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The most private VPN in 2020

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If you’re looking for the best VPN, there’s no doubt that you’re on the lookout for the most private VPN as well. While VPNs can do all sorts of interesting things, at their core they need to be effective pieces of privacy software – if they’re not, everything else is worthless.

If you make sure to use the most private VPN you can find, you’ll be able to surf the web confidently, knowing that no hackers, data collectors or advertisers can follow you around, picking up your trail of personal information – and, in the unlikely event that the authorities do want to snoop and see what you’ve been browsing, they won’t be able to find a thing.

What makes the most private VPN?

For the most privacy conscious, there are a few very important features to look out for in the most private VPN. Firstly, you should consider where your chosen VPN is based – those in countries like the US and much of Europe are subject to data retention laws, although there are exceptions.

You'll also want to make sure it has a watertight no-logging policy. That means that no records of how you use the VPN will be kept, and if anyone demands them, they won’t be there to hand over. 

It’s also worth considering what payment methods you’ll have to use – does your VPN accept Bitcoin or even cash, or do you have to hand over your bank details? If you do have to use a credit card or PayPal, be aware that those details may be permanently attached to your account, proving at least that you're a paying user of the service. Finally, almost all VPNs require you to use an email, but if you use a secure email service like ProtonMail, you can keep that private and unidentifiable, too.

When considering all of those points and more, we’ve named ExpressVPN as the most private VPN available today – there are no sacrifices made in terms of privacy or usability, and it has an audited no-logging policy that's been proven in practice. However, there are some other strong contenders, so read on to find out the five most private VPNs available today.

1. ExpressVPN – the most private VPN on the web
If you want to keep your data and browsing away from the prying eyes of Google's trackers, Facebook's algorithms and data harvesters, ExpressVPN is the perfect choice. You'll have a 30-day money-back guarantee, and you can also claim three free months through Tom's Guide.View Deal

2. NordVPN – well-known for keeping you private
Privacy is NordVPN's whole shtick, and it's a seriously effective way of keeping your private data truly private. You'll have great apps for tons of devices, and for just $3.71 a month you can get big-name coverage for a reasonable price.View Deal

3. Surfshark – great value and excellent privacy
If the two above area little pricey, Surfshark offers a cheap alternative. While not as customizable as Express, Surfshark deliver all the basics and then some – and for a measly $2.49 a month, there's not much more you could ask for.View Deal

The most private VPNs available today

ExpressVPN - most private VPN

1. ExpressVPN

The most private VPN on the market

Audited no-logging policy: Yes | Crypto payments: Bitcoin | Based in: British Virgin Islands | Real name needed: No | Money back guarantee: 30 days

Verified no logging
Excellent connection speeds
Intuitive apps
A little expensive

Topping this list is ExpressVPN, and that’s because it not only provides a great suite of privacy features, but also delivers an incredibly simple yet fuilly-featured user experience.

From the off it’s good news, as Express is based in the British Virgin Islands, a jurisdiction that does not have mandatory data retention laws – and it’s also not a member of the five or 14-eyes alliances. Express also delivers on the no-logging front, having undertaken an independent audit fairly recently with positive results.

What’s really great, though, is the fact you can avoid handing over any identifying information when signing up. ExpressVPN has full Bitcoin support – but unfortunately not Ethereum, Monero or Ripple – and although you do need an email, it’s not hard to get a free account with a decent privacy-focused provider.

So, Express ticks all the privacy boxes, but what really puts it ahead of the pack is the fact it’s all wrapped up in such a slick package. You’ll get class-leading speeds, some of the best content unblocking power available, excellent customer support and, unlike some of its competitors, it even works to unblock restricted content in authoritarian regimes such as China and the UAE.

If we had any issue with Express, it’d be that it’s a little more expensive than some other options, but in this case you really do get what you pay for, and you'll also get a 30-day money-back guarantee to make sure you like the service before you commit.

Get 49% off plus three free months of the most private VPN
Tom's Guide readers can claim a mega three months free of ExpressVPN, working out at 15 months for the price of 12. You can pay via credit card, PayPal or Bitcoin, and if you're not happy with the service you'll be able to get a no-quibble refund within 30 days.View Deal

NordVPN - most private VPN

2. NordVPN

Well-established private VPN with a huge following

Audited no-logging policy: Yes | Crypto payments: Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple | Based in: Panama | Real name needed: No | Money back guarantee: 30 days

Great 2048-bit encryption
Fresh audit 
Over 5,000 servers
Great cryptocurrency support
2019 hack still memorable

An absolute stalwart of the privacy industry, NordVPN has made a name for itself as one of the go-to providers for those seeking a private VPN.

Some may remember the 2019 server hack – and yes, it does leave a bitter taste – but since then NordVPN has undertaken two independent audits of its servers and policies, which has certainly helped us regain some trust in the provider.

These audits are incredibly invasive, and Nord allowed the firm PwC access to its Standard VPN, Double VPN, Obfuscated (XOR) VPN, and P2P servers, as well as its central infrastructure. The tests undertaken demonstrated Nord's no-logging policy was upheld in its entirety, and out of all the VPNs on this list, NordVPN's audit is the most recent.

What’s also great is Nord’s Panama-based status – just like the BVI, Panama does not require companies registered there to retain the data of its users, which is perfect for those who want true privacy from their VPN.

Like Express, NordVPN accepts cryptocurrency payments, but you’ll also be able to use Ethereum and Ripple alongside Bitcoin. Again, this is great if you want to stay absolutely anonymous end-to-end, from purchase to use.

Unfortunately, we’re still yet to wholly get over the 2019 incident – as we know a number of prospective users are, too. However, its practice of regular audits alongside a clear no-logging policy instils more trust than ever in NordVPN. And, if you're not sure, Nord offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you’ll be able to test out the service without committing to make sure it’s the one for you.

Sign up now on the NordVPN website

Surfshark VPN - most private VPN

3. Surfshark

Affordable yet very private VPN

Audited no-logging policy: No | Crypto payments: Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple | Based in: British Virgin Islands | Real name needed: No | Money back guarantee: 30 days

The cheapest way to privacy
Unlimited connections
Really easy to use
Great additional features
Not fully audited

While Surfshark is one of the cheapest, it’s also one of the most private VPN providers out there. Like Express, it’s based in the British Virgin Islands, so that’s a great start, and you’ll also be able to pay in Bitcoin, Ethereum or Ripple.

Surfshark has also recently introduced a couple of interesting privacy features that can help you protect your identity online.

The first is HackLock. If you’re happy to hand over your important email addresses to Surfshark, it will monitor the web and notify you if your details have been compromised in recent data leaks. If it has you’ll be notified, and you can immediately change your passwords for any affected sites.

Surfshark’s BlindSearch is a ‘bare-bones ad-free, zero-log private search service.’ If you’re searching for things you’d rather not broadcast, then it’s a great option for staying private. HackLock and BlindSearch do come at a premium – you’ll have to shell out a whole dollar more a month to get access. Not too bad, then.

However, Surfshark’s not higher on this list because it hasn’t undertaken the sort of comprehensive independent audits Express and Nord have – while it’s had its browser extensions verified, we’d love to see Surfshark’s servers and apps fully verified as zero-logging.

But, if you’re looking for a quick, private VPN for $2.49 a month, Surfshark is your best option.

Sign up now on the Surfshark website

CyberGhost - most private VPN

(Image credit: CyberGhost)

4. CyberGhost

Private VPN with tons of servers

Audited no-logging policy: No | Crypto payments: Bitcoin | Based in: Romania | Real name needed: No | Money back guarantee: 14/45 days

Great for private torrenting
Huge amount of servers
45-day guarantee
Not verified zero-logging
Apps need a little work

Often thought of as a VPN that specializes in streaming and torrenting – and it is – CyberGhost also has some pretty powerful privacy credentials to match. It’s one of the few VPNs to publish a quarterly transparency report, which details how many requests from the DMCA and police the company gets.

Thankfully, CyberGhost’s claims of zero-logging seem to be true, but just like Surfshark we’d love to see the firm undergo an audit to prove this. While being based in Romania is a good start (favorable data retention laws), we’d love to see the policy and servers verified.

Other than that, it’s pretty much good news. You’ll be able to pay with Bitcoin (although not Ethereum, Ripple, or any other cryptos), and as a specialized torrenting VPN you can access P2P sharing without worrying about being busted if you accidentally get hold of copyrighted material.

If you’re happy with CyberGhost’s no-logging policy and not worried about the lack of an audit, it’s a great-value VPN with a huge amount of servers all over the world. True privacy nuts, though, will probably go with one of the above.

Sign up now on the CyberGhost website

Mullvad - most private VPN

(Image credit: Future)

5. Mullvad

Incredibly private VPN with a few limitations

Audited no-logging policy: No, but source code has been audited | Crypto payments: Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash | Based in: Sweden | Real name needed: No | Money back guarantee: 30 days

No personal information needed
Flexible payments, inc. cash
Transparent privacy policy
Limited use beyond privacy
Expensive in the long-term

If you’re looking for an incredibly private VPN which sacrifices some usability for absolute privacy, Mullvad could be the one for you.

We’ll start off by saying that for the vast majority of people the measures taken by Mullvad are probably unnecessary, and it doesn't function that great as a streaming VPN

Many VPNs allow users to access geo-blocked streaming media – BBC iPlayer in the US, for example – but unfortunately in our testing Mullvad only worked for accessing US Netflix. That means Amazon Prime Video, iPlayer and more are off the table. If you’re willing to sacrifice the ability to stream overseas content for some of its unique options, though, it could be a good choice.

For starters, you don’t need an email address to sign up – all you need to do is generate a unique account number on-site and add time to your account. This is great for creating throwaway accounts you use a month at a time, or just avoiding any ties to an email address linked to you – and the company is also very clear in its privacy policy.

There are a ton of payment options. Alongside credit card, PayPal and bank wire, you’ll be able to pay with Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash and vouchers, and for the two Bitcoin options you’ll get a 10% discount. However, most interesting is the option to pay cash – yes, you can literally send an envelope stuffed with notes to Gothenburg, Sweden, and have your account credited with however many months’ worth of time you've paid for.

Other than its poor streaming performance, the one issue we have is Mullvad’s location – while not nearly as heavy-handed as the US or UK, Sweden is part of the 14 Eyes alliance. But, if you trust Mullvad’s claims of no logging, you shouldn’t have too much to worry about.

Sign up now on the Mullvad website

Most private VPN FAQ

The most private VPNs at a glance

1. ExpressVPN – The most private VPN on the market

2. NordVPN – Fully audited and great for streaming

3. Surfshark – One of the best-value private VPNs

4. CyberGhost – Combines privacy with great torrenting ability

5. Mullvad – Cash payments and no email make a really private VPN

Can you trust any VPN to be private?

When you sign up for a VPN service, you give it permission to view all the data you're trying to keep private from some other party, such as your internet service provider – you're essentially swapping who you show your data from a party you don't trust to one you do. But, can you actually trust VPNs?

You shouldn't blindly trust anything. It helps to know as much as possible about a VPN provider, such as who owns it, who runs it and where it's based, but if you're really privacy conscious, you'll want to give your VPN provider as little information about yourself as possible. That means seeking out a provider that might offer anonymous payments, or perhaps doesn't require an email address.

However, while many do require an email address, if you're really keen on staying anonymous you can sign up for a free, secure email provider like ProtonMail. That way you don't have to tie your name to your VPN.

Who needs a private VPN?

If you don't want the government or your ISP snooping on what you're up to, and want to evade hackers and trackers, having a private VPN should be a priority. 

That's not incriminating either – why should we have to do all our business and leisure activities in plain sight? We close our curtains when we want privacy at home, so think of a private VPN as the shutters on your computer's windows.

Thankfully, even if you're after a fast VPN as well, you don't need to sacrifice anything. The very best private VPN will be able to do it all for you.