Our editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, ZDNet may earn a commission.

Best VPN for Chrome and Chromebooks 2021

How does a VPN work with Chrome and Chromebooks? In this article, we spotlight four providers who offer excellent support for both Chrome and Chromebook users, across a wide range of platforms.

You would think that the method of protecting Chrome browsing would be the same for Chrome as for Chromebooks. After all, Chromebooks are pretty much machines designed to run Chrome. But there are differences, and we'll discuss that in this article.

ZDNet Recommends

The best Chromebooks 2021

Not everyone needs a MacBook or a Windows 10 laptop. These Chromebook laptops feature low prices and long battery lives.

Read More

Desktop Chrome on PCs and Macs is best protected by VPN applications designed for those operating systems. We've done closer look articles into both of those categories, which should help. 

See: 

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 some added WebRTC protections. 

For iOS and Android, users also will 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 their Android app. Android apps now run on most modern Chromebooks, but older Chromebooks don't have that capability. Be sure to check each vendor's compatibility list. Once you install their Android app on the Chromebook, you're generally protected.

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 four of our favorite VPN services and see how they do with Chrome and Chromebook.

IPVanish

vanish-chrome.png
  • Chromebook Compatibility: See full list here
  • Simultaneous Connections: Unlimited
  • Kill Switch: Yes
  • Platforms: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, Chrome, plus routers, Fire Stick, and Kodi
  • Logging: None, except billing data
  • Servers: 1,500 
  • Locations: 75
  • Trial/MBG: 30 day

IPVanish is a deep and highly configurable product that presents itself as a click-and-go solution. I think the company is selling itself short doing this. A quick visit to its website shows a relatively generic VPN service, but that's not the whole truth.

Also: My in-depth review of IPVanish

Its UI provides a wide range of server selection options, including some great performance graphics. It also has a wide variety of protocols, so no matter what you're connecting to, you can know what to expect. The company also provides an excellent server list with good current status information. There's also a raft of configuration options for the app itself.

In terms of performance, connection speed was crazy fast. Overall transfer performance was good. However, from a security perspective, it wasn't able to hide that I was connecting via a VPN -- although the data transferred was secure. Overall, a solid product with a good user experience that's fine for home connections as long as you're not trying to hide the fact that you're on a VPN.

The company also has a partnership with SugarSync and provides 250GB of encrypted cloud storage with each plan.

ExpressVPN

express-chrome.png
  • Chromebook Compatibility: See full list here
  • Simultaneous Connections: 5 or unlimited with the router app
  • Kill Switch: Yes
  • Platforms: A whole lot (see the full list here)
  • Logging: No browsing logs, some connection logs
  • Countries: 94
  • Locations: 160
  • Trial/MBG: 30 days

ExpressVPN has been burning up the headlines with some pretty rough news. We've chosen to leave ExpressVPN in this recommendation, and I wouldn't necessarily dismiss ExpressVPN out of hand because of these reports, but it's up to you to gauge your risk level. The best way to do that is read our in-depth analysis:

ExpressVPN is one of the most popular VPN providers out there, offering a wide range of platforms and protocols. Platforms include Windows, Mac, Linux, routers, iOS, Android, Chromebook, Kindle Fire, and even the Nook device. There are also browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox. Plus, ExpressVPN works with PlayStation, Apple TV, Xbox, Amazon Fire TV, and the Nintendo Switch. There's even a manual setup option for Chromecast, Roku, and Nvidia Switch.

Must read:

With 160 server locations in 94 countries, ExpressVPN has a considerable VPN network across the internet. In CNET's review of the service, staff writer Rae Hodge reported that ExpressVPN lost less than 2% of performance with the VPN enabled and using the OpenVPN protocol vs. a direct connection.

While the company does not log browsing history or traffic destinations, it does log dates connected to the VPN service, amount transferred, and VPN server location. We do want to give ExpressVPN kudos for making this information very clear and easily accessible.

Exclusive offer: Get 3 extra months free.

NordVPN

nord-chrome.png
  • Simultaneous Connections: 6
  • Kill Switch: Yes
  • Platforms: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, Android TV, Chrome, Firefox
  • Logging: None, except billing data
  • Countries: 59
  • Servers: 5517
  • Trial/MBG: 30 day

Also: How does NordVPN work? Plus how to set it up and use it

NordVPN is one of the most popular consumer VPNs out there. Last year, Nord announced that it had been breached. Unfortunately, the breach had been active for more than 18 months. While there were failures at every level, NordVPN has taken substantial efforts to remedy the breach.

Also: My in-depth review of NordVPN

In our review, we liked that it offered capabilities beyond basic VPN, including support of P2P sharing, a service it calls Double VPN that does a second layer of encryption, Onion over VPN which allows for TOR capabilities over its VPN, and even a dedicated IP if you're trying to run a VPN that also doubles as a server. It supports all the usual platforms and a bunch of home network platforms as well. The company also offers NordVPN Teams, which provides centralized management and billing for a mobile workforce.

Also: My interview with NordVPN management on how they run their service

Performance testing was adequate, although ping speeds were slow enough that I wouldn't want to play a twitch video game over the VPN. To be fair, most VPNs have pretty terrible ping speeds, so this isn't a weakness unique to Nord. Overall, a solid choice, and with a 30-day money-back guarantee, worth a try.

Surfshark

surf-chrome.png
  • Simultaneous Connections: Unlimited
  • Kill Switch: Yes
  • Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, Fire TV, Firefox, Chrome
  • Logging: None, except billing data
  • Trial/MBG: 30 day

At two bucks a month for a two-year plan (billed in one chunk), Surfshark offers a good price for a solid offering. In CNET's testing, no leaks were found (and given that much bigger names leaked connection information, that's a big win). The company seems to have a very strong security focus, offering AES-256-GCM, RSA-2048, and Perfect Forward Secrecy encryption. To prevent WebRTC leaks, Surfshark offers a special purpose browser plugin designed specifically to combat those leaks.

Must read:

Surfshark's performance was higher than NordVPN and Norton Secure VPN, but lower than ExpressVPN and IPVanish. That said, Surfshark also offers a multihop option that allows you to route connections through two VPN servers across the Surfshark private network. We also like that the company offers some inexpensive add-on features, including ad-blocking, anti-tracking, access to a non-logging search engine, and a tool that tracks your email address against data breach lists.

I'm running a VPN app. 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 important is that sometimes sites using WebRTC can punch through the VPN's tunnel and grab your actual IP address. Chrome extensions can usually block that behavior.

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

Yes, because Chrome extensions only work in Chrome. If you are doing anything else on a network that's outside of your browser, Chrome's extensions won't catch it.

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.

You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.