Private Internet Access (PIA) review

The old-school favorite remains a quality choice

Private Internet Access review
(Image: © Future)

Tom's Guide Verdict

PIA is near the top when it comes to privacy, security and tracker blocking. While it doesn't really impress with speeds, it's packed with some unique features and powerful tools – not to mention its ability to unlock popular TV streaming services. Overall, it's a very capable and secure VPN that's well worth considering.

Pros

  • +

    No logging

  • +

    Unrestricted torrenting

  • +

    Reliable kill switch

  • +

    Highly configurable

Cons

  • -

    Average speed results

  • -

    No third-party security audit

  • -

    Apps can be intimidating

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Private Internet Access (PIA) ranks high on our best VPN list, and for good reason. This well-established and trusted VPN provider is very secure and has one of the largest server networks out there with over 10,000 available worldwide. And it has dedicated IPs in so many countries with a couple more added since my last look. 

My latest round of testing showed even more improvement with privacy, including within its handy browser extension. PIA offers some of the most customizable VPN apps, with tons of options for torrenting and tunneling, just to name a few.

It's hard to wade through all the information when it comes to VPNs, especially with a solution like Private Internet Access that's loaded with features. So, take a look at this handy review to learn more about what's included and how it can help you stay safe online.

Private Internet Access review - homepage

(Image credit: PIA)
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PIA on paper

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Number of servers10,000+Row 0 - Cell 2
Server countries84Row 1 - Cell 2
Supported platformsWindows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, Chrome, Firefox, OperaRow 2 - Cell 2
Simultaneous connections10Row 3 - Cell 2
Split tunnelingYesRow 4 - Cell 2
Kill switchYesRow 5 - Cell 2
Protocols supportedOpenVPN, IKEv2, WireGuardRow 6 - Cell 2
Country of registrationUSARow 7 - Cell 2
SupportLive chat, email, knowledgebaseRow 8 - Cell 2

PIA 1-minute review

Private Internet Access is typically a fairly cheap provider if you're willing to sign up for a lengthy plan. Regular price is around $2.19 a month on the two-year plan, but offer like the VPN Black Friday deal can drop this even lower. However, if you don't fancy signing up for years at a time, expect to pay more, with the monthly plan coming in at a hefty $11.99.

Since my last review, Private Internet Access has jumped up a spot in the rankings, coming in just under the top three providers, ExpressVPN, NordVPN, and Surfshark. This is because PIA has improved its speeds somewhat, and is even more secure on top of its already robust list of configurable functions and unique features.

One of PIA's best features is its torrenting ability. Not many VPNs offer this service, and those that do aren't as easy, secure, or flexible. Torrenting is permitted on any server, and the port-forwarding function is tailored to P2P sharers.

A neat addition to the PIA toolbox is the ‘piactl’ command line tool, which allows you write scripts for the app to follow – something quite unique in the consumer VPN market – as well as other useful features like port forwarding.

PIA also has excellent privacy and security credentials. You’ll get access to OpenVPN and WireGuard, and you’ll also be able to choose your level of encryption. All apps are open source, the kill switch was totally effective in my testing, and the no-logs policy seems watertight. This has been confirmed through an audit by independent third party Deloitte.

PIA unblocks Netflix in a number of regions. It also unblocks the BBC iPlayer, Disney+, and Amazon Prime Video. Plus, access to geo-blocked content isn't limited to just streaming services. Other websites that are typically off-limits are open when you connect to a server in that area.

One of PIA’s weaker areas is its support. Unfortunately, the written articles are a little sparse, but a positive is that a live chat feature was recently introduced, so that should cut query time down substantially.

Overall, if you’re after a secure, stable VPN, Private Internet Access is a very worthwhile option that’s also eminently affordable if you choose its two-year subscription plan.

Latest updates

  • Faster connection speeds 
  • Dedicated IPs available in Switzerland and Japan
  • Very good at blocking trackers and malicious links
  • Unblocks additional Netflix and streaming services
  • Passed no-log audit
  • Monthly plan price increase

PIA VPN price and payment

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Plan lengthOverall costMonthly cost
1 month$11.99$11.99
6 months$45.00$7.50
2 years$56.94$2.19

Signing up for Private Internet Access on a monthly subscription isn't the best deal. At $11.95/month it falls a little bit higher than most cheap VPN plans, though certainly not as high as some. You really get a good deal if you sign up for either PIA's 6-month or 2-year plan.

PIA's 6-monthly plan is $45 for the entire subscription period, which works out to $7.50 per month. This is a fairly decent deal, but you really save money on the 2-year plan. This is only $55 for the whole 2 years or $2.19/month. And you get an extra two months, free, so it's really a 26-month subscription at a steal of a price. Plus, PIA often offers deals throughout the year that drop the price even further – currently, for instance, it's just $2.03 a month.

One notable perk is that PIA has dedicated IP addresses that still fall under the privacy and security protection of its VPN. This is an add-on that you choose during checkout and costs an additional $5/month, regardless of the subscription plan. This is a little cheaper than NordVPN, but CyberGhost's comparative offering is far cheaper at just $2.25.

Private Internet Access doesn't have a VPN free trial, but it does have a 30-day money-back guarantee. PIA supports a massive list of payment methods, from credit cards and gift cards to cryptocurrencies and bank transfers, so if you’re looking for a secure way to bag a bargain, PIA could be a great choice.

Pia pricing plans

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How private and secure is PIA?

Private Internet Access prides itself on its security services and includes several great features to ensure your privacy. And to help you feel 100 percent comfortable with its VPN, PIA has made all its apps open source, which means you can look over the code to see if there's anything fishy in there.

For users that aren't tech-savvy enough to understand source code, I've delved deep into the program and tested out its features to look for any leaks or possible compromises to its services. For example, I looked to make sure the PIA kill switch cuts off your internet connection immediately when your connection fails. And it does – on both desktop and mobile apps.

When you're connected, the VPN sends and receives encrypted online information. This makes it more difficult for your online history to be tagged as yours if it is intercepted. PIA uses AES-128 encryption as its default, but you can manually bump that up to AES-256, which is what military and financial institutions use – and we'd recommend doing so, just to be sure.

Another layer of security PIA uses are its own DNS servers. This helps reduce the chance of DNS data leaks. But you're not locked into this function. There is the option for you to change this to your own choice.

According to Deloitte, PIA manages its systems well and didn't find any reason to doubt its claims of its no-logging policy during its audits of PIA's VPN services.

Install the Chrome VPN extension and you’ll get additional privacy features, like the blocking of ads, trackers, and third-party cookies. You can use the extension to connect to the VPN from within your browser interface, but this only protects your browser traffic. 

A nice feature in the Chrome extension is the bypass list, which allows you to selectively choose which websites will bypass the VPN and which will go through it. Again, PIA’s Chrome extension includes many configuration options, making it an excellent choice for VPN power users.

PIA’s website says that it absolutely doesn’t keep any logs of any kind, and goes on to claim how it’s ‘verified’ as a zero-logging service. PIA makes these claims on the back of its Transparency Report – you can read it yourself here (opens in new tab).

Like just about any VPN, PIA is regularly sent court orders, warrants, and subpoenas requesting information on its users, and the fact PIA has never handed anything over from one of these requests (because there’s nothing stored to hand over in the first place) effectively proves it does not log its users. That’s excellent news.

But the best news about PIA is that its privacy claims have been independently audited by Deloitte, a very credible and well-known management consulting company that specializes in security audits.

According to Deloitte, PIA manages its systems well and didn't find any reason to doubt its claims of its no-logging policy during its audits of the VPN services.

PIA features

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How fast is Private Internet Access?

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WireGuard510Mbps
OpenVPN440Mbps

Speed is another area where PIA shines. It's about average for a VPN when connected through WireGuard, but it kills most of the competition when it comes to OpenVPN connections.

When I tested PIA, the average connection time was 2 seconds when using WireGuard and 2.5 seconds when using OpenVPN, regardless of where I was connecting to, including distant locations. This is very good in my book.

I tested PIA on systems in a UK data center and a US location, each with a 1Gbps connection. I used the app to connect to my nearest location, then measured download performance using several speed testing sites and services (SpeedTest's website and command line app, nPerf, SpeedOf.me, and more). I ran the tests using both WireGuard and OpenVPN connections, then did it all again in an evening session.

During my last round of tests, PIA was disappointing with its speeds. For example, UK OpenVPN speeds were only 170-190Mbps. Switching to WireGuard was an improvement at 200-250Mbps. But this time speeds jumped to where I would expect from a top-tier provider.

WireGuard speeds got up to 510Mbps. This is average for most VPN services, and you shouldn't experience any hassles, like lag or slowdown while using it. But for OpenVPN, you could see speeds at 440Mbps. This places PIA near the top for OpenVPN speeds, and worth bearing in mind if you're looking for a router VPN, or simply prefer to use the time-tested protocol.

If raw speed is a priority, though, some providers deliver much more. Surfshark, TorGuard, and Norton VPN all reached 950Mbps or more in recent tests. Hide.me, Avast, and NordVPN all saw connection speeds over 800Mbps.

How good is PIA for streaming?

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NetflixWorking (US, UK, AU, CA, JP)
PrimeWorking
YouTubeWorking
iPlayerWorking
Disney PlusWorking
10PlayUnavailable
9NowWorking
HuluWorking
ITV PlayerWorking
All4Working

Ever tried to look something up only to get a 'not available in your region' message? Private Internet Access can help with that. When connected to a server in the right location you can access all kinds of geo-blocked websites. That includes TV streaming websites.

I tried accessing the most popular streaming services using PIA, and it didn't disappoint. In fact, it did well enough to be included on the list of the top Netflix VPN services. I was able to watch Netflix libraries from the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and even Japan. Other services PIA unblocks are BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime, and Disney Plus.

There were a few streaming sites that PIA wasn't able to access. The biggest of these is 10Play, one of the biggest networks in Australia. So, if you need to watch something on this service, you'll need another streaming VPN. A select few providers like ExpressVPN and NordVPN are able to unblock 10Play, as well as more regional Netflix libraries.

How good is PIA for torrenting?

Torrenting is a method of sharing files with multiple people at once, though it can also be used for a single person-to-person (P2P) transfer, too. Regardless of who you're sending data to, Private Internet Access protects it so it isn't intercepted or traced back to the device you sent it from. This is done, in part, by encrypting the data.

One reason Private Internet Access is an excellent torrenting VPN is that it doesn't support just a few servers. You can use any location for your torrenting activities, without any limits or restrictions. 

Regardless of who you're sending data to, Private Internet Access protects it so it isn't intercepted or traced back to the device you sent it from.

PIA also offers a port forwarding function. This lets incoming connections bypass the NAT firewall, which quickens download speeds – but this does put you at more of a risk. I’d only recommend using it if you already know what you’re doing, and have a good grasp on what it does and doesn’t allow you to do.

Also, it’s worth noting that while PIA offers these features, there’s not much in the way of support on the website. Users are essentially given the tools and left to their own devices. This is quite understandable given the grey area that P2P sharing is, and most other providers do the same.

Otherwise, PIA is very capable for torrenting and has more dedicated P2P tools than most rivals. It’s certainly worth considering if you’re something of an expert and think you could get the most out of what’s on offer without any hand-holding.

PIA app in use

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How good are Private Internet Access's desktop apps?

Private Internet Access makes it super easy to get started. On its website, it's clear where to find all the VPN services with links to the supported platforms. For desktops, you have the option to install PIA on Windows, Macs, and Linux machines. Browser extensions are also available for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera.

You're not limited to only one device. PIA lets you connect up to 10 different devices to its VPN at the same time, and they don't all have to be on the same platform. You're welcome to mix and match depending on the operating system of your computer, laptop, or even mobile device.

Installing PIA is straightforward. The download pages for each VPN client include a detailed changelog that shows you which changes have been made to the product over time, and old versions are available to download if an update isn’t performing well. If you want to use your own client, OpenVPN configuration files are available, which is a nice touch.

Once you’ve installed the PIA desktop app and logged in, there’s a big Connect button that automatically connects you to the closest server. You can easily choose a VPN server from the list of countries and cities, with most showing you ping times so you can get an idea of expected latency.

PIA lets you connect up to 10 different devices to its VPN at the same time.

Digging into the settings you’ll find a very configurable VPN. You can choose OpenVPN over WireGuard or UDP over TCP. You can set a custom port, and choose an encryption level (AES-128, AES-256), although authentication and handshake configuration has been removed to stabilize the app’s performance and improve speeds. This is no huge loss, but it is important to note. 

It’s simple to find the server list, which lists country, city, and ping times. You can sort servers by name or ping, and there’s an effective search function as well as a favorites system which definitely improves usability.

The PIA desktop client includes a kill switch that disables internet access if your VPN disconnects for any reason. In my testing, this performed admirably, always notifying me of an internet connection issue and reconnecting without once exposing my real IP address.

There’s a command-line client called ‘piactl’. This means you can administer the VPN through the use of a script. For example, you can set your VPN to enable and disable at certain times of the day. There isn't a lot of information on this feature, but with the right amount of tinkering, you could have your VPN performing relatively intricate automated functions.

While they look pretty lightweight, PIA’s desktop apps are packed with extra features without making the interface uncomfortable to use – overall, they’re really quite impressive.

PIA Android app

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How good are PIA's mobile apps?

PIA has mobile VPN apps for iPhone and Android, and both are packed with great features and can be configured to your specific privacy needs. Both have an automatic kill switch, WireGuard and OpenVPN connection options, and custom ports. The apps look very similar to the desktop versions, so if you're using PIA on multiple devices it will feel familiar.

When you open the Android VPN, you’ll see a very simple interface - with white space, a big On/Off button, and the usual stuff, like the IP address and location you chose. However, if you swipe up you’ll see plenty of other icons, buttons, and status details.

Tapping the region brings up a list of the other available regions, with a guide on expected latency, so you can choose wisely. It’s worth noting that these settings screens are a little busy, and there’s a lot of info to take in. That doesn’t affect usability though, and also means everything you need is very easy to get to, and not hidden behind multiple menus.

PIA’s mobile apps – both Android and iOS – are real highlights of the provider's suite of software.

The PIA iPhone VPN app is very similar in looks and functionality to its Android counterpart. You'll get that stylish interface, an intuitive location picker that shows server latencies, and of course the Favorites system. Also, there are plenty of customization options to make the console look the way you want it to.  

A Network Management tile adds the ability to set certain networks as automatically trusted or untrusted. You could use this to automatically enable your VPN when you’re at a coffee shop and disable it when you get home, for example. There’s support for Siri shortcuts too, so you can enable and disable your VPN with a voice command. Aesthetically, the iOS app is a little tidier than the Android version and doesn’t sacrifice a whole lot in the process.

One advantage the Android app has over the iOS version is split tunneling. This lets you choose which apps use the VPN rather than shielding the entire device. Split tunneling is a good way to increase speeds and save on data. but since PIA doesn't have data limits, this isn't a huge loss – and almost no other VPNs offer split tunneling on iPhone either, due to limitations in iOS.

Overall, PIA’s mobile apps – both Android and iOS – are real highlights of the provider's suite of software, and if you’re a mobile-first user, PIA is definitely worth considering.

How good is Private Internet Access support?

There are a few support options if you need any help with Private Internet Access's clients. Your first place to look for some quick answers is in the web knowledgebase (opens in new tab). This has articles about account problems, general troubleshooting, and common technical issues.  

PIA's articles aren't the most detailed, especially compared to ExpressVPN or NordVPN knowledgebases, but they are helpful. And it could be quicker than reaching out for one-on-one help.

For human help, you have two options, raise a support ticket or try the new live chat feature. During testing, I typically received replies to support tickets within five hours, which is lengthy compared to some other VPN services.

PIA has also recently introduced a live chat feature, catching up with much of the competition. When I tried it out, the agent I spoke to was fairly knowledgeable and offered useful, actionable advice about the issue. Good stuff, then. 

Should you buy Private Interent Access?

I consider Private Internet Access one of the top VPN solutions on the market. It doesn't earn a perfect score in every area, but it is one of the best when it comes to privacy and security. It's also one of the most configurable VPNs out there.

In hands-on tests, PIA proved to be very easy to use with plug-and-play apps, plus, it unblocked Netflix and most other TV streaming sites. You can use this VPN on 10 different devices with the same level of functionality across all platforms.

Its monthly subscription isn't the most affordable, but its two-year plan (opens in new tab) is. And if you discover Private Internet Access isn't right for you, you can take advantage of its 30-day money-back guarantee.

When it comes to speed, it lags behind class leaders like Surfshark (opens in new tab) in terms of sheer performance power and unblocking prowess. Even so, you shouldn't experience any lag while unlocking geo-blocked webpages, or using its impressive torrenting features. Overall, PIA is one worth considering.

Sign up for PIA if:

  • You need a VPN for torrenting
  • You need excellent security and privacy
  • You need to access streaming and geo-region sites
  • You've got a use for its additional features

Avoid if:

  • You want to check out a free trial first
  • You want a provider that has had its servers audited
  • You want a more lightweight, simple VPN app

Richard brings over 20 years of website development, SEO, and marketing to the table. A graduate in Computer Science, Richard has lectured in Java programming and has built software for companies including Samsung and ASDA. Now, he writes for TechRadar, Tom's Guide, PC Gamer, and Creative Bloq.

With contributions from
  • episani
    I had a yearly subscription and by mistake they sent me an offer to reactivate that subscription which wasn't expired. I clicked and paid into the offer, which was for a 2 year subscription, but it created a new subscription instead of extending the existing one. I ended up with 2 subscriptions. I was expecting the subscriptions to be merged. When I received an email saying that my subscription was expiring it took me by surprise. When I contacted customer service they said I should have merged the subscriptions within 30 days of receiving the second subscription. They basically stole 7 months of subscription from me. Customer service is horrible and you can't access a history of financial dealings in your account. Please keep your emails as it is the only proof you have of any charges made by this company. Very dodgy. Please avoid.
    Reply
  • rayh99
    Been with PIA since 2010 and own multiple accounts that I pay with Gift cards. PIA stole $50 from me and have refused to restore or refund the funds even after providing them with statements showing that the payment was legit.
    Private Internet Access charged me $50 for a year account. A few days later they close my account and have refused to refund me the money or reinstated the account. The excuse they gave was that a transaction had show on the card that I paid with after purchasing the year service.
    Even after I show a statement of the gift card that the PIA payment was the only one on the gift card pia refuses to refund or restore the account or refund the money.
    I have heard multiple you tubers knocking them down since they got bought over but I actually never tough they will steal $50 and refuse to make things right. STAY AWAY FROM THIS VPN, THEY SCAMMED ME AND WILL DO YOU AS WELL.
    Reply