The Best VPN Services Tested for Speed, Reliability and Privacy

The WIRED guide to the best VPN for the UK (free and paid) on Mac, Windows, iPhone, Android and more.
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Short for Virtual Private Network, a VPN is an encrypted connection from your device to a remote server. Commercial VPN services provide an encrypted tunnel for all your internet traffic, sending it through their network infrastructure to conceal your location and data.

This can prevent your activity from being snooped on via your local network or ISP and also means that you can virtually relocate yourself to a different country, which is particularly handy if you'd like to watch streaming services that aren't available in the UK.

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What is the best VPN service in 2022?

For general use, with blistering speeds, the latest technologies and rock-sold streaming performance, NordVPN is on top of its game. It’s come in the highest echelon of our speed tests month after month, is reasonably priced and streams exclusive region-locked content with ease. It's our best VPN

Sign up to NordVPN for £44 per year 

If you don’t have that kind of budget, Windscribe’s 10GB-per-month free service is our best free VPN, with blistering connection speeds, streaming support, 11 endpoint locations to choose from, although ProtonVPN’s free service doesn’t limit your data throughput.

Sign up to Windscribe for free/£35 per year 

If it’s streaming prowess on a budget you’re after, look no further than Surfshark, which takes special care to ensure that a massive range of international services are available to its users, including 15 regional Netflix libraries, Hulu and US Disney+, a well as iPlayer, so you needn’t disconnect to catch up with your favourite local TV, either. It costs around half as much as most privates, and is easily fast enough to support the highest quality settings, too, if your internet connection’s up to it. It's the best VPN for streaming under Windows.

Sign up to Surfshark for £44 every two years

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WIRED Recommends: Fast, reliable, excellent for streaming, NordVPN has learned from past errors and makes day-to-day VPN use easy

UK HTTP speed : 472 Mbit/s NL HTTP speed: 510.4 Mbit/s US HTTP speed: 375.2 Mbit/s

Logging policy: No logging | Endpoint locations: 59 | HQ: Panama | Simultaneous connections: 6 | Supported protocols: OpenVPN, IKEv2/IPSec, SSTP, L2TP, WireGuard | Clients: Windows, macOS, Linux command line, Android, iOS | Anonymous payments: Cryptocurrency| Trial: 30 day money back guarantee

Headquartered in data protection friendly Panama, NordVPN has a longstanding reputation as a privacy-focused VPN provider. The company has impressed us by following through on its commitment  to improve its security, communication and transparency since a 2018 security breach was revealed in Autumn 2019, with measures including every endpoint server using RAM disks which are automatically wiped on power-off or reset.

NordVPN's logging policy is already transparent and is regularly audited by PricewaterhouseCoopers AG in Switzerland, which confirmed the company's claim that it keeps no logs.

A subscription to our top VPN costs £8.84 per month, £43.66 a year and £65.86 for two years: the longer you subscribe for, the better value you get. Keep an eye out for renewals though, as your subscription will renew at whatever the current price is, whether that's lower or higher than what you originally paid. Anonymous payment options are available through gift cards and cryptocurrency, and there's a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Clients are available for a wide range of platforms and NordVPN is actively testing and implementing new protocols as they emerge. Although it’s not yet the default setting for the client, the NordLynx protocol, launched for Linux and more recently rolled out to Windows users, is a secured version of the fast and increasingly popular WireGuard protocol.

Performance has been consistently good in tests over the past year, although speeds to the Netherlands and US were unusually slow this month. It's also one of the most reliable services for international streaming video enthusiasts, providing access to region-restricted US Netflix and Disney+ content, as well as iPlayer in the UK, among other services. We’re also huge fans of its convenient browser plugins, which are particularly handy for streaming.

Nord has an audited no-logs policy, but we’d nonetheless recommend either ExpressVPN (below) or a self-hosted VPN solution for the most security-conscious users. If you're looking for a fast VPN for region-shifting and working around a restrictive local network, Surfshark is cheaper but NordVPN is the fastest jack-of-all-trades VPN provider right now.

Pros: Good for video streaming; consistently fast 

Cons: Slow disclosure of 2018 security breach

Price: £43.66 per year | Sign up to NordVPN


Unlimited bandwidth and broad client support for free, with improved performance to boot

UK HTTP speed: 428.8 Mbit/s (paid) / No endpoint (free) NL HTTP speed: 510.4 Mbit/s (paid) / 12.8 Mbit/s (free) US HTTP speed: 404 Mbit/s (paid) / 76.8 Mbit/s (free)

Logging policy: No logging | Endpoint locations: 3 free / 54 paid | HQ: Switzerland | Simultaneous connections: 5 | Protocols: OpenVPN, IPSec/IKEv2 | Clients: Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS | Anonymous payments: Cryptocurrency, cash | Trial: Free tier, 7 day free Premium trial, 30 day money back guarantee | Data cap: Unlimited

Swiss-based ProtonVPN is well known for its unlimited free VPN. Only three endpoint locations – in the US, Netherlands and Japan – are available to free users, and free users don’t get access to the obfuscated Secure Core endpoints, designed to help conceal the fact that you're even using a VPN – important in places where their use is restricted.

ProtonVPN has far too many subscription tiers on offer. Take our advice and ignore the Basic option, even though it’s far cheaper than most rival services, it doesn’t provide access to ProtonVPN’s high-speed, streaming and obfuscated SecureCore endpoints. The Visionary tier is mostly there for people who want to support what the company is doing with its privacy-oriented services.

What you want is ProtonVPN Plus, which costs £81 a year. A more cost-effective two year subscription is available for £134. 

The performance of ProtonVPN’s paid service has gone from strength to strength, and our latest tests saw transfer speeds of over 400 Mbit/s from all three test locations. Only NordVPN and Mullvad can match it. Its unlimited-bandwidth free service, however, tends to be slow due to high demand, although we’ll give it credit for managing 77 Mbit/s throughput via our New York test location this month.

ProtonVPN has proved to be as good for streaming as NordVPN and Surfshark, giving us access to iPlayer as well as US-exclusive Netflix and Disney+ shows. A fully-featured account is expensive, but this is nonetheless a great choice for a day-to-day VPN, but those who’re leery of Swiss law may prefer NordVPN, headquartered in Panama, or British Virgin Islands-registered Surfshark.

ProtonVPN has a clear no-logging policy, solid security features, and maintains a transparency report . Proton Technologies came under recent criticism when its ProtonMail service was forced under Swiss law to hand over data to French police via a September 2021 Europol request; one of the downsides of a service based in Switzerland. In its favour, Proton Technologies continues to fight for its users’ privacy and has just won a battle to exempt it from traffic monitoring requirements. Neither of these cases directly affects ProtonVPN or its logging policy, but both speak to the legal climate in which Proton Technologies operates.

Pros: Unlimited bandwidth on free tier; clear no-logging policy; good streaming support 

Cons: Paid service is expensive and confusingly priced

Price: Free / £81 per year | Sign up to ProtonVPN


Consistently good speeds and great streaming performance combined with competitive subscription deals

UK HTTP speed: 181.6 Mbit/s NL HTTP speed: 133.6 Mbit/s US HTTP speed: 131.2 Mbit/s

Logging policy: No logging | Endpoint locations: 65 | HQ: British Virgin Islands | Simultaneous connections: Unlimited | Protocols: OpenVPN, IKEv2/IPSec, Socks5 (shadowsocks) | Clients: Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS | Anonymous payments: None | Trial options: 30 day money back guarantee

Surfshark, founded in 2018, is headquartered in the British Virgin Islands, a privacy-friendly region popular with VPN services that wish to reduce their vulnerability to court and law enforcement orders. 

While it doesn't maintain a warrant canary or transparency document – these are more often used by services based in countries that place greater legal obligations upon VPN providers – Surfshark has a range of privacy-oriented features. These include multi-hop VPN connections that attempt to conceal your point of origin by routing through two different endpoint countries, to on-by-default VPN obfuscation designed to circumvent nation-state firewalls, and security-audited browser plugins.

The service uses the fast WireGuard protocol by default, and is generally fast in our tests, although a number of similarly speed-focussed rivals beat it for sheer speed in our tests this month. This month it maxed out at over 250 Mbit/s, and has performed consistently well across all three of our test locations in all of 2021's tests. With 65 endpoint countries, it covers most of the places you're likely to wish to connect to.

Unusually, Surfshark verifies the availability of 15 different international Netflix libraries, while you're lucky to get consistent access to the UK, US and Canada from many of its rivals. This is an unusual commitment to streaming video reliability at a time when streaming services are increasingly hostile to VPN users. We were able to confirm that it allowed access to US-exclusive content.

It's competitively priced, too. While it entirely lacks an annual subscription tier, £43.21 will get you a two-year subscription. That's less than many services charge for a single year. There's nothing exciting about the £9.36 monthly subscription, but £28.16 every 6 months works out at around the same as most of its rivals’ annual subs if you don’t want to commit for two years at a time.

Pros: Fast; great for streaming; cheap long-term subscriptions 

Cons: None to speak of

Price: £44 for two years | Sign up to Surfshark


ExpressVPN’s recent change of ownership has raised some eyebrows, but its speed and streaming performance remains good

UK HTTP speed: 162.4 Mbit/s NL HTTP speed: 176 Mbit/s US HTTP speed: 175.2 Mbit/s

Logging policy: No logging | Endpoint locations: 95 | HQ: British Virgin Islands | Simultaneous connections: 5 | Supported protocols: OpenVPN, PPTP, SSTP, L2TP/IPSec, Lightway | Clients: Windows, macOS, Linux command line, Android, iOS, FireOS | Anonymous payments: Cryptocurrency | Trial: 30 day money back guarantee

Based in the British Virgin Islands – a favourite location for businesses that want to keep their data private for a variety of reasons, ExpressVPN is among the handful of VPN services with a no-logging policy that's been proven as a result of legal action, following a seizure of the company's Turkish servers by law enforcement. The service's no-logging policy has also been independently audited.

However, this now happened under previous ownership. Like erstwhile rivals Private Internet Access and CyberGhost, ExpressVPN is, as of September 2021, now owned by UK-based Kape Technologies. Because legal action against VPN providers is rare, we’ve yet to see how any of Kape’s brands will respond to such events - they’re all no-logging VPN services with solid reputations. We’re also concerned by so many of the biggest names in the VPN business now being owned by a single company, although they continue to operate independently. 

Further drama surrounding an FBI investigation into ExpressVPN CTO Daniel Gericke in October 2021 has further rocked user confidence.

Although it’s not always among the absolute fastest VPN providers, ExpressVPN's performance in our speed tests is consistently good, with reliably fast HTTP download speeds via UK, Netherlands and US endpoints. ExpressVPN consistently provides seamless, undetected streaming of region-locked Netflix and Disney+ content in the US, although it struggled with iPlayer in the UK in our most recent tests.

The company’s fast Lightway protocol has now been added to the mainline Windows client and can be selected or allowed to be auto-selected alongside other supported protocols. Its code base has not yet been published for public audit, however, compared to the open source WireGuard and OpenVPN protocols.

ExpressVPN subscribers can have simultaneous connections on up to five devices to any of 95 endpoint locations. As well as a wide range of clients and instructions to connect any device you'll need to use, ExpressVPN also has extremely useful browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox, which are particularly handy for video streaming.

For performance, features and security, ExpressVPN is a conspicuously high quality VPN provider. However, it's significantly more expensive than most of its rivals, with an annual subscription fee of £75 working out at around £6.25 per month. You can also subscribe for a month at  £9.71 or six months at £45.

Consistently among the most expensive VPN services around, its performance and unblemished reputation has justified the cost for years. However, the amount of recent disruption in the company’s business life makes it little more difficult to unequivocally recommend to new subscribers, although it remains a highly capable choice for the vast majority of VPN users.

Pros: Reliably quick; strong security pedigree; excellent range of features

Cons: Expensive; buy-out and staff legal issues dent user confidence

Price: £75 per year | Sign up to ExpressVPN

Private Internet Access

Fast, cheap and secure, but not your best bet for streaming

UK HTTP speed: 168 Mbit/s NL HTTP speed: 204 Mbit/s US HTTP speed: 61.6 Mbit/s

Logging policy: No logging | Endpoint locations: 37 | HQ: United States | Simultaneous connections: 10 | Protocols: OpenVPN, PPTP, L2TP/IPSec, SOCKS5 Proxy | Clients: Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS | Anonymous payments: Cryptocurrency | Trial: 30-day money back guarantee

With a track record for privacy that's been demonstrated in court, a massively increased 77 endpoint countries, up to 10 simultaneous connections and a solid range of security options, Private Internet Access has an excellent reputation. However, although official policy hasn’t changed since the company was bought by Kape Technologies in 2018, its security credentials under new ownership haven’t yet been put to a serious test: the latest US government demand for logs from PIA has yet to go to court.

PIA's annual subscription is one of the cheapest around, at £32 per year, while its month-to-month plan costs around £8. There's a 30-day money-back guarantee in case you're not happy with the service. The company is currently offering a three-year subscription for £65, which works out at £1.81 a month and looks even better when you take into account its revamped streaming support.

PIA historically hasn’t focused on region-shifting for video streaming services as a priority, but this has now changed with the introduction of dedicated endpoints for streaming video content. These cover the UK, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, the USA and Japan, and they worked perfectly for our usual iPlayer, Netflix and Disney+ tests.

It’s been a long time since Private Internet Access beat all rivals in our speed tests, but it sat comfortably around the middle of the pack for most of 2021. This month, UK speeds were above the group average, coming in at almost 300Mbit/s. Netherlands and US speeds were both above 100Mbit/s, about a fifth the speed of our reference connection without a VPN, and easily good enough for most gaming or streaming you’ll want to do.. Despite unremarkably speeds,a low price and reliability count for a lot. We rarely get a catastrophically poor performance from PIA.

PIA has a strong track record for security by dint of having been unlucky enough to get dragged through the US court system more than once, only to reveal that it indeed keeps no logs to provide as evidence. Note, though, that this all occurred under previous ownership; we’ve no reason to expect any changes in a forthcoming piracy case. Private Internet Access also maintains a transparency report.

PIA is based in the US, keeps no logs and provides anonymous payment options, making it a good choice if security on a budget is what you're looking for in a VPN service. However, its performance has been uninspiring for months.

Pros: Low subscription costs; logging policy proven in court; fast transfer speeds; video streaming finally works

Cons: Relatively poor US speeds

Price: £32.49 per year | Sign up to Private Internet Access


Tunnelbear is reliably quick, but it's not for video streaming and its free VPN bandwidth cap is still disappointingly low

UK HTTP speed: 170.4 Mbit/s (paid) / 173.6 Mbit/s (free) NL HTTP speed: 184.8 Mbit/s (paid) / 164.8 Mbit/s (free) US HTTP speed: 96 Mbit/s (paid) / 130.4 Mbit/s (free)

Logging policy: No logging | Endpoint locations: 22 | HQ: Canada | Simultaneous connections: 5 | Protocols: OpenVPN, IPSec/IKEv2 | Clients: Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS | Anonymous payments: Cryptocurrency | Trial: Free tier | Data cap: 500MB per month

Canada-based Tunnelbear was bought by McAfee in 2018, but still retains its popular free service, which gives you 500MB of data a month, which you can boost to 1GB every month by tweeting about the service. That's not very much by the standard of the modern web, so we recommend using Windscribe and ProtonVPN’s free tiers instead.

If you pay for the service, you get unlimited data, as you'd expect, at blisteringly fast speeds. Tunnelbear’s performance has been consistently among the fastest VPN services we tested in recent months, and continues to hold its position towards the front of the field.

Its pricing is fairly standard compared to its rivals, but it doesn't offer quite as many features as most, as it isn't a great choice for streaming video fans – we can usually watch Netflix US, but little else. You'll pay £43.26 for an annual subscription, £7.22 for one month, and there's a good-value three year subscription that works out at the equivalent of £2.841 a month. At the time of writing, the company is running an anniversary sale with a 67% one-off discount, which, along with a currently weak dollar, makes it an even better deal for UK users.

Clients are available for Windows, macOS, Android, iOS and a couple of browsers, with up to 5 simultaneous connections per paid-for account. Instructions are available to manually connect Linux-based desktops, as well as routers and other devices which support OpenVPN, and the service has endpoints in some 26 countries, available to all users.

TunnelBear has an as-yet-unproven no-logging policy, but it also bans any kind of torrent use across all its endpoints to avoid getting caught up in any legal requirements to keep logs. While it can’t quite compete with fellow Canadian firm Windscribe, Tunnelbear is worth having on standby as a free service and the paid version is very fast.

The service is committed to circumventing internet censorship and has recently worked to to allow users in Iran and Belarus to access it. TunnelBear says that it aims to share regular transparency data, but the latest report we’ve been able to find is dated 2019, while its last published security report was in early 2020. We look forward to an update.

While it can’t quite compete with fellow Canadian firm Windscribe, Tunnelbear is worth having on standby as a free service. However, if you want a fast VPN and don’t care about streaming, Mullvad is a better choice.

Pros: Fast; free speeds match paid accounts 

Cons: Free option doesn't offer much data; not much streaming support 

Price: Free / £44 per year | Sign up to Tunnelbear


Mullvad is cheap, cares about security and is extremely fast, but don’t expect to stream region-locked video while you’re connected

UK HTTP speed: 363.2 Mbit/s (paid) NL HTTP speed: 392 Mbit/s (paid) US HTTP speed: 276.8 Mbit/s (paid)

Logging policy: No logging | Endpoint locations: 36 | HQ: Sweden | Simultaneous connections: 5 | Protocols: OpenVPN, Wireguard | Clients: Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS | Anonymous payments: Cryptocurrency, cash | Trial: 30 day money back guarantee | Data cap: Unlimited

Swedish-based Mullvad might not be in a classic privacy-protecting jurisdiction, but it [link url=””]says[/link] that it’ll take down its service before handing any data to the authorities. It keeps no logs and monitors legal issues that may affect it. It says all government queries are answered with the fact that it has no information to share, but it doesn’t maintain a transparency page logging these requests.

Mullvad is particularly notable for its price - a fixed €5 (£4.28) a month which you can top up in advance to your heart’s content. You’re welcome to do that in the form of an envelope containing cash, if privacy is a concern.

You can connect from pretty much any operating system, as well as devices such as routers. The service uses the up-and-coming Wireguard protocol as well as the established OpenVPN protocol, and by default, its desktop client automatically selects between them depending on connection conditions. It tends to be blazingly fast, peaking at 340 Mbit/s this month.

Speed notwithstanding, if you were hoping to region-shift 4K video streams, you’re out of luck. Mullvad doesn’t work on any streaming platform that goes to greater effort than a simple IP address check.

Nonetheless, if you don’t care about watching iPlayer or Netflix while you’re connected, this is a fast, cheap service with no long-term contractual lock-ins to worry about. We’re fans.

Pros: Fast; cheap; clear no-logging policy; clear pricing Cons: No region-shifting support for video streaming

Price: Free / £4.28 per month | Sign up to Mullvad


A cost-effective paid tier is complemented by 10GB of free VPN bandwidth that you can use for anything, including streaming

UK HTTP speed: 124 Mbit/s (paid) / 76 Mbit/s (free) NL HTTP speed: 124 Mbit/s (paid) / 124 Mbit/s (free) US HTTP speed: 104.8 Mbit/s (paid) / 104 Mbit/s (free)

Logging policy: No logging | Endpoint locations: 11 (free) / 63 (paid) | HQ: Canada | Simultaneous connections: Unlimited | Protocols: OpenVPN, IPSec/IKEv2 | Clients: Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS, FireOS | Anonymous payments: Cryptocurrency | Trial options: Free tier | Data cap: 10GB per month

Windscribe has always been among the more generous free VPN providers, but it’s also one of the most reliable and cost-effective paid-for consumer VPN services.

Free users get 10GB of data to go through every month, in their own time. While that won't last long if you're streaming video or downloading large files, it's certainly enough for a movie or two or everyday web browsing when you need a bit of extra security.

While Windscribe has historically been generally one of the best VPNs for streaming, its endpoints have been routinely detected by Netflix since summer 2021. That applies to paying as well as free users. iPlayer doesn’t work reliably on free endpoints, but both it and Disney+ remain watchable on a paid account.

Windscribe retains no identifying data, going so far as to keep a live transparency report online to track all requests it receives for data from law enforcement as well as DMCA data requests. Windscribe has never had its servers seized, but it’s never handed over any data, either.

Free users get access to 11 endpoints in some of the more useful places around the world, while paying subscribers get access to 63 countries and extra endpoint servers in those 11 core locations. Both free and paid users get access to clients across a wide range of platforms and optional features including ad and malware blocking.

Although it’s certainly fast enough for most online activities, Windscribe has had comparatively disappointing results in our connection speed tests for most of 2021. This has somewhat improved in our most recent tests, as have some connection issues we experienced earlier in the year.

The current version of Windscribe’s desktop client is compact, easy to navigate and includes some previously absent quality-of-life features such as the ability to search for specific endpoint locations among the service’s extensive list. It also adds support for the Wireguard protocol for all users. However, leaving the client on Auto mode defaults to the IKEv2 protocol. If you want to use OpenVPN, Wireguard, or Windscribe’s obfuscated Stealth and Wstunnel connection modes, you’ll have to manually select your desired protocol in the settings.

When we carried out extra tests using the Wireguard protocol, we got mixed results, as is often the case with Wireguard across multiple VPN providers. It more than doubled our IKEv2 connection speed to the UK, at 262.4 Mbit/s using Wireguard to 127.2 Mbit/s viua IKEv2, but connections to endpoints in the Netherlands and USA were slower. This month’s test results only use the default IKEv2 protocol, but if you’re a subscriber, keep Wireguard in mind if you need a speed boost.

Clients and connection instructions are available for a wide range of platforms. We’re also great fans of Windscribe’s handy browser extension, which is particularly useful for fast region-shifting for streaming video.

Only monthly and annual subscriptions are available, but they’re cheap, with a £35 ($49) annual subscription working out at £3 per month. If you just want to pay month-to-month, that’ll cost you £6.50 ($9) a month, putting it among the cheapest streaming-friendly options for monthly subscribers.

Pros: User-friendly; generous free tier; excellent value; quick; ideal for streaming

Cons: Not especially fast; recent issues with US Netflix

Price: Free / £35.40 per year | Sign up to Windscribe

Hotspot Shield

Hotspot Shield is the provider behind many popular internet security firms’ VPN services, but its own free and paid tiers and Catapult Hydra protocol aren’t to be sniffed at

UK HTTP speed: 168 Mbit/s (paid) /  No endpoint (free) NL HTTP speed: 221.6 Mbit/s (paid) / No endpoint (free) US HTTP speed: 107.2 Mbit/s (paid) / 23.2 Mbit/s (free)

Logging policy: No logging of IP addresses | Endpoint locations: 80 | HQ: US | Simultaneous connections: 5 | Protocols: Catapult Hydra, IKEv2/IPSec | Clients: Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS, FireTV, Chrome | Anonymous payments: none | Trial: Free tier, 7 day free Premium trial, 45-day money back guarantee | Data cap: 500MB per day (free tier) / Unlimited

Hotspot Shield is the most prolific white-label VPN around, but its own free and paid-for subscriptions are well worth your attention. The service is currently owned by digital security firm Aura, which bought Hotspot Shield creator Pango (originally known as AnchorFree) in 2020 and also owns other VPN firms including Betternet and TouchVPN. 

There are three subscription tiers. A single-device free account is limited to a single endpoint - always in the US in our tests so far, a speed of 2Mbit/s and is capped at 500MB of data per day. You can’t use it on Linux, a smart TV or a router, but you don’t have to register to access it and that data allowance adds up to more than Windscribe gives you over the course of a month.

It’s also got a lot more expensive since our last update. Priced at a whopping £10.99 per month or £83.88 per year - more than ProtonVPN Plus - a premium account supports up to five devices, supports streaming, is uncapped and advertises speeds of up to 1Gbit/s. It throws in an Aura antivirus, the Robo Shield spam call blocker for mobile, and a copy of the excellent 1Password password manager.

A family subscription, at £17 per month or £126 per year, includes 5 user accounts, each of which can support 5 simultaneous connections from different devices, but doesn’t include the extra software. Hotspot Shield is one of the rare services that still offers a 7-day free trial, but you have to provide payment details to access it. There’s also a 45-day money-back guarantee.

We have no complaints about the performance of Hotspot Shield’s paid-for service, which has been generally above average in our speed tests of recent months, as well as proving itself as an effective choice for video region-shifting. 

Unlike last month, we were able to get test results from its free service this time around. However, they mostly weren't very good. The free service only gives you a US endpoint connection. This is fine if you’re connecting to a server located in the US: 23 Mbit/s isn’t great, but it’ll work perfectly well. However, avoid connecting to any service with servers solely located in the UK or Europe, as you can expect unuseable speeds of less than 3 Mbit/s.

Hotspot Shield uses its own proprietary Catapult Hydra protocol, which appears to be very effective but isn’t available for public audit. The only alternative it offers for anyone uncomfortable with that is the dated IKEv2/IPSec protocol.

Under previous ownership, Hotspot Shield was accused of compromising free users’ anonymity via the ads shown to them and suffered a user data leak affecting Windows users of its Chrome plugin, which was promptly patched. No problems have emerged in recent years, but we’d like more by way of public code audits and transparency reports - the last one we could first was published at the beginning of 2019.

Nonetheless, the free version of Hotspot Shield is a potentially useful addition to your VPN arsenal. It also provides a decent, if rather expensive, paid-for service, but you’re better off with NordVPN, ExpressVPN or Surfshark, depending on your needs.

Pros: Good free tier; good for streaming

Cons: Expensive; Catapult Hydra protocol isn’t open; no recent transparency reports

Price: Free / £69.27 per year | Sign up to Hotspot Shield 

Full test data is available at VPN Data Tracker.

More VPNs to consider 

There are plenty of other VPN services out there. Here’s our selection of a few that have merits but haven’t quite made it onto this month’s recommended list.

Avira Phantom VPN: German antivirus firm Avira has built its own VPN infrastructure from the ground up. It’s modest, with just 36 servers across 34 counties and isn’t great for streaming video beyond Netflix, but its European endpoint performance is generally decent when connecting from the UK. Free Phantom VPN users get 500MB of data every month if you don’t register. This is increased to 1GB if you create an Avira account, but the lack of a registration requirement makes it a great option if you just need a VPN in a hurry for Windows, Android and iOS.

F-Secure FREEDOME: Unlike most anti-virus firms who dabble in the world VPNs, Finland’s F-Secure has fully committed to setting up its own infrastructure, rather than using someone else’s. Performance is generally good, especially in Europe, but it’s not built for region shifting, and only supports Windows, macOS, Android and iOS. There’s a great 5-day, unlimited, registration-free trial on offer, though, and a reasonably priced three-device entry-level subscription tier.

Hide My Ass! Pro VPN: This UK-based VPN is unfortunately perhaps best known for having handed over logs in the LulzSec hacking case, although it’s always been transparent about its policy and legal obligations. However, that changed this April with HMA’s move to a no-logging policy. It’s also got the largest geographic range of endpoints of any VPN service we’ve tested, covering over 190 countries.

KeepSolid VPN Unlimited: Based in Ukraine, KeepSolid VPN Unlimited is a consistently fast and reliable VPN service for region shifting, with endpoints in 54 countries and both clients and configuration instructions for almost any software platform. Its download speeds have been a bit variable lately, but it’s generally a good bet for streaming. It doesn’t publish transparency data about law enforcement requests and you have to manually remove devices associated with your account, but it’s a decent service, particularly if you spot a good discount offer.

Mozilla VPN uses the famously fast WireGuard VPN protocol¸but isn’t particularly quick compared to most of its rivals, especially if you're connecting from the UK to the US. It combines Mozilla's own VPN client technology with backend infrastructure provided by VPN firm Mullvad, has endpoints in 30 countries and clients for Windows, Linux, macOS, Android and iOS. Mozilla VPN is currently available to subscribers in the UK, US, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore and Malaysia, but it doesn’t care where you connect from once you are a subscriber.

StrongVPN, based in the US, is a long-time US online services provider, currently owned by J2 Global, whose subsidiaries also include VIPRE VPN and IPVanish. StrongVPN is notable for allowing simultaneous connections from up to 12 devices and throwing 250GB ofSugarSync Cloud Storage in with its reasonably priced annual subscription. It successfully let us watch region-locked content on Netflix and Disney+ but was detected by BBC iPlayer. Its performance was decent, but not particularly remarkable in our speed tests, coming in around average for the UK and Netherlands and conspicuously slow when it came to US endpoints.

Opera is one of the best Chromium-based browsers around, and among the features that set it above its rivals is its integrated 'VPN' – actually a web proxy. The VPN feature is integrated into both mobile and desktop versions of the browser, is entirely free, requires no registration, and has no data cap. You can’t choose your endpoint and don’t expect reliable streaming, but it’s hassle-free extra security when you need a proxy in a hurry.

How do VPNs work?

A VPN creates an encrypted tunnel between your computer and an endpoint server, giving you a new IP address - in another country if you wish - and ensuring that your internet traffic can’t be deciphered by your ISP or the administrator of your local network. 

What can you do with a VPN service? 

The main reasons people use VPNs are for additional privacy and security by encrypting traffic to and from your PC or network, to region-shift so you can access overseas versions of geo-blocked websites, and to evade network- or country-level blocking of specific domains or IP addresses.

Many businesses also run their own VPNs to allow staff to securely connect to the office network, no matter where they are. You could even run your own OpenVPN or WireGuard servers to make your own VPN endpoints.

What are the benefits of using a VPN? 

The most obvious reason to use a VPN is privacy: if all your data is sent directly from your device through an encrypted link to a remote server, your activities can't be monitored by your ISP, by someone snooping on your local network, or by an unfriendly state. 

It's for this reason that VPNs are widely used by everyone from journalists and human rights activists to movie pirates.. You can't get in trouble for something if you can't be seen doing it.

Probably the most popular use for VPN services is that they allow you virtually hop over to a different country to watch their local streaming TV services.

Consumer VPNs often commit to keeping no user-identifying activity logs, and are frequently headquartered in countries that don’t require traffic data to be logged.

Logging v no logging VPNs - what's the difference?

A “no logging” VPN does not keep records of identifying user data, most importantly your origin and exit IP address. Due to consumer pressure, most major VPN providers do not retain this data, although a number log non-identifying connection time stamps, bandwidth consumption and other network traffic data. 

The most secure scenario is a service which uses RAM-disk servers, in which all server data is stored in volatile memory and thus wiped on power-down if the server hardware is seized. VPN providers who use RAM disk servers include ExpressVPN, SurfShark and NordVPN.

Not all VPN providers’ logging policies are necessarily trustworthy, however. PureVPN - which subsequently changed its policy - and IPVanish - now under new ownership - both handed over data they weren't supposed to even be recording in court cases.

Court cases have also shown that some VPN providers genuinely don't have any logs to give up. Those include Private Internet Access - now under new ownership, ExpressVPN, and Perfect Privacy. NordVPN, SurfShark, and VyprVPN have had their own networks independently audited to provide evidence of their no-logging status. PureVPN has had a no-logging audit carried out to attempt to triage its image.

Are VPNs safe?

Nothing on the internet can be guaranteed secure, but we expect all the VPNs we recommend to be transparent about any security issues they experience. That doesn’t apply to all VPNs, however. Some free mobile VPNs have been found to have major security issues, including actively spying on their users.

Even with a trustworthy VPN provider, an encrypted internet connection doesn't mean that your activities are secret. If you're logged into your Google or Facebook account, they'll still keep records of everything you do, even if your ISP can't. A VPN is a useful tool for online privacy, not an iron-clad guarantee.

VPN services are effectively internet service providers, with many of the same potential risks of breaches and vulnerabilities as any other ISP.

Will a VPN slow my internet connection?

Potentially, and it’ll be more visible (but also have less impact on your internet use) on the very fastest net connections.  We test on an internet connection that gets speeds of around 787Mbit/s. The fastest VPN connections rarely exceed 300Mbit/s, with average UK throughput coming in at 194Mbit/s. That’s still extremely quick for most practical purposes, though.

The most common speed bottleneck is your internet connection. On a slow home ADSL connection with a non-VPN’d download speed of 577Kbit/s, connecting to the same server via NordVPN produced an average download speed of 551Kbit/s - a much less significant performance hit. 

Under some conditions, using a VPN can even improve performance on slower connections, particularly on 4G and when communicating with servers located in distant countries. Watch out for the extra battery consumption on mobile devices, though.

How is it a VPN different from a proxy service?

A proxy routes internet traffic for a specific application (such as a web browser) via a specified endpoint server. A VPN reroutes all internet traffic to and from your PC via an endpoint, with the possibility of exceptions for specific apps or addresses, if it supports split tunnelling.

How difficult is it to set up a VPN client?

On a typical PC or smartphone, it’s easy. Just download the client, sign in, choose an endpoint country, and connect. Less common use cases require a little more comfort with tech, but not much. 

Some VPN services only support Linux via OpenVPN profiles, but provide clear instructions on using them, and configuring supported routers to use them is similarly well documented. Make sure your VPN supports all the systems you want to use it on before you buy.

What does a VPN hide?

A VPN conceals the network traffic you’re sending and receiving, as well as disguising your originating IP address.

Are there any limitations to a VPN?

Companies like Netflix and the BBC are playing a constant game of whack-a-mole to lock out VPN endpoint addresses, so only a few VPNs cater to region-shifting for video streaming. 

Similarly, full torrenting functionality with a SOCKS5 proxy is a niche feature among VPNs.

Recently, services including Netflix have allowed some suspected VPN users to connect to any of its regional sites, but only show them their local catalogue. Our tests check for region-exclusive content in order to accurately guard VPN services’ streaming prowess.

On a desktop computer, you can go about your day-to-day internet use with a VPN connected without much fuss -- although you may need to reconnect your VPN if your connection to your ISP or Wi-Fi network drops. However, using a VPN on a mobile device can increase battery consumption.

Not all VPNs prevent all data leaks, for example via IPv6, WebRTC, or even outdated or misconfigured VPN protocols.