A VPN, which stands for virtual private network, is a secure connection that shields your IP address, location and identity while browsing the internet. VPN mobile or desktop app services first encrypt your internet activity then pass it through their private tunnel using their own secure servers.
Think of it as going to your home office, shutting the door and nobody knows what you’re doing or reading. The aim is so no one can monitor your activity or access any information, such as when you enter your password when logging onto your baking account.
Another popular reason why people use VPNs is to bypass filters or restrictions to internet or local networks—with a VPN you can encrypt traffic and change locations. For example, if you’re visiting destinations where internet usage is severely restricted (China is one such country), you’ll be able to use a VPN service to access websites and apps like Instagram and YouTube, as they’re both blocked there.
The good news is that these services don’t cost a ton of money—some of the best VPN services are also free. It’s also simple and easy to set up as most services only require you to download an app.
We’ve compiled some of the best VPN services out there, including the pros and cons of each option.
Best VPN service apps in 2021
When selecting a VPN service, you’ll want to ensure that the company that’s providing it is trustworthy and has security amongst their top concerns. Unfortunately, with so many providers out there it can be hard to tell which provide the best security..
Some VPN companies have tried to improve their services by conducting extra security audits and no-log audits in order to prove their privacy claims are valid. Some of these have been shared publicly, so do a quick search to find recent news about the VPN service you’re considering before signing up.
Also, be careful when looking through the best free VPN services, as they may use your data and sell it to a third party. Plus, these companies may not be who they claim to be. Check to see who own those services (especially parent companies)—over half of the best free VPNs offered through the Google Play and App stores were either based in or owned by companies in China.
Once you’ve found a reputable one, you’ll want to make sure it offers features you’re looking for—like the ability to stream TV networks in another country, diverse IP locations and connections with fast speeds. Some offer more hands-on customer service than others, so consider whether you’ll need technical help.
Finally, you’ll want to choose a VPN that offers a trial or a refund policy. That way you can test them out to see how network speeds fare in different locations and whether it’ll work for your needs.
Here’s a list of VPN services we recommend:
Cost: Free (up to 500 MB data per month); $9.99 per month; $59.88 per year
Acquired by McAfee in 2018, TunnelBear offers fast speeds and the ability to connect to over 20 servers around the world. Although it’s not the cheapest plan on our list, you have the option to support up to five connections at once, so you can share your account with your family and other devices you own.
We like that TunnelBear publishes their transparency reports which details their network partners and data policies. The company also provides dedicated support staff, a comprehensive knowledge database and a free account to test out their services before committing to their paid one.
- Offers transparency company activities.
- Free tier.
- User-friendly software.
- Some of the best security and encryption offered.
- Client software required.
- Speeds aren’t consistently fast.
Cost: $12.95 per month; $59.95 every 6 months; $99.95 per year
Started in 2009 and based in the British Virgin Islands, ExpressVPN demonstrated some of the fastest speeds we’ve tested. It’s also got software that’s easy to use and offers servers in 94 countries. If you’re after a VPN that gives the ability to stream Netflix, this company allows you to do so, even for different regions.
It is one of the more expensive options but you can now connect up to five devices simultaneously.
- One of the fastest VPN connections.
- Offers 30-day money-back guarantee.
- Available in 160 locations in 94 countries.
- One of the priciest plans on this list.
Cost: $11.95 per month; $83.88 per year; $119.76 for two years; $125.64 for three years
NordVPN is one of the best budget friendly options out there—if you sign up for a three-year plan you’re essentially paying $3.49 a month. Based in Panama, it offers access to servers in 59 countries and the mobile interface is user-friendly. Although it’s not the most consistent in terms of speed, it does offer security features like a strict no logs policy and kill switch. One note: NordVPN was hit by a data breach in March 2018
- Offers a 30-day money-back guarantee.
- Has one of the most affordable pricing plans.
- Customer service support isn’t the best.
- Not one of the faster connection options.
Cost: €5 (Euro) per month
If you’re looking for an ultra-private VPN service, Mullvad is it. There are no logins or passwords to worry about—as soon as you generate an account, you’ll receive an account number on their website (don’t lose this number). Then fund the account and start using it.
- Doesn’t require email address or password.
- Can pay in cash (aka it takes your privacy seriously).
- No software for mobile devices.
- Can be challenging for those who aren’t tech savvy.
Private Internet Access VPN
Cost: $6.95 per month; $35.95 for six months; $39.95 per year
As one of the more affordable options out there (as low as $3.33 per month if you sign on for a year), Private Internet Access VPN offers a seven day money-back guarantee and has one of the best privacy and security features out there. It doesn’t release any information on how many IP addresses available, but it does say on their website that it has over 3,335 servers.
A few features include no traffic logs, the option to connect up to 10 devices simultaneously and the ability to block ads. You can even pay using gift cards from major retailers if you want even more privacy.
- One of the cheapest options.
- Offers a high level of security and privacy.
- Software not as intuitive to use.
Cost: $10 per month; $26.99 quarterly; $77.99 per year
One of the main benefits to IPVanish is that it offers 10 simultaneous connections and over 40,000 shared IPs in more than 75 countries. It also offers 24/7 customer service support, unlimited P2P traffic and the ability to access it via your computer or mobile device—there’s even an app for Fire TV.
Connection speeds are usually fast—it support torrents, you can connect quickly and a few tests showed that you can unlock some TV streaming services.
- Offers 24/7 customer support.
- Fast download speeds.
- Software is occasionally buggy.
- Money-back guarantee period is shorter compared to other companies.
Cost: $11.95 per month; $71.88 per year; $47.76 for 27 months
Offering over 1,040 servers in 61 countries, Surfshark also has some nifty features such as the ability to unlock streaming devices, whitelist apps to bypass VPN connections, a kill switch and a strict no-logs policy. Connection speeds are generally pretty decent and you can connect unlimited devices at once.
- Connect unlimited devices.
- Ability to connect to streaming devices.
- Anti-malware and ad blocking software.
- Less servers than other companies.
Cost: $10.95 per month; $69.72 per year; $79.20 for five years
Offering more than 2,000 servers in over 140 countries, PureVPN offers one of the largest selections of locations out of all companies on this list. Like other VPN services, you can connect up to five devices at once, access to servers optimized for P2P and technically no bandwidth limits.
- One of the most inexpensive plans if you prepay for five years.
- Lots of server options.
- Software simple to use.
- Connection speeds can be slow at times.