A virtual private network lets you send and receive data while remaining anonymous and secure online.

If, like a lot of us these days, you’re still working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic, remote VPN access is more essential than ever for protecting your online privacy. But in the ever-expanding market for commercial virtual private networks, choosing the best VPN to suit your specific needs can be difficult. That’s why we’ve sifted through the multitude of overhyped VPN providers all touting their own private network to help you find the best VPN for you. We’ll be regularly updating this directory and keeping a close eye on how each VPN provider stands compared with its competitors, as well as any new VPN services that may become available.

Since we don’t recommend free VPN services, this directory is packed only with paid commercial VPNs. In our current testing and ranking system, we looked at more than 20 factors, including price, security, number of server locations, ease of remote access,  bandwidth caps, logging, dedicated and dynamic IP, client software and customer support. To see exactly how we test and rate each virtual private network, check out our full evaluation walk-through.

Let’s look at each of our VPN vendors below in more depth. Keep in mind that this is an evolving list: It was originally published earlier and is constantly updated. We’re actively working on more VPN testing and research, so expect this guide to change throughout the year as our virtual private network use continues and we put each VPN option through its paces. 

ExpressVPNEditor’s Choice: Blazing speeds, proven privacy

ExpressVPN

  • Number of IP addresses: 30,000
  • Number of servers: 3,000-plus
  • Number of server locations: 160
  • Number of simultaneous connections: 5
  • Country/jurisdiction: British Virgin Islands
  • 94-plus countries
  • 3 months free with 1-year plan

ExpressVPN consistently proves itself one of the fastest VPNs on the market, and actively promotes its commitment to privacy. The company tells us its network is powered by TrustedServer technology, which ExpressVPN built to ensure that there are never any logs of users’ online activities. In the privacy world, ExpressVPN has a strong track record, having experienced a server seizure by authorities which proved their zero-log policy true at the time. We also like the quality of the VPN’s setup guides, and the detailed information in its FAQ. 

Like the rest of the top five VPN services we’ve reviewed for 2020, ExpressVPN offers a useful kill switch feature, which prevents network data from leaking outside of its secure VPN tunnel in the event the VPN connection fails. Unlike the others, though, ExpressVPN gained points from us for its support of bitcoin as a payment method — something not all of our favorites offer, but which adds an additional layer of privacy during checkout.

The company has been in business since 2009, and ExpressVPN has a substantial network of fast VPN servers spread across 94 countries. Its best plan is priced at less than $7 a month for an annual package, which includes three months free.

Surfshark

A speedy up-and-comer, packed with features

  • Number of servers: 1,000
  • Number of server locations: 60
  • Country/jurisdiction: British Virgin Islands

While Surfshark’s network is smaller than some, the VPN services makes it up on features. Let’s start off with the biggest win it offers: unlimited device support. If you want to run your entire home or office on Surfshark’s VPN, you don’t have to worry about how many devices you have on or connected. It also offers antimalware, ad-blocking and tracker-blocking as part of its software.

Surfshark received generally high marks when its Chrome and Firefox extensions were audited for privacy by German security firm Cure 53 (PDF link of full report) — though that audit was commissioned by Surfshark.

The company has a solid range of app support, running on Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, FireTV and routers. Additional devices such as game consoles can be configured for Surfshark via DNS settings. We particularly like the feature that allows you to whitelist certain apps and websites to automatically bypass the VPN. For some business uses, this can be critically important. 

Surfshark also offers three special modes designed for those who want to get around restrictions and more carefully hide their online footsteps. Camouflage Mode masks your VPN activity so your ISP doesn’t know you’re using a VPN. Multihop jumps your connection through multiple countries to hide your trail. Finally, NoBorders Mode “allows [you] to successfully use Surfshark in restrictive regions.” Just be careful. Doing any of these three things could be illegal in your country and could result in severe penalties. During our testing, we saw no DNS or IP address leaks, and had no trouble accessing Netflix. 

For a year plan, Surfshark comes in close to many of the other full-featured VPN providers, at $72 for the first year. Be careful, because it looks like that will jump to $143 after your first year is up. Month-by-month plans are $12. Its best offer is $2 a month, for its 24-month plan (you pay $48 up front). Definitely take advantage of its generous 30-day trial to decide if you like this service (and maybe set a reminder in 23 months to see if you can talk it into a continued discount rate).

NordVPNReliability and security

NordVPN

  • Number of IP addresses: 5,000
  • Number of servers: 5,200-plus servers
  • Number of server locations: 62
  • Country/jurisdiction: Panama
  • 62 countries
  • $3.71 a month (68% discount) for a 2-year plan
  • NordVPN in-depth review and hands-on testing (ZDNet)

NordVPN is one of the most recognized brands in the VPN field. It offers a generous simultaneous connection count, with six simultaneous connections through its network, where nearly all other providers offer five or fewer. NordVPN also offers a dedicated IP option, for those looking for a different level of VPN connection. NordVPN offers a kill switch feature, and the ability to VPN into Tor. We detected no privacy leaks during our tests, and found its speeds to be reliably fast. 

The company’s one-year subscription plan costs is for $7 a month ($84 billed at once). While that yearly price is lower than most other contenders, the month-to-month price of $12 is at the high end of the spectrum. As of September 2019, the company’s other pricing tiers have crept up a bit: It’s now $3.49 a month for a three-year plan (or $125.64 total), up from $2.99/$107.55. And the two-year plan is now $4.99 a month ($119.76), up from $3.99/$95.75. And yes, it also has a full 30-day refund policy. 

While NordVPN has lived on this list for a long time, we moved it to the penalty box in October 2019 to re-evaluate our recommendation after a report emerged that one of its rented servers was accessed without authorization in 2018. Nord’s actions following the discovery included — eventually — multiple security audits, a bug bounty program and heavier investments in server security. 

While we’d have preferred that Nord self-disclosed the issue much earlier, the fact that the breach was limited in nature and involved no user-identifying information served to further verify that NordVPN keeps no logs of user activity. As a result, Nord remains on this list as a recommended vendor. 

IPVanishFun, flexible choice for beginners

IPVanish

  • Number of IP addresses: 40,000-plus
  • Number of servers: 1,300
  • Number of server locations: 60
  • Number of simultaneous connections: 10
  • Country/jurisdiction: US
  • $3.99 a month and $48 a year

A big win for IPVanish is its fun, configurable interface, which makes it an ideal client for those who are interested in learning how to understand what a VPN does under the hood. Its multiplatform flexibility is also ideal for people focused on finding a Netflix-friendly VPN. 

A unique feature of IPVanish, and one we’re intrigued by, is the VPN’s support of Kodi, the open-source media streaming app that was once known as XBMC. Any serious media fan has used or built Kodi or XBMC into a media player, and the integrated IPVanish Kodi plugin provides access to media worldwide.

At $5 a month or $39 a year, IPVanish is obviously trying to move you towards its yearly program. We’re a little disappointed that it only allows a seven-day trial, rather than a full 30 days, but it does offer a full money-back guarantee. That said, the company gets kudos for its recent increase from five to now 10 simultaneous connections. We also liked its connection kill switch feature, a must for anyone serious about remaining anonymous while surfing. 

 

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