Choose your ideal VPN and learn more about this useful software.
A VPN, or virtual private network, is a piece of software that allows you to be more secure online by encrypting your internet traffic and essentially tricking your laptop or handheld computer into believing it is in another place entirely.
And it’s the adaptability of the best VPN providers that have made them such a game-changer for computers, desktops, tablets, smartphones, streaming devices, Smart TVs, and even gaming consoles.
You’ve come to the right place if you’re completely new to the world of VPNs. This guide will illustrate what they are, what they do, how they function, and why they are such useful, inexpensive daily tools. If you’re already aware, this is also the place to find out which VPN is the best in 2021 – in May, we posted the findings of our most recent round of complete research, so you can be sure that what you read below is correct and up to date.
Downloading a VPN program would be all about anonymity for certain people. You may want to use them to help keep your online life fully anonymous from the prying eyes of your ISP (especially useful for avid torrenters) or even your government.
Since the best VPNs often allow you to change your IP address to one in a different city or country, these services have grown in popularity. VPNs are ideal for streamers, for example, who wish to access a plethora of shows and films on Netflix and other platforms. When on vacation and discover that your favorite app is blocked (consider some of the internet censorship in Cuba, Turkey, China, and even Canada), an online VPN would allow you to access the internet as you’ve become accustomed to. And that’s just to get started…
More on that later in this post, but first, here is our authoritative list of the best VPNs in the world.
Today’s very best VPN services
1. ExpressVPN – the world’s best VPN service
ExpressVPN simply cannot be dethroned from the top of the strongest VPN rankings. It checks all the boxes: swift server connections, serious security smarts, ridiculously simple to use, excellent customer service, and even free cloud storage. It’s the best available, and you can try it risk-free for 30 days.
2. NordVPN – the company’s most recognizable brand
NordVPN is brimming with functionality, unblocks a plethora of streaming channels, and offers additional privacy benefits such as ‘Double VPN’ encryption and an independently audited no-log policy. And, considering the high quality, the price becomes very competitive if you sign up for a multi-year contract.
3. Hotspot Shield – extremely quick and constantly improving
The excellent price of Hotspot (exclusively set at $2.49/pm for TechRadar readers) is a huge appeal in and of itself, but it doesn’t detract from the excellent quality it provides. It has risen to third place in our ranking due to its lightning-fast speeds, user-friendly interface, and ability to unblock region-restricted content.
The best VPNs in 2021 in full:
We finished our most recent round of in-depth VPN service testing in May 2021, and ExpressVPN once again came out on top. It performed admirably in every evaluation we gave it, and the 5-star rating we gave it attests to the fact that it can hardly be improved upon.
Now let’s get down to it. It gets off to a good start straight away, as you’ll see that ExpressVPN offers over 3,000 servers in 160 locations spanning 94 countries.
Its five simultaneous connections will be more than enough for most subscribers (though most other VPN providers on this list allow more), and in addition to excellent applications for Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and Linux (as well as dedicated plugins for Chrome and Firefox), it’s also very simple to use on Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire Stick, smart TVs, PlayStation, Xbox, and routers.
To keep the data secure, the service already used industry-standard encryption and a variety of other protocols (including IKEv2, OpenVPN, and L2TP/IPsec). But even most excitingly, it has now started carrying out its own Lightway protocol, which aims to improve speed and reliability even further.
Away from the numbers and specs, ExpressVPN really shines in our real-world testing. For starters, it is fast. Extremely fast, with incredible link rates through servers in multiple countries. And that’s even though we use the default OpenVPN protocol in our tests; with the aforementioned Lightway alternative enabled, they’re even faster.
We really appreciate how easy it is to use this service. That might seem simple, but not every VPN provider has figured out how to make their tools user-friendly regardless of the platform. ExpressVPN is simple to set up and use for both advanced and beginner users, with options ranging from desktop and tablet to TV streamers and browser extensions.
For many users searching for a VPN, it all boils down to how effective a provider is at unblocking blocked websites/services and overcoming TV streaming barriers. Then we search to see if they will unblock geo-restrictions that prevent you from streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, and Disney+ from abroad – ExpressVPN does so without a hitch.
ExpressVPN goes beyond and beyond in terms of extra functionality. Bitcoin transfers, peer-to-peer assistance, a kill switch, DNS leak protection, solid and dependable results, and a transparent no-logging policy that has been audited by unbiased auditors are all available. Anything is there.
It is very important to be aware of this VPN provider’s outstanding levels of customer service. Its help page is jam-packed with step-by-step instructions and tips to get you up and running quickly. If you have any problems, live chat assistance is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It also works – we received a positive answer from a professional support agent within a few minutes of submitting our application.
Frankly, we don’t hide the truth of how highly we regard ExpressVPN. It’s really easy… it is the best VPN you can find in almost any situation. Don’t trust us? You should still take advantage of ExpressVPN’s no-questions-asked 30-day money-back guarantee, which you can treat as a free trial – but we doubt you’ll need it.
In almost every category, NordVPN’s new product matches or outperforms the competition. ExpressVPN should keep an eye on its back when it comes to our ultimate title for the best VPN!
To begin with, the quality of protection provided by NordVPN has long impressed us. Though AES-256 is standard, you can also allow the Double VPN system, which encrypts all of your internet traffic not once, but twice. It’s useful to know where internet anonymity is important, such as by using public Wi-Fi or torrenting.
It currently outnumbers ExpressVPN in terms of sheer server count, with 5,000 (in nearly 60 countries) and one more simultaneous connection at six.
Other capabilities include good DNS leak security, kill switches (both application-specific and system-wide), proxy plugins for Chrome and Firefox browsers, and payment methods that include Bitcoin, PayPal, and credit cards, similar to its key competitor above. It is also effective at unblocking Netflix and other providers, while Brits abroad must use a workaround to reach iPlayer.
All of the steps to follow are detailed in one of NordVPN’s many troubleshooting posts. These manuals are not only numerous but also very valuable. If you’re still having trouble, there’s a chatbot and outstanding live customer service available 24/7.
We also admire Nord’s commitment to leaving the tainting coverage of historic data breaches behind it. Every year, PricewaterhouseCoopers conducts a rigorous analysis of its no-logging program.
The debut of the provider’s custom NordLynx protocol last year was definitely eye-catching. It has aided in making Nord’s link rates much quicker and more stable, even from distant servers. Having said that, Express comes out on top in this division.
If we had one more complaint, it would be about the user interface provided by NordVPN. Small stuff like destination cities not being identified alphabetically or having to browse through menus for specialist job functions left us hoping for improvements. This is particularly true of its otherwise successful smartphone applications. However, these are subtle flaws, and we realize that, as with any critique you’ll find on the internet, this simply boils down to personal taste.
NordVPN offers a few options, including monthly subscriptions and a great deal two-year special deal. If you want to try out the service before committing, NordVPN offers a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Hotspot Shield has long been a well-known brand in the field of VPN providers, mostly for its widely used free VPN, but we can tell it’s been working hard on its paid VPN offering. As a result, it has risen into the top three of our rankings.
In contrast to its well-known free alternative, you get complete access to 1,800+ servers in over 80 countries, support for connecting up to five computers, 24/ 7 support, and, of course, no advertising at all. It’s just another proof that forking over a few bucks a month gives you a much superior VPN experience.
On paper, those specifications are somewhat unimpressive in comparison to what other providers do. But it’s what our extensive tests showed that really stands out – sheer pace. If speed is your primary concern when selecting a VPN (perhaps you’re a player, streamer, or torrents).
- Exclusive price: sign up from just $2.49 / £2.29 per month
Hotspot Shield’s patented Catapult Hydra protocol assisted in delivering some of the best and most reliable download rates we’ve seen, with an average of 360-380Mb while using US or UK servers. Speeds to some of the most remote areas remain strong as well.
In addition to running the service on computers that support its native Windows, Mac, Android, or iOS applications, Hotspot has added features to support use on routers, Linux, and TV streamers. A SmartVPN feature that allows you to choose which websites would be bypassed by the VPN is also a welcome addition, particularly if you only want to use your VPN for shopping, banking, streaming, and so on.
We’d be much happier if Hotspot used 2021 to get in some unbiased auditors to check its logging activities. Especially given that the provider admits to logging VPN sessions, bandwidth, domains visited, and IP addresses. All of this is explained on Hotspot’s webpage, so we’d appreciate an auditor’s perspective. There is still space for growth in the applications, which fall short of the desktop experience.
When you subscribe for more than a month at a time, Hotspot Shield becomes one of the most reasonably priced premium VPNs on the market. And if you try it and aren’t impressed, there’s a generous 45-day money-back guarantee that will allow you to get your money back with no questions asked.
Surfshark may have fallen off the best VPN podium (for reasons we’ll discuss below), but it’s still a service we like with a couple of really appealing USPs.
In a second, we’ll get to the functionality, specifications, and other information. But there’s no going around the fact that the biggest attraction here is Surfshark’s almost unbelievable pricing. If you sign up for the yearly contract, the effective monthly expense is less than $2.50 USD / £2 GBP / $3.50 AUD.
And that includes unrestricted links. So, if you want to use your VPN on your laptop, desktop (compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux), smartphone, a couple of smartphones (iOS and Android are all supported), and Amazon Fire TV Stick to watch international TV, you can use the same account on all of them at the same time. In theory, you might also allow friends and family members to use your sub.
However, the performance of this VPN is not solely determined by its low cost. We’d also give some praise to Surfshark’s laid-back and playful branding, which tends to make a supposedly scary-sounding piece of software seem to be a really user-friendly product.
If you’re easily confused and, finally, turned off by confusing menus and a plethora of options, Surfshark – like ExpressVPN above – may be the perfect VPN for you. It leaves the interface as simple and uncomplicated as possible. All you’ll see are options for ‘Fast bind’ and ‘All positions,’ along with a Settings button, and nothing else. It is completely up to you if the amount of specificity (or lack thereof) is a benefit or a disadvantage.
That being said, Surfshark is all business when it comes to protecting you and your online identity. It has now introduced the latest WireGuard protocol to its OpenVPN UDP and TCP and IKEv2 options. Surfshark also includes a private DNS and an extra layer of protection with a double VPN jump. And we discovered that it successfully unblocks geo-restricted access to Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Disney+, and other services.
Surfshark has a 30-day money-back guarantee, allowing you plenty of time to give it a shot before committing for a longer period of time.
So, where does it fall short? There aren’t many options, but competition is fierce these days, particularly because Express and Nord have significantly improved their server speeds while Surfshark’s have stayed merely ‘fine.’ Surfshark is still falling behind in terms of evaluations of its no-logging policies (it had a partial one completed in 2018), and we’d like to see a more visible message on Windows when the link declines or disconnects.
But, hey, ranking in the top five of the 200+ VPNs we’ve checked isn’t bad! And the above reasons are unlikely to deter bargain hunters among you.
Private Internet Access (often stylized as simply PIA) is a likable VPN provider with more than enough features to warrant a spot on your shortlist, despite not being the best, cheapest, or most powerful.
Its most recent argument is a significant improvement in PIA’s server count. It’s taken things from a mediocre 2,000ish to a nearly incomprehensible 30,000+. In terms of sheer server numbers, this places it well ahead of the competition, and the network seems to be expanding.
That certainly sounds amazing, but it would be meaningless without the usability and security aspects. Fortunately, PIA has a healthy balance of privacy functionality and security protocols (including WireGuard) – which applies to its first-rate Chrome extension, which includes the ability to restrict location access, third-party cookies, website referrers, and more.
If you plan to use your VPN mostly on Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Linux, or a combination of these platforms, they are all dependable, simple to use, and provide more functionality than others. That’s not just our opinion; consumer feedback on the App Store and Play Store is mostly very positive. And with support for up to ten simultaneous links, you can easily protect almost all of your devices with a single affordable subscription.
To be honest, PIA will never make it into our list of the fastest VPNs in its current state. It isn’t the slowest on the market and won’t stymie most ‘natural’ web traffic. However, if you are a gamer looking for an advantage, a streamer who hates the slightest suggestion of buffering, or a torrent who does not want to wait, you should consider one of the better/faster choices on this page.
But PIA also does a lot to stand out from the crowd, and the price is always better than the market, including free extra months or additional protection licenses when you sign up for more than a year.
VPN provider For some time now, CyberGhost has been a firm favorite of ours, and it’s no joke that it has a customer base of over ten million users. With over 6,500 servers distributed across 90 countries, applications for Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android, torrents enabled, and fast live chat support, the company covers the basics well.
If you’re going to be running the VPN mostly on a Windows desktop or notebook, CyberGhost really shines. A sea of fantastic features and functionality lies underneath its clean, easy-to-use guide. If you’re trying to download or torrent, for example, it will automatically link you to the appropriate server.
And extra touches like the Smart Rules panel demonstrate that CyberGhost’s developers have poured a lot of effort into the user interface. When you boot up your phone, it will automatically connect to your favorite server and open a specific app (such as your default browser in incognito mode). A genuinely helpful extra.
We should take a moment to note the speeds that CyberGhost showed in our most recent experiments. And before we started using the WireGuard protocol, we saw link rates that rivaled those of NordVPN and ExpressVPN. While further afield (such as in New Zealand), these started to lag a little.
Website unblocking has traditionally been another string suit of CyberGhost’s, but it has recently been patchy. Yes, it will circumvent geo-restrictions on providers such as Netflix US and Disney+. However, it cannot manage such services as BBC iPlayer, nor does it access exclusive Netflix content in other countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom.
However, with a substantial 45-day money-back guarantee and reasonable pricing (especially if you’re ready to commit), CyberGhost is well worth a closer look. With parent company Kape demonstrating increasing ambition in the cybersecurity sector, you should be in the capable hands of an organization that is constantly seeking to expand the envelope – yes, you should go all out with the CyberGhost Security Suite with a full range of antivirus solutions, t.
Windscribe is a well-known brand in the VPN industry, and it provides a high-quality solution with several advantages. Clients are available for Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and Linux, as well as slick plugin plugins for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera. Windscribe protects unlimited gadgets with a single membership, so you can protect them all.
Windscribe also allowed you to watch Netflix (in certain regions), Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, and YouTube. As a result, the provider is a good choice for streamers who choose to watch foreign entertainment or their own programming from abroad. Although Windscribe appears to have made significant efforts to sustain high VPN server speeds,
The network has 110 sites distributed across more than 60 countries, but its 400-odd servers are considerably smaller than what any other providers sell.
Unfortunately, there is no 24/7 service, so any questions you may have may not be answered for some time. That seems to be a major oversight these days, with all of the major competitors including an on-the-spot expert to handle inquiries. Similarly, it’s past time for it to follow in the footsteps of ExpressVPN to NordVPN and hire an independent auditor to review its privacy policies.
Windscribe doesn’t check every box, but the service does have a number of fun features. If you’re looking for a new VPN, try out Windscribe’s free plan and see what it can do for you. The free plan restricts you to ten places but has a generous monthly storage quota of 2GB-10GB.
For years, IPVanish has been a consistent player in our VPN studies. The below are some of the service’s outstanding statistics: 40,000+ shared IPs, 1,600+ VPN servers in 70+ cities, unmetered P2P traffic, unrestricted concurrent links, and 24/7 customer service. On the topic of help, we like how you can get it right from your Android or iOS smartphone on the go.
When you first start using IPVanish, there’s something about it that sounds instinctively soothing. It’s most likely the reassuring graphs and maps in the desktop app. But don’t be fooled; IPVanish has the security smarts (AES-256 encryption, kill switch, DNS, and IPv6 leak protection) to qualify as a perfect option for the privacy-conscious.
If the Android and iOS applications don’t seem to be revamped or changed too much, there’s probably a good explanation for that: they work very well. The Android VPN app is a special feather in IPVanish’s hat, with more settings and choices than any of the competitors and the potential to really customize it to your desired configuration.
With the likes of Nord, Express, and Hotspot all launching their own proprietary encryption protocols, IPVanish seems to be falling behind in terms of modernization and speeds as we move into the 2020s. It doesn’t even have WireGuard. And our most recent round of tests revealed difficulties unblocking Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, and vast swaths of Netflix series, making it difficult to recommend wholeheartedly if you’re trying to discover a new world of entertainment to watch.
Overall, whether you need unrestricted simultaneous connections or the capacity and configurability of its applications, this VPN service is worth considering. Even if you are dissatisfied, you are backed by a 30-day money-back guarantee.
ProtonVPN is a VPN provider that is constantly expanding its server network (almost doubling in the last year), making significant changes to its clients and applications, and introducing additional functionality and support.
All of this further strengthens our view of a VPN provider that does it a bit differently. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but the service has a lot of enticing features that make it stand out from the crowd. It’s also been auditing its software to ensure they meet today’s stringent privacy requirements. Please proceed to your laptop clients next, Proton.
It’s based in Switzerland – does that make you feel safer? – and has very trendy applications that are a delight to use and are improved by operating kill switches and desktop-like functionality. If you pay with Bitcoin, you’ll get good P2P support for torrenting as well as access to a variety of streaming services.
Despite all of ProtonVPN’s advantages this year, it has started to fall behind the competition in terms of server speed, and it has yet to implement WireGuard to help it perform. And, as Windscribe said above, it’s past time it hired a few customer service representatives to answer questions at all hours of the day. We’re still irritated that the 30-day money-back policy is pro-rata – if you have it for 15 days, for example, you’ll only get a 50% refund. It seems to be bad form, but Proton does have a very useful free version if you want to give it a try for free.
So ProtonVPN isn’t without flaws. It also doesn’t have a lot of servers or places, and it’s very pricey if you use all of the functionality we’ve discussed (though a simple package costs less than $5 per month). This is a strong and trustworthy operation, though, and we suggest you look into it if that’s your top priority.
When it comes to server position numbers, HideMyAss! is the clear winner of the VPNs on this list. It has scouted servers in over 200 places in more than 200 countries worldwide. So, while most providers may only provide a few locations outside of Europe and North America, HideMyAss! manages 14 locations in the Middle East, 50+ in Africa, and over 55 in the Asia Pacific.
Of course, server variation isn’t anything (in truth, it’s a small ‘win’ in the grand scheme of things). However, the amusing vendor has been around for a while and is owned by the respectable cybersecurity firm Avast. It obviously takes privacy seriously, and it enters the list of VPN providers that have called in impartial auditors to ensure that it is operating on all cylinders in terms of confidentiality.
Its apps are simple to use and cover the fundamentals well. HideMyAss! (or HMA, as it seems to be known these days) is also available almost anywhere, with custom applications for Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and Linux, OpenVPN support for full connectivity with other users, and guides to help you set up the service on routers, Smart TVs, games consoles, and more.
Having said that, the online help page is a letdown. We’re just glad that there are customer service representatives available via 24/7 live chat who you can contact if any of the setup or usage becomes troublesome.
However, we’re afraid it won’t benefit the streamers of you. Aside from Netflix and iPlayer, HMA had a difficult time unblocking most of the other big names in TV streaming. A flaw, but it won’t matter if your primary purpose for using a VPN is to ensure complete online privacy.