'ZDNET Recommends': What exactly does it mean?
ZDNET's recommendations are based on many hours of testing, research, and comparison shopping. We gather data from the best available sources, including vendor and retailer listings as well as other relevant and independent reviews sites. And we pore over customer reviews to find out what matters to real people who already own and use the products and services we’re assessing.
When you click through from our site to a retailer and buy a product or service, we may earn affiliate commissions. This helps support our work, but does not affect what we cover or how, and it does not affect the price you pay. Neither ZDNET nor the author are compensated for these independent reviews. Indeed, we follow strict guidelines that ensure our editorial content is never influenced by advertisers.
ZDNET's editorial team writes on behalf of you, our reader. Our goal is to deliver the most accurate information and the most knowledgeable advice possible in order to help you make smarter buying decisions on tech gear and a wide array of products and services. Our editors thoroughly review and fact-check every article to ensure that our content meets the highest standards. If we have made an error or published misleading information, we will correct or clarify the article. If you see inaccuracies in our content, please report the mistake via this form.
To find the best VPN service for your personal needs, you'll need to compare brands, prices, features, and more. Most virtual private networks (VPNs) provide two services: They encrypt your data between two points and hide the IP address where you're located.
For those traveling and being out and about, the first function is critical because most public Wi-Fi hotspots are open and unencrypted -- so anyone on the network can see what you send and they may be able to eavesdrop on your activities.
VPNs also hide your IP address, replacing the address logged on servers with one in a different location, even in different countries. For those worried about stalking or living under an authoritarian government, this feature could improve your safety.
Other people want to use a VPN for simpler tasks. VPNs are useful for streaming because they unlock access -- in some cases, with dubious legality -- to content and sports unavailable in a user's location. You can also unblock content restricted in areas due to data protection laws, such as the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
Let's take a look at ZDNET's top VPN providers for a wide range of devices and uses.
Also: The best VPNs for streaming
ExpressVPN features: Simultaneous Connections: Five or unlimited with the router app | Kill Switch: Yes | Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, Chromebooks (see the full list here) | Logging: No browsing logs, some connection logs | Countries: 94 | Trial/Money-back guarantee: 30 days
ExpressVPN is my top choice for the best VPN service. It's one of the most popular VPN providers out there, offering a wide range of platforms, and it's a well-regarded, trusted service. Platforms include Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, Linux, and Amazon operating systems.
You can also manually set up ExpressVPN to work with some gaming consoles (Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo Switch) and TVs (Apple TV, Roku, etc.) that do not support its app.
Review: ExpressVPN: A fine service, but is it worth the price?
ExpressVPN has an expansive network with servers in 94 countries. It also delivers a speedy and consistent connection, which helped ExpressVPN find its way onto our list of fastest VPNs. The company doesn't log your browsing history, IP address, or traffic destination, but it does collect some information about how the service is used. The amount of data transferred, the dates you connected to the VPN (not times), and the location of the VPN server are all logged.
At the time of writing, subscription costs begin at $6.67 per month (and three months free) on a 12-month plan, $9.99 per month for six months, or $12.95 for a month of access.
Surfshark VPN features: Simultaneous Connections: Unlimited | Kill Switch: Yes | Platforms: Windows, MacOS, Linux, iOS, Android, Fire TV, Firefox, Android TV | Logging: None, except billing data | Countries: 100 | Trial/MBG: 30 day
We didn't find any leaks in our Surfshark VPN review and testing, which is exactly what you want to see. It also makes security a priority with AES-256-GCM, Perfect Forward Secrecy, and RSA-2048 encryption.
We appreciated its complementary and inexpensive add-on features, such as anti-tracking, a search engine that doesn't log your information, and a scanner that searches data breach lists for your email. You can also connect through two VPN servers with Surfshark's multi-hop option.
Furthermore, Surfshark operates a live warrant canary.
At present, Surfshark's pricing is $12.95 per month (the typical one-month subscription fee) and the 2-year subscription will cost you $2.30 per month, plus two free months. (The 2-year plan does say it is 82% off, but this price point rarely changes).
Alternatively, you can sign up for a year and you will pay $3.99 per month. You are billed for the full package at the time of sign-up.
NordVPN features: Simultaneous Connections: Six | Kill Switch: Yes | Platforms: Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, Linux, Android TV, Chrome, Firefox | Logging: None, except billing data | Countries: 60 | Servers: 5000+, 60 countries | Trial/MBG: 30 day
NordVPN is one of the most widely used consumer VPNs available. For most users, it checks all the boxes. It's secure, good for streaming, and has all the bells and whistles you'll likely need. We've found it to be one of the fastest VPNs with the most consistent speeds.
Personally, I do find that servers need to be switched over more often than with some competitors due to connectivity issues -- but these situations are still few-and-far-between, and worth the trade-off for improved speeds over other VPNs.
We like all of the features beyond a basic VPN that NordVPN offers. It supports P2P sharing and has an option for a second layer of encryption through what it calls Double VPN. You can set up a dedicated IP address to run a VPN that doubles as a server.
Review: NordVPN: Consistent speed and performance
Not only that, but its Onion over VPN unlocks Tor capabilities over its VPN. NordVPN can run on all of the major platforms and a number of home-network platforms.
One feature that could be improved upon, however, is the user interface -- which, at least on the MacOS platform, is somewhat clunky in comparison to many other top VPN providers.
Also: ExpressVPN vs. Surfshark vs. NordVPN: Which is best?
The subscription cost can be considered a bit on the high side. You can select between Complete, Plus, and Standard on a 2-year, 1-year, or monthly plan, the difference being whether or not you also want access to a password manager, data breach scanner, and encrypted cloud storage service.
Prices start from $3.99 per month on a Standard 2-year plan to $15.69 per month on a Complete one-month subscription. Still, it's a strong choice, and you can always try it for 30 days and get a full refund.
Also: NordVPN vs Surfshark: Which is better?
At the time of writing, NordVPN is also running a promotion. New users can subscribe to a one or 2-year plan and save up to 59%, as well as get extra three months of access for free.
IPVanish VPN features: Simultaneous Connections: Unlimited | Kill Switch: Yes | Platforms: Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, Linux, Fire TV, Android TV, and Kodi | Logging: None, except billing data | Servers: 2,000+ | Countries: 75 | Trial/MBG: 30 days
IPVanish is presented as a plug-and-play solution, but it's a capable and very flexible product. In my opinion, the company is undervaluing itself by doing this. At a glance, IPVanish may seem like a relatively generic VPN, but there's more to the story.
IPVanish's user interface has some excellent performance graphics and an extensive selection of servers to choose from with useful status information. As far as protocols go, there is a wide range of options. Its app also has an extensive array of configuration options.
Review: IPVanish: A VPN with a wealth of options
If you commit for two years, IPVanish offers a discounted plan for $2.96 per month. This increases to $3.33 per month for a yearly plan, and $11.99 for one month, plus tax. However, unless you turn off automatic renewal, you can expect a price hike once your deal time ends.
Proton VPN features: Simultaneous Connections: Up to 10, depending on the plan | Kill Switch: Yes | Platforms: Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, Linux, routers, Android TV | Logging: None, except billing data | Countries: 60+ | Servers: 1,800+ | Trial/MBG: 30 day or free plan
We really like the Proton VPN story. The Swiss company was created by engineers and scientists who met at CERN (the European Center for Nuclear Research -- where the Web was invented) with a focus on creating encrypted email and VPN communications to protect the communication of activists and journalists.
In terms of product, Proton VPN has a belt-and-suspenders approach to security, layering strong protocols on top of perfect forward secrecy on top of strong encryption. Not only does Proton VPN have a kill switch, but it also has an always-on VPN, which attempts to restore VPN service if it's dropped mid-communication. All apps are open source, and the company reports that they are independently audited.
Review: Proton VPN: A very solid VPN with robust leak protection
The company offers a generous free VPN service, allowing one machine to connect at medium speed and without bandwidth limits. However, if you want a paid option, you can only select a 2-year plan.
If you're happy to subscribe, Proton VPN has two paid plans on offer: VPN Plus or Proton Unlimited. VPN Plus offers all of the VPN's features at €4.99 ($5.50) per month, whereas Proton Unlimited provides the full Proton suite including VPN, Drive, and Mail for at €7.99 ($8.81) per month.
The best VPN is ExpressVPN in my opinion. It offers a wide range of platforms, great performance, reliability, and server locations in 94 countries.
However, there are many VPN options on the market that are worth your time -- and, potentially, your dollar should you choose to subscribe to them. When you consider which VPN to choose, keep in mind that the longer subscription you choose, the cheaper the VPN will be.
|Best VPN service||Price||Kill switch||Countries||Simultaneous connections|
|ExpressVPN||$6.67 per month with 1-year plan||Yes||94||Five|
|Surfshark VPN||$2.30 per month with 2-year plan||Yes||100||Unlimited|
|NordVPN||$3.99 per month with 2-year plan||Yes||60||Six|
|IPVanish||$2.96 per month with 2-year plan||Yes||75||Unlimited|
|Proton VPN||$5.50 per month with 2-year plan||Yes||60+||1-10, varies by plan|
I ran a series of tests on each VPN's paid service to see how they compared.
The tests were performed with a broadband connection in the UK with a starting speed, without a VPN, of 52.5Mbps download and 12.8Mbps upload. (Yes, they are terrible but the best UK currently has to offer where I live).
The following speeds are in Mbps. I also tested for the presence of DNS leaks.
Please keep in mind that results may be different for you and vary from country to country, so the below should be considered a snapshot. They may also be impacted by your ISP provider and broadband subscription. For example, my starting speed is a snail's pace when compared to some U.S. offerings.
The below results are not the exact speeds you should expect. You can instead these results for a general idea of how your speeds could change with a VPN enabled. You should also remember that the further away the VPN server, the more your speed may be impacted. Speeds will typically be quicker when you connect to a local server, in comparison to selecting Australia, for example.
51 DL | 14.5 UP
53.1 DL | 15.3 UP
48 DL | 10.5 UP
47.4 DL | 6.63 UP
|35.9 DL | 2.51 UP|
48.8 DL | 13.8 UP
48.6 DL | 8.57 UP
43.8 DL | 1.32 UP
49.1 DL | 13.3 UP
|42.5 DL | 0.38 UP|
49.4 DL | 7.98 UP
48.8 DL | 10.7 UP
47.4 DL | 2.8 UP
49.8 DL | 8.78 UP
|39.6 DL | 2.01 UP|
46.8 DL | 5.58 UP
45.7 DL | 6.05 UP
45.8 DL | 6.27 UP
47.8 DL | 3.58 UP
|24.9 DL | 1.99 UP|
43.7 DL | 4.51 UP
45.6 DL | 6.63 UP
43.6 DL | 3.83 UP
44.6 DL | 4.93 UP
|36.3 DL | 2.39 UP|
|VPN||DNS leak detected?|
I have written about how VPNs work and how to find the best VPN service for you. Here are four tips to help you evaluate a VPN service for yourself.
1. Pay attention to trial period times and use them: Every VPN performs differently, and every user experience is going to be different. Your ISP will offer different speeds than mine. Your favorite coffee shop has a different network connection than mine. You're even likely to be connecting to different countries and definitely different sites. Before committing to a VPN provider, test candidates thoroughly in your real-world environment. That's what money-back guarantees are for.
2. Avoid free VPN providers: Running a VPN is expensive, and if the VPN provider doesn't make money from your service fees, they're going to make money from your data -- sometimes even by selling your personal information. Stick with the trusted commercial vendors we've tested. There are also cases where 'free' VPNs undermine what the software is meant to stand for -- data protection and security. You may instead be downloading a product that will compromise your privacy.
3. Don't worry about the country of jurisdiction unless: There are generally two classes of VPN users: Those who need to protect their coffee shop surfing and those counting on a VPN to protect their lives. As shown by ZDNET Contributor David Gewirtz in his article, many countries outside of the Quadripartite Pact (also know as the Five Eyes alliance) are Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties signatories. This means many countries will share data with the U.S. and other countries anyway. If you're using a VPN to provide true protection, I recommend researching this more.
4. Finally, don't sweat warrant canaries and no log policies: Most of you are going to use a VPN to protect your data stream from being hijacked by someone sharing your network. All of these big legal and jurisdictional issues get in the way of the simple fact that you want fast transfers and an encrypted tunnel from your spot in the airport to the website you're trying to access.
Choose this top VPN service…
If you want…
The least expensive top VPN. Surfshark is a consistent player in our top VPN lists, and for good reason. It might not always be the fastest, but for the price point, you can't argue against its value for money.
Versatility. ExpressVPN is a service I have used for years and I find it invaluable when I travel. You can expect multi-platform support and relatively minor speed downgrades when you are streaming, for example, and few connection errors.
Consistent speeds. NordVPN doesn't have a great user interface, in my opinion, but it remains one of the most consistently fast and stable connection providers. The price point might put you off, though.
A variety of add-on features. Proton VPN also offers a free plan and is one of the most privacy-focused VPN services out there.
Unlimited simultaneous connections. IPVanish is a great choice if you want to tailor and customize your VPN experience and you want access to an excellent server network.
The VPNs I recommend in this list have been subject to in-depth testing by ZDNET authors. We've been talking about most of these VPNs for years, spoken with company management and their users, and developed a generally favorable impression.
These VPNs also have solid money-back guarantees, and I would not have recommended them otherwise. I test VPN services from multiple locations, but I can't test from all locations. Every home, every community, every local ISP, and every nation has a different infrastructure. It's essential that once you choose, you test for all your likely usage profiles and only then make the decision to keep the service or request a refund.
Another factor to consider is whether you're working at home or while traveling. For example, if you travel rarely, have strong bandwidth at home, and have a NAS or a server box, you might want to VPN to your home server from your machine's native client and then out to the world. If you're new to working from home and your company has a dedicated VPN, you'll want to use whatever process they've set up for you.
Also: How to set up a VPN on your router
Generally speaking, it doesn't hurt to have a VPN provider already set up. Most home-based traffic won't require VPN usage, but having a VPN provider is a good idea if you're on any sort of shared connection. Also, having a VPN provider can be a win if you ever think you'll need to access the Internet while out and about -- like at a hospital or doctor's office. Likewise, if you want to obscure your location a VPN provider might help.
If you experience traffic slowdowns, be sure to check not only your VPN but also your Wi-Fi connection between your device and router, your connection to your broadband provider, and even their connection to upstream providers.
VPN is an acronym for virtual private network. These services allow users to browse the internet privately and securely connect to open or public Wi-Fi networks. VPNs give users the ability to change their virtual location by redirecting the connection through one of its servers located around the world. A VPN will also encrypt all of your traffic, so you're hidden from hackers, your internet service provider, and governments.
However, if your online activities are being monitored at the ISP level -- say, by a government -- they may recognize the signature of a VPN in play, even if exactly what you are doing is hidden.
VPNs are useful in unblocking geo-restricted content and can be a vital tool for accessing information in countries with repressive governments. They are important services for anyone that wants to maintain a high level of safety and privacy online. However, because they are anonymous (or at least should be) they can also be used to hide illegal online activities such as pirating content.
A fully functional VPN should protect your privacy and mask your location and IP address. If you're not sure if your VPN is working properly, there are a handful of tools that make checking your VPN's performance easy.
You can find out your IP address and location using whatismyipaddress.com. Just compare the IP address and location when you're connected with a VPN vs. without a VPN. If they are different, then your VPN is doing its job.
It's also possible that your VPN is leaking your data and potentially exposing your online activity. To ensure your VPN doesn't have any issues with DNS leaks or IP leaks, you can run tests on a site like DNS Leak Test. There are plenty of tools that allow you to test for leaks, but many are owned by VPN providers and it may not always be clear who developed the tool, which could be a conflict of interest. You may want to run tests with several different sites and compare the results.
If you're connecting to an existing corporate virtual private network, you may not need an additional service. MacOS comes with native VPN support built right in.
Apple provides VPN support on recent OS versions. Head over to System Settings, the Network tab, and either import the configuration file you were provided or hit the plus button and add a VPN interface. Here's a handy tip sheet from Apple that will walk you through the process.
If you're connecting to an established corporate VPN, all you need to do is add a new Windows VPN connection. Point your mouse at the Start menu, type settings, then select Settings, Network & Internet, VPN, then Add VPN. Make sure you have the connection details provided by work and then click on Add a New VPN Connection. Fill in the form and you're good to go. Here's a handy tip sheet from Microsoft.
Windows also allows you to host a VPN server by creating a new incoming network connection, choosing the users who can connect, and telling Windows that the incoming connection is across the internet. You'll also have to configure your router to allow traffic to your computer.
Sadly, this simple solution isn't built into the standard Chrome browser. If you're just using the browser on a Mac or Windows machine, you'll need a different solution.
That said, if you're rocking a Chromebook, all you need to do is open Settings and then Network. Click Add Connection. Then all you need to do is choose between OpenVPN and L2TP over IPSec. Google has a handy cheat sheet to guide you through the process.
WireGuard is Linux's baked-in VPN capability. Its code is relatively simple and small, making it far easier to maintain, test, and debug.
So what do you need to set up WireGuard? Most VPNs we spotlighted support WireGuard right out of the box. You can download it for Linux. But you can also download a package for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, and FreeBSD. It's like most open-source products, in that you'll need to do some reading and thinking to make it work.
I've highlighted paid services in this article, although some offer a free tier or a money-back guarantee during a trial period. In general, fully free VPN services aren't recommended because they may not be secure.
Operating a good VPN service requires hundreds of servers worldwide and a ton of networking resources. If you're not paying to support that infrastructure, who is? Probably advertisers or data miners. If you use a free service, your data or your eyeballs will probably be sold, and that's never a good thing. After all, you're using a VPN to ensure your data is kept secure. You wouldn't want your data to go to some company to sift through -- it completely defeats the purpose of a VPN.
Before you choose a VPN service, free or paid, it's important to know that no one tool can guarantee your privacy. First, anything can be compromised. But more to the point, a VPN protects your data from your computer to the VPN service. It doesn't protect what you put on servers. It doesn't protect your data from the VPN provider's VPN servers to whatever site or cloud-based application you use. It doesn't offer good passwords or multi-factor authentication. Privacy and security require you to be diligent throughout your digital journey, and VPNs, while quite helpful, are not a miracle cure.
IPVanish is the best VPN for Chrome. We did an in-depth analysis of servers, performance, Chromebook compatibility, and locations -- IPVanish topped ExpressVPN and NordVPN.
NordVPN is the best VPN for the iPhone. We analyzed the number of simultaneous connections, servers, and countries, as well as kill switch ability, logging, speed, ability to unlock streaming services, and price -- and NordVPN came out on top. It's also an easy VPN to set up and use on your iPhone, so you don't need to be a tech wiz to get it up and running.
There are also plenty of free VPNs for iPhones, but as much as you may want to save money, these typically aren't a great option. Free VPNs come with an increased risk of security flaws. Not only that, but free VPNs underperform compared to premium services and are often riddled with ads or have severe data or bandwidth limitations. In the worst cases, free VPN providers may make money selling your data.
If it's your data and you want it to be secure, yes. The same choices are valid regardless of what kind of device you use to transmit and receive data over the Internet.
Yes, in most countries, including the U.S., the U.K., and the majority of Europe. Some countries, however, have made VPN use illegal or they are severely discouraged and limited to state-approved software.
At present, countries including North Korea, Iraq, and Belarus ban the use of VPNs entirely. As noted in NordVPN's country guide, others -- like China, Russia, and Egypt -- discourage VPN use and try to stop new adoption by demonizing VPNs as software widely used for criminal activity.
Workarounds do exist, but they may come with risks.
Some do. Check when you sign up. For non-free plans, none of the providers we recommended limit the amount of data you can use. But almost all limit how many devices you can use at once.
As a general rule of thumb, free or trial offerings tend to restrict usage, speed, or the number of devices you can connect to the VPN, with access and speed increased for paying customers.
Logging is the recording of data about your usage, and it occurs everywhere. Every website, at minimum, records an IP address, time, and data accessed so they can track traffic. All VPN providers have to check credentials against recorded personal data to make sure you paid, but a few let you sign up with Bitcoin, allowing you to completely hide your identity.
When we say a VPN doesn't log data, we mean they don't track what sites you visit and for how long, but they may track how much of their infrastructure you use.
A VPN for your office only securely links to your office. If you want to securely link to anywhere else, you'll need another VPN service.
So let's say you're surfing along and all of a sudden your VPN connection fails. Your phone or computer is likely to immediately try to reconnect and do so directly without going through a VPN. All of a sudden, your data is unprotected.
A kill switch is a feature in your device's VPN app that detects when a connection fails and immediately shuts down network access. Like with everything, it's not a 100% perfect solution, but these days, I wouldn't recommend using a VPN that doesn't offer a kill switch.
When you have multiple devices -- such as a tablet, laptop, and smartphone -- and you are using these devices for different tasks, you still want to keep your data and connections secure on each machine.
When you have enabled the VPN on more than one device at the same time, this means you are using simultaneous connections. It's always best to have this feature in a VPN to ensure your privacy isn't accidentally compromised through one device or another.
Using a VPN does add load and can often slow down your connection. That's because your data is encrypted, decrypted, and sent through intermediate servers. Game responsiveness might suffer, for example, or you may notice your streaming service doesn't load as fast as usual.
However, with many high-quality VPNs now available, the negative impact is often unnoticeable, unless there is a problem with the VPN server you connect to. To fix this, try out a server in a different location and see if that improves your connection.
If you've been shopping for a VPN service, you've undoubtedly come across a bunch of names like SSL, OpenVPN, SSTP, L2TP/IPSec, PPP, PPTP, IKEv2/IPSec, SOCKS5, and more. These are all communication protocols. They are, essentially, the name of the method by which your communication is encrypted and packaged for tunneling to the VPN provider.
To be honest, while VPN geeks can argue over protocols for hours, it's probably good enough to use the default setup from your provider.
There are a number of alternative VPN providers you may want to consider:
A publicly audited VPN service with a no-log policy.
A more affordable 2-year contract at $2.03 per month.