The Best VPN Services for 2021
In our research, we stress-test VPN providers for security, speed, privacy, and compatibility, so that users can make informed choices.
Whether it’s Facebook auctioning off user data to the highest bidder, nosey ISPs keeping tabs on all activity running through their servers, or straight-up government snooping from shady organizations like the NSA and FBI, it’s easy to feel like your privacy online is always under attack. Without a VPN, your suspicions would be correct; using virtual private networks is the single most effective measure you can take to ensure your security and anonymity remain intact, no matter what you use the Internet for.
But which ones can you trust to be your digital bodyguard? Today, we present the best VPN services of 2021!
We’ll start out highlighting the key points that make a great VPN, present our top 8 list of VPNs, walk you through installation, then end with a word of caution about alternative privacy solutions which may leave you more vulnerable than you started.
What matters in a VPN
Broadly speaking, 3 things matter in a VPN. Some very specific use cases may prioritize other features, but by and large, this is what you’re going to want to look for most (if not all) of the time:
The main reason VPNs were created was to anonymize and encrypt data. To that end, there are two key points to consider:
- The encryption technology used by a VPN. This is what encodes your data while it’s on your computer and decodes it at the other end, and vice versa. Strong encryption means you’re safe from casual snooping and brute-force hacking attempts alike. Outdated or otherwise inferior encryption methods contain well-known exploits which nefarious parties won’t hesitate to take advantage of. Worse still, you may adopt riskier behavior under the mistaken belief that you are protected, leading you into trouble.
- The VPN company’s logging policy. All the encryption in the world won’t protect you if you can’t trust your VPN not to rat you out. If a provider keeps records on how you connect and use their service, these can possibly be hacked or subpoenaed by interested third-parties. The best kind of record is the one that’s never kept around as a liability. You shouldn’t compromise on this point, and a great VPN won’t either.
When you’re using a VPN, your data is routed through a remote server rather than through your Internet Service Provider’s equipment. The process of encryption also adds some overhead to your bandwidth usage. In plain English, a VPN is always going to slow your connection down a bit, the question remaining is “how much?” A great provider does everything it can to minimize this tradeoff, and offers top-tier security without introducing highly noticeable slowdown.
On a related note, major ISPs like Verizon and Time Warner are known to impose artificial speed caps on their users. A good VPN will allow you to artfully dodge these data-stingy countermeasures, allowing you to game, stream, and download unimpeded.
The best VPN in the world isn’t much good if you can’t use it, right? Consider these three factors:
- Ease of installation. Reputable VPN providers have invested in their product enough to ensure there are versions of their software available to most major operating systems and platforms. What’s more, there shouldn’t be any arcane knowledge needed to download and install a VPN onto your device.
- Intuitive UI. VPNs are complex pieces of software, full of customizable settings and configurations. Regardless, the app’s user interface should bear thoughtful, intuitive design, which makes it simple to get up and running with your VPN, even if you’re not a tech wizard.
- Good customer support. Sometimes, you just won’t know what you’re doing wrong; maybe you can’t unblock Netflix, or you’re not sure which server or setting is best for your use-case. Or maybe, something has temporarily gone wrong with the software. In any case, you’ll want your VPN provider to make it easy to reach out with your questions (they should be effective at answering them, too). Fast, accurate responses across any number of communication methods are preferred, while 24/7 helplines are even better.
The best VPNs for 2021
Now that you know what makes a great VPN, let’s take a look at 8 of the best providers on the market, as of 2021:
NordVPN is meant to be a security-first VPN service, but it’s so much more than that. To understand why, you have to start with their server network; towering over the rest of the industry with 5,400+ nodes in 61 countries, NordVPN allows you to snag an IP from anywhere in the world, or connect to any number of nearby servers when more speed is needed. Moreover, NordVPN offers a unique array of specialty servers.
Do you want to protect yourself from DDoS attacks while gaming? Then use the Anti-DDoS servers. Are you in a restrictive country where VPN use is prohibited? Use the Obfuscated Server to hide your VPN use. Having trouble accessing Netflix? Try using a server that gives you a static IP. There are even P2P servers optimized for file sharing and streaming using P2P apps. With a network so powerful and versatile, NordVPN immediately stands out as a titan of the industry.
Security starts with 256-bit AES encryption, confounding would-be hackers with more keys than atoms in the known universe. NordVPN’s default encryption protocol is UDP over OpenVPN, but can switch to TCP, L2TP, PPTP, and SSTP with just a few clicks. Backing this up is a sterling logging policy, covering traffic, IP address, timestamps, bandwidth, and browsing history–they’ve even had this policy independently reviewed by a Big 4 auditing company and passed the muster. Panamanian jurisdiction ensures that your VPN provider is never forced to cooperate with international surveillance agreements.
Despite being loaded with powerful security features, NordVPN’s user interface is very intuitive. There’s even a graphical map that lets you choose servers visually. Apps and instructions are available for all major devices and operating systems, and if you ever do run into a problem, 24/7 customer support is available. Last but not least, free extras include cyber security features (like an ad blocker) and up to 6 simultaneous connections. If you want an incredible VPN with a focus on security, NordVPN should definitely be at the top of your list.
To learn more about the service, check out our NordVPN review.
- SPECIAL OFFER: 2-year plan (68% off - link below)
- Extremely secure
- Truly vast server network (5,400+), specialist servers included
- No-logging policy audited by a Big 4 company
- 24/7 customer support.
- Can't specify City or Province in App
As the name suggests, ExpressVPN’s calling card is incredible speed. The service is fast enough for low-latency gaming, HD streaming, as well as downloading or torrenting large files quickly. This is made possible primarily by ExpressVPN’s vast network of 3,000+ proxy servers located in 94 countries worldwide.With so many network nodes, you can always find a server that’s geographically close and abundant in bandwidth. What’s more, ExpressVPN’s default encryption method is on the cutting edge, drastically reducing overhead.
Speaking of encryption, ExpressVPN employs military-grade 256-bit AES encryption over OpenVPN, the industry standard for good reason. Other protocols include SSTP, PPTP, and L2TP/IPSec. OpenVPN is best for everyday use, blending speed and security seamlessly; while SSTP is slower, but effective at busting through censorship as tough as the Great Firewall of China. L2TP/IPSec and PPTP both trade some security for device optimization, which can be useful on legacy platforms or when only light encryption is needed. Whatever your need, ExpressVPN has an option tailored to fit.
ExpressVPN demonstrates respect for your privacy with a comprehensive no-logging policy covering DNS requests, in/outgoing IP addresses, timestamps, browsing histories, and more. Even better, the company is located in the British Virgin Islands–a jurisdiction exempt from the Five, Nine, and Fourteen Eyes government surveillance alliances. Additional privacy features include an automatic kill switch, DNS leak protection, and split tunneling.
There are no penalties for P2P users, no limits on streaming, no restrictions on traffic or bandwidth or server switches, meaning you really can use the Internet to your heart’s content. And if you have multiple devices, you’ll be glad to know that you can get up to 3 simultaneous connections per account. There’s even a built-in speed test so you can optimize your connection whenever it feels sluggish.
ExpressVPN is easy to install on a variety of devices, from video game consoles to mobile devices to desktops. Indeed all major platforms are catered for, including Windows, Mac OS, Linux, iOS, Android, Amazon Fire TV devices, Apple TV, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and even Wi-Fi routers. If you run into issues with installation or usage of ExpressVPN, you can rely on their 24/7 support line, which puts you in touch with a real human being. Shocking, we know!
To learn more, check out our in-depth ExpressVPN review.
- SPECIAL OFFER: 3 months free (49% off - link below)
- Fast, powerful, versatile
- Large server network
- Strong no-logging policy
- Blasts through firewalls.
- A little expensive
- Only 3 simultaneous connections.
For many users, CyberGhost will strike the perfect balance of performance, privacy, and usability. Upon launch, you’ll be greeted by a colorful window displaying 6 configuration profiles, each tailored to a specific use-case: Surf Anonymously, Unblock Streaming, Protect Network, Torrent Anonymously, Unblock Basic Websites, Choose My Server. Within each profile are a series of toggles you can use for further customization, including ad blocking, data compression, and extra speed. This plain-language user interface makes it dead-simple to use, even if you’re not a tech wizard. It also rewards those with more know-how by making it easy to peek under the hood and tinker. Indeed, there’s a massive network of servers numbering well over 3,600 nodes in 60 countries to choose from, and it’s growing all the time.
Privacy wise, CyberGhost hits hard with 256-bit AES encryption over UDP and TCP via OpenVPN, as well as L2TP/IPSec for added utility. They also provide one of the best no-logging policies in the industry; no records on traffic, DNS requests, bandwidth, timestamps, or browsing history are kept. Heck, they don’t even keep your signup email on file! Payment can be made anonymously via Bitcoin and even cash, showing that CyberGhost really takes your privacy seriously.
Once you’ve signed up, it’s a breeze to install CyberGhost–they offer dedicated software for all major platforms including Windows, Mac OS, Linux, Android, iOS, as well as smart TVs, multimedia boxes, game consoles, and even Wi-Fi routers. With a single subscription, you can connect up to 5 separate devices. What’s more, there’s no limits placed on bandwidth, speed, and server switches, nor does CyberGhost discriminate on the type of data transmitted (like P2P, for example).
If you like to have your cake and eat it too, CyberGhost is for you. You get all the power and performance of a top-tier VPN, with a user experience anyone can understand at a single glance.
You can learn more about the service in our full CyberGhost review.
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- Easy to use
- Powerful in features
- Overcomes ISP throttling
- 7 simultaneous connections.
- May not be sophisticated enough for power users.
Thanks to its focus on privacy and speed, IPVanish just might be the best VPN for Kodi users, P2P file sharers, and P2P streamers (e.g. through apps like Popcorn Time). Everything starts with incredible device, data, and identity protection. IPVanish gives you a selection of the most modern cryptographic standards available, including OpenVPN: a powerful protocol that works over UDP and TCP ports to deliver a great balance of speed and security. What’s convenient is that users can choose between the keys they want to use. For example, you can go with 256-bit keys for more security – or downgrade to 192-bit or 128-bit ones if what you’re doing is low-risk but data-hungry, e.g. streaming or playing a video game. So long as you follow instructions and know what you’re doing, third parties will find it nigh impossible to crack your data stream if they get their hands on it. Backed up by a complete no-logging policy, and you’ll truly vanish into cyberspace.
While most providers try to distribute their network evenly worldwide, IPVanish is a little different. While it does have 1,100+ servers in over 60 countries, it’s especially focused on the US, the UK, Australia, and the EU. Kodi users love this fact, since it enables them to unlock international content libraries that are normally restricted by geoblocks with relative ease. In our testing, we were impressed by the consistency and speed of our connections to the network, and are confident in recommending IPVanish to anyone who demands good performance out of their VPN.
We also loved the user-friendliness of both the apps and service in general. It’s dead simple to download and install software for your favorite devices, including Fire TV variants. The interface is sleek and clean, without any omissions in terms of configuration options. IPVanish even generously supports up to 10 simultaneous connections per subscription, making it a great option for family households, dormitories, and more.
f you primarily want a VPN to stream, fileshare, or do anything else that requires high-speed connections and anonymity, IPVanish is a solid choice.
To learn more about this service, check out our IPVanish review.
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- Outstanding P2P and torrenting support
- Fast, Powerful
- Perfect for Kodi users
- 24/7 customer support.
- Pricey if you’re not streaming or torrenting.
PrivateVPN is a different kind of VPN that really prioritizes quality over quantity. At first glance, you might assume that their small network – just over 80 servers – is slow, due to each node serving thousands of users at once. And you’d be mistaken! PrivateVPN maintains robust performance no matter the task at hand, whether it’s gaming, streaming, downloading, or anything else.
In terms of encryption, PrivateVPN is no slouch, employing powerful 256-bit cryptography over OpenVPN, L2TP, IPsec, PPTP and IKEv2. No matter your use-case, PrivateVPN makes it a breeze to set up the perfect VPN connection. There’s even a SOCKS5 proxy available, great for busting through tough censorship like the Great Firewall of China. So long as you do your research and know the difference between all these protocols, your data is going to be as safe as can be. It helps that PrivateVPN has an airtight no-logging policy that doesn’t store any information about you or your activity.
In addition to being fast and safe, PrivateVPN is dead-simple to use. Desktop users can enjoy a free remote installation service, wherein a remote operator installs and configures the app for you. This is a unique feature nobody else offers – and it makes it possible for everyone, even complete digital newbies, to start using a VPN quickly and easily. Dedicated software is available on all major platforms, as well. Bandwidth, speed, and server switches are all completely unlimited, meaning you can use PrivateVPN to your heart’s content. Last but not least, 6 simultaneous connections are available so you can stream, game, browse, and do whatever you want with no restrictions.
To learn more, check out our PrivateVPN review.
- SPECIAL OFFER: 1-year plan (65% off - link below)
- Strong on security
- Remote installation is available
- Solid on core features
- 24/7 customer support.
- Minimalist app design can inconvenience some users.
PureVPN is famous for having one of the widest, most geographically dispersed server network in the VPN industry. Over 2000 servers dot a whopping 140 countries worldwide, with nodes in uncommon spots like Kuwait, Belize, Georgia, and El Salvador. If you’ve ever dreamed of having an Uzbek IP address for whatever reason, PureVPN is the provider for you! Despite its size, we found performance to be highly reliable across this network, with connection speeds more than ample enough for gaming, streaming, VoIP, torrenting, and more. What’s more, there are no limits on bandwidth, traffic restrictions, or speed caps to speak of, making PureVPN great for everyday use. Cover up to 5 devices with a single subscription.
PureVPN’s infamy doesn’t stop there, either. As one of the oldest providers on the market, they’ve had plenty of time to pack their software full of cybersecurity extras. Looking for app filtering, DDoS protection, dedicated IP addresses, NAT firewalls, anti-spam filtering, or antivirus software? PureVPN has brought them all together under in one streamlined software suite. There’s even VPN split tunneling, countermeasures against ISP throttling, and an automatic kill switch to round out the package.
Still not enough? How about 256-bit AES encryption over OpenVPN or L2TP, plus a comprehensive no-logging policy to cover your tracks online? Try out the proprietary Ozone specialty server, which automatically applies URL filtering, anti-malware, IDS/IPS, app blockers, and ad filters to your connection. If you ever run into problems with any of these features, there’s 24/7 live support available to help you troubleshoot.
All in all, with all of these extras, it’s hard to recommend more VPN for the money than PureVPN.
Pros: Largest server network in terms of geographical reach. Powerful security features. Very fairly priced. Well-established brand.
Cons: Can be a slow with high-security settings. Apps are good but not outstanding.
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- Largest server network in terms of geographical reach
- Powerful security features
- Very fairly priced
- Well-established brand.
- Can be a bit slow with high-security settings.
Can you guess what StrongVPN is good at? That’s right. Security. Their default encryption setting uses 256-bit encryption using the OpenVPN protocol which combines next-gen security with high speeds. The specific settings used are AES-256-CBC channel encryption with a 2048-bit Diffie Hellman RSA key. That might sound like a load of mumbo jumbo, but here’s what it really means: every single data packet your computer ever sends while behind StrongVPN is protected with a passcode so tough you could pool all the world’s current processing power to crack it and not even make a dent. Furthermore, a kill switch protects your data in case StrongVPN stops working, making it so no data ever leaks without you being the wiser. There’s also DNS leak protection baked into the app’s core code, meaning that provided you follow the instructions, your Internet Service Provider will never accidentally learn of what you do on the web. Throw in a comprehensive no-logging policy, and it’s easy to see why this is one of the best services for countries like China and Russia.
In addition to being strong on security, StrongVPN is surprisingly fast. With over 620+ servers in 20+ countries, you may expect them to have limited speed, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. In our tests, StrongVPN was one of the few services that let us stream from Netflix freely and without ever worrying about buffering or black screen blocks. There definitely is some speed loss when compared to going directly through your regular connection, but it’s minimal. This really speaks to the quality of the server network StrongVPN uses.
Finally, let’s talk about ease of use. StrongVPN is easy to install on all common devices, including routers and video game consoles, thanks to a suite of apps that make installation easy. If apps are unavailable, you can always use step-by-step instructions, complete with photos, to get up and running quickly. And if you do run into any problems while using the app, customer support is available 24/7. What we really liked is that a live chat option is available. The queue tends to be short – no more than 10 minutes in total – and the operators are helpful and knowledgeable. This is a real difference-maker for anyone who wants to get help from a real person when they need it.
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- Valuable extra security features.
- Outstanding customer support
- Powerful server network
- Impeccable encryption.
- Fast, but not the fastest.
At first glance, VyprVPN seems to have a lot of the same features as other top-tier providers: 256-bit AES encryption over OpenVPN, LsTP/IPSec, and PPTP; a great no-logging policy covering traffic and DNS requests; and a generous array of dedicated software for platforms including Windows, Mac OS, Linux, iOS, Android, and many more. However, a closer look reveals a few proprietary tweaks to the standard offering that really make VyprVPN stand out.
First, let’s talk about their server network, which numbers 700+ nodes across all six continents: it’s completely owned and operated by VyprVPN. This means they aren’t simply renting bandwidth from third parties, nor are they relying on anyone but their in-house team to carry out maintenance and upgrades. This closed system allows you to rest a little easier, knowing that no one other than your VPN has access to the servers you’re using to hide your identity online. It also ensures greater uptime, faster download speeds, and lower latency in gaming and streaming.
There’s also Chameleon, VyprVPN’s proprietary encryption method that scrambles OpenVPN packet metadata to dodge deep packet inspection most often employed by high-censorship regions like China, Iran, and others. While this feature is restricted to the Windows, Mac, and Android versions of the software, it is a notable extra that enables users to bust through ever-more pervasive VPN blocking countermeasures.
Finally, there are versions of the software available for more unusual devices, like QNAP, Blackphone, and Anonabox. Overalls, VyprVPN offers a lot of exclusives that shouldn’t be ignored by serious privacy advocates. The premium version may be a little more expensive than the average VPN, but considering the power of Chameleon plus the reliability of a self-owned network, it feels fair.
- SPECIAL OFFER: 1-year plan (74% off - link below)
- Exclusive, privately owned server network
- OPowerful security features
- Powerful server network.
- High price point.
Installing your VPN
Once you’ve considered all the above VPNs and created an account, it’s time to install and run your preferred service. To this end, first visit your VPN’s website and log in. If you’re not using a free trial, you will be prompted to sign up for a paid one. With some VPN providers, you may also be given a passcode; if this is the case, write it down. You’ll have to key it into the app that works with your device and operating system later.
Download the software, then extract it if it’s archived. Next, install the software as per your device’s normal method. Once completed, enter your login credentials. Depending on your provider, this will often automatically connect to a nearby VPN server. At this point, you can head over to the server list, and choose a server that best suits your needs, or just leave it be if you want generalized privacy protection. If you’re facing a firewall at school or in a foreign country, you can do a quick search on your VPN provider’s website for instructions on how to bypass these countermeasures, or simply reach out to their customer support team for help.
After activating your VPN connection has been turned on, it’s best to make sure it’s working correctly. To this end, consider using a IP/DNS leak test to check whether you’re leaking data to your ISP. We recommend ipleak.net.
Finally, check out whether the services you want to use – including Hulu, Netflix, et al – are available. If they’re supposed to be and they’re not, once again customer support will come to the rescue and get you bypassing geoblocks in no time.
Avoid free VPNs
What could be better than the promise of premium-quality VPNs for a low price? Free VPNs, of course. Unfortunately, the golden rule of the Internet is this: if a product or service claims to be free, you’re the product. After all, so-called “free” VPNs still have bills to pay, and they’ll extract value from each user transaction even if they don’t charge a monthly fee. This usually comes in the form of collecting your personal information, then selling it off to the highest bidder (advertisers if you’re lucky, scammers and criminals if you’re not). Even worse, there are reports of free VPNs hijacking users’ devices to form a botnet. In other words, free VPNs can make you less safe than you started.
So sure, you’re not paying a dime for a free VPN. But, you’re giving away a lot more: your privacy and peace of mind. For our money, we’re glad to drop a few bucks a month to make sure ISPs, governments, hackers, and even our own VPN isn’t doing unsavory things with our personal information.
VPN > Proxy
You’ve probably heard about proxy services in a lot of the same discussions covering VPNs. That’s because a VPN encompasses a proxy’s functionality by routing your data through to its own network of–you guessed it–proxy servers. The main difference is that a VPN encrypts the whole process, so no one will ever know that you’re spoofing your IP address. Considering how most proxy services charge about the same as any of the above VPNs, you might as well go for the full package, rather than settling for an incomplete privacy solution.
2019 is a new year, bringing with it ever-more sophisticated cybersecurity threats. Are you ready to meet them head on? With any of the above VPN providers, you’ll be equipped to guard your privacy and access to the free and open Internet, no matter where you live or travel to.
What do you think of our list of the best VPNs in 2021? Do you agree with our choices? What will you do with your new VPN? Let us know in the comments below.