Online privacy in the United States has grown into a serious issue in the last few years. Government agencies have started to engage in mass surveillance by forcing large companies to share their data, putting everyday users located in the USA at risk. To top it off, internet service providers now have the ability to collect and sell user information without your permission, making your online activity available to the highest bidder to do with as they please.
To stay safe in a hostile digital world, many users in the US are turning to virtual private networks. VPNs work like a tunnel that encrypts and safely transports data to and from its destination without divulging your personal details. ISPs can’t share or sell scrambled information, and when a good VPN is involved, government agencies can’t collect data, either. You enjoy privacy while you surf, all with minimal effort on your part.
Updated: Feb 19, 2018.
Evaluating VPN Providers
Getting the right VPN for use in the USA takes some careful research. Most users are looking for better privacy than their local ISP delivers, making things like logging practices and jurisdiction of prime importance. Circumventing geo-restricted content is also high on the list, as is overall speed of an overseas VPN. To keep your costs and compromises at a minimum, we used the following criteria to evaluate the best VPNs for your buck.
1. Jurisdiction – It matters where a VPN is registered, especially if you live in the USA. Local laws determine whether or not a VPN company has to keep logs as well as what they are required to do with that data when government agencies get in touch with them. Some countries have strict regulations that favor corporations and other large entities, while others are more relaxed and let the privacy of the individual take priority.
2. Server distribution – One of the biggest benefits of using a VPN is accessing geo-restricted content not normally available in the US. VPN providers deploy their networks in dozens of countries to make it easy to sidestep censorship and region blocks so you can surf the web freely.
3. Logging policy – Closely tied with jurisdiction, a VPN’s logging policy can make or break its usefulness in protecting your privacy. Logging data, even when encrypted, means it could potentially be accessed by a third party or even the VPN themselves. This can be risky: in 2011, the FBI arrested a member of Lulzsec on the basis of data kept by Hide My Ass VPN and subsequently handed over to the authorities. If no logs are kept, no data can be shared, plain and simple. Always make sure your chosen VPN has a strict zero-logging policy, just like the recommendations below.
4. Speed – VPNs are known to be anywhere between 10 and 50% slower than most local internet service providers. That drop in speed can be a huge factor in streaming videos, downloading HD content, running torrent files, online gaming, or even just browsing the web. The best VPN providers take measures to ensure those speed drops are minimal.
5. Blocked file types – Certain VPN providers block P2P traffic, torrent ports, and other related files. To enjoy the internet the way it was meant to be, we’ve made sure the services below have zero restrictions when it comes to the kinds of things you download or stream.
The top contender in the best VPN for the USA race, ExpressVPN provides a secure private network that’s built for blazing fast speeds. The service offers 145 servers located in 94 different countries along with unlimited bandwidth, no restrictions on torrent or P2P downloads, and absolutely no traffic logs. The most interesting feature of the service is a built-in speed test option in the Windows, Mac, and Android versions of the client. Not sure how fast the server you’re connected to is? With a few taps you can find out, then switch to one that’s faster.
ExpressVPN’s jurisdiction is the British Virgin Islands, which isn’t directly part of the Fourteen Eyes surveillance group. The jurisdiction does have loose ties to countries on the list, however, so it’s not completely free and clear.
ExpressVPN has several easy to use plans available for both monthly and yearly rates, each backed by a 30 day money back guarantee. Follow this link, and get yourself THREE MONTHS FREE with the annual plan — which makes it $8.32 per month.
NordVPN was launched in 2012 at a time when the growing need for online privacy was starting to mount. The company is based in Panama, a country so far removed from the Five Eyes list they don’t even appear on the Fourteen Eyes extended list. Jurisdiction alone gives NordVPN a huge advantage when it comes to anonymity. Combine that with zero logging, an automatic kill switch, and hefty double encryption and you’ve got a superb VPN tailor made for USA residents looking to protect their privacy.
Outside of its security measures, NordVPN employs over 850 servers in 57 different countries, a list that’s constantly on the rise. Each of these are available for unlimited switching along with 3,000 proxies to choose from, unlocking just about any kind of region blocked content you can imagine. NordVPN also offers no bandwidth restrictions, no blocked files types such as BitTorrent, and fast servers tasked specifically for different types of traffic.
Super Deal: NordVPN comes with a 30 day money back guarantee on a variety of plans. They company is still running a holiday deal (which we don’t know how long will last) that will give a huge 66% discount for the 2-year plan.
Privacy has been PureVPN‘s concern since day one. The service features the standard unlimited data, unlimited server switching, and zero traffic logs, along with over 750 servers in 141 different countries, one of the largest networks in the VPN marketplace. All of this is backed by solid 256-bit AES encryption with a kill switch and IP leakage protection. Perfect for the privacy minded individual.
PureVPN is based in Hong Kong, which is about as far away from the Fourteen Eyes list as a service can get. Hong Kong has relaxed data retention laws that allows the service to skip logging of any type. If an agency outside of the jurisdiction requests access to data, they won’t find anything to seize.
READER DISCOUNT: A 7-day money back guarantee is attached to all VPN plans. But you could be looking at a solid 73% OFF if choosing the 2-year plan. That takes the price down to $2.95 per month if you calculate.
One of the more unique VPN services on this list, VyprVPN stands out of the crowd due to the fact that the company owns and operates its entire network of servers, over 700 spread across 70 locations in all. Encrypted data is never seen by an outside company, and both the hardware and software is created and maintained by the VPN provider. Keeping everything in-house is a huge advantage where privacy is concerned. To top it off, VyprVPN’s jurisdiction is Switzerland, a country that isn’t on the Fourteen Eyes list.
Along with its unique privacy offerings, VyprVPN also delivers fast speeds, unlimited bandwidth, no file type restrictions, and a good zero logging policy. The company’s Chameleon technology also helps users bypass local ISP throttling and network congestion issues, and there’s even a built-in NAT Firewall for added protection!
All plans include a free three day trial so that you could give it a try, experience the speed and enhanced privacy, all at no risk to you. There’s also a 50% discount (on the first month) if you decided to stay.
Why Use a VPN Located Outside of the USA?
Agencies in the United States have come under scrutiny by privacy advocates for engaging in surveillance by leveraging anonymous services such as VPNs. These agencies have the ability to force companies located in the US to grant access to customer data, use their service to conduct mass surveillance, and even force the company to remain silent about the seizure, presenting deep problems for users who want their information kept private.
If you’re located outside of the USA, there’s very little reason for you to use a VPN within the country’s borders. Other providers offer US-based servers and IP addresses without falling under the same set of laws, making them far better choices. If you live in the USA, using a VPN located in another country is practically mandatory. Not only does it allow you to access geo-restricted content, but you can also leverage more citizen friendly jurisdictions so your personal information remains secure.
What is a Five Eyes Country?
Privacy advocates and VPN users often refer to countries as being part of the Five, Nine, or Fourteen Eyes lists. The designation has roots that stretch back to the post-World War II period when the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand agreed to collect, analyze, and share intelligence among themselves. Information leaks in recent years have proven that Five Eyes countries monitor each other’s citizens and share the intelligence in order to circumvent domestic anti-spying laws. In other words, we made a promise not to spy on our people, so could you do it for us?
After the Five Eyes pact was established, two new groups of third party countries were added, forming the Nine and Fourteen Eyes groups. While some cooperation does take place between these lists, the extended members are seen as slightly safer alternatives to the big five. If your VPN is located in a Five Eyes country, your data simply isn’t safe. If it’s in a Nine or Fourteen Eyes group, your privacy options are a lot brighter.
A Warning about Free VPNs
Many internet users in the USA have heard about the privacy dangers associated with even the most basic online activities. VPNs have become commonplace, and it’s tempting to sign up with one of the many free providers splashing banners and advertisements around the internet. The unfortunate truth about no-cost VPN services is that they simply aren’t safe. If you’re looking to protect your privacy, a free VPN can end up doing just the opposite.
Running a virtual private network costs money. If a VPN provider doesn’t charge customers for the service, they have to make up the revenue through some other method. The most common way to do this is selling collected user data to third parties, which is exactly what everyone was trying to avoid in the first place. Even if a free VPN promises to encrypt all data and keep no logs, you simply can’t trust the service. Paid VPNs are inexpensive and infinitely more reliable. It’s a small price to pay if you value your privacy.
Avoiding VPN Slowdown
One of the persistent drawbacks of using a VPN based outside of the USA is that data has to travel a longer distance, even if the VPNs have servers in the US. This can add some serious lag to your connection, making videos choppy and online gaming an exercise in extreme patience. The VPN providers above have some of the fastest speeds on the market, but there are a few other tricks you can employ to squeeze some extra speed out of your overseas connection.
1. Change servers
Which VPN server you connect to has a major impact on download speeds. Unless you need access to a specific country as a virtual location, choose a server closer to your own home. Even one country over can make a massive difference in reducing latency.
2. Decrease encryption levels
Encrypting data adds between 20 and 50% to the overall packet size, turning ordinary web browsing data into heavier downloads that take longer to send and receive. Some VPN software allows you to toggle the strength of the encryption, however, which can prove useful when you absolutely have to have that extra boost in speed.
3. Check your connection
– Sometimes it’s not the VPN that’s slow, it’s your own ISP. Local service providers often throttle ports associated with VPNs, resulting in reduced bandwidth whenever you connect. Most VPN software lets you change the port and port protocol, which can instantly boost speed by a significant amount.
Five, Nine, and Fourteen Eyes
As detailed above, the countries that take part in the cross-surveillance and intelligence sharing plans raise a number of concerns with privacy advocates. Five Eyes countries represent the biggest risk to your online security, so if your VPN is located in any of these countries, it’s time to find a new service. The Nine and Fourteen Eyes groups are seen as safer alternatives, but for the ultimate in privacy, find a VPN whose jurisdiction isn’t even on the list.
- United Kingdom
- United States of America
- New Zealand