To create this list of the best VPN service providers, I personally test the reliability of their network and their customer service. I also monitor customer feedback posted in online forums.
What Is A VPN?
A VPN (virtual private network) is a service encrypts and redirects all the internet connections on your computer. This means all the data leaving your computer is encrypted, which adds a layer of protection against hackers and eavesdroppers. It is also very difficult for your ISP (Internet Service Provider) to monitor you or block your connections. A VPN service will also allow your to computer to appear to be Europe, the USA, or other countries at will. This is helpful if you want to access blocked media like streaming videos. VPNs differ from web proxies because VPNs encrypt and redirect all of your computer’s outgoing network connections, whereas proxies will only usually redirect particular protocols within an application.
Note that VPNs may slow down your internet connections a bit, but in some cases they may actually speed up your connections. VPNs won’t really affect direct downloads, but they will affect web browsing and torrenting (basically anything that pulls data in lots of small bursts). Personally, I don’t notice a difference unless I’m connected a very remote server in Japan or Romania (from the US).
I don’t recommend using free VPNs because they are usually run by untrustworthy companies, and tend to sell your private information. If you need a extra layer of privacy when signing up to VPN services, I suggest using an quasi-anonymous payment method such as Bitcoin, and doing a DNS Leak Test when using a VPN. However, for most people, this kind of obfuscation is not necessary.
Best VPNs for streaming, torrenting & unlocking websites
Best VPNs for countries that censor the internet (China, Iran, UAE, etc)
Best VPNs for enhanced privacy
These VPN providers focus on ensuring security and privacy: AirVPN (based in Italy), iVPN (based in Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory) or Mullvad (based in Sweden). Please note that these small providers may have slower speeds than the other VPNs listed here, and they do not offer as many servers in as many countries. Basically, you are choosing privacy over speed here.
Hosting your own VPN
If you are technically inclined, you might consider creating your own VPS (virtual private server) and installing OpenVPN. I recommend renting a sever from Digital Ocean. You can purchase their $5 per month plan, and then follow these instructions to set up OpenVPN.
More Details On VPN Providers
ExpressVPN (based in the British Virgin Islands) offer a very reliable network of fast VPN servers around the world. Their apps are well designed and easy to use, and their are backed by good customer support. They are slightly more expensive than other VPNs providers — their monthly rate is $12.95. They do offer a “no quibble” 30-day money back offer. I’ve used their service for years now, and I’ve never been disappointed with it.
For payment, ExpressVPN accepts Paypal, major credit cards, Bitcoin, Unionpay, Alipay, Webmoney and CashU.
IPVanish (based in the USA) is a reliable and fast VPN service that recently rolled some very useful apps. These apps make connecting to the VPN service easy, and they display useful information such as your current connection speed, your current IP address and your visible geographic location (more details in this article). IPVanish has 700 servers available in 60 countries. They allow five simultaneous connections.
IPVanish offers a “7 Day Free Trial” in the form of a money back guarantee. You will need a credit card to signup, but if you decide that you do not enjoy the service, email the IPVanish Support Team (available 24×7) and they’ll issue a refund.
Private Internet Access
PIA (based in the USA) is an inexpensive but reliable VPN service. For $40 per year, you get to use their services on five devices simultaneously. They have a total of 3268 servers available in 24 countries. Their VPN client also has handy features like DNS leakage blocking and an “internet kill switch” (a feature that shuts off your internet connection if your VPN connection goes down). For payment they accept credit cards, PayPal, almost any Gift Card, Amazon Payments, CashU, Google Wallet, OKPay and Bitcoin.
In regards to logging user activity, the company says:
We absolutely do not maintain any VPN logs of any kind. We utilize shared IP addresses rather than dynamic or static IPs, so it is not possible to match a user to an external IP. These are some of the many solutions we have implemented to enable the strongest levels of anonymity amongst VPN services. Further, we would like to encourage our users to use an anonymous e-mail and pay with Bitcoins to ensure even higher levels of anonymity should it be required. Our core verticals are privacy, quality of service, and prompt customer support. We will not share any information with third parties without a valid court order. With that said, it is impossible to match a user to any activity on our system since we utilize shared IPs and maintain absolutely no logs.
They support the following VPN protocols: PPTP, IPSEC, OpenVPN and L2TP. You can also configure Private Internet Access to work on a DD-WRT router or Tomato router (via SSL/OpenVPN) for constant security. Their VPN client also has handy features like DNS leakage blocking and an “internet kill switch” (a feature that shuts off your internet connection if your VPN connection goes down).
AirVPN (based in Italy) is very well liked by their customers. They are focused providing a truly anonymous service. The company says “When we built our infrastructure we had in mind access from people who live in freedom of expression extremely hostile areas, where identity disclosure can lead to critical threats to physical safety and to personal freedom.”
Their servers are located in the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, United States and United Kingdom, and in each country there’s at least a 1 Gbit/second server. The company says:
All servers come with dedicated uplink ports. IP addresses are shared with option to forward ports from the control panel. Servers exit-IP and entry-IP are different, against correlation attacks. No logs are kept, and there’s no traffic limit.
VPN.AC (based in Romania) is an excellent choice for use in countries with firewalls and other internet censorship. VPN.AC are experts in VPN security and obfuscation.
VPN.AC hosts servers in nine countries (US, UK, Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, France, Romania, Hong Kong and Canada) capable of reaching gigabit port speeds.
They a recently rolled out obfuscation for OpenVPN feature. Here are the details:
Obfuscating the OpenVPN protocol makes it look like regular SSL traffic — making it harder to be blocked by Firewalls with DPI capabilities relying on protocol signatures to identify known VPN protocols. This is the case in China, where default OpenVPN implementations are blocked almost immediately. While our AES 256-bit implementation is still stealthy and working in China, we added one more protocol-type to bypass the GFW. It runs on several ports including TCP port 443 (HTTPS), replacing an instance of OpenVPN Blowfish 128-bit we used with port TCP/443. With this method, the handshake packets are obfuscated so it’s not possible to identify the traffic as being part of an OpenVPN tunnel. Encryption relies on RSA 4096-bit + ECDHE for key-exchange, AES 128-bit for data channel.
They also introduced support for Elliptic Curve Cryptography along with TLS 1.2 — one of the most secure types of cryptography available today.
VPN.AC offers one VPN package, which grants you access to all of their international servers ($9 per month or $58 per year). For payment they accept Alipay and Unionpay, Paypal, BitCoin, CashU, Paysafecard and UKash.
NordVPN (based in Panama) is an inexpensive service that offers some nice privacy-enhancing features and good customer service. However, in some cases customers experience slow speed and dropped connections.
VPN Providers I’d Avoid
Numerous reports of slow connection speeds, and poor customer service.
Fairly expensive. Confusing sign-up options. Also they do not allow P2P/Torrenting.
They ask for your bank info during registration. I also did not enjoy my interactions with their customer service representatives. They declined comments about privacy, locks your account immediately if you get a DMCA notice.
The service was recently hacked, and is apparently keeps logs.
Numerous reports of slow connection speeds, and poor customer service.
Poor customer service. Requires a phone number.
They don’t support torrenting. Their network can be unreliable. They often don’t respond to people’s questions.
Keeps logs, doesn’t support torrenting.
Customer service fairly slow and minimal. Some (very limited) logs are kept, slow speeds, limited servers. Also costs $97.76 / year.
Awful customer service, constant disconnection issues.
Requires your personal info when signing up, doesn’t respond to request for refunds.
Only supports OpenVPN, limited number of servers.