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Best VPN 2021: NordVPN, ExpressVPN, IPVanish, and More

Many (if not most) of our daily activities rely on the internet today, and so digital security and privacy are more important than ever before. A virtual private network is one of the cheapest, easiest, and most effective ways to protect yourself and your loved ones from online threats. More good news is that these services are also very user-friendly nowadays, so even if you’re not particularly tech-savvy, installing and using a VPN on your computer and your other internet-connected devices is not a difficult task.

But with so many providers to choose from, finding the best VPN for your needs is not always so simple, and not all virtual private network services are the same. To help you decide which one is right for your digital lifestyle (and for your budget), we took the time to round up the best VPN services and lay out all of their features, pricing, and other relevant info right here, along with answers to some common questions.

Best VPN 2021

1. NordVPN

  • Country of registration: Panama
  • Clients supported: Windows, MacOS, Linux, iOS, Android, Apple TV
  • Cost: $12 per month; $59 for the first year; $99 for the first two years (plus three free months)
  • Number of servers & locations: 5,280+; 80+ locations across 59 countries
  • Number of simultaneous connections: Up to six
  • Special features: Split tunneling

NordVPN isn’t free, but with three different encryption protocols (IKEv2/IPsec, OpenVPN, and NordLynx), it’s easy to see that this provider values your privacy. The company has also worked hard to build up its server network to include more than 5,400 servers in 59 countries around the world.

One stand-out feature that makes NordVPN a strong contender for the best VPN service out there is split tunneling. If you’re not familiar, split tunneling is the ability to whitelist some activities (such as gaming or streaming) to bypass the VPN and use the regular “clearnet” for better performance.

From protected DNS queries to a kill switch feature that automatically disables your connection when you lose sync with the VPN server, NordVPN wants you to know that your information won’t fall into the wrong hands. It’s also one of the most open VPNs about exactly what servers it offers in what countries, and provides 24/7 live chat support for questions.

The company has recently improved its platform support, adding in iOS and Android and thus overcoming its one weakness. You can also use it on six devices simultaneously. The NordVPN client provided one of the most attractive interfaces, and connecting to a server is straightforward and very quick, so much so it’s also our top pick for the best Chrome VPN extension.

It’s also available for a host of devices and topped our list for the best Fire TV Stick VPN. Other supported devices include Chromecast, Raspberry Pi, PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch, and Fire TV. During our testing, we also found it to be the fastest VPN in our NordVPN vs ExpressVPN comparison, so if it’s speed you’re after, look no further.

2. IPVanish

  • Country of registration: United States
  • Cost: $11 per month; $54 for the first year (VPN only); $13 per month; $66 for the first year (VPN + Backup)
  • Number of servers & locations: 1,600+; 75+ locations across 50 countries
  • Clients supported: Windows, MacOS, Linux, iOS, Android
  • Number of simultaneous connections: Unlimited
  • Special features: Automatic data backup and restoration with VPN + Backup plan

IPVanish offers all the key features you could need from a VPN at a great price. With regular sales being part of the IPVanish experience, you can commit for a year at a very low cost, enjoying the protection that comes from a choice of more than 1,600 VPN servers across more than 75 different locations.

Besides offering extensive protection whether you’re browsing from home or using a public Wi-Fi hotspot, IPVanish also makes it simpler to avoid Deep Packet Inspection — a method used by ISPs to limit your internet speed at times. The VPN offers unmetered data transfer caps and there’s no limit on how many devices you can use it with so it’s incredibly flexible for high-volume users and larger local networks.

No logs are kept, plus there’s a choice of multiple connection protocols which is useful if you want to get more involved in your VPN settings. 24/7 customer support means the VPN is always on hand to help you out, too. Not that you should need it too often thanks to simple-to-use apps for all major platforms.

If you want even more from IPVanish, you can also opt to sign up for its VPN + Backup plan. This offers all of the above along with 500GB of secure cloud storage including multi-folder syncing and ransomware protection. Combined, it’s a great service and it’ll even help you avoid geo-restrictions on many of your favorite streaming apps.

3. ExpressVPN

  • Country of registration: British Virgin Islands
  • Cost: $13 per month; $60 for the first six months; $100 for the first year (plus three free months)
  • Number of servers & locations: 3,000+; 160 locations across 94 countries
  • Clients supported: Windows, MacOS, Linux, iOS, Android, Kindle Fire, Apple TV, Routers
  • Number of simultaneous connections: Up to five (but you can have more if you install ExpressVPN on your router)
  • Special features: Free cloud backup, split tunneling

ExpressVPN’s “#1 Trusted Leader in VPN” claim may be a bit difficult to prove, but the service offers a compelling list of features nonetheless. It also constantly tries to make regular improvements in speed and simultaneous streaming capabilities, and with support for all major platforms (Windows, MacOS, Android, etc.), you won’t need to worry about compatibility. ExpressVPN shows up on a number of best VPN lists, including our list of the best VPN for Linux and the best VPN for Windows, so its relatively high prices seem justified.

The more than 3,000 servers are all well placed throughout common travel destinations and urban centers. Any package will land you high-speed unlimited bandwidth and 24-hour customer service. With so many features, including bypassing ISP throttling, free cloud data backup, and split tunneling, it’s no wonder this vendor is considered the best VPN by many users — although you should note that ExpressVPN only supports up to five simultaneous connections with a single subscription, which is the lowest number of the services on our list.

But they also provide a workaround of sorts for that: If you install ExpressVPN on your router, your router can protect all of your devices (as the router itself only counts as one device towards your subscription), regardless of how many other devices are connected to that network hub. This way, you can have well more than five devices protected at once.

Setting up ExpressVPN and connecting to a VPN server was easy enough. Netflix complained about a proxy in use when we used the automatic configuration option, but it worked fine when we manually selected a local U.S. server, so it’s a working Netflix VPN. Amazon Prime Video played just fine, and our other internet tests were completed without issue.

4. Hotspot Shield

  • Country of registration: United States
  • Cost: $13 per month or $96 per year for Premium plan; $20 per month or $144 per year for Premium Family plan
  • Number of servers & locations: 1,800+; 110+ locations across 80+ countries
  • Clients supported: Windows, MacOS, Linux, iOS, Android, Smart TVs, Routers, Apple TV
  • Number of simultaneous connections: Up to five, or up to 25 with Premium Family plan
  • Special features: Gigabit speeds, free speed-capped basic plan, 45-day money-back guarantee

Speed can be a limiting factor with even the best VPN, and Hotspot Shield — a relatively new player in the virtual private network space — sought to make that problem its main focus. With up to gigabit speeds, we can safely say that Hotspot Shield seems to have succeeded in that endeavor.

The virtual private network was named the fasted VPN in 2019 and 2020 by, too, so that doesn’t appear to be mere marketing. But Hotspot Shield isn’t a one-trick pony and has more to offer than just fast speeds. Its list of features also includes military-grade encryption and unlimited bandwidth (at gigabit speeds, mind you).

Hotspot Shield is also very simple to set up and use, but we’d like to see a little more customization options, such as control over encryption protocols. This is part of the deal you get with this VPN, though, as Hotspot Shield utilizes its own proprietary “Hydra” encryption protocol which the company claims is what makes it so fast. That’s just the nature of this beast, it seems.

Another consideration and a potential drawback is that, as with ExpressVPN, you’re limited to five simultaneous connections per subscription. If you accept these limitations and can deal with some compromises in favor of speed, though — perhaps you’re looking for the best VPN for gaming or the best VPN for Kodi — then Hotspot Shield is an excellent choice that lives up to its promise of speed.

And in the event that you find it’s still not snappy enough for your digital lifestyle, Hotspot Shield also offers a VPN free trial. New subscribers get an extended 45-day money-back refund period, which is the most generous guarantee on our list. There’s also a free VPN plan, although speeds are capped at 2Mbps.

5. Surfshark

  • Country of registration: British Virgin Islands
  • Cost: $13 per month; $39 for the first six months; $65 for the first two years (plus two free months)
  • Number of servers & locations: 3,200; 100+ locations across 65 countries
  • Clients supported: Windows, MacOS, Linux, iOS, Android, Apple TV
  • Number of simultaneous connections: Unlimited
  • Special features: Double VPN hop

It may not quite rank as the best VPN, but when it comes to price, Surfshark is hard to beat and is a great option for those looking to protect their privacy while minimizing costs. Surfshark is available for as cheaply as $2.50 per month for the two-year plan ($65 upfront), and to sweeten the deal even more, that includes an unlimited number of simultaneous connections.

Feature-wise, Surfshark is fairly basic. This isn’t necessarily a problem if you don’t need any bells and whistles and just want a solid VPN on the cheap. In fact, the simple, no-nonsense interface, intuitive setup, and simple operation could easily be selling points if you explicitly don’t want to fuss with unnecessary complications. It supports a host of different devices, and made it on to our list fo the best Apple TV VPN too.

That’s not to say it’s completely bare-bones, though; you get multiple encryption protocols to choose from (OpenVPN UDP or TCP, IKEv2, and WireGuard) and a double VPN hop that lets you route your connection through two remote servers instead of one, adding an extra layer of security when desired.

Surfshark also works quite well with streaming services, although its speeds aren’t quite as good as other top VPN services like NordVPN and ExpressVPN. All in all, though, it’s the best VPN of 2021 for those on a budget, and especially for larger local networks such as family homes and offices.

6. PrivadoVPN

  • Country of registration: Switzerland
  • Cost: $8 per month; $60 for the first year
  • Number of servers & locations: 517; 58 physical locations across 47 countries
  • Clients supported: Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, Fire TV Stick
  • Number of simultaneous connections: Up to 10
  • Special features: P2P transfers, SOCKS5 proxy support, free data-capped basic plan

With VPNs, it’s all about location, location, location. PrivadoVPN is a Swiss company and is thus free from the laws of the U.S. and the European Union. Switzerland has pretty robust privacy laws, as well. It’s also not a member of the “fourteen eyes surveillance network,” so user traffic isn’t logged and passes through privacy-friendly countries. That means you needn’t worry about your true IP address being revealed.

Interestingly, PrivadoVPN operates one of the smaller server networks of all the providers on our list, measuring in at 517 servers spread between 58 physical locations in 47 countries, but that doesn’t preclude it from being a contender for the best VPN of 2021. That’s because it only offers physical server locations, and not virtual ones, because it is not willing to compromise the quality of its service so it can promote a higher number.

If routing around region-based content restrictions and other geographical hassles is your priority, you might be better served with a VPN that has a wider global server spread, such as ExpressVPN. Although, having said that, PrivadoVPN is a fraction of the cost and covers a large chunk of countries, so if the one you’re wanting to virtually jump to is on its list, then we’d recommend taking it for a spin.

PrivadoVPN has it where it counts, though, with several encryption protocols to choose from: OpenVPN, IKEv2, and SOCKS5. The addition of SOCKS5 proxy support is noteworthy, as it allows for fast and seamless peer-to-peer transferring of large files, which is something many VPNs shy away from. This makes PrivadoVPN perhaps the best VPN service for peer-to-peer file transfers if that’s your primary use case for one of these services.

It’s a little more expensive than some others at $8 per month or $60 for the first year (which comes to $5 per month on average), although that’s offset by the fact that you can use the VPN on up to ten devices simultaneously. There’s also a free app-based package that gives you 10GB of bandwidth per month.

7. CyberGhost

CyberGhost VPN
  • Country of registration: Romania
  • Cost: $13 per month; $38 for six months; $59 for the first two years (plus two free months)
  • Number of servers & locations: 7,000+; 500+ locations across 90+ countries
  • Clients supported: Windows, MacOS, Linux, iOS, Android, Smart TVs, Xbox, PlayStation, Apple TV
  • Number of simultaneous connections: Up to seven
  • Special features: P2P support, 45-day money-back guarantee

With more than ten million active users and over 7,000 servers spread across the globe, CyberGhost is a giant in the VPN space. It’s also one of the most versatile virtual private networks out there, both in terms of supported devices/platforms as well as what activities it’s useful for.

CyberGhost VPN is compatible with computers, mobile devices, smart TVs, and even gaming consoles, and one great feature of the VPN is that it will automatically connect you to the best server for whatever you’re doing at the moment. That’s a vital consideration for bandwidth-heavy activities like gaming and streaming.

Another feather in the CyberGhost cap is that it supports peer-to-peer file transfers (read: It’s good to go for torrenting, and as we mentioned, it’ll select the best server for it so you get the fastest upload/download times). The interface is great, too, particularly on the computer. It gives you complete control and lots of configuration options including preferred server setups for your most-used programs and apps.

For encryption protocols, CyberGhost supports OpenVPN, IKEv2, and WireGuard, wrapping your connection in AES 256-bit encryption to keep your data and IP address hidden. CyberGhost is based in Romania and has a no-logs policy, and while this should keep you safe from certain prying eyes, this hasn’t been independently audited.

If that’s not a deal-breaker, CyberGhost is a strong contender for the best VPN of 2021 (take a look at our NordVPN vs CyberGhost comparsion for more information on how it stacks up to the best) if you’re looking for the sweet spot between versatility and price. A limited-time introductory offer lets new subscribers grab their first two years of service for $59 with two free months, which averages to just over $2 per month.

8. PureVPN

  • Country of registration: Hong Kong
  • Cost: $11 per month; $45 for the first year; $70 for the first two years of service
  • Number of servers & locations: 6,500+, 180+ locations across 140 countries
  • Clients supported: Windows, MacOS, Linux, iOS, Android, routers, smart TVs, Xbox, PlayStation
  • Number of simultaneous connections: Up to 10
  • Special features: P2P support, split tunneling

With a name like PureVPN, this virtual private network had better offer some viable protection — and it does. The software’s hallmarks lie in its ability to connect to a mélange of services for different activities, with wide compatibility with various devices and software interfaces.

The service runs from $11 monthly to $70 for two years (which comes to just over $2.90 per month), making PureVPN another one of the best cheap VPNs on our roundup. That subscription includes port forwarding, multiple encryption protocols (PPTP, SSTP, L2TP/IPSec, IKEv2, and OpenVPN UDP/TCP), malware blocking, P2P support, and an audited no-log policy.

As with any good virtual private network service, PureVPN will prevent websites from viewing your personal IP address, thus preventing others from identifying you or your geographic location. And with more than 6,500 servers on six continents, you won’t be at a loss for worldwide connection points to choose from.

Like NordVPN, PureVPN features split tunneling that allows you to whitelist certain activities you don’t need or want to go through the VPN, allowing you to use online services and browse the web through the VPN and on the clearnet simultaneously. PureVPN also offers you a personal IP address for you to use with certain sites and services — a good idea for those that require logins.

9. TunnelBear

  • Country of registration: Canada
  • Cost: $10 per month; $60 for the first year; $120 for the first three years
  • Number of servers & locations: 1,000+, 41 countries
  • Clients supported: Windows, MacOS, Linux, iOS, Android
  • Number of simultaneous connections: Up to five
  • Special features: Free data-capped basic plan available

Our second-to-last pick isn’t as feature-rich as the others listed on our best VPN of 2021 roundup, but it’s nonetheless worth a mention if you’re looking for another no-frills (read: cheap) virtual private network that doesn’t bog you down with features you don’t need. TunnelBear puts ease of use and newbie-friendliness front and center. If you’re new to VPNs and find all this a bit intimidating, this big bear might be the one for you.

The main appeal of TunnelBear is simplicity and ease of use. You don’t have to fuss around with choosing encryption protocols or any other complicated setup. That’s bad news for advanced users who want more control and customization options, but it’s great for average folks who don’t want or need all that stuff getting in the way. TunnelBear does what it needs to do with good encryption, a kill-switch, and a no-logging policy, with the added benefit of full yearly independent audits that the company releases to the public.

That simplicity does, however, bring a couple of bear-sized caveats. Firstly, there’s no free VPN trial or money-back guarantee, which could be a non-starter for many who are new to the VPN game and don’t want to fully commit to a service right away. If this describes you, you’re probably better served with a VPN that has a 30- to 45-day refund period.

On the other hand, TunnelBear does have a limited free plan that stands in as a trial of sorts, but that won’t give you a good feel for what the VPN can actually do. The second drawback with TunnelBear — and this could be a doozy, depending on your needs — is that it’s not really optimized for streaming (and you can forget gaming). The server network is also relatively small.

If you can live with those limitations, though, then TunnelBear is a reliable and extremely user-friendly VPN that gets the job done for web browsing, online work, and general internet use. It’s one of the cheaper picks, too, so long as you spring for the $120 three-year plan which averages to $3.33 per month.

10. Private Internet Access

  • Country of registration: United States
  • Cost: $12 per month; $40 per year; $79 for three years (plus two free months)
  • Number of server & locations: 29,000+; 106 locations across 78 countries
  • Clients supported: Windows, MacOS, Linux, iOS, Android, routers
  • Number of simultaneous connections: Up to 10
  • Special features: Publicly available source code, split tunneling, anonymous payments

Private Internet Access does everything you could want from a good VPN. It hides your IP address, protects your information, and scrambles your browsing activity using a variety of encryption methods including OpenVPN and Wireguard. Private Internet Access also has one of the largest numbers and selections of servers of all the VPN providers on our roundup.

The PIA client source code is also publicly available, leaving no doubts about how the software works (or whether or not there are any backdoors or other nasties lurking in the code). Other nice features include split tunneling, a kill switch in the event of a dropped connection, dedicated IP addresses, and anonymous payments when making online purchases.

We tested Private Internet Access using its Windows installer, which configures the VPN protocols and provides a simple utility in the taskbar to turn the VPN connection on and off. While the interface was spartan, the performance was excellent. Our test system consistently maintained over 110Mbps download and 19Mbps upload speeds with the VPN connection turned on, very close to our usual 125Mbps download and 20Mbps upload speeds.

On the downside, Netflix complained about a proxy and Amazon Prime Video wouldn’t play due to a geographical restriction. These errors occurred whether we used the automatic setting or selected a local U.S.-based server. However, Private Internet Access claims that users can get “unrestricted access to all the content you want” since their VPN service supports Netflix and “all other major streaming services.”

What is the best VPN?

NordVPN is our pick for the best VPN of 2021, but there are some things to consider before you hit that “buy now” button. While the core of VPN services is simple, it’s often surrounded by a wide range of features, statistics, and modes that require some study to fully understand.

To help narrow down your choices, we suggest starting with a few questions. First, where do you want a VPN? Do you just want it on your phone for public areas? Do you want it directly on a router or a specific browser (Opera, for example, comes with its own built-in VPN, as do others)? Do you want a whole-house VPN for all the computers and smart devices connected to your local network?

Then, take a look at important features like the number of simultaneous devices supported (if you have a lot of devices online at once, some VPNs may be automatically disqualified here). If you want to beat geoblocking, look for VPNs that have a lot of different server locations. If you want a business VPN, look for advanced security features and broad compatibility with different platforms. Features like split-tunneling to help speed up specific services may also be very important for gamers or high-definition movie streaming.

Which is the most secure VPN?

All of the VPNs on our list have high ratings for security, but there are a few specific things you should look for if your safety threshold is a bit higher than that of an average user. We suggest paying attention to:

  • No-log policies: This is the VPN promising that they don’t log locations or activities for any user. Certain VPNs offer third-party verified audits, while others provide detailed information on their code so users can see for themselves.
  • Location: A variety of countries have specific regulations requiring data retention so they can investigate illegal activities, etc. Certain VPNs claim they avoid these restrictions by having their headquarters in places like the Bahamas or Panama. This is a somewhat murky subject, but worth watching for.
  • Kill switches: When a VPN service suddenly drops or has an outage, a kill switch will automatically keep you from connecting to the internet, ensuring that your location or data are not accidentally exposed.
  • Double encryption: Some of the best VPN services offer a double encryption mode that will encrypt data twice instead of just once. It may not be necessary, but if you are truly worried about hacking attempts it could be useful.
  • A choice of security protocols: For those who really want to dig into privacy options, the ability to switch between security protocols like OpenVPN and IKEv2 can be useful.

Due to the fact that it ticks all of these boxes, and thanks to additional advanced features like split tunneling, NordVPN takes the cake as the most secure VPN you can subscribe to right now.

Should you use a VPN in 2021?

In the most basic terms, a virtual private network allows you to safely send information when using public networks via a group of networked computers and faraway servers. And while VPNs are effective at what they do, you should be aware of their limitations.

For general data encryption and protection when online, they are an excellent choice. They can help prevent data throttling by hiding you from your ISP (internet service provider). They can get around regional restrictions or price changes by allowing users to switch servers at will. Additional features can restrict web access, help detect malicious sites, and other services.

On the other hand, even the best VPN is not a security panacea. They can be detected and banned by governments, for example, and low-quality versions can log and even sell your data. Services can also block access to content when a VPN is used, which is why trying to get around something like Netflix’s regional restrictions can be hit or miss.

All that said, so long as you understand their limitations and adjust your expectations accordingly, we definitely think that you should use a VPN in 2021 if you’re concerned with online privacy and security.

Should you use a free VPN or buy one?

Signing up for free VPNs, while tempting at first glance, can be a risky business. Know that all “free” services are making money off of you somehow (the old axiom that states “if something’s free, you’re the product” comes to mind), whether it be from advertisements or something less innocuous, such as selling user activity data. The best VPNs typically promise no activity or user logs and many boast third-party audits of this claim but do have fees.

We’ve narrowed down the very best VPN service options above, but thanks to frequent deals and discounts, you’ll find that even the best services don’t cost that much. The small savings you get by using a free VPN really aren’t worth the trade-off in performance and protection. Check out our guide to are free VPNs are safe for more in-depth info about the risks and compromises involved with these.

Shopping on a budget? We’ve also rounded up all the best VPN deals.

Is using a VPN illegal?

Virtual private networks themselves are perfectly legal in most jurisdictions, including the United States, and  there’s nothing illegal about using one for anything you’d do on the internet that’s not an unlawful activity. At its most basic, a VPN is simply a network of privately operated servers that you connect to and through which your internet traffic is routed. That said, VPNs can still put the user in a legal gray area under certain circumstances. This largely comes down to geography.

Certain countries and jurisdictions, particularly those where the state engages in censorship, have laws against circumventing these government restrictions, up to and including blanket bans on virtual private networks. China, Cuba, Iraq, Egypt, Turkey, and Russia are a few countries known for restricting or completely prohibiting VPN usage. If you’re concerned about this, make sure to read up on your national and local laws before you start shopping for a VPN.

It also should go without saying that a VPN doesn’t cast a magic spell that makes illegal activities legal. Any action that is unlawful when conducted online without a VPN is still unlawful when using a VPN. This includes piracy. Peer-to-peer file-sharing protocols such as BitTorrent have many legitimate uses (open-source software distribution, for example), but illegally sharing copyrighted materials isn’t one of them. Bear this in mind if you’re specifically looking for a good VPN for torrenting.

Also know that virtual private network providers are beholden to the laws of whichever country they’re registered in and may have to hand over information to law enforcement during the course of an investigation. Virtually all VPN operators boast a “no logs” policy, meaning that they do not keep a record of user activity. In this case, there would be nothing to hand over, although there’s no way to be fully certain that a VPN provider’s “no log” policy is being followed to the letter.

Some VPNs have their no-log practices audited by independent third parties on a regular (typically annual) basis, but this still doesn’t offer 100% certainty. The only way to be sure that you stay out of trouble while using a VPN is to simply obey the law. A virtual private network is for protecting your privacy and keeping your sensitive personal information secure — not for conducting illegal activities outside of the purview of law enforcement.

Finally, note that while not illegal, using a VPN does violate the terms of service of certain websites and apps (Netflix is one notable example). While breaking a company’s terms of service is not a crime, it can still result in that site or app restricting your access to its services and even shutting down your account. Virtual private networks often advertise that they are streaming- and gaming-friendly, but in our own tests we have frequently found this to be hit-and-miss. Be sure to do your research if you plan to use your VPN activities like these.

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