Our pick of the best VPNs to protect your online privacy, stream content and browse the web anonymously from anywhere
If you want to ensure your personal data doesn’t fall into the wrong hands, you need a VPN. Short for “virtual private network”, this is a service that you can run on your PC, smartphone or router to encrypt all your internet traffic and forward it to its destination through a secure server, normally outside of the UK.
This means no-one can see what you’re doing online – not even your ISP can see which websites you browse, which videos you watch, which items you buy and so forth. Using a VPN can also get you into websites and streaming services that aren’t normally available to us Brits, since apps and websites will think you’re in the country where your chosen VPN server is located.
The best VPN services offer thousands of servers spread all over the world, so you can conceal your identity and disguise your location.
How to choose the best VPN for you
How does a VPN work?
When you launch a VPN app on your PC or mobile device, you’ll be prompted to select a country or server. Most VPNs will default to a server near to where you live to ensure you get the fastest possible connection. As soon as you connect, you’ll get instant anonymity with little or no impact on your browsing speed.
If you prefer, you can choose a server in a different country. This makes it harder for anyone to track your real location, and it can unblock region-restricted content: for example, if you choose a VPN server in the US, you can access US-only content such as HBO Max, Hulu and the American Netflix library.
A VPN can also gain you access to sites that are blocked by your ISP, or by governmental censors such as in China. And if you use BitTorrent to share files, a VPN conceals your identity and protects you against legal issues.
What are the must-have features of a good VPN?
1. No-logs policy
A no-logs policy means that the VPN operator doesn’t keep any records of the sites you visit or the data you exchange with them. This ensures your privacy is protected, even if the service suffers a security breach, or is legally compelled to hand over information about its customers. Many free VPN services can’t make this promise, as they make their money by selling your personal information to advertisers – for this reason, we’d suggest you be wary of them, although they can be a good way to test the water before you commit to a long-term service.
Conversely, two of our favourite VPNs – ExpressVPN and NordVPN – have not only made this commitment, they’ve invited independent auditors to inspect their servers and confirm that they don’t log or store any identifiable user data.
Adding extra waypoints to your internet connection has an impact on speed – but the best VPN providers make big investments in fast infrastructure, to ensure that their services don’t slow your browsing to a crawl, even when you’re using servers halfway around the world. We test every VPN to find out which have the least impact on your download and streaming experience.
3. Access streaming services
Many video-streaming services use basic measures to try to block VPN users – but a good service will fly under the radar and let you access whatever you want to watch. Ideally you should be able to watch foreign services like Netflix US without a hitch – and you should also be able to watch British services like BBC iPlayer when connected to a UK server, which means you can watch UK shows while you’re abroad. CyberGhost is a standout service here – it has a long list of dedicated streaming servers, which can help you access video services all around the world with one click.
4. Simultaneous connections
A VPN will usually let you connect from more than one device – which is handy if you want to keep the VPN running on your phone, as well as on a desktop computer or smart TV. Some (such as Atlas VPN and Surfshark) allow unlimited simultaneous connections. If you have the right hardware, it’s also often possible to install a VPN on your router to protect all your home devices in one go, although this does mean they all have to go through the same server.
5. 24/7 customer support
A VPN is a paid-for service, and you’re entitled to expect decent customer support. All our top VPNs offer online tutorials to help you get the best from their features and 24/7 customer support is normally on hand – often via live web chat – in case you need help with anything at any time of the day.
How we test
Every VPN we review is subjected to rigorous first-hand testing. We start by installing both the desktop and mobile clients, trying out each one’s features and exploring the interfaces for ourselves.
We then test internet performance, using the Google Speed Test tool. We establish a baseline by testing speed with the VPN deactivated, then repeat the test while connected to VPN servers in London, New York and other locations around the world, to see how upload and download speeds are affected.
Next, we try a range of video streaming sites, including Netflix, Disney+, BBC iPlayer and Now TV; on desktop platforms we launch each site in the browser, while on mobile devices we use the dedicated app. We test whether it’s possible to access US-only content by connecting through a server in the US, and we also test whether British sites are accessible when using a server in the UK. Remember, though, streaming services can update their VPN-detection systems without warning, so no VPN is guaranteed to work 100% of the time.
Finally, we use online tools such as DNS Leak Test to confirm that the VPN isn’t revealing any information about our DNS requests, as this could compromise your privacy. All of these tests are taken into account in our ratings and recommendations.
Why you should trust us
Dr Darien Graham-Smith has been reviewing consumer security products and services for more than 15 years. The author of PC Pro’s Ultimate Guide to Internet Security (2012), his recommendations combine objective testing with personal experience. He installs and uses every security suite and VPN, so he knows exactly what to look for – and what to avoid.
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The best VPNs you can buy in 2023
1. NordVPN: Best all-round VPN
Price when reviewed: From £2.49/mth (two-year subscription) | Check prices at NordVPN
NordVPN is based in Panama, well beyond the reach of any authorities that might want to snoop on your activities. It has a no-logging policy and has put itself through two independent audits in recent years to confirm its trustworthiness. There’s built-in ad and malware blocking too, for the best possible browsing experience.
The service is exceptionally fast. Using a 200Mbits/sec fibre line, we were impressed to see download speeds of 196Mbits/sec from NordVPN’s US servers. And, once connected, we had no problem accessing US content from Netflix and Disney+, meaning this is also a top choice for video streamers.
With servers in 59 different countries, it’s very likely you’ll be able to find a connection that suits, and there are also dedicated servers for anonymous file sharing over BitTorrent. Best of all, it’s very reasonably priced, with an initial two-year subscription costing just £60, equivalent to £2.49/mth.
Read our full NordVPN review for more details
Key specs – Independent no-logs audit: Yes; Maximum simultaneous connections: 6; 24/7 customer support: Yes; Streaming service access: Yes; Money-back guarantee: 30 days; Based in: Panama
2. ExpressVPN: Best VPN for streaming
Price when reviewed: From £5.86/mth (one-year subscription) | Check prices at ExpressVPN
ExpressVPN provides almost everything you could ask for in a VPN. It offers more than 3,000 servers in 94 countries around the world and is fast enough to stream multiple 4K videos at once, even from the US.
It also did an excellent job of unblocking streaming services for us, letting us enjoy the US libraries of Disney+ and Netflix as well as several UK services without a hitch.
Perhaps one of ExpressVPN’s greatest strengths is security. It’s based in the British Virgin Islands, so it’s well outside the jurisdiction of the UK, EU or US. It also maintains a strict zero-log policy.
The current deal gets you 15 months for just over £5 a month, making this not only a very versatile VPN but a very affordable one too.
Read our full ExpressVPN review for more details
Key specs – Independent no-logs audit: Yes; Maximum simultaneous connections: 5; 24/7 customer support: Yes; Streaming service access: Yes; Money-back guarantee: 30 days; Based in: British Virgin Islands
3. Atlas VPN: Best-value VPN
Price when reviewed: From £1.35/mth (39-month subscription) | Check prices at Atlas VPN
If you’re turned off by the cost of high-end VPN services, give Atlas VPN a look. It’s a fully featured VPN that’s terrifically cheap: a three-year subscription costs just £52.36, and you get three free months on top of that, working out to just £1.35/mth. Even better, that low price covers unlimited simultaneous connections, so you can use it on as many devices as you want.
Despite the low price, Atlas VPN is fast – in our tests, we found it had enough bandwidth to let us simultaneously stream multiple 4K movies from US servers. It had no problem unblocking the American libraries of Disney+ and Netflix either, and worked just as well with BBC iPlayer and BritBox.
Like NordVPN, Atlas VPN operates out of Panama – actually it’s owned by the same company – so your data is kept well away from European authorities. The customary no-log policy means that nothing is stored about your activity anyway.
In some ways, Atlas VPN isn’t quite as mature as other VPNs. It doesn’t offer a custom browser extension, there’s currently no support for setting up the VPN on your router, and right now split tunnelling is only supported on Android. If you’re looking for a VPN with an emphasis on value, however, Atlas VPN is an easy winner.
Read our full Atlas VPN review for more details
Key specs – Independent no-logs audit: No; Maximum simultaneous connections: Unlimited; 24/7 customer support: Yes; Streaming service access: Yes; Money-back guarantee: 30 days; Based in: Panama
4. Hide.me: The most feature-packed VPN
Price when reviewed: From £4.17/mth (two-year subscription) | Check prices at Hide.me
A great roster of features sets Hide.me apart from the crowd. It offers specialised servers for streaming video from countries around the world, including Turkey and Japan, and a customisable multi-hop function that lets you route your data through multiple territories, to defeat even the most determined snoops.
In our tests we didn’t find it to be quite the fastest VPN around, but we still measured downstream speeds of 141Mbits/sec when connected to Hide.me’s New York server – so there’s plenty of bandwidth even if you want to stream 4K HDR movies to several devices at once. And while we weren’t able to get BBC iPlayer or other British services, Netflix and Disney+ happily showed us their US libraries.
Since Hide.me is based in Malaysia, it’s well beyond the reach of European and US authorities, and the company assures us that it doesn’t store any user data. And while the price is higher than some other VPNs, the two-year subscription includes 2TB of cloud storage and permits up to ten simultaneous connections. Unusually, there’s a free tier too, although this offers a limited selection of servers and only lets you transfer a maximum of 10GB a month.
Read our full Hide.me VPN review for more details
Key specs – Independent no-logs audit: Yes; Maximum simultaneous connections: 10; 24/7 customer support: No; Streaming service access: Yes; Money-back guarantee: 30 days; Based in: Malaysia
5. CyberGhost VPN: The most user-friendly VPN
Price when reviewed: From £1.70/mth (40-month subscription) | Check prices at CyberGhost
CyberGhost VPN opens on a reassuringly simple interface, with only a basic on/off switch. Expand the toolbar though and you’ll discover all sorts of tools and information. We like that the software gives an indication of server distance and load, so you get an idea of likely connection speed. And there are custom servers for specific streaming services such as BBC iPlayer, US Netflix, YouTube and ESPN. Useful additional extras include the option to block ads, malicious websites and online tracking.
There’s a killswitch too, which is turned on by default so your browsing activity won’t leak if the VPN accidentally disconnects. And the service automatically chooses the best connection protocol based on the device you’re using.
It all comes at a very low price – at least if you’re willing to make a long-term commitment – and there’s also a generous 45-day money-back guarantee, so you’ve very little to lose. If you’re a newcomer to the world of VPNs, CyberGhost is the perfect place to start.
Read our full CyberGhost VPN review for more details
Key specs – Independent no-logs audit: No; Maximum simultaneous connections: 7; 24/7 customer support: Yes; Streaming service access: Yes; Money-back guarantee: 45 days; Based in: Romania
6. Private Internet Access (PIA) VPN: Best VPN for expert users
Price when reviewed: From £1.66/mth (three-year subscription) | Check prices at Private Internet Access
Better known as PIA, Private Internet Access VPN is a well-rounded product that can be used on a generous ten devices at the same time – making it an ideal choice for families. It’s a big VPN too, with over 11,000 servers in 74 countries, with three locations in the UK alone.
The software strikes a good balance between features and ease of use: it’s easy enough for first-timers to get started, but there are options for more technical users too, including a configurable killswitch and optional blocking of domains used for ads, trackers and malware. You can set up split tunnelling to choose which apps only use the VPN – and PIA is one of the very few VPNs to have a full graphical client for Linux systems.
Our only caveat is that, while PIA has a strict no-logs policy, it’s based in the USA, so legally speaking it’s not quite as well insulated as other VPNs. On the plus side, that may have helped PIA deliver strong transatlantic speeds in our tests – and the price is very fair.
Read our full Private Internet Access review for more details
Key specs – Independent no-logs audit: No; Maximum simultaneous connections: 10; 24/7 customer support: Yes; Streaming service access: Yes; Money-back guarantee: 30 days; Based in: USA
7. IPVanish: Best VPN for BitTorrent
Price when reviewed: From £2.71/mth (one-year subscription) | Check prices at IPVanish
IPVanish doesn’t just let you choose which country you want to browse from – you can pick specific cities and even individual servers if you want. Alternatively, you can scroll around a graphical map-based interface, zoom in and connect to the region of your choice.
We found IPVanish wasn’t a front-runner for bypassing geo-blocked content. We were able to access US content from Netflix and Disney+, and there’s even a convenient app for Amazon Fire TV Stick; however, Hulu was blocked, as were UK services including BritBox and Now TV. Still, it’s a great VPN for BitTorrent, providing fast downloads and strong security courtesy of AES-256 encryption.
There’s also a generous ten-connection limit, plus 24/7 customer support and a 30-day money-back guarantee. Like PIA above it’s based in the USA, which might be an issue if you’re seeking absolute anonymity – but if you can live with that it’s a strong choice.
Read our full IPVanish review for more details
Key specs – Independent no-logs audit: No; Maximum simultaneous connections: 10; 24/7 customer support: Yes; Streaming service access: No; Money-back guarantee: 30 days; Based in: USA
8. HMA VPN: Best UK-based VPN
Price when reviewed: From £2.39/mth (three-year subscription) | Check prices at HMA
Formerly known as “Hide My Ass”, HMA VPN has its headquarters in central London, so it’s a good choice if you don’t want to send your traffic around the world. If you do though that’s not a problem: HMA has servers in 210 countries, and delivered decent speeds in our tests.
A single subscription lets you use the service on five devices at the same time. You can pay a little extra to double that to ten, or install the VPN on a compatible router to cover a whole network.
If you’re concerned about your privacy, the company’s location could count against it, since the UK has data-sharing agreements with several Western nations. We also found that HMA didn’t manage to unblock BBC iPlayer in our tests, which is a shame for a UK-based service. Still, it’s competitively priced, and the software is simple and friendly to use.
Read our full HMA VPN review for more details
Key specs – Independent no-logs audit: No; Maximum simultaneous connections: 5; 24/7 customer support: No; Streaming service access: Yes; Money-back guarantee: 30 days; Based in: UK