A VPN - or virtual private network - is a mobile or computing app that allows you to hide your location, identity and IP address from the rest of the internet. VPNs are becoming more and more mainstream, with analysts predicting the market will be worth over $50bn by 2024.
The best VPN services encrypt all your internet traffic and pass it through a private tunnel to their own secure servers so that no one can see what you're reading or downloading - not the government, not your ISP, not even the VPN service itself.
All internet content is completely encrypted - securely jumbled so no one could read it even if they intercepted it - between the VPN server and your device.
By doing this, a VPN can protect your data, keeping it safe and anonymous while you connect with your online banking account, favorite retailer or adult entertainment site. So if you want to keep your emails, browsing history or bank details away from potential prying eyes, a VPN is the way to do it.
5 best VPN services right now:
A VPN's ability to encrypt traffic and change your location to be whatever you want it to be also allows you to bypass blocks, filters or restrictions on the internet or local networks. That means if there's a Netflix block at your school, you can use a VPN to access it on your phone regardless. If you're visiting China next month, you'll be able to use a VPN to access Facebook and Whatsapp which are both blocked in that country. And if you're on vacation in the UK and want to access your usual US Netflix or Disney Plus content - that's easy too.
What's more, the best VPN apps these days are super easy to use - there's no need to be some sort of computing expert. They're self-explanatory and easy to work out. That's one of the main assets of our #1 pick ExpressVPN - in fact, that particular service ticks all of the above boxes.
So if you’re interested in the benefits of a VPN, on this page we have compiled our top 10 services to help you find the best VPN for you. You can also read our full reviews at the included links if you want to take a deeper dive into the pros and cons of each individual service.
The best VPN 2020:
Simply the best VPN money can buy - ExpressVPN came top in almost all aspects of our testing
Number of servers: More than 3,000 | Speeds: Unlimited | VPN locations: 160 in 94 countries | IP addresses: 30,000 | Maximum devices supported: 5 | 24 live chat: Yes | 30 day money back guarantee: Yes
ExpressVPN is the best VPN for almost everyone, thanks to its fantastic apps, ease of use, superb speeds, excellent 24/7 customer-service support and wide compatibility across devices. You can use the service on Mac, Windows, iOS, Android or even Linux and BlackBerry. You can also install it on your Android TV, games console or your home router.
For anyone new to the VPN world, ExpressVPN is super-simple to use with a one-click startup option. And for those looking for more complex and advanced options, it also offers a kill switch and DNS leak protection - plus you get industrial-level encryption and there's a clear no logging policy.
The service also recently fixed one of its primary drawbacks - it used to only allow three simultaneous connections per account. That has now been upped to the industry standard of five - enough for the vast majority of people's needs.
If you're planning to use your VPN to access Netflix and other streaming services like HBO Go, Hulu or Sky Go - Express is simply the undisputed champion. It has a team constantly ensuring they're providing access to the most popular sites and helping you find the right server locations - if you're struggling, the aforementioned 24/7 customer service team will sort you out with a quick chat.
One final killer addition to this service is a 30-day money-back guarantee. So, effectively, you can try this for free for 30 days, and if you don't like it you can easily cancel and walk away without having spent a dime.
Read our full ExpressVPN review
Get a discount on Tom's Guide's best VPN 2020
If you're still not convinced by ExpressVPN, knowing that a 30-day money back guarantee is in place may just sway you. Or, if you know that going for the full 12 months makes sense, then hit the 'View deal' button below and claim 3 months extra FREE and a healthy 49% off what a 1-month plan would cost.
The new VPN on the block is also among the very best
Number of servers: 1000+ | Server locations: 60+ | IP addresses: N/A | Maximum devices supported: Unlimited | 24 live chat: Yes | 30 day money back guarantee: Yes
In general, Surfshark is both fast and powerful, with advanced features (although the mobile app is more bare-bones), and is capable of bypassing region restrictions with ease.
The 24-month deal works out at only $1.99 a month, which is clearly fantastic value. But there’s no free trial, meaning you have to commit for two years immediately or pay for a single month first if you want to try it out.
The other problems you might want to watch out for are a lack of online support beyond set-up (although the live chat makes up for this should you want it) and the fact that some of the servers have their physical locations separated from their IP locations, meaning that depending where you’re accessing them from, you could end up with sluggish performance.
Read our full Surfshark review
Another top VPN service that offers 10 simultaneous connections and excellent support
Number of servers: 1,300 | Server locations: 75+ | IP addresses: 40,000+ | Maximum devices supported: 10 | 24 live chat: Yes | 30 day money back guarantee: Yes
Third in our rankings list comes IPVanish - a fantastic VPN service that boasts over 1,300 servers in more than 75 countries, 24/7 customer service and a whopping 10 simultaneous connections available at a time.
You may yet use those 10, as IPVanish works on lots of devices, including Mac, Windows, Android and iOS. The desktop apps offer plenty of options that will keep the pros happy, while the just-work simplicity is also there for everyone else. That it all functions with far above average speeds is a nice bonus.
The lack of a kill switch on the mobile version of the app may be a downside for some but generally everything worked well. If you do want to give this VPN a go, you're covered by a seven-day money-back guarantee. However, its subscription price is kind of high, and its U.S. base may be a negative for some potential customers.
Read our full IPVanish review.
The world's most famous VPN service is still very impressive, despite bad press
Number of servers: 5,600+ | Server locations: 60+ | IP addresses: N/A | Maximum devices supported: 6 | 24 live chat: Yes | 30 day money back guarantee: Yes
If pure security is your need, then NordVPN is one of the options for you, thanks to the provider's 2048-bit encryption that'd leave even the military impressed – and blocked out. To be specific, that's out of over 5,500 servers that are spread over 60 countries. All that gives you strong DNS leak protection, two kill switches and excellent connection speeds.
Unique features of NordVPN include proxy extensions for the likes of Bitcoin, PayPal, credit cards, Chrome and Firefox. In addition, you get SmartPlay, which helps you get around geo restrictions, making it ideal for watching the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video or BBC iPlayer abroad. And if you run into problems, you can solve them with the aid of NordVPN's help center articles, email support or live chat support options.
On the downside, there were issues with server connections from time to time but largely we got online fine and speeds were well above average. And we must admit that our confidence in Nord was at least somewhat knocked by the reported data breach that came out in October 2019, although we're encouraged by the steps it has taken to remedy it and ensure nothing of the like happens again.
With lots of payment options available, there should be something for everyone here. But compare the price of NordVPN to the rest, and it may just be the service for you.
Read our full NordVPN review.
A super popular VPN service with a tempting free option too
Number of servers: 2,500+ | Server locations: 70+ | Maximum devices supported: 5 | 24 live chat: Yes | 30 day money back guarantee: No
Hotspot Shield is mostly famous for its free option but we've included it in our list of the best VPN services due to the quality of its premium, paid option. The feature it has over the competition is a super cheap price. If you can't stomach the albeit minimal cost of ExpressVPN, Hotspot Shield is a decent cheap option. That being said, it does have its limitations versus the competition. For example its lack of support for the OpenVPN standard means you cannot set it up on your router, games console or Chromebook for which there are no specific apps.
There's a free trial of the paid service if you want to try it - it offers a week of service for nothing.
The very basic VPN with a killer feature - unlimited connections
Number of servers: 400 | Server locations: 60 | Maximum devices supported: Unlimited | 24 live chat: No | 30 day money back guarantee: No
Windscribe VPN's standout features are a very generous free service that gives you up to 10GB per month, and a moderately priced paid service that 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 was also one of the best at connecting to foreign Netflix catalogs, if you're into that sort of thing.
Windscribe's network performance wasn’t quite as impressive, however. Our testing showed slower connection times than its competitors.
You can pay for a Windscribe subscription with bitcoin, and you don't even have to provide an email address. The service is based in Canada, which may appeal to users wary of U.S. authorities. The only feature lacking is a kill switch to stop all internet activity if the VPN connection is lost while in use. But Windscribe argues that its built-in firewall prevents data leakage.
Read our full Windscribe review.
A respectable VPN service with plenty of features servers to choose from
Number of servers: 3,700+ | Server locations: 60+ | IP addresses: N/A | Maximum devices supported: 7 | 24 live chat: No | 30 day money back guarantee: No
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.
There are about 3,700 CyberGhost connection points in over 60-odd countries worldwide. You don't need to provide your real name, just a working email address, and you can pay in bitcoin (should you have any) to remain nearly anonymous. As with most full-fledged VPN services, you can connect directly from your operating system's network settings or use third-party OpenVPN software to do so. You can also select from among VPN protocols and set up a home Wi-Fi router to use CyberGhost all the time.
CyberGhost is transparent about its company structure, posting photos and bios on its website of everyone from the CEO to the cleaning person, and privacy fanatics will like that the company is based in Romania rather than in the U.S. But CyberGhost's full-service subscription price is among the most expensive month-by-month — it's far better to just pay for a year at a time.
Read our full CyberGhost review.
A great option for total VPN newbies and technophobes
Number of servers: 1,000 | Server locations: 20+ | IP addresses: N/A | Maximum devices supported: 5 | 24 live chat: No | 30 day money back guarantee: No
Goldilocks would love TunnelBear, as it's just right for VPN newcomers. It has a friendly, easy-to-use interface; offers a limited free plan that's ideal for casual use in airports and cafes; is uncomplicated yet offers a fair number of options; has over 1,000 servers in 20 or so countries; and doles out a large helping of security and privacy.
TunnelBear's network performance and pricing are just about average compared with other services we've reviewed The company takes security and privacy seriously, explaining its policies and protocols in plain English, and you can read the results of two third-party security audits on the company website.
However, you've 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 U.S. antivirus giant McAfee, which may mean TunnelBear is subject to U.S. search warrants.
Read our full TunnelBear review.
A great VPN option if you need up to 12 devices connected at once
Number of servers: 650+ | Server locations: 26 | IP addresses: ?? | Maximum devices supported: 12 | 24 live support: Yes | 30 day money back guarantee: No
StrongVPN is a solidly performing VPN, perfect for bypassing region locks. However, beyond the basics, it offers some unique extra benefits while missing out on some more obvious others.
The 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 details, like information in the server browser or DNS settings, and the fact you have to pay a relatively high price for even an annual subscription in comparison to rival VPNs. You don’t get a free trial either, as the best StrongVPN offers here is a 30 day money-back guarantee, meaning you will have to pay first no matter what.
All the same, you do get 24/7 customer support, including a helpline with more limited opening times, plus a good speed in almost every server location, which makes it at least passable for any kind of user.
Read our full StrongVPN review
A super secure VPN that deserves its place in our top 10
Number of servers: 700+ | Server locations: 70+ | IP addresses: 200,000+ | Maximum devices supported: 5 | 24 live chat: No | 30 day money back guarantee: No
VyprVPN is one of the most secure VPN options out there, thanks to it being a Swiss-based service. That means 73 server locations with zero-knowledge DNS plus its own famous-in-the-right-circles Chameleon protocol, which gets you online even in VPN-blocking countries – yup, including China.
This service has clients for most platforms, including Mac, Windows, iOS and Android plus Android TV, QNAP, BlackPhone and Anonabox, to name a few. You also get to enjoy superfast download speeds. Previously VyprVPN was criticised for its use of session logging, even if it was only a 30 day record of details connection times and IP addresses. Now though, the service has moved to a 'zero log' policy, keeping your information truly private.
Some server issues were spotted when testing this service but that could have just been bad luck, as generally it performed well. Pricing is reasonable, so this is an appealing offering indeed.
Read our full VyprVPN review.
How We Test VPNs
We start by collating all of the VPN service provider options. We then narrow down the options by checking security requisites for each one, so if one requires your personal details, for example, that would be a strike against it. We then look at the features offered to further whittle the selection. We also take into account pricing, with not only the charge but how you're able to pay, and whether any money-back guarantees were on offer. Security also applies here as we look at those companies that keep your payment details private, allow you to pay with bitcoin and so on.
Then comes the testing of the VPNs themselves. We not only test performance speeds for downloads and uploads across local and distant servers using Speedtest.net but for leaks, too. Some VPNs can have DNS or other leaks that give clues to your identity, so we use IPleak.net to test that the VPNs are as secure as they claim to be.
Finally, we make sure that the client interface is simple to use but also that there are more complex options for those who need them. That includes things like tools for country, region, server, speed, filters, favorites, server load and ping time displays and so on.
What VPNS Do And Don't Do
Using a VPN can make it look like you're someplace else. It's a well-worn practice to evade online censorship, as is done in some countries, or to tap into U.S. streaming services while in Europe or Asia. We've used VPNs to read the New York morning paper in Beijing, and watch U.S. TV in England.
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. Some of the full-fledged VPN services block known malicious websites, just as some browsers do.
Also, although your data is encrypted as it travels between you and the far-off VPN server, it won't necessarily be encrypted once it leaves the VPN server for its final destination. If the data isn't encrypted — and that depends on the website you're connecting to — then the traffic might be intercepted and read. One well-known VPN provider was recently accused of inserting ads in users' web browsers, which would violate users' security and privacy.
If you just want to evade geographical restrictions on streaming content, such as BBC iPlayer or Hulu, you don't 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's no guarantee that a particular service will evade geographical restrictions on a particular day.
Know Your VPN Types
All of the VPN services we've reviewed use the AES-256 encryption standard, which would take a well-equipped hacker with a powerful computer many years to crack. Anyone eavesdropping on your Wi-Fi traffic in a café would see gibberish without the encryption key.
Nine of the VPN services we've tested — CyberGhost, ExpressVPN, IPVanish, Mullvad, NordVPN, Private Internet Access, PureVPN, VPN Unlimited and Windscribe — are what we call "full-featured." If you plan on running all your home internet traffic through a VPN, or you travel frequently, these are the services you should consider.
These services offer many ways to connect, including without the service's client software; support operating systems and devices, such as routers or set-top boxes, beyond just the "big four" operating systems of Windows, Mac, Android and iOS; have hundreds, or even thousands, of servers in dozens of countries; and generally let the user sign up and pay anonymously.
The flip side is that a few of these full-featured services are pretty anonymous themselves, operating behind shell companies in offshore tax havens. If you're trying to avoid government scrutiny, that's great, but you might have a hard time getting your money (or bitcoin) back in a dispute with the VPN provider.
Two more services, Hotspot Shield and TunnelBear, make you use their client software, which is limited to the big four OSes. You can't connect your home router or other nonstandard devices directly to these service's VPNs. TunnelBear makes an exception for Linux boxes.
Avast SecureLine and Avira Phantom VPN are run by antivirus companies as complements to their primary businesses. These services are also limited to Windows, Mac, iOS and Android and don't work without client software. But they offer few features, have a couple of dozen servers at most and don't let you pay anonymously. However, the companies are known quantities, and the services are handy for occasional travelers.
Finally, there's Opera VPN, which is completely free. The desktop version works only within the Opera web browser. But the mobile apps, which are made by a different company, encrypt all the internet traffic to and from an iOS or Android device. However, both the desktop and mobile versions of Opera VPN have servers in only five countries.
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 newish 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.