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The best VPN services: Expert tested

We tested the best VPNs and ranked them based on speed, security, and features, to help protect you as you browse and stream online.

Why you can trust ZDNET

ZDNET's reviewers perform extensive testing on the VPNs on this list. We test out connections through different countries, and run speed tests using speedtest.net to measure and compare results. We also test whether the VPN has any DNS leaks while connecting, which would potentially provide information to your ISP or other services about what sites you visit or your originating location or IP address. We evaluate how easy each service is to navigate via website and app, how well it works for streaming content, and its customer service offerings. All of these factors give us a view into how well the VPN works, and how secure it is.

What to Consider




Simultaneous connections




Kill switch


Geoblocks and streaming




Countries and servers


Trial length and price

NordVPN | Best VPN overall
Best VPN overall
View now View at NordVPN
ExpressVPN | Best VPN for speed
Best VPN for speed
View now View at ExpressVPN
Surfshark VPN | Best value VPN
Surfshark VPN
Best value VPN
View now View at Surfshark
Private Internet Access | Best VPN for the long haul
Private Internet Access
Best VPN for the long haul
View now View at PIA
Proton VPN | Best open source VPN
Proton VPN
Best open source VPN
View now View at ProtonVPN

The best virtual private networks (VPNs) do two things: Encrypt your data between two points, and hide the IP address where you're located. This keeps your data secure, and prevents others from stealing your passwords or spying on your online activity. 

Using a VPN is particularly important when traveling over the summer, or when using a public Wi-Fi network, like at a coffee shop or a hotel. VPNs are also great for streaming because they unlock access (in some cases, with dubious legality) to content and sports unavailable in a user's location. While VPNs are not a silver bullet for personal security, they are a valuable tool worth investing in to keep your browsing and data safe.

What is the best VPN service right now?

Our pick for the best VPN overall is NordVPN. While it's always been a top contender in the VPN space, with recent upgrades, NordVPN now provides the whole package: rapid speeds, stable connections, plenty of simultaneous connections, and an expansive server network. It's not the cheapest VPN available (though we do have another pick for best value VPN below), but if you want a solid VPN for the foreseeable future that is great for a variety of purposes, NordVPN is for you. 

We've tested all the best VPNs on the market, rigorously evaluating them based on speed, number of servers, security features, price, and more. Read on to find the best VPN for you depending on your devices and needs.

The best VPNs of 2024


Best VPN overall

NordVPN is one of the most widely used consumer VPNs available. For most users, it checks all the boxes. It's secure, suitable for streaming, and has all the features you'll likely need. We've found it to be one of the fastest VPNs with the most consistent speeds and rapid connectivity.

NordVPN offers many features beyond the basics, including support for P2P sharing and an option for a second layer of encryption through 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

NordVPN can run on all major platforms and a number of home-network platforms. The company also operates Meshnet, which allows users to connect directly to other devices instead of routing their traffic through a VPN server. Recently, NordVPN has increased its location availability and the number of simultaneous connections on an account from six to ten devices.

It is worth noting, however, that the user interface has room for improvement. On the MacOS platform, in particular, it is somewhat clunky compared to other top VPN providers. Additionally, the subscription cost is on the pricier end. 

You can select between Basic, Plus, and Ultimate. The difference is whether you also want access to a password manager, data breach scanner, cloud storage, or file encryption. 

Prices start from $3.69 per month on a Standard two-year plan and increase to $6.69/month on an Ultimate subscription. Still, it's a strong choice, and you can always try it for 30 days and get a full refund. At the time of writing, you will be given three months of free access on signup with two or one-year subscriptions.

Also: ExpressVPN vs. Surfshark vs. NordVPN: Which is best?

NordVPN features: Simultaneous Connections: 10 | Kill Switch: Yes | Platforms: Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, Linux, Android TV, Chrome, Firefox | Logging: None, except billing data | Countries: 111 | Servers: 6200+ | Trial/MBG: 30 day | Trustpilot rating: 4.2

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Best VPN for speed

ExpressVPN is our top choice for the fastest VPN service. It's one of the most popular VPN providers, 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 that do not support its app, although you may need to install the VPN directly on your router to do so. The company recently launched ExpressVPN for Apple TV and the firm's Aircove routers come with the VPN pre-installed and ready to go.

Review: ExpressVPN: Is it worth the price?

ExpressVPN has an expansive network with servers in 105 countries. It also delivers a speedy and consistent connection. 

The company doesn't log your browsing history, IP address, or traffic destination. Still, it does collect information about the amount of data transferred, the dates you connected to the VPN (not times), and the location of the VPN server. ExpressVPN has also recently introduced an ad blocker and adult content filter option.

One thing to note, however, is that you'll need to set aside some time if you don't want to continue and want to cancel after 30 days. While customer service is friendly and polite, they persist in customer retention.

Subscriptions begin at $6.67 per month on a 12-month plan. Alternatively, you can pay $9.99 monthly for six months or $12.95/month. If you pick the annual plan, you will be given three months of additional access for free and cloud backup options, courtesy of Backblaze.

ExpressVPN features: Simultaneous Connections: Up to 8 devices | Kill Switch: Yes | Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, Chromebooks (see the full list here) | Logging: No browsing logs, some connection logs | Countries: 105 | Trial/Money-back guarantee: 30 days | Trustpilot rating: 4.4

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Surfshark VPN

Best value VPN

In our Surfshark VPN review and testing, we found no data leaks, which is precisely what you want to see from a quality VPN. With AES-256-GCM, Perfect Forward Secrecy, and RSA-2048 encryption, Surfshark also prioritizes security. 

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. With Surfshark's multi-hop option, you can also connect through two VPN servers. Furthermore, Surfshark operates a live warrant canary.

It's quick to connect with a reasonable server network, and while it's not the fastest option, it's a fair service for its very affordable price point. Customers say that the support team is excellent and quick to respond.

The cheapest option, a two-year subscription called Surfshark Starter, costs $2.19 per month. Plus, three months of free access are included. If you select the mid-tier plan, Surfshark One, you will pay $2.69 per month and be granted three months for free. Finally, a two-year subscription for the highest tier, Surfshark One+ ($4.29/month), also awards three months of free access.

Alternatively, you can sign up for one year and pay $2.79 per month or $15.45 for a month of access.

Also: NordVPN vs Surfshark: Which is better?

Surfshark VPN features: Simultaneous ConnectionsUnlimited | Kill Switch: Yes | Platforms: Windows, MacOS, Linux, iOS, Android, Fire TV, Firefox, Android TV | Logging: None, except billing data | Countries: 100 | Servers: 3,200+ | Trial/MBG: 30 day | Trustpilot rating: 4.4

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Private Internet Access

Best VPN for the long haul

Private Internet Access is an excellent option if you need a long-term VPN and support for multiple devices. The service was upgraded earlier this year to offer unlimited simultaneous connections.

PIA offers excellent security, too, being an open-source option. In other words, much of the VPN's code can be examined and audited publicly, promoting transparency (a feature you always want when trusting your security to a third-party vendor). There is also a strict no-logs policy for further privacy.

A free email breach monitor is included, and other features we like are the handy "snooze" button if you need to temporarily turn off the VPN and a tab displaying security elements, including port connections, protocols, and data encryption standards in use. One downside, however, is that some upload speeds are low in faraway servers.

Review: Private Internet Access

Private Internet Access offers a range of plans, including a two-year subscription for $2.03/month. If you want to try out the VPN for a shorter time period, you can sign up for $7.50 for six months—or you can spend $11.99 for a month of access. The best deal is the two-year subscription, as you are also given four months of access for free, tacked on to the end of the contract. 

Private Internet Access VPN features: Simultaneous ConnectionsUnlimited | Kill Switch: Yes | Platforms: Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, Linux, smart TVs, gaming consoles | Logging: No-logs policy | Countries: 91, 140 locations | Trial/MBG: 30 days | Trustpilot rating: 4.4

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Proton VPN

Best open source VPN

Proton is a Swiss company created by engineers and scientists focused 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 robust 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

The company offers a free VPN service, supported by paid users. It allows one machine to connect at medium speed and without bandwidth limits, and it provides access to servers across five countries. Customers like Proton VPN's attitude to security and privacy, although Trustpilot ratings are low, you should keep in mind the feedback primarily relates to the firm's limited free plan.

The best deal is $4.49 per month on a two-year plan. Alternatively, Proton VPN's plans include 12 months for $4.99/month, or one month of access will cost $9.99. 

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: 91 | Servers: 2,700+ | Trial/MBG: 30 day or free plan | Trustpilot rating: 2.3

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What is the best VPN?

The best VPN is NordVPN, thanks to its rapid speeds, wide platform availability, great performance, reliability, and server locations. 

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


Kill switch


Simultaneous connections

DNS leak detected?


$3.69 per month with 2-year plan






$6.67 per month with 1-year plan





Surfshark VPN

$2.19 per month with 2-year plan





Private Internet Access

$2.03 per month with 2-year plan





Proton VPN

$4.49/month on a 2-year contract



1-10, varies by plan


How did we test the best VPNs?

We ran a series of tests in May 2024 on each VPN's paid service to see how they compared. 

The tests were performed with a broadband connection in the UK with an average starting speed, without a VPN, of 54.3Mbps download and 17.07Mbps upload. (Yes, they are terrible, but they are the best the UK currently offers where I live.)

The following speeds are in Mbps. We 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, the starting speed is a snail's pace compared to some US offerings. 

The below results are not the exact speeds you should expect. You can instead use 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, compared to selecting Australia, for example.

Which is the right VPN for you?

We have written about how VPNs work and how to find the best VPN service for you. Regarding our top recommendations, depending on what is most important for you, these are the VPNs we believe would suit your needs best:

Choose this top VPN service...

If you want...


The best VPN overall. NordVPN isn't the cheapest VPN available, but it remains one of the most consistently fast and stable connection providers. It's great for streaming and travel, too.


A robust, fast server network. ExpressVPN is a service I have used for years, and I find it invaluable on a daily basis. You can expect multi-platform support and relatively minor speed downgrades when you are streaming.

Surfshark VPN

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.

Private Internet Access

Unlimited simultaneous connections. Private Internet Access is a great choice if you want a set-and-forget, affordable VPN able to support and protect as many devices as you like.

Proton VPN

A variety of add-on features and the comfort of open source security. Proton VPN also offers a free plan and is one of the most privacy-focused VPN services out there.

Factors to consider when choosing a VPN service

Here are the most important factors and pointers to consider when you are selecting a new VPN service.

  • Trial periods: Every VPN performs differently, and every user experience will be different. Your ISP will offer different speeds than ours. Your favorite coffee shop has a different network connection than our local haunts. You're even likely to connect to different countries and definitely different sites. Before committing to a VPN provider, test them out -- that's what money-back guarantees are for.
  • 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. The only exception, at present, that we recommend is Proton VPN.
  • Contract terms: VPN providers constantly offer discounts, typically on longer-term plans, so you need to consider the fine print before you sign up. Remember to cancel before automatic renewal if you're no longer happy with the service or you want to switch to a cheaper deal elsewhere. 
  • Use cases: Your VPN selection should relate to how you want to use a VPN. You may want one specifically for streaming geolocked content, for example, or you may need a VPN likely to work in restricted countries. Consider these points before making your final choice, and test them out during your MBG time period to ensure the VPN is right for you.
A bar graph showing data for the best VPN services
Allison Murray/ZDNET

How we test VPNs

We tested and analyzed the best VPNs in 2024 using the following criteria to help you make an informed decision:

  • Performance: We tested most of the VPNs on this list to ensure robust performance in terms of connection and speed. After all, there's no point in using a VPN if your connection continually drops or lags.
  • Simultaneous connections: Many VPNs limit how many devices you can connect to a service at the same time. If you have a phone, tablet, laptop, desktop, and possibly even a smart TV you want to connect to a VPN, you'd need a service that allows at least five simultaneous connections.
  • Security: There's no point using a VPN unless their security protocols and encryption levels are up to scratch. We also ensured that the development team behind each recommended VPN cares about making security improvements over time and patching reported bugs.
  • Kill switch: A kill switch prevents you from having an unprotected connection and is an important feature for a VPN to have, as it protects by preventing a return to a default Wi-Fi connection should your internet connection unexpectedly drop.
  • Geoblocks and streaming: We know that VPNs can be key to accessing local content and services while you're away from home. We ensured that our top recommendations performed well when it came to these factors and are unlikely to slow down your connection while you are streaming. 
  • Platforms: What systems and devices can you run the VPN on? Our recommended vendors must provide easy-to-use and intuitive desktop software and mobile apps. 
  • Countries & servers: In how many different countries does the VPN have servers? This can include physical and virtual servers, and whether or not there are enough -- at least 50 or so -- to provide variety.
  • Trial length & price: Each VPN we recommend has a solid money-back guarantee, and in most cases, you'll be able to try out the service for around 30 days before you commit to a full-term plan. 

For a more extensive breakdown, check out our comprehensive VPN testing methodology page.

What is a VPN?

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 allow users 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 who 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.

How can I tell if my VPN is working or not?

A fully functional VPN should protect your privacy and mask your location and IP address. If you're unsure if your VPN is working properly, there are 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.

Do I need a VPN if I'm traveling or using a Wi-Fi hotspot?

If you're traveling or using the internet in a public place like a coffee shop, that data encryption is critical, since most public Wi-Fi hotspots are open and unencrypted -- which means anyone on the network can see what you send and may be able to eavesdrop on your activities and steal passwords. 

Native VPN support on Mac

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.

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.

Native VPN support on Windows

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 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. 

Native VPN support on Chromebook

If you're using a Chromebook, all you need to do is open Settings and then Network. Click Add Connection. Then choose between OpenVPN and L2TP over IPSec. Google has a handy cheat sheet to guide you through the process. 

Linux with WireGuard

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. 

What's the best free VPN service?

We've highlighted paid services in this article, although some offer a free tier or a money-back guarantee during a trial period (check out our picks for the best VPN free trials). 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 single 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. Privacy and security require you to be diligent throughout your digital journey, and VPNs, while helpful, are not a miracle cure.

Should you use a VPN on your phone or tablet?

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.

Also: The best mobile VPNs

Is it legal to use a VPN?

Yes, in most countries, including the US, the UK, 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 the moment, countries including North Korea, Iraq, and Belarus have reportedly banned 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.

Do VPN providers limit usage?

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 some will limit how many devices you can use at once -- although, for paid plans, VPN providers tend to offer more connections than you will need. 

As a general rule of thumb, free or trial offerings tend to restrict usage, speed, and/or the number of devices you can connect to the VPN, with access and speed increased for paying customers.

What does logging mean in VPN services?

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.

What is a VPN kill switch?

So let's say you're surfing along and suddenly 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, we wouldn't recommend using a VPN that doesn't offer a kill switch.

What do simultaneous connections mean and why should you care?

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.  

Does a VPN slow down your connection?

Using a VPN 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.

What about protocol acronyms?

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 enthusiasts can argue over protocols for hours, it's probably good enough to use the default setup from your provider.

Are there alternative VPN services worth considering?

If ZDNET's top recommendations do not appeal to you, there are a number of alternative VPN providers you can consider in 2024. 

View at IPVanishView at VyprVPNView at MullvadView at Astrill
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