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For total privacy in Chrome, use these VPNs (no, an extension won't cut it)

When choosing a VPN for your Chromebook, compatibility and performance should be at the top of your mind. Here is ZDNET's pick of the best VPN services for Chrome. Just keep in mind, if you want to total privacy, a Chrome browser extension isn't enough.

The method of protecting Chrome browsing isn't always the same for Chrome and for Chromebooks. Although Chromebooks are essentially machines designed to run Chrome, there are differences we'll discuss.

The desktop Chrome browser for PCs and Macs is best protected by VPN applications designed for those operating systems. We've done a closer look at the best VPN for Macs and the best VPNs for Windows, which should help. 

Essentially, you're installing a VPN application that runs in the background and protects all network traffic. Chrome extensions are available for most of the popular VPN services that allow you to turn on and off features, and provide added protection against WebRTC leaks. 

For iOS and Android, users will need to install a device-wide application. Mobile Chrome doesn't support extensions, so your device-based app is your best defense.

If you want to protect a Chromebook, the Chrome browser extension isn't enough. The way most VPN vendors recommend you protect your Chromebook is by installing the vendors' Android app. Android apps now run on most modern Chromebooks, but older Chromebooks won't always have that capability. Be sure to check each vendor's compatibility list. Once you install the Android app on the Chromebook, you're generally protected.

Also: Best free VPNs (and why you get what you pay for)

Finally, for Linux devices running Chrome, some vendors offer a Linux binary, but the most common method is to install VPN software on a router, and then run all traffic through that router. That doesn't help for mobile Linux users, but it's a start.

Let's take a look at our favorite VPN services for Chrome and Chromebook.

ExpressVPN review | VPN review
Image courtesy of ExpressVPN
Pros & Cons
pros
  • Fast download speeds
  • Tons of server locations
  • Compatible with a huge number of platforms
cons
  • Limited to 5 concurrent connections
  • Pricer than other options
More Details

ExpressVPN specifications

  • Chrome extension: Yes
  • Chrome Web Store rating: 4.7/5, 2,346 reviews
  • Simultaneous connections: 5 or unlimited with the router app
  • Kill switch: Yes
  • Platforms: Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, and many more
  • Logging: No browsing logs, some connection logs
  • Countries: 94
  • Money-back guarantee: 30 days

Read the review: ExpressVPN review

ExpressVPN is one of the most widely used VPNs out there, it supports an incredible amount of platforms and has a hefty ensemble of protocols to choose from. The operating systems it works with include all the standards: Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, and Android. But there are a number of other platforms ExpressVPN supports, including:

  • Chrome 
  • Firefox
  • Kindle Fire
  • Linux
  • Routers
  • Amazon Fire TV
  • Android TV
  • Chromecast with Google TV
  • PlayStation
  • Apple TV
  • Xbox
  • Nintendo Switch

Also: How to set up and use ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN has servers in more countries than any other provider on this list, so you'll have no shortage of options to choose from. While overall performance will vary depending on your internet connection and which server you're connecting to, ExpressVPN is fast and reliable.

Exclusive offer: Get an extra three months free

ExpressVPN has a clear and transparent privacy policy. It doesn't log any of your browsing data or destinations. So no identifying information is kept on file. However, it maintains logs of the dates you connect, how much data is transferred, and the location of the VPN server you connected to.

Pros & Cons
pros
  • Straightforward apps
  • Fast and reliable connections
  • Vast server network
cons
  • Only 6 simultaneous connections
More Details

NordVPN specifications

  • Chrome extension: Yes
  • Chrome Web Store rating: 3.6/5, 2,970 reviews
  • Simultaneous connections: 6
  • Kill switch: Yes
  • Platforms: Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, Linux, Android TV, Chrome, Firefox, Edge
  • Logging: None, except billing data
  • Countries: 59
  • Money-back guarantee: 30 days

NordVPN is one of the most popular consumer VPNs, and it has a number of capabilities that go beyond a basic VPN. It supports P2P file sharing and is one of our top VPNs for torrenting. For extra security, you can route your connection through a second server, known as a double VPN. It also supports all of the major platforms and operating systems, so you'll be able to use NordVPN to secure the vast majority of your devices outside of just Chromebooks or your Chrome browser.

Read the review: Our NordVPN review

In our NordVPN review, we found the service performed quite well, only reducing download speeds by around 28%. And its connection was reliable and fast, so it's no surprise NordVPN also landed on our best VPN for streaming list as well. If you're not sure if NordVPN will work for you, you can always try it and get a full refund within 30 days if you're not satisfied.

Also: How to set up and use NordVPN

NordVPN is currently running an autumn sale and offering an additional three months for free with its two-year plan. This brings the average monthly cost down to $3.09/mo ($107.73 upfront).

Limited-time offer: Get an extra three months free

Pros & Cons
pros
  • Wide array of useful features
  • Affordable
  • Unlimited connections
cons
  • Fewer features available for Apple devices
More Details

Surfshark VPN specifications

  • Chrome extension: Yes
  • Chrome Web Store rating: 2.9/5, 373 reviews
  • Simultaneous connections: Unlimited
  • Platforms: Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, Chrome, Firefox, Edge, Linux
  • Kill switch: Yes
  • Logging: None, except billing data
  • Money-back guarantee: 30 days

Earlier this year, Surfshark and Nord Security (NordVPN) merged, but they will continue to operate as separate entities. And although Surfshark is the cheaper of the two, we found it performed on par with NordVPN in terms of speed, only reducing downloads by 28%. However, Surfshark VPN's connection times seemed to be a bit slower.

Read the review: Our Surfshark VPN review

In terms of security, Surfshark VPN is rock solid. We found no DNS leaks or IP leaks in our testing. To further reduce the risk of WebRTC leaks, Surfshark offers several browser plugins. Beyond its Chrome extension, there are plugins available for Firefox and Microsoft Edge.

Surfshark VPN has a number of features that come standard with its service. Its CleanWeb tool blocks ads, trackers, and malware. You'll also have access to split tunneling (Bypasser) and a double VPN option (MultiHop) so you can route connections through two VPN servers at the same time. There are a handful of inexpensive add-on features included in the Surfshark One bundle, including a non-logging search engine, a data breach scanner, and antivirus software.

Also

What is the best VPN for Chrome?

The best VPN for Chrome is ExpressVPN. We found that it has great security features, consistent speeds, and is highly rated by Chrome users. On top of that, ExpressVPN is compatible with a huge number of devices and platforms outside of Chrome. So, you should have no problem securing the internet traffic from all of your devices with ExpressVPN.

Best VPN for ChromePriceKill SwitchChrome Web Store ratingSimultaneous connections
ExpressVPN$6.67/mo w/1-year plan & 3 free monthsYes4.75
Surfshark VPN$2.30/mo w/2-year plan & 2 free monthsYes3.6Unlimited
NordVPN$3.09/mo w/2-year plan & 3 free monthsYes2.96

Which is the best Chrome VPN for you?

The best Chrome VPN for you is likely going to be the one that you prefer to use for more than just your Chrome browser or Chromebook. Having a versatile VPN is going to get you the most value. 

With that in mind, understanding why you need a VPN is the first step to finding the best fit for you. Depending on what you're looking for, here are some suggestions:

Choose this VPN for Chrome...If you want...
NordVPNFast & reliable connections
ExpressVPNTop-tier performance and features
Surfshark VPNUnlimited connections
Surfshark VPNThe most value

How did we choose these Chrome VPNs?

When we narrowed down the list of best VPNs for Chrome we started with a few must-have baseline features, such as a kill switch, no logs, and no leaks. We also looked at the number of server locations, platforms, and prices.

With that in mind, there is also some subjectivity in our rankings, so take our suggestions with a grain of salt and try things out for yourself before making a final decision. With these VPNs (and most other reputable services), you'll have 30 days to give the product a test run and receive a full refund if you're not sold on the service.

I'm running a VPN app, so do I still need a Chrome extension?

The answer will differ a bit from vendor to vendor, but generally, the Chrome extension will give you in-browser control over your app. More importantly, sometimes sites using WebRTC can punch through the VPN's tunnel and grab your actual IP address. Chrome extensions can usually block that behavior.

Does Chrome have built-in VPN?

No. While Chrome is one of the safest and most well-featured browsers, it does not have built-in VPN. To have the most secure experience on your Chrome browser you'll need to install a separate VPN.

Is a VPN for Chrome safe?

All of the VPN services on this list are trusted and vetted by ZDNET. Services like NordVPN and ExpressVPN have been around for more than a decade and provide the safest and most secure connections for Chrome and other browsers.

If I have a Chrome VPN extension, do I need a full app?

Yes, because Chrome extensions only work in Chrome. If you have any other internet connections outside of your browser, a Chrome extension won't protect it.

What is the best VPN for Android?

We analyzed and tested the top-rated VPNs on the Google Play Store to find the best VPN for Android. We found NordVPN to be the best overall.

What is the best VPN for iPhone?

We found NordVPN to be the best VPN for iPhone, according to our analysis of simultaneous connections, servers, logging, ability to unlock streaming service, and other usefulness factors.

How can I stay protected if my older Chromebook doesn't support Android apps?

The answer to this is much like the answer to anyone asking how to stay protected on old gear: sometimes you can't. If your gear can't keep you safe online, either don't go online or upgrade your gear. Sorry, but the cost of an upgrade is far less than the damage that can be caused if you're a victim of identity theft.

Are there alternative VPNs for Chrome worth considering?

If ExpressVPN, NordVPN, or Surfshark VPN don't feel like a good fit for you, no problem. Here are a few other VPN services to consider that are secure and perform well.

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