A VPN allows you to access blocked videos and helps to keep your internet activity private. The choice of VPN services is huge but we'll explain what to look for and recommend the services that you should put on your shortlist.
You can use a VPN on many devices, from your phone to your laptop and even your TV, if you have a compatible model or a media streamer such as the Amazon Fire TV Stick.
The great thing about the VPN services is that one account can be used on multiple devices at the same time. This makes the low monthly price even better value as the whole family can use it. The kids could be streaming something from Disney+ while mum is browsing the web and dad is gaming (yes, VPNs can even be used to reduce ping times).
Even if you're already familiar with the benefits of a VPN, you may not know which one is the best. And that's why you're here of course.
There are lots of things to weigh up: the cost per month, connection speed, number and location of servers, the apps on offer, quality of tech support and other important factors such as zero-logs policies. We can't know your exact requirements, but the summaries below should help you quickly identify which is best for you.
What's the best VPN?
If you don't have time to pore over the finer details and just want to know which are the best value, here are four VPN services that you'll love:
- Best overall: NordVPN
- Best value: Surfshark
- Best for power users: Private Internet Access
- Best for streaming video: CyberGhost
If you want more recommendations, scroll down and you'll also find more detailed buying advice if you do care about the finer points.
Top 10 VPNs for 2021
NordVPN - Best overall
- Excellent speeds
- Unblocks lots of video services
- Independently audited
- Not the cheapest
- Not unlimited connections
NordVPN is easy to use, fast and offers lots of servers around the world.
Based in Panama and with an audited no-logs policy, Nord is a good choice for many reasons. Thanks to NordLynx (based on WireGuard), it's the fastest VPN around and and offers a good range of features including split tunnelling on Android and Windows, which was a notable omission until fairly recently.
The two-year subscription is the best value and represents 68% off the usual monthly price. There's a money-back guarantee in case you're not totally happy too. It's not the cheapest but, overall, it's still the best all-round choice.
See all prices and plans at NordVPN.com.
Read our full NordVPN review
Surfshark - Best value
- Unlimited connections
- GPS spoofing
- Multi-Hop severs
- No split-tunelling on Mac
Surfshark has a slick, simple interface and a good range of features. It has apps and extensions which protect popular devices and web browsers and it costs less than most of its competitors, despite allowing an unlimited number of connections.
Based in the British Virgin Islands with a strict no-logs policy and MultiHop servers for greater security and privacy, it's a great choice no matter what you want a VPN for.
It's very competitively priced, and you can sign up to Surfshark for just £2.15/$2.49 per month.
Read our full Surfshark review
Private Internet Access - Best for power users
- Open source apps
- Vast server numbers
- No independent audit
Private Internet Access is a great VPN service with a large number of servers and lots of advanced features.
It's just as well suited to P2P downloads as it is to unblocking Netflix. It also has a built-in ad blocker and malware blocker.
If there are niggles, it's the lack of an app for Amazon Fire TV, and support for IPv6 which some rivals offer.
With this special deal a two-year subscription costs £2.37/$3.66 per month, and you get two free months at the end as well.
Even though it's based in the US, it logs nothing so wouldn't have any data about you to hand over even if it ordered by a court to do so.
Read our full Private Internet Access review
VyprVPN - Best for Owned & Operated Servers
- Runs own hardware (doesn't rent servers)
- Independently audited
- Only 5 connections
- Can't pay anonymously
VyprVPN owns and operates its entire network of over 700 servers and has been audited to prove that it sticks by its no-logs policy. If privacy is your top priority, it’s therefore a good one to add to your shortlist. Just note that you can’t pay truly anonymously for the service.
Features vary by device, as they do with all VPNs, but the good news is that VyprVPN supports WireGuard now. Overall, this is a speedy and reliable service.
You can get a special deal with 75% (or more!) off the usual monthly price if you use this link to VyprVPN's website.
Read our full VyprVPN review
CyberGhost - Best for Video Streaming
- Well-established service
- Great speeds
- No independent audit
- Didn't unblock iPlayer
- No split tunelling on Mac
CyberGhost is an easy-to-use VPN which is great for unblocking streaming services and it has a huge selection of servers. The only snag is that it wouldn't unblock BBC iPlayer in several of our recent tests.
There are special 'NoSpy servers' which are owned and operated by the company at its Romanian HQ and provide a more secure option than all the other rented servers.
If you simply need a way to unblock streaming services and websites, CyberGhost is one of the better-value options, and has handy Amazon Fire TV and Android TV apps. Plus, you can connect seven devices at the same time.
Sign up for the three-year plan and pay as little as £2.16/$2.75 per month.
Read our full CyberGhost review
- Unblocks 200+ streaming services
- MediaStreamer DNS
- Great router apps
- Only 5 connections
Easy to use and packed with features, ExpressVPN is the one to choose if you're looking for a top-notch, secure VPN service that will work on all your devices.
As well as offering excellent security and privacy, it also unblocks your favourite streaming services (and other websites) and there's friendly tech support available round the clock.
It isn't cheap, though, costing over twice what many rivals charge per month.
Read our full ExpressVPN review
Ivacy - Cheapest over 5 years
- Excellent value
- Unblocks popular streaming services
- Fewer servers than rivals
- Apps lack a few features
Ivacy may not have as many servers as some VPN services, but it does tick a lot of boxes. It's P2P friendly and unblocks a lot of popular streaming services.
Plus, at the time of writing, it was offering 2TB of encrypted cloud storage with its two-year plan that costs $2.45 per month (around £1.80).
It offers a good range of apps and some of these have a decent set of features including a kill switch. There are a few niggles such as no automatic connection when your phone or laptop connects to an untrusted Wi-Fi network, nor any way to save favourite servers - or see how busy a particular server is.
If you want the lowest monthly price around, this five-year deal is excellent value at $1.33 per month - under £1. Plus, Tech Advisor readers can use the coupon code IVACY20 to get a further 20% off!
Read our full Ivacy review
- Free version
- 10 connections
- Customisable double-hop servers
- Relatively expensive
- No independent audit since 2015
Hide.me lets you try its service before you buy with a completely free version, but while it now unblocks Netflix and other streaming services, it is still more expensive than certain rivals even with its best offers that bring it down to £4.99 / $5.41 per month.
It has recently rolled out support for WireGuard, and doubled the number of simultaneous devices to 10.
Read our full hide.me VPN review
- Audited no-logs policy
- Good unblocking
- Servers in 140 countries
- Not as cheap as it used to be
- No WireGuard protocol
A decent choice for streaming, thanks to a huge choice of countries and - when we last checked - actually able to unblock Netflix, iPlayer and other services with zero hassle.
PureVPN's Hong Kong HQ is no longer as privacy friendly as it once was, but the company's no-logs policy has just been snap audited (an unscheduled audit that the company couldn't prepare for) and has, again, been certified by KPMG as a true no-log VPN.
A few drawbacks include the lack of WireGuard and, though the redesigned apps are much more streamlined, they've lost some of the features they had before.
Lastly, prices have risen and it's no longer one of the cheapest options. It's still very affordable, don't get us wrong, but when rivals offer what PureVPN doesn't and charge less, recommending it is tougher.
Right now there's a three-year plan available with 70% off and you'll find it on PureVPN's website.
Read our full PureVPN review
- Owned & managed hardware
- Unblocks Netflix & iPlayer
- No apps
- Not the most user friendly
- Only 1 connection at a time
Hidden24 is different to the other services here, using a device's own VPN capability, so doesn't require an app. That means it will work on Android, Mac, iPhone or Linux as well as Windows.
Although there are only seven location to choose between, Hidden24 owns and operates its entire network, and is designed from the ground up to be as secure as it's possible to be. That's why it's a solid choice if security and privacy are your top priorities (and why it's ideal for journalists, who can use the service for free).
It also unblocks Netflix, iPlayer and other streaming services, which is a bonus, but only in the seven countries available: UK, US, Germany, Italy, France, Spain & Sweden.
You can only connect one device at a time to the service, unless your configure your home router to connect to the VPN. This approach could be a dealbreaker for some, but you can get an exclusive deal on a two-year plan for £3.29 per month.
Find out more about the plans available at Hidden24.co.uk.
Read our full Hidden24 review
If you're interested in knowing why we picked the services we did, read on.
What to look for in a VPN service
Because VPN services vary in price quite dramatically, it can be tempting to just go for the cheapest. That's not necessarily a bad idea, but it is still important to choose one you trust and that will offer the features you require. The old adage "you get what you pay for" doesn't really apply to VPN services.
The first major decision is what you want to use a VPN for. If you just want to watch videos from HBO Max, Disney+ or another service that's not available in your country, then you don't have to worry too much about any other details: just go for a well-priced service that offers unblocking for the services you need.
Most offer a 30-day money-back guarantee so you can try them out and make sure they let you access the services you need.
If you're more concerned about privacy and security, you'll want to go for a VPN that doesn't log any data and ideally owns and manages its servers, rather than renting servers from a datacentre. Put simply, if you want to minimise the risk of your VPN service being hacked, opt for one which runs hardware that's exclusively under its control. And if your life depends upon your VPN connection, don't use a consumer service at all.
Don't be persuaded by a bigger choice of countries: it doesn't mean it's better. What you should look for are servers in the countries you either need to appear to be in or are physically present in, as a local VPN server will always give you the fastest speeds from any given service.
It's highly likely you'll only use handful of the servers available, and you certainly won't want to connect to a server the other side of the world if it reduces your internet connection speed to a crawl.
Testing a VPN service's speed is tricky as it varies all the time. The best way to find out if a service is quick or not is to read our reviews.
Just about all VPNs support Windows, Android, iOS and macOS, but some offer apps for a wider selection of devices including Amazon Fire TV Stick, Linux and web browser extensions for Google Chrome, Firefox and others.
You don't actually need an app if your device supports a VPN connection, so you can enter your username, password and other details into your NAS, router or other device. However, that's a hassle when you want to change to a different server as you need to set up a connection manually for each one. Plus, it means you miss out on advanced features only available in the apps, including a kill switch if the operating system doesn't provide one.
Public / free Wi-Fi
It's a good idea to use a VPN is whenever you're connected to an open public Wi-Fi network in a café, hotel, airport or on public transport. When a Wi-Fi network doesn't require a password to connect (and entering your email or other details in a web browser doesn't count here) it means the connection from your phone to the network is unencrypted.
And that means it is possible for someone to spy on your activity. However, most websites and web services use encryption anyway: a VPN is more like an insurance policy just in case sensitive data does end up being sent as plain text.
One other thing to look out for is any restrictions on usage – some ban P2P (file sharing) while others are fine with it.
In addition to those listed we've reviewed other VPNs that didn't make the cut including: AtlasVPN, IP Vanish, HMA, Bullguard VPN, Bitdefender Premium VPN, Goose VPN, Hotspot Shield Premium, ClearVPN.
What is the '14 Eyes' collective?
If you're most concerned about privacy, it's important to know where your VPN is based. In recent years some countries have got together to exchange information freely, nominally in a bid to enhance everyone's security. However, many groups are critical of this behaviour, believing that mass surveillance impinges on our freedoms.
The main group of countries that can share information freely is called the Five Eyes. They come from the UKUSA agreement that, although began back in 1941, was only made public knowledge in 2005. The agreement is between Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States, hence the name Five Eyes. Those countries have agreed to collect, analyse and share information between each other, and much of this intelligence is believed to be related to internet activity these days.
The Five Eyes has grown to include a total of 14 countries, which is why you'll hear a lot about '14-eyes' when reading about VPNs. Third party countries were added over time, and now additionally include Denmark, France, Holland, Norway, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Sweden and Spain.
If your VPN provider is based within a country that is part of the 14 Eyes, it can be asked to share data of its customers and will legally have to comply. If your provider promises that it doesn't log any information, you're probably safe within the 14 Eyes, but it is more of a risk if privacy is your main concern and you might want to consider looking for a VPN provider that is based elsewhere.
What information does a VPN keep?
VPN providers generally claim to not log anything. These days it's rare for them to log connection time stamps, IP addresses and bandwidth used: they usually only log anonymous information 'necessary to maintain and improve the service'.
We check carefully using information available to us exactly what each service logs, and include this in each review.
If you're looking for complete anonymity, choose a provider that accepts payment in the form of gift cards or Bitcoin, which makes it near-impossible to trace any activity back to an individual. Just note that a VPN does not make you anonymous online.
VPN bans in China and Russia
Most VPN services claim to work in China and Russia. The truth is that it's a cat-and-mouse game where the governments work out how to block connections if they detect you're using a VPN and they're very good at doing so.
It means that you can't know for sure if a certain service will let you access Google and other sites on a particular day, and that's one reason why it pays to subscribe to a service with 24/7 live chat support: they'll be able to help you pick the right server and settings to bypass the blocks at that time.
The same goes for unblocking streaming services: they don't like VPNs and crack down on them as much as they can. And, again, having live chat support is useful when you run into problems. At the moment, many VPNs are unable to unblock BBC iPlayer - even big names such as ExpressVPN. So if this is important to you, check with the company first to see what the current situation is. Usually there is a solution: ExpressVPN offers a separate Media Streamer service which allows you to watch iPlayer content abroad.
We have lots more information and articles about VPNs here at Tech Advisor, all of which you can find over in our VPN hub.