Choosing the right virtual private network (VPN) service is no simple task. A VPN should keep your internet usage private and secure, but not every service handles your data in the same way. Just look at the critiques of notable computer security experts and online pundits to understand the challenge.
(Want to know more about VPNs and what they can and can’t do? Skip down to our “What is a VPN?” section below.)
VPN cheat sheet
Our quick-hit recommendations
Since it takes research to find out if a VPN service has a history of good or bad behavior, we’ve done the legwork to find the best VPN out there. In order to win our seal of approval, the service has to protect online privacy; allow you to keep anonymity; offer a good variety of locations from which to direct your traffic; offer fast, reliable performance; and provide an easy-to-use interface.
If you’d like to have more flexibility and choose for yourself, we also offer our tips on what to look for in a VPN. Just keep reading past our Best VPN and Best VPN for U.S. Netflix recommendations. (And if you live in the United Kingdom and are looking for a VPN, check out VPN recommendations from our sister site, TechAdvisor.)
Updated 1/29/19 to include our review of PrivateVPN by Trunkspace, a no-nonsense VPN that promised not to log any personal information. Scroll to the bottom of this article for links to all of our VPN reviews.
Best VPN overall
It’s hard to select the best overall VPN. Some services are weaker on privacy, but are significantly easier to use, while others could stand an interface redesign.
Nevertheless, the point of a VPN is to remain private and to have your internet activity kept as private as possible. For that reason, we’re choosing Mullvad as the best overall VPN (see our full review of Mullvad). The company recently released an overhauled desktop client, and the VPN does a great job at privacy. Mullvad doesn’t ask for your email address, and you can mail your payment in cash if you want to. Like many other VPNs, Mullvad has a no-logging policy and doesn’t even collect any identifying metadata from your usage.
Mullvad is also fast, though not the fastest VPN we’ve tested. Last year, we said if Mullvad added a more user-friendly interface it would be nearly unbeatable and that is definitely the state of affairs at this writing.
CyberGhost gives Mullvad some stiff competition in the speed department, especially for locations in North America and Europe. It does a good job protecting user anonymity, too—requiring no identifying information and using a third-party service for payment processing—albeit not to the same degree as Mullvad. Add to that CyberGhost’s unique, easy-to-use interface, good price, and streaming unblocking (although not for Netflix), and this VPN is a solid choice. (See our full review of CyberGhost.)
Best VPN for U.S. Netflix
If you live outside the U.S. (or are a U.S. resident and traveling abroad), a VPN is the only way to access Netflix’s US library. But ever since Netflix began blocking VPNs, few services even bother to do battle with the streaming behemoth.
Fortunately, there are some brave companies that are still trying to stay one step ahead of Netflix’s VPN catchers. Currently, Windscribe Pro is our top choice. The service delivers good speeds on its U.S. servers, and has a very simple approach to Netflix: Just select the “Windflix” connection from the desktop app or browser extension and you’re good to go. Windflix is still technically in beta, but it works well and there’s even a Windflix U.K. option if you’d like to experience Netflix from the other side of the pond.
Of course, Netflix could block access at any time, but right now Windscribe is one step ahead of the streaming giant’s crackdown. (For more about Windscribe Pro see our full review.)