plenty of options here. However, those servers are spread a little thin, and we'd like to see each location populated with more than just a few.

HMA has recently undertaken a no-logging audit by VerSprite, which has been passed – although we're not entirely sure of the true scope of this, and the final report isn't available to the public to inspect. Still, though, that's good news.

HMA isn't perfect for streamers – Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, and Disney+ are all blocked. But P2P is allowed, so torrenting is still on the table. Overall, it's a good VPN that it might be worth taking a look at.

Sign up now on the HMA website

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VyprVPN - best VPN

(Image credit: VyprVPN)

12. VyprVPN – One of the best VPNs for China

Specifications
Number of servers: 700+
Server locations: 63 countries
Maximum devices supported: 30
24/7 live support: Yes
30 day money back guarantee: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Excellent privacy policy+Apps for tons of devices+Reportedly works in China+Great value
Reasons to avoid
-Slightly below-average speeds-Apps rarely updated

VyprVPN is a useful service that has a lot going for it. A standout of our VyprVPN review is its watertight no-logging policy, which has also been publicly audited. This is a great start if you're after a VPN to keep your info private.

You'll also get wide device support, as Vypr offers a a plethora of apps for pretty much any device you could ask for, including QNAP, TVs and BlackPhone, with additional guides for Blackberry phones, OpenWRT, Boxee and others. Plus, with 30 simultaneous connections, you won't be limited to picking just a few of your devices.

If you're after a blazing fast VPN, though, VyprVPN might disappoint a little. In our tests it performed well in the UK, but in the US it didn't come close to making the most of our ultra-fast line. Still, it does provide usable speeds, and if you don't have top tier internet you're unlikely to notice the difference

With prices starting from as low as $1.66 a month it's also incredible value, but as an all-round package, we'd probably recommend spending a small amount more for a lot in return.

Sign up now on VyprVPN's website

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StrongVPN - best VPN

(Image credit: Future)

13. StrongVPN – Smart, effective, and cheap

Specifications
Number of servers: 950+
Server locations: 60+ in 36 countries
Maximum devices supported: 12
24/7 live support: Yes
30 day money back guarantee: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Works on 12 devices at once+Bypasses region locks for Netflix+Has own DNS service
Reasons to avoid
-Windows app is bare bones-Limited features

StrongVPN is a solidly performing VPN, perfect for bypassing region locks. However, in our StrongVPN review we found out that it goes beyond the basics, offering some unique extra benefits while missing out on some more obvious others.

A really attractive feature is that you can have up to 12 devices running StrongVPN at once, which is more than enough to cover all of your devices and still have some left over. But this is balanced out by a lack of detail in the client, which doesn't include information in the server browser or DNS settings – and we also had some minor issues with the kill switch.

Making a up a little for that is the affordable pricing, alongside the free 250GB of SugarSync storage, and as the storage provider is usually pretty expensive, this is a good deal. However, StrongVPN have missed a trick here, as if you visit the homepage you simply won't see anything about this partnership until you check out the pricing plans.

You'll get 24/7 customer support, including a phone line with more limited opening times, plus decent speeds in almost every server location, which makes it pretty usable. For those looking for secure storage plus a simple, easy VPN, StrongVPN isn't a bad option.

Sign up now on the StrongVPN website

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TunnelBear - Best VPN

(Image credit: TunnelBear)

14. TunnelBear – The best VPN for simplicity

Specifications
Number of servers: 1,000
Server locations: 46
Maximum devices supported: 5
24/7 live chat: No
30 day money back guarantee: No (but limited free version)
Reasons to buy
+Extremely user-friendly+Excellent security guarantees+Very secure
Reasons to avoid
-Poor streaming performance-Little in the way of features

For those who've never used a VPN before – and perhaps are a little intimidated by the prospect – TunnelBear could be the perfect choice. You can start off with a limited free plan (which admittedly only gives you 500MB of data a month), or upgrade to the full service which gives access to over 1,000 servers in 46 countries. Check out the full TunnelBear review for more detail.

Network performance is acceptable and prices are par for the course. However, the biggest draw is its comprehensive privacy policy and regular audits, which will appeal to you if you're looking for a VPN to genuinely keep your information safe.

TunnelBear's simplicity, though, is also its downfall. While it's easy to use, so are ExpressVPN and most of the other top-rated providers, but once you get used to using them, you'll have the choice to explore in-depth options if you want to. No such luck with TunnelBear, though, as there's a dearth of configuration.

You've also got no choice but to run TunnelBear's client software – unless you use Linux – which may concern some privacy-minded users, and there's no option to set up TunnelBear connections on routers or other devices. Finally, this tiny Canadian firm is now owned by US antivirus giant McAfee, which may mean TunnelBear is subject to US search warrants.

But, if you're after a VPN to set and forget, TunnelBear's not a bad option.

Sign up now on the TunnelBear website

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Bitdefender VPN best VPN

(Image credit: Bitdefender)

15. Bitdefender VPN – Antivirus star takes on VPN

Specifications
Number of servers: 1,300+
Server locations: 48 countries
Maximum devices supported: 10
24/7 live support: Yes
30 day money back guarantee: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Increased server spread+Simple and to the point+Simple P2P auto-protection
Reasons to avoid
-An absolute bare minimum of features-Reliant on Hotspot Shield

One of the best antivirus providers Bitdefender has launched a standalone VPN product. Bitdefender VPN used to come bundled with the antivirus package, but now it's available on its own, and for a very reasonable price.

Built around Hotspot Shield's Catapult Hydra protocol, Bitdefender VPN offers decent speeds, similar to what Hotspot Shield can make. However, that reliance on Hotspot Shield does mean Bitdefender doesn't have much control over its logging policy, and it's also impossible to manually set up as a router VPN, too. 

Bitdefender's app is about as simple as possible – which will be positive or negative depending on what kind of user you are. You'll get an on/off button, a choice of 30 or so server locations, a nifty checkbox you can use to make sure you're protected if you start P2P traffic, and fully-functional kill switch to protect you from drop-outs. That's it.

The only close to unique feature is Bitdefender's autoconnect menu. You can set the VPN to activate if it detects P2P, banking, mature content, dating, and a number of other kinds of website, which may well be quite attractive. Beyond that, though, there's little in the way of features that would make you choose the service over those higher up this list. Read more in our full Bitdefender VPN review.

Sign up now on the Bitdefender website

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Ivacy best VPN

(Image credit: Ivacy)

16. Ivacy – Cheap, but not quite perfect

Specifications
Number of servers: 1,000+
Server locations: 75+ locations
Maximum devices supported: 5
24/7 live support: Yes
30 day money back guarantee: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Long plans are super cheap+Tons of extra features+Netflix, Prime, iPlayer, Disney+ unblocked
Reasons to avoid
-Poor speeds-A number of bugs in our testing

If you don't mind signing up for a massive five years, Ivacy is just about the cheapest VPN you can pick up. At just $1.41 a month it's incredibly good value, but you do have to ask yourself: will Ivacy have kept up with the competition in five years' time?

Beyond that, Ivacy is a pretty decent VPN overall, and quite unlike Bitdefender, its apps are full to the brim with interesting additions. You can filter your servers for the best ones to use with any particular streaming provider, save your favorites, choose between a number of protocols, and the app even claims to scan downloaded files for viruses. You'll also get a kill switch and split tunneling.

However, there are a few usability issues that we weren't hugely impressed with. Automatic server selection didn't often give us the server we'd usually choose, and Streaming Mode threw up a host of problems like hidden IP addresses and unswitchable servers. Plus, while we know it's cheap, we didn't appreciate being served ads in a commercial product.

Overall though, you can't sniff at that price, and if that's your only concern, Ivacy might be for you.

Sign up now on the Ivacy website

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A router sending out a VPN connection - best VPN

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Best VPN FAQ

How do I choose the best VPN service?

Choosing the best VPN for can be a tricky process – that's why we've put together this comprehensive guide. However, for most people, we'd recommend our #1 VPN ExpressVPN as the best choice.

It works great as a Netflix VPN, a torrenting VPN, and even a China VPN, so whatever you need your VPN to do, it's got you covered – all the while keeping you protected with its rock-solid encryption.

If you're after a cheap VPN, we'd also recommend bargain VPN Surfshark as a great option. It's not as fully-featured a ExpressVPN, but now available for just $2.49 a month it's a little more affordable.

As a middle ground, fan-favorite NordVPN is also useful. It offers serious security for a decent price, and has apps for tons of devices.

How do you test VPNs?

When testing VPNs, we check every aspect that might be of concern. To begin with, we look at what personal details a service needs, and any essential features like encryption. Then we consider pricing, and whether money-back guarantees are on offer, and whether it works on other operating systems as a Mac VPN or Linux VPN as well as on Windows.

During the physical testing, we test speeds over a number of servers, check for DNS leaks, test kill switch functionality plus any and all other additional features, and measure connection time and if the apps crash.

Finally, we review how easy the apps are to use, and test the services on desktop and mobile devices. 

Is it illegal to have a VPN?

Short answer – no.

Using a VPN is not illegal, and it's perfectly legitimate to want to protect your data and activity. Having one on your computer and using it regularly in pursuit of watertight web security and location spoofing is in no way unlawful.

However, using a VPN to hide illegal activity doesn't make you above the law, so downloading copyrighted material is still illegal even with a VPN. Similarly, using a VPN goes slap bang against Netflix's Ts&Cs, and the provider has the right to terminate your subscription if they catch you – although that's never actually happened.

Countries like China and the UAE have made laws against VPN use, but due to their use in business it's impossible to outlaw VPNs outright. However, in those cases it's well worth reading up on what you may or may not be permitted to use a VPN for, and consider if the very small risk is worth taking.

What are the VPN dos and don'ts?

The best VPN can make it look like you're located somewhere you're not. It's a well-worn practice to evade online censorship, as is done in some countries, or to tap into US streaming services while in Europe or Asia. We've used VPNs to read the New York morning paper in Beijing, and watch US TV in London.

But there are some caveats. A VPN will give you more privacy, but not more security. If you end up on a website harboring malware, the VPN can't prevent you from being infected. 

If you just want to evade geographical restrictions on streaming content such as BBC iPlayer or Hulu, you don't necessarily need a VPN to do so. You just need a proxy service that will make it look like you're in the right country. There are many free proxy services available, but do your homework before choosing one – some are a bit dodgy.

Finally, Netflix and the BBC are cracking down on VPNs and proxy services. There are no guarantees that a particular service will evade geographical restrictions on a particular day.

What makes a great VPN?

The most basic qualities you should look for are speed, privacy and ease of use. These might seem like basic attributes, but in reality few providers have found a happy medium.

Connection speed relies on having a wide range of well-maintained servers. This allows the VPN to provide excellent speed and bandwidth to everyone using its servers. 

Having excellent security is a fairly basic requirement, but hard to get right. If you're concerned about that, make sure your VPN has an airtight privacy policy, and a no-logging policy is even better. Some services like ExpressVPN and NordVPN have also been independently audited to prove their claims.

Finally, although many users might be au fait with tech, more and more newbies are looking to start using VPNs. If that's you, it's definitely worth making sure that your provider has well-designed apps on all the devices you expect to use with the service. 

Are no-fee VPNs any good?

Naturally, free services are very popular products because everyone likes to save their money. And, they can be handy bits of software if you're not somebody that's likely to keep their VPN turned on all the time and just want it for occasional use for staying safe on public Wi-Fi. Oh, and if you don't mind ads...

For most people, though, free services provide a false economy. They tend to have limited servers in just a handful of locations, often restrict you to a single device and almost always have a limit on the amount data you can use per day or month.

Those data limits rule out using your VPN for streaming or torrenting, and if you want to keep your VPN running 24/7 for a permanent privacy layer, a no-fee VPN just isn't going to work.

What VPN protocols are there?

There are several different VPN protocols, not all of which are used by all of the VPN services we reviewed. Most operating systems have built-in support for at least one of these protocols, which means you can use that protocol – and a willing VPN service – without client software. The full-fledged VPN services have online instructions for how to do this, as well as how to set up routers to connect directly to the services.

OpenVPN: OpenVPN is very secure, open-source and widely used. Most VPN services support it, but except for Chrome OS and Linux, few operating systems do. This protocol can be used in either TCP (web) or UDP (streaming) mode; the latter is sloppier but faster. You'll need either the VPN service's client software or one of the many free alternatives. Either way, you'll still need to pay for the VPN service.

L2TP/IPsec (Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol with Internet Protocol Security): L2TP is not secure itself, so it's generally paired with the IPsec secure-networking standard. The combination of the two was once thought to be very secure when properly implemented, but some VPN services suggest that you use OpenVPN instead. L2TP/IPsec has native support in Windows, OS X/macOS, Android, Chrome OS and iOS. Most VPN services support it.

IKEv2 (Internet Key Exchange version 2, generally with IPsec): This is a new-ish standard that is very secure when properly implemented. It has native support in Windows, iOS and recent versions of OS X/macOS.

SSTP (Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol): SSTP is a Microsoft protocol with native support on Windows Vista and later versions. It's thought to be quite secure, but only Microsoft knows for sure.

PPTP (Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol): This standard is largely obsolete, with many known security flaws, but it's fast. It has native support built into Windows, Android and older versions of Mac OS X and iOS; Apple dropped support with macOS Sierra and iOS 10. Use PPTP only for streaming content, as it won't protect your data.

WireGuard: The newest of these protocols, WireGuard combines reportedly excellent security with great speeds. Developed from the ground up, it uses far less code than its predecessors, meaning a better, simpler user experience. However, it's not yet supported by many VPN services, although as it gains traction more and more are beginning to implement it. Some, like Mozilla VPN, solely use WireGuard.

Read more:

Tom's Guide VPN disclaimer - best VPN

Mo is eCommerce Editor at Tom's Guide. Day-to-day he oversees privacy and security content, and his product guides help his readers find the best software and products for their needs. When he's not testing VPNs, you'll find him working on his classic car or plugged into a guitar amp.