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What are the cheapest VPNs that actually still work and protect your data?

You want a VPN that can protect your data, hide your location, and unblock streaming services. These cheap VPNs can tick all your boxes without breaking the bank.

You may be concerned about your online security but dread adding yet another fee to your monthly budget by signing up for a VPN service. Sure, there are free VPNs, but they often come with limitations and risks. It can be unclear how those vendors make their money and whether or not your data is being mined as it transits across the free VPN providers' networks.

It's better when VPN vendors make their money from their customers rather than from shadowy marketing or even criminal enterprises. If you want better protection, consider choosing an option from our list of the highest quality VPNs. But there are cheap VPN providers that can get the job done.

I rounded up the top three best budget VPN services that are worth checking out for yourself. 

Pros & Cons
  • Unlimited connections
  • Independent security audit
  • Uses a warrant canary
  • Smaller server network
More Details

Tech specs: Best price: $49.19 for two years ($2.05 per month) | Money-back guarantee: 30 days | Platforms: Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, Linux, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV | Simultaneous connections: Unlimited | Kill switch: Yes | Logging: Payment information only | Countries: 38

Atlas VPN is an exceptionally affordable VPN -- and yes, it actually works well. It also doesn't skimp on privacy, and we were (happily) surprised that Atlas VPN enlisted the services of an outside company to perform a security audit. That's good practice.

Compared to higher-priced VPN providers, the number of locations offered by Atlas VPN is relatively limited. The company operates about 750 servers in 38 countries, compared to the thousands of servers operated by more expensive competitors. Atlas also offers a free VPN service, which it claims has no speed limit. The problem with the free service? You're limited to 5 GB a month and only three server locations, so it's of limited use for most people.

We like that company uses a warrant canary, which informs you whether or not the company has been asked to cooperate with government investigations. Atlas VPN is a service of Peakstart Technologies Inc, a US company registered in Delaware and a subsidiary of Nord Security Ltd. which owns NordVPN and Surfshark VPN.

Pros & Cons
  • Lifetime plan
  • Unblocks streaming services
  • No money-back guarantee for the cheapest lifetime plan
  • Limited to 5 devices and cumbersome to switch out new devices
More Details

Tech specs: Best price: $39.99 for lifetime access | Money-back guarantee: 30 days (with higher price) | Platforms: Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, Linux, Chrome, Firefox, Edge, and Opera | Simultaneous connections: 5 or 10 | Kill switch: Yes | Logging: None | Countries: 50+

The KeepSolid VPN Unlimited service has a unique pricing model, offering a single price for lifetime access. With a lifetime subscription, you get a far better deal than other VPN product offers. But there is some nuance to how this deal works, and KeepSolid VPN Unlimited isn't the best VPN for everyone.

Exclusive offer: Lifetime access for only $39.99

If you sign up through KeepSolid's website, the lifetime subscription costs $99.99 for 5 devices, but you'll get a 30-day money-back guarantee. With ZDNET's offer, the 5-device lifetime subscription drops to $39.99 (or $59.99 for 10 devices), and you need to redeem the code within 30 days of purchase. The tradeoff? You won't get the money-back guarantee; instead, you'll have 15 days to receive store credit for unredeemed purchases.

KeepSolid's VPN Unlimited also has an inconvenient process for adding/removing devices once you hit your limit. You can delete devices, but only one per week. If you need to switch out an old phone and laptop in the same week, then you'll have to wait to add both to your lifetime plan.

Pros & Cons
  • Unlimited connections
  • Extensive server network
  • Simple, well-designed apps
  • Owned by Kape Technologies
  • Lacking in features
More Details

Tech specs: Best price: $59 for three years ($1.51 per month with 3 months free) | Money-back guarantee: 30 days | Platforms: Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, Linux, Opera, Chrome, Edge, Firefox | Simultaneous connections: Unlimited | Kill switch: Yes | Logging: None | Countries: 81+

ZenMate VPN offers service via a simple, well-designed app. There are also installation guides for using ZenMate with smart TVs, routers, and gaming platforms. That said, ZenMate lacks a lot of the features available with other providers, like split tunneling, and an option for a dedicated or static IP address.

A ZenMate Ultimate subscription costs $59 for three years. Plus, you can get three months free, which reduces the monthly costs to $1.51. This makes ZenMate one of the more affordable VPN services out there.

I do have concerns following an exposé posted by my CNET colleague Rae Hodge. In it, she points out that ZenMate was purchased in 2018 by notorious scareware provider Kape Technologies. The company claims it has given up its evil ways, but before installing ZenMate on your systems, I recommend you read Rae's article.

ZenMate is a German company founded by Simon Specka and Markus Hanel. The company was incubated in the Axel Springer Plug and Play Accelerator with the support of German venture capital funding.

What is the best cheap VPN?

ZDNET's top pick for cheap VPN is Atlas VPN. It's a surprisingly good service for the price, according to our analysis. It offers unlimited connections across 38 countries for only $2.05 per month. This service provides top-tier security along with unlimited connections, making it a potentially cheaper alternative to other top VPNs like NordVPN and ExpressVPN. Plus, you get a 30-day refund guarantee -- that's hard to beat.

Best cheap VPN Best priceKill switchLoggingSimultaneous connections
AtlasVPN$2.05 per month with 2-year planYesNone, except billing dataUnlimited
KeepSolid$39.99 lifetime planYesNone, except billing data5
ZenMate$1.51 per month with 1-year plan + 3 free monthsYesNo browsing logs, some connection logsUnlimited

Which is the best cheap VPN for you?

The best cheap VPN for you depends on various factors besides price. If choose a low-cost service, but you can't unblock the streaming services you want to use, then what did you really save? Start by asking yourself why you need a VPN. Then, test out a reputable provider that has high standards for security.

If you want to learn more about how VPNs work and how to choose the best one for you, check out our guide: What is a VPN is and how does it work?

Also: The fastest VPN services may surprise you 

Choose this cheap VPNIf you want...
AtlasVPNTop-tier performance and plenty of features
KeepSolidThe most affordable long-term option
AtlasVPN or ZenMateUnlimited connections

How did we choose these cheap VPNs?

Price narrowed our list, but it's not the be-all and end-all when choosing the best cheap VPN. There are a number of cheap and free VPN services that simply aren't trustworthy. Saving a little bit of cash isn't worth putting your privacy at risk.

For ZDNET to recommend a VPN, it needs to meet certain minimum standards, like having a kill switch. We also looked at the server networks, money-back guarantee periods, privacy policies, and the number of simultaneous connections allowed.

Should I use a VPN on my phone or tablet?

If you want your data to be secure, then yes. VPNs offer protection no matter what kind of device you use to transmit and receive data. Before you commit to a VPN service, it's a good idea to test it out and see how well it works with all of your devices. The best VPN for Android may not be the same as the best VPN for iOS, and vice versa.

Can using a VPN get you cheaper flights?

A VPN may help you get cheaper flights by connecting you with foreign servers and hiding your IP address. But airline prices shift based on a variety of factors, and the impact of changing your location could be negligible, or at the very least, hard to confirm. It's worth trying to use a VPN to save money on flights, but don't expect huge discounts.

Does a VPN slow down my connection?

Let's be clear: Yes. Using a VPN will slow down your connection because your data is encrypted, decrypted, and sent through intermediate servers. Your online gaming experience might suffer. You might have enough lag to miss shots if you're a first-person shooter player. That said, both computers and VPNs have gotten much faster. Years ago, VPNs caused everything to slow down to an unbearable c-r-a-w-l. 

But now the negative impact is almost unnoticeable, especially with the fastest VPN services. Most (but not all) VPN providers also limit the number of devices you can connect to simultaneously, so you may have to pick and choose which home devices to connect to.

What's the best free VPN service?

We're spotlighting paid services in this article, although some of them offer a free tier. I don't recommend free VPN services because I don't consider them secure. Running a good VPN service requires hundreds of servers worldwide and a ton of networking resources -- it's expensive. If you're not paying to support that infrastructure, who is? Probably advertisers or data miners. If you use a free service, the company is selling either your data or your eyeballs. What's the point of a VPN if it doesn't keep your data secure? 

However, I want to make it clear that no one tool can guarantee your privacy. First, anything can be hacked. Second, a VPN protects your data when it transits from your computer to the VPN service, but it doesn't protect what you put on servers or whatever cloud-based application you're using. It doesn't offer password security or multi-factor authentication. Privacy and security require you to be diligent throughout your digital journey, and VPNs, while helpful, are not a miracle cure.

Are there alternative VPNs worth considering?

There is no shortage of reputable VPNs that get the job done.

If what we've highlighted here doesn't suit your needs, you can try out other services, like Surfshark, IPVanish, and ProtonVPN. All three of these VPNs made it onto our best VPNs list and come with money-back guarantees. They're worth trying out if you're still shopping around.

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