Our favorite Chrome VPN extension is Windscribe's, followed by the CyberGhost and Private Internet Access extensions. Modern browser extensions let you do things that would have required desktop software a decade ago. That includes connecting to virtual private network, or VPN, servers to disguise your location.
Many VPN services offer easy-to-use Chrome browser extensions, which are often the only way to use a VPN service on a Chromebook. Most of the extensions block ads and tracking cookies, and some further disguise your location with technical tricks.
You can use Windscribe's extension with a free Windscribe account, which gives you up to 10GB of data per month. But to take advantage of the service's dedicated streaming servers, you'll need to sign up for a paid subscription.
You can get quite a lot of streaming content with CyberGhost's free Chrome proxy extension, which comes with no strings attached and no subscription required. It connects to only four countries, but worked well in our hands-on tests.
How Chrome VPN Extensions Work
There are limits to using a Chrome extension instead of VPN desktop software. Almost all the Chrome VPN extensions we tried required accounts, free or paid, with a VPN service. And most of the extensions don't create real VPN connections.
Instead, Chrome VPN extensions simply route the browser's web traffic through a proxy server. A real VPN connection would encrypt and reroute not only one browser's data, but all the internet traffic into and out of a machine, including data used by other browsers and by other applications that access the internet, such as iTunes, Spotify and email client software.
So don't use a Chrome VPN extension if you're trying to hide from the FBI or the secret police. The extensions also can't protect your data if you're using an open Wi-Fi network in a cafe or an airport lounge. To their credit, many VPN providers state on their Chrome Web Store pages that the browser extensions are not to be used for security or privacy purposes.
But you can safely use a Chrome VPN extension for recreational or educational purposes, such as if you want to see what Netflix streams overseas, or how your website looks when viewed from other countries.
Note: We can't endorse streaming content that's not meant to be accessible in your country. It could violate your Terms of Service agreements with streaming services and get your accounts terminated. You do so at your own risk.
How We Tested
To determine which service had the best Chrome extension, we installed extensions from seven different commercial VPN providers: CyberGhost, ExpressVPN, Hotspot Shield, NordVPN, Private Internet Access,TunnelBear and Windscribe. We used them on PCs running Windows 7 and Windows 10, a MacBook Pro running macOS 10.14 Mojave and a Chromebook running ChromeOS 70.
All the extensions except CyberGhost's required an account with the VPN service provider, though not all required paid subscriptions. All functioned well as stand-alone browser proxy services, except for ExpressVPN's Chrome extension, which needs to have ExpressVPN desktop software installed on the same machine and hence won't work on a Chromebook.
Best Overall Chrome VPN Extension: Windscribe Free VPN and Ad Blocker
We continue to be impressed by Windscribe's streaming abilities. When tied to a paid Windscribe subscription, its Chrome extension was the most reliable at accessing Netflix and other streaming services from the greatest number of countries, though it wasn't always 100 percent successful with Netflix or BBC iPlayer.
The extension didn't work so well when tied to a free Windscribe account. Unpaid users get up to 10GB of data for free every month, but they can't access Windscribe's dedicated U.S. and U.K. "Windflix" servers. Free users are also limited to VPN servers in only 10 countries, as opposed to the nearly 60 countries paid users get.
But both free and paid users get ad and tracker blockers in the Chrome extension, as well as more esoteric privacy features, such as randomly rotating browser user agents to prevent machine fingerprinting. (The extension blocked ads well, but didn't block autoplaying videos.)
Windscribe is also a good choice if your first language isn't English, as the extension comes in 24 languages ranging from Arabic to Vietnamese.
Best Free Chrome VPN Extension: CyberGhost VPN Free Proxy
CyberGhost's desktop applications are big, complicated and expensive. Its Chrome extension is anything but.
Small, simple and completely free, the CyberGhost Chrome extension was the only one we tried that didn't make us log into anything. It worked well at streaming non-U.S. Netflix content, such as "Doctor Who" or "Outlander," from various countries when we used it on a Mac or PC. Only when we tried to connect to Netflix from a Chromebook did CyberGhost trip up.
To be clear, you don't get a lot for nothing. The extension is very bare-bones. There are no settings and nothing to play with, other than an on/off switch and a selection of four server locations: Germany, the Netherlands, Romania and the U.S. (Because there's no U.K. location, we couldn't try BBC iPlayer.) And CyberGhost warns you on the extension's Chrome Web Store page that there are no security benefits.
But switching among locations was fast and easy, and connecting to the far-off servers was nearly instantaneous -- much better than on the often slow CyberGhost desktop client.
Overall, the CyberGhost Chrome extension is a pretty painless way to sample Netflix content from abroad, even if the country selection is limited. One could get the same with Opera VPN, but CyberGhost's video quality is much better.
If you want to pony up for a full CyberGhost account, here's a link to do so. But you don't need it for the Chrome extension.
Most Private Chrome VPN Extension: Private Internet Access
Like its desktop counterpart, the Private Internet Access Chrome extension has an impressive, perhaps overwhelming, array of options. You can block ads, tracking cookies, autoplay videos, Adobe Flash Player, camera access, microphone access, site referers and the privacy-leaking WebRTC communication feature.
You can disable Chrome's Safe Browsing and autofill features, whitelist websites and even fool tracking cookies with bogus IP addresses. You can sort servers by network latency as well as by location. Switching between servers is easy, connections are fast and, as always, Private Internet Access is one of the most affordable VPN services around.
The one thing that the PIA extension doesn't do well is stream content from overseas. It succeeded only twice in nine tries among several different countries. Unfortunately, video streaming is the killer feature for most Chrome VPN extensions, and we can't really recommend the PIA Chrome extension for the casual video streamer.
Anyone who would make use of the PIA extension's plethora of settings would be happier using the (excellent) PIA desktop client, which offers even more possibilities. And since you need to pay to use the extension anyway, it's better to just cut to the chase, install the desktop client and use the Chrome extension as a very effective ad blocker and privacy tool.
Screengrab credits: Tom's Guide