If you’re concerned about online privacy, a virtual private network (VPN) will help put your mind at rest by keeping snoopers at bay. Here you’ll find our pick of the 10 best VPN services available to hide your location online. VPNs can also allow you to access blocked content and region-blocked sites. Read on to find out more.
Best VPN 2017
If you’re here for a quick recommendation, here’s a summary of the VPN services we like the most and who we think they’re best for. Following the summary, we share more information about each VPN and how a VPN could benefit you.
What is a VPN and why do I need one?
Public awareness of VPNs is growing, but for many they’re still a mystery. Traditionally, they were used by businesses to enable their employees to access a company’s internal network securely. Nowadays people use them for two main things: privacy and watching TV.
The story of activists such as Edward Snowden and Apple’s battle with the US government to unlock an iPhone have raised the profile of the need for privacy. Your ISP will have records of all of the websites you visit and if so ordered by the government could be compelled to hand over that information. If you don’t like the sound of that, using a VPN all the time makes sense.
Even if you’re not too concerned about this, when you’re using a laptop or mobile device on a public WiFi, you are exposing your browsing habits to anyone that is so inclined to snoop. And if you have ever conducted online banking over a public WiFi network, you are really asking for trouble if you’re not going through a VPN.
In the US, this has become even more of a reason to use a VPN after the Senate voted to remove broadband privacy rules that prevented ISPs (Internet Service Providers) from selling or sharing web browsing data without permission.
Yes, you read that correctly: this vote means US ISPs can sell your web browsing data to advertisers without asking you first. NordVPN has more information on its website.
Additionally, if you enjoy watching catch-up TV or subscribe to streaming services, you may have found that they are limited depending on your location. For example, BBC iPlayer and Sky Go are only meant to be viewed in the UK, and while Netflix is accessible around the globe, the content available varies across countries due to licensing restrictions.
A VPN can help (although it’s important to note that in many cases doing so is breaking terms and conditions – you can find out more about that here).
Another use for a VPN is to bypass ISP restrictions such as line throttling when using peer-to-peer (P2P). By going via a VPN your ISP can’t tell what you’re doing and the throttling won’t kick in.
How does a VPN work?
VPNs create a private tunnel over the internet to a server. This can be located in the same country as you or located somewhere else in the world. This means that, in theory, you can watch your favourite US show because that’s where it thinks you are. Crucially, all data traffic sent over the VPN is encrypted, so it cannot be intercepted.
To get started you’ll need to install some software on your PC, Mac or mobile device. Once you’ve logged in, you’ll choose a server in the location where you’d like to ‘virtually’ appear. You then just carry on as normal, safe in the knowledge that your activities are protected.
Doing it this way – installing the software on one laptop, tablet or phone – means that only that device is using the VPN connection. If you want your media streamer (say an Amazon Fire TV Stick) to use the VPN connection, you’ll either need to try and install a VPN app on it, look for VPN settings where you can enter your account details (the Fire TV Stick doesn’t have this option), or install an app for your router that’ll cover all devices connected to it. Find out more in our article: How to use a VPN with a Fire TV Stick.
How to choose which VPN is best for you
If you’re most concerned about privacy, it’s important to know where your VPN is based. In recent years some countries have got together to exchange information freely, nominally in a bid to enhance everyone’s security. However, many groups are critical of this behaviour, believing that mass surveillance impinges on our freedoms.
What is the ’14 Eyes’ collective?
The main group of countries that can share information freely is called the Five Eyes. They come from the UKUSA agreement that, although began back in 1941, was only made public knowledge in 2005. The agreement is between Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States, hence the name Five Eyes. Those countries have agreed to collect, analyse and share information between each other, and much of this intelligence is believed to be related to internet activity these days.
The Five Eyes has grown to include a total of 14 countries, which is why you’ll hear a lot about ’14-eyes’ when reading about VPNs. Third party countries were added over time, and now additionally include Denmark, France, Holland, Norway, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Sweden and Spain.
If your VPN provider is based within a country that is part of the 14 Eyes, it can be asked to share data of its customers and will legally have to comply. If your provider promises that it doesn’t log any information, you’re probably safe within the 14 Eyes, but it is more of a risk if privacy is your main concern and you might want to consider looking for a VPN provider that is based elsewhere.
What information does a VPN keep?
VPN providers have different levels of logging. Some choose to log connection time stamps, IP addresses and bandwidth used, while others log nothing at all. Some will also store basic payment information such as your name and address. However, those looking for complete anonymity can seek a provider that accepts payment in the form of gift cards or Bitcoin, which makes it near-impossible to trace back to an individual.
What features should I look for in a VPN?
Most VPNs support all the major platforms but some offer more unusual platforms such as Kindle or Google Chrome. Also look out for restrictions on usage – some ban P2P while others are fine with it. Free- and trial versions normally have speed restrictions, while paid-for versions should have none.
Note that encryption can slow down connections. OpenVPN provides more protection, while PPTP is faster but less secure.
Also, if you’re connecting to a server that’s geographically far away, you are less likely to get the full speed that your ISP provides. Look out for server speed claims and make sure that you conduct tests to check whether you are happy early on, so you can get a refund within the time limit if you’re not.
10 Best VPNs reviewed
NordVPN is easy to use, with a nicely designed interface that comes complete with a handy Search feature to make things even simpler.
Based in Panama, it’s great for privacy, and it includes a kill switch too.
You can connect to Netflix US using NordVPN, and with more than 1095 servers across 61 countries you’ll find that there’s a server suited to every need. There’s a new ad-blocker and malware protection feature available within the package too.
It’s not the cheapest of VPN options, but the premium interface, huge number of servers and variety of features makes that small extra fee each month feel worthwhile.
Find out more and sign up at NordVPN.com.
Read our NordVPN review.
Simple but speedy ExpressVPN is one of the more expensive VPNs reviewed here, but for ease of use and its range of features it does present value for money.
We found ExpressVPN to be reliable, and support was quick and efficient. You’ll be able to access Netflix US, and if you’re having any trouble doing so you can rest assured that contacting support will result in a fast resolution.
No logs are kept by ExpressVPN, and while it’s outside of the 14-eyes its headquarters in the British Virgin Islands is a bit of a grey area.
You can get ExpressVPN for your router, too, and there’s a kill switch facility called Network Lock that will keep you safe should your connection drop out. There are also browser extensions available for Chrome and Firefox.
You can find out more about ExpressVPN’s payment options on its website.
Read our ExpressVPN review.
Based in Romania, and therefore outside the 14-eyes, CyberGhost is very simple to use.
Select the activity you want in the main interface and the client will automatically select connectivity options based on that activity. Alternatively, you can manually choose from more than 800 servers across 29 counties.
The Unblock Streaming option, for example, lets you pick the exact service you want to use BBC iPlayer, for example) and then chooses a server to suit you. It does work with Netflix, but CyberGhost has to keep adding new servers as those it currently uses get blocked so it isn’t 100% reliable (the same goes for the other VPNs in this article, though).
There’s a kill switch for extra protection, and there are apps available for all devices, even Rasberry Pi and home routers – though the Mac and smartphone apps lack some features from the Windows version.
Find out more about the pricing options for CyberGhost on its website.
Read our CyberGhost review.
Private Internet Access (or PIA as it is more fondly known) has a very simple interface that’s almost non-existant. It connects extremely quickly, and using it just requires a right-click on the task bar icon to bring up the interface that lets you change some settings including the connection region.
There’s more to it than meets the eye, though. It has a kill switch for extra security, an ad blocker and malware blocker, and there’s DNS leak protection available. Plus there are an incredible 3,250 servers in 25 countries.
It works well with Netflix US, and there are apps available for all devices including Linux. It’s cheap, too.
The downside is that it’s based in the US, so will no doubt be one VPN considered off limits for those with serious privacy requirements.
Find out more and see the plan options on PIA’s website.
Read our Private Internet Access review.
A great all-rounder is PureVPN, which is super speedy, very reasonably priced and is situated outside of the ’14 eyes’ (although its association with China may ring alarm bells if you’re looking for absolutely untraceable online anonymity).
There are more than 750 servers in 141 countries, and logging is restricted to the time at which connections are made. It’s easy to install, has lots of features and modes, and offers access to blocked sites and streaming inluding Netflix US.
We had some trouble with installation on an older computer, but the live chat support is fantastic and this won’t cause problems for everyone.
You can find out more about PureVPN’s subscription options on PureVPN’s website.
Read our PureVPN review.
IPVanish is a great VPN for beginners, but it also remains powerful and full of useful features for those that want to browse the web anonymously or access blocked content.
It’s simple to install with its own visual tutorial, and even a Simple mode, and it collects no data logs or connection details to ensure that your online activity remains private.
There’s a kill switch, and even the option to automatically change your fake IP address at regular, user defined intervals.
Not every US server allows access to Netflix, but some do and it’s easy to find out which thanks to the speedy technical support offered by IPVanish.
IPVanish is a bit expensive, though, and it is based in the US so is part of the 14-eyes.
You can find out more about the various subscription plans available and sign up now on IPVanish’s website.
Read our IPVanish review.
Hidden24 tunnels your traffic to its own UK-based server farm using the operating system’s own VPN capability. That means it will work on any device including Android, Mac, iPhone or Linux as well as Windows.
It’s easy to use but the lack of an app or interface might put some beginners off. It’s ideal for anyone looking for a serious VPN solution designed for people who want or need to communicate anonymously.
You won’t be able to unlock Netflix US, but you can access Netflix UK and BBC iPlayer from outside of the UK with this tool.
It’s one of the cheapest VPNs available, too. Find out more about the plans available at Hidden24.co.uk.
Read our Hidden24 review.
StrongVPN is a fast, no-nonsense VPN with a superb Android interface. It doesn’t log any traffic or use data, but it is based in the US which will worry serious users.
It’s not one for beginners as its options can be somewhat confusing, but it does offer plenty of features for seasoned VPN users who are willing to plough through online documentation in order to understand its technical nature.
Read our StrongVPN review.
For home users who want to dip a low-cost toe into geolocked streaming, Zenmate is a start. However, it is slow and there’s a lack of control and transparency that will deter serious privacy advocates.
You will be able to access US Netflix but it is remarkably slow, but on the plus side all platforms are covered and there is a browser extension available too.
Read our ZenMate review.
What should be a perfectly serviceable VPN solution is let down by a slow interface. It is easy to use, but it has a fiddly mobile setup, an overall lack of performance and trouble connecting to Netflix US, making it look overpriced.
It is available on Windows, Mac, iPhone, Android as well as a selection of routers and Linux, though, and while connected three’s a useful readout of download/upload speed, and the total traffic sent and recieved. There’s also a handy speed test.
Read our Buffered review.