Consider the provider's longevity, reputation and geographic location — after all, you'll be entrusting the VPN service with your deepest online secrets. A pricier provider may offer you the security and privacy, as well as the flexibility and features, you need.
Subscription-plan costs for paid virtual-private-network services are all over the place. One VPN provider can cost $30 per year, while another can run $100 per year, though their services may be broadly similar. Prices get even more attractive when you consider multiyear or lifetime deals.
Be wary of offers that are too good to be true. We can't recommend any totally free VPN services, as they may sell your browsing history, show you ads or even hijack your bandwidth.
Likewise, approach lifetime subscriptions with caution, especially if they come from third-party resellers instead of the VPN service provider. You don't know how long a "lifetime" really is or whether the discounted service is as reliable as the full-priced equivalent. You'll probably also be left high and dry if the provider goes out of business.
Cheapest VPN Overall: Kaspersky Secure Connection
The cheapest overall VPN service is one we haven't tried or tested yet. Kaspersky Secure Connection costs $4.99 per month, or $29.99 per year for unlimited data, on five devices. That's quite a steal.
Our colleagues at TechRadar noted that Kaspersky Secure Connection was fast, easy to use and streamed the U.S. version of Netflix well. But it had fewer than two dozen servers worldwide to connect to (most services have hundreds, or thousands), and few options besides the basics were available.
Then there's the bear in the room: Kaspersky Lab is a Russian company subject to Russian jurisdiction, even if the VPN infrastructure is licensed from Silicon Valley-based Hotspot Shield.
We can recommend Kaspersky's excellent antivirus software, despite the U.S. government's misgivings, for people who have no secrets. But if you use a VPN for reasons other than securing open Wi-Fi traffic or streaming geoblocked content, then you probably do have something to hide.
Let's break down the monthly, yearly and multiyear plans among the VPN services we have reviewed.
Cheapest Monthly: Mullvad
The cheapest VPN service month-by-month belongs to Mullvad, an ultra-private provider based in Sweden. It's just 5 euros, or between $5.75 and $6.25 in U.S. dollars depending on exchange rates, for up to five simultaneous connections.
You don't have to provide your name or email address, as you sign up by going to the Mullvad website and generating a random account number that also serves as your password. You can pay with a credit card, but also with Bitcoin or by mailing cash "in any currency," according to the Mullvad website.
Mullvad is easy to set up and use on Windows, Mac and Linux. Sadly, that's not the case for iOS or Android: You have to install a generic OpenVPN client app, navigate to the Mullvad website and generate a configuration script for each Mullvad server you want to connect to.
In our network tests, Mullvad was not the swiftest. But it did manage to get Netflix streaming from every country we tried at least some of the time. No other service could match that.
Cheapest Yearly: Private Internet Access
The fastest VPN service in our tests was also the cheapest year-by-year. Private Internet Access costs just $39.95 for five simultaneous connections if you pay for 12 months up front.
It's also one of the most customizable VPN services we've seen. Private Internet Access lets you choose among encryption algorithms, packet sizes and VPN protocols, depending on what's possible on your operating system. It also provides options including a kill switch, an ad blocker and more than one leak detector.
All these options may be overwhelming to VPN newbies, and Private Internet Access was hit-or-miss at streaming Netflix from various countries. It's also based in the U.S., making it subject to FBI warrants and National Security Letters. But if you really want to explore everything that a VPN service can offer, there's no better service to start with.
Cheapest Two-Year Plan: Private Internet Access
Private Internet Access also takes the two-year crown by 5 cents, as its 24-month deal for $69.95 just edged out PureVPN's $70 offering.
You could pick up an even cheaper two-year PIA plan at the third-party reseller StackSocial for $55.55, or a two-year limited plan from Swiss provider ProtonVPN for $47.99 at StackSocial. But again, we recommend buying plans directly from the VPN service providers, as they're more likely to be responsive when you ask for assistance or refunds.
Cheapest Three-Year Plan: CyberGhost
Romania-based CyberGhost offers three years for $90, which comes to $2.50 per month, for client software installation on up to seven devices. (That isn't the same as seven simultaneous connections.)
CyberGhost has servers dedicated to streaming video from around the world, even if they didn't always work in our experience. (The free CyberGhost Chrome proxy browser extension worked better.) But it isn't as fast as it used to be in our tests, and its new owners previously made programs that sneaked unwanted onto people's computers.
Cheapest Lifetime Plan: VPN Unlimited
"Lifetime" plans are sometimes offered by VPN providers, but it's probably better to test a provider for several months or a year before making that kind of commitment, not to mention that it's seldom clear whose lifetime is meant.
That said, the cheapest lifetime plan we've seen that's directly sold by a VPN provider is VPN Unlimited's, which costs $199.99. VPN Unlimited has easy-to-use, full-featured client software, but its network speeds weren't much to get excited about in our tests.
There's also a $59 lifetime plan for Windscribe, one of our favorite VPN services, offered through StackSocial. Again, you're taking a chance going through a third party. We recommend trying Windscribe's $49 regular yearly plan first.