VPNs, or virtual private networks, are becoming more popular as a means to keep internet browsing private and access services that may be region locked, as well as help people hide away from the more malicious parts of the internet.
In normal internet use, your data flows from your computer, mobile device or home network across your internet service provider's (ISP) infrastructure and out to the internet on its way to the server on which the website or service you're accessing is based.
During this journey all manner of people could be snooping on your data and activity by tracking your IP address; from governments and hackers to advertisers looking to work out what you're interested in to target their ads at you.
All this saps at your internet privacy and can potentially put you in the firing line of hackers and cyber criminals.
By effectively creating an encrypted and secure connection between your computer and a VPN server, your actual IP address is hidden from snoopers, who will only see the VPN's IP address, essentially masking your internet activity.
But VPNs have another trick up their sleeves: they can spoof your location. Many popular streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and BBC iPlayer have content locked to specific regions, while some gaming services cannot be accessed from certain nations. And countries like China often ban access to certain websites like Facebook.
Through the use of "geo-spoofing" you can use a VPN to look like you're browsing within a country where service and website blocks don't apply.
There are a lot of VPNs around, some very similar to each other, some offering a service with a specific angle, such as ease-of-use or security. To help you work out which VPN is best for you, we have selected ten of the best VPN services available for both beginners and experienced users alike.
- More than 1,700 servers worldwide in 94 countries
- Prices start from $6.67 a month (save 49%)
- 30-day money back guarantee no questions asked
- 3 months free when you purchase 12 months - UK readers - US readers
Aimed at people who want a VPN outside their home country to access region locked services like US Netflix from the UK, as well as keep their internet browsing private, ExpressVPN offers more than 1,500 servers across 94 countries.
Thanks to a clean user interface, ExpressVPN is easy to setup for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android and Linux devices, as well as offering support for kit such as smart TVs and games consoles, and it also comes with 24/7 live chat customer support if you happen to get stuck.
Alongside a reputation for solid support, the service offers a "kill switch" to hide your IP address if the the VPN connection happens to drop, peer-to-peer support and powerful encryption.
This comes at a price: $12.95 a month or $8.32 a month for a 12-month service, and you'll need to sign up to it right away as there's no free trial. ExpressVPN also only supports up to three connections, but if you don't feel like it's going to fulfil your VPN needs then a 30-day money back guarantee means you can give it a whirl across a couple of devices and see if the performance and features on offer justify the price.
- 1,000+ servers worldwide in 61 countries
- Prices start from $5.75 a month
- 30-day money back guarantee
- Special offers for Pocket-lint readers - UK readers - US readers
A well established name in the VPN world, NordVPN is known for offering very secure connections thanks to using military-grade 2048-bit encryption which it applies twice to connections to its 1,000 plus servers spread across 61 countries and counting.
A straightforward interface means you can easily connect up to six devices, whether they run Windows, Mac, iOS, Android or even BlackBerry OS, to the secure service.
Alongside peer-to-peer (P2P) sharing support, a kill switch, and fast connection speeds, NordVPN offers additional privacy features like the ability to use dedicated IP addresses, enable ad blocking, and pay using bitcoin.
NordVPN boasts no data logging and a cyber security option to help you avoid malware riddled websites while still enjoying your web surfing freedom.
Finally, unlimited bandwidth as well as being one of the few services to support access to The Onion Router (TOR) network over VPN completes NordVPN's features.
And all this comes at a reasonable price, starting at $11.95 a month, reducing to $3.29 a month for a 2 year contract. There's even a 30-day money back guarantee to sweeten the deal.
- 3,253 servers in 25 countries
- Prices start at $3.33 a month
- 7-day money back guarantee
In contrast to the more straightforward VPN services, Private Internet Access has been designed to help power users get the most of of their VPN connections.
Private Internet Access comes loaded with support for all manner of platforms, including Chromebooks and routers, as well as support for P2P connections, unlimited bandwidth and a policy to not log any activity.
Access to a maximum of five device connections is on offer, and those devices can access some 3,253 servers across 25 countries, with Private Internet Access claiming that these are real locations with access to real "bare metal" servers, though users are not able to select specific servers.
For both privacy and flexibility, there's a kill switch, ad-blocker and anti-tracker tools, while the ability to pay for the service with bitcoin adds another layer of anti-snooping.
The interface leaves a little to be desired in terms of slickness and clarity of information, but people familiar with using VPNs and keen to make use of the features Private Internet Access offers will not likely be put off by the user interface.
No free trial is on offer, so if you want to take a punt with Private Internet Access the most affordable pricing plan will set you back $39.95 for a year's worth of use, which works out at an affordable $3.33 a month. People not willing to commit to 12 months use can access Private Internet Access for $6.95 per month
KeepSolid VPN Unlimited
- 1,200 servers in 80 locations
- Prices start from $3.33
- 7-day free trial
For people who travel a lot or like to work out of coffee shops and make prolific use of public Wi-Fi hotspots, KeepSolid could be the VPN you need to keep your internet use private and unrestricted.
Thanks to more than 1,200 servers located across 80 locations, and support for five devices ranging from Windows PCs to Android and iOS smartphones, KeepSolid provides a VPN service with solid performance and a decent range of configuration options, without becoming too complex for the average user.
One particularly interesting feature is KeepSolid disguises its VPN traffic as HTTPS traffic, which allows it to bypass blocks in nations which have banned the use of VPNs and have restricted access to the internet.
Power users can pick personal IP addresses and even opt for a personal server that won't be shared with other KeepSolid VPN customers, but you'll need to pay $21.99 per month for that privilege. All this can be accessed through a smartly designed user interface that offers a glut of information.
Fans of torrenting should be aware that while BitTorrent is supported, torrents are not supported across all servers and accessing region-specific Netflix is also currently unavailable.
KeepSolid brings a lot of flexibility when it comes to pricing, with weekly option on offer starting at $1.99, running through to $149.99 for a lifetime's use. Monthly cost comes in a $8.99, but sign up for a year and that drops to the monthly equivalent of $3.33. Combined with a 7-day free trial, the range of options available should give you plenty of scope to see how KeepSolid's VPN service can suit you.
- 850 servers in 60 countries
- Prices start from $6.49 a month
- 7-day money back guarantee
Aimed at providing a high quality service over cost-savings, IPVanish is one of the more expensive VPN services in the market. But IPVanish boasts the fastest VPN connections with more than 850 servers in more than 60 countries, and offers unlimited bandwidth for those connections.
Alongside offering geographically diverse server locations, it provides support for P2P connections, anonymous torrenting, and access to censored websites and apps. And it will do this while keeping your connection secure with 256-bit encryption and zero traffic logs.
The user interface of IPVanish isn't the most beautiful, offering function over form, but 24/7 support is available and there's a 7-day money back guarantee if you don't find its performance and support for up to five devices to be up to scratch.
Some might find the $10 a month cost to be a bit expensive, particularly when there's no free trial, but sign up to a year's use and that drops to $6.49 a month, with the option to pay with bitcoin as well as traditional payment methods.
- 700 servers in 70 locations
- Prices start from £4.08
- Free 3-day trial limited to 500MB of data
VyprVPN is another VPN focused on the sweet spots of performance and security, offering speedy connections mixed with features like a kill switch, 256-bit encryption and more than 200,000 IP addresses to choose from.
More than 700 servers across 70 plus locations gives VyprVPN the reach to appeal to all manner of users, whether they're trying to access a wide range of gaming and streaming services or get around government censorship of certain websites and apps, thanks to VyprVPN's proprietary Chameleon technology.
A clean yet informative user interface provides all you need to set up connections for a good range of devices, from Windows and Mac machines to iOS and Android smartphones.
However, you'll need to choose which devices you want to use with the VPN as it only supports up to three device connections in its basic package, which starts at £6.95 a month or £4.08 if you sign up for a year's use.
To get more out of VyprVPN the Premium package offers five connections for a £10.40 a month or a much cheaper £5.83 for 12 months use. A free 3-day trial limited to 500MB of data use is also on offer if you fancy seeing how well VyprVPN performs for you.
- 20 countries covered
- Prices from $4.99 a month
- Free 500MB per month plus more for tweeting
Sometimes you just want an easy way to get started with VPNs, that's TunnelBear's greatest strength. User friendly and easy to set up, TunnelBear works across a variety of devices, including Windows PCs, iPads, iPhones and Android devices.
TunnelBear might not have as many servers on offer as other VPN providers, but the Canada-based service still covers more than 20 countries and can be used with up to five devices per account.
A lack of technical jargon comes with the caveat that there's not a lot of options and features for advanced users to deeply customise their VPN configuration. But its ease of use is handy for people who want to quickly setup a VPN for streaming Netflix or using gaming services from abroad.
TunnelBear is also proficient at protecting privacy thank to avoiding logging session data and IP addresses assigned to the account, and applying 256-bit encryption to connections.
The best performance from TunnelBear can be had when using a relatively close VPN, while performance can slow down once you start accessing VPN servers further away.
You can sign up to TunnelBear for free and get 500MB per month of data use, while a tweet to the service can win you another 1GB. Opt for the $9.99 a month package and the data is unlimited, but for better value sign up for 12 months and you'll end up paying a modest $4.99 a month.
- $2.90 a month
- Use on tablet and smartphones
- 900 servers across 30 countries
- Special offer: 72% off when you purchase the 2 year plan
If you want a free service to get started with VPNs, then CyberGhost is worth a look. The free package may only allow for one device per account to be connected to the service and you'll have to put up with adverts, but CyberGhost still offers access to more than 800 servers spread across 26 countries.
To make things easy for beginners, CyberGhost's interface asks people what they want to use the VPN service for, whether that's for surfing anonymously or torrenting, rather than ask users to select a server. Pretty much everything you need from a VPN has been designed to be enabled through just a single click.
There are more options available for more experienced users to dig into as well, such as being able to set up a proxy server, and live chat support is on offer if you need help to get more out of the service.
Opt to pay £3.99 a month and CyberGhost will offer up to five times faster connection speeds and no adverts, while £6.99 a month offers connections for up to five devices if you decide you want to use CyberGhost on your smartphone and tablet rather than just a Windows or Mac machine.
- Servers in 46 locations
- Prices start from £6.99 a month
- Free to use VPN with 10GB monthly allowance
Normally free VPNs offer limited features and data allowance, making them a good gateway into using VPNs but not much else for long-term use. Windscribe tends to buck that trend by offering a 10GB monthly data allowance, providing you register your email address when signing up, or a still decent 2GB if you don’t.
Windscribe offers the normal suite of privacy protection and unrestricted internet access, alongside a promise to never track its users. And rather than limit the free version to just Windows machines, the VPN can be used with Mac, iOS and Android devices as well.
The only shortcoming is you're limited to one device connection and a selection of servers in a mere eight countries, but for VPN beginners this should still be enough to get started with.
If you do want more, then for $9 a month you can get unlimited access to servers in 46 locations as well as more options to configure your VPN; opt for 12 months and the you can reduce your monthly bill to a reasonable $7.50.