Private Internet Access is a well-established VPN that we’ve known since the halcyon days of 2010. More commonly referred to as PIA, this VPN has grown dramatically over the past few years and now enables users to connect to over 12,000 servers (no, that's not a typo) located in 74 countries.
As you’ll find out in this in-depth Private Internet Access review, there’s a lot to be said for the veteran provider. In part, that’s thanks to a feature-set targeted toward both first-time and advanced VPN users – user-friendly mobile and desktop applications are paired with more technical functions like a command-line connection tool and advanced encryption controls.
So, how does PIA stack up to the competition? Scroll down to read our full review, designed to help you make the decision on whether Private Internet Access is the right VPN provider to keep you and your data safe.
Plans and Pricing
PIA doesn’t provide a free trial, so subscribers will need to choose between three paid options in order to access the VPN – but a 30-day money-back guarantee will keep you protected if it turns out you’re not pleased with the service.
First off, there’s a monthly plan for $9.95 – unsurprisingly the priciest of the bunch. However, prices drop pretty rapidly, and next up is a one-year plan which comes in at $3.33 a month – just $39.95 a year.
If you want the best price, you’ll need to go for the two-year plan. Offering a saving of 73%, the monthly price is $2.69, or $69.95 for two years’ worth of cover – and PIA is currently offering two months free with its two-year plan. You will have to pay that lump sum upfront, but overall PIA is priced pretty keenly compared to competitors.
As with much of the competition, PIA also regularly offers promotional deals and sales, so check back on Tom’s Guide to grab the best prices.
A neat thing about PIA’s plans is that you can pay for them using anonymous cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin, Litecoin, and Ethereum. VPNs are all about protecting your identity online, so we were pleased to see support for these secure payment methods.
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In terms of features, PIA gets all the fundamentals right. As of September 2020, PIA offers users a choice of over 12,000 servers spread over 74 countries. While over 5,000 of those are located in the USA, that's no bad thing – a huge amount of VPN users are either located in the States or want to access US Netflix, so American servers are by far the most trafficked out of any in the world. PIA's 'next gen' update has effectively future-proofed its network, should user numbers explode in the future.
That massive volume means you can often find a quiet server to connect to, even in popular locations. Another core element of PIA is privacy, which is taken care of by a strict no-log policy and industry-standard encryption protocols such as AES-256, CBC, and RSA-4096.
Delving a little deeper into Private Internet Access, it becomes clear that this VPN provider has managed to differentiate itself from competitors by including extra tools that aren’t yet commonplace in the VPN market space. With 'piactl', for example, you can write a simple script to automate the process of connecting to a PIA server.
Even better, PIA is a great torrenting VPN, as none of its servers restrict P2P traffic or place any limits on the amount of bandwidth you use.
- More: Take a look at our best Netflix VPN list
Interface and in use
Private Internet Access has been around for a while, so it’s no surprise that it can be installed on plenty of different operating systems and devices, including macOS, Linux, Windows, and Android. PIA has also released a Chrome VPN extension and one for Firefox too, so that you can easily manage your server connection while browsing.
No matter what device you use to run Private Internet Access, getting started is a breeze thanks to a lightweight installer file. Once loaded, you might feel that the PIA interface looks a bit basic, but this is mostly just because advanced settings are tucked away inside a secondary menu.
On mobile devices, you’ll find the PIA interface to be even more minimalist than its desktop clients. With the Android app, for example, most screen space is left empty except for a big connection switch in the center of the screen. Below that, you’ll see your current IP address and a list of server regions to choose from.
As for performance, during our PIA review we were consistently impressed by the stability and speed of PIA’s server connections. Connecting to any server was very quickly done, with no lag or slowdown while waiting. On our 75Mbps UK line, PIA delivered average speeds of around 64-70Mbps. Other VPNs have performed marginally better, but in practice there’s not a noticeable difference.
When connected to servers further afield, connections understandably dropped, but they remained consistent and reliable – not one of our connections failed during our testing.
Using services as streaming VPNs is now a massive selling point, and for casual users this function may often be all they use their VPN for. Although it’s previously had trouble in this area, we’re pleased to say that PIA now has no issue accessing Netflix, allowing us to view content from all the different libraries we tried – including the US, Japan and Australia. However, PIA still can’t access the difficult BBC iPlayer, but YouTube can be unblocked with ease.
With previous versions of PIA, we’ve found that a lack of live chat support was one of the biggest flaws of the platform. We’re happy to announce that yes, this has been addressed, with live-chat customer service reps now available 24/7 – about time, if you ask us. Advisors are helpful and friendly, but there's also a ticket-based system available, alongside email support.
However, most of the time you’ll be able to solve issues yourself thanks to a comprehensive support center filled with troubleshooting articles. There’s a wealth of useful information here such as a best-practices security guide that gives a good overview of PIA’s various encryption options.
However, again we’d like to express how glad we are that live chat has finally made its way to PIA. The best VPNs on the market have had this essential customer support feature for a long time, and one of PIA’s major failings was its omission. Perhaps we’re spoilt now, but we’re glad that PIA has chosen to invest in customer support – finally.
Private Internet Access is a great VPN, but it’s not the only choice worth considering. If you’re after the very best VPN on the market, we’d steer you towards ExpressVPN. With polished apps, stellar support and plenty of servers, it’s a fantastic overall package – but it is a little more costly than PIA.
Alternatively, if you want something cheaper, Surfshark is an excellent option. Starting at $2.49 per month, it’s not only cheaper than PIA, but also waives any limit on how many devices you can use your plan with – PIA only allows you to use ten at a time, but that's plenty generous and should be more than enough for the vast majority of users.
Private Internet Access: Final verdict
Even after a decade on the market, continued updates mean Private Internet Access is still a powerful VPN which is available for a very good price. PIA strikes the right balance between usability and features with plug-and-play apps for all manner of devices, plus advanced functionality such as command line VPN control and multihop servers – and that's not to mention the incredible number of servers.
While the apps aren’t as slick as the very best on the market, PIA offers an easy-to-use, good-value service that has a number of advanced features that will please both VPN newbies as well as veteran power-users.
Supported platforms: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, Chrome, Firefox, Opera
Supported protocols: OpenVPN, Wireguard, IPSec (iOS), PPTP, IKEv2
No. of servers: 12,200+
No. of countries: 74
Country of registration: USA
Payment options: Credit card, PayPal, Bitcoin, Zcash, Ethereum, Litecoin, bitpay, Mint, Gift Card
Real name necessary? No
Encryption protocol: AES-256
Data usage: Unlimited
Bandwidth usage: Unlimited
Max. no. of simultaneously connected devices: 10
Customer support: 24/7 chat, email, support articles
- Read our comprehensive list of the very best VPNs