This list did not involve as much original research and testing as some of my other recommendation lists. That's because I've been writing VPN articles every month or so since early 2017. I have looked at a lot of VPN providers.
Also: Fastest VPN: How we rated the top services
Many of the providers recommended in this list have been subject to in-depth testing and reviews, written either by CNET's product evaluation team or by me. For those, we have tangible testing numbers. Other VPNs have been ones we've been talking about for years, spoken with their management and their users, and have developed a generally positive impression.
A few of the VPNs (Hotspot Shield, in particular) had a more rocky road. They had some tough PR at the beginning and made some seemingly ludicrous claims about speed. It wasn't until I brought them in house and pounded on them for a few weeks that I realized that their claims were justified. Sometimes, products just surprise you.
But here's the thing: All these vendors have solid money-back guarantees, and we would not have recommended them otherwise. We do test VPN services from multiple locations, but we 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.
One thing to consider is whether you're looking for a solution for working at home vs. traveling. For example, if you travel rarely (even before COVID-19), 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 newly home for the duration and your company has a dedicated VPN, you'll want to use whatever process they've set out for you.
But, generally speaking, it doesn't hurt to have a VPN provider already set up and in your kit bag. 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 from out and about -- like a hospital or doctor's office. Likewise, if you want to obscure where you're connecting from (this might be more important now that we're always in the same place all day), a VPN provider might help.
Finally, don't expect miracles. Your home-based pandemic broadband pipes are likely to be more clogged than ever before. Everyone is at home, many people are streaming movies to stay sane, and there are only so many bits that can fit at any given time. If you experience traffic slowdowns, be sure to check not only your VPN but your Wi-Fi connection between your device and your router, your connection to your broadband provider, and even their connection to upstream providers.
That said, we're all in this together. Hang in there and stay safe. How are you managing your home-based networking? Let us know in the comments below.