Our pick of the best VPN services to protect your online privacy and browse the web anonymously from anywhere
One of the best ways to protect your personal data from falling into the wrong hands is to use a good VPN service, so we’ve done our research to bring you the best VPNs this year. With so many people across the world still working from home, cybersecurity has become a huge concern in 2021. Short for “virtual private network”, a VPN is a service that you can install on your PC, smartphone or any other device to instantly protect your online privacy.
You might have used a VPN to connect to your office network in the past, but what exactly is a VPN and why do you need one? Whenever you browse a website on your PC at home, a direct connection is made between your device and the website via your ISP (internet service provider). In most cases, this allows your ISP to see what you do online and they can then use that information to target you with specific information, like ads, or even sell that information to other services or to the government if requested.
Using a VPN creates a secure encrypted connection between your device and a remote VPN server. Everything you do online (websites you browse, videos you watch, items you buy, etc.) travels within this server, so that no one can ever see what you’re doing online. By routing your connection via secure servers all over the globe, the best VPN services will hide your precious data from prying eyes, be they your internet service providers and even hackers.
Most reputed VPN services – like ExpressVPN and NordVPN – have thousands of servers spread all over the world. This means that you can be sitting in your home in London, England, and virtually connect to a server in New York, US. By doing this, your PC will think that it’s based in New York, thereby giving you access to websites and streaming services that are blocked in the UK but can only be accessed from the US.
Best VPN 2021: At a glance
- Best VPN overall: ExpressVPN (view summary)
- Best VPN for everyday use: NordVPN (view summary)
- Best budget VPN: Surfshark VPN (view summary)
How to choose the best VPN for you
How does a VPN work?
When you first launch a VPN app on your PC or device, you’ll be prompted to select your country or location. Most VPNs will have a default location that’s nearest to where you live. Choosing this location will instantly encrypt all your browsing traffic, thereby giving you instant anonymity on that device. Modern-day VPNs are so advanced that you’ll barely notice any speed drops when using it from the same location.
The second way to use a VPN is to access websites and streaming services that are blocked in your country. You can do this by simply changing your location from within the VPN app at any time to ‘virtually’ tunnel all your web traffic through any country that you want. For example, you can use a VPN from anywhere outside the US to access US-only websites such as HBO Max, Hulu, American Netflix and Disney Plus instantly.
There are other benefits to a VPN, too: it can give you instant access to sites that your ISP has blocked for whatever reason. You can even run BitTorrent over a VPN connection and share files in safety without exposing your identity. The best VPN services also let you access blocked content in regions with high censorship, like China.
A single VPN subscription usually covers multiple devices but you can also install a VPN on your router to protect all your home devices at one go.
What are the features of a good VPN?
Any VPN you choose should have a strict no-logs policy, robust encryption standards, great browsing speed, grant access to geo-blocked websites and streaming services, have a generous number of maximum device connections, and have 24/7 customer support. We’ll explain the importance of each of these below.
1. No-logs policy
Some VPNs are guilty of keeping prices low enough to entice customers, but then earn revenue from third-party companies who pay these companies for users’ valuable browsing data. For this reason, we strongly advise against using free VPN services, even though they’re a great way to test the waters before you commit to a service long-term. Our top two VPNs (ExpressVPN and NordVPN) have gone a step further and had their entire services audited by reputed Big Four auditing firms to prove they don’t log or store any identifiable user data whatsoever.
Security is everything when it comes to using a VPN. We only recommend services that use at least AES-256 bit encryption. In short, that’s the same level of security that most government agencies, including the NSA, use to protect classified data. In the recent past, VPNs have graduated to even safer protocols to ensure that all your browsing data is kept anonymous.
It’s all well and good that VPNs can shield you from prying eyes, but the whole point of using it is defeated if the service you’re using doesn’t provide great speeds. We’re in the age of 5G, so who can blame us if we’re used to instant information at our fingertips, and there’s no reason why your VPN shouldn’t provide that. Our top VPN, ExpressVPN, provided minimal speed loss even when connecting to long distances servers based in the US and Australia from the UK.
4. Access streaming services and geo-blocked websites
One of the main reasons that people use VPNs these days is to access streaming services that are not available in their country or region. Our top three VPNs have thousands of servers sprinkled generously across the globe. Having multiple servers in a country will ensure your speed is never throttled when live-streaming your favourite sports or movies. CyberGhost also has a dedicated streaming tab, listing all the popular sports and video streaming services worldwide that you can connect to with one click.
5. Simultaneous connections
The average person has around five devices that use the internet, so there’s no reason your VPN shouldn’t work on all of them. All of our top VPNs can be used on a minimum of five devices simultaneously, and some (such as Surfshark VPN) even allow unlimited simultaneous connections.
6. 24/7 customer support
We expect great customer support when we pay for a premium service, so there’s no reason that VPNs shouldn’t be held to the same high standard. All our top VPNs have handy step-by-step tutorials, and 24/7 customer support in case you need help with anything at any time of the day.
The best VPNs to buy in 2021
1. ExpressVPN: The best VPN overall
ExpressVPN’s entire service has been independently audited by PwC to prove that it doesn’t log or store any user data whatsoever, and its connection speeds to the US, Europe and Australia are almost double what we got using most other VPNs. That’s not the only reason why ExpressVPN is our undisputed number one VPN service, though. Its interface is dotted with light touches that make the overall user experience very pleasant and smooth. For example, it prompts you to disconnect one connection before making another to ensure that your details don’t leak. A bonus is that the service is based in the British Virgin Islands, which has no data retention or sharing laws.
Its recently redesigned PC client and mobile apps look and work the same across devices and it lets you access almost all geo-blocked content – including Netflix, Disney Plus, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime, HBO and Hulu. You can even ask customer service what movie or TV show you’d like to watch and they’ll tell you which streaming service and country to connect to. It may not be as cheap as some of the other VPNs on this list, but it’s worth every penny for its superfast speeds and excellent customer service alone. You get three months free when you choose the one-year plan and all plans come with a 30-day no-questions-asked moneyback guarantee.
Read our full ExpressVPN review for more details
Key specs – Independent no-logs audit: Yes; Maximum simultaneous connections: 5; 24/7 customer support: Yes; Streaming service access: Yes; Moneyback guarantee: 30 days; Based in: British Virgin Islands
ExpressVPN is offering our readers an exclusive discount, giving you 35% off when you choose the one-year plan. All plans come with a free, no-questions-asked, 30-day moneyback guarantee and 24/7 customer support.ExpressVPNBuy Now
2. NordVPN: The best VPN for everyday use
NordVPN is a friendly, easy-to-use VPN with a large, map-based interface. While it was always a brilliant VPN service, a recent update just made it faster and more secure. You can read about this in detail in our review (link below). What makes it special is its “Smart Play” technology that lets you access streaming services to watch movies and TV shows that aren’t otherwise available in the UK. The service has a large network of over 5,000 servers in 62 locations.
Privacy is one of NordVPN’s biggest strengths. The service is based in Panama, so you can be confident that the UK authorities won’t ever be able to get their hands on any of your data. Like ExpressVPN, NordVPN has also completed an independent audit to prove that it doesn’t keep or store any user logs. Apart from this, it has built-in ad and malware blocking, 24/7 customer support and -like ExpressVPN – it even works in China bypassing the infamous Great Firewall.
Read our full NordVPN review for more details
Key specs – Independent no-logs audit: Yes; Maximum simultaneous connections: 6; 24/7 customer support: Yes; Streaming service access: Yes; Moneyback guarantee: 30 days; Based in: Panama
NordVPN has a great offer, giving you 65% off when you choose the two-year plan. Its 30-day moneyback guarantee means you can always reclaim your money if you feel the service doesn’t meet your expectations, but NordVPN is confident that you’ll be a loyal customer for years to come.NordVPNBuy Now
3. Surfshark: The best budget VPN
Compared to the other big names on this list, Surfshark is a relative newcomer to the VPN space, having launched in the spring of 2018. That’s not evident when you first use it, though, because of its many fantastic features. It has a simple, easy-to-use interface; it doesn’t log any data; there’s no limit on the number of devices you can use it on simultaneously and it’s based in the British Virgin Islands, which has no data retention or sharing laws. If you encounter a problem, you can simply speak to customer support, which is available online 24/7, and there’s even a 30-day money-back guarantee in case you’re not happy with the service.
Surfshark VPN has over 1,000 servers in more than 60 countries, which unlocks all sorts of content including Netflix, Disney Plus, Amazon Prime Video and even BBC iPlayer (notoriously difficult to access from abroad). It recently added 15 Netflix libraries – including UK, US, Canada and Germany – and access to Hotstar, which is an Indian streaming service for sports and movies across the world. It even has a selection of more obscure additional features, including an ad blocker and a MultiHop feature that passes your connection through two locations rather than one.
Read our full Surfshark VPN review for more details
Key specs – Independent no-logs audit: No; Maximum simultaneous connections: Unlimited; 24/7 customer support: Yes; Streaming service access: Yes; Moneyback guarantee: 30 days; Based in: British Virgin Islands
Among all the VPNs currently on offer, Surfshark is the cheapest when you choose its two-year deal plan. It’s also the only VPN service where a single subscription works on unlimited devices, making this a truly outstanding deal, indeed. And best of all, you’re protected by a 30-day moneyback guarantee.Surfshark VPNBuy Now
4. CyberGhost VPN: The best VPN for streaming
CyberGhost VPN has a fairly simple PC client interface with only a basic on/off switch, but expand the toolbar and you’ll discover a world of possibilities. We like that it displays your distance to specific servers and its current load percentage – the higher the distance/load, the slower the connection. Most people these days use VPNs for torrenting and streaming and CyberGhost has handy options specifically for those tasks. Servers are marked for specific streaming services like BBC iPlayer, US Netflix, YouTube and ESPN and all these work as advertised. Useful additional extras include the option to block ads, malicious websites and online tracking.
Its app looks similar to the PC client, which means there’s no learning curve involved. Apps also retain the PC client’s best features, including the option to access streaming services and mark servers as favourites for easy access. Its killswitch is turned on by default so your browsing activity won’t leak in case the VPN accidentally disconnects. Unusually, CyberGhost’s servers are all physically located in the country/area they claim to be, unlike other VPN services, which sometimes have virtual servers. The service automatically chooses the best VPN protocol based on the device you’re using.
Perhaps the biggest selling point here, however, is the incredibly generous 45-day money-back guarantee. Pair this with CyberGhost’s competitively low prices on longer subscriptions and you’ll see that you have very little to lose. Perfect for dipping your toe into the water of VPNs.
Read our full CyberGhost VPN review for more details
Key specs – Independent no-logs audit: No; Maximum simultaneous connections: 7; 24/7 customer support: Yes; Streaming service access: Yes; Moneyback guarantee: 45 days; Based in: Romania
5. PIA VPN: The best VPN for expert users
Better known as PIA, Private Internet Access VPN has been around for nearly a decade. This shows in a well-rounded product that can be instantly installed on multiple devices. Unlike other services on this list, you can use it on a generous 10 devices at the same time, making it an ideal option for a family to secure their browsing. PIA VPN has over 3,000 servers in 30 countries, mainly concentrated in North America and Europe, with three locations in the UK. While it has a strict no-logs policy and speedy connections, it doesn’t have 24/7 customer support, so we couldn’t feature it higher up this list.
Its Windows client has a good balance between features, speed and ease of use. Even though it’s easy enough for first-timers to simply install it and start enjoying its many benefits, we like that it has several options that will appeal to more technical users. This includes a configurable killswitch and an advanced PIA Mace feature that blocks domains used for ads, trackers and malware. You can also set up split-tunnelling to choose which apps only use the VPN.
Read our full Private Internet Access review for more details
Key Specs – Independent no-logs audit: No; Maximum simultaneous connections: 10; 24/7 customer support: No; Streaming service access: Yes; Moneyback guarantee: 30 days; Based in: USA
A single Private Internet Access subscription covers 10 devices and you can now take advantage of this offer, which gives you an additional saving when you choose the three-year plan. Like the other top VPNs above, it also comes with a 30-day moneyback guarantee.Private Internet AccessBuy Now
6. StrongVPN: The most user-friendly VPN
StrongVPN may not boast of the same features as the other VPNs on this list in terms of speed, servers and functions, but if you’re looking for a simple VPN that’s easy to use, then look no further. All you need to do is sign-up, download the app, enter your credentials and you’re ready to go. So many other VPN services can make this initial setup process a chore.
In terms of coverage, Strong VPN has servers in the UK, US, Canada, Australia and most of Western Europe, but if you’re looking to gain access to streaming services in Africa or India, then you better look elsewhere. In terms of streaming services, StrongVPN is great for streaming US or UK Netflix and even other US-based services like Comedy Central, but we did have a problem accessing BBC iPlayer from the UK when we last checked. Apart from that, it has all the basics – such as customer support, speeds and protocols well covered.
Read our full Strong VPN review for more details
Key specs – Independent no-logs audit: No; Maximum simultaneous connections: 12; 24/7 customer support: Yes; Streaming service access: Most; Moneyback guarantee: 30 days; Based in: USA
7. IPVanish: The best VPN for downloading torrents
Most VPN services let you choose which country or location you want to connect to within a neat screen. We like that IPVanish takes this a step further by letting you choose your country, city and even individual server if you want. If you want to keep things simple, you can just choose the country and leave the other two to Best City and Best Server. Alternatively, if you prefer a graphical map-based interface, you’ll see the option to zoom into the city that you can select.
IPVanish’s big drawback is that it doesn’t bypass most geo-blocked content, which means you won’t be able to access BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime or Hulu and need to talk to customer support to check which US servers unblock Netflix access. HBO and YouTube are a little more forgiving and the VPN compensates a little by letting you install it on Kodi and use it to download torrents.
It’s protected by highly-secure AES 256 encryption and uses OpenVPN or IKEv2 protocols, keeping it on par with other reputed VPNs. IPVanish supports a generous ten multiple connections and there’s 24/7 customer support. When we first reviewed it, there was only a 7-day moneyback guarantee, but this has now been increased to 30-days bringing it on par with the other good VPNs on our list.
Read our full IPVanish review for more details
Key specs – Independent no-logs audit: No; Maximum simultaneous connections: 10; 24/7 customer support: Yes; Streaming service access: No; Moneyback guarantee: 30 days; Based in: USA
8. Hide.me: The best VPN with a basic free service
Even though most of the VPNs on this list – including Hide.me – come with a 30-days no-questions-asked moneyback guarantee, you may be reticent about providing your credit card details to a company based in a different part of the world and may simply want to simply try out how a VPN service works. Hide.me’s free service is limited to 10GB and just five free locations, which is a good way to wet your feet before diving into secure VPN waters.
However, if you really want to see why Hide.me pitches itself as the “world’s fastest VPN”, then you’ll need to upgrade to its Premium plans, which have nearly 2,000 servers, spread across 72 locations around the world and apps for a wide variety of devices. We like the fact that the Windows client is extremely simple to use, but there are also more advanced options for technical users that would like to configure their VPN protocol, activate split-tunnelling and so on. Our only criticism of the service is that it’s one of the most expensive on this list.
Read our full Hide.me VPN review for more details
Key specs – Independent no-logs audit: No; Maximum simultaneous connections: 10; 24/7 customer support: No; Streaming service access: Yes; Moneyback guarantee: 30 days; Based in: Malaysia
9. HMA VPN: The best UK-based VPN
If you fancy a bit of virtual globe-trotting, HMA VPN is for you. It claims to have servers in over 190 countries, meaning there’s only a handful of nations where you can’t browse the web like a local. While the list of exit nodes may seem a little overwhelming, the software is simple and friendly to use. Performance is merely decent, however: connecting via the US saw us attain only 57% of our regular UK download speeds.
A single subscription lets you use the service on five devices at the same time. The company’s based here in the UK, which isn’t the best thing when it comes to VPNs because most developed worldwide countries have a contract to share data if needed for security reasons. If you’re concerned about your privacy, then it might be worth looking at one of the aforementioned options instead.
Read our full HMA VPN review for more details
Key specs – Independent no-logs audit: No; Maximum simultaneous connections: 5; 24/7 customer support: No; Streaming service access: Yes; Moneyback guarantee: 30 days; Based in: UK
10. PureVPN: The best VPN for advanced users
Normally sending your traffic halfway around the world has a major impact on the speed of your internet connection. Thankfully, using PureVPN we were able to download files via the company’s New York server at almost 90% the speed of our regular UK connection, which is commendable. We were also very happy to find that the service let us access different streaming services including US Netflix, Disney Plus, BBC Player, HBO and others.
It’s based in Hong Kong, which doesn’t have any data-sharing arrangements with the British authorities, so you can expect a good degree of privacy, too. One thing we were disappointed with is its interface which looks overwhelming and dated compared to other services on this list. It’s also a little more complex to navigate, meaning it’s definitely not the best service if you haven’t used a VPN before.
Read our full PureVPN review for more details
Key specs – Independent no-logs audit: No; Maximum simultaneous connections: 5; 24/7 customer support: Yes; Streaming service access: Yes; Moneyback guarantee: 31 days; Based in: Hong Kong